Oh That Toothy Tongue!

You may have found snail shells in your garden beside a dead vine or bush, whatever the snail fancied to feed on. Sometimes you will even see them high up on a plant, fastened tightly to what they were devouring.

How can they do it? Because snails have teeth. Thousands of them!

The snail’s teeth are not like ours. Their teeth are arranged in rows on its tongue.

A scientist examining one under his microscope counted 135 rows of teeth, each row with 115 teeth. That means the lowly creature had more than 15,000 teeth!

What do these creatures look like? The web has many images of them. The snail keeps its toothy tool rolled up like a ribbon until it is needed, then thrusts out the sharp appendage and saws through the toughest leaves and stems with comparative ease.

It is said that a typical garden snail has about 14,000 teeth while other species can have over 20,000.

But that’s not even the most shocking part: The teeth of a water snail called the limpet are the strongest known biological material on Earth, even stronger than titanium!

Oh what lessons we can get from these toothy creatures! Tongues that devastate, devour and destroy, doing their deviltry at will!

The Scriptures warn us of the cutting power of the tongue, also how to control it.

Because our tongues, too, can be armed with teeth.

Shouldn’t we want to learn how to prevent that harm? Let’s take it first from James:

James 1:19–20  19So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; 20for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.

Unfortunately, some men and women also have “teeth” on their tonuges that are ever ready to cut down the character and reputation of even the most consecrated, wholehearted servants of the Lord. How many hearts and homes have been broken and how many lives blasted because of tongues that seem to have even more teeth than the lowly snail!

Toothy tongues thrust out can also be like boomerangs. There is a strange verse in Ecclesiastes that says just this.

Ecclesiastes 7:21–22  21Also do not take to heart everything people say, Lest you hear your servant cursing you. 22For many times, also, your own heart has known That even you have cursed others.

If we say it about others, they may also say it about us.

Talking down another person seldom brings happiness. What is the solution? Silence! Stop it! If it isn’t profitable, don’t say it.

Far better to avoid the interchange. Someone has said

Gossips usually get caught in their own “mouth-traps.”

There is good reason NOT to repeat what we have no reason or need even to know. When we pass it on, we become a talebearer and strife-maker.

Another proverb says it:

Proverbs 26:20  20Where there is no wood, the fire goes out; And where there is no talebearer, strife ceases.

James has more tongue-teeth advice. 

James 4:11  11Do not speak evil of one another, brethren. He who speaks evil of a brother and judges his brother, speaks evil of the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge.

We want to be DOERS of the law. When we speak evil of a brother we are in reality speaking against God’s law because we are disobeying it instead of DOING it. 

That is the reason for the test of the lady who said,

I stop and taste my words before I let them pass my teeth.

Tasting first, speaking second saves a lot of grief.

This was the Psalmist’s prayer:

Psalm 141:3  3Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; Keep watch over the door of my lips.

David prayed for wisdom to restrain offending language, and to know the right words to speak. He wanted to avoid any words of impiety, irreverence,  or idolatry. He did not want God to hear him say anything that violated His law. He said more:

Psalm 141:4–5  4Do not incline my heart to any evil thing, To practice wicked works With men who work iniquity; And do not let me eat of their delicacies. 5Let the righteous strike me; It shall be a kindness. And let him rebuke me; It shall be as excellent oil; Let not my head refuse it.

Words seems such small things, but what power they have. What a responsibility to make the right use of this little tool God has given us.

Today even those who profess Christ use words that show no reverence for Him. They even disrespect Him using sacred terms flippantly. Often these words are slangy substitutes for God or things sacred. It is a modern way of taking God’s name in vain. It is something we have to guard warily against. The caution in Scripture give us an insight into the law of God and a principle that applies to any form of our behavior and interaction with others.

Proverbs 22:24–25  24Make no friendship with an angry man, And with a furious man do not go, 25Lest you learn his ways And set a snare for your soul.

Let us repeat especially that last phrase:

“Lest you learn his ways and set a snare for your soul.”

We can be as snared by vulgar words and slang as by any other influence.

It is so easy to pick up words from those who have no loyalty or reverence for God, with scarcely a thought of their meaning. Watch especially for words preceded by the term “holy.” Anything holy is set apart exclusively for GOD and should not be on our lips in any meaningless comment.

Do we realize how accountable we are for the words we say?

Matthew 12:36 36But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment.

One might say, “it was nothing, I didn’t mean it. Let it go. Why make so much of it?”

But Jesus will not let it go. It was NOT nothing, and at the great Day it will not be treated as nothing. It cut, like the snail’s teeth, and must be judged for the damage it does.

Words are the index of the heart, however idle they may seem, and Christ will take them into account, whether good or bad, in evaluating our character in the Day of judgment. Oh, how careful we should be of our words! For:

Matthew 12:37  37For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

We may think that the effect of our tongue is microscopic, that an unkind word here or a vulgar word there or a careless word somewhere else can do little damage. But remember the snail. Tiny teeth can do damage to scores of plants and prevent them from blossoming and bearing fruit, and all by the unobservable action of that toothy tongue.

Many people have been deeply cut by the sharp words of those who have “teeth” on their tongues. Underneath, they WANTED their words to cut!

What a disgrace! What shame when the snail’s toothy tongue is a parable of our own. Let our prayer rather be:

Lord put a seal upon my lips,
Help me to guard with care
The things I say and swift repeat:
Oh tongue of mine, BEWARE!

Let our words be always Christ-centered and God-honoring, not blending into the vernacular around us but always gracious, tender and kind.

Let us conclude by repeating together the prayer of the Psalmist in Psalm 19:14,

Psalm 19:14 14Let the words of my mouth, And the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer.