Shut My Mouth!

Shocked Senior Man on Telephone

The Power of the Tongue

The Bible has a lot to say about the power of the tongue.  The Hebrew word for “word” (dabar) means both “word” and “deed.”  Words are connected to deeds; in Hebrew thought, the two are inseparable; words cannot exist without corresponding deeds.  We see this in the very first book of the Bible:

Then God said, “Let there be light.” And light appeared. (Genesis 1:3 TLB)

The power of the tongue!  God spoke everything, even light, into being.  How about this in John’s Gospel:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.  (John 1:1—3  NIV)

When you think about it, words can do great good or irreparable harm.  Solomon understood this, and his book of Proverbs is full of observations and good advice on the subject.

Use words properly, Proverbs 18:21; 20:25; 27:1, 2, 5, 21

In addition to words, Solomon was keenly interested in propriety.  That’s an old fashioned notion that means “appropriate behavior.”  Remember, “there is a time for…” all kinds of behavior.  Sometimes it’s appropriate to laugh, other times it’s better to cry.  And so it is with words.  There is the right time to use certain words, and a wrong time.

The power of words, 18:21

Those who love to talk will suffer the consequences. Men have died for saying the wrong thing!  (TLB)

Death and life are in the power of the tongue: and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof.  (AV)

Words are serious things!  What people say can lead to life or death.  Think about that; if you are a Christian, you are able to speak life to the lost by speaking salvation to them.  Careless words, though, can lead someone down a destructive path.  If you aren’t careful in choosing your words wisely, you can actually hurt a person so much as to turn them from their faith!  Some might say that the tongue is the most powerful weapon on earth.  The idea Solomon is putting across in this verse is that for people who love to talk, they must bear its fruit, whether that fruit is good or bad.

Outside of the Bible, Jewish teachers had this to say about the tongue:

The evil tongue slays thee, the slanderer, the slandered, and the listener.

Soren Kierkegaard, a fairly smart man, made this observation (in the 19th century!) worth noting:

If I could prescribe just one remedy for all the ills of the modern world, I would prescribe silence.  For even if the Word of God were proclaimed in the modern world, no one would hear it; there is too much noise.

Vow?  What vow?  20:25

It is foolish and rash to make a promise to the Lord before counting the cost.  (TLB)

In other words, be careful what you promise another person!  Never make a rash vow.  Don’t make a promise until you are sure you can keep it.  Sometimes we get trapped by our words and find ourselves in deep trouble.  This is incredibly practical advice to be sure, but there is a spiritual dimension to it.  Don’t—DO NOT—publicly dedicate your life to God until you have counted the cost.  God doesn’t want an emotional decision; He wants you to carefully consider what it means to follow Him before you make the decision. These days, people seem to make decisions based on how they feel instead of using their reasoning minds.  Yes, there’s a lot feeling but not a lot of thinking going on today, and we can see the mess that way of doing things has left!

Flattery, 27:2, 21

Don’t praise yourself; let others do it!  (verse 2  TLB)

The purity of silver and gold can be tested in a crucible, but a man is tested by his reaction to men’s praise.  (verse 21  TLB)

Verse 2 may bring a smile to your face, but it actually makes complete sense, and when you grasp what Solomon was trying to teach, it will revolutionize how you live.  What he is saying is this:  live your life so that others will praise you.  Now, that’s actually good advice; something your grandmother might have told you.  But, there is a warning that comes along with that advice, and that’s verse 21.  Living a good life is all well and good, but you should never believe your own press!   Be wary of the praise of others; don’t let it go to your head and keep their opinions in perspective. Dr. Ironside’s comments are priceless:

There is no hotter crucible to test a man than when he is put through a fire of praise and adulation.  To go on through evil report, cleaving to the Lord and counting on Him to clear one’s name is comparatively easy; but to humbly pursue the even tenor of his way, undisturbed and unlifted up by applause and flattery, marks a man as being truly with God.

Rebukes and boasts, 27:5, 1

Open rebuke is better than hidden love!  (verse 5  TLB)

Don’t brag about your plans for tomorrow—wait and see what happens.  (verse 1  TLB)

Now here’s some good advice. A “rebuke” seems painful at the time, but a good rebuke can make the world of difference in your life.  For example, Paul publicly rebuked Peter when he refused to eat with some Gentiles.  Peter was wrong in his actions and he needed that rebuke.  The fact that there were no bad feelings after the rebuke proved Paul was right and Peter’s heart was right.

Getting a rebuke is hard, but issuing a rebuke is even harder!  However, if we would honor our friends in the Lord, we’d “speak the truth” in the His name when appropriate.  In this, measuring our words is vital.

Verse 1 is what happens when we put off timely actions.  It’s foolish and potentially dangerous to be presumptuous about the future.  Why?  Because nobody can predict the future with any kind of accuracy.  Solomon isn’t talking about not planning for the future; we should all be doing that!  He is talking about not bragging about those plans.  Nobody should be overconfident about tomorrow.  Humility is essential.

Avoid destructive words, Proverbs 26:17—28

We’ve already put forth the idea that words are powerful and words mean things.  There is no such thing as a “casual word.”  Behind every word is a thought and after every word there is some kind of action.  But there is another reason why the book of Proverbs spends so much time the topic of words. Solomon’s culture was word-based.  It was not a culture of the written word, but of the spoken word.  Much of the Old Testament was not written to be read but to be heard and memorized.  It is estimated that only 5% of the Hebrew population was literate at this time.  So the spoken word carried a lot of weight.

