Dealing With The Tongue
We have been studying the book of Proverbs, trying to discover the way of wisdom figure out how we can apply that wisdom to one lives. I know that it can be a bit difficult to read the book of Proverbs, because Solomon seems to jump from subject to subject when we would prefer if he would have arranged the book by topic. Chapter 1 How to deal with your spouse, Chapter 2 how to deal with your children, chapter 3 how to deal with your anger. We seem to forget that the Bible is not a text book, or history book. The Bible is God’s story, it tells what He has done, gives us insight to what He is doing right now, and allows us to find hope in what He will do in the future. Stories don’t always come in neat little packages, arranged by topic. And God’s story is no different.
I read someone defined The book of Proverbs as a dissertation on the way that we use our words. I would summarize the book of Proverbs this way: words give life and words bring death, so be careful how you use your words. Next to eating and sleeping talking is the most important activity that we are involved in everyday. Talking is how we express ourselves and get ourselves heard. But unfortunately, a lot of the things that sound wonderful in our heads sound completely different when they come out of our mouths. Publius, a Greek philosopher, once said, I have often regretted my speech. Never my silence. I think he was on to something.
You do not need to read far into the Bible to see the power of words. Actually, you only need to get to the third verse of the first book to see it. In Genesis 1:3 God speaks and begins to bring the world into existence. Then chapter 3 comes and we see Satan using words to deceive Adam and Eve. Then, Adam used words to blame his wife for his own sin, Eve used words to deflect the blame from herself. By the time all is said and done, the world will never be the same. In Genesis 4, brothers are killing one another and lying to God about it, Lamech is making outrageous boasts about his own importance, and it only gets worse from there.
Words can cause so much good. Words can cause so much harm. You have never spoken a throw away word in your life. Everything you say, every word you use will either bring life or death, make someone better or destroy someone. Jesus said in Matthew, You can be sure of this: when the day of judgment comes, everyone will be held accountable for every careless word they have ever said. (12:36)
Every careless word; every word that comes out of your mouth, every word that you type on social media, or flows from your keyboard has a direction to them. We speak words of life when we speak words of encouragement, hope, love, peace, unity. But we also speak words of anger, malice, slander, gossip, contempt, and racism which bring death.
Your words are significant. Solomon teaches his sons that our words can be much more destructive than sticks, or stones, or fists, or knives. He writes Reckless words pierce like a sword. (Proverbs 12:18) and The tongue has the power of life and death (Proverbs 18:21). Words pierce like a dagger; they go deep; they embed themselves in our mind and heart. And they can do some incredible damage. This morning we need to spend some time talking about talking. Or rather, the wisdom of choosing our words.
Most of our difficulties are because of our words.
One of the struggles we have in our culture, is now that we have these smart devices that give us the complete knowledge of the universe in the palm of our hand, not knowing something has become a cardinal sin. I am not sure if it has always been this way, but it seems like now more than ever people believe that they have to know a little bit more about every subject than anyone else. And they believe it is their duty to wax eloquent whatever the topic is on the table: Stock market, computers, criminal justice, politics, ship building, sports, you name it, they know something about it.
I had a coach in high school that was fond of telling us, you have two ears and one mouth so you should listen twice as much as you speak. There is a lot of wisdom in that. You don't have to say everything you think, you don't have to say everything you know, and you definitely shouldn’t say everything you think you know. Silence is golden or as Solomon writes, Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent. (Proverbs 17:28)
We all struggle with our words. And before you protest to loudly, ask yourself how you would do if we played a public recording of everything you said last month. I already know that in the last month you said things that you wish you had never said. I believe there are words you would take back if you could. I am honest enough to admit that over the last 25 years I have said some things to Trista and the boys that I deeply regret. Even with the people we love, our words have the ability to cause pain, hurt, and even death.
I want to take you back to a passage in Luke chapter 6. The way that Luke writes his Gospel, Jesus has had a run in with the religious leaders over the Sabbath day not once, but twice. Then He calls out 12 men to be His apostles. Which leads to the Sermon on the Mount and His call for us to love one another, love our enemies, and stop judging one another.
Then beginning in verse 43 Jesus says: You’ll never find choice fruit hanging on a bad, unhealthy tree. And rotten fruit doesn’t hang on a good, healthy tree. Every tree will be revealed by the quality of fruit that it produces. Figs or grapes will never be picked off thorn trees. People are known in this same way. Out of the virtue stored in their hearts, good and upright people will produce good fruit. But out of the evil hidden in their hearts, evil ones will produce what is evil. For the overflow of what has been stored in your heart will be seen by your fruit and will be heard in your words.
In our text Jesus is talking about our outer man and our inner man. The outer man is your physical self, or your body. Then there is the inner man which is your mind, emotion, soul, spirit. The term for the inner man Jesus uses in this text is heart, which is used in almost a thousand passages of Scripture. When you hear the word heart, it might help to think about it like it being our steering wheel. We need to be reminded that our behavior isn’t caused by the situations and relationships outside of us. Our behavior is shaped and acted out due to our hearts.
That’s why Jesus’ words in this passage are so powerful. He cuts through all of the pretense and all of the excuses and says your words reveal what’s within your heart. Yet, I am convinced that we don’t believe Jesus or really want to believe Him. We want think that we are good people and that the biggest struggle in our lives comes from other folks. It’s your fault that I said what I said. And the moment I convince myself that all of my struggles and problems are others people’s fault is the moment I stop looking for God’s transforming love and grace in my life. It is easier to sooth my mind by telling myself you’re the problem than it is to actually look in a mirror at the real problem in my life.
Jesus is pretty clear in this text. People aren’t my problem. Situations are not my problem. Circumstances are not my problem. Locations are not my problem. My problem is in my heart, and that can be clearly seen in the way that I choose to talk.
