Is life and death really in the power of the tongue? Well...that all depends...
A brother offended is more unyielding than a strong city, and quarreling is like the bars of a castle. From the fruit of a man's mouth his stomach is satisfied; he is satisfied by the yield of his lips. Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits. Proverbs 18: 19-21 (ESV)
There are phrases within our Christianese lexicon that simply go unchallenged because that is always how we have heard it preached. We can state a Bible snippet word for word but that does not mean we are stating what God means for us. For instance there is no question that the Bible says that Christians will pick up snakes and when they drink poison they will not be hurt. While most of us can easily see how silly it would be to think this is a prescriptive instruction from God, there are churches that handle snakes during service and individual people who drink poison to prove that what God said is true! Just last week in Africa a pastor placed a heavy sound speaker on top of a woman to prove God's provision and healing. He then sat on top of the speaker, which was on top of the woman, crushing and killing her. There are less obvious examples however that have become staples of false teachings that most Christians simply accept without thinking. Today we will look at "life and death are in the power of the tongue." Wait a minute preacher! Are you saying that life and death are not in the power of the tongue? Well beloved, yes and no. It depends on what you are trying to teach with this statement, whether that is consistent with what God is trying to say, and whether it squares with the rest of Scripture. This is what it means to do the work of a Berean. To take even a statement that sounds benign and make sure that it is God speaking.
Because believe it or not, the statement that life and death are in the power of the tongue is not always benign. It has become a commonly abused verse within what is known as the Word Faith Heresy. Popular Word Faith pastors include Joel Osteen, Creflo Dollar, and Joyce Meyer. The heresy is a popular old sin. In fact it is the oldest sin.
You said in your heart, 'I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God I will set my throne on high; I will sit on the mount of the assembly in the far reaches of the north, I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.' -- Isaiah 14: 13-14 (ESV)
These verses are speaking of when Lucifer was cast out of heaven. His sin? Wanting to ascend to heaven itself. To sit on the mount of the assembly. To make himself like the Most High. He wanted to be God. This is the same sin we see repeated throughout Scripture. It is hardly surprising that when Satan tried to ensnare Eve in the Garden of Eden, he used the same sin to lure her in:
But the serpent said to the woman, "You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." -- Genesis 3: 4-5 (ESV)
Your eyes will be opened and you will be like God. I will ascend to the throne and be like the Most High. The more things change the more they stay the same. Man has been recreating God in his own image since the garden and most false theologies have an element of this within their teachings but none are more shameless about it than Word Faith heretics. Recently deceased word faith preacher Myles Munroe taught that God needs our permission to even operate here on earth! Creflo Dollar, who performed the eulogy for Munroe, has consistently taught that we are "little gods, with a small g." Joyce Meyer has repeated this blasphemous assertion. What they essentially teach is the same sin of Lucifer and Eve. Realize too that the primary reason why people stay away from salvation is that they like being their own god and do not want to give up the throne. Word Faith allows people to believe they are saved and following God when they are in fact the god they are following. The essentials of word faith say that our words have the power of creation in them, as God's did when He spoke everything into existence. To get there they leverage certain Scriptures, wrest them horribly out of context and read into them things that are simply not there. I remember watching Joel Osteen preach at Yankee Stadium several years ago to a throng of 55,000 adoring fans and he was going through the usual litany of word faith teachings. That was when he said that the Bible teaches us that we are to "call things that are not as though they were." Because I have studied the Bible I knew this was incorrect but here is the actual verse to display how crafty the devil is when he lies to us:
As it is written, "I have made you the father of many nations" -- in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. -- Romans 4: 17 (ESV)
The assertion from Joel that night, and I have heard him express this before, is that the Bible tells us we are to speak things into reality. For example, Osteen once preached we should speak to our empty wallet that it is actually full if we want to come into money. Another time when consoling a father who referred to himself as a "bad father", Joel corrected him and taught him to say he was a good father. I remember thinking at the time that it seemed to miss the point that he was a bad father but that is the hook for Osteen and the word faithers. Reality is what we say it is. This is where the phrase "name it and claim it" comes from. This is the caricature of Stuart Smalley saying into the mirror that he was good enough, smart enough, and gosh darnitt, people liked him. Only now Stuart Smalley carries a Bible and pastors the largest church in America. But beloved take a close look at the verse from Romans that Osteen pretends to be referencing. Does this verse state that we have the power of creation in our tongue? Does it instruct us to call things that are not as though they were? Absolutely not! It says that God calls things that are not as though they were!
I will ascend to the throne of the Most High.
You will be like God.
We are to call things that are not as though they were.
Why can God refer to Himself as such? Because He sees all time! This referent is to the fact that God called Abraham a father of many nations way before it ever happened. Was God guessing? Of course not. He knew he would be a father of many nations. He is God! We however are not. We are the created; not the Creator. We cannot see all time therefore we cannot call things that are not yet as though they were because we would have no idea what we are talking about. I see people under this snare every day decreeing and declaring things they have no power or authority to do. If we have the power of creation in our tongues and can simply change reality through decree, who is God in that scenario? Why would we even need God in that scenario? If we are worried about going to hell we could just repeat over and over that we declare we are going to heaven. If all it takes is telling our wallet that it has money in it, why are the only ones getting rich the ones who are teaching this lie?
