Please turn with me in your Bibles to the book of Proverbs; Proverbs chapter 18, verse 21. The passage is on page 541 in the church Bible in front of you. Proverbs chapter 18, verse 21. And just before we read, something to consider.
When I was in the eighth grade we lived in Tulsa, Oklahoma and I attended a school named Tulsa Union and I was playing football and was in a junior high football game and we were playing against our rival, the Jenks Trojans. And late in the game, I was playing cornerback on defense, and often in that position at cornerback you are matched up man to man on an island on a receiver, a wide receiver, and you are to guard him. It's up to you to stop him. And towards the end of the game, we were in the lead, everyone was excited, the stadium was packed, there was an energy on our sideline. We just had to hang on. And late in the game, I let the receiver get past me and he scored a touchdown and we lost the game. And it was my fault; it was on me. And after the game, I didn't want to see anyone, I didn't want to talk to anyone. I remember leaving the locker room and going to an empty gym that was nearby and my dad came and found me. And of all the things he could have said to me, my dad, as many of you know, is a football coach. He knows more about the game than anyone that I know. Of all the things that he could have said, you know, "Why did you jam him at the line? Why didn't you back off? Why didn't you work harder in summer workouts? Maybe y'all should have been in zone instead of in man." Of all the things, of course, that he could have said, he uttered this five-word sentence: "I love watching you play. I love watching you play." The power of words.
On the other hand, I think we have all had the experience where we were in a season of loneliness, a season of loss, a season of sadness, a season of confusion, and we bring it up to someone. We bring that to someone, someone close, someone safe, someone that we love. And there’s just this little window for them to bring real healing to our souls. And instead, they give us filler. You know, “Keep on, keeping on.” You know, “Hang in there.” And it’s like it amplifies the loneliness and the loss and the sadness and the confusion. And what I’m saying is that my life story and your life story has been charted by words. The power of words. That’s what we’re talking about tonight. The power of words.
And so if you’ve been with us, we’re in a mini-series. We’re looking at the Old Testament book of Proverbs. This is wisdom literature that is designed to develop, to train us to develop what we might call discernment - skill in living to deal with daily life, to deal with the complex situations and the complex people that we are and that we are in community with. And it’s interesting that next to the subject of wisdom, next to the subject of wisdom which is the main subject of the book of Proverbs, next to the subject of wisdom, Proverbs speaks most frequently about our words, about the power of our words, as if to say, “If you want wisdom, if you want to be a wise man, if you want to be a wise woman, you have to know how to steward your words.” And so we’ll be looking, you see, at Proverbs chapter 18 verse 21 and then a selection of proverbs. We’ll see how this one verse - we’ll see different dimensions to how this verse keeps resurfacing. And so we need God’s help to do this, so let’s go to Him in prayer.
God of all grace, we come tonight from all different places. Some of us are hungering and thirsting after righteousness. Some of us are wounded and tired. Some of us have wandered off from You. And Father, however we come tonight we need You. We need You to work through my lisping and stammering tongue. We need You to come after us and shine the spotlight on Jesus. We pray this in His name, amen.
Please give your attention to God’s Word. Proverbs chapter 18, verse 21:
“Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.”
Amen. This is God’s Word.
We are made, all of us, in the image of a speaking God. We are made in the image of a speaking God who, in Genesis chapter 1, did not snap His fingers, He did not clap His hands, He did not clench His fists and create. But He spoke. He said, “Let there be light,” and there is light. God uses words, and so we live in His world and we live in a world of words. These words have been given to us by our parents, by our languages, by our vocabularies, and by the age in which we live. And these words are also chosen by us. We have chosen words. And we stand by these words. And these words define us. They define our very existence. They define the kind of people that we become.
It's based on words that we chose that we become known as the angry husband whose words set the temperature in his home. It's based on the words that we chose that we become known as the critical mother whose words spike insecurity in her daughter about her appearance. It's based on the words that we chose that we become known as the kind student, the kind boy or the kind and courageous girl whose words welcome the friendless and the outsider. It's based on the words that we chose that we become known as the wise friend who gives counsel, who helps navigate complicated decisions. Or in other words, as Eugene Peterson said, "We cannot be too careful about the words we use, because we start out using them and they end up using us." They define us, our very existence; they define the kind of people we become. And so we're going to talk tonight about our words. We'll consider first the capacity and then the control of our words. The capacity or power and then the control or the stewardship of our words.
