Well, this presidential election cycle is a whopper, isn’t it? And it will probably go down as one of the most verbally nuclear election cycles in our time. I mean, the words that are going back and forth from these presidential candidates are quite heated at times. And we shouldn’t be surprised. It isn’t very often into an election cycle that one candidate or another says something or a moment happens with a verbal missile comes out of their mouth. And they’ve got to walk it back or walk it forward or whatever politicians do these days. It isn’t just this election cycle. If you go back even to the 1968 election cycle, the one that put Richard Nixon into the White house, he had a vice presidential candidate named Spiro Anew. Remember Spiro Agnew from Maryland, I believe he was. And he was known for his sharp tongue. In fact, one time Spiro Agnew called those TV anchors “nattering nabobs of negativism.” How dare he say such a thing? What heated rhetoric it was. It was very mild compared to today’s rhetoric, right?
Well, we’re finishing up our study of the book of Proverbs. And we’ve come to a subject that I think is so important for us to address, and that is the tongue. Speaking words of wisdom. It’s something every one of us does every day. We use this thing called our lips and our tongue and our mouth, speech and words. And, I don’t know, somebody has counted up the number of words that men and women speak. I mean, it just goes into the tens of thousands every day. And the Bible, friends, has a lot to say. It has a lot to say about what we say and how we say it. In fact, I’m always reminded of…I think it comes from the book of Psalms, another book of wisdom in the Old Testament. “May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord.” I pray that just about every day, and certainly before I get up to stand and deliver a message like this. I want what comes out of my mouth to honor the Lord and to please Him, and even the deep meditations of my heart from which my words come, the church says.
But the Bible has a lot to say about what we say and how we say it. And certainly the book of Proverbs does. In fact, I added up, did a little math this week. There are approximately 915 verses in 31 chapters in the book of Proverbs. And approximately 180 of those verses have to do with our lips, our speech, our words, what comes out of our mouth. If you do the math there, that’s approximately 20% of the editorial content in the book of Proverbs addresses this subject. So we can’t leave this study, “Wise Sayings: Guidance for Everyday Life,” without a little bit of guidance on the use of our tongue. And that’s what we want to do this morning.
Before we get to Proverbs though, we need to understand Jesus took aim at our words. And He did so when He took aim at the Pharisees one day. You know, He had kind of a love/hate relationship with the Pharisees. He was often in a tangle with the politically religious of His day. And one time Jesus used some heated rhetoric. He called those Pharisees a brood of vipers. How dare He use words like that? You can imagine the religious and media elite in Jerusalem just getting wrapped around their ankles about such words. And yet it was Jesus who created those creatures called snakes. And He has every right as the creator to look at the Pharisees and say, “You're just like them.” And He was spot on. His words were holy, and His words were true. His words were right.
And following that exchange with the Pharisees, He said these words to them, and words that, boy, we, 2000 years later, need to consider. Matthew 12:36-37, Jesus says, “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak. For by your words you will be justified and by your words you will be condemned.” I wish He didn’t say that. I wish He didn’t say that because I’ve been known to let a careless word fly from my mouth. And unlike the politicians in Washington, who are always walking back their words, Jesus says you really can never walk them back because God is keeping a record of every word we speak. Even the words that we speak to ourselves. Do you talk to yourself from time to time? You know, in the days of cell phones, it’s perfectly appropriate now to talk to yourself in the car. You can just act like you’re on the phone, right? But even those words that we say, every word is recorded. Every word we will give an account someday before God. Makes you want to listen more and speak less, doesn’t it? It’s a pretty sobering thought.
There are several things that I observe as I read through the book of Proverbs and pay attention to words and verses related to our words and our speech. We’re going to look at a lot of scripture today from Proverbs. And you’re not going to be able to turn every one of them. They're in your notes for further study and further meditation. They’re going to be on the screen. But this is going to be a little bit rapid fire with some commentary in between. If nothing else, get rid of my words this morning and just listen to the words of scripture with regard to this very important subject. Open up your heart and your mind enough to let the Holy Spirit convict you where you need conviction and to encourage you where you need some encouragement this morning.
But the first thing I would suggest to us is that our speech is a matter of life and death. It really it. In fact, Proverbs 18:21 says, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” Can you imagine something that probably doesn’t weight but an ounce or two? That little pound of flesh or two located in your mouth is powerful. It has the power of life or death. Somebody once added up the number of words in Adolf Hitler’s book Mein Kampf, and said that for every word 125 people died in World War II. That’s the power of life and death in words. That’s why James describes the tongue in the New Testament as a destroying fire, a dangerous beast and a deadly poison. Have you heard of gossip columnists who write with a poison pen? It’s a dangerous thing if you use words incorrectly or inappropriately.
