The Words of My Mouth
A sermon on Proverbs 10:1-16 and 12:1-28 by Coty Pinckney, Desiring God Community Church, Charlotte, NC, 10/30/05
Why do angry words come out of your mouth? Or why do words of peace, healing words, come out of your mouth? Why do you talk too much? Or why do you say too little?
Our words are a gauge of what is inside us. As Jesus said to the Pharisees after they accused him of casting out demons by the power of the prince of demons:
34 You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. 35 The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. 36 I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, 37 for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned." Matthew 12:34-37
That is, your mouth speaks from what is in your heart.
In addition to being a gauge of our hearts, our words are tools, instruments, which can be used to work good or to work evil, to fulfill the purpose of creation – praising and glorifying God – or to do the works of Satan. Our words can build up or tear down, guide to truth or lead astray.
Out mouths, our tongues, are thus mighty – but difficult to control. As James tells us,
No human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. James 3:8
What have you said – even this past week, this past or this past 24 hours – which you wish you could take back? What have you said that was the overflow of an angry, bitter, sinful heart, or a worried, anxious heart? On the other hand, what have you said that built others up? That praised God? That was the overflow of a heart right with God?
Our text today from Proverbs 10 and 12 says much about the words of our mouth, both their potential for good and their potential for evil. We want the words of our mouth to be pleasing to God. We want God to take our lips and fill them with messages from Him. So let’s see what this book of godly wisdom tells us.
Last week we completed chapter 9, the end of the prologue to the book of Proverbs. Today’s text begins with the words: “The Proverbs of Solomon,” introducing the next section of the book. This section continues through Proverbs 22:16. In these chapters, individual verses seem to stand alone. Most of these proverbs have two parts, which we’ll call A and B, that are in parallel. Part B usually clarifies part A by providing a contrast. Proverbs 10:1 is an example:
A wise son brings joy to his father, but a foolish son grief to his mother. (NIV)
Do you see the similarities between parts A and B of the verse? The two parts both talk about a son and the impact of his behavior on his parents. The contrast is between the different impacts – joy and grief – produced by different types of son, wise and foolish. The author thus communicates a similar thought in each half of the verse, but first presents the truth positively, and then presents it negatively. (Though this is the most common structure of proverbs, some use different relationships between the first and second part; today we’ll see a few that restate the truth positively in part B, or intensify the truth.)
Many interpreters over the years have studied these proverbs one by one, thinking that the context is unimportant. They tended to view Proverbs as individuals jewels randomly arranged on a string; it is worthwhile to study each jewel individually and to marvel at its beauty, but the way the jewels were arranged on the string was considered unimportant. Many have even rearranged the book of Proverbs, consolidating all those that have to do with money, for example, or all those that mention marriage, or all those that discuss the tongue.
But, as I stated in the first sermon on Proverbs, the more scholars have learned about Hebrew literary structure, the more structure they have seen in this book. Proverbs 10:1 is an example. It is carefully placed right here, for it serves as a bridge between the prologue, which was addressed specifically to sons, and this next section of the book. The author is saying, “All these forthcoming proverbs provide a means to become wise. Listen to them! Your wisdom or lack of it will lead to great joy or sorrow for those who love you.” And this verse is followed in short order by several more that discuss the impact of our words on others.
Thus, this book is carefully arranged, with individual proverbs explaining each other, tempering each other. As in the rest of Scripture, context is vital for understanding and applying verse. Nevertheless, the literary structures used here often aren’t apparent in translation and are quite different from the way we write today. Furthermore, although this section of the book is highly structured, nevertheless many topics come up in a passage as long as the one we consider today – more topics than would normally come up in a passage this length in other genres of Scripture. So note that we will skip over a number of verses each week, as we focus our thoughts on the major themes running through each passage.
Our outline today has four headings, focusing primarily on the words of our mouth:
Before we consider the words we speak, we need to address the issue of true riches briefly.
Do the wicked prosper? We know of many who do:
Many verses in Proverbs, including a number in today’s text, seem to promise that the wicked won’t prosper. Are these verses just factually incorrect? Are they wishful thinking? Look at 10:2-3:
Treasures gained by wickedness do not profit, but righteousness delivers from death. 3 The LORD does not let the righteous go hungry, but he thwarts the craving of the wicked.