The Capacity of Our Words
So first, let’s look at the capacity of our words. There’s incredible capacity to our words. Our words have the power to heal. Our words have the power to bring life. Your words are the ministers, as we read, of life and death. They can be this great gift or they can be this great liability. And we know this is true. Let’s think for a second about the power of words to give life. So look at Proverbs chapter 10 verse 11. Proverbs chapter 10, verse 11 - “The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life.” And next, Proverbs 15, verse 4. Proverbs 15, verse 4 - “A gentle tongue is a tree of life.” And Proverbs 16:24 - “Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.” And then lastly, Proverbs 25, verse 11 - “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.”
The Power of Words
And it is easy I think for us to miss the power of our words if we are the ones speaking. But we deeply feel them, don’t we, we deeply feel them when we are the ones being spoken to. So just think for a second about words of life that have been spoken to you over the course of your life. Words like, “I believe in you.” Words like, “I see gifts in this area and I really think you should pursue this.” Words like, “You are beautiful to me every day.” Words like, “I love the way God made you.” “I’m proud to be your dad.” “No one serves our family like you.” “You do really excellent work.” “You are capable of great love.” And I think maybe, especially after suffering shows up in our lives, what do you remember? You remember words. “Tell me more.” “That is so hard.” “I’m with you. I’m in your corner. I’m not going anywhere.” “I’m not leaving you.” The power of words.
Are you affirming anyone like that? You know the author, Ann Voskamp, says, “Tongues surrendered to Jesus speak words that make souls stronger.” “Tongues surrendered to Jesus speak words that make souls stronger.” Do your words make souls stronger? I once heard a minister named Ray Cortese tell the story of preaching at his older brother’s funeral. And he said that it was one of the hardest days of his life. He said that he was never more afraid. And he said after the sermon, his mother came to him and found him. And he said, “You know, she could have been totally absorbed in herself in that moment,” but she found him and she hugged him and she whispered to him, “You are so brave. You are so brave.” And he said, just reflecting on those words, “Do you know how many moments when I have not been brave when I have rallied, I’ve rallied because I can still hear those words. If she thinks I’m brave, then maybe I can be. If she thinks I’m brave, then maybe I am.” She used her words to make his soul stronger.
I’m sure there are moments in your life, there are certain people who’ve said just the right thing at just the right time and you can remember everything about it. You can remember everything about it and it put so much wind in your sails. And the question, the question that this is driving towards is, “Are you using your words to put wind in the sails of the people in your life?” What relationship is there in your life where you could steward the power of your words to make someone’s soul stronger?
To Give Life
I’ve been privileged to see this recently in my D-group. If you’re in my D-group and you’re here, I’m not using any names. Don’t worry! But a question I asked at the beginning of the semester was, “What is an aspect of someone’s character in our group that you can affirm?” “What’s an aspect of someone’s character in our group that you can affirm?” And it was beautiful for me to see a mother with children out of the home, college and beyond, look at a young, tired, insecure mom and say, “I’m proud of you. You’re a good mom.” And it was beautiful to see a young man, maybe thirty years old, look at an older man in our group an say, “I admire you. I admire the way you pursue relationships.” Are you using your words, are you stewarding the power of your words to make someone’s soul stronger? Words have power. They have power to give life.
I think we also have to feel the other side of this, that words have the power to wound. So look at Proverbs chapter 12, verse 18. Proverbs 12:18 - “There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts.” So I want us to think about this. This proverbs is saying that your word is like a sword and that when you hurt someone with a word, the damage is done. And if they heal at all, they will be wounded forever. Your words are so powerful because they live forever. Even when the noise is gone the meaning remains in the heart of the hearer. In other words, if I am called unlovable, if I am called ugly, if I am called a fool, I am one who has once been called unlovable, ugly, a fool. And that person is one who has called me unlovable, ugly, a fool. And our community is one where those words have been spoken.
And so I think especially I want the kids to consider this for a second. The things that you say to your friends at school and the things that you say to kids in your neighborhood, the things that you say to your siblings, the things that you say to your cousins are very powerful. And it is very easy, at least it was for me as a kid, to think that my words don't mean that much. But once you say them, you can never take them back. Your words will live forever. And once words are spoken, they may be forgiven but they may not be forgotten. And of course, adults need to hear that too. The fact of the matter is that the wounds may heal, the bruises may fade away, but the words really can rattle around for a lifetime.