Both the wise and the foolish, Proverbs tell us, use their tongue for matters of life and death. Proverbs 15:2 says, “The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouth of fools pours out folly.” This is a serious matter, friends, this use of our tongue. Because death and life are in the power of the tongue.
Secondly, I observe as I read the book of Proverbs that some people talk too much. You ever met a chatterbox? Are you married to a motor mouth? I remember when I was growing up, my older brother, the nickname he received from my parents was motor mouth. I won’t tell you the nickname they gave me, but he was called motor mouth. And maybe that’s why he became an attorney one day. I probably just offended all the attorneys, but he’s a pretty good motor mouth.
Maybe you’re the kind of person that always feels like you have to have the last word in a conversation. Did you ever meet somebody like that? They are always one upping you? You know, they have to get the last word in. They talk too much. Well, here is what Proverbs says. Proverbs 10:19, “When words are many transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.” In other words, the more we talk, the more opportunity we have to sin, to offend people, to offend God. And that’s not a good thing. Proverbs 12:18, “There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” Are you somebody that has a sharp tongue? And when a sharp tongue and a tongue that talks too much meet, boy, that’s a dangerous, dangerous mixture there. Proverbs 13:3, “Whoever guards his mouth preserves his life; he who opens wide his lips comes to ruin.” Proverbs 29:20, “Do you see a man who is hasty in his words?” Not just somebody who talks too much—the chatterbox, the motor mouth—but somebody who talks too quickly. They’re too quick to get a word in. They not only want the last word, they want the first word and the middle word and the last word. They’re just talking too quickly, and they’re talking too much.
That’s why James tells us in James 1:26, “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion,” say it with me, “is worthless.” James has the audacity, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, to call our faith worthless if we don’t control this thing called the tongue. And that’s why earlier he says, “Be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath.” Somebody once observed, God gave us two ears and one mouth. Maybe we should listen twice as much as we talk. That’s a good piece of advice for those who talk too much.
Here is something else that I observe when I read through the book of Proverbs and make note of those passages or those verses that talk about the tongue. We can use our tongues in a positive way. We can use it in a negative way. We can use it to tear people down. We can use it to lift people up.
Let’s talk about the negative use of our tongues first, and then we’ll finish on the positive side. Because the negative side can be, well, slightly convicting. I can go through the book of Proverbs and elsewhere in the Bible and come up with at least seven deadly sins of the tongue. I’ve listed them for you on the back of your notes there, seven and a perhaps a little bit more. Lying, gossip, cursing, sarcasm, blasphemy, innuendo, flattery, insults, slander, criticism. How about sowing discord, boasting. These are all negative, negative uses of our tongue. And we can use our tongue in these ways to tear people down. You know what I’ve noticed about people who use their tongue to tear people down? They have very poor self-esteem. And the only way they can feel good about themselves is to tear somebody else down. If that describes you, ask God to do a work from the inside out, not only in your self-esteem that you see yourself as in Christ and all that that means, but then that that is a reflection of how you speak as well.
I don’t have time to address all of the negative uses of the tongue, but I will address two or three of them, starting in Proverbs 6:6-19. Listen to these words. “There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.” Now, I notice that of the six things the Lord hates…and anytime you see that formula in Proverbs or elsewhere, pay attention to it. Here are six things the Lord hates. That’s a strong word. Three of them relate to the misuse of the tongue. Two of them refer to lying, so let’s just talk about lying.
Are you a truth teller, or do you tell little white lies? Do you know how to speak the truth in love? That’s the standard scripture gives to us. Not to tell a little white lie because, well, you know, we don’t want to hurt somebody’s feelings. If we really monitored our mouths in a way that was truthful, are we really speaking the truth? Proverbs 12:22 says lying lips are an abomination to the Lord. That’s because the Bible says God cannot lie. He can’t do it. It’s completely against His nature to even tell a little white lie. God will always, always, always tell us the truth. And for that reason…because it is so much a part of His nature not to lie and He cannot lie…He despises lying lips.
