Ok, you knew this one was coming. But don’t be alarmed. What I want to say today is as relevant for me as it is for anyone out there with a tongue to speak. So if you possess a mouth, this one’s for you.
“The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” Proverbs 18:21
The tongue is such a tricky fella. And his words wielding a power unlike anything else. Even people like Shakespeare would agree. But in the book of James, we read that “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.” (Jam. 3:9-10)
The words of our mouths can both help and hurt, praise and punish.
So what should we do about our tongues? I thought it wise to take a quick look at the kind of words we want and those we don’t. Hold on to your seats because we will scour a lot of Scripture, but in the end, we should have a better idea of how to handle our words.
So what characterizes the words that are not pleasing to God? In Psalm 36:3, we learn that the words of the wicked are both “wicked and deceitful.” In Proverbs 18:7, we see that “The mouths of fools are their undoing, and their lips are a snare to their very lives.”
From Ephesians chapters 4 and 5, we learn that the speech we must put off includes lying (Eph. 4:25), slandering (Eph. 4:31), obscenity, foolish talk, and coarse joking (Eph. 5:4). In Proverbs 17:9, we are reminded that “Whoever covers an offense seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates close friends.”
We should also be on guard with flattery. Psalm 55:21 says, “His speech is smoother than butter, but there is war in his heart.” Proverbs 26:18-19 admonishes the man who is found sarcastic by, “…deceiving his neighbor saying, ‘I’m only joking!” And lastly, Colossians sums it all up by reminding us to “rid ourselves… of filthy language” (which includes cursing) (Col. 3:8).
The bottom line: if it isn’t truthful, don’t say it. If it isn’t loving, don’t say it. And if it seeks to put someone down (even someone you may not personally know), think twice and probably don’t say it.
Now. We can’t just go around not speaking to anyone. So what does the Bible say is characteristic of good speech?
In Proverbs 15:2, we read, “The tongue of the wise adorns knowledge….” In other words, it is beneficial. And in Ephesians 5:18-20, we read that it is good to be “…filled with the Spirit…speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit…always giving thanks to God the Father for everything…”
I know what you’re thinking, “Mom, I’m supposed to sing songs to people?” Well, I think the point here is that from the outflow of a grateful heart should come words of edification for others. This is also shown in Ephesians 4:29, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what helps build others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”
Our speech needs to be helpful and edifying. This does not mean that we throw truth out to be “Henrietta Happy” all the time. We should always be willing to speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15). As a woman seeking to please God, I’ve often been reminded that the idea is to build up rather than tear down with my words (Prov.14:1) even when I have to confront someone.
In addition, Proverbs 15: 4 says, “Gentle words bring life and health…” And in Proverbs 18:4, “Kind words are like honey-sweet to the soul and healthy for the body.” So the kinds of words that should be on our lips are those that always bear truth, love, and are edifying. They encourage the people around us. How much more pleasant would it be to give and receive daily exhortations, affirmations, or blessings from your loved ones?
But inevitably, if you are human, one day you’ll find something that comes from your mouth that you wish had not. Your best intentions to have good speech won’t always deliver. With this in mind, Jesus explains in Mark’s gospel, “…the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them.” (Matt. 15:18) Here we see that the state of our hearts is connected with the words we speak.
James takes it even further by saying, “Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless.” (Jas. 2:26) Ouch!! So let’s not cooperate with anything that holds the potential to defile us or spoil us, and let’s guard our religion by guarding our tongues.
But how do we tend to our hearts so that what comes out of our mouths is beneficial?
David lends some help from his petition in Psalm 19:14, “May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, LORD, my Rock, and my Redeemer.” David knows that what he is thinking is affecting his speech. So if we are to shake a stick at all the things flowing from our mouths, we must remember, “From out of the heart, the mouth speaks.” (Matt. 12:34) If our thoughts are evil, eventually, our words will be evil, as well.
So we need to fill our minds first with good things. These good things are found in God’s Word. Paul says in Philippians 4:8, “Finally brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think on these things.” If we are thinking these kinds of things, we will inevitably speak them, as well.
I pray you will allow God to sow into your heart through His Word so that what springs from your mouth will be fruitful in your life and others’. That as you fill your heart and mind with His truth, love, wisdom, and knowledge, you will be able to eat the “fruit of life” (Prov. 18:21) produced by your speech.