I recently interviewed Mack Tomlinson, a pastor and author, on his biography of Leonard Ravenhill. He gave me permission to republish his recent blog post on the subject of our words. It was helpful to me, and I hope it is to you.
Many people do not take their words seriously enough. Everyone who hears anything we say will be influenced and affected by our words, whether for good or bad. Often young people or foolish adults will saying cutting, hurtful things in jest, only to justify it by saying, “I was only teasing–man, can’t anybody take a joke?”
Whether or not the person was joking is another issue; the thing about words is that, regardless what our motives are in speaking, the words themselves have a direct influence upon those who hear us.
How important are words? When words are spoken, they immediately do their work. It doesn’t matter if it was intentional or not, if it was a joke or not, if it was well-thought out or rashly spoken without thought–none of that matters; what matters is that when words leave a person’s mouth, the effect happensand the influence occurs; blessing and edification are accomplished by the words themselves if the words are right, truthful and good; likewise, damage, hurt, and sin immediately occurs if the words are harmful.
Words and their effects cannot be drawn back in like a fishing line. Once out of the mouth, they are permanent and cannot be reversed.
How important are words? Only a few reminders from Proverbs cause us to remember:
Preserving or destroying one’s very life – “Whoever guards his mouth preserves his life; he who opens wide his lips comes to ruin.” – Prov. 13:3
Toil or talk – “In all toil there is profit, but mere talk tends only to poverty.” – 14:23
Anger or peace – “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” – 15:1
Thoughts themselves can be sin, and words can be acts of righteousness – “The thoughts of the wicked are an abomination to the Lord, but gracious words are pure.” – 15:26
Words have influence with those who are in authority – “Righteous lips are the delight of a king, and he loves him who speaks what is right.” – 16:13
Words are a real means of comfort and healing – “Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.” – 16:24
For those talkative ones who always have to express their views – “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.” – 18:2
Words are what get most people in trouble – “A fool’s lips walk into a fight and his mouth invites a beating.” – 18:6 (Advice to young people–if you don’t want to get in trouble or get your teeth knocked down your throat by a mad jerk, keep your mouth shut–be quick to listen and very slow to speak.)
Words totally ruin some people’s lives – “A fool’s mouth is his ruin and his lips are a snare to his soul.” – 18:7
Gossip is enjoyable to the gossip and the listener – “The words of a whisperer are like delicious morsels.” – 18:8
Premature words bring shame – “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.” – 18:13
Words always reap a harvest – “From the fruit of a man’s mouth his stomach is satisfied; he is satisfied by the yield of his lips.” – 18:20
Words reflects outright evil and wickedness – “A worthless witness mocks at justice, and the mouth of the wicked devours iniquity.” – 19:28
The main life preserver – “Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble.” – 21:23
Telling others is wrong – “Argue your case with your neighbor himself and do not reveal another’s secrets.” – 25:9
Good, timely words – “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.” – 25:11
Lying about others is destructive – “A man who bears false witness against his neighbor is like a war club, a sword, or a sharp arrow.” – 25:18
Quarreling – “It is better to live in a corner of the housetop than in a house shared with a quarrelsome wife.” – 25:24
Quarreling – “For lack of wood the fire goes out and where there is no whisperer, quarreling ceases.” – 26:20
There’s a time to answer a fool and there’s a time to not answer a fool – “Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself. Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes.” – 26:4-5
Words are often meant to directly deceive – “Whoever hates disguises himself with his lips and harbors deceit in his heart; when he speaks graciously, believe him not, for there are seven abominations in his heart.” – 26:24-25
How many more warnings could we find, just in Proverbs? Many more.
In an age of information overload, tweeting, face-booking, emailing, texting, and all the rest, the amount of words that are used have been multiplied by the millions; and everyone one of us are storing up more and more accountability to God on judgment day, when we will give account of our words.