Two of the Ten Commandments relate to our lips. One about lying- “Thou shalt not bear false witness against your neighbor. And the other one has to do with using our lips in a way that discredits God’s name. “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.” Now, what does it mean to do that? Well, to use God’s name frivolously, like dropping an OMG into the conversation. Oh my. When I hear Christians do that, it’s just like nails on a chalkboard to me. The world does that. But Christians should never use God’s name in a frivolous way, let alone in a way that is profane, to use His name to curse something. That’s taking God’s name in vain. And both that and lying are in the top Ten Commandments. Twenty percent of the top Ten Commandments relate to the use of our tongue. How interesting is that. So lying lips are an abomination to the Lord.
If that isn’t convicting enough, let’s go on to another one of the seven or more deadly sins of tongue. This one is called sowing discord. There are six things that the Lord hates. One of them is one who sows discord among brothers. In other words, somebody who uses his or her tongue to divide people, to cause divisions within the body of Christ. You know, politicians today raise themselves to a pretty high standard. They say a leader should always be somebody who unites people, doesn’t divide people. And then they use their tongues to divide Americans, pitting this group against that group for their personal and political gain. I’m tired of that in politics. But when that kind of politics gets inside the church and people use their tongues to cause divisions, to sow discord, it’s a terrible thing.
And as I read through the New Testament, I find there are at least two strategies or schemes the devil uses to bring down a church. One is false doctrine, and the other is sowing discord. Divisions. Every one of Paul’s New Testament letters he addresses false doctrines and he addresses divisions taking place within the church. Read, for example, the letter to the Corinthians. What a divisive church it was. They were divided over who their leaders were. Some were of Paul, some were of Apollos, some were of Peter. And they were divided into camps. And Paul says, “Listen, that’s all hogwash. These things ought not to be so.” And so sowing discord is one of these sins of the tongue. Proverbs 6:12-15 says, “A worthless person, a wicked man, goes about with crooked speech, winks with his eyes, signals with his feet, points with his finger, with perverted heart devises evil, continually sowing discord; therefore calamity will come upon him suddenly; in a moment he will be broken beyond healing.” The Bible not only calls out the person who sows discord with her or her lips, but then talks about the consequences that will follow. “Calamity will come upon him suddenly; and in a moment he will be broken.”
You say, “Well, Pastor, how are we supposed to deal with the person who uses his or her tongue in a divisive kind of way in the body of Christ?” Well, I’m glad you asked, because the apostle Paul said these words in Titus 3:10. “As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him.” It’s a serious matter. It’s a serious matter to use your tongue to divide people into camps. And one of our favorite ways to do that is through gossip and slander and backbiting. These are all mentioned in the book of Proverbs and elsewhere in the Bible. Gossip, slander, backbiting. Do you know what backbiting is? It’s talking about somebody behind their back negatively. If you’re going to talk about somebody behind their back, say a positive thing. Say an encouraging thing. But when you say something about somebody behind their back in a negative way, you’re a backbiter. And the Bible has some strong, strong words for that.
So, for instance, in Proverbs 11:19, “Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets, but he who is trustworthy in spirit keeps a thing covered.” Proverbs 16:28, “A dishonest man spreads strife, and a whisperer separates friends.” That’s the gossip. They go around whispering, whispering. “Did you hear about this? I heard…” When you start a conversation or hear somebody start a conversation, “I heard…,” stop right now. Stop right now. You’re spreading gossip. And you ought not participate in that. And if you’re a leader in the church, you need to step into that conversation and say, “We don’t do that here.” We should have a no tolerance policy in the church when it comes to gossip, slander, (0:19:00.0) backbiting. And our sensitivity is raised to it as much as it would be to immorality, because, again, the devil uses this to bring down the church. Especially when things aren’t going the way everybody wants it to. “Pss, pss, pss, pss.” The whisperer. The whisperer. Proverbs 20:19, “Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets, therefore do not associate with a babbler.” You shut that person down right now in the love of Jesus Christ and tell them, “We don’t do that here.” And don’t associate with that person. After one rebuke and two rebukes if they don’t respond, distance yourself from that person. “You’re fired. We’re not going to have that around here.”
These are strong words. But Ann Landers years ago…it was Ann Landers or one of the other columnists, personified gossip and wrote this in one of her columns. “My name is gossip. I have no respect for justice. I maim without killing. (0:20:00.0) I break hearts and ruin lives. I am cunning and malicious and gather strength with age. The more I am quoted the more I am believed. I flourish at every level of society. My victims are helpless. They cannot protect themselves against me because I have no name and no face. To track me down is impossible. The harder you try, the more elusive I become. I am nobody’s friend. Once I tarnish a reputation, it is never the same. I topple governments and ruin marriages. I ruin careers and cause sleepless nights, heartache and indigestion. I spawn suspicion and generate grief. I make innocent people cry in their pillows. Even my name hisses. I am called gossip.” Again, no tolerance policy when it comes to the negative and misuse of our tongue.
