May 5, 2002

Taming the Tongue

Preacher: Randy Smith Series: Proverbs Scripture: Proverbs 8:21


Taming the Tongue

Proverbs 8:21
Sunday, May 5, 2002
Pastor Randy Smith

In conjunction with my study in Proverbs these past few weeks, our family has been reading through the book of James each morning. And the more I become familiarized with both these biblical books, which are separated by almost 1,000 years, the more I am beginning to see many similarities between the two.

For instance, three weeks ago we began our series in Proverbs by discussing the nature of wisdom. Beyond what I provided in that message, many other verses in Proverbs clearly define the distinction between God-centered and man-centered wisdom.

According to Proverbs, man-centered wisdom is: Earthly (it's a-theistic, it's without reference to fearing God-Pro. 14:2), natural (it delights in the self-gratification of the flesh-Pro. 7:18) and demonic (it finds it's origin in the pit of hell-Pro. 27:20). On the contrary, God-centered wisdom is: Pure (it's in conjunction with God's holiness-Pro. 15:26), peaceable (it seeks harmony and order-Pro. 3:1-2), gentle (it prioritizes others-Pro. 11:2), reasonable (it's prudent, it's sensible-Pro. 14:15), full of mercy (it seeks to forgive, It refrains from revenge-Pro. 11:17), unwavering (it decisively stands firm for the truth-Pro. 21:6) and without hypocrisy (it seeks to support our words by consistent actions-Pro. 14:8).

Turn for a moment to James 3. Do you remember I said that Proverbs defines man-centered wisdom as earthly, natural and demonic? Look at verse 15. "This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing." Do you remember I said that Proverbs defines God-centered wisdom is pure, peaceable, gentle, reasonable, fully of mercy, unwavering and without hypocrisy? Look at verse 17. "But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace."

What can be said of wisdom can also be said of the tongue. Like the book of James, Proverbs, possibly more than any other book in the Bible, gives practical advice in regards to the tongue. All of us would agree that our tongues can bless, but they can also cause more devastation to ourselves and others than any other part of the body. Because of this, both Proverbs and the book of James devote large sections to instruct us in regards to this relatively small body part. This morning, I'd like to compare Proverbs and James in relation to their teaching on this essential subject. My objective is to have you appreciate the power of the tongues as much as God does.


The first of four points this morning, the strength of our words. Possibly the reason the Bible speaks so often of our words is because they contain tremendous power to either build-up or destroy. Those of us who have been beyond Kindergarten know how cruel and devastating the tongue can be. At that time we were taught that, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me." And since then we've come to realize that those words are one of the greatest lies ever told. Many of us can probably still remember the deeps hurts caused by the infliction of someone else's tongue. All it takes is a few seconds to deliver a fatal death blow.

The year was 1982, and I was a junior in high school. Due to my schedule, I was forced to ride a late bus consisting primarily of freshmen. I sat alone in the front of the bus, and separating the 20 or so freshmen and I were about 10 seats. Every morning, the bus driver was forced to pick up a student who lived miles off the designated route. As soon as he made the left hand turn, you could hear the jeers coming from the back of the bus. I can't remember this particular student's name, but I do have a vivid image in my mind of his appearance. He wasn't attractive, he wasn't athletic, and he was quiet, without much of a colorful personality. In the modern vernacular, the guy was a dork. After the left hand turn, some 10 minutes later we would arrive at his house. The kid would board the bus, and the moment he reached the front of the bus, the ridicule would start, continuing throughout the journey to school. The student simply smiled, appearing to play along with the course jesting.

One day the bus driver was prepared to make the infamous left hand turn and a kid from the rear of the bus yelled, "We don't have to go that way today." A self-inflicted shot gun blast to the head. And next to the bloody corpse and the idle gun was a note that read, "I just can't take it anymore!" You tell that kid that words don't have power!

Listen. The church has its problems, but it is still the most loving institution on the planet. We will attract all kinds of people, including those who are easy targets for ridicule. And as long as I have any sway or influence, ridicule and unbiblical critique of other individuals, made in the likeness of God, will not be tolerated! And remember, what you might consider a joke, others may consider a knife-like jab. I had a chance to stick-up for someone, and he's dead. I won't make that same mistake a second time!

The tongue, though a small part of the body, is capable of unleashing tremendous power. Recall the teaching in James chapter 3. "Now if we put the bits into the horses' mouths so that they may obey us, we direct their entire body as well. Behold, 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. Behold, how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire!" I think how evil leaders become powerful. I think how churches split. I think how reputations are ruined. I think how families are destroyed. Often all of these come simply as a result of our words. As a matter of fact, our words can be so powerful that Jesus equates cutting words with murder in Matthew 5.

