Proverbs 18:21
Life and death are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.
Partisan MisrepresentationHomiletic ReviewProverbs 18:21
The Power of SpeechG. H. C. Macgregor, M. A.Proverbs 18:21
The Power of the TongueJ. G. Dowling, M. A.Proverbs 18:21
The Power of the TongueJohn Sibree.Proverbs 18:21
The Tongue an Agency of Good or EvilH. Melvill.Proverbs 18:21
The Tongue, or Well-SpeakingMortlock Daniel.Proverbs 18:21
The Use and Abuse of SpeechA. B. Whatton, LL. B.Proverbs 18:21
Evils of the Tongue and of ContentionE. Johnson Proverbs 18:17-21

The reference in the text is to -

I. A DIFFICULTY EVERYWHERE ACKNOWLEDGED. It seems to have been universally felt that a "brother offended" is very hard indeed "to be won." It is more easy to effect a reconciliation between strangers than between those united by ties of blood. Hence a family feud is usually a very long as well as a very sad one. This does not seem to be a local or a national peculiarity. What Solomon wrote in his land and age might be written by any English or continental moralist today. It is human.


1. It is an aggravated difficulty, inasmuch as the bitterness aroused is more intense. For always in proportion to the fulness of our love is the greatness of our wrath. Anger is love reversed. Whom we love the most we are in danger of disliking the most; it is against his own wife that the madman first turns his hand. And how should we love another with all the affection we feel for the companion of our childhood and our youth, the sharer of our joys and sufferings from the very cradle and under the parental roof?

2. We shrink with greatest sensitiveness from humbling ourselves before our kindred. Reconciliation usually means apology, and apology means a measure of humiliation. And we do not like to humble our hearts before one with whom we have had and may have so much to do.

3. We are inclined to "stand upon the order of our going;" each thinks the other should make the first move; the younger thinks the elder should because he is the elder, and the elder the younger because he is the younger.

4. We are apt to resent interposition as interference; to any peacemaker who would intervene we are inclined to say, "Do not intrude into our family secrets."

III. OUR DUTY IN VIEW OF THIS FACT. It is clearly this:

1. To avoid all serious differences with our near kindred;

(1) to heal at once the first small breach that may occur, for while a rupture may be beyond remedy, a small difference is easily healed;

(2) to consider that almost any sacrifice of money, or of position, or of goods is worth making to retain the love of the children of our own parents, the playmates of our childhood and our youth.

2. To make a determined effort, after earnest thought and prayer, to master the difficulty we find in our heart, and make the first overture to the offended brother. Be shall we win a really noble victory over ourselves; so shall we gain the warm approval of the Prince of peace. - C.

Death and life are in the power of the tongue.
Of all the powers that man possesses there is scarcely any more awful than the power of speech. It is a God-like power. Human speech is no mere evolution from the cry of the animals. Speech became possible on the earth only when on the earth there appeared one into whom the Divine Spirit had breathed the breath of life, and made him a living soul. It is because the origin of speech is Divine that words have such awful power. Consider what a word is. From the materialist's point of view, it is but a slight agitation of the particles of air around us. Nothing feebler, nothing more evanescent, can be conceived. Yet that word can make or mar a human life; that word can fill a home with gladness or despair.

I. DEATH IS IN THE POWER OF THE TONGUE. How significant it is of the fallen condition of our race that death should here be put first! To prove the truth of our text, let us take some illustrations of the death-dealing power of the tongue.

1. Take the deadly power of careless, vain, frivolous words. They seem harmless. How much harm is done by the light and careless conversation even of Christian people about religion! How much damage is done by the far too common habit of jesting with Scripture! Such a habit induces irreverence, and lays the foundation for irreligion.

2. Take the deadly power of mocking words. A gibe, a sneer, cuts many a man like a knife. By the mocking words of companions many a soul who has just escaped has been forced back into the bondage of sin, and driven to a Christless grave.

