In case you don’t know Randy Drollinger, he was a great man in our congregation who passed away suddenly in a logging accident on June 6th, 2016.
I went over to Vernelle’s house Monday evening when she heard that Randy got an early retirement from work, but she wasn’t going to be able to enjoy it with him for a little while. A number of her family and friends were over there. I left for a bit to check on my kids and came back and heard a conversation that was going on about whether or not Randy was a cusser. There was a man there I didn’t know who was surprised, saying, “Randy didn’t cuss? Really?” And he’d turn and ask others, “Did you ever hear Randy cuss?” They’d say, “No.” Someone said at the job site the other guys knew Randy didn’t like cussing and they had such respect for Randy that whenever Randy was around they cleaned up their language. Recently at a softball practice I threw a ball up in the air to myself, but it was a bad throw and it landed right on Randy’s foot. A lot of people would of cussed, maybe cussed me. But you know what Randy said? He said, “Ouch! That hurt!” That was it. Many of us have also talked about what an encourager Randy was. Whenever you were around him he made you feel very important and significant. He would find good qualities about you or something that you did well and he would make sure that you knew that he had noticed and that he appreciated it. Over the 8+ years that I knew Randy I don’t think I ever heard him say a negative thing about another person. I never heard him gossip about somebody that I can remember. Rather I remember often hearing him brag about other people. “I think so and so did a really good job preaching.” Or “Those Perrin kids are awesome.” Or “Chris does a great job song leading.” Or “Tab and Marcy are really generous people, aren’t they?” Things like that I would hear often from him. I’m sure there were times when he misused his tongue, as we all do at times. But compared to most he had a pretty tight rein on his tongue.
I see in Scripture that the use of a man’s tongue is like a barometer on his level of spiritual maturity. James 3:2 says, “For we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well.” If you never ever sin with your tongue, then you wouldn’t be sinning at all with your body, because your tongue is the most difficult member of your body to control. If you get to where what comes out of your mouth is always in complete harmony with the will of God, then you’ve mastered the most difficult area when it comes to our external doings and certainly what you do with your hands and feet and eyes and ears will also be in harmony with God’s will
It reminds me of the preacher who stood up before his congregation and began his sermon saying, “I want to show you that part of my body that causes me the greatest temptation.” And there was a breathless hush in the congregation. People’s eyes were wide. People looked scared. “Oh no, what is he going to do?” And then he suck his tongue out at them.
Well, James 3:2 says that’s the way it is for all of us, as I’m sure we know from experience, the difficulty of only saying the right things in the right way all the time. I don’t know about you, but often I have found that I don’t realize I’m not saying the right thing until the words are already out of my mouth and I see the response of the person who is hearing the words. I see the look in my wife who has been hurt by my words, or I see look in a friend whose been offended by my words. And then I think, “O that was stupid. O I wish could take those words back.” But you can’t take words back. Or after I’ve finished telling a story, there’s been times when it dawned on me afterward, I embellished that story a bit. I exaggerated some of the details. The fish I caught was not really that big. The tongue is most difficult member to make behave all the time.
But it is absolutely vital that we get a good handle on the way we use our tongues. We will be probably never get to a point where we never stumble in what we say. But we must get a good handle on it. James 1:26 says, “If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.” So clearly the Lord takes the way we use our tongues seriously.
In our daily Bible reading schedule we’re in the book of Proverbs. And speech is a major topic addressed in Proverbs. There are something like 90 verses in Proverbs about the way we talk. But don’t fret, we’re not going to look at all 90 in this lesson. But I’d like to just guide us in an organized way in exploring some of what Proverbs has to say about our speech.
First of all, Proverbs wants us to understand…
The power of our speech
There’s a legend I heard that illustrates it. A king sent out a servant with the assignment to bring back to him the most valuable thing in his realm. The servant went out and came back with a silver platter and on the platter was a human tongue. And he said, “Sire, this is the most valuable thing in your realm.” The king sent out the servant again, this time to bring back the worst, most destructive, thing in his realm. So the servant came back again with the silver platter and on it again was a human tongue. And he said, “This is the worst thing in your realm.”
Proverbs says our tongues have tremendous power to bless ourselves and others, and tremendous power to damage our ourselves and others.
The power of our tongues on ourselves
21:23, “He who guards his mouth and his tongue, Guards his soul from troubles.” What comes out of people’s mouths can wreak havoc on their marriages, their friendships, cause them problems at work, just make a mess of their lives. I have some neighbors who used to be the best friends and loved living right next door to each other. Now, because of things they’ve said to each other, they don’t talk anymore and it’s awkward for them every time they see each other outside their homes. Guard your mouth, guard your soul from troubles.
13:3, “The one who guards his mouth preserves his life; The one who opens wide his lips [the one who speaks rashly, who just lets whatever comes to mind out] comes to ruin.”
