Beware of and Thank God for the Gift of the Tongue
Dear Christian friends,
You can stick out your tongue. You can roll your tongue. You can lick an ice cream cone with your tongue. The tongue is an underappreciated organ of the body. There are some interesting facts about tongues. Women usually have shorter tongues than men, even though it is a toss up whose tongue is sharper. I have been in few weight rooms in my life, but I have never seen a weight lifting machine for tongues. Yet the world record for tongue lifting is twenty four pounds and three ounces held by a man by the name of Thomas Blackstone. The animal that has the largest tongue is the blue whale. Its tongue is as large as an elephant. It weighs 5400 pounds.
According to doctors, there are over 600 kinds of bacteria that live in your mouth and on your tongue. If you scrape your tongue you can prevent heart attacks, pneumonia, premature births, diabetes, osteoporosis and infertility in men. The phrase “Does the cat have your tongue?” goes back a couple of thousands of years to the time of the Assyrians. Assyrian soldiers cut out the tongues of enemy armies and criminals and fed them to cats.
Since so much of the language we speak uses the tongue, it is almost impossible to communicate without it. In fact, for that reason, the tongue is often used as a metaphor for the language that we use. With this Proverb King Solomon reminds us “Beware of and Thank God for the Gift of your Tongue.”
People are wondering these days why our politics has become so partisan and hateful. I heard a commentator say something that makes sense to me. He said a lot of it is because network news has become such a moneymaker for the major networks that they have lengthened news programs so they have a lot of time to fill with stories that become overly circumspect.
When I grew up our news came out ofGreen Bay,Wisconsin. The major networks had a half an hour for news –fifteen for local and fifteen for national. Words needed to be precise and concise. Trivial things were omitted. Then came the news personalities. There was Huntley – Brinkley and Walter Cronkite and others. National news went to a half an hour -- local news to an hour. Now we have networks that are devoted to news 24/7. Every misspoken word is a headline for a week.
Many years ago there was a plane that was highjacked and on the ground atHartsfieldAirport. All the local TV news stations devoted full coverage to the situation. It was rivoting and yet took over eight hours to resolve. No commercials. There was constant talk and reporting without breaks. Mistakes were made and constant apologies for wrong statements and false reports.
That happens in speech. The more that is said, the more likely there are going to be mistakes made and false statements said. Solomon says in our Proverb, “When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.
Speech is a powerful instrument. To be able to persuade people to someone’s way of thinking through words is an incredible gift. I once asked a lady who was born and lived inGermanyduring World War II why Hitler was able to influence so many with his hateful ideology. She said his speeches were rivoting and mesmerizing.
While the words we say are incredibly powerful they can also be terribly destructive. The Bible warns ‘The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.” Backstabbing, slander, idle talk, gossip, vulgarities can permanently ruin reputations. A real problem is that many of us will believe anything if it is whispered to us.
My dad liked to go fishing a lot. To honor his memory at our yearly family reunion done my brothers and I have a fishing derby. The first year I won the derby. There is a traveling trophy which is nothing more than a cap. Just above the bill of the cap it says, I fish therefore I lie. I remember a plaque that my dad once got for his birthday from one of his many brothers that said, Even a fish wouldn’t get in trouble if he kept his mouth shut.
But sometimes we might have difficulty distinguishing between gossip and simply wanting others know so they can be concerned and pray for someone. I think we have all been there and wondered when loving concern becomes gossip. Someone once said that the difference between gossip and concern is like the difference between a butcher and surgeon. Both cut the meat but for different purposes. There is a German proverb that goes like this, ‘Viel Sprechen und Lügen sind Vetter.’ Much speaking and lying are cousins.
All of these little sayings make us smile, but God is serious about the words we say. He has devoted two commandments to them. There is the commandment, You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God. Don’t use your tongue to use God’s name in an empty and useless way. Don’t be cursing someone to hell or do false swearing and using your mouth for vulgarities. And then there is the commandment “You shall not bear false testimony against your neighbor. Don’t speak lies or say things that will spoil the good name of those around us.
There is a second half of verse nineteen that says, ‘but he who holds his tongue is wise.’ When I translated that passage I translated ‘the one who restrains his lips prospers.’ If we are not talking we can listen. When we talk we repeat what we already know; when we listen, we might learn something.
