Words can wound. In a few short moments, words can be uttered that have the power to inflict irreparable harm. The mouth is like a machine gun loaded with hateful sayings from the storehouse of a hurt heart ready to unload on a close friend, colleague or spouse. When we open fire on those around us, we have the power to unleash an onslaught of aggression. Some of our whizzing word-bullets can cause damage to the soul of another that can take years to heal.
I still remember painful words spoken to me as a child that have shaped the course of my life to some degree. These words will occasionally pop into my mind and influence the way I think about myself. They have ability to form my identity, to change the way I relate to others, and to influence vocational and other life decisions if I let them. Emotionally charged conversations from my past are the old battlefields where words, fired in an instant, changed the course of my future. They shoot out of the mouth in the heat of the moment but have a disproportionately long lasting effect.
Thankfully, words of apology, forgiveness, grace, love, and encouragement can have equally powerful effects in the opposite direction. Instead of harming, they heal and build up. These words act as body armor for future attacks of the tongue. When someone speaks words of encouragement to me out of love, I find myself better able to ward off bullets of hate in the future. If I’ve heard kind words that encourage me around one area of my character, I’m better able to deal with criticism and hate in that area at a later date. Words of love from the tongue are plates of protection against the ammunition that might later fly from the same source.
I was reminded of this during a conversation with some friends not long ago. I had recently spoken harshly to my wife, and I was processing the pain in the aftermath of our verbal altercation. I was reminded of the hurt and healing the tongue can inflict, and going forward I hope to control my tongue by the guiding principle to speak the truth in love. In love I can use my tongue to confess wrongdoing, forgive sin, extend grace, and affirm others. By speaking the truth in love, I hope I can put down my weapons of relational war, and instead do all I can to help protect others from future pain as well.
3:1 Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. 2 For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. 3 If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. 4 Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. 5 So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.
How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! 6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life,  and set on fire by hell.  7 For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, 8 but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers,  these things ought not to be so. 11 Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? 12 Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water. (from: http://www.gnpcb.org/esv/search/?q=James+3)