Our tongues may only be brought under control by the one who made them: Jesus, the incarnate Word (John 1:1–14). He had the power to still the waves because He made the ocean. He could give sight to the blind because He formed their eyes. He alone has the power to come to a swearing, cutting, barbarous, spiteful, gossiping tongue and make it brand-new so that it is trained and ordered to speak that which builds up, exalts, and encourages.
Words are not trivial. As Proverbs says, “The tongue has the power of life and death” (18:21). Words hurt, and they heal; they destroy, and they restore. Leaders can move markets, nations, and peoples—toward both greatness and disaster—with their words. Mothers and fathers nurture their children—and wound them—with their words. We may never take up arms against others, but many of us do far greater damage with words than we could ever manage with a weapon. Yet the wise person, God teaches, uses words to bring life.
The book of Proverbs is the Bible’s book of wisdom for living, and standing out among its many concerns is the matter of words and how we use them. If we want to speak in a way that brings life instead of death, there is practical advice to heed in this book of Scripture. We may look to them to learn how our words can glorify God.
Our Words Should be True
Whoever gives an honest answer kisses the lips. (Prov. 24:26)
Sales are often secured on promises that salespeople know they won’t keep. And this problem is not unique to them. In academia, in politics, in families, and even in churches, dishonest speech is rampant.
But if we want our words give life, then they need always to be true—not just technically true, but fully honest. We need to tell it straight and not deceive others with clever evasions and strategic silences. That is not to say that absolutely everything we know to be true needs to be said, but every answer we give ought to be both true and sincere. This sort of honesty is a refreshing gesture of love to our neighbor: it “kisses the lips.”
When Paul describes our spiritual armor in Ephesians 6, the first piece, and the one that holds everything else in place, is “the belt of truth” (v. 14). If we leave off truth, if we talk out of both sides of our mouth, if we cease to speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15), we will wreak havoc in our relationships and in the fellowship of God’s church. But choosing honest speech honors God and brings blessing to those around us.
Our Words Should be Few
When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent. (Prov. 10:19)
There are many reasons we speak when we shouldn’t. Sometimes we speak because we feel bad, and it makes us feel better to lash out. Other times, our words come because we are under pressure, and we try to relieve our stress by spreading it around to others.
This verse is a helpful reminder that we should speak with intentionality and not just for the sake of speaking. The difficult truth is that when we give our tongues free rein, they tend to do more harm than good. It is far better to refrain from speaking at all unless we are doing so to give life with our words.
If we would sit down at night and honestly review our day, we would quickly discover the prevalence of sin in our many words. Perhaps our words were true but unkind, true but unnecessary, true but unhelpful.