Proverbs 13:2–3 (NKJV)
2A man shall eat well by the fruit of his mouth, But the soul of the unfaithful feeds on violence. 3He who guards his mouth preserves his life, But he who opens wide his lips shall have destruction.
Paul writes in Romans 8:29 that God has predestined His people to be conformed to the image of His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. The Proverbs assist us in that process, directing us in the way of wisdom and teaching us what it is to imitate our Lord’s character. Today we are instructed to guard our tongues.
There is an old Arab proverb, “Take heed that your tongue does not cut your throat.” It is that sentiment that is expressed in our proverbs today. Verse 2 contrasts a fruitful versus a mischievous tongue while verse 3 contrasts a cautious versus an ungoverned tongue. So let us consider the difference between a fruitful, cautious tongue and a mischievous, ungoverned tongue. On the one hand, a fruitful and cautious tongue is one that speaks good, that strives for peace, that exalts God, and that treasures truth. This man weighs his words carefully and speaks only that which is good for necessary edification (Eph 4:29). He knows that “in a multitude of words sin is not lacking” and so he “restrains his lips” (Pr 10:19). The one who speaks thus, who speaks his fruitful thoughts and restrains his foolish and sinful thoughts, will both preserve his life and eat well. He will enjoy a clear conscience in God’s sight as well as, in general, good relationships with family, friends, and neighbors.
On the other hand, a mischievous and ungoverned tongue is one that spreads gossip, that deceives others, that exalts self, and that treasures personal gain. The one who speaks thus “feeds on violence.” He finds himself at war with his conscience as well as with family, friends, and neighbors. He opens wide his lips – he defines authenticity as the need to speak whatever he thinks, whatever she feels, whatever his passing fancy dictates. So he reveals the secrets of others, betrays friendships, and flatters others for personal gain. Such a person shall have destruction. She will discover that no one trusts her or wants to be her friend.
Solomon writes earlier in Proverbs, “The mouth of the righteous is a well of life, but violence covers the mouth of the wicked” (10:11). So what of you? Are you characterized by a fruitful, cautious tongue or by a mischievous, ungoverned tongue? Have you set a guard on your mouth? Do you weigh your words carefully? When you speak, are your words like the violent thrusts of a sword or the gentle swabbing of a wound? How do you speak to your spouse and your kids? Do you scream and rage and wonder why your family cringes in your presence? Do you multiply words to no purpose? Or do you carefully consider the words you speak and their impact on others?
Teens, you will be particularly tempted by the mischievous, ungoverned tongue. When speaking with your parents, are you careful to show them honor and respect? When you are angry or upset or hurt, do you restrain your lips until you can speak with care? Or do you just vomit out your disrespect and wonder why you keep getting disciplined? When speaking with your friends, do you use foul language to prove how cool you are? Do you make crude, sexual jokes? Do you speak ill of others to try to make yourself look better? Do you spread rumors and gossip? Do you speak one thing to someone’s face and then another behind their back? Do you open wide your lips or do you guard your mouth?
James the Just, the brother of our Lord Jesus, reminds us in his epistle, that
the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell… no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God. out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so (Jam. 3:6-10)
But they often are so, aren’t they? We are often tempted by the mischievous, ungoverned tongue. So reminded that we often sin with our tongues, but that God calls us to have a fruitful, cautious tongue, let us confess our sin to the Lord and our need for Him, by the righteousness of Christ and the renewing of the Holy Spirit, to tame our tongues and teach us to use them well. And as we confess, let us kneel before the Lord as we are able.