Summary: I will use my tongue to launch life instead of delivering death.
Watching Our Words
Rev. Brian Bill
January 12-13, 2018
Many summers ago, our family was invited to a party at someone’s house. After we were done eating, a group of adults started playing volleyball. Meanwhile, the children gathered into groups and held up bed sheets while a couple of us launched water balloons into the air. The idea was for them to catch the balloons on the sheet without breaking them.
As I gently lofted balloons to the kids, I turned to my buddy, gave him a sinister smirk, and pointed to the volleyball players located about 50 yards away. He instinctively knew what I was thinking and we began unleashing balloon bombs on the unsuspecting adults.
We were out of control and didn’t stop our volley until all the balloons were gone. The kids wanted more, while the volleyball players kept looking up at the sky in dread of more missiles coming their way.
Our water grenades were small, and yet they had the ability to cause delight or destruction, depending on how they were used. Likewise, our words have the same power -- they can bring joy or cause despair. Words can hurt or heal, devastate or delight.
How many of you are reading a chapter of Proverbs every day? Our main emphasis last weekend was on developing the fear of the Lord: To be wise in God’s eyes, let’s revere and draw near in the new year.
Psalm 34:11-13 tells us when God wows us, we will watch our words: “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!
Our primary text is 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.
Let’s try an exercise. Could you stick your tongue out? Can you see it? Notice how small it is. But actually it’s the most powerful force in the world. Turn to the person next to you and say, “Death and life are in the power of your tongue.” Now let’s personalize Proverbs 18:21 by saying it together using the words “my” and “I”: “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 first thing we see in Proverbs 18:21 is “the power of the tongue.” This is the word for “strength.” During World War II the government printed posters that showed a drowning soldier in the ocean, with four 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 three reasons.
1. Words are everywhere. According to researchers, on an average day, we open our mouths to speak 700 times, using at least 7,000 words! Interestingly, one study found we only use about 700 words that have actual value.
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. No wonder Jesus said in 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. Proverbs 12:25: “Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad.” 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. We say a lot of words and they go down deep. They also get 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 rumor 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. One of my friends offers this insight: “Words have tremendous power for good and evil…they take on a life of their own and ‘hang’ out there forever.”