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Wise Words for the New Year - 2. Watching Our Words

Proverbs 6: 1 - 5

Our words can bring joy or cause despair. Words can hurt or heal, devastate or delight. Psalm 34: 11 - 13 “Come, O children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the LORD. What man is there who desires life and loves many days, that he may see good? Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit.”

Proverbs has a lot to say about what we say as it refers to our tongue, our mouth or our lips over 150 times in 31 chapters!

Proverbs 18: 21 “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.” Our words either launch life or they deliver death. Everything you said this week either assassinated or invigorated the people around you because words have the power to help, to heal, to hinder, to hurt, to harm, to humiliate and to humble.

Turn to the person next to you -“Death and life are in the power of your tongue.” Say it together using the words - “Death and life are in the power of MY tongue, and I will eat its fruits.” Here’s the decision I want each of us to make as a result of the sermon: I will use my tongue to launch life instead of delivering death.

Our Words are Powerful

The 1st thing we see in Proverbs 18:21 is “the power of the tongue” - the word for “strength.” During World War II the government printed posters that showed a drowning soldier, with 4 words at the bottom of the picture: “Loose Lips Sink Ships.” Because there were spies around, sailors had to be very careful when in port. Someone who talked too much could literally lose his life and put thousands in danger. Here’s a more modern version: “Tweets sink Fleets.” Words are powerful for at least 3 reasons -

1. Words are everywhere We open our mouths to speak 700 times, using at least 7,000 words a day! If we speak this much (and some of us get this many words in before breakfast), we’re bound to say something that brings death to someone. Jesus said -Matthew 12: 37 “For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

2. Words penetrate within Proverbs 12: 18 “There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” Our tongues torpedo relationships and ambush reputations. Like a sword, our speech can lacerate a life in a matter of seconds. The things we say can either bring emotional life or emotional death to others. Think of a time when someone spoke exactly the right words at the right time. Now think of a time when someone spoke recklessly. Some of us remember words that sliced through our souls decades ago.

3. Words spread far and wide Proverbs 16: 27 “A worthless man plots evil, and his speech is like a scorching fire.” Perhaps you’ve experienced the pain that comes from a rumour that spreads like wild fire. It’s no fun, is it? Words don’t just evaporate once they’re spoken. They’re like burning embers that engulf an entire forest. Words are powerful - they are either used for life or death. Let’s consider some ways we deliver death through toxic talk.

Delivering Death

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never harm me.” That’s actually not true, is it? Broken bones can heal but words can wound and break our hearts. We’ve all used venomous verbs and noxious nouns and have been on the receiving end of these words as well. Proverbs lists several examples of how the tongue can be used to hurt, destroy and kill.

1. Gossip Proverbs 20: 19 “Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets; therefore do not associate with a simple babbler.” Some people feed on gossip like others enjoy food: Proverbs 18: 8 “The words of a whisperer are like delicious morsels; they go down into the inner parts of the body.” Living Bible - “What dainty morsels rumours are. They are eaten with great relish.” A person was gossiping about someone in the church. When the friend asked a question to get more juicy details, his buddy replied, “I’ve already told you more than I know!” Remember this. The person who gossips to you will gossip about you.

2. Angry words Proverbs 29: 22 “A man of wrath stirs up strife, and one given to anger causes much transgression.” Some of you have experienced pain from being around someone who spews volcanic verbiage.

3. Lying “A lying tongue” is one of the things that God hates. Proverbs 12: 19 “Truthful lips endure forever, but a lying tongue is but for a moment.”

4. Flattery Most of us secretly enjoy flattery, but we are warned to be on our guard against those who sweet-talk: Proverbs 29: 5 “A man who flatters his neighbor spreads a net for his feet.” A flatterer is one who pats you on the back today only to locate a soft spot where he can insert a knife tomorrow.

5. Impulsive speech Proverbs 29: 20 “Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him.” We’ve all experienced the horror of saying something too quickly as we open mouth and insert foot.

Launching Life

Words are powerful because they can enflame or encourage. They can be used to bring death and they can also resuscitate a floundering life. We can belittle or we can bless. “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.” I will use my tongue to launch life instead of delivering death. Proverbs gives us 3 word pictures -

1. Refreshing water Proverbs 10: 11 “The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life.” When we listen to wise words it’s like taking a long drink of fresh spring water on a hot summer day.

2. Tasty food Proverbs 16: 24 “Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.” Honey was both a luxury and a medicine in ancient Israel. When we talk tenderly with others, our words become priceless and provide healing to broken hearts.

3. Expensive jewellery Proverbs 25: 11, 12 “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver. Like a gold ring or an ornament of gold is a wise reprover to a listening ear.” Like an expert jeweler, our words should be balanced just right, beautiful in their appearance, and as valuable as gold and silver.

