Rev. Smit is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Doon, Iowa.

Terrorist controlled aircraft, anthrax-laced letters, yellow cluster bombs, and cruise missiles we recognize as weapons of mass destruction.

Who has not recently seen terrorist-controlled aircraft, fully laden with jet fuel, puncturing skyscrapers and completely destroying them along with thousands of people? We are all fully aware of the potential for destruction and massive loss of life from a nuclear missile attack. We are shocked at the sight of explosions, destruction, large death tolls, and the grievous earthly suffering of men, women, and children. We shudder at the thought of a widespread epidemic sparked by bio-terror bombs. We tremble and worry at the thought of such weapons of mass destruction in the hands of terrorists.

However, do we shudder similarly at the thought that we have in our own possession a weapon of mass destruction which can create more destruction and suffering than a worldwide terrorist network or a rogue nation?

Our tongue, when in bondage to the power of our sin, is a weapon of mass destruction.

We are warned in Scripture that the evil tongue is more deadly than many spores of anthrax. Disease-control experts inform us that when one is infected by anthrax and is treated promptly, he will recover. However, when one has been infected by a poisonous dart from our evil tongue, there is instant destruction and death in our victims. The Lord tells us that the tongue is “an unruly evil, full of deadly poison” (James 3:8). Only a miracle by the power of the reconciling mercy and grace of Christ can restore them.

That means that the unruly tongue causes devastation on the scale of a weapon of mass destruction. The Scriptures show that the evil tongue is “a fire, a world of iniquity … and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell” (James 3:6).

What makes this little weapon of mass destruction so terrifying is that, under the control of sin and Satan, the tongue is worse than a sly and vicious terrorist network. There is no warplane, no bunker-busting bomb, no elite military force that can stop this unruly terror. The tongue is something that no man can tame (James 3:8).

The false tongue is an untamable power to spread the poison of false doctrine against the church. The Lord warns His church of false prophets “who privily shall bring in damnable heresies” (II Pet. 3:1). By them “the way of truth shall be evil spoken of” (II Pet. 2:2). Many there are that have been led astray by the smooth tongues of false prophets and teachers. Many are destroyed for lack of the true knowledge of Jehovah. Many wander hopelessly in a severe famine of the Word. Such is the doctrinal destruction which a false tongue can bring.

In addition, the terror that an untamable, ungodly tongue unleashes is also dreadful. The backbiting tongue (Prov. 26:28) efficiently destroys the brother’s good reputation and often rashly judges and condemns the brother without his being properly and completely heard. The backbiting tongue will embellish stories, sensationalize the facts, and even, if necessary, slander the brother behind his back with all manner of half-truths. Instead of covering the transgression of the brother in love with wisdom, the evil tongue repeats the transgression to others. By this, very friends are separated (Prov. 17:9), and the blood of many runs in a steady stream.

One of the common results of the unruly tongue is the destruction of trust. We may have built up with someone a relationship of trust like a strong building. Then quickly, by that little weapon of mass destruction filled with burning hatred, we crush the relationship into a heap of rubble. Not only can we do that to our own relationships, but in short order we can also destroy the trust in the friendships of others. Sometimes our tongue cuts so deeply that a scar remains in the one we have injured until the grave. Former trust lies in a crumbled ruin. The fragile enjoyment of unity, peace, and love with brethren in the Lord is quickly fractured or completely shattered. Restoring former trust becomes a grievous task in the face of daunting obstacles.

Indeed, our little weapon of mass destruction can quickly damage marriages, homes, or friendships so that the spiritual life of that relationship more closely looks like a war zone. The spiritual landscape of the relationships of our school children can sometimes resemble the charred remains of a forest fire.

In addition to the damage we do to others, great damage is often done to our own souls by our sinful tongue. Our lying tongue can quickly get itself tangled up in great misery. Often the first lie must be covered up by a second, third, and maybe more. Farther and farther away from God we stray. Greater our misery mushrooms. More widespread the damage becomes.

Indeed, we ought to be frightened by that little weapon of mass destruction. Great is its power, and great is its devastation. Recognizing this weapon’s potential, we must by the strength and wisdom of Christ keep it in check.

In that wisdom, let us heed the Word. “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath” (James 1:19). “For he that will love life and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile” (I Pet. 3:10). Let us keep our tongues from evil, and our lips from speaking guile (Ps. 34:13).

