A Mouthful of Life and Death

A Mouthful of Life and Death

When I get into trouble with my wife, Kelly, it almost always starts with my mouth. When I hurt a friend or a colleague, or unintentionally shame or provoke my teenage children, it is almost always a result of my mouth. If there’s any part of my body I hate, it’s my mouth! It just gets me into so much trouble!

At the same time, I’ve seen it do the exact opposite. When I keep it mostly closed, listen well, but then offer a simple word that makes someone feel seen, it can bring such comfort. When I offer an insightful compliment to someone at work, or remind my kids how glad I am they’re in our family, I can see their eyes light up. If there is any part of my body I love, it’s my mouth! It has the potential to do so much good!

Isn’t it crazy the power this tiny thing has?


Life and Death

The book of Proverbs recognizes the immense and contradictory power of the tongue. In 18:21, it says: Death and life are in the power of the tongue…. The Message paraphrases it like this: Words kill, words give life; they’re either poison or fruit—you choose.

Your mouth has the power to kill and the power to bring life. It can destroy the people around you, and with it, you can even destroy yourself. Pastor Tony Evans writes: Your greatest enemy is not in your home. Your greatest enemy is not on your job. Your greatest enemy is not that person at church who gets on your every last nerve. Your greatest enemy is in your own mouth. The three-inch muscle in your mouth has more power to destroy your life, and to do it quickly, than anything or anyone else.

We’ve caused wounds in others’ lives and we’ve received wounds ourselves. How many times have the words left my lips, and they’re not even all the way out yet, and already I wish I could put them back in? “I didn’t mean it! I’m sorry.” You can say a million nice things to try to make it right, but they may never forget. Some of us even now define ourselves by that cruel word spoken by a parent, teacher, coach, or friend years ago. Others of us live in constant pursuit of just a kind word from anyone.

Is it any wonder Proverbs refers to the mouth of the righteous as a fountain of life, choice silver, deliverance, protection, and delight? But the mouth of the wicked, it says, is violent, blood-thirsty, and foolish.


Will You Kill or Will You Heal?

One of the most powerful tools in your possession—for good or evil—is words. For with your words, you have the power to kill and the power to heal. You can become a murderer or a healer. Your tongue isn’t just your greatest enemy; it can also be one of your greatest assets. You’ve experienced both. We’ve caused both. So will you kill or will you heal?


Words that Kill

If we were to look through the book of Proverbs, we’d see several examples of murdering words: words that deceive, words that gossip, and words of anger.

Lies murder trust, thereby killing the thing we long for most in the world, relationship. Proverbs 6:16-19 declares: The Lord hates six things; in fact, seven are detestable to him: arrogant eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that plots wicked schemes, feet eager to run to evil, a lying witness who gives false testimony, and one who stirs up trouble among brothers.

Two out of seven are words that deceive, right up there with murder! The world cannot function without some measure of trust. No relationship can exist without trust. Trust takes years to build, and seconds to destroy. Lies are death.

Words that gossip are similar. Few things can destroy a church faster than gossip. It kills friendships, families, offices, and schools. Proverbs 16:28: A contrary person spreads conflict, and a gossip separates close friends. Proverbs 20:19: The one who reveals secrets is a constant gossip; avoid someone with a big mouth. 

Gossip is talking about another person in ways you wouldn’t want to be talked about. You can gossip by speaking and you can gossip by listening. Don’t say it. Don’t listen to it. Like passing around a loaded gun, it’s just not worth it. Gossip is death.

We also know the damage that can be done with words spoken in anger. Proverbs 22:10: Drive out a mocker, and conflict goes too; then quarreling and dishonor will cease. Proverbs 15:4: The tongue that heals is a tree of life, but a devious tongue breaks the spirit. And perhaps my favorite, Proverbs 15:1: A gentle answer turns away anger, but a harsh word stirs up wrath.

Yet some of us today talk to others like we’re the star of our own political talk show. We may call it entertainment or passion, but the angry voices we listen to shape us to speak like them. It’s not ok. Instead, speak the language of life.


Words that Heal

The tongue can also be a great force for good. You have the power to give life in your mouth! A friend who says just the right thing at just the right time, and you almost feel like a different person. Or when you’re the person speaking, and you see the person’s eyes light up before you, and you know the difference you’ve just made.

The interesting thing about speaking words of life is that according to Proverbs, the best words usually begin with silence. If you want to give life with your tongue, start by listening. 

Proverbs 10:19: When there are many words, sin is unavoidable, but the one who controls his lips is prudent. Proverbs 12:18: There is one who speaks rashly, like a piercing sword; but the tongue of the wise brings healing. Proverbs 15:28: The mind of the righteous person thinks before answering, but the mouth of the wicked blurts out evil things. Proverbs 29:20: Do you see someone who speaks too soon? There is more hope for a fool than for him.

How much heartache could be avoided if we listened? Instead, while others talk, we’re busy reloading. We crowd others out with the sound of our own voice. Sometimes the best thing you can say to another person is to not say anything at all. Our lips need brakes! If you want to learn the language of healing, start by listening. 

Then, when we do speak, lean in with grace. Proverbs 16:24: Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones (NIV). Say things like: I love you. I’m proud of you. I’m thankful for you. Say: I forgive you. I’m here for you. Say: You can do it, and even if you can’t, I’m still here. Say: God loves you. Christ died for you. Your failures don’t define you.

There’s an old saying. Be kind: Everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.Yet when we hear gracious words of encouragement and love, we can fight a little longer. Who do you need to give a little life to today?


What Does God Say About You?

The reason we can speak like this (or be silent like this), is that as Christians we know what God says about us. His words are true life to each one of us, and in him we are able to rest. We don’t have to lie to protect ourselves, we don’t have to gossip to make ourselves feel superior, nor do we have to speak out of anger to retaliate against those who have offended us.

What does God say about you? He says you’re loved, you’re seen, you’re safe. He calls you his friend, his son or daughter. He names you Beloved. If that’s what God says about us, and you hear it and you believe it, and you remind yourself constantly of it—if that’s the language we’re learning—then we can speak life to those around us.

You have the power of life and death in your tongue. Which will you choose?