Speech can be misunderstood. Here are a few examples when translation became humorous. These are signs (translated into English) seen in other countries:
1. In a Denmark airline office: “We take your bags and send them in all directions.”
2. On the door of a Moscow hotel room: “If this is your first visit to Russia, you are welcome to it.”
3. On a Bucharest hotel elevator: “The lift is being fixed for the next day. During that time we regret that you will be unbearable.”
4. On a restaurant menu in Poland: “Salad a firm’s own make; Limpid red beet soup with cheesy dumplings in the form of a finger; Roasted duck let loose; Beef rashers beaten up in the country people’s fashion.”
As you can see, someone should have been a little more careful, or should have consulted someone else who understood not just grammar but the vocabulary and nuances of the English language.
So it is in our lives. We should take a little more care in the choice of words that we use both with fellow believers and the world around us. We must understand that words do matter in our relationships with fellow believers and with the community in which we are going to share Christ.
A great deal of good or harm can result from how we use our tongues. The Word of God tells us that “Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Proverbs 18:21). While a skilled orator can influence vast numbers of people, sometimes it is to their disadvantage. On the other hand, the tongue of a believer, when under the control of the indwelling Holy Spirit (I Corinthians 6:19), can be used to bring blessing and happiness to many people. What we say and the things we talk about most frequently and naturally reveal what is in our minds and what dominates our thinking—for as a man “thinketh in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7), and “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh” (Matthew 12:34). The Holy Spirit led and inspired James to write an intensely practical epistle in which he makes several references to the ways we can use our tongues and the consequences that come from these actions. I have listed the following references for your personal study on this topic: James 1:19,26; James 2:12; James 3:1-12; James 4:11; and James 5:12.
In James 3 we are given both warning and guidance regarding the use of the tongue. Believers are told that those who teach others the Word of God must teach prayerfully, carefully, and honestly as they are enabled and empowered by the Holy Spirit. They will come under severe condemnation when what they say and teach is not consistent with their manner of life (James 3:1).
I would like us to consider some Scripture from the book of Proverbs concerning how our speech reveals what is inside our hearts. For a believer this is important, but for a pastor it is imperative to comprehend how words have the ability either to help build or to destroy members.
The tongue of the just is as choice silver: the heart of the wicked is little worth (Proverbs 10:20).
The thoughts of the wicked are an abomination to the Lord: but the words of the pure are pleasant words
The heart of the wise teacheth his mouth, and addeth learning to his lips
We see from the above verses the relationship of the tongue with the heart and thoughts. The tongue that is continually causing strife and contention is evidence of a heart that dwells on the same. The tongue that is vulgar and vile reveals a mind that is dwelling on impure thoughts. There is a direct correlation between one’s thought life and his speech. You may ask then how an unworthy sinner can tame the tongue. This is why I included the third verse in this grouping. Proverbs 16 tells us that a good man teaches his mouth. He decides to ask for God’s help in guiding what he says and thinks.
A tongue under control is evidence of spiritual maturity; and if a believer’s tongue is controlled by the Holy Spirit, then every other aspect of his life will be under the Spirit’s control (v. 2). The tongue is a comparatively small part of the human body, but it has great power. James stresses how a horse is controlled by a small bit placed in its mouth, a large ship is maneuvered by a small rudder, and a small fire can kindle a large, fierce, uncontrolled blaze (vv. 3-5). Men have tamed and controlled all kinds of animals (v. 7), but no man can tame the tongue (v. 8). However, the tongue can be controlled by the Holy Spirit. When a believer is living close to God in submission and obedience to His will as revealed in the Word of God, his tongue will be used to speak gracious words of blessing, comfort, and edification.
Let’s consider another set of verses to further help in this area of the tongue.
The mouth of a righteous man is a well of life: but violence covereth the mouth of the wicked (Proverbs 10:11).
A wholesome tongue is a tree of life: but perverseness therein is a breach in the spirit (Proverbs 15:4).
Let’s continue the thought of the work of the Holy Spirit and the tongue. I believe that Proverbs 10:11 is referring to the regenerating work that the Holy Spirit can do in a person’s heart through the Word of God. The righteous man who is teaching his tongue through the instruments of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God will find his tongue a well of life. In John 4:14 and John 7:38, we find references to the “well of living water.”
But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life (John 4:14).
