Messages on the tongue can easily cause every Christian to respond with some sort of uh oh. We all know how readily we sin with the tongue, and if a preacher is aiming for conviction it is fairly easy to hit that target through preaching on “sins of the tongue.” But we all know, whether we receive reminders or not, that gossip, cattiness, lying, spin control, tale-bearing, and any other such things, are sins to be confessed and forsaken. But let us suppose we have cast this demon out, and the house is swept and furnished. What happens next?
21The wise in heart shall be called prudent: and the sweetness of the lips increaseth learning. 22Understanding is a wellspring of life unto him that hath it: but the instruction of fools is folly. 23The heart of the wise teacheth his mouth, and addeth learning to his lips. 24Pleasant words are as an honeycomb, sweet to the soul, and health to the bones (Prov. 16: 21-24).
The power of the tongue is enormous, but many Christians imagine this to be the power of dynamite, randomly thrown about. The power is thought to be simply destructive; constructive uses are scarcely to be imagined. But this is not the biblical emphasis at all. The power of the tongue to do good is clearly attested throughout the Scriptures. The wise in heart are known as prudent (v. 21). Notice the general flow in this passage, which is heart to mouth. Wisdom in the heart leads to sweetness on the lips, which in turn causes others to learn (v. 21). Understanding, like wisdom, is also in the heart, and it is described as a wellspring of life, bubbling up (v. 22). But what bubbles up out of the heart of the fool? Folly. The mouth of a wise man is instructed by his heart (v. 23). Moreover, his heart adds learning to his lips, which amounts to a reinforcement of the same thing (v. 23). Pleasant words are a honeycomb, going down to the soul and down to the bones (v. 24). Notice that wisdom in this passage goes from the inside to the outside, and then it travels from the outside back down to the bones of others.
THINK BEFORE YOU SPEAK
Beware of verbal scribbling. Edifying conversations require discipline and thought, and words should be weighed more than counted. “The heart of the righteous studieth to answer: but the mouth of the wicked poureth out evil things” (Prov. 15:28).
Now the point of this message is not all the bad things you will do if you pour out evil things (although you will). Rather the point of the comparison is to think of the positive good you will do if you study “how to answer.” The point of thinking about one’s answers is not simply in order to “stay out of trouble.” “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers” (Eph. 4:29). The point is to do what is pleasant, good, and righteous.
Suppose some parents said to a child something like this: “Now, while we are gone, we don’t want you to spend any time on the trampoline. Instead we want you work on your reading for school.” Suppose further the parents came home later to discover a child who had done no reading, but who had not gone near the trampoline, and who therefore thought he had been obedient. Now what?
SEEING THE CONTEXT
Earrings go in the ears, and not in the eyebrows. There is a place for everything, and everything in its place. It is the same with words. If you take a sapling, which is a good thing, and try to plant it in your sidewalk, you cannot defend the folly by insisting that saplings are a good thing.
“A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver. As an earring of gold, and an ornament of fine gold, so is a wise reprover upon an obedient ear” (Prov. 25:11-12).
Someone who is only interested in venting his own heart does not need to consider the destination. In other words, in speaking, is the goal to dump or to fill?
“The lips of the righteous know what is acceptable: but the mouth of the wicked speaketh frowardness” (Prov. 10:32).
One of the dangers of abstraction is that we start imagining that sentences should be evaluated simply on the basis of truth, and so we neglect larger issues of contextual propriety.
“A man hath joy by the answer of his mouth: and a word spoken in due season, how good is it!” (Prov. 15:23).
GREAT AND SMALL
Notice that everywhere the Scriptures link the tongue and the heart. “The tongue of the just is as choice silver: the heart of the wicked is little worth” (Prov. 10:20). And the Lord Jesus put the question past all dispute.
“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. But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment (Matt. 12:34-36).
This is not a promise that in the judgment God will lose all sense of proportion, and begin straining out the gnats in your idle words. Rather, it is making the profound point that idle words are sufficient to determine the content of the heart. If I found a bottle of vinegar, one drop on the tongue would tell me what it was. And would this be unfair to the rest of the bottle?
DO GOOD IN YOUR WORDS
Again, the issue is positive good. How many times the Bible tells us this! “The mouth of a righteous man is a well of life: but violence covereth the mouth of the wicked” (Prov. 10:11). 4A wholesome tongue is a tree of life: but perverseness therein is a breach in the spirit” (Prov. 15:4)