Jeff Mangum teaches on wisdom in our words using Proverbs 13:3
Series: The Pursuit of Wisdom
Rarely is the idea of wisdom with our words something we take time to examine in detail. Often we might say, “Hey, I shouldn’t have said that,” or, “I crossed the line with that,” but rarely do we actually view it the way the Scriptures view our words.
Whoever guards his mouth preserves his life; he who opens wide his lips comes to ruin. Proverbs 13:3 (ESV)
That’s a pretty large statement. In order to protect your life so that it doesn’t fall into ruin, what would be the first area of your life you should protect and guard? What would that be for you?
It might be all over the place. Decision-making. What it means to have wisdom in guarding our sexuality. Maybe it’s guarding your mind, or heart, or actions, or responses. However, Solomon says we need to keep a watchful eye on our words.
Death and life are in the power of the tongue…Proverbs 18:21a (ESV)
Our words are rarely, if ever, neutral. Jesus says, “From the overflow of our heart come forth our words.” Our words give tremendous insights into the heart of a person. What we speak doesn’t start with our lips. We don’t just say stuff. It always comes from your heart. Our heart is the place of convictions, aspirations, dreams, values, hopes, cynicism, doubts, and all of the emotions we walk in. When we speak, knowing our hearts are rarely neutral, our words always have some intended result, even the most flippant of them.
Most of our life is built around words. We’re always talking. We text words. We tweet and Facebook status words. We email words. We write words. We sing words. Words seem to be at the middle of everything we do. All relationships seem to be built around our words.
I want us to see three things.
We are given to the misuse of our words more often than not. I came across passages in both the Old and New Testament I’ve always read in vacuums, but have never really seen in connection with this topic before until this week.
In Isaiah 6, Isaiah comes before the searing presence of the holiness of God. He says, “Woe is me, I am undone! For I am a man of unclean lips.” Basically he’s saying he’s used his lips, which were given to him to be an honor and blessing to God and His people, in unclean ways. It’s the first thing he speaks of. God is anointing him to be a prophet to speak on His behalf and he says he can’t do it, because God doesn’t know what his lips have been used for in the past. He’s done the exact opposite of what God has called him to.
Clearly, it’s wrong to use words in such a way as to harm another, therefore it is a sin to be repented of and turned from. But what are the characteristics of words that harm others? The Bible and our experiences say there are many. We can’t go through them all, but I want to address some of the ones I believe we need to address with urgency.
Harmful words are reckless words.
The words of the reckless pierce like swords…Proverbs 12:18a (NIV)
The imagery here is someone with swords who’s not even paying attention, just swinging the swords around, regardless of who’s around.
Harmful words can be impulsive words.
Have you ever been guilty of that one? You just say stuff without thinking. We hide behind that excuse, but we know it’s not true. We know they come from the heart.
Harmful words are too numerous of words.
When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent. Proverbs 10:19 (ESV)
This is a convicting and frustrating verse for preachers. If you ever wonder what preachers do during the week, most of what we’re doing is weeding out the things we shouldn’t say. We build a sermon then cut out most of it, because it may not be helpful for the moment. It’s about being wise not to use too much. The more words you speak, the greater the opportunity for sin. A puritan once said, “An unbridled tongue is the chariot of the devil.” Think about all the ways our words have caused harm. We’ve destroyed neighbors, crushed friends, and obliterated relationships. We’ve thrown grenades on reputations. We’ve wounded close acquaintances.
We were all taught the phrase growing up, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Too bad it’s absolutely wrong. It sounds empowering, but words do hurt you. Think about how often you remember harmful words that were said to you years ago. Maybe you’ve forgiven the person, but it just hasn’t left your memory. The wounds don’t heal as easily as broken bones do.
Harmful words divide people.
James describes the source of all animosity is from hell itself. Satan’s goal is to destroy and cause division in the kingdom of God. He can’t do it, but he’s trying. The way he goes about that more than anything is to bring division among God’s people.
Blaise Pascal, one of the great mathematicians and philosophers of our time described it this way, “Few friendships would survive if each one knew what his friend says of him behind his back. I lay it down as a fact that if all men knew what others say of them, there would not be four friends in the world.”
Have you ever thought about the division your words have caused before? Have you ever noticed how harmful even the slightest turn of words can cause? I’ve never understood why a friend of mine will tell me about the words of another friend that was said about me when I wasn’t present. How that could possibly be a blessing to me? “I just thought you might want to know the truth. “ Some things are just better left unsaid. Just because something ill was said doesn’t mean it has to be said in repetition. Just so you know, when most of us say things like that, we guard it behind people wanting to know the truth, but the reality is we love to cause dissension.
A perverse person stirs up conflict, and a gossip separates close friends. Proverbs 16:28 (NIV)
Harmful words destroy our praise and worship.
Paul describes this in Ephesians 5, “I want you to be people who are filled with the Spirit of God. And as you are filled with the spirit of God, so you will speak to one another in Psalms and Hymns and Spiritual Songs.”
Harmful words have long lasting consequences.
You cannot take back your words. When someone says something mean to you, you want them to take it back, but it never works. Once it’s out there, it’s out there. There is grace and forgiveness, hope and reconciliation, but once those words go out, you can’t retrieve them.
Have you ever sent an angry email? Have you ever tweeted something? Posted something on Facebook? We speak before we guard or filter and we can’t get those things back. You find yourself exhausted trying to cover your tracks and make amends for things.
