(This article by Pastor Koshy is compiled from several articles he wrote in Bible Witness, Volume 11, Issue 4.)
“Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Proverbs 18:21). Our speech has the power to either hurt or comfort, destroy or nurture. The potential of the tongue is sobering. So, it needs to be used with much care.
If we do not pay close attention to our speech, it will destroy our Christian testimony. “And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell” (James 3:6). What a startling caution this is against unguarded speech!
The evils that can arise from one’s misuse of speech are beyond measure. From one’s mouth proceed blasphemy, falsehood, slander, scandal, profanity, perjury, obscenity, threatening, ridiculing, boastfulness, and the list of evils goes on and on. Oh, what fiery destruction and shame could proceed from an uncontrolled tongue!
Thus, our Lord Jesus reprimanded His hearers, “O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things” (Matthew 12:34-35). Then He put everyone on notice, warning, “But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment” (Matthew 12:36).
Christian men and women must take heed that no unwholesome word proceeds from their mouths. In Proverbs 4:23-24, we are exhorted: “Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life. Put away from thee a froward mouth, and perverse lips put far from thee.” Christians must be deliberate in avoiding every form of ungodly speech, and instead in cultivating wise and godly speech. To disregard or to think lightly of the importance of wise speech is to prove oneself to be foolish and unrighteous.
The Book of Proverbs gives special attention to the importance of wise speech. It encourages readers to cultivate speech which builds up their hearers – by promising them that “a man shall be satisfied with good by the fruit of his mouth” (Proverbs 12:14a).
Proverbs has many wonderful counsels on wise speech, and they are strewn across the entire book, mingled with myriads of counsels on many other subjects. We shall consider in this article (and its continuation next week) the wonderful counsels in Proverbs concerning wise speech.
Wise speech is a distinguishing mark of godly men. It pleases God and brings cheer to its hearers. But foolish speech, which characterises the wicked, dishonours God and troubles men. Proverbs 10:31-32 says, “The mouth of the just bringeth forth wisdom: but the froward tongue shall be cut out. The lips of the righteous know what is acceptable: but the mouth of the wicked speaketh frowardness.”
While the wise man desires excellence in speech, the fool despises it. “Excellent speech becometh not a fool” (Proverbs 17:7a). In Proverbs, a wise man is one who fears God and loves godly wisdom. He always seeks to nurture his speech according to the wisdom that God gives. Only a fool would reject such a noble aspiration.
Proverbs urges us to cultivate wise speech by pointing out its benefits to us. The helpful nature of wise speech is lauded in Proverbs: “the tongue of the wise is health” (Proverbs 12:18b). In other words, a wise man who cautiously utters his words will bring healing to his hearers.
Another verse that speaks of the helpful characteristic of wise speech is Proverbs 18:4, which says, “The words of a man’s mouth are as deep waters, and the wellspring of wisdom as a flowing brook.” The synonymous parallelism in this verse portrays “the words of a man’s mouth” as wise words – which are as “deep waters”, a great reservoir of wisdom and counsel. Moreover, his words flow out like a “brook” to provide wisdom for others.
As much as one’s wise speech honours God and edifies his hearers, it also brings wonderful benefits to himself. “A man shall be satisfied with good by the fruit of his mouth” (Proverbs 12:14a). Likewise, “A man’s belly shall be satisfied with the fruit of his mouth; and with the increase of his lips shall he be filled” (Proverbs 18:20). Indeed, a man who grows in wise speech will receive this promise of much happiness and satisfaction in life. The phrase “fruit of his mouth”, as with its other occurrences in Proverbs (cf. 12:14; 13:2), refers to good fruits produced by a man’s speech. The phrases, “fruit of his mouth” and “increase of his lips”, are synonymous. They both refer to the benefits of one’s speech.
Another such benefit is further affirmed by Proverbs 14:3b – “the lips of the wise shall preserve them.” Indeed, the words that the wise speak are a protection to themselves and to others who hear and follow them.
In order to help us cultivate wise speech, the Book of Proverbs describes various characteristics of wise speech, as well as provides practical instructions on developing wholesome speech. Truly, blessed is the man who pays heed to these discreet instructions from Proverbs!
(To be continued next week)