That’s why I need to be honest here and tell you our war of words is actually a war for our heart.
Sin causes me to love me more than anyone else. Sin causes me to be obsessed by what I want, how I want it, when I want it, why I want it, where I want it. Sin makes my life focused on I want, I want, I want, I want, I want, I want.
I get angry sitting in traffic because I want all of these other folks, who paid taxes to build these roads, to stay home where they are out of my way. I get angry when my kids mess up, because I want kids who are respectful and do what they are supposed to do without having to instruct them. I want my wife to think I am as right as I think I am. I want chocolate available and calorie free, I want an empty check out line at Walmart with a casher who is cheerful and kind. I want! I want! I want!
It’s a common scene that probably played out in your homes: you put the kids down at 9:00 and now it’s 9:45. They want one more drink, one more visit to the restroom, one more story, one more giggle. As you stomp down the hallway, the furthest though in your mind is, Thank you, Jesus, for the wonderful gift of these children and my opportunity to love them and teach them how to love You. I am so thankful to be part of what you’re doing. Nope, instead you’re saying, That’s it, they are all dead! And you burst into your children’s room and say, Have your lost your minds, I told you to go to sleep and if you don’t go to sleep I am going to tie you to those beds and not let you get up until Christmas
Now pay attention here: you didn’t choose to say those things to your children because they had done something immoral or illegal. You chose to speak those words because your children have broken the laws of the Kingdom of Jeremy, or you own personal kingdom, which clearly state that there shall be no parenting after 9:00.
In Galatians 5 Paul is addressing the battle that rages between the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of self. He writes; God has called you to freedom! Hear the call, and do not spoil this gift by using your liberty to engage in what your flesh desires; instead, use it to serve each other as Jesus taught through love. For the whole law comes down to this one instruction: “Love your neighbor as yourself,” so why all this vicious gnawing on each other? If you are not careful, you will find you’ve eaten each other alive! (verses 13–15)
Paul ends this passage with a warning. When we say harsh, ugly, unloving, condemning, ungracious, selfish, prideful words its because we defending the kingdom of our selfish desires. I have made every excuse in the book, and you probably have as well; Yes, I yelled at my kind because the broke the rules of my kingdom but they know I love them. Or I know I was ugly with my spouse this morning, but they know I care for them. I might have spoken out of turn to about a friend of mine, but they know that I really didn’t mean it.
Yet, Paul doesn’t allow us to back away from our words. He says, be careful or you will use your words to consume and destroy one another. He doesn’t say the relationship will be destroyed; he says people will be destroyed. You can crush the faith of other people. You can destroy their hope. You can damage their identity. That’s why we must pay attention to the lasting legacy of our words. Paul draws us back to the importance of ruling our heart and shaping our talk.
Word’s not only hurt, they kill. According to an 2018 article from the American Academy of Pediatrics, self harm and suicide rates have jumped 27% in the last 15 years, or during the rise of social media and trolls and keyboard commandos. In the last 5 years there have been a reported 115,856 acts of self harm or suicide in teenagers which is up 27%. Words break hearts, break spirits; words can bring life, or words can bring death.
Think about the words you have used in the last week and what kingdom were you serving when you used those words? Is it the kingdom of self, were they words of self-focused demands, expectancy, and entitlement? Were your words quick to criticize, to judge, to condemn because people are violating the laws of your kingdom? Did you use your words as a punishment or as a weapon?
Or during the last week did you use words of love, honesty, and encouragement because your heart is focused on the kingdom of God? Paul writes, For the whole law comes down to this one instruction. If I was writing this, I would have finished with, Love God above all else. But the Holy Spirit had Paul write, Love your neighbor as yourself. Which is exactly what God has called us to. Yet we still want to question who is my neighbor? Is someone on the other end of a smart phone my neighbor? What about the guy at the office who always messes everything up? Or what about the lady at the beauty shop who is always talking about nothing? Because if I can discount someone then I can speak words of hatred, and anger.
It’s only when I love God more than anything else, that I’ll be able to see everyone as my neighbor and love them as myself. It’s only when God’s kingdom is the most important kingdom in my life that I will speak words of love, encouragement, and acceptance into your life. We have to understand that we cannot fix our language problems, communication problems, and word problems horizontally. We have to fix them vertically and get our hearts right with God.
Which leads me to close with this question: How do we allow love to direct our words?
Remember, you always speak out of the heart. Thats’ why this morning you need to honestly answer: what kingdom rules your life? Do your words reveal that you are serving the kingdom of self, or do your words reveal that you are serving the Kingdom of God?
I believe that most of us would honestly answer both. Sometimes I get it right, sometimes I speak words of love and grace and acceptance. And sometimes I get it very wrong, I speak words of hurt, and condemnation. The truth is that the war between these two kingdoms continually rages on in my heart, And since that war rages on, I desperately need the grace of Jesus Christ.
I don’t want you to leave here this morning and think that all you have to do is stop gossiping, slandering, boasting, and being critical about others. That’s important but that’s only half of what you are being called to do with your words. Solomon is reminding us that we are being called to use our words to build up one another.
Let’s be honest, we can’t remain silent. So if we are going to use words, Jesus is calling us to use words that will make other people feel appreciated, encouraged, and affirmed. This morning you are being called to think about how you can best use your words to bless others.
Today God is going to allow people to cross your path that need to hear a word of love that builds up the Kingdom of God. Whether we are speaking face-to-face, talking on the phone or even using our keyboards we must remember that our words are powerful, and they have consequences. Today you need to make the decision to use your words to be a tool that creates something of beauty.
This morning I pray that our words will reveal the truth of our lives, the truth that our hope is truly guilty on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.