The power of our words to harm is also mentioned throughout Proverbs. "The north wind brings forth rain, And a backbiting tongue, an angry countenance" (Pro. 25:23). "A worthless man digs up evil, While his words are as a scorching fire" (Pro. 16:27). "A perverse man spreads strife, And a slanderer separates intimate friends" (Pro. 16:28). We are to build people up, not tear them down! Backbiting and gossip and slander (mentioned in these verse) are all vicious sins of the tongue. Listen, anytime you speak negatively about someone behind his back, whether true or not, you are gossiping. And in one sweep your tongue hurts yourself, the listener, the offended party and the name of God. These offenses can be so deadly for the church that a pastoral friend of mine instituted a guideline for his flock, the 24-hour rule. At the moment of gossip, the gossiper was rebuked and told he had 24 hours to confess his sin to the individual he slandered. For accountability, the neutral party would ask the offended party in 24-hours if the gossiper had made amends. We are so careless with our tongues that we often need radical accountability to keep ourselves in check.

But just as the tongue has power to destroy, it is also has power to heal, to build-up, to edify and encourage. "A man has joy in an apt answer, And how delightful is a timely word" (Proverbs 15:23)! "Like apples of gold in settings of silver Is a word spoken in right circumstances" (Pro. 25:11). "By forbearance a ruler may be persuaded, And a soft tongue breaks the bone" (Pro. 25:15). Conclusion, "Death and life are in the power of the tongue, And those who love it will eat its fruit" (Pro. 18:21).

How about you? Are you aware of the power of your words? Are you known for one who tears people down or one who builds them up? As we used to say back in Chicago, "Are you on the demolition or construction crew?"


Once we realize the power behind our words, we will make more of a conscious and prayerful effort to control, or bridle, the words that come out of our mouth. Point number 2, supervising our words.

Though bridling the tongue may sound easy, the Scriptures warn us that it may be our most disciplined adventure. James 3:2 says, "For we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says , he is a perfect man (a mature man), able to bridle the whole body (the whole being) as well." "If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man's religion is worthless" (Jas. 1:26).

It's been estimated that the average person speaks 18,000 words per day. That's enough to write a 54-page book! Supervising our words is essential, and we desperately need the help of God for the wisdom to know: when to speak, what to speak, how to speak and to whom we are to speak. Do you want to show your spirituality? James calls you to prove it by your ability to bridle your tongue. Our words always speak louder than our religious rituals. Anyone can dress nicely and come to church, put a fish icon on their rear bumper or listen to Christian music. But without a doubt, one of the greatest indicators of our faith, spiritual maturity and wisdom is the ability to have firm control of our tongues.

Likewise, Proverbs speaks to this issue. "There is one who speaks rashly like the thrusts of a sword, But the tongue of the wise brings healing" (Pro. 12:18). Or, "Watch over your heart with all diligence, For from it flow the springs of life" (Pro. 4:23). All of us are familiar with that verse, but listen to the next one. We watch over our heart because the way of the heart is the way of the tongue. "Put away from you a deceitful mouth, And put devious lips far from you" (Pro. 4:24). I will be speaking more on this subject later in the sermon.

When you consider all the sins the tongue is capable of, are not most of them simply an inability to bridle our words? Someone once said, "Gossip is like soap-mostly lye! A gossip is just a fool with a keen sense of rumor. Profanity is a public announcement of stupidity. Swearing is a lax man's way of trying to be emphatic. A lie is a coward's way of getting out of trouble. Truth is as clear as a bell, but it isn't always tolled. When you sing your own praise, you always get the tune too high. Don't brag; it isn't the whistle that pulls the train." And the list continues: judgment of others, harsh criticism, angry outbursts, complaining…all of them are an inability to effectively bridle the tongue!

Are you supervising your words beloved? Do you prayerfully weigh your words before you speak? Do you speak when you have something to say? Do you speak the right amount? Do you speak with discriminating tact? Are you considerate of another's time, circumstance and temperament? Do you say what is solid, suitable and profitable for the need of the moment that it may edify the listener?


Bridling the tongue applies not only to sinful words, but also words in general. We often think wisdom is demonstrated by speaking many words; however, wisdom is often shown by our silence. Let me take you to point number 3, stilling our words.

Have you ever been around someone who talks too much? The person who has the answer for every question? The person who is constantly telling you how much he knows? The person who dominates every conversation? Your stories are immediately trumped by a better story. Your jokes are never allowed the final punch line. Your information is usually received with a simple "I know." You feel like you could walk out of the room and the person would keep going! And when you finally do walk away, (or should I say, are permitted to walk away), you're left with the impression that the guy really loves to hear himself talk! Charles Bridges once said, "The fool talks forever about nothing, not because he is full, but because he is empty, not for instruction, but for the pure love of talking."

Why do people act this way? Regardless of whether they realize it or not, the Bible calls it pride. Simply put, it's selfishness! The Bible never calls for a total abstinence of words, but the Bible does call for prudence, self-control and restraint in all areas of living, including our speech. "This you know, my beloved brethren. But let everyone be quick to hear, slow to speak" (Jas. 1:19). Someone once said God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason, meaning we should be listen twice as much as we talk! Listening, a lost skill today, is a beautiful virtue that allows us to consider other people more important. It makes them the priority and enables them to be heard and feel considered.