During World War II, Germany built what was at the time the largest battleship in the world called the Bismarck. The Bismarck was launched in 1941 in the Atlantic Ocean and the British Navy responded by attacking the Bismarck. But within ten minutes, the Bismarck caused the pride of the Royal Navy, the HMS Hood, to sink, while the Bismarck itself was barely damaged. And so the British Navy put together a counter-attack and two days later this small plane dropped a torpedo into the water. And this little torpedo just happened to damage the port rudder of the Bismarck. And so it made the steering of this huge battleship inoperable. The rudder was now stuck. And so at this point, the British Navy puts all of their firepower into this attack and they sink the Bismarck. Because if you lose control of your rudder, you are sunk. And the Bible says, James chapter 3 says, that the tongue, though it is a small member, though it is a small instrument, it is like a rudder. Your words can sink your life. It can sink your marriage. They can sink your family. They can sink your home. They can sink your career, your reputation, and they can sink someone in your life into the depths of despair. Your words are powerful.
And maybe again it's hard for us to know the power of our words when we're the ones speaking, but think about these words that have been spoken to you, that someone has told you that you are unlovable, that you are ugly. "You're a fool." "I don't love you anymore." "You're not my friend anymore." "You're not welcome here." You see, we know the power of words and the Bible is validating the pain that you feel. It says that it's like being stabbed. It's like a sword thrust. So it leaves scars. And to varying degrees, we have all been wounded by words and to varying degrees, we have also wounded others with our words. And the Proverbs' wisdom says that we have to acknowledge the power of our words to wound.
But words are powerful, and I think we need to see this as well, not simply because they penetrate, not simply because they go deep, but words are also powerful - and this is a major theme of the Proverbs - because they spread. So they not only go deep, but they spread. They go out. So the Proverbs talks at length about gossip and slander and lies. Proverbs chapter 29, verse 8 - “Scoffers set a city aflame.” And we have all been a part of this. We have all been hurt by this. I’m not telling you anything that you don’t know. That Christians and churches have bad reputations in this area and often it’s deserved. That scoffers set a city aflame. That if we’re given over to this the Proverbs would say that we are fools, that we’re on the wrong road in the wrong direction. So our words are powerful because they go deep. Our words are powerful because they go out.
Words Reveal Us
I think the most powerful thing about our words is that they reveal us. Our words are powerful because they reveal us. Look at Proverbs chapter 12, verse 17 - “Whoever speaks the truth gives honest evidence, but a false witness utters deceit.” And so the man who gives honest evidence, he’s breathing out, he’s breathing out who he is. So word problems are heart problems. The heart is a storehouse and your words reveal what you store there. Charles Spurgeon said, “A man’s language tells you which country he is from.”
Sinclair Ferguson tells the story of a friend of his from childhood in Scotland who, in adulthood, moved and was a missionary in South Korea. And this friend had a leather briefcase that was very precious to him that was broken. And he heard that there was a shop that could fix it, and so the only problem was that the shop was a bus ride, an hour-long bus ride away. But he took the bus, he went to the shop, he brought the briefcase, and he asked them, “Can you fix this?” And they said, “Yes, we can fix this.” And he said, “When will it be ready?” And they said, “It will be ready next Tuesday.” And he said, “Are you sure it will be ready next Tuesday? This is a long ride away. I’ll have to clear my calendar. Are you sure it will be ready Tuesday?” And they said, “Yes.”
Well, you know how the story goes. On Tuesday he got there, he took the bus, it took an hour, he got to the shop and he said, "Is my briefcase ready?" And they said, "No, it's not ready." And Sinclair Ferguson joked and said that his friend developed, he really developed fluency in Korean that day, that his friend developed fluency in Korean! And after their tongue-lashing the employees felt awful, they took him in the back room, they gave him a cup of tea and they said to him, "You know, you don't look like you're from around here. What are you doing in our country?" And he was a missionary of Jesus Christ.
And I think we could all tell our stories. We could all tell our stories of our inconsistencies. And all that we can do is we can look back and we can pray, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” You know Isaiah, the prophet Isaiah in Isaiah chapter 6 - Ed Hartman preached on this passage last week when Isaiah has a vision. He has a vision of the holy, holy, holy God. You remember what he says? He says, “Woe is me” - what’s next? “Woe is me, for I am a man of unclean lips!” Is that a prayer that we need to pray tonight? “Woe is me, for I am a man of unclean lips!” “Woe is me, for I am a woman of unclean lips! Have mercy on me, God.” Our words reveal us. The power of our words.
