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Explore: Guard your speech

• The Explore the Bible lesson for March 23 focuses on Proverbs 17:27-28; 21:23; 18:19-21; 11:13; 26:20-24; 10:18-19; 12:17-19; 25:11-13; 31:8-9.

After a recent team meeting at work, I told a colleague people probably think she is the smartest person in the room. She asked why I felt that way. “Because you are the one who said the least.”

Sometimes, the most verbose person in the room is not the wisest. Some just can’t stand the sound of silence so they rush in to fill the void with needless chatter. Having very little filter between brain and tongue, they tend to reveal too much about their ignorance even if they are a person of good character.

Sage spiritual advice

The writer of Proverbs gives sage spiritual advice on a practical level. “The one who has knowledge uses words with restraint, and whoever has understanding is even-tempered. Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent, and discerning if they hold their tongues” (Proverbs 17:27-28). Those words are worth memorizing and using as a mantra for daily conversation.

In his letter that later became Scripture, James compels followers of Jesus to remember the incalculable power of the tongue to wreak havoc in relationships. Centuries before, Proverbs carried the same warning even before Jesus came. “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit” (Proverbs 18:19-21).

All of us know the joy of having received someone’s unexpected blessing in words. Words can be a shot of spiritual Vitamin B-12 when we are discouraged or feel defeated. We also know the pain of undeserved put-downs or what it’s like to be on the caustic, destructive end of gossip. We’ve all heard and maybe used the platitude that “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” The truth is, “Sticks and stones may break our bones, but words can break our hearts.”

A strong, holy filter

In this invaluable book of wisdom sayings, we are challenged to grow or build a strong, holy filter between brain and tongue. The price we will pay otherwise can be devastating. In time, we will be remembered as much for what we said as for we did. There is no greater revelation of character than the words we send out across our lips into the world.

A young mother trying to teach her child the lesson of the power of the tongue took her daughter out into the yard of their home. She brought along a feather-stuffed pillow. “Do you think you can all your words back?” she asked the little girl. Then, she cut one end of the pillow and shook all the feathers into the blowing wind. “Try catching all those feathers,” she told her child.

What we say carelessly utter our mouths can be devastating enough. Our generation faces one like no other in history. With the power of text messaging and email, what we say in an instant is preserved forever on the Internet and literally can explode around the globe in seconds. More than ever, we need the wisdom of Proverbs to guide our speech, spoken or written.

This especially is so in times of conflict, in the home, the church or places of business. These words cut across all lines, social, cultural or relational. “Without wood a fire goes out; without a gossip a quarrel dies down. As charcoal to embers and as wood to fire, so is a quarrelsome person for kindling strife” (Proverbs 26:20-21).

In almost all church conflicts, the root of the strife can be traced back to one or a few people who keep stirring things up by reporting whatever they hear and then passing it along without verification. Gossips do more to harm churches than all other sins combined.

A ministerial colleague tells the story of his near destruction of his church in his first pastorate. One day, he grew tired of an empty field full of head-high weeds growing behind the small rural church. He and made some homemade torches, set them ablaze and ran through the field intending only to burn it clean.

Instead, the fire caught and the wind began to spread the blaze across several adjoining acres. Only because the volunteer fire department and others came to the rescue was the church saved from destruction, not to mention the property of the church’s neighbors.

Sparking consequences

My friend learned a life lesson that day about how easily what we do or say can spark consequences we never intended. Nowhere is that more true than with the power of the tongue to spark a blaze that quickly grows beyond our control. “The tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark” (James 3:5).

With all the cautions about the power of the tongue to destroy, Proverbs also reminds us of the tongue’s power to restore a soul ravaged by grief or sadness or depravation. “Like a snow-cooled drink at harvest time is a trustworthy messenger to the one who sends him; he refreshes the spirit of his master” (Proverbs 25:13).

A good prayer for any day might include this simple request to our Heavenly Father: “Dear God, please help me use my tongue with caution today so that I cause no one harm. Help me look for one person today that needs a word of encouragement. May what I say to everyone today build them up and help them along their way.”

       
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