Good morning River City!
We’re now just a couple weeks away from the end of our Proverbs series. We have two weeks after today, and then we’ll have Vision Sunday on September 12, where we’ll talk about some things that are on the horizon for River City, and then on September 19, we are starting a new series from the book of Luke which you’ll hear more about on Vision Sunday.
This morning, however, I invite you to turn to Proverbs 18, where we’ll set up shop today.
When some of us were kids, there was a little ditty we used to sing on the playground at school when someone made fun of us or called us names. Sticks and stones may break my bones but…. Words will never hurt me.
Now, we all know that’s not true. I’m pretty sure that every one of us in the room has been hurt more often or at least more deeply by someone’s words than we ever were by them hitting us with sticks or throwing rocks.
But it’s worth hanging out on for a minute – why is it that what someone SAYS about you to your face or behind your back is more powerful than if they had just thrown rocks at you. Aren’t they just words? That’s what the great theologians, the BeeGees sang about in the late 60s.
According to a 2007 TIME magazine article, studies have shown that the average person speaks about 16,000 words a day – some more some less, obviously. Proverbs is written as a father speaking encouragement and advice and warning to his son, and we’ve seen this father tell his son: “Your sexuality matters. Your finances matter. The way you view opportunity matters.” And now today, we’re going to listen in as this father tells his son that his words matter. In fact, “Proverbs has more to say about words than anything else it addresses – more than sex, money, opportunity, or family.” (3)
Why? For this, we have to go back to the beginning for some foundational truths
1: The fact that we speak at all is one aspect of being made in God’s image.
God is a speaking God. The third verse of the Bible, in the creation account of Genesis, has God speaking creation into existence. “Let there be light,” God says to a dark world.
He speaks to rivers, he speaks to snow and Ice, rain and clouds, he speaks to creatures and tells the wind what to do, he tells the sun what to do, and they listen. And then this God who commanded galaxies with his breath, breathes that breath into male and female humans, made in his own image – meaning, we are his representatives, like a reflection in a mirror. So we love. We reason. We create. We produce. We work. And, we speak. It’s part of how we image God. But that’s not all.
The fact that we speak at all is PROOF that we were made to be in community.
In Genesis 2:18, God said it is not good for man to be alone. It’s not good for us to withdraw ourselves from others for extended periods of time. As beautiful as the mountains are, we were not designed to live alone in them. Bears were. How do you know? They were not given the ability to talk, and you were!
So the face that we are able to speak is a sign that we were designed to interact with God and with each other. The Creator designed it that way, and he designed that part of the way we would be his image-bearers to others in our home, our neighborhood, our workplaces, in the church, and in the world is through our words.
But then Genesis 3 happened.
In fact the first temptation Satan ever leveraged against humanity was to assault God’s words: “Did God really say that?” Of course, Adam and Eve fell to that temptation, followed their own hearts instead of God’s heart for them, and the rest of the Bible is the story of God bringing them BACK to right fellowship with him and his word.
And now, just like our actions, words have moral weight. Like our actions, words are either good or evil. Words are either moving us and others in the direction of God, or moving us and others away from him.
Pastor Ray Ortland puts it like this: “Words are not just puffs of air formed into recognizable syllables by our tongues and teeth. They have moral status, they are righteous or evil, in God’s eyes. As Americans, we have the right to free speech, but when we become Christians, we enter a new kingdom culture where we no longer have the right to just blurt out whatever we feel. We now must bring every word under the judgment of God’s Word.”
Not only do words have moral weight, they have power! We’re created in the image of God whose words are enough to create the universe! God’s words are enough to uphold that universe he made (Hebrews 1:3). God created our speech in such a way that it is powerful and effective. It causes things to happen that didn’t happen otherwise.
Three years ago, I stood at the front of a church with our sound man today, Justin, and his wife Olivia who sings up here sometimes. They had gathered their friends and family to witness their wedding day. They got all dressed up, took some pictures, then walked to the front of the church still unmarried. For them to leave the front of the church at that moment and move in together pretending to be married would have been sinful in God’s eyes.
But they didn’t leave. I said some things, they said some things, they signed a thing (Still would have been sin to move in together) until I pronounced them husband and wife, after which it was perfectly fine and good and beautiful in God’s eyes for them to move in together, have children, and go on with their lives. What happened when I said the words, “I now pronounce you husband and wife?” Something was created with just seven words that did not exist just seconds before, that cannot be undone until one of them dies.