At first reading these verses may seem to be in violation of what we know about the gains that accrue to those who do evil. But look more closely. Verse 2 begins, “Treasures gained by wickedness.” That is, the author acknowledges that there are treasures that the wicked gain! His point is not that the wicked never prosper. His point in these two verses is that while wickedness may lead to earthly riches, those riches will never satisfy our deepest desires, and in the end wickedness leads to eternal death.
The last verse in this section of Proverbs 10 summarizes the point:
The wage of the righteous leads to life, the gain of the wicked to sin. Proverbs 10:16
Once again, there is a gain that the wicked may receive. But in the end that gain results in sin and death, while righteousness leads to eternal life.
We’ll look at this more under the heading Words and Eternity. But keep these thoughts in mind as we study the rest of the passage. We may or may not gain temporal riches by acting wisely; we always gain true, eternal riches.
We can think of the impact of two different types of words on us: Words spoken by others, and words we speak ourselves. We’ll look at those in turn.
Words spoken by others:
Others may speak words of correction or reproof to us:
10:8:The wise of heart will receive commandments, but a babbling fool will come to ruin.
12:1: Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid.
12:15: The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.
We must listen to reproof. When we do so, we are acknowledging, “I am a sinner in need of change. I cannot conquer sin in my life by my own devices.” Sin always destroys. And sin always deceives. Knowing that, knowing that we are prone to being deceived by our own sinfulness, we welcome words of correction, and will weigh such words carefully.
Have you made this acknowledgement? Are you inviting rebuke and reproof? Or are you stupid? Those are the only two choices, according to this text.
Some of us can’t hear because, as 10:8 tells us, we are too busy talking ourselves. We are babbling fools. Suppose you approach a brother and say, “I’m concerned about you. We haven’t seen you on Sunday mornings, and you’ve been missing small group. What’s going on? How can I help?”
He replies, “Oh, I’m fine. Hey, what about Stephen Davis? Do you think he can get untracked? And Steve Smith, what a great year, but I don’t know if Jake’s control is gonna come back. How could he complete three-quarters of his passes in preseason and be so inaccurate now? Maybe Weinke should start.”
He’s babbling, isn’t he? Do you know someone who has done this? Have you done thisyourself? He is trying to divert the conversation from his sin, and just talks, hoping you’ll forget what you just said.
Do you remember the story of the woman at the well in John 4? She tried to do that with Jesus. He tells her she’s had five husbands and the man she’s presently living with is not her husband. She replies, “Hey, you’re a prophet! Oh, boy, I’ve always wanted to talk to a prophet! I’ve got a religious question for you. Now tell me, you Jews worship on one mountain, we Samaritans on another. Isn’t that confusing? I just can’t imagine how we can go about figuring out which mountain is best!”
She too is trying to divert attention from the discussion of her sin. But Jesus doesn’t get sucked in to a diversion. Instead, he uses her very question to turn the conversation back to her heart.
My friends, don’t babble. As Proverbs 10:10 says,
Whoever winks the eye causes trouble, but a babbling fool will come to ruin.
What’s the point of this proverb? Some people cause trouble for others through concealed communication. That’s bad. But a babbler eventually causes even worse trouble – complete ruin - for himself. That’s stupid.
So we must listen to rebuke. That’s one way that speech affects us personally.
Words spoken by us:
Our own speech, our own words, also work to our benefit or loss:
An evil man is ensnared by the transgression of his lips, but the righteous escapes from trouble. 14 From the fruit of his mouth a man is satisfied with good, and the work of a man's hand comes back to him. Proverbs 12:13-14
The evil man’s wrong speech eventually ensnares him. The wise man not only is spared that trouble, but also benefits from his speech. How does this happen? Our wise and kind speech:
The words that others speak to you, the words you yourself speak, all have a huge impact on your life. Remember that – before you open your mouth.
Our words that build others up come back to benefit us. Our words that hurt others come back to ensnare us. That’s the point we’ve just made – that our words affect our lives. But such words also have the potential for great harm or good in the lives of others. Let’s consider that now.