He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water (John 7:38).
In both instances, Christ refers to the work of salvation done through Himself, the Living Water. You can see the word picture. Now let’s tie in the verse in Proverbs 10. The regenerated man feasting upon the Word of God and invigorated by the water of life can experience a well of life that brings nourishment to others through his conversations with fellow believers as well as unbelievers. This is the glorious privilege of the righteous. Thus, a mouth supplied from heavenly waters is a well of life.
As we conclude in this specific area of our tongue, consider the references to the tongue in Proverbs 15:1-7: “A soft answer,” “the tongue of the wise,” “a wholesome tongue,” “the lips of the wise,” and “the prayer of the upright.” What a collection of thoughts about our tongues. These key words touch one of the greatest spheres of human influence. If we can rule our speech by surrendering our tongue and lips to the keeping of God’s Spirit, we would save ourselves and others a world of trouble.
Do your words align with the teaching of Scripture? Consider the following verses:
There is that speaketh like the piercings of a sword: but the tongue of the wise is health (Proverbs 12:18).
Heaviness in the heart of man maketh it stoop: but a good word maketh it glad (Proverbs 12:25).
Pleasant words are as an honeycomb, sweet to the soul, and health to the bones (Proverbs 16:24).
Do your words encourage others to move forward for Christ? Do your words help lift the heavy load that others are bearing? It amazes me to see the lack of empathy that the average Christian has for fellow believers. We live in a self-consumed world. How do I know this? Take a look at the average person’s Facebook page. They are consumed with sharing pictures of their dog, their artwork, their cars, their food choices, and their hobbies. We live in a “selfie” world where most people believe that everything revolves around them. “My happiness” is the most important thing in this world. Yet, we find more unhappiness and more despondency than ever. Why is this? Because happiness is not found in the “self-life”; instead it is found in a “self-less” life. We should be looking for folks to encourage and help. This is what these verses are trying to encourage us to do with our speech. Is your tongue an instrument that promotes pleasantness, or do your words make others stoop?
Finally, let’s consider two more verses from the book of Proverbs.
A man hath joy by the answer of his mouth: and a word spoken in due season, how good is it! (Proverbs 15:23).
A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver (Proverbs 25:11).
These two verses reveal the satisfaction that words can bring to both the speaker and the hearer. In Proverbs 15:23, the speaker has joy by what he says. He is not getting his satisfaction by tearing someone else down or speaking abusively. The second part of this verse indicates that a godly speaker knows the correct time to say things or the time to refrain from saying something. Having this confidence produces joy in the heart of the speaker.
We then come to Proverbs 25:11. The word “fitly” is a very curious one in the Hebrew. It signifies “wheels.” So what do “wheels” have to do with speaking? It deals with the hearer, referring to words which roll smoothly and pleasantly from the lips of the speaker to the ears of the hearer. In this time era, wheels were not used very often, and most things were carried on horseback. On some occasions, makeshift wheels would be needed to ease the burden of travel. Today, we have wheels that are light and smooth so that carrying a burden is easy. The application for a wise man is to learn to “carry” his words with ease so that they are not burdensome to the hearer. The wise man speaks so that his words do not jar or shock the hearer. The speaker’s words should not produce hurt by any harshness or roughness, nor should his words leave a painful rut behind in the memory.
Let me close with a great example of words that were fitly spoken by the Lord Jesus Christ. The Lord always spoke graciously; in fact, in John 1:14, He was said to be “full of grace and truth.” People did not always agree with Him, and there were times that folks were riled up at His speech. However, in John 7:46, we learn that “never man spake like this man.” There are other references in the Gospels that reveal this as well. One such verse is Luke 4:22 where they “wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth.” Peter says in his first epistle that there was no “guile found in his mouth…when he was reviled, [He] reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not.” The Lord created all things by the power of His word (Psalm 33:6-9; Hebrews 11:3). He spoke and a storm ceased (Mark 4:39); He spoke to an unclean spirit and it came out of a man (Mark 5:8,13); He spoke and a man was raised from death (John 11:43,44). For those of us who minister to people, the physical tool that we must use is our words. Let’s be sure that we understand the Biblical truth of the power of words. The Bible still says that we will give an account for every idle word. Christ understood that words count, and He used them wisely to fulfill God’s purpose in His life—to bring people to salvation.