Here’s the shadow side of that coin.
When my wife Jodi was about 12 or 13 years old, an older lady at church said something very hurtful to her about a piece of jewelry she was wearing. It broke Jodi’s heart that Sunday, and after 20 years of marriage, I can confidently say that while my wife doesn’t rehearse that woman’s comment every day, it still carries an effect 30 years later. Something was created that night too with just a few words, something that didn’t exist just seconds before, and something that may never be fully undone in Jodi’s lifetime.
- Proverbs 12:18 – There is one who speaks rashly, like a piercing sword; but the tongue of the wise brings healing // Word can create deep wounds, or bring healing to deep wounds.
- Proverbs 15:1 – A gentle answer turns away anger, but a harsh word stirs up wrath // They either promote peace or promote hostility
- Proverbs 16:24 – Pleasant words are a honeycomb: sweet to the taste and health to the body; Proverbs 11:9 – With his mouth the ungodly destroys his neighbor… // They either build up or tear down.
- Proverbs 16:27-29 – A worthless person digs up evil, and his speech is like a scorching fire. A contrary person spreads conflict, and gossip separates close friends. A violent person lures his neighbor, leading him on a path that is not good.
- Proverbs 15:4 – The tongue that heals is a tree of life… Using that description of good speech being a tree of life puts us right back in the Garden of Eden, with the imagery that there is wisdom and life, growth, protection, healing in using words that reflect the wisdom of the Creator.
Proverbs 18:21 – Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.
The book of James tells us that our tongues love the fruit of death more than life when it comes to our words: James 3:5 … though the tongue is a small part of the body, it boasts great things. Consider how a small fire sets ablaze a large forest. 6 And the tongue is a fire. The tongue, a world of unrighteousness, is placed among our members. It stains the whole body, sets the course of life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.
The tongue, it seems James is saying, is so inflamed with our sinful human nature, that words alone are enough to send us to hell, and when we speak evil, our speechwriter is the devil himself. Hatred, lying, gossip, racist comments or racist jokes, all stem straight from him.
During our vacation travels, we stopped at a rest area along the interstate in South Dakota. There were signs everywhere that said, “this is rattlesnake territory – stay on the sidewalks.” And yet James says
7 Every kind of animal, bird, reptile, and fish is tamed and has been tamed by humankind, 8 but no one can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
We can train sea lions to wave their flippers, we can put our heads in a lion’s mouth, we can make cobras dance to music, but with all of our technological and scientific advancements, we still can’t control or subdue the most poisonous creature of all: our mouths or by extension, our fingers on a keyboard.
But the tongue itself really isn’t the problem. It might be the rudder of the ship, but the rudder doesn’t have a mind of it’s own and neither does the tongue. There is a captain’s will that is turning that rudder, and Jesus told us in Luke 6:45 that our tongue is just the mechanism the heart uses to say what it believes. “for [a person’s] mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart.”
Proverbs 10:20 – The tongue of the righteous is pure silver; the heart of the wicked is of little value.
Why does he compare the tongue of the righteous to the heart of the wicked? Because the heart is the real issue.
- If you find yourself telling a lie or deceiving someone with a half-truth, the problem is in your heart.
- If you find yourself snapping at others or lashing out in anger – the problem is in your heart.
- If you enjoy gossiping (verse 18:8) and talking down about others (verse 18:5) – it’s a heart problem.
- If you find yourself swearing or telling jokes or talking down on or belittling the other gender or another race – the problem is in your heart.
But the good news of the gospel is that Jesus didn’t come to give us new tongues – He didn’t show up swinging swords, chopping down anyone who has spoken bad words. He didn’t show up screaming at us for our sin – he came to do something about our sin, and to do that he came to give us a new heart, as Ezekiel 36:26 says, to take out the heart of stone that is opposed to the things of God, and give us a heart of flesh, soft and receptive.
Jesus came to redeem our actions and our words and to show us that if even the most egregious, awful action to ever happen on planet earth when creation would murder it’s Creator, can be turned into good, than even the worst thing someone has ever said to you or about you can be turned into good. Even the deepest wounds can be healed.