3. As a graver illustration of the same thing, take the power of false words. While open and deliberate lying is reprobated by all, many have not a sufficient sense of the mischief wrought by falsehood and insincerity of speech. Every lie begets other lies; and from the thoughtless exaggerations of conversation to the deliberate perjury, which has in our day become so common in our law courts, the descent is quick and easy.

4. A still more serious illustration of the death-dealing power of the tongue is seen in connection with slander. Says Robertson, of Brighton, in a great sermon upon the tongue, "In the drop of poison which distils from the sting of the smallest insect, or the spikes of the nettle leaf, there is concentrated the quintessence of a poison so subtle that the microscope cannot distinguish it, yet so virulent that it can inflame the blood, irritate the whole system, and convert night and day into a restless misery. So it is in the power of slanderous words to inflame hearts, to fever human existence, to poison human society at the fountain springs of life."

5. But the supreme illustration of the death-dealing power of the tongue is found in indecent words. The man of indecent speech may be compared with the murderer. The one destroys the body, the other destroys the soul. If we would execrate the man who in the time of pestilence would smear the walls of a city with plague-poison, what shall we say of the man who defiles the temple of the soul with his indecent speech? To thousands and tens of thousands indecent speech is the revelation of a world of wickedness previously unknown. By it the imagination is defiled, the corrupt nature set on fire, the barriers that guard purity broken down, and the soul led to absolute ruin.

II. LIFE IS IN THE POWER OF THE TONGUE. When the tongue is consecrated, when it is guided and controlled by a heart full of the Holy Ghost, it becomes a mighty power to destroy the works of the devil.

1. Grave and gracious speech takes the place of careless, light, and frivolous speech. Our words lead seekers to Christ, in Him to find eternal life.

2. Comforting and encouraging words take the place of mocking words. The power of words of comfort to encourage those who are sorrowing and desponding is simply marvellous. They literally bring life to the soul.

3. Kind words take the place of cruel words. Every kind word that is uttered makes this world more like heaven. For where slander begets hate, kindness begets love.

4. True words go forth to do battle against the falsehoods of which the earth is full. Every true word that is spoken binds human society more closely together, and makes the burden of life easier to bear.

5. And then pure words go forth to enlighten and purify and cleanse lives darkened and debased and defiled by the evils of the world. Before the man of pure speech the indecent man hides himself. Purity is like the sunlight. When it is let in upon the mind the evil and unclean things which dwell there flee, as noisome creatures under a stone flee from the light of day. But what is true of the tongue is true also of the pen. Literature to-day has a tremendous power. And who doubts that in countless instances it is a power making for death?(1) Who can estimate the damage done by the innumerable frivolous and absolutely worthless books which are issued from the press? Even where they are not positively harmful, they waste time.(2) And if these are hurtful, how much more so are the false and misleading books which are issued in such numbers in our day!(3) But the death-dealing power of the press is seen in nothing so dreadfully as in its issue of impure and indecent literature. But if the press has such power, and if authors are using this power for evil, it becomes all the more necessary that we should use it for good. A good book entering a house may prevent the entrance of a bad book. A good book following a bad book may largely neutralise the mischief which the first has done.

(G. H. C. Macgregor, M. A.)

The faculty of speech is one of the very highest faculties with which we have been endowed. Great is its value to man as an intelligent and social being, and great is the weight of responsibility which is implied by the impression of it. Yet the Hebrew sage appears to have exceeded the fair limit allowable even to hyperbole when he says, "Death and life are in the power of the tongue." Yet there is nothing but what is strictly accurate in this sentence. Literally the words are, "Death and life are in the hand of the tongue." The author represents this faculty as a living thing — as the arbiter of good and ill, as the disposer of human fortune.

