Part 6 in a 7 part series. View series intro and index.
Let me say this right up front: I am not the greatest example of wise speech. I’ve stuck my foot in my mouth a few times and I have let a few foul words slip as well. Yet in his great mercy, despite my constant failures, God is refining my tongue. I praise him for his sanctifying and empowering grace.
Proverbs has more to say about our speech than any other subject – besides the benefits of wisdom. Indeed, this is a major theme of the Bible as well. Luke 6:45 says, “For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” James 3:2 says, “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 wholly body.”
The straightforward command of Solomon to his son in Proverbs 4:24 is umbrella principle for our speech. He says, “Put away from you crooked speech, and put devious talk far from you.” This doesn’t just mean stop telling junior high locker room jokes. It means anything that isn’t in line with God’s standard for righteousness, justice, and wholesomeness. Wow. It’s no wonder that “no man can tame the tongue” (James 3:8).
There are benefits to controlling our tongue (which, ultimately, means we control our hearts as Luke 6:45 says). Solomon later says, “Whoever guards his mouth preserves his life; he who opens wide his lips comes to ruin” (13:3). And again, “Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him” (29:20). In other words, if you are loose and foolish with your speech, the guy who sticks his hand in the bonfire to see how hot it is has more hope than you.
Words are powerful. Paul Tripp has said, “You have never spoken a neutral word in your life. Either your talk brings life or brings death.” That strikes a chord deep inside of my heart. Words lure men away into adultery (7:5, 21). Words tarnish the reputation of a neighbor (11:9). Words scorch close relationships (16:27-28). Harsh words create anger (15:1b). On the other hand, soft words remove wrath (15:1a). Words heal wounded hearts (12:18). Honest words are like a lover’s kiss (24:26). A word fitly spoken is like a sweet fruit tray at a dinner party (25:11).
I haven’t even touched on gossip, lying, deception, reproving others, and a slew of other speech-related issues. There’s so much to reflect on. The bottom line is that if our hearts are wicked, our speech will be as well. O Lord, change our hearts that our speech might be seasoned with salt so that it might be received well by the listening ear. Cause the words of our mouth and the meditations of our heart, Father, to be acceptable in your sight (Ps. 19:14).
To be continued…