"A wise old owl lived in an oak. The more he heard, the less he spoke. The less he spoke, the more he heard, why can't we all be like the wise old bird?"

Do you want to display humility and kindness and patience? Then still your words. Do you want to display wisdom? Then still your words. Proverbs 17:27-28 says, "He who restrains his words has knowledge , And he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding . Even a fool, when he keeps silent, is considered wise ; When he closes his lips, he is counted prudent ." Isn't it better to leave people wondering why you didn't talk then why you did? Do you want to keep from problems? Then still your words. "He who guards his mouth and his tongue, Guards his soul from troubles" (Pro. 21:23). Even Publius a Greek sage once commented, "I have often regretted my speech, never my silence." Do you want to avoid sin? Then still your words. "When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable, But he who restrains his lips is wise" (Pro. 10:19).

May we display our wisdom by listening much and talking little. May we echo the great prayer of David, "Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; Keep watch over the door of my lips" (Psm. 141:3).


Our words have power and therefore should be controlled and limited. Those were the first 3 points. The fourth point is the exclamation mark. Our words carry with them an eternal weight of seriousness.

In case you are indifferent to this truth, listen to these words from the Savior.

"And I say to you, that every careless word that men shall speak, they shall render account for it in the day of judgment. For by your words you shall be justified, and by your words you shall be condemned" (Mt. 12:36-37). Why such a stern warning? The answer is found in the verses that preceed.

Verses 34-35, "You brood of vipers (in speaking to the Pharisees), how can you, being evil, speak what is good? For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. The good man out of his good treasure brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of his evil treasure brings forth what is evil."

Beloved, everything we have said thus far comes down to this. Though the tongue is capable of great destruction, the tongue in and of itself is not the ultimate culprit. The ultimate culprit is the heart! The tongue is simply a conduit, or pipeline from the heart. Therefore proper speech reveals a good heart whileimproper speech reveals a bad one. It's that simple!

First let's examine the revelation of a bad heart. "And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell" (Jas. 3:6). According to this verse, the tongue has the ability to be used as Satan's tool to not only contaminate our entire being but also further his agenda. And is it not true that all of the sins of the tongue, as wicked as they are, seem to come from the very lake of fire where Satan will be punished? Our words reveal our heart and our heart reveals our true master, our true allegiance and our true citizenship. If we are puppets of the evil one, he will contaminate our heart and the filth that spews out of our mouth (the overflow of our heart), will simply be the fuel he uses to further his diabolical agenda.

Is it any wonder that the Proverbs likewise warns us to this extent? For example, let's take the sin of lying (there are many others we could choose from), and its relation to Satan. Proverbs 21:6 says, "The getting of treasures by a lying tongue is a fleeting vapor, the pursuit of death."

Why is lying wrong? It reveals the nature of our parentage. Who is Satan? He's "the father of lies" (Jn. 8:44). Satan's children reflect Satan's character, whereas God's children reflect God's character, since God is one "who cannot lie" (Tit. 1:2).

Why is lying the pursuit of death as Proverbs 21:6? Because lying is a sin, and "the wages of sin is death" (Rom. 6:23). Those who habitually lie reveal a heart that is not regenerate. And their lying is an indication that they are on the road to hell. Revelation 21:8 teaches, "But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars , their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death."

But the tongue can also reveal a good heart. "The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life" (Pro. 10:11). Who are the righteous? Proverbs 14:27 says, "The fear of the LORD is a fountain of life." In Proverbs, the righteous are those who fear God. The righteous, God-fearing man or woman depends on God, yields to God, abides in God and is filled with God. They are so full of God, that godliness spills out of their mouths. Therefore our mouths are not factories trying to manufacture proper speech, but rather fountains in which proper speech overflows from godly hearts. Jesus said, "For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart" (Mt. 12:34). When Christians speak from the overflow of Spirit-filled hearts, they ooze forth clean, refreshing waters from their fountain; they are words of life, not words of death from the pit of hell. Jesus said, "But whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life " (John 4:14).

Well, we covered much in Proverbs and James as it relates to the tongue. But the final point may well be the most serious. Our words are simply an overflow of our hearts. Unregenerate individuals spew forth evil because they live without God. Regenerate individuals in the flesh spew forth evil because they are not walking in the Spirit. But godly individuals, who fear the Lord, who abide in the Vine and who yield to the Spirit spew forth godliness which fills their heart. And their words are a fountain of life because they are truly following the One who is "the Life" (Jn. 14:6).

other sermons in this series

Jun 2


Giving and Receiving Reproof - Part Two

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: Proverbs 9:7–8 Series: Proverbs

May 26


Giving and Receiving Reproof - Part One

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: Proverbs 9:7–8 Series: Proverbs

Apr 28


Diligence and Slothfulness

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: Proverbs 6:6–11 Series: Proverbs