In my continuing series on the book of Proverbs, we last time ended at Proverbs 10:16: where Solomon speaks of the wages of the righteous bringing life while the income of the wicked brings punishment.  I gave some examples of how the misuse of income does indeed bring punishment as people can easily slip into poverty by failing to properly handle the income they have.

       We will now continue in Proverbs 10 beginning with verse 19 were Solomon addresses a problem that is common to us all.

       Proverbs 10:19:  When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.

       We have all done it.  We have all foamed at the mouth about something and the more we talked the deeper we got ourselves into trouble.  Solomon says that he who holds his tongue is wise. Holding one’s tongue can go a long way toward avoiding sin. It is when we fail to hold our tongue that sin often occurs.  Remember, the basic meaning of sin is to behave contrary to the will of God.  When we fail to control the tongue, we place ourselves at risk for unrighteous behavior.

       Failure to hold one’s tongue often leads to arguments. Arguments often escalate into physical conflict leading to violence.  Failure to hold ones tongue creates animosity and hostility.  We have all experienced this.  We have all been hurt by the words of others and we have all hurt others by our words.  Apostle James is rather graphic in his description of the tongue and the damage it can do if not held in check. 

       James 3:5-8: The tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

       Taming the tongue is the biggest challenge we humans face.  If we can control the tongue, we can control much of what goes on in our lives and the lives of others.  We can control how we relate to people and how they relate to us.  Solomon recognized this and has a lot to say about the tongue in the Proverbs.  There are literally dozens of references to the tongue in the Proverbs.  Here are just a few.

       Proverbs 11:12:  A man who lacks judgment derides his neighbor, but a man of understanding holds his tongue.

       Proverbs 12:18: Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.

       Proverbs 15:2: The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouth of the fool gushes folly.

      Proverbs 17:28: Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue.

       Proverbs 21:23: He who guards his mouth and his tongue keeps himself from calamity.

       Of these five polemics about the tongue, I think Proverbs 17:28 is the most telling.  Solomon writes that even a fool is thought to be wise if he keeps silent and discerning if he holds his tongue.  Even someone who may not be considered very bright is considered wise if he can hold his tongue. Even a fool can avoid trouble if he can keep silent in a situation that could become volatile if the tongue is uncontrolled.

       Failure to harness the tongue is at the crux of most interactional problems. Wars have been started over a failure to harness the tongue.  Most domestic violence is the result of those involved failing to simply keep their mouth shut at the appropriate time. When conflict is brewing, the best way to defuse the situation is to take a deep breath and zip up the lip.  We have all heard it said you should count to ten before saying something in a potentially volatile situation.  It’s called the ten second rule.

       That is certainly good advice provided the ten seconds of silence leads to bridling the tongue after counting to ten.  At any rate, it certainly is wise to be of the mindset to be careful as to what comes out of our mouth in any given circumstance.

       James 1:19: My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.

       A major problem we humans have is that we don’t listen to what another person is saying. We tend to respond to others before we hear them out and evaluate what it is they said.  We allow our own presuppositions to determine our response.  We hear others saying things that they haven’t said because we filter what they are saying through our own frame of reference rather than trying to understand the other person’s frame of reference and respond accordingly.

       When James writes of being quick to listen and slow to speak the two go together. If we carefully listen to someone and strive to understand what they are saying we will be slow to speak in that we will respond in a thoughtful manner and not just run off at the mouth.  Careful listening is closely tied to controlling the tongue.  It’s a matter of coordinating our ears with our tongue.

       In should be understood that to hold ones tongue is more than to just not say anything.  We may refrain from verbally saying something nasty that will create conflict but still say it with our body language and still create conflict.  For example:

       Mary says to her friend Jane that she is getting back together with her ex-boyfriend James.  Jane looks at her funny but doesn’t say anything.  Mary can tell by Jane’s body language, however, that she doesn’t approve of her getting back with James. Jane goes on to say she is just holding her tongue and when Mary asks why, Jane blurts out that she thinks Mary’s an idiot for getting back with James and then the argument begins. Body language can be as insidious as verbal language.

       I think we all understand that words are very powerful. We can use words to encourage and motivate and we can use words to tear someone down and create a great deal of hurt.  There is an old rhyme that says, "Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me." Well that rhyme is both true and false.  While sticks and stones indeed can break bones, words can do even more damage.  While words may not directly break bones they can lead to a great deal of mental hurt which can in turn lead to broken bones and a lot more if words escalate an argument to the point of physical violence.

       Proverbs 18:21: The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.

       Words have a tremendous amount of power. Scripture shows the words of God are powerful and shaper than a two edged sword.  Scripture records that God spoke the creation into existence.  It is what comes out of our mouth that reflects how we think and how we think defines who we are.  It is apparent from the Scriptures that words mean a great deal to God.  Jesus made a very profound statement to the Pharisees as recorded in Matthew 12.

