The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit. Proverbs 18:21
Even the ungodly realize there are limitations to the freedom of speech we enjoy in America. Although we may espouse any view we wish, we may not slander or defame others. As Christians we know that God desires pure hearts and pure speech. God made the tongue to glorify Him and bring blessing to others.
All too often we use the tongue in ways that bring reproach upon God and hurt others. Thus James calls the tongue a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body … a restless evil, full of deadly poison. How we use our tongues has a tremendous effect on others.
Our words can kill. We can literally bring death to others through false charges or testimony, but more often we bring inner death by words which hurt and wound people. We can tell someone we wish them dead, or make derogatory comments about their physical or mental abilities. Many have the audacity to speak like this, while priding themselves on their honesty.
Sometimes we think that if what we say is true then we may say it, but truth that only brings harm to another person should not be spoken. Love covers a multitude of sins, but derogatory comments come out of a heart of pride. A pride filled heart thinks it is much better than anyone else. A pride filled person thinks he would not be as ridiculous as the person being talked to or about.
We can also cause death by speaking evil of someone to a third person. Proverbs 25:18 says, “Like a club or a sword or a sharp arrow is the man who gives false testimony against his neighbor” (See also Prov. 26:22,28). Scripture warns against this use of our tongue, especially as it pertains to those who are in authority over us.
We are warned about making accusations against officebearers without good evidence. Even when we have good evidence and legitimate concerns about someone else, by making them public, we can harm the person rather than help him. We ought to wisely confront the individual in love. Only if he refuses to repent should we go to another, and then only for the benefit of the other person and never out of malice (See Matthew 18).
Words also have the power of life. Praising God or talking about the truth of Scripture promotes life and may bring people into fellowship with God and His people. We bring joy and blessing to others by using our tongue for their salvation. Assuring others of our prayers and love also encourages others. Speech that shows honor to others edifies the fellowship and communion of the saints. Respectful words about those in authority, such as office bearers, builds up the church and brings unity within the church. How crucial it is to use our tongues wisely!
What we say expresses what is in our hearts. If our hearts are pure and filled with love for God’s people, our speech will reflect this. Bitterness or anger in our hearts will also be reflected in how we speak (See Matthew 12:33ff). When our hearts are filled with good things our speech promotes joy and happiness. We, in turn, are then filled with joy, happiness, and love.
Our speech also impacts ourselves. “From the fruit of his lips a man enjoys good things, but the unfaithful have a craving for violence. He who guards his lips guards his life, but he who speaks rashly will come to ruin” (Proverbs 13:2–3). Proverbs 18:20 says, “From the fruit of his mouth a man’s stomach is filled; with the harvest from his lips he is satisfied.” Verse 21 adds, “the tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” Usually we think what feeds and satisfies us is that which we take into our mouths. Yet this is not true with regard to our speech.
Those who love to use the tongue for death or life will eat the fruit. If we enjoy using the tongue for good, life, and happiness, we will reap the fruit of this in good, life, and happiness. If we enjoy using the tongue for evil, death and misery we will reap those things.
The words “those who love it” in Proverbs 18:20 does not refer to those who love talking. It refers to those who, when they talk, love using it for either good or evil. This includes all of us. The use we make of our tongue will effect us – “from the harvest of our lips [we] shall be satisfied.” Consider this carefully. What we say indicates what is in our heart. When the content of our hearts is spoken, revealing the evil that lies within, we will feel miserable and impure, with greater hatred and heartache than before. In this way we are fed by the words we speak.
Proverbs 18:7 says, “A fool’s mouth is his undoing, and his lips are a snare to his soul.” When we speak out of anger, bitterness or envy, deriding others, do we really feel better? Do crude and immoral jokes or deriding comments make us happier or more joyful? Are we then filled with the knowledge that the words of our mouths and the meditation of our hearts are pleasing in God’s sight? No, it only reaps more grief. If we speak hastily, we reap for ourselves destruction, both in this life and the life to come.
The words we speak have an eternal effect! Jesus says that when we speak of our brothers contemptuously we are liable to judgment in this life, and when we call him a fool we are in danger of the fires of hell. Of course, we are saved only on the merits of Jesus Christ. Those saved in Christ Jesus, however, are filled with His love and joy. They seek righteousness, speaking only that which is constructive.
In Matthew 12 Jesus says, “that men will have to give account on the day of judgement for every careless words they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.” We are judged on this basis because our words reflect the heart. Our words have an eternal effect! Thus our words have power for life and death.
Where we have fallen short of God’s glory we must humbly confess with Isaiah, “I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips.” We must see our sinful talk as evidence of a sinful heart, and flee to Jesus for mercy. He delights to show mercy. Pray that He would create in us a pure heart, a heart of wisdom, enlightened by the word. The only way to learn to control our tongues is to ask God for wisdom and then live daily out of that wisdom. If you want to know how to gain a heart of wisdom see Proverbs 2:1–6 and Psalm 34:12–13.
As we struggle for hearts of wisdom and tongues that promote life, let us pray David’s prayer: “Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord, keep watch over the door of my lips. Let not my heart be drawn to what is evil, to take part in wicked deeds, that the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart may be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.”
Rev. Calvin Tuininga is the Pastor of the Covenant United Reformed Church in Pantego, North Carolina.