By Alan Turner
“A man shall eat well by the fruit of his mouth, but the soul of the unfaithful feeds on violence. He who guards his mouth preserves his life, but he who opens wide his lips shall have destruction.” (Proverbs 13:2, 3. NKJV)
We can do well to take time each day to observe what happens around us. Hear what people say and what the reactions and consequences they receive are. We can learn a great deal without opening our mouths so that when we do speak we do so in a way that is constructive and helpful to all.
A simple interpretation of verse 3 would read that if we speak with wisdom we are likely to bring blessings on others and ourselves, even prosperity which would allow us to eat well.
On the other hand verse 4 tells us that if we show unfaithfulness to God and His wisdom, and if we take evil counsel, then we can expect to find ourselves facing conflict, even violence, in the responses of those around us. Effectively a return of word or deed in keeping with what we have offered. “Every man shall drink as he brews, eat as he speaks; for by our words we must be justified or condemned.” Matthew. (12:37, NKJV)
Verse 3 tells us that we can preserve life by guarding our mouths. Failure can have colossal consequences. One writer said, “God hath set a double guard of lips and teeth before this gate, and yet, unless he himself set the watch, and keep the door, all will be lost” (Trapp). Speak always with caution. Even the Arabs have an appropriate saying, “Take heed that your tongue does not cut your throat”.
In the event that we fail and speak without caution then we are likely to experience trouble, possibly even our own destruction. Maybe it will not be literal physical destruction but destruction of trust, relationship or reputation. Wisdom, if exercised, will give control over the things that are said. It has to be a useful skill to be able to take control of our own tongue. Give thoughts to the volumes of history that tell of those who for reasons of pride, foolishness or wickedness lost their lives through making insulting or treasonable comments.
God gave each of us two eyes and two ears so that we may see much and hear much, but he gave us only one tongue fenced by teeth that we would say little and with caution. Perhaps we must remind ourselves that God also gave us a brain with which we can exercise thoughtfulness before using our tongue.
The tongue, though small, has great power, especially if used for good. If used for wrong it has enormous destructive potential, well out of proportion to its physical size or strength. Scripture likens the tongue to the rudder of a boat in its capabilities. It also reminds us that a small spark from the tongue can ignite a destructive fire. “Look also at ships: although they are so large and are driven by fierce winds, they are turned by a very small rudder wherever the pilot desires. Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell.” (James 3:4-6 NKJV).
One old adage we often hear tells us that he that is cautious will think twice (wisdom) and speak once. The advice is sufficiently important that even Jesus gives us warning. It is the words that come out of the mouth that defile a man because our speech reflects the thoughts of our heart. “Not what goes into the mouth defiles a man; but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man.” Matthew 15:11. “But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man.” Matthew 15:18
Matthew reminds us also that the guidance about wisdom in what we say has relevance beyond this life on the day of judgement. But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” Matthew 12:36, 37, NKJV)
Let each of us ponder a moment before we speak and consider what our words may achieve – harm or good.