“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. The tongue of the wise makes knowledge acceptable, but the mouth of fools spouts folly.” ~ Proverbs 15:1-2
The Bible has a lot to say about using wisdom in the words we speak. As Christian men, it is crucial that we have control over our tongues. I am reminded of the old children’s idiom that I used to say as a kid when someone called me a name that I didn’t like. The saying goes, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” We may tell ourselves that words do not hurt, but the truth is, they absolutely do! This is because our words have immense power. Throughout the book of Proverbs, Solomon speaks from the experience of leading a nation and working with others to accomplish a goal, and he provides keys for how we should use wisdom when speaking. Our words have the ability to bring life to others or tear them down. Proverbs 12:18 says they have the capacity to heal or destroy and to bring peace or chaos. And Proverbs 15:1-2 says they can calm a situation or generate outrage.
A great example of using words wisely is from Nelson Mandela, former president of South Africa. In his inaugural speech in 1994, Mandela chose his words with careful precision, speaking not only to the citizens of South Africa but to the world, emphasizing the importance of forgiveness, reconciliation, and moving forward together. His country, once divided by racial tensions, was on the precipice of a new day. He famously said, “Courageous people do not fear forgiving for the sake of peace.” Mandela’s legacy serves as a reminder of the way wise words can inspire, heal, and bring about positive change in society and in the lives of those around us.
We all know that the power behind our words comes from the tiniest of organs—the tongue. Even though it is tiny in stature, the tongue is so incredibly powerful. In fact, James uses strong analogies to describe the potency of the tongue.
James 3:3-6a says, “Now if we put the bits into the horses’ mouths so that they will obey us, we direct their entire body as well. Look at the ships also, though they are so great and are driven by strong winds, are still directed by a very small rudder wherever the inclination of the pilot desires. So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things. See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity. . .”
Just as a small bit in a horse’s mouth can change the direction of one of the strongest animals in the world, or a tiny rudder can move a large ship, the tongue can shape the course of our lives and impact people around us—for good or bad. Later, in the same passage, James compares the tongue to a spark that can ignite an uncontrollable blaze. Last year, we witnessed the damaging effect of fires burning uncontrollably in West Texas. Thousands upon thousands of square miles were burned to the ground. Homes destroyed. Crops devastated. People’s lives changed forever because the fire could not be contained. In the same way, a tongue that speaks unchecked, foolish words can cause irreparable damage.
We may not lead a nation like Solomon; however, all of us are called to be leaders. Whether that’s in the workplace, leading a team, or at home, leading one’s wife and kids. Wherever this is applicable in your life, God’s Word makes it clear that a key to building healthy relationships and having success in this life is to be mindful of the impact our words have on others. All in all, on a practical level, we should always think about the words we speak and strive to use our words wisely, guided by love, truth, and the desire to encourage and uplift others. This is how God wants us to use our speech. The tongue may be uncontrollable in our own strength, but with the power of the Holy Spirit, we can tame the untamable.
Questions for Thought
- Are you a speak first and think later person? What are some safeguards you could put in place to ensure you think about your words before you say them?
- Read Proverbs 10:19, 12:18, and 15:1-2. Write down how you can apply these verses to your daily life. What would be the impact on people around you if you put into practice God’s desire for speech?
Lord, help me each day to think about the impact my words have on others. Whether I am joking or in conflict with another person, help me to use my words to bring peace to the situation and life to the other person. Amen.
Brent is the Recreation Minister at First Baptist Dallas and helps lead the Band-Led Service. Brent’s life calling involves helping others physically and spiritually, so he loves using sports as a vehicle to reach people for Christ. Brent and his wife, Bethany, have been married since 2015 and are the proud parents of three little girls—Magnolia, Lillah, and Charlee Beth.