I. SEE THE TRUTH OF THE TEXT IN ITS APPLICATION TO THE PRESENT LIFE. As a maxim of common prudence the words deserve attention. There are some persons who never speak well of others. And fatal often is their cruel activity. Reverse the picture, and see happiness smiling about the man who speaks of others in the language of justice, and gentleness, and charity. Wherever he can he will bear his testimony to the integrity and good character of others. But our proverb does not merely apply to extreme cases, such as these. When a man speaks in mere thoughtlessness, there may be those hearing him on whom his very random words may be falling as a balm, or as a poison If we set any value upon the happiness and comfort of others, it becomes us to set a watch over our mouth. What we say is a most important influence on our own condition in this world, because our condition is greatly affected by what others think of us, and we know full well that it is not easy to struggle against the difficulties created by a bad character. The estimation in which we are held is very greatly affected by our words.

II. SEE THE TRUTH OF THE TEXT IN ITS BEARING UPON OUR SPIRITUAL CONDITION. Spiritual death is the frequent and melancholy effect of the impious efforts of some men's tongues. But life, too, is in the power of the tongue. The cause of God has never been without its noble band of witnesses. Important, however, as may be the effects of what we say on others, they cannot be greater than they are upon ourselves. A word may determine our condition for ever. Prayers, praises, and holy conversation, cannot be in vain — nor can curses, and railing, and idle talk, be in vain. It is greatly to be feared that we may find much that is amiss in ourselves, when we press our consciences with the question, Have we acted as those who believed that death and life are in the power of the tongue?

(J. G. Dowling, M. A.)

As in the physical, so in the moral, the tongue is the criterion of the hidden and eternal man. Self-government alone can conform men to Christ, and there is no self-government where the tongue is untamed.

I. THE TONGUE IS A GREAT BLESSING. The gift of speech is a valuable boon. The animal creation have it not. In man's case, mind utters itself through matter. Spirit speaks through clay. Blessed boon, the gift of speech! — the richest melody of creation, the music of nature, the life of poetry, the vehicle of common sense, the incarnation of the soul's contemplations.

II. THE TONGUE IS THE SERVANT OF THE HEART. Strictly, the tongue never speaks at random. The tongue is the criterion of the moral man. A diseased or healthy heart is thereby truthfully advertised. While the mind is the standard of the man, the tongue is the standard of the mind. The apostle James regarded a wholesome tongue in so important a light that he came to the conclusion, "if any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body." With him it involved such mortification of nature, such growth in goodness, and such constant self-government, that he regarded the man who had mastered his lips as not far from perfection. Idle words betray a mind waste, worthless, and uncultivated; severe words, a mind savage and malicious; angry words, a mind set on fire of hell; whispering words, a mind cast in the mould of Judas; boasting or disparaging words, a mind stuffed with self-conceit; false and deceitful words, a mind which he who was a liar from the beginning has usurped as his pleasure-ground. Thus our daily sayings are our daily selves, and our words testify our inmost thoughts.

III. THE TONGUE SPOILED BY SIN IS EMPHATICALLY THE STRONGHOLD OF SATAN. No member of the body has done Satan more service than the tongue. Through all generations, how many of the best and most useful men have been assailed by calumnies. The sensual tongues, the flattering tongues, the sceptical tongues of bad men, and the strife of tongues among good men, have shown Satan to be the lord of language. The tongue is God's organ, but beware lest the devil play upon it till in death it cyphers and is heard no more.

IV. THE TONGUE CAN ONLY BE CURED BY THE HABITUAL CONTEMPLATION OF CHRIST. It is by looking unto Him, the author and finisher of our faith, by closely studying His excellences, and getting full of His Spirit, that we effectually keep the door of our lips against every ungodly and unamiable intruder. The tongues of Christians should be eminently instructive. They should also be comforters. And they should be, at proper times, reprovers. Keep the door of your lips. Be slow to speak, slow to wrath.

(Mortlock Daniel.)

