The Deadly Weapon We All Wield

If you’re a fan of NCIS, CSI, Blue Bloods, Sherlock Holmes, Criminal Minds, or one of a zillion other crime dramas, you’re probably quite familiar with various methods of murder. While the writers of these shows try to outdo themselves by coming up with clever new plotlines, crimes, and means of homicide, I doubt any of them has ever dared write a story about someone who died purely because of words spoken to him. Shooting? Stabbing? Poisoning? Bombing? Arson? Sure. But words? I don’t think so. Yet, according to Proverbs 18:21, our words wield the power both of life and of death: 

Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.

Just as certain medicines can both heal and kill, so our tongues carry the same potential. Were it possible for a person’s life to be snuffed out by my words, I surely would be a world-class serial killer by now. But while (thankfully) no one has literally dropped dead because of something I’ve said, that doesn’t mean I’ve not brought about death. 

Death of Identity: Disparaging Words

Because media and entertainment often rely on insults and belittling comments to gain laughs, followers, ratings, and even votes, disparaging talk has become ubiquitous in our society. 

But that doesn’t mean it’s harmless. 

Words that mock another person easily roll off our tongues. Though we may say them with a smile, at least some truth lurks beneath the surface of what we said. Whether about a person’s abilities, appearance, performance, education, occupation, or residence, we make jokes at the expense of others. Though I acknowledge that these types of jokes may be both made and taken in complete fun and remain harmless, other times, we expertly convince ourselves that we’re speaking in wholesome fun, all the while gravely wounding the other person. 

The death in this case is the identity of the other person. We unwittingly enter the service of our enemy’s propaganda machine as we reinforce the lies that he’s likely telling them about themselves. We must not be complicit in such a conspiracy. We’re commanded to speak words that build up, give grace, and fit the moment (Eph. 4:29). Belittling, disparaging comments do none of these. 

Death of Light: Filthy Words

You don’t need me to tell you that filthy speech is abundant in our society. We cannot escape innuendo, double entendre, and overtly explicit sexual talk and jokes. Because this type of language permeates the air we breathe, it easily escapes our own lips. We’re kidding ourselves if we think that the constant presence of sexually charged language doesn’t impact our own speech. However, this is not a new problem. Paul warns the Ephesians about the very same thing: 

Obscene and foolish talking or crude joking are not suitable, but rather giving thanks. For know and recognize this: Every sexually immoral or impure or greedy person, who is an idolater, does not have an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. (Ephesians 5:4–5)

Paul pointedly links obscene speech and crude joking with immorality and says that none of these are marks of a believer. To the praise of God’s magnificent grace, the power of the gospel and the depth of the Savior’s mercy exceeds even our failures in this area. However, the point is that when we engage in gutter language, we speak words of the kingdom of death and extinguish the light of the marvelous kingdom of Christ. 

Death of Joy: Sardonic Words

When I was a teenager, my father told me I had an “acerbic tongue.” While I didn’t know the definition of acerbic, I still grasped his meaning. In case it’s a new word for you as well, Merriam-Webster defines it as “sharply or bitingly critical, sarcastic, or ironic in temper, mood or tone.” Basically, if speech were a flavor, mine would be vinegar. While I hope that I have grown in Christ-likeness and out of acerbity, sarcasm remains a language I speak fluently.

As with other types of humor, sarcasm may be both given and received in good-natured fun, with no harm done to either side. However, I know from experience that what I may think I’m giving in fun is often received in pain. Sarcasm, much like its cousin cynicism, can kidnap and kill the joy of another. Particularly caustic sarcasm corrodes joy, hope, and love.

While I will probably always have an affinity for sarcasm (let’s not forget it’s used in Scripture!), I must also recognize that the default setting of my tongue ought to be grace. Like salt that seasons popcorn or potato chips, grace should permeate every word I say (Col. 4:6). 

Death of Integrity: Dishonest Words

Fibbing, telling half-truths or falsehoods, prevaricating, equivocating, or conning—call it whatever name you’d like, but lying is abominable to God (Prov. 6:16–17). This makes perfect sense since deceit of any kind compromises His very character. Paul, in his letter to Titus, claims that God cannot lie. Christ Himself says that He is the truth. Our enemy, on the other hand, is the origin of all falsehood (John 8:44). When our words distort, twist, or shatter the truth, we follow his footsteps and speak words of death. 

Perhaps you pride yourself on your truthfulness, and it’s been a long time since you told an outright lie. The father of lies himself has an arsenal full of tricks to lead you away from truthfulness. Here are a few ideas of how lies may have subtly slipped into your vocabulary: 

  • Hiding your genuine feelings about a situation. 
  • Giving approval to someone or something that you do not approve of.
  • Making a promise you do not intend to keep.
  • Breaking a promise you did intend to keep. 
  • Using sickness as an excuse to get out of something unpleasant.
  • Agreeing with a person’s argument though you actually disagree. 
  • Knowingly using pronouns that do not match a person’s biological gender.

As disciples of Christ, we’re called to speak truth in love (Eph. 4:15) just as He who dwelt among us, full of grace and truth (John 1:14). 

Death of a Smile: Harsh Words

As I write this, I’ve just finished teaching at my church’s annual VBS. This means that for the last four days, I’ve had to get my kids and myself ready to leave the house much earlier than we normally do. And, in the process of getting ready to go serve the Lord (on more than one occasion), I’ve launched harsh words at my children when they’ve not acted in perfect accordance with my agenda. As a result, I’ve seen their little faces melt into sadness and tears. 

Harsh, rough words kill a person’s spirit and smile faster than a rapid-onset stomach flu. No wonder Proverbs compares such talk to the thrust of a sword. With each grenade of anger that I hurl at my children or husband, I jab my verbal sword into their proverbial hearts. 

Truth be told, this has been a highly convicting post to write. All of the types of murderous words described here have come from my own struggle with my tongue. So, I must finish by reminding myself—and you—of the gospel. While my words repeatedly fall short of the goal, and I frequently spew venom at my family, I can still have hope. I am united to the Word of Life, to the One who always spoke with grace and truth. His compassionate, well-spoken words have been credited to my account. Because Jesus vanquished death, He has conquered even the power of my harsh, sardonic, dishonest, disparaging words. He can overcome the sinfulness of my wicked, acerbic, poisonous tongue. His mercy is more. 

How do Jesus’ words to the seven churches of Revelation apply to your life and your church today? Request your copy of Overcomers: Lessons from the Churches of Revelation, adapted from the teaching of Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, and find out. We’ll send you a copy as our thanks when you give a gift of any amount to Revive Our Hearts this month. 

About the Author

Cindy Matson

Cindy Matson

Cindy Matson lives in a small Minnesota town with her husband, son and daughter, and ridiculous black dog. She enjoys reading books, drinking coffee, and coaching basketball. You can read more of her musings about God's Word at

Join the Discussion