The power of our tongues on others
12:18, “There is one who speaks rashly like the thrusts of a sword, But the tongue of the wise brings healing.” The one who speaks rashly is the person who speaks without thinking it through first. He doesn’t think about how other people will take what he says before he speaks. He doesn’t know the power of his words to damage. The words of that person will be like thrusts of the sword, cutting and stabbing the people around him. The adage, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me,” we know is not true, because many of us have scars on our hearts from things people have said to us or about us. I have some scars on my heart because of things I have said about others that I wish I could take back. The point is you should really think before you speak. Put your mind in gear before you put your tongue in motion. So bad speech is incredibly destructive. But the verse also says the tongue of the wise brings healing. So the tongue also has the power to heal some of the damage that’s been caused by others. We can help reverse their feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness or whatever damage others have caused.
12:25, “Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs it down, But a good word makes it glad.” Our words can have the power of prozac and xanax, without the side effects. When somebody’s overwhelmed with anxiety, a good word can totally change their day.
13:14, “The teaching of the wise is a fountain of life, To turn aside from the snares of death.” We live in a world that is mined with the snares of death, with lethal traps. Proverbs talks about a number of them. One is easy money through dishonesty or wronging another person. Another snare is easy sex outside God’s boundaries of marriage. And there are other traps that mine this world, and if people get caught in them it will cost them the abundant life they could have had. And he’s saying our words have the power to turn people aside from those snares of death. We can save people from losing their lives in sinful things. Our words can be like a fountain of life that, if people drink them and live by them, will give them better life now and on into eternity.
16:24, “Pleasant words are a honeycomb, Sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.” Now, normally medicine, what is healing to the bones, is not sweet. And what is sweet is normally not good for us. But gracious words, kind words, encouraging words are not only sweet for people to hear, but also healing, good for them, strengthening, motivating.
16:27-28, “A worthless man digs up evil, While his words are like scorching fire.” James 3 uses the same image saying, “Look at how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire.” We know all about that here in Montana, just a cigarette bud or a firework and it can burn up thousands of acres of forest. And then James 3 says, “And the tongue is a fire...” It has more destructive power than most people realize to destroy people’s joy and peace and destroy families and friendships and churches. We ought to be as careful with our tongues as we would be with a torch in a dry forest. “28 A perverse man spreads strife, And a slanderer separates intimate friends.”
We’ll sum it up with this. 18:21, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue…” Death and life first of all for ourselves. Jesus said, “I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment. 37 For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Mt 12:36-37). But also death and life for others are in the power of the tongue. By our speech we can lead people on to eternal life and by our speech we can lead them on to eternal death.
Proverbs also wants us to know the…
Characteristics of wise speech
Maybe you’ve heard that you should first taste your words before you spit them out. Well, Proverbs tells us about how they should taste before we spit them out. And I’ve put many of these characteristics into an acronym so that I can remember them, an acronym with the word “TASTEFUL”. Each letter stands for a characteristic of wise speech.
12:22, “Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, But those who deal faithfully are His delight.” God doesn’t view lying like we do. Our culture sees lying as a very minor issue, something that everybody does at times to avoid trouble or embarrassment or to make themselves appear better. But Proverbs says it is an abomination to God. He detests it.
A form of lying Proverbs mentions a lot is flattery. 29:5 for example, “A man who flatters his neighbor Is spreading a net for his steps.” Flattery has been defined as saying something to a person’s face that you would never say behind their back. You’re telling them things they want to hear, that you don’t really believe are true, because for some reason it’s to your advantage that they like you. You tell your boss, “That was the best presentation I think I have ever heard.” But then on the phone with your wife, “Honey, I think I might get a raise. He really like it when I said that to him.” “And how was his presentation really?” “Eh, not so good.”
Whatever you want to communicate, there can be an attractive way to say it and there can be an ugly way to say it, and the way you say it can make a world of difference.
15:1, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, But a harsh word stirs up anger.” It could be the same message you’re wanting to get across, but if you use a harsh tone or are disrespectful, it’s just going to make people mad and turn them off. But if you present it to them in a gentle way, respectful and like you care about the person, then they will be much more receptive. “2 The tongue of the wise makes knowledge acceptable…” In other words the wise speak in such a way that it makes the knowledge they are trying to impart attractive; they adorn it with tactfulness and respect and kindness. “But the mouth of fools spouts folly.” Or New Living Translation says “the mouth of a fool belches out foolishness”. Foolish speech is unattractive like belching.
16:21, “… Sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness.” Did you get that? “Sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness.”
26:4-5, “Do not answer a fool according to his folly, Or you will also be like him. Answer a fool as his folly deserves, That he not be wise in his own eyes.” So v5 is saying it’s fine and good to correct a fool, to show him how he’s in error. But v4 is saying you have to do it in the right way. In correcting a fool don’t talk in the way the fool talks, don’t talk rashly, angrily, disrespectfully, not listening and so forth or you will be just like him and as guilty as he is.
I have in mind shielding others reputations and secrets. So you could make the S instead if you like “slander not.”
11:13, “He who goes about as a talebearer reveals secrets, But he who is trustworthy conceals a matter.”
16:28, “A perverse man spreads strife, And a slanderer separates intimate friends.” That’s another thing in Proverbs that is said to be an abomination to the Lord spreading strife among brothers. Relationships, people loving one another is very important to God. He detests it when people separate friends by gossip.