Religion requires much more than mere outward decency or refinement of manners. We gather from Scripture that we should order our speech with a view to the benefit of our fellow-creatures and the promotion of the glory of God. We must have regard to the moral character and consequences of our speech. Many people abuse the power of the tongue so incessantly that they cease to be aware what a depraved state of heart is thereby indicated. Inasmuch as God hears and notes our sayings, we bring good or evil upon our souls according to the manner in which the power of the tongue is employed. Speech forms part of character. There is an inseparable connection between what we say and what we think. Each man's conversation has a distinct personality from which it cannot be divested. Thought awakens feeling, and feeling induces utterance. When a man speaks his character passes into action. By our words our own immortal future is affected, and we are continually exercising an influence upon the welfare of our neighbours. The power of the tongue is infinitely reproductive. Its effects are incalculable. And the guidance of our speech is a matter which deeply concerns us. Few of us can look back upon the past without a consciousness of having offended much with the tongue. The consideration of this subject shows the necessity of a gracious renewal of the heart.

(A. B. Whatton, LL. B.)

The tongue is a member which God has used to produce great misery or great blessing. As soon as thought is embodied in language, it assumes the form of a living engine.

I. THE ENGINE OF COUNSEL. If men be asked for counsel or advice, they can give it only in proportion to the knowledge they possess. Illustrate from the counsel given by the master of a family or by a public teacher.

II. THE ENGINE OF SLANDER. Slanderers include the backbiter, the gossiper, the keen anatomist. The mind of man is by nature eminently fitted for becoming the engine of slander.

III. AS THE ENGINE OF FLATTERY. Men are more ready to forgive an ill done to them than an ill said of them. Men often entertain a higher respect for individuals who flatter them than for those who confer upon them a substantial benefit. There is such a thing as religious flattery. Even an advance in spiritual attainments may engender spiritual pride. Where there is spiritual prosperity there is a risk of becoming spiritually vain.

(H. Melvill.)

Intellectual, spiritual, social, and political life and death are in the tongue. Apply the proverb —

I. TO THE CHRISTIAN IN GENERAL. He prays with the tongue. He confesses with the tongue. He converses with the tongue.

II. TO THE PREACHER OF THE GOSPEL. The tongue of a true gospel minister produces life intentionally. The tongue of a true gospel minister may produce death incidentally.

III. TO THE SAVIOUR OF MEN. This is true of Him as a Teacher, as an Advocate, and as a Judge. Learn the awful responsibility attached to speech. Burner says of the incomparable Leighton, "In a free and frequent conversation with him for twenty-two years, I never heard him utter an idle word, or a word that had not a direct tendency to edification."

(John Sibree.)

Homiletic Review.
Three forms of misrepresentation may be indicated —

1. The suppression of facts essential to a right estimate of character. This is perhaps the most usual and most dangerous form of the evil. "No lie is so dangerous as a half-truth."

2. The accepting of unverified rumour for fact. He who does this becomes an indorser of the rumour. A premium is thereby placed upon slander.

3. Direct fabrication of known falsehood. The evils of such misrepresentation are lasting and obvious.(1) It defiles the individual, blunts his sense of honour and justice, numbs his conscience, and weakens his moral influence over his fellows.(2) It is a crime against one's country.(3) It is a sin before God. In the thunders of Sinai it was condemned. Christ Himself was the victim of partisan misrepresentation.

(Homiletic Review.)

Proverbs 18:21 NIV
Proverbs 18:21 NLT
Proverbs 18:21 ESV
Proverbs 18:21 NASB
Proverbs 18:21 KJV

Proverbs 18:21 Bible Apps
Proverbs 18:21 Parallel
Proverbs 18:21 Biblia Paralela
Proverbs 18:21 Chinese Bible
Proverbs 18:21 French Bible
Proverbs 18:21 German Bible

Proverbs 18:21 Commentaries

Bible Hub
Proverbs 18:20
Top of Page
Top of Page