Stop quarreling, verses 17, 21

Yanking a dog’s ears is no more foolish than interfering in an argument that isn’t any of your business. (verse 17  TLB)

A quarrelsome man starts fights as easily as a match sets fire to paper.  (verse 21  TLB)

Some people just love to argue; they’ll argue about anything and everything.  Solomon gives some expert advice here.  Sometimes it can be dangerous to interfere in a verbal fight between two other people.  It may be dangerous, but it also qualifies as “meddling.”  It makes no sense to willfully step into another’s argument.  It makes as much as much sense as yanking a dog’s ears.

Along the same lines, verse 21 suggests that quarrelsome people—those people who love to argue—start fights.  It’s easy for them, and more often than not, they are unaware just how flammable their words are.

There are people who just cause strife wherever they go.  They’re the ones who flit from church-to-church, apparently unaware of the trouble left in their wake.  These people aren’t really interested in anything other than causing problems.  Evangelical Anglican clergyman Richard Cecil wrote—

If a man has a quarrelsome temper, let him alone…He will soon meet with someone stronger than himself, who will repay him better than you can.


Pretty words may hide a wicked heart, just as a pretty glaze covers a common clay pot. A man with hate in his heart may sound pleasant enough, but don’t believe him; for he is cursing you in his heart. Though he pretends to be so kind, his hatred will finally come to light for all to see. The man who sets a trap for others will get caught in it himself. Roll a boulder down on someone, and it will roll back and crush you.  Flattery is a form of hatred and wounds cruelly.  (Proverbs 26:23—28  TLB)

This paragraph is an arraignment of hypocritical speech and character.  Speech descends from character, and you have to watch out for “honey coated” words.  By definition, “doublespeak” means:

…language that deliberately disguises, distorts, or reverses the meaning of words. (

Basically, any time a politician opens his mouth, you may witness a fine example of what Solomon is talking about here.  People who engage in doublespeak say one thing but mean another.  In other words, their words are hypocritical, if not the person themselves.

Hypocrites are all around the Christian; they pretend to be believers but in reality, they are not.  Their words flatter, but hate fills their hearts.  A perfect example of this kind of person is Haman.  He was a flatterer extraordinaire!  He plotted to take down an entire empire even while he flattered the king, pretending to be the most loyal subject.

When dealing with flattering words, we should all take heed of Thomas Watson’s words:

God has given us two ears but one tongue, to show that we should be swift to hear but slow to speak.

Listen carefully to what a person says about you.  You aren’t as good or as bad as they say you are.  And avoid practicing doublespeak. Just be honest.

Avoid gossip, verses 20, 22

Fire goes out for lack of fuel, and tensions disappear when gossip stops.  (verse 20  TLB)

Gossip is a dainty morsel eaten with great relish.  (verse 22  TLB)

Speaking of argumentative people, nothing fuels strife like gossip!  Gossip is a huge problem in society, especially in the church, and yet as destructive as it is, it is very simple to stamp out…stop fueling it and it will burn out.  But, as the Teacher noticed, people love gossip like they love a “dainty morsel.”  Not matter how it tastes, though, gossip is anything but a “dainty morsel”; it’s poison.

Choose life-giving words, Proverbs 15:1, 2, 4, 7, 23, 28; 16:23, 24

According to Hebrew thought, words create life.  We see this in the six days of creation and we also see it the healing ministry of Jesus.  Words bring life.

Gentle words, 15:1, 2, 4

A gentle answer turns away wrath, but harsh words cause quarrels.  A wise teacher makes learning a joy; a rebellious teacher spouts foolishness. (verses 1, 2  TLB)

Gentle words cause life and health; griping brings discouragement.  (verse 4  TLB)

It’s just Common Sense 101:  the way you answer somebody will determine their response.  This is a proverb that we should all remember.  Choose your words carefully and be careful how you speak them.  The idea behind verses 1 and 2 is that the wise person ought to assume an almost conciliatory attitude in answering some people.  Instead of using words that “beat the chest,” sometimes it’s better to be humble and choose gentle words.  The story of Nabal and Abigail from 1 Samuel 25 is a classic illustration of this.  Foolish Nabal should have chosen better words!

Thoughtful words, 15:3, 28; 16:24

The Lord is watching everywhere and keeps his eye on both the evil and the good.  (Proverbs 15:3  TLB)

A good man thinks before he speaks; the evil man pours out his evil words without a thought.  (Proverbs 15:28  TLB)

Kind words are like honey—enjoyable and healthful. (Proverbs 16:24  TLB)

As Christians, we must understand the truthfulness of 15:3.  God sees everything you do and He hears everything you say.  So, with that in mind, 15:28 and 16:24 become much more than mere proverbs; they are imperatives!  Not only will choosing our words carefully keep us in good standing with God, which is always important, it will benefit other people in the long run.  The words we use demonstrate the state of our souls and they can go along way in lifting up and soothing others.

Smart words, Proverbs 15:7; 16:23

Only the good can give good advice. Rebels can’t.  (Proverbs 15:7  TLB)

From a wise mind comes careful and persuasive speech.  (Proverbs 16:23  TLB)

Finally, we come to one last truth:  nobody knows it all.  If you are a Christian and if you are looking for advice, be careful where you seek it out and whom you listen to.  Words are life-giving, and advice from believers should lead you to life.  Conversely, the world is full of “rebels,” and their advice may not be helpful.

Steve Camp wrote these lyrics about the tongue:

The tongue is a fire,
It’s an evil that no man can tame.

In the natural, this is true.  But for the believer, the tongue doesn’t have to be evil at all.  If our hearts are right, our speech will be, also.  Theodore Epp once remarked,

Remember that the tongue only speaks what is in the heart.

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