You see why I wanted to deal with the negative first and then turn positive? Because I want us all to walk out of here with a smile on our faces. But there are ways in which we can use our words to tear people down and to tear churches and organizations down. If you’re a business owner or an employer, you need to have a no tolerance policy when it comes to these kinds of things because it will destroy company morale when you have a whisperer and a gossip and a slanderer and a backbiter.
So the next observation is in a positive direction, and that is that our words can lift people up. And no greater use of our words than to encourage and to lift people up, even to lift up the name of Jesus Christ. Let me give you four or five ways and just touch on this from Proverbs. Four or five ways that our words can lift people up. The first is by giving wise counsel. Proverbs 10:32 says, “The lips of the righteous know what is acceptable, but the mouth of the wicked what is perverse.” Proverbs 15:7, “The lips of the wise spread knowledge, not so the hearts of fools.” Proverbs 15:22, “Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisors they succeed.” Do you need some wise counsel? Boy, one way that you can be an encouragement in this way or lift people up is by offering wise biblical counsel. After 11 weeks in the book of Proverbs, you ought to be able to offer some wise biblical counsel and to lift people up when they need some direction. I hope we have a lot of people who can provide that kind of counsel in our church.
The other is through wise teaching. Proverbs 10:11, “The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life.” Proverbs 10:20, 21, “The tongue of the righteous is choice silver; the heart of the wicked is of little worth. The lips of the righteous feed many, but fools die for lack of sense.” God has gifted some of you to teach. Whether it’s in a school to little children or high school children or middle school children, maybe even at the college or university level. Others of you are Bible teachers and Sunday school teachers and small group leaders. God has given you the gift of teaching. What a positive use of our tongues to provide not only wise counsel, but wise teaching and instruction from God’s Word. James 3 tells us that those who teach are held to a higher standard, so be careful just walking into that profession, not knowing the accountability that will be yours and ours as teachers of the Word of God. But we can encourage people and lift people up by our teaching. Probably every one of us in this room remembers a teacher that really made a difference in our lives because of the positive way they lifted us up and helped us to broaden our horizons and to broaden our scope of knowledge.
A third and obvious way we can use our words to lift people up is through encouragement. One of my favorite verses in Proverbs is chapter 25 and verse 11. “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.” The right words spoken at the right time in the right context is just a beautiful thing, isn’t it? And sometimes it takes a little discernment about what the right word is and when the right time to deliver that word and what the occasion might be. But some of you are very, very gifted in the ability to encourage others. Proverbs 12:25, “Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad.” A good word makes him glad. I have a daily devotional that goes out if you sign up for it on our website. And I just titled it “A Good Word.” “A Good Word.” Because anything from God’s Word is a good word, right? Hopefully that will make us glad. It is a word that is fitly spoken.
Proverbs 15:23, “To make an apt answer is a joy to a man\; and a word in season, how good it is.” Again, the right word spoken at the right time on the right occasion is something that fills our hearts with joy. And then Proverbs 15:30, “The light of the eyes rejoices the heart, and good news refreshes the bones.” Proverbs 16:24, “Gracious words are like honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.”
All of this reminds me of a New Testament character found in the book of Acts named Barnabas. You remember Barnabas? He is called the son of encouragement. I love to meet Barnabas in the church today. There are many across our church family who are just encouragers. Somebody once said, “Encouragement is like oxygen to the soul.” And it is. When you speak an encouraging word into somebody’s life, boy, it just fills that person’s life with a breath of fresh air and oxygen and gladness in their heart. Find somebody today that you can encourage. I challenge you with that. And we live in such a negative world, such a critical world. The 24-hour news cycle is such bad news, such criticism. And people pitting themselves against one another and criticizing for this and criticizing for that. Be the kind of person who walks into a room, be the kind of person in your office, be the kind of person in your small group and in your church that encourages people and speaks that glad word that finds the good news in the midst of a lot of bad news. And you don’t have to fake it, but do ask God to help you to be an encourager.