There’s this old story of a woman who goes to her pastor and says, “I need your help. I’ve been gossiping and slandering for years. No one trusts me anymore. I lie a lot. Can you help me with this?” The Pastor says, “Sure, here’s what you do. Go get a bag full of feathers and place a feather in front of every door. Then come back tomorrow.” She’s not sure what it all means, but goes and does it anyway. She shows up the next day and says, “Okay, I did what you asked.” He says, “Now, go and retrieve all of those feathers and then we’ll talk about the next step.” She looks at him and says, “I can’t do that. I could tell on my way over here that the wind has blown most of them away already.” He responded, “Yes. The same is true of your words.”
When you start to understand this, it brings about a sense of urgency for guarding your lips. There is definitely forgiveness, but what we want to do is press delete and act like we never said it.
Proverbs 16 & Proverbs 10 tell us that, “The speech of a scoundrel is like a scorching fire, but the mouth of the righteous is like a fountain of life.”
Have you ever met that person? Do you know someone who speaks to you and their words bring you life? When they speak you don’t get a sense of dread, pain or dissension. You actually feel like obeying Jesus more.
There’s a guy who helped plant this church named Brad Cauley. The most encouraging man I’ve met. I remember being at a youth camp in New Mexico. My family wasn’t with me. I had a voice message from Brad that was three and a half minutes long. Most people leave a few second long messages. But Brad Cauley spoke differently. It began with, “Jeff, I’m sitting here reading through Hebrews and praying the power of God will speak through your lips and you will feel and receive his power as you’re gone this week. That many will be saved and you will get to feel and experience the greatness of holiness…” It was three and a half minutes of that! I kept rewinding it and listening to it over and over. I saved it for two months and kept listening to it. He’s the kind of person that brought life to me.
A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver. Proverbs 25:11 (ESV)
When you use your words to honor God, to bless others, it’s like upgrading the décor of one’s life. No matter what they brought to you, in that moment, your words did the opposite of dissension. It actually makes them believe and hope when they had none. Words fitly used, rightly used, and appropriately timed are immeasurably hopeful and helpful.
Hopeful and helpful words are honest words.
Kings take pleasure in honest lips; they value the one who speaks what is right. Proverbs 16:13 (NIV)
Have you ever stopped to examine how much we lie? Little things even. Embellishments. Have you ever thought how they permeate almost every conversation we have? It is difficult to be truthful.
Hopeful and helpful words need to be thought out words.
The heart of the righteous weighs its answers, but the mouth of the wicked gushes evil. Proverbs 15: 28 (NIV)
Part of our struggle is that we are a busy people. We don’t know how to slow down. Because of this, we go from one thing to the next and start spit firing stuff just in response. We don’t even take measurements of our life, much less our words.
The Word of God, when it calls you to obedience in an area, permeates to everything else. So if you’re going to stop and say you need to guard your words and take stock in everything you say before you say it, it will also cause you to do a whole lot of other things that are godly related too. May you choose your words wisely.
Hopeful and helpful words are sourced from God’s word.
To humans belong the plans of the heart, but from the Lord comes the proper answer of the tongue. Proverbs 16:1 (NIV)
The best counselors, if they have nothing else to say, will tell you to trust in God’s word. But usually what we try to do is just say something.
Hopeful and helpful words are often few rather than numerous.
Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent, and discerning if they hold their tongues. Proverbs 17:28 (NIV)
The world is going to make it even if they don’t hear your next idea. One of our biggest struggles is that we feel like we’re the Holy Spirit and we need to bring not only correction but also all the avenues of it. Husbands, this is where we fall in guilt more often than not. We think we need to fix our family and regurgitate everything we think. Rarely does this work.
Hopeful and helpful words are calm words.
The one who has knowledge uses words with restraint, and whoever has understanding is even-tempered. Proverbs 17:27 (NIV)
Through patience a ruler can be persuaded, and a gentle tongue can break a bone. Proverbs 25:15 (NIV)
I thought about where I put this into practice. Honestly, there are not many stories. I’ve either avoided the situation or lost my temper.
So, how do we move forward from here? Well, we must address this issue of wisdom in our words, with both past and future, both looking backwards and forwards.
In dealing with our past, we need to be mindful of our repentance to one another.
My prayer has been that God will put at least one person, if not more, on your heart who you’ve said something to that caused some kind of pain, strife, division, disunity, broken confidence, or created distrust. The goal is not to sit here and think how awful you are, but rather cling to grace. In the same vein that you’re lips have been used to tear us under, they now can be used to buildup. That’s the greatness of the gospel. It’s the story of not just a cross, but also a resurrection. You don’t have to live in regret. Now, by the power of God, you can bring reconciliation.
Pursue the person and tell them you’ve been under conviction that you’ve been misusing your words and apologize for hurting them. Ask for forgiveness. I can’t promise you they’ll forgive you. But I can promise that walking in obedience and repentance will bring great trust in the power of God to change you.
We must be mindful of our words and remember, “From the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.”
So start filling up your heart with the Word of God. Let the Scriptures saturate your heart. The words will start to change not only your heart but also what comes from your mouth. The man or woman that loves the word of God is changed by the word of God and brings about all the fruit of the word of God.
Set a guard over my mouth, Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips. Psalm 141:3 (NIV)