Therefore, the Lord forbids that we become spiritual terrorists who work mass destruction by a deadly tongue among His redeemed people.

Instead, our Redeemer and Lord requires that we use our tongues as a tool for good. The godly use of our tongues must be worth “choice silver” (Prov. 10:20), so that our tongue by faith is a “tree of life” (Prov. 15:4), full of delightful, refreshing, and good fruit to the hearers.

The Lord calls us to use our tongues to speak the truth in love and in wisdom. Negatively, that means that we may not gleefully dredge up “dirt” with which to load our tongues in order to launch deadly missiles on another for our entertainment or to make us look better. Even though the damaging stories may be true, yet when it is said, and said in hatred besides, it cannot profit. It can only damage us spiritually, not to mention the damage it will inflict on our victims.

Rather, the Lord commands us to speak the truth in love. That means that when we speak we must always do so in the consciousness of our God, who is love. We must be filled with a consciousness of His holiness and righteousness, and of the unfathomable love by which He sent His only begotten Son to redeem us from our sin. In that understanding of true love, we are called to speak as God’s children who are knit unto Him in holy fellowship by His Holy Spirit. This principle reminds us that the love which must govern the use of our tongues must always be, first and foremost, the love of God. If that is not true, then our tongue is basically a weapon against God and His Word. Such a tongue, the Lord warns, He will cut out (Prov. 10:31). Let us use our tongues in harmony with our Father’s holiness, righteousness, and truth.

That means that when we speak in love, we must carefully choose our words. Perhaps, when asked a question by another about some other person, we must say nothing at all. Or, when we speak in love about another outside of his presence, we must speak in great humility and in the knowledge that our righteous Father hears every word we speak.

There may be occasions when we meet an unbeliever. We may have to confront someone walking in sin of some sort. Situations may arise when the truth of the Reformed faith and the glory of God’s name are at stake. In those situations, we must speak the truth in love by using our tongue to give an answer of our hope or a proper rebuke in a desire for the spiritual welfare of the hearer.

Such a tongue, governed by love of Christ, is powerful for good. In Proverbs 25:15 we learn that “a soft tongue breaketh the bone.” The soft tongue is compared to a hammer that pulverizes bones. One might think that once the tongue is under the dominion of grace, it no longer destroys. Yet, the soft tongue’s great power and effect are good.

That soft tongue, which is directed by the love, longsuffering, and mercy of Christ is a mighty weapon to smash the hard bones of pride and unbelief in the wayward children of God. Among the communion of the saints, we must use our tongues for the spiritual welfare of our fellow saints. Perhaps we give a gentle rebuke, or at another time a hard admonition which cuts like a knife. Though the immediate result by the working of the Spirit may be grievous and may even be met with resistance, yet the ultimate effect by the grace of God will be conversion, repentance, humility, obedience, and peace in the children of God.

In addition, the godly tongue is a spiritual power to destroy the strongholds and evil works of the devil. A tongue speaking the truth shakes the foundations of the gates of darkness and leaves the wicked without excuse. A tongue governed by faith and the love of Jesus Christ will rebuke the works of the carnal world. When the child of God does that, he ought not be surprised by persecution or mockery from the world, because all that will live godly and speak the truth will suffer persecution.

Always the use of our tongues must seek the goal of edification. The apostle Paul admonishes us that there should proceed out of our mouths only that “which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace to the hearers” (Eph. 4:29). We must desire to build up our fellow saints by speaking to them those things which are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, and of good report. Or, when our fellow saints are in a grievous trial, we may by the godly use of our tongue “be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God” (II Cor. 1:4). This profitable use of the tongue is always pleasing unto the Lord.

Briefly, that is the calling which the Lord demands of us as His people. To turn from that calling results in a tongue that destroys and causes strife, grief, problems, and much anguish. Obedience to this calling promotes spiritual healing, trust, peace, unity, and love among the saints, and it gives a faithful witness to those around us.

Indeed, what a blessing when our Lord Jesus Christ by His grace and Spirit grants us that spiritual maturity in the life of sanctification to use our tongues for building up one another and praising His name. Godly tongues like that are worth more than all the choice silver and gold that this earth can afford.

May the Lord call us by His irresistible grace to use our tongues as tools for good, for His glory and for the comfort of one another in our salvation in Christ.