The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life, but the mouth of the wicked conceals violence. 12 Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses. 13 On the lips of him who has understanding, wisdom is found, but a rod is for the back of him who lacks sense. 14 The wise lay up knowledge, but the mouth of a fool brings ruin near. Proverbs 10:11-14
Look first at part A of 13 and part A of verse 14: The wise man stores up knowledge, and thus, when he speaks, wisdom comes out of his heart. This benefits those around him. In contrast, the fool says nothing profitable. Quite the contrary, his speech harms others, bringing ruin to those around him. He thus deserves a beating.
Verses 11 and 12 elaborate on this. Consider: What is in the heart of the fool and the righteous man? Verse 12 tells us hatred is in the heart of the fool, but love is in the heart of the righteous, the wise. Because of the hatred in his heart, the wicked stir up strife all around them. They may talk a good game, but in the end they work to do harm, to do violence. On the other hand, the righteous keep small offenses from becoming large. Indeed, their words are a fountain of life. Their words build up others, pointing them to God, providing blessings to all those around them.
Verses 18 and 25 of chapter 12 make the same point with a graphic image:
12:25 Anxiety in a man's heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad.
12:18 There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.
Have some of your words this week been like sword thrusts? Is the person you spoke to still bleeding, still hurting? Even after such an attack, your good word can make glad the one you injured. Your tongue can bring healing. Will it do so?
Verses 16 and 23 of chapter 12 speak of a time to be silent, and the foolishness of speaking too much:
12:16 A fool shows his annoyance at once, but a prudent man overlooks an insult. (NIV)
12:23 A prudent man keeps his knowledge to himself, but the heart of fools blurts out folly. (NIV)
The author is not telling us, “Never say anything.” After all, he is speaking! And if we never speak, how could the mouth of the righteous be a fountain of life? But there is a time for silence, a time when all truth does not need to be said. The fool says, “Hey, it’s true! I’m offended! I was hurt! So I should say it! I’m just being honest.” No. Speech can be true and still be cruel. Speech can be true and yet be foolish.
Let me give an example. Suppose you have a friend who is a chain smoker. You have told him he should stop, and have volunteered to help him stop. He never does. One day you find out that he has been diagnosed with lung cancer, and is likely to die within six months. What do you say to him?
You could say, “Didn’t I tell you this? You were so stupid. You brought this on yourself! I would have gone out of my way to help you stop, and you just ignored my advice and spurned my offer to help.”
Would that be true? Perhaps. But it is neither wise nor compassionate nor loving. We are to mourn with those who mourn – not to make sure they know we gave them good advice.
Don’t blurt out folly. Even true folly.
Bruce Waltke comments on verse 23:
[The prudent man keeps his knowledge to himself] because he is not driven neurotically by pride to parade his knowledge or by rage to wreak harm. He has the self-control to wait for the right situation and the prudence to know when to speak up . . . . In the interim he retains an inscrutability wherein he has control over his situation. The verse does not mean that he hides his knowledge from those who seek it; rather, he hides it from fools who have no ears to hear it or from situations where it might do harm, not bring healing.
In sum: Your words are instruments of grace. As we read in Ephesians 4, the only talk that comes out of your mouth should be that which builds up, that which gives grace to those who hear. Your words are tools to effect God’s purposes. They are not tools to make you feel good by expressing your thoughts; they are not tools to use to manipulate and twist others to make them do what you want.
We have seen that your words have an important impact in your own life and in the lives of others. The verses we consider now go into more detail about the long-term consequences of our speech:
Truthful lips endure forever, but a lying tongue is but for a moment. 20 Deceit is in the heart of those who devise evil, but those who plan peace have joy. 21 No ill befalls the righteous, but the wicked are filled with trouble. Proverbs 12:19-21
These verses tell us that the righteous have joy, have no evil befall them, have lips that endure forever. On the other hand, the wicked, liars, the deceitful have trouble, devise evil for others, and last but for a moment. Note that verse 19 implies that the liar has his moment. He deceives someone else and attains his object. He seems to prosper. But the promise of the verse is that that moment will be fleeting. The righteous may bear a temporary will, but eventually “no ill befalls the righteous,” ultimately. It is “forever,” in eternity, that these verses are true.
Verses 2 and 22 of chapter 12 clarify the reason behind this eternal reward: The Lord’s favor:
12:2 A good man obtains favor from the LORD, but a man of evil devices he condemns.
