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.
I just had my mind blown! These two verses were quite familiar to me in English, particularly since I am obviously a man of words. It is clear that we reap what we sow with our mouths (and fingers). Both verses were underlined in the Japanese half of my Bible as well as in the English, but I don’t think I paid much attention to what they said in Japanese at the time I underlined them. In the translation I use, the second half of verse 21 reads, “Loving one or the other, a person will eat that fruit.” When the first half of the verse speaks of the tongue having the power of life and death (the Japanese says, “death and life”) that makes it a question of whether we love life or death, because our words will reflect that choice. James is very clear throughout his letter that words need to be backed up with actions, but our words do have remarkable power and impact. The saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” is frankly not true. They have great power to hurt not only the hearer but also the speaker. That’s why James said, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak.” (James 1:19) Our words reveal our hearts, and we need to be careful with them. One of Jesus’ scariest warnings is, “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) Words matter, because they display our hearts.
Anyone who knows me knows I am a man of words. It is rather a shock any time I am at a loss for words, because such moments are few and far between. My father recognized my gift for words in a dictionary he inscribed to me as I was about to enter college at 16, and he cautioned me that when words are used as a scalpel they must never be infected with pride or envy or anything of the sort. I have tried to take that to heart, but it wasn’t until several years later that the Lord showed me the depth and depravity of my pride, and I repented in abject tears. Recently in an online conversation we have regularly with our daughters, each of us was saying what we loved and appreciated about each of the other three. It was a very moving, profitable conversation! Both my daughters said that they had learned from me to be careful with their words, and I was surprised. I didn’t know I’d been that successful! As a teacher and pastor I continue to make my living with words, so to speak, (pardon the play on words there) but I still am all too prone to speak unnecessarily. I need to pay more attention to James’ admonition to be slow to speak and quick to listen. One of my greatest joys is allowing God to speak His Word through me, but I must be very careful not to pollute that Word with my fallen humanity. Often I am convicted by the words that come from my mouth. I must never modify those words just to make myself feel better.
Father, thank You for the gift of words. Keep me from misusing it. Help me always pay close attention to what You say to and through me, so that loving life, I may reap the fruit of Your words of life, (John 6:63, 68) for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!