Here is another way we can use our words to lift people up, and I categorize this as friendly wounds. Friendly wounds. What do I mean by that? Proverbs 27:6, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.” What a contrast there. The faithful friend who brings you a wound, a word of constructive criticism. And I’m the first to say I don’t like to receive criticism, and nobody does. But we all need it, right? We all have blindsides. And it’s the faithful friend, the friend who has been with you for many years, the friend who unconditionally loves you, the friend who has logged in many days, many months, many years of encouragement in your life…that’s the kind of faithful friend that can come and bring a word that might sting a little bit, might wound you. It’s not the kisses of the enemy. It’s not the person who comes and kisses up to you all the time and flatters you all the time, even from a distance but suddenly, “boom,” brings the hammer down. They haven’t logged in the times of encouragement, of genuine relationship there. No, it’s the faithful wounds of a friend that bring life to us, right? And every one of us needs somebody like that in our life. If you have shut down the kind of conversation to where people can never give you constructive criticism, you’re in a dangerous place. That should start with your spouse who knows you best, who loves you best, who loves you unconditionally. But if you have the kind of relationship where as soon as a little bit of constructive criticism, boy, you shut that down, again, dangerous place. Dangerous place for leaders to never be able to receive constructive criticism.
Now, criticism can come from a lot of wild different angles. It’s the faithful friend. Not everybody has the right to speak criticism into your life as faithfully as the friend does who has logged in a lot of years of encouragement and trustworthiness. Proverbs 25:12, “Like a gold ring or an ornament of gold is a wise reprove to a listening ear.” Find somebody you trust to speak those friendly wounds to you and open up your ear to listen. It’ll be like a gold ring or an ornament of gold when that reproof comes along.
Here is a fifth and final way we can use our words to encourage others, and this is through humor. Proverbs 15:13, “A glad heart makes a cheerful face, but by sorrow of heart the Spirit is crushed.” And a couple verses later, Proverbs 15:5, “All the days of the afflicted are evil, but the cheerful of heart has a continual feast.” I love the picture of Jesus I see sometimes. It’s one of my favorite of Him, and I know it’s just an artist’s rendition and just a speculation. But it’s with Jesus with His head thrown back in laughter. It’s maybe hard to see it in the black and white pages or red and white pages of the Gospels, but, you know, the perfect Son of God…no, He wasn’t a comedian, but I bet there were times of great laughter. And there should be times of laughter in our lives. Don’t take yourself so seriously. Sometimes we, as Christians…and the outside world looks in on us, they think, Man, those Christian are just…they look like they were baptized in lemon juice. I mean, come on. You know, just so serious about things. Yes, we’re dealing with matters of life and death and serious matters, but let’s not take ourselves so seriously.
I don’t have the natural gift of comedy. God didn’t call me to be a standup comedian, thankfully. I’d be in the poor house. But I love to be around people who laugh. I love to be around people who have a good sense of humor. I love to be in a meeting with leaders and maybe the conversation is a little tense, and somebody breaks the ice with some humor. We need more of that to just lift our hearts. You know the old study. It takes fewer muscles to smile than it does to frown. So we need to do a little bit more smiling around here than frowning.
Well, that is a fast journey through the book of Proverbs. And we left a lot of verses on the sidelines, believe me. There is so much Proverbs has to say about what we say and how we say it. And I want to suggest to you that the highest and most exalted use of our tongues is not just to lift people up, but to lift up the name of Jesus Christ. The old hymn says, “O for a thousand tongues we sing praises to His name.” And may that be true of us that we use our tongues and the thousands of them associated with this church to praise His name and to lift up His name. Because as we use our tongues to praise His name and lift up His name, the scripture promises that He will use that to draw all men and women to Himself. Let’s pray together.
Father, thank You so much for Your Word. Thank You for Your Word when it stings a little bit. And thank You for the positive encouragements. Help us to be men and women in this place who use our tongues in a positive way to lift one another up, to encourage one another and to lift up the name of Jesus. Father, we know that You use Your Holy Spirit to bring people to the cross in a lot of different way. And maybe there is somebody here this morning who is personally convicted of a mouth that is just profane, that is ugly, that’s critical, that tears people down. And it’s evidence that, like all of us, the Bible says, we’ve all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. And, Father, if nothing else, for the words that we speak and will be held accountable, Jesus went to the cross to die for our verbal sins as much as anything. We thank You for that and pray that today would be a day of salvation where every tongue in this place would find its way to the cross of Jesus Christ. And not just to that cross, but even to wander into that empty tomb and just shout from the mountaintops, “My Savior lives. My Redeemer lives,” and to be transformed because of it. And we pray this in Jesus’s name and for His sake, amen.