       Matthew 12:34:37: You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.   The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken.  For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned."

       That sounds kind of scary doesn’t it?  The words we speak reflect the intent of our hearts.  If we have a storehouse of good things in our heart such good things will be reflected in our words.  If we have a storehouse of evil things in our heart such evil things will be reflected in the words we speak.

       A major way words are misused is in the matter of gossip.  Gossip is idle talk or rumor, especially about the personal or private affairs of others. We humans love to gossip. We like to grab unto little tidbits of information and share them with others.  Very often the content of gossip is nothing more than rumor.  The information hasn’t been verified and therefore may or may not be true.  When it isn’t true it amounts to spreading lies about someone. Even if the information is true, it may be better to keep it to yourself if such information is going to hurt another individual. 

       Yet gossip is virtually ubiquitous in human behavior. You can go to any checkout out at a supermarket and you will see a dozen or more magazines advertizing the latest gossip about this or that entertainer or sports personality.  Much of what is written is rumor mill stuff and has little relationship to the truth. Yet people love to read this stuff.  Solomon had a lot to say about gossip.

       Proverbs 11:13: A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy man keeps a secret.

       Proverbs 16:28: A perverse man stirs up dissension, and a gossip separates close friends.

       Proverbs 20:19: A gossip betrays a confidence; so avoid a man who talks too much.

       Proverbs 26:20: Without wood a fire goes out; without gossip a quarrel dies down.

       I love this last saying.  Without wood a fire goes out; without gossip a quarrel dies down.  What a great analogy.  We have a fireplace in our family room and when having a fire I have to constantly feed more wood to the flame to keep the fire going.  Without wood a fire goes out.  What often fuels an argument?  It is saying something about somebody that isn’t true or even if it is true it rubs the person the wrong way and leads to conflict.  Solomon wrote that a gossip betrays confidence and stirs up dissension while a trustworthy man keeps a secret.

       We need to be very cautious as to the information we share with others about others.  Once information is shared it can spread like a wild fire.  Someone once said there is only one thing as difficult as unscrambling an egg, and that's un-spreading a rumor.

       Be careful about listening to gossip. Listening to gossip can be as bad as telling it?  Beware of the gossip. It’s been said that he who gossips to you will gossip about you."   So when someone comes up to you and says, “Did you hear about such and such,” you may want to tell the person that you haven’t heard and don’t care to hear. 

       In Paul’s letter to the Romans, he makes the statement in Romans 1:18 that the wrath of God was being revealed against the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness.  He then goes on to provide an extensive list of behaviors that are contrary to righteousness.  As part of this list he writes the following:

       Romans 1:29: They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless.

       Notice that Paul includes gossiping in his list of unrighteous behaviors. For Paul gossiping was as much wickedness as envy, strife, arrogance and a number of other such behaviors. Paul does the same in his second letter to the Corinthians.

       2 Corinthians 12:20:  For I am afraid that when I come I may not find you as I want you to be, and you may not find me as you want me to be. I fear that there may be quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, factions, slander, gossip, arrogance and disorder. 

       It is critical that we do everything possible to speak truthful words.  It is not enough to avoid knowingly speaking falsehood.  We should also strive to be sure when we speak what we believe to be the truth that it is actually the truth. Unfortunately for many, speaking the truth is a relative thing and shading the truth or outright lying is not considered a bad thing, especially if it puts one in a good light or advances ones personal agenda.  Politicians are very adept at shading the truth and not thinking twice about it.  Speaking untruthful words, however, can often result in a bad outcome and can lead to embarrassing consequences. 

       There’s the story about a woman who was hosting a dinner party and decided to serve her guests chicken as the main entrée.  So she went to the local butcher shop to by a chicken.  She asked the butcher what chickens he had available.  So the butcher went to check what chickens he had left in his freezer and found he only had one chicken left.  So he brought out the chicken placed it on the scale and found it weighed two pounds.  The lady said she needed a bigger chicken than that.  The butcher, not wanting to lose a sale, took the chicken off the scale, put it back in the freezer, waited a few minutes and then took out the same chicken, which was the only chicken he had, brought it to the woman and said he found a three pound chicken in the freezer.  The woman said "Great, I'll take both of them." Needless to say the butcher had a problem.  His greed led to dishonest words which got him into a real pickle with his customer. 

       As already covered, what comes out of our month is what is in our heart. When the heart is full of pride, arrogance, self-centeredness, anger and many of the other negative dynamics of behavior, our speech will reflect those dynamics.  At one point during His ministry, Jesus was chided by the Pharisees about His disciples not washing their hands before they ate.  Here is His reply:

       Matthew 15:11: What goes into a man's mouth does not make him `unclean,' but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him `unclean.'"