Franklin Roosevelt often endured long receiving lines at the White House. He complained that no one really paid attention to what was said. One day, during a reception, he decided to try an experiment. To each person who passed down the line and shook his hand, he murmured, "I murdered my grandmother this morning." The guests responded with phrases like, "Marvelous! Keep up the good work. We are proud of you. God bless you, sir." It was not till the end of the line, while greeting the ambassador from Bolivia, that his words were actually heard. Not fazed the ambassador leaned over and whispered, ‘I am sure she had it coming.’ The Bible says ‘be slow to speak and quick to listen.’ I have regretted what I have said, but I can’t remember many times when I have regretted being silent. Beware of the tongue and the damage it can do.
Solomon in this proverb goes on to say, “The tongue of the righteous is choice silver, but the heart of the wicked is of little value. The lips of the righteous nourish many, but fools die for lack of judgment.” I have said that Hebrew poetry is not about rhyme of meter but about coordinating thoughts. Two lines of Hebrew poetry either repeat the same thought with different words or it often contrasts thoughts in two lines. Verses 20 and 21 demonstrate the latter. The righteous person and the fool; the believer and the unbeliever.
Who is the righteous person? When Martin Luther understood how the Bible often uses ‘righteous’ and righteousness is what led to the Lutheran Reformation. There was a time when the word righteous scared him to death. Righteous is to be perfect. That thought scared the begeebers out of him. He knew he was a sinner and not righteous. When the verse goes on and says “but the heart of the wicked is of little value,” that’s where he would have thought that he fell. But when he studied the Scripture the Holy Spirit was merciful to him, and he understood that while righteous means to be perfect, that righteousness was supplied by the perfect Christ and give to us by faith. Jesus was perfect in his speech. He never slandered and always told the truth. His record is our. When Solomon is speaking here, he is speaking about the righteous versus the fool. He contrasts the believers speech with the unbeliever. He is talking about you and me. He is talking to you and me. “The tongue of the righteous is choice silver, but the heart of the wicked is of little value.
There are a couple things that we need to understand about this verse. First, we need to understand the phrase choice silver. Secondly, there is definitely a connection between the heart and the words we say.
Let your words be like pure silver. Silver is made into jewelry, tableware, coins and a lot of other ornate items. That is not pure silver. Pure silver is soft and very pliable. Copper is added to make sterling silver. Copper makes it hard so it can form a knife or fork or spoon. Silver coins have about 10% copper in it. God says, let your speech be choice silver, pure silver with no impurities. Bullion is made from pure silver. So our speech is valuable and precious to us and others.
Our speech also originates from our heart. Jesus once said, Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. The fact that Christ declared us righteous doesn’t give us a license to sin because he forgives us any ways, rather being declared righteous compels us to want to speak like the Righteous One. John 7 gives us a good understanding how Jesus spoke. The Jewish leaders, who hated Jesus, felt they really needed to take Jesus out of commission. They sent soldiers to bring him in. When they listened to Jesus, they got jello in their knees. The Bible says, “Finally the temple guards went back to the chief priests and Pharisees, who asked them, “Why didn’t you bring him in?” “Their answer was “No one ever spoke the way this man does.” the guards declared.
How did Jesus speak? Best said, there is another story in the Bible that tells us that. After Jesus fed the 5,000 the Bible says that the crowd wanted to take him by force and set him up as their king. He could feed the nation. Jesus shocked them when he wouldn’t allow that to happen. He came to be their Savior, not their earthly leader. He liet them know he wanted to feed them differently. “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry and he who believes in my will never be thirsty.” When he said that, they wanted to drop him like a hot potato. They were more interested in having their bellies full than their souls fed. Many, even most, turned away. Jesus asked his disciples if they were going to do the same. Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” Jesus has the words or eternal life.
Solomon says that “The tongue of the righteous is choice silver…and The lips of the righteous nourish many.” The tongue becomes choice silver when we are ready to feed people with Jesus, the Bread of life.
The very last line says that fools die for lack of judgment. The Bible says that the fool is the one who says there is no God. The fool is the one who doesn’t make a right judgment about the Lord. Either he says there is no God or that God doesn’t save. What a horrible lack of judgment. And they die.
The worst way people can die is not from cancer, or being burned up in fire, or from a slow torture. The worst way people can die is to die without Jesus. You can do something about that. God wants to use you. Give that person words of choice silver. Give him words that nourish. Tell that person about the Bread of Life. Tell that person about Jesus who promises, He who comes to me will never go hungry and he who believes in my will never be thirsty.”