According to Proverbs, the power of life and death are in the tongue (18:21). Therefore, everything we speak should be truthful (Proverbs 12:19), gentle (Proverbs 15:1, 15:4, 25:15), gracious and pure (Proverbs 15:26). Because our words are powerfully influential (Proverbs 11:11) they should impart knowledge (Proverbs 15:2, 15:7) and wisdom (Proverbs 10:11, 10:13, 10:31), and should feed and guide others (Proverbs 10:21). Our words should heal (Proverbs 12:18, 16:24), build up (Proverbs 14:1), and correct (Proverbs 19:18, 28:23); and yet, we should save our rebuke and correction for those who would listen (Proverbs 9:7-9).
We should not speak falsehoods (Proverbs 6:16-19, 12:22), gossip or spread secrets (Proverbs 11:9, 11:12-13, 20:19), sow strife or contention (Proverbs 20:3, 26:20-21), harp repeatedly on the mistakes of others (Proverbs Proverbs 17:9), or speak rashly (Proverbs 12:18). We should not speak perversely, or contrary to the Word (Proverbs 6:12, 10:31-32), mislead or deceive (Proverbs 4:24), or slander (Proverbs 10:18).
Elsewhere in the Word, we’re told that from the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks (Luke 6:45); and that both blessings and curses ought not come from our mouths, because both fresh and bitter/salt water can’t come from the same spring (James 3:8-12). If the words that come from our mouth are an expression of what’s in our hearts, what do our words reflect about us? Are we wise or foolish? Are we full of love or hate?
I think one of the most important things for us to do, is stop and think before we speak. We’ve talked about this before, in the Characteristics of the Wise post, that we ought to be slow to speak. Our words have the capability to steer others (and ourselves) towards, or away from, the Father; to ignite a fire between friends (or brothers), according to James 3:4-6. And we will eat of the fruit, or bare the consequences, of what we say (Proverbs 12:14, 18:20).
For teachers of the Word, it’s even more important that we’re not misrepresenting the Word of God and teaching things that are untrue, for we’ll be judged by an even higher standard than others (James 3:1)!
We’re not perfect, and we will all stumble, and say the wrong thing at some point. However, we should do our best, relying on the Holy Spirit, to lead and direct us. And when we do fail, we should aim to correct, or apologize, when possible. Lastly, when others fail in their speech, we should pray for them, and ask God to help us extend grace towards them (Proverbs 12:16, 17:9, 19:11).