To Steward Our Words
And that is why secondly and briefly we need so much help to control our words, to steward our words. Here are a few proverbs for us to consider. Proverbs chapter 10, verse 19. Proverbs 10 verse 19 - "When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent." And so we do practice restraint with our words? Proverbs chapter 27, verse 14 - "If a man loudly blesses his neighbor early in the morning it will be taken as a curse." That's the one that parents of young children often wish they knew. "If a man loudly blesses his neighbor early in the morning it will be taken as a curse." In other words, "Are your words appropriate? Are your words timely?" Proverbs chapter 28, verse 23. Proverbs 28:23 - "It is better to rebuke a man than flatter him with your tongue." And so, "Do you speak the truth in love?" Are these habits - practicing restraints, speaking appropriately and well-timed words, and speaking the truth in love? Are these habits, habits that you know? This is the road to wisdom with your words.
Turn to Jesus
But ultimately to steward our words we must turn to the Word, Jesus Christ. John chapter 14, verse 6 says that He is "the way, He is the truth, and He is the life." 1 Peter chapter 1, verse 22, this is Peter, the liar, the deceiver. Think about these words. He says of Jesus, he says, "No deceit was found on His mouth." John chapter 7, verse 46 says, "Never a man spoke as this man spoke." Hebrews chapter 1 says that Jesus is the final word, that "long ago at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son." And on the cross, Jesus got the silent treatment. Jesus uttered those words, "My God, My God! Why have You forsaken Me?" Jesus got silence. Jesus got the silence that we deserve because, among other things, our sinful words. The Word. The way, the truth, and the life. The One in whom no deceit was found on His tongue. He got the silent treatment. He got the silent treatment so that we can hear a benediction, so that we can hear a good word over our lives.
There are only two times in the gospels when God the Father’s audible voice is recorded. One is at Jesus’ baptism right before He goes into the wilderness to be tempted, and the other is right before He goes to Jerusalem to die on the cross, to be killed. But He says to His Son, “This is My beloved Son. This is My beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.” And Christian, that is a benediction that God speaks over your life tonight. “You are My beloved. You are My beloved in whom I am well pleased.”
I want to close tonight, I want to highlight three implications of this good news for our words. By way of application, three implications of this good news, this benediction for our words. First, this good news offers us full forgiveness for our words. There is no condemnation for you. The words that you have fumbled and failed, they are forgiven - past, present, and future. If you are here and you are haunted by words that you have said or you are haunted by words that you should have said but failed to say, your past failures and fumbles do not define who you are in Jesus Christ. And so first, this good news offers full forgiveness for our words.
Second, this good news offers us healing for the places where we have been wounded by words. And so those past wounds do not define who you are in Jesus Christ. Jesus promises real healing. Jesus is actually with you in that pain. He sympathizes with you in that weakness. He enters in and He shares in that suffering of being verbally abused, of being mocked with words. He felt it. He’s with you and He promises a day when the pain of those wounds will be no more.
And then third. So first, Jesus offers full forgiveness. Second, Jesus offers healing. And then third, this good news that you have Jesus’ record, that you are beloved by Him, that He is well pleased with you, this good news frees us to speak words of life - words of healing and health. Not to earn that benediction but as a fruit of receiving it. One of my favorite verses is in the second half of Isaiah. It’s a prophecy, a servant song about Jesus. Isaiah chapter 50, verse 4. And it reads, “The Lord God has given me the tongue of those who are taught that I may know how to sustain him who is weary with a word. Morning by morning he awakens; he awakens my ear to hear as those who are taught.” I love the way that we could define what ministry is based on that verse. That morning by morning He awakens my ear to hear. He gives us a word that we can sustain him who is weary in our lives with a word.
Let me close with this. In the last scene of the recent movie, “The Darkest Hour,” the movie about Winston Churchill in England in World War II, Churchill is delivering a speech about never quitting, about never giving up in the face of tyranny. He’s one of the world’s greatest leaders. He uses words to bring about good and flourishing. And after the speech, a man asks Halifax, that is Churchill’s rival, a man asked Halifax, “What just happened?” And Halifax responded, “He just mobilized the English language and sent it into battle.” “He just mobilized the English language and sent it into battle.” And I love that, that Churchill used words - he used his words to go and to rescue those who are trapped and in danger.
Why are we told to use our words in this way - to give health and healing and life? To make souls stronger? Because we are told of a greater Word who has done the same. And so we look to Jesus that, Lord willing, in five years, in ten years, in twenty-five years someone will say, “You sustained me, you sustained me in my weariness with a word and you made my soul stronger.” Amen. Let’s go to the Lord in prayer.
God of all grace, we come with empty hands tonight and say, “Help us.” We look to Jesus. We don’t just need behavior modification but we need You to change our hearts. And so do this work tonight. We pray in Jesus’ name, amen.
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