That brings us to the key verses today. Proverbs 18: 21 is abused by word faith preachers every single day. They offer it up as a "proof text" to their heresy. Thus people who are constantly speaking negatively, such as the bad father, are "speaking death" while those who are positive in their speech are "speaking life." In fact, the last book put out by Joel Osteen was called "The Power of I Am." Unfortunately, this was not an exposition on the names of Almighty God. Not even close. It was a book of positive affirmations we proclaim over ourselves to change our realities. I am good enough. I am smart enough. I am Stuart Smalley. This is nothing but pure carnality and human wisdom. God has warned us beloved:
See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. -- Colossians 2: 8 (ESV)
Yet taken captive they are. Lakewood Church rakes in over $500,000 per weekend in giving and Osteen's viewership is probably measured in the millions. It is perfectly understandable too. Who wouldn't want to hear that they are little gods? That they can speak things, including money, into existence? That they can be as God? That they can ascend to the throne of the Most High? But the bottom line here is that Proverbs 18:21 teaches no such thing. I included the previous two verses for context. Proverbs are often grouped by similar subject matters. Verse 19 is very clear. It is dealing with offense. An offended brother is more unyielding than a strong city. During this heated political season it seems everyone is offended, so I am sure we can all relate. I have seen brother and sister in Christ turn on each other over perceived offenses within supporting one candidate over the other. It is intrinsic in human nature to take offense it seems which is why the Bible is so explicit about these matters:
If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. - Romans 12: 18 (ESV)
Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those that hear. - Ephesians 4: 29 (ESV)
There are plenty of other corroborating Scriptures beloved. We are not to be the source of offense towards people. Verse 20 is reinforcing that what we hold in our heart (belly) is what we will be satisfied with. We reap what we sow. Out of the abundance of the heart does the mouth speak. These two verses leading into the key verse are dealing with how we speak to other people. I say this because what word faith heretics do is flip this on its ear to pretend that these verses are about how we speak about ourselves. So we come to one of the most abused Bible verses:
Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits. Proverbs 18: 21 (ESV)
Let's break this into the two parts it has. Not surprisingly, those who seek to twist God's Word will often ignore the second half of the verse and just say that life and death are in the power of the tongue. This is in relation to other people though, not how we "self-speak." Our words can cause offense to a brother who then becomes unyielding towards us. Our words can edify however and build people up with wholesome conversation as opposed to corrupting talk. Let us see what Gill's Exposition of the Bible says about this verse:
"Death and life are in the power of the tongue, of witnesses, according to the testimony they bear; of judges, according to the sentence they pass; of teachers, according to the doctrine they preach; of all men, who, by their well or ill speaking, bring death or life to themselves and others; yea, judgment at the last day will proceed according to man's words, "by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned", the tongue is the instrument either of a great deal of good, or of a great deal of evil. -- Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
If we are a witness of Christ, which we all are, the power of our tongue carries life or death for the hearers. If we are a judge, our sentence does. If we are a teacher, our doctrine does. Remember beloved the Bible says we will all be held to account for every careless word. False judging does matter. False witnessing does matter. False teaching does matter. Our tongue is indeed the source of great good or great evil and thus life or death but this is always in relation to other people -- not ourselves. There is nothing that even vaguely hints at the power of creation in our words.
What then about the second half of the key verse? Those who love the tongue will eat of its fruit. Matthew Poole's Commentary succinctly summarizes this by saying we shall receive good or evil according to the quality of our speech. This is supported throughout Scripture and there is a universal precept of sowing and reaping. If we are constantly tearing people down then we can expect the same in our lives. Bitterness and anger are like acid in our stomachs eating away at us day by day. But please note, it is not the speech itself that results in what the world might refer to as karma. It is the principle God has set up. Word faith removes God and His principles from these equations. Instead of God having His way, we create our own. The power goes from God and His precepts to our mouths and the power of our own words. As noted before it is simply blasphemous. So if we find ourselves in love with the sound of our own voice, we better make sure our speech is seasoned with salt and preserves rather than destroys people.
Just a closing word on discernment in relation to this topic. It is often then confused that since we ought to only have edifying words that we ought never to criticize false teaching and that wholly misses the point. Nothing is above the Word of God. Nothing is more important than the integrity of the word of God because only the Gospel has the power of God unto the salvation of men. In fact, it is edifying to let someone know that they are under false teaching because only then can they come into the light. It is destructive to turn a blind eye to false teaching under the ruse of unity or even "speaking life." The false Gospel is by definition death. The road to destruction is broad because so many people are following false teachers who preach false gospels that promote false christs. Only the true Gospel brings life eternal beloved. This is why Titus instructs those with preaching and teaching callings to not only preach the correct Gospel but to rebuke those who do not. It is not in contradiction to Proverbs 18:21 but rather it affirms it. Do not believe snake oil salesmen peddling the trinkets of this world to you by convincing you that you are in any way God; little or otherwise. Do not aspire to rise to the throne of the Most High. We must diminish so that He may increase. Speak that into existence in your lives.
Reverend Anthony Wade -- August 25, 2016
Credentialed Minister of the Gospel for the Assemblies of God. Owner and founder of 828 ministries. Vice President for Goodwill Industries. Always remember that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.