The tongue: a musician's most powerful instrument (Part 1)

When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.

Proverbs 10:19

Read through the first twelve Psalms, and you may be surprised at how many times the defining sin of 'the wicked' seems not to be outright idolatry, or sexual immorality, or drunkenness, but rather sins of the tongue.

Psalm 5:9 - Not a word from their mouth can be trusted; their heart is filled with malice. Their throat is an open grave; with their tongues they tell lies.

Psalm 10:3,7 - He boasts about the cravings of his heart; he blesses the greedy and reviles the Lord. ...  His mouth is full of lies and threats; trouble and evil are under his tongue.

Psalm 12:2 - Everyone lies to their neighbour; they flatter with their lips but harbour deception in their hearts.

The power of the tongue

Before you read beyond this sentence, have a read of James 3:3-12, perhaps the most compelling passage of Scripture on the topic of the tongue, and particularly of its power.

The intrinsic power of the tongue

Using similes, James describes the tongues as of the same order as horses' bits (v.3) and ships' rudders (v.4): relatively small-sized components of a bigger entity, but which have the power to direct the whole. It has intrinsic power. But James goes even further, for whereas the horse's rider or the ship's captain has control over the bit or the rudder, a person is not able fully to control their own tongue, even though they have managed to tame all sorts of wild animals (v.7)! The verdict is pretty damning, end of verse 8: It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

The destructive power of the tongue

The damning verdict of verse 8 is based on the findings of verses 5 and 6, where with another simile James compares the tongue to a small flame, able to set ablaze a whole forest. So too the tongue, verse 6 says, 'is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.' Strong words. The tongue has huge power, destructive power. As Proverbs 18:21 puts it:

The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.

And don't we musicians know all too well the reality of this? Of course there are the ever-present profanities, but more pernicious than these are the gossip and the slander, the deceit and the boasting. Whether it's the "humble brag" of a Facebook post or the backstabbing of fellow members of the orchestra (or, more likely, the conductor), the world of music is rife with sharp tongues.

And of course this doesn't merely describe outward activity; it reveals inner disposition: 'For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of,' as Jesus Himself says in Matthew 12:34. Notice the mentions of the heart in those verses from the Psalms at the beginning of this article.

The practices of the tongue

The Bible certainly doesn’t hide away from exposing the multifarious sinful practices of the tongue and our involvement in them. Indeed as you read these verses below, just consider where you have seen (or indeed committed) these sins within the world of music:

Slander / Diminishment of others

James 4:11 - Do not speak evil against one another, brothers and sisters. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge.

1 Peter 2:1 - Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind.

Complaining

Philippians 2:14 - Do all things without complaining…

Argument / Quarrelling

Philippians 2:14 - Do all things without complaining or disputing.

2 Timothy 2:23 - Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels.

Gossip

Proverbs 16:28 - A perverse person stirs up conflict, and a gossip separates close friends.

Proverbs 20:19 - A gossip betrays a confidence; so avoid anyone who talks too much.

Lying / Deceit

Proverbs 12:22 - Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, but those who act faithfully are his delight.

Proverbs 26:24 - Enemies disguise themselves with their lips, but in their hearts they harbour deceit.

Colossians 3:9 - Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices.

Compare also Jesus's description of Himself in John 14:6 (I am the…Truth) with His description of the devil in John 8:44 (…the devil…is a liar and the father of lies.)

Flattery

Proverbs 26:28 - A lying tongue hates its victims, and a flattering mouth works ruin.

Bad language

Colossians 3:8 - But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.

Coarse language / Innuendo

Ephesians 5:4 - Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.

Bad / Unthoughtful humour

Proverbs 26:18-19 - Like a maniac shooting flaming arrows of death is one who deceives their neighbour and says, ‘I was only joking!’

The product of these practices

Sin has consequences. Sins of the tongue have consequences. And Scripture spells them out for us:

Worthless religion

James 1:26 says:

Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless.

This is a damning indictment on… you and me. As James goes on to say in chapter 3:9-12, there is huge hypocrisy in slandering others one moment, and singing God’s praises the next. To do so, says James, is to deceive ourselves and to make a mockery of our worship of God.

Destruction

Deliberate, continuous and unrepentant misuse of the tongue is therefore a serious matter, and may be an indicator of someone’s true standing before God. Hear these sobering words from Scripture:

Psalm 12:3-4 - May the Lord silence all flattering lips and every boastful tongue – those who say, ‘By our tongues we will prevail; our own lips will defend us – who is lord over us?’

Matthew 5:22 - But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, “Raca,” is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, “You fool!” will be in danger of the fire of hell.

Revelation 21:8 - But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practise magic arts, the idolaters and all liars – they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulphur. This is the second death.’

Bad witness

For those of us who have been saved once for all by Jesus, whilst ultimate destruction is no longer to be feared (‘There is therefore now no condemnation…’), nevertheless the charge of serious hypocrisy that these sins pile on our faith (‘…their religion is worthless’) also yields the practical upshot of our witness to unbelievers being severely hindered. As our friends look on and see us being just like them in terms of how we use our tongues to raise ourselves up and/or to put others down, the stench of hypocrisy puts them right off investigating the claims of Jesus further.

So…

It’s not a pretty picture so far. And the question at this stage must be: ‘So what can we do about it?

Well, to use the language of James, we need to ‘tame’ our tongues. It’s clear from what we’ve seen that to do so must be a serious part of our discipleship. Indeed, to ‘keep a rein’ on our tongues is part of the Holy Spirit’s fruit of self-control that we ought always to be cultivating in our lives. And all this is the subject of part 2 of this resource, which you can find here.

But before that, do take a moment to get on your knees before the Lord and repent. We have all fallen short of the glory of God, and perhaps this is nowhere more obvious on a day-to-day basis than in the way we use (or rather, misuse) our tongues. And therefore we all need to repent of the sinful practices in which we’ve been indulging, knowingly or unknowingly.

And the good news is that we have a Saviour who forgives all who truly repent. So let’s all do just that. Right now.

And now you’ve done that, head over to part 2 of this resource.

Related Content