Taming Your Tongue

Unfortunately, we don’t always use our words wisely. Listen again - “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.” Let’s focus now on how we can “eat its fruits” ­- let’s make sure what we say is delicious and nutritious. Proverbs 21: 23 challenges us to be careful about our conversations: “He who guards his mouth and tongue keeps himself from calamity.”

1. Think more 12: 18, 15: 28 Sometimes it’s best to not answer at all. Before you answer, hit the pause button. Speak when you’re angry and you’ll make the best speech you’ll ever regret. It might be helpful to get in the habit of taking a deep breath so that you can reflect before you respond.

2. Talk less 10: 19, 17: 28 Our chances of blowing it with our words are directly related to the amount of time we spend with our mouth open. “Never break the silence unless you can improve on it.” Abraham Lincoln - “It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.”

Some situations when it’s good to hold your tongue - • When you’re tempted to say, “I told you so.” • When you have information that makes someone look bad. • When someone is upset about a problem and you’ve had a similar experience. • When you’re tempted to judge or criticize someone. • When you want to correct someone on a minor point as they tell a story. • When someone has not asked for your opinion. • When you want to tell something about yourself in order to impress someone.

If you struggle with talking too much, let me encourage you to build some “wordless moments” into your day.

3. Listen better 15: 31, 19: 20 Someone has said the reason we’ve been given two ears and one mouth is so we would listen twice as much as we talk. It’s tough to hear someone tell us something we don’t want to hear, but it’s really the only way to become wise. As hard as it is, take the time to listen to what God is trying to tell you through the individuals who care about you.

One of my problems is I’m often not fully engaged when I’m talking with someone. Instead, I’m often formulating my answer even while the person is pouring out their heart.

A wise old owl lived in an oak, The more he heard, the less he spoke.

The less he spoke, the more he heard, Why can’t we all be like the wise old bird?

4. Encourage others 15: 4 Do you realize there are people all around you who are discouraged and defeated? God can use your words to breathe life into a person who is piled by life’s problems.

One way you can tell if you are an encourager or a discourager is to honestly ask if people like being around you. Are you the kind of person others are glad to see coming into the room, or do they turn their face away when they see you?

5. Speak gently 15: 1, 25: 15 Let’s work at getting our points across without raising our voices. Harness the power of a gentle word. As someone has said, “Keep your words soft and sweet; you never know when you may have to eat them!”

6. Cut others slack 19: 11, 17: 9 Most of us are way too tough on others. We expect perfection from people while minimizing our own mistakes. Some of us get bent out of shape with people who sin differently than we do. Many things are not a matter of right or wrong, but just differences of preference or opinion. “Not wrong, just different.”

7. Avoid gossip 11: 13, 17: 4 “A gossip is just a fool with a keen sense of rumour.” I need to know my name is safe when I’m out of the room if you’re in the room, and you need to know that name is safe with me. One of the best ways to avoid gossip is to simply refuse to listen to it. When someone is sharing something juicy with you, tell him or her that you don’t want to hear it. If they have an issue with someone, they need to go and talk to that person, not talk to you about that person.

8. Tell the truth 12:17, 16: 13 It’s important to be known as a truth-teller, no matter the situation or cost involved. People value those who speak truth, even when it hurts. Don’t hold back on truth telling but remember to do it gently and with the goal of encouraging the individual.

9. Stop boasting 25: 27 It’s not attractive to hear someone boast and brag, is it? When you sing your own praise, you always sing out of tune. If you feel the need to blow your own trumpet, then you may have a problem with boasting. Instead of seeking your own name in lights, focus on God’s honour and He will take care of you. When you feel yourself starting to talk about what you’ve done, look for ways to quickly give credit to others.

10. Don’t quarrel 17: 14 20: 3 We would have a lot more peace in families and in the church if we would just refuse to quarrel with others. Instead of engaging in disagreements that can turn into a tidal wave of conflict, let’s work at dropping the matter before disputes break out. I’m convinced that much of what we fight about is not really all that important anyway. God values community more than conflict. Don’t be the one to start or continue a quarrel.

Action Steps

Ask for a new heart. If we want to stop using death words, and begin speaking words of life, we not only need to make things right with others and yield our tongue to God, we may in fact, need a different heart. The good news is that Jesus specializes in heart transplants.

Only God can give us the power we need to build others up instead of tearing them down. If you want to be a dispenser of life words instead of death words, you need to be rightly related to God. That’s something we do through our words. Romans 10: 9, 10 “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.”

Our tongues are actually connected to our hearts. Jesus gives us some insight - Matthew 12: 34, 15: 19 “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks…for out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.” Our words are but the public pronouncement of the private place of the heart. What comes out of our mouths reveals what is in our hearts. Another way to say it is that our words reflect our true character.

Are you launching life or delivering death? Let’s say this one more time: I will use my tongue to launch life instead of delivering death.

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