Proverbs 18:10 - The name of the Lord is a strong tower, the righteous run to it and are protected.
Those who have been hurt deeply can run to the fortress of the Lord for refuge, healing, and comfort. Those who have deeply hurt others can run to the fortress of the Lord and find forgiveness and mercy and repentance.
The gospel shows us a Savior, who was not simply a reflection in a mirror of what God is like but the actual living breathing Image, the WORD of God Himself. When Satan tempted Jesus with the same attack on God’s word he had used in the Garden of Eden, Jesus refused. His own friends used their words to betray him and deny him; the Roman rulers and Pharisee rulers used words to give false accusation after false accusation, and through the whole ordeal, Jesus followed his own wisdom in 17:27 – the one who has knowledge restrains his words.
The knowledge Jesus had as cutting words were used against him, was that he was going to the cross to die to redeem loud mouths, dirty mouths, think before you speak mouths, I’m always right mouths, lying mouths, self-righteous, angry, hateful, divisive mouths was finished, for those who repent of their pride and call on him by faith. So if you’re here today and you think, yeah, my mouth is a little dirty, not safe for church – I’ve got great news for you: You’re not disqualified from Jesus! You’re actually who he’s looking for to be on his team! His blood covers sin; his Spirit empowers us to do what we think is impossible – That’s the gospel! It’s those who think they have it all right and think they’ve got the corner on holiness who are the ones in deep trouble.
See the reason we gather on Sundays, the reason we have community groups, the reason we pray and sing, the reason Proverbs says more about the tongue than anything else is because this gospel is designed to be SAID. It’s not just a good idea; it’s good news! (4)
What brought healing to my wife was not when someone said, “Girl wash your face. That lady is just a big mean jerk. You’re a strong woman. She just proved she’s smaller than you and at 70yrs old, her brain isn’t fully developed. When others go low, we go high.” Those are some of the dumbest words Christians could ever say to each other. They only add more weight on the person you’re saying them to, they don’t bring healing.
What brings healing to deep wounds are the words of God said over and about those who call on him by faith. These are the only words that ultimately matter anymore:
- “Your sins are forgiven.”
- “You are my beloved, in whom I am well pleased.”
- “I am with you.”
- “I will never leave you or forsake you.”
- “I have called you by name, and you are mine. When you walk through the fire I will be there. ”
- “I will put my Spirit in you.”
- “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” You don’t have to be strong, Jesus says – I’ll be strong. In fact, when you stop trying to be strong, I can fill you with real strength that can’t be stolen by someone else’s words.
I love how again Ray Ortland puts this: “Let Jesus be your speechwriter.” Get his words inside you. Read them. Eat them. Listen to them. Act on them.
So what does that look like practically?
Fruit of spirit
Be slow to speak/type. Look in your scriptures with me at Proverbs 17:27-28 – The one who has knowledge restrains his words, and one who keeps a cool head is a person of understanding. Even a fool is considered wise when he keeps silent- discerning, when he seals his lips.
Think before you type. Why do I feel the need to write this? What am I hoping happens next? Sometimes we just want to hear our own voice – PRIDE
Tell the Truth = Proverbs 16:13 CSB  Righteous lips are a king's delight, and he loves one who speaks honestly. We lie b/c we don’t trust God to be our defender. We don’t trust God to reward honesty. We think we have to protect ourselves. PRIDE to think we can.
God describes himself as compassionate, and slow to anger. Reflecting him is to keep our words Patient & Calm = Proverbs 25:15 CSB  A ruler can be persuaded through patience, and a gentle tongue can break a bone. 18:13 CSB  The one who gives an answer before he listens- this is foolishness and disgrace for him.
Shouting = I need to be strong PRIDE
Waiting for the right time to say things we want to say. Proverbs 25:11 CSB  A word spoken at the right time is like gold apples in silver settings.
- Grievance – pray about it / sleep on it
- If you’ve hurt someone – right time to say “I’m sorry” is now, leave gift at altar
- Right time to repent and trust Jesus – NOW
STAND FOR PRAYER
- Derek Kidner, Proverbs (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1964), 43-44
- Ibid, 120-123
- Ray Ortland, Proverbs (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 131-139
- Jared Wilson, The Imperfect Disciple (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2017) 118