Poisoned by Our Own Bite

by Bill Denton

"So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things. See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell. For every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by the human race. But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison" (James 3:5-8).

Two snakes were crawling along when one snake asked the other, "Are we poisonous?" The other replied, "You bet we are! We're rattlesnakes. Why do you ask?" To which the first replied, "Because I just bit my tongue." That little joke has more truth in it than one might think. It's good for a laugh, but whether or not a snake can poison itself by biting its tongue, we can certainly poison ourselves with the bite of our own words.

A lot of people seem to think their words produce no consequences. They evidently believe they can say whatever they want to say, and nothing bad or negative will ever happen. Not so. Most of the time, if we really discuss this issue honestly, we will admit that words can hurt others badly. It's more than just hurting someone's feelings. Words can damage lives, mangle reputations, and create all sorts of ill-will. But, the one thing we often do not discuss is how damaging our own words are to ourselves.

When you lie or say things that are shaded so as to deceive someone, you may have just destroyed your own reputation. You may have lost the trust of the person to whom you spoke, or the person you spoke about. When you brag or make yourself appear important by your words, you may well lose the respect of the very people you're trying to impress. When you play political games by making promises, creating conflicts, or toying with agendas in order to get your way, you are nothing but a verbal prostitute, selling yourself for the sake of gain. Your words betray you as a person with selfish and evil motives. The poisonous bite of your words may do far more damage to yourself than to anyone else.

Even today, the truth James wrote about is an important lesson for us all. Jesus said in Matthew 12:34, "You brood of vipers, how can you, being evil, speak what is good? For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart." Whenever you hear evil things come from a person's mouth, it is evidence of evil in the heart. Evil is a poison we cannot afford. Just as the bite of a rattlesnake can kill, so the bite of evil, poisonous words can kill. The unlikely person at risk is quite often, the very person speaking those words.

James knew that Christians must do better. He said, about the inconsistency of the tongue that both blessed and cursed, "With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way" (James 3:9-10).

This gives a whole new meaning to the phrase, "Bite your tongue!" All I can say is that you might want to be very careful. You may find poison in those fangs of yours, and your bite might be deadly to yourself.

© 2002, Bill Denton All rights reserved

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