Wisdom at Work: Speak Life
Life is full of important decisions, and one of those decisions that we make every day is the words that we speak. Listen to what the scripture says in:
21 The tongue can bring death or life; those who love to talk will reap the consequences.
We see that the author of this proverb tells us that the tongue (or the words that we say) can do one of two things. It can speak and bring death, or it can speak and bring life. Whichever we choose there are consequences that we must be ready for. Let’s start by taking a closer look at what it means to speak and bring death or life.
The book of Proverbs speaks many times about what it is to speak death. It tells us that speaking death is speaking lies, it’s being deceitful, and it’s rushing to violence, (Proverbs 21:6, Proverbs 21:7, Proverbs 11:3), but I want to look at some other, maybe not so obvious, examples of speaking death.
One of the ways we can speak death is through improper criticism. We need to understand there is a proper way and time to be critical. We will look at the correct way later, but when it comes to speaking death through criticism, we need to examine the motive for the criticism. When criticism comes from just wanting to get our opinion heard or to tear down something or someone, we can be assured we are handling it the wrong way and speaking death into that situation.
Anger is another way we can speak death when it’s not handled in the correct way. There is a reason we are told to “Be angry and sin not”. It’s because we can let our anger result in us speaking death. One of the ways this happens is when we speak out of anger with words that are hasty or not thought out. Proverbs 12:18 associates these kind of words as swords that cut and wound. It should be easy for us to understand this. Just think of words that have been spoken hastily in anger or frustration to you in your lifetime. “You’re never going to be good enough”, “You never do anything right”, or “You’ll never amount to anything”. All of these words are words that are mostly spoken in moments of anger, but if you’ve ever experienced them, you know the wounds they cause.
Lastly, I want to look at speaking negativity or pessimistically as a form of speaking death. Now at first glance, this seems like it shouldn’t fit here, but think about what negativity does. Negativity removes God from the equation and negativity causes us to lose faith. Hebrews 11:1 tells us that without faith it is impossible to please God. Just think of all the times people in the Bible were negative about a situation before God showed up, whether it’s Jonah and his attitude toward Nineveh, Sarah’s attitude toward the news that she would have a baby, or even Ananias when called to meet and speak with a man named Saul. Whatever the situation, God is always part of the equation, and all being a pessimist will do is remove God and faith from the equation. We can be sure that God can take a Saul and turn him into a Paul. He can do the miraculous in any situation.
As we see with these three examples, speaking death results in tearing down, discouragement, and destruction of people, ideas, or actions. We must be careful when we choose our words. Just like Jesus said in Matthew 15:11 - it’s not what goes in our mouths that defiles us, but rather what comes out.
The second option that the writer gives us is to speak life. Because death and life are counterparts, it’s no surprise that the ways we can speak life are in direct contrast with how we can speak death.
When we looked at speaking criticism as a form of speaking death, we said there is a proper way to criticize and that’s edification. While criticism (for lack of a better word) is meant to break down, edification is meant to build up, to encourage, and to help - not to hurt. This can play out in all sorts of ways in our lives, but we must do it biblically. We must do it in love, and we must do it in private. When we follow this standard, we carry out the task of equipping, correcting, and building up what we are called to all throughout the New Testament.
While anger is speaking death, it’s polar opposite is speaking in love. Paul tells the church in Corinth after his first letter to make sure they do EVERYTHING in love. Again, we see that love is something we must do and it’s something we must be intentional about in all of our words. Gary Smalley writes there are 5 ways we can speak life through love. By praising others, showing our gratitude through words, by validating someone’s positive behaviors, by honoring others, and by encouraging. We are all called to speak love with all of our words.
One final way to speak life is to speak hope. When we speak hope, we speak in faith. When we speak in faith, we see that our assurance is in Jesus and not on anything else in this world, including ourselves. Many times, in scripture we are told not to lean on our own understanding, but rather trust in Jesus. When we do, our lives start to point everyone to Jesus as the source of our hope and assurance.
Every word that comes from our mouth will either be speaking life or speaking death, and each of those choices comes with consequences for ourselves as well as those around us. Remember Jesus told us it’s what’s on the inside that comes out, so if we find ourselves speaking death it’s a soul issue. It’s not one we can fix ourselves (James 3), but Jesus is in the business of making all things new. Trust Him as your Lord and Savior and watch what He does as you begin to speak life into all those who are around you.