       Jesus then went on to elaborate more on what He had said to the Pharisees when He met privately with His Disciples.

       Matthew 15: 17-20; "Don't you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man `unclean.' For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what make a man `unclean'; but eating with unwashed hands does not make him `unclean.'"

       The words that come out of the month are generated by what is in the heart.  These are the words that reveal the true character or lack of character of all peoples. Jesus spoke of evil thoughts coming from the heart.  Thoughts are simply words spoken internally, words spoken in our mind. Such thought words can be righteous or unrighteous.  If they are righteous thought words they will lead to righteous behavior.  If they are unrighteous thought words they will lead to unrighteous behavior.

       It all boils down to how we think.  How we express ourselves in language reflects how we express ourselves in our thoughts. We can have thoughts that have a pleasant smell to them or we can have stinking thinking.

       There is the story about some kids who played a joke on their grandfather. While he was sleeping on a sofa in the living room, one of the youngsters thought it would be fun to spread some limburger cheese into his mustache.  When he woke up from his nap, he immediately began to smell limburger cheese.  He exclaimed: "Something in this living room stinks."  He then went into the kitchen and still smelling the limburger cheese in his mustache said, "Something in this room stinks as well."   He then went outside and still smelled the cheese and concluded that the whole world stinks.

       Well, as can be seen, the problem wasn’t the living room, kitchen or the world for that matter.  The problem was grandpa himself.  The stink was on or within him.  The stink was coming from grandpa and not some external source.  The only way for grandpa to get rid of the stink was to wash his mustache.  The only way for us to guard against sinful use of the tongue is to have our hearts wished clean.  Only then can we eliminate the stinking thinking that manifests itself in our use of the tongue.  

        Paul instructs that we should not allow unwholesome words to come out of our months. 

       Ephesians 4:29: Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.

       Ephesians 5:4: Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.

       Paul places a great deal of emphasis on avoiding talk that fails to be edifying and fails to build up others according to their needs.  The Greek word rendered “unwholesome” here is sapros and literally means to be rotten or putrid. A secondary meaning is to be of poor quality or worthless.  Paul is instructing that we do not allow ourselves to engage in speech of poor quality or of worthless value. 

         The Greek rendered as “obscenity” in Ephesians 5:4 is a word that has the basic meaning of foul or shameful speech.  The Greek word for foolish in the phrase “foolish talk” means to talk imprudently, without forethought or wisdom.  In condemning course joking, Paul isn’t condemning joking per se.  Paul is not anti humor. Paul is speaking out against joking that hurts another person.  We all joke around with each other but when such joking hurts another person that it where it may be best to hold ones tongue.  We must use wisdom in joking around.

       When Dennis Taylor and I play golf we kid each other all the time over our bad shots.  I will miss a two foot putt and ask out loud how I could miss such an easy putt and Dennis will respond by saying it’s because I stink.  On the next hole Dennis will have a bad shot and I will let him know about it with a choice comment of my own.  Neither of us goes home feeling hurt because of what the other said about our gulf game. We know we stink so we aren’t offended when we trade barbs about our golf game.  

       When Paul talks about what comes out of our mouth he is exhorting us to be careful that what we say doesn’t infringe upon the sensitivities of others. We are to be considerate of where others are at in their lives and respond to them accordingly.  This is where awareness becomes a major dynamic in communication.  We must strive to be aware of the dynamics that make up each other's lives and engage in speech that acknowledges those dynamics. 

       If I knew that Dennis took his golf seriously, I would be less likely to joke about his bad shots.  But since I know neither He nor I take our gulf seriously, we can joke about our bad shots and neither one of us are going to feel emotionally injured.  In fact we pride ourselves in belonging to the PGA.  No, not the Professional Golfers Association, I’m talking about the Pathetic Golfers Association. In fact Dennis and I often joke about writing a book on golf.  We could entitle it, “How to Play Three Putt Golf” or “How to Enjoy Double Bogie Golf.”  Only you golfers will appreciate the humor in those titles. 

       The whole point of Solomon’s and Paul’s instruction as to how we are to use speech is that we are to use it in such a way that it edifies and does not tear down another person in an adversarial manner. The Christian way is to behave in such manner as to uplift others and do our best to relate to others according to the Golden Rule which is to do unto others as we would have them do unto us. 

       When it comes to the tongue, we need to ensure that our thoughts are what they should be and then engage our mind before we engage our tongue.  We need to speak with measured thoughts and always strive to be aware of the consequences of what we say.  There is tremendous power in the tongue.  That power can be used to edify and lift up or it can be used to degrade and tear down.

       Our daily goal should be to use the tongue to edify and lift up.  In so doing we will reflect what Paul wrote to the Romans:       

       Romans 14:19:  Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.

       How we use the tongue is key to promoting peace and edification.