Words

I have been reading through Proverbs, and a lot of verses from chapters 14-18 have stood out to me. In looking back, I realized that most of the verses were talking about words or anger, the things I struggle with the most on a daily basis. And I decided to share the verses that dealt specifically with words, because if we can learn to use our words right, then that should cover even the words spoken in anger.

The first verse that jumped off of the page was this one:

The wise woman builds her house, but the foolish pulls it down with her hands (Prov. 14:1 NKJV)

When I read this, I had to ask myself, “Do I build up my family members with my words, or do I tear them down?” 1 Thessalonians 5:11 says, “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up…” (ESV). We have that verse memorized as a song by Steve Green, and lately we have been reminding one another of it, because there is so much teasing and sarcasm that goes on in our house – even if most of it is good-natured. We are quick to throw out a teasing comment, and slow to give genuine encouragement. And when I do want to encourage someone, I never seem to know what to say, because (sadly) it just does not come naturally.

Then came Proverbs 15:1 (NKJV):

A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.

I know, this one is more about anger, and it is also a pretty well-known verse. But I just want to mention something about it. I have been in situations where I have had to deal with strangers who are not in the greatest mood. I can tell that they are stressed out or frustrated, and sometimes they come across as plain rude. But whenever I have been in that situation, I have always held to the goal of “I’ll just be extra nice to them back.” And so I keep smiling and acting as though they are the friendliest person in the world, in hopes that perhaps my pleasant attitude will rub off on them. But then, when I have to deal with a sibling who is being irritating – I want to snap at him or her! If only we could remember to treat our family as though they were our friends – people with whom we can share our hearts, but to whom we are never rude. It all goes back to the Golden Rule, “And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them” (Luke 6:31 ESV). If we don’t get angry about the little things (or even the big things!) and if we act as we would in a public environment, we would be more able to follow another verse I found, “He who is slow to wrath has great understanding, but he who is impulsive exalts folly” (Prov. 14:29).

Continuing through the Proverbs, I came across this verse:

A wholesome tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit (Prov. 15:4).

The ESV replaces “wholesome” with “gentle.” Is my tongue gentle? Are your words gentle? Or are they “perverse?” I looked up this verse in other translations to see how they translated “perverseness,” and came up with results like “willful contrariness” (AMP) and “griping” (TLB). Sounds like someone who argues for the sake of arguing. Are you ever willfully contrary to someone for the sake of being stubborn? Do I ever gripe about something, however big or small?

I liked this verse, too, because it kind of reminded me of my dad. When I told him that, though, he laughed:

He who has knowledge spares his words, and a man of understanding is of a calm spirit (Prov. 17:27 NKJV).

Have you ever read a book that describes a quiet, wise character? It generally says something like this, “He was of a quiet disposition, rarely saying a word around others. But when he did speak, we all listened, for the little that he said was full of wisdom.” Now, if everybody in the world was like that, I think our table conversations would be a mite boring. But still, wouldn’t you like to be known as someone whose words counted? Whom, when you open your mouth, other people listen closely to? I know I would like that: to speak something worth hearing, and to have others hear me.

This next verse probably stood out to me because I’m taking a philosophy course right now:

The first one to plead his cause seems right, until his neighbor comes and examines him (Prov. 18:17).

As I read through my philosophy textbooks, learning about one theory after another about what constitutes truth or knowledge or the mind, I may come across an argument and think, “Ok,this one sounds pretty good.” But then the author goes on to point out all the flaws in the argument, before moving on to a new one. And it serves as a reminder that, when we hear words, we need to evaluate them carefully. We shouldn’t just accept something as true until we know it can hold up under scrutiny.

The last verse is one that is an appropriate close to this post:

Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit (Prov. 18:21).

Again, I looked this one up in other versions to compare them. Most of them worded the verse pretty much the same way, and then there were a few that went much more modern in their translation. The CEV, for example, almost made me laugh out loud when I read it, “Words can bring death or life! Talk too much, and you will eat everything you say.” Personally, I found the ERV went along best with how I understand it, “The tongue can speak words that bring life or death. Those who love to talk must be ready to accept what it brings.

And I think that sums up very well the gist of this post. Words are powerful. Once spoken, they can never be retrieved. Once spoken, we must deal with their consequences, whether for good or for bad. So you and I need to be careful about what words we use.

But, as our Lord Jesus pointed out,

A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks (Luke 6:45 NKJV).

So then, before we can change our words, we must first have a change of heart. And this is something that only God can give. So let us pray, and ask God to fill our hearts and our words with love.

 But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned (Matt. 12:36-37).

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