There are many verses in the Bible that encourage me and fill my soul with hope. But then there are other verses that scare and sober me.
Proverbs 18:21 is near the top of that latter list.
"Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits" (ESV).
I like how The Message summarizes it: "Words kill, words give life; they’re either poison or fruit — you choose."
That verse compels me to wrap duct tape around my mouth. Why?
Because my words - and your words, too - are never neutral.
The Bible says that our words are either moving in a life direction, or they're moving in a death direction. What we say either builds up or tears down.
There isn't any middle ground.
I don't know about you, but I often speak as if my words exist in a happy neutrality. It's uncommon for me to think before I speak, "Is what I'm about to say in this moment going to bring life or bring death?"
But the Bible says that every word we speak is moving in one of those two directions. So how should this spiritual reality change the way we live?
I can see four ways:
1. Think more: Jesus says that we'll give an account for "every careless word" we speak (Matthew 12:36). That same Jesus will speak perfectly on our behalf on the day of judgement, but we still need to take the time to consider the direction of our words before they roll carelessly off our tongue.
2. Speak less: Proverbs 10:19 says, "When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent." In other words, the more you and I say, the higher the probability we have of bringing death and tearing down. Sometimes it's better to say nothing at all.
3. Rest in God: If you're anything like me, there will be many words that you wish you could take back. But God's timing is always right. He chooses to reveal these things to us at just the right moment, and he forgives every careless word we have spoken and will speak.
4. Forgive others: If we're going to rest in God for our own careless words, we need to give others the same grace that we've received. Be patient and forgiving as God reveals to others what he has revealed to you.
May we take advantage of the grace offered to us and move our words in the direction of life!
- Identify some careless words you spoke yesterday. How could you have given those words "life" instead?
- Think of a time when it would have been wiser to stay silent. What was the result of you speaking?
- What do you regret saying, either recently or in the distant past? How can you preach the gospel to yourself about that regret?
- Who is currently agitating you with their careless words? How does the gospel inform and transform the way you respond to them?