Proverbs 18:20-21 From the fruit of his mouth a man’s stomach is filled;
with the harvest from his lips he is satisfied.
The tongue has the power of life and death,
and those who love it will eat its fruit.
This chapter has lots of pithy aphorisms that really strike home, so I was at something of a loss as to what God wanted to say to me this morning. I settled on these two closely-related verses, and then when I typed them in Japanese, my mind was blown. Verse 20 is essentially the same in the two languages, but verse 21 is rendered as, “Death and life are controlled by the tongue. Loving one or the other, a person eats the fruit.” That puts an entirely different twist on things! In English we read the “love” as being directed toward the tongue, but the Japanese says we love either death or life. That agrees with many other passages throughout the Bible, as well as with experience. We all know people who can’t let go of something, even if it leads to their destruction. The point here is that what we say has great influence over that. Paul tells us that confessing Jesus as Lord with our mouths is the key to eternal life. (Romans 10:10) Words alone don’t do the trick, as Jesus made clear, (Luke 6:46) However, as this verse says, what we say has a huge impact on who and what we are, as well as our destination. Speaking out in faith can sometimes sound foolish, but it is an act of loving life rather than death.
I was attracted to these verses because I am a man of words. I have a gift for them, as my father recognized when he inscribed a dictionary to me. When I had a vocal polyp about a year ago it was a real issue, because I make my living by talking, as both a pastor and a teacher. That makes me really relate to verse 20! However, I must be careful that my words lead to life, both in myself and in my hearers/readers. Some of the scariest words in the Bible to me are something Jesus said. “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.” (Matthew 12:36-37) I’ll have a lot of accounting to do! That’s all the more reason to speak the truth in love at all times, just as Paul said. (Ephesians 4:15)
Father, thank You for this clear reminder. Help me indeed speak and write words of life and not death at all times. As I pray every time I stand in the pulpit, I ask You to speak through me so that it won’t just be my words that come out of my mouth, but Yours, accomplishing everything for which You send them. (Isaiah 55:10-11) I ask that not only for when I’m in the pulpit, but for every moment of my life, so that I may be Your instrument indeed, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!