Would you like to speak words that taste good? Would you like to speak words that have value? Would you like to speak words that refresh people? Would you like to speak words that please God? Would you like to speak words that bring healing? Would you like to speak words that demonstrate that Christ dwells in you?
The book of Proverbs has a lot to say about how we speak.
To start with, the Proverbs teach us that words matter. You are not wise unless you grasp how important the words you speak are. Some of you know this power because you still live with the emotional scars of the harsh words of a parent or teacher. While harsh words wound, gentle words heal. ‘There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing’ (12:18). Destructive words are worse than a bee sting, but gentle words bless people. ‘Anxiety in a person’s heart weighs them down, but a good word makes him glad’ (12:25).
Words can be deadly
Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit’ (18:21). We need to be careful with what we say. Not only can our words wound other people, they can wreck our own lives. We all have said things that we regret. ‘Those who guard their mouths and their tongues keep themselves from calamity’ (21:23). It is really important to think before you speak. ‘Do you see someone who speaks in haste? There is more hope for a fool than them’ (29:20).
Words can be precious
While you may remember harsh words that left a scar, you may also have fond memories of words of encouragement. ‘A word fitly spoken is like an apple of gold in a setting of stone’ (25:11). ‘Lips that speak knowledge are a rare jewel’ (20:15b). Among the most precious words are the words of the gospel. Wasn’t it with words that someone shared the good news of the God who loved you enough to send his Son to die for your sin?
We gossip because it tastes good
Gospel words are precious, but gossip is a type of toxic word. So why do we gossip? We gossip because it tastes good. ‘The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to the inmost parts’ (18:8). Why does it taste so good to speak and listen to gossip? Words of gossip taste good because they make us feel superior to the person being talked about. Gossip may be true, but it is told in a way to make those we are talking about look bad. This plays to our huge desire to justify ourselves. We are told to avoid the person who gossips (20:19). If someone says, ‘I probably shouldn’t tell you this’, then tell them not to tell you!
The gossip doesn’t just speak spiteful words, they use body language to communicate their malice: ‘he who winks with an eye is plotting perversity; he who purses his lips is bent on evil’ (16:30). ‘A perverse person stirs up dissension, and a gossip separates close friends’ (16:28). ‘Better the poor whose walk is blameless; than a fool whose lips are perverse’ (19:1).
Gracious words can taste better than gossip
Gracious words can taste better than gossip. ‘Gracious words are like honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones’ (16:24). ‘A hot-tempered person stirs up distension; but a patient person calms a quarrel’ (15:18). ‘A gentle answer turns away wrath (15:1). ‘The soothing tongue is a tree of life … the lips of the wise spread knowledge’ (15:4 and 7).
Do you ever see a fool argue? It’s all shouting and temper! Does the fool ever change anyone’s mind? Of course not! Even if the fool has a point worth making, he simply causes his opponents to become entrenched in their views. However, speak calmly, reason in love, and you are going to be far more effective in making your point.
God hates dishonest words
God hates a lying tongue (6:16). But gracious words are pure in his sight (15:26). As the One who loves truth, God always speaks truth. ‘Every word of God is flawless; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him’ (30:5). While he hates dishonest words, God loves the words of sincere prayer.
God loves the words of sincere prayer
Isn’t it wonderful that God can rejoice over your words? ‘The prayer of the upright pleases him’ (15:8b). He even delights to hear you present your requests to him! What a kind, gracious and loving God we have!
How you speak reflects the condition of your heart
In the book of Proverbs there is a connection between the tongue and the heart. For example, ‘the wise in heart are called discerning, and gracious words promote instruction’ (16:21). Our words are like a thermometer that tell us something about our spiritual health, so we need to change our verbal appetite. But how do we change our verbal appetite?
How can we change our verbal appetite?
‘Above all, guard your heart for, for everything you do flows from it’ (4:31). How do we lose the taste for the morsels of gossip? We lose the taste for the morsels of gossip by enjoying the taste of the honeycomb of gracious words!
Proverbs tells us to walk in the way of wisdom. In the same way the apostle Paul tells us to walk in the Spirit, in order that we will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. Speak truth, and God will make your heart honest. Speak with kindness, and God will make hate-speech repulsive to you. Speak life, and God will purify your heart. Behind pure words are pure motives.
Speak to refresh your listener
So, why do we speak? There are many reasons. Sometimes we speak because we believe that we have something worth saying. Sometimes we speak because we want to get our way. Sometimes we speak because we want to bless people. Here is a promise to those who want to bless people through their words: ‘Those who refresh others will be refreshed’ (11:25).
God will refresh you as you seek to refresh those around you. This frees us up from trying to manipulate people with our words. We are not looking for them to refresh us because our ultimate refreshment comes from God. It should be God’s approval, not their approval that we seek. It pleases us to realise that we are speaking words that bring pleasure to our Heavenly Father.
‘Those who flatter their neighbours are spreading nets for their feet’ (29:5). Flattery is a way so speaking kind words with the intention of using people. But gracious words our designed for the benefit of others.
Gracious words reveal that Christ is in us
Gracious words reveal that Christ is in us. Jesus is called the Word of God (John 1:1-3). God speaks through the lips and the life of his Son. With his words Jesus would not break a bruised reed or snuff out a smouldering wick (Matthew 12:20). He can not be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). Sometimes we serve others by not speaking but listening.
Jesus calls people to listen to his words (John 12:47). His words are supremely valuable, and they will never pass away (Matthew 24:33). His words refresh us by giving us life (John 5:24). Not only does he speak truth, but he is the truth (John 14:6). His words can change our hearts.
Would you like to speak words that taste good? Would you like to speak words that have value? Would you like to speak words that refresh people? Would you like to speak words that please God? Would you like to speak words that bring healing? Would you like to speak words that demonstrate that Christ dwells in you? Then listen carefully to what Jesus says; please God by speaking to him; show that Christ dwells within you through your gracious words; bless people by sharing the words of Christ; and enjoy being refreshed by God as you use kind and encouraging words to refresh those around you.