How powerful are words? To answer that, just look back at the playground teasing you endured (or inflicted) –what effect did the words of scorn, derision, or contempt have? Conversely, how did positive words impact people?
In Proverbs, Chapter 15, the writer talks about the way our words, our tongues influence others. In this one chapter, a third of the proverbs are concerned with what we say and how we say it, about our attitudes that affect our words, and what we listen to. While there are many other verses in Proverbs about our words, the high percentage of them in this chapter makes us pause and ask why the emphasis is needed. So let’s look at the results of our words.
Consider the results of unguarded, or angry, or wrong words:
- they stir up anger (verse 1)
- they pour out folly (verse 2)
- they break the spirit (verse 4)
- they are an abomination to God (verse 26)
- they pour out evil things (verse 28)
Wow! Not good! Even in the New Testament, James calls the tongue a “fire, a world of unrighteousness.” James goes on to say that “no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.”
So what to do? Look at the alternative to rash speech: First, Proverbs 15:1 says “a soft word turns away wrath.” Have you ever tried to argue with someone who won’t argue back, or answers you with kind words? Who meets your harshness with understanding and patience? You end up in a one person argument, and we all know how useless that gets!
Next, Proverbs 15:4 tells us that “a gentle tongue is a tree of life.” It nourishes the spirit and soul. It encourages and lifts you up. Think about a time when someone came to you and told you how much they liked or appreciated you. How did you feel? I’ll just bet you were on top of the world, full of life and energy! That’s what gentle words do for us.
So, gentle, pure, soft, appropriate words are our goal – to speak them and to mean them. But how? What is the secret to being able to do this consistently? Proverbs 15:28 may show us part of the answer:
The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer,
but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things.
The righteous heart ponders how to answer. Ponder – a verb – to think about carefully, especially before making a decision or reaching a conclusion. Some synonyms are “think about,” “consider,” “mull over.” Or as my mother would sometimes say “Put your brain in gear before you put your mouth in motion!”
Sometimes we are so busy on our own heads thinking up a reply, rebuttal, or smart aleck answer that we don’t take the time to consider the world of hurt our answer could cause. We don’t ponder what effect our words will have on the listener. We need to be mindful, to take a breath, to ponder our reply first then speak.
Good advice in the first century AD, good advice now in an age when much of our “speech” is on social media and is pejorative, hurtful, even hateful.
So THINK, MAN, THINK! Ponder your words, consider their effect, become the person that people want to listen to and to hang out with. Be the positive influence in the negative world we live in!
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