22 Lying lips are an abomination to the LORD, but those who act faithfully are his delight.
Ultimately, the only thing that matters is the Lord’s judgment on your words. He gave you your tongue to praise Him, to build up others. Are you using your tongue that way? All your words are before the Lord. You must give an account for every careless word you speak. Are you pleasing the Lord with your speech?
The closing verse of today’s text sums this up:
12:28 In the path of righteousness is life, and in its pathway there is no death.
Proverbs 12:5-7 captures the three main points we’ve made: The impact of our words on ourselves, on others, and on eternity:
The thoughts of the righteous are just; the counsels of the wicked are deceitful. 6 The words of the wicked lie in wait for blood, but the mouth of the upright delivers them. 7 The wicked are overthrown and are no more, but the house of the righteous will stand.
Verse 5 draws our attention to what is going on inside the heads of the righteous and the wicked. The righteous are figuring out how to do justice, while the wicked are figuring out how to deceive, how to manipulate others and thus get their own way. Verse 6 shows the impact of such thoughts on others: The wicked are out to harm others with their words, while the upright are out to deliver others from harm. Verse 7 then speaks of the eternal impact of our words: The wicked are overthrown, but the righteous will stand.
So this leads to a question: Have you been a fool with your mouth? What is coming up out of your heart through your lips these days?
In the Changing Hearts, Changing Lives video series, Paul Tripp tells the story of a family reunion he attended as a boy. There were many tensions and not many believers in this extended family. One uncle in particular came, got drunk, and proceeded to say all sorts of horrible things to many others, in the hearing of young Paul and his siblings. His mother took them to the car as soon as she thought she could get away. But before driving away, she turned to the children and said, “Nothing ever came out of the mouth of a drunk that wasn’t there before.”
I don’t think we have anyone here this morning who got drunk last night. But we could also say, “Nothing came out of the mouth of a tired or irritated or stressed or annoyed person that wasn’t there before.” If curses and cutting words come out of your mouth, they were there, in your heart, before. Anger and irritation lead to a temporary relaxation of the guard over our lips. But they provide no excuse for what we say. When such words come out of our mouths, we must realize that the problem is deep. It is not just a surface problem.
How can we deal with such problems? By all means, we should work to control our lips, even when our hearts our wrong. Don’t allow yourself to have outbursts. That is one necessary step. As James says,
If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. James 3:2
Bridling your tongue is important.
But the most important step is to cleanse your heart.
Friends, it’s time to do that right now. Through this sermon, I have given you – and myself for that matter – godly reproof. And remember verse 1 of chapter 12:
Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid.
You’re not stupid. So love reproof. And now act on it.
As we read earlier, Jesus says we will give an account for every idle word, for every harsh word, for every cutting word, for every angry word that we speak. But remember also that the Apostle John said:
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9
If we walk in the light, . . . the blood of Jesus . . . cleanses us from all sin. 1 John 1:7
Forgiveness is there. Seek it. Ask for it. Repent, and believe the Gospel.
You may have spoken harsh words to someone in this room – a husband, a wife, a child, a fellow member, another individual. We’ve seen that words can cut, can harm. We’ve also seen that words can heal. So get up. Go to him or her. Confess the harshness of your words. Ask forgiveness. Speak words of healing. Don’t worry about walking over people. They want you to do it. They are right now granting you permission. And when you speak, confess your sin. Don’t excuse what you did. Don’t bring up extenuating circumstances. Don’t blame others.
Perhaps you realize you’ve spoken such words to someone not in this room. Confess that before God, and commit yourself to going to or calling this person right away.
In a moment we will come to the Lord’s Table. Let us do that with a completely clear conscience towards all who are present today.
May our lips be full of praise, of confession, of thanksgiving. Guard your lips, for the glory of God.
This sermon was preached at Desiring God Community Church in Charlotte, NC on 10/30/05. Bruce Waltke’s The Book of Proverbs: Chapters 1-15 (Eerdmans, 2004) was exceptionally helpful throughout. Apart from this commentary, I would have taken a completely different approach to preaching this series. The quote is found on page 539.
Copyright © 2005, Thomas C. Pinckney. This data file is the sole property of Thomas C. Pinckney. Please feel free to copy it in written form, but only in its entirety for circulation freely without charge. All copies of this data file must contain the above copyright notice.
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