The golden rule on avoiding gossip and slander is let the honor of your neighbor be as dear to you as your own. If you wouldn’t want somebody spreading this kind of rumor about you then don’t spread it about them.
15:28, “The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer, But the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things.” Sometimes we speak of people who just speak their mind as though that’s a good thing. Proverbs says that’s foolishness. Wise speech involves thinking about how to respond, not speaking whatever first comes to mind. It involves thinking about the rightness of your words, how they’re going to be received, what’s going to happen if you say this.
13:3, “The one who guards his mouth preserves his life; The one who opens wide his lips comes to ruin.” The one who speaks rashly is the idea. That’s self-destructive.
29:20, “Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him.” Think first!
17:14, “The beginning of strife is like letting out water, So abandon the quarrel before it breaks out.” If you’re talking to a person and you can tell they’re starting to get mad and be insulting, it’s like a dam holding back a lake of water that’s beginning to leak because it’s starting to break. If you continue to argue and quarrel with that person then it’s like shaking the earth beneath the dam and soon it will break and lots of damage will be done. He’s saying if you’re beginning to quarrel with someone then it’s best to just quit talking about whatever is, because it won’t do any good to keep arguing. It will only get worse and worse. So that’s something to be thoughtful of.
To edify means to build up. This is a summary of a lot of this. We are only to speak words that are edifying, helpful, constructive, that serve some good purpose. It’s a summary Paul also gave. Ephesians 4:29, “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment so that it will give grace to those who hear.” As your mom probably told you, “If you don’t have anything good to say then don’t say anything at all.” (Proverbs 10:11; 15:7)
10:19, “When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable, But he who restrains his lips is wise.” It’s so easy to sin with your lips. So don’t speak everything that’s on your mind. Just speak those things that are helpful for the moment.
12:23, “A prudent man conceals knowledge, But the heart of fools proclaims folly.” The idea is the prudent, the wise, doesn’t say everything they know and everything that’s on their mind. They’ve learned not to unload everything they know on people, but to just speak what’s helpful for the moment.
17:27, “He who restrains his words has knowledge, And he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.” So especially when you are angry, few words is best. “28 Even a fool, when he keeps silent, is considered wise; When he closes his lips, he is considered prudent.” Abraham Lincoln said, “It is better to keep your mouth shut and be thought a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.” And I don’t know who came up with this one but I like it, “It would be better to leave people wondering why you didn’t talk than why you did.” So fewer words is usually better.
18:13, “He who gives an answer before he hears, It is folly and shame to him.” In other words listen and make sure you understand whatever the subject is before you talk about it. I have a relative who will talk with authority and argue about things he’s never studied and has no experience with. I guess he wants to impress people. Maybe you know the type. Maybe you know being that person. But he just makes a total fool of himself when he does that. Listen and gain understanding before you speak on a matter.
18:2, “A fool does not delight in understanding, But only in revealing his own mind.” You know that God gave us 2 ears and 1 mouth so we will listen twice as much as we speak.
I have in mind humble speech. 27:2, “Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; A stranger, and not your own lips.” It might be okay when you’re applying for a job to talk about your accomplishments and credentials, but not when you are applying for friends or people’s respect. Be lowly in your speech. Let another praise you and not your own mouth.
And then Proverbs wants us to understand…
Sources of wise speech
For out of the heart comes the way we speak. Wise speech will come out of a wise heart. 4:23, “Watch over your heart with all diligence, For from it flow the springs of life.” Jesus said, “the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart.” And He said, “the tree is known by its fruit.” Good fruit means you have a good tree. Bad fruit means you have a bad tree. So if in your heart there is wisdom, if you are a good tree, then out of your heart is going to come wise speech, good fruit. Socrates would say to a man when he met him, “Speak that I may see you.” Because our words reveal who we are inside. Who we are inside determines our words. So we must work on the way that we think, the way that we are inside.
Part of getting a wise heart is receiving…
5:1-2, “My son, give attention to my wisdom, Incline your ear to my understanding; 2 That you may observe discretion And your lips may reserve knowledge.” So apply yourself to learning the wise instruction of the Scriptures.
Also Proverbs tells us to surround ourselves with…
Choose your friends carefully, it says. You will be influenced by the people you hang out with. 13:20, “He who walks with wise men will be wise, But the companion of fools will suffer harm.”
Then finally wisdom comes by…
God’s grace, through prayer and faith
16:3, “Commit your works to the LORD And your plans will be established.” There’s a great prayer for this in Psalm 141:3, “Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; Keep watch over the door of my lips.” And Psalm 19:14, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.”
So let’s remember the incredible power of our words to bless people’s lives and our own or to damage people and ruin ourselves. And let’s remember the characteristics of wise speech, how they should taste before we spit them out. Tasteful words are true, attractive with gentleness and respect, shielding of people’s reputations, thoughtful, edifying (only what’s helpful), few, understanding (because you’ve listened first), and lowly (humble). May the words of our mouth and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable in His sight.
– James Williams