“Fountain,” by matthewf01 – Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Proverbs 10.1-12 (NRSV)
The proverbs of Solomon.
A wise child makes a glad father,
but a foolish child is a mother’s grief.
2Treasures gained by wickedness do not profit,
but righteousness delivers from death.
3The Lord does not let the righteous go hungry,
but he thwarts the craving of the wicked.
4A slack hand causes poverty,
but the hand of the diligent makes rich.
5A child who gathers in summer is prudent,
but a child who sleeps in harvest brings shame.
6Blessings are on the head of the righteous,
but the mouth of the wicked conceals violence.
7The memory of the righteous is a blessing,
but the name of the wicked will rot.
8The wise of heart will heed commandments,
but a babbling fool will come to ruin.
9Whoever walks in integrity walks securely,
but whoever follows perverse ways will be found out.
10Whoever winks the eye causes trouble,
but the one who rebukes boldly makes peace.
11The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life,
but the mouth of the wicked conceals violence.
12Hatred stirs up strife,
but love covers all offenses.
The band I was in with my brother, Danny, and my friends, Collin and Alan, played a bunch of concerts at bars in Denver. Most of those concerts went well and were really fun. The weird thing is, when I think of playing in Denver there is one experience that especially sticks out to me.
We were playing at a place called “Cricket on the Hill” – I don’t think it exists any more. We played there a few times. This time, it was the same night as a Nuggets/Spurs play off game (this was back in the days when the Nuggets were pretty good and went to the playoffs).
Everyone in the place seemed more interested in the Nuggets than in any of the bands that were playing. The people sitting at the bar were glued to the TV. After a while we noticed the TVs had been turned off and people seemed like they were paying more attention to the music.
After a song, my brother asked the crowd, “Hey, how did the Nuggets game go?”
“They lost,” someone grumbled back.
“Dang, that stinks,” Danny said.
“NO! YOU STINK!” Someone yelled from the bar.
That’s my most vivid memory from the concert. Some guy yelling at us. It’s like those words have been tattooed on my brain. Of all the fun I had playing in that band … of all the concerts we played … of all the things people said about our music … why is it that three words from some crabby guy at a bar are the first things that come to mind when I think about playing concerts in Denver?
“The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life …”
Proverbs understands the power words carry. “Mouth,” “tongue,” “lips,” and “word” show up over and over again in Proverbs.
“A fool’s lips bring strife, and a fool’s mouth invites a flogging.” (Proverbs 18.6)
“To watch over the mouth and tongue is to keep out of trouble.” (Proverbs 21.23)
“Those who guard their mouths preserve their lives, those who open wide their lips come to ruin.” (Proverbs 13.3)
“Rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” (Proverbs 12.18)
“A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” (Proverbs 15.1)
“Pleasant words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.” (Proverbs 16.24)
“Even fools who keep silent are considered wise; when they close their lips, they are deemed intelligent.” (Proverbs 17.28)
“Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.” (Proverbs 18.21)
Proverbs reminds us that the words we use – or don’t use matter.
The wise understand the power of their words … the wise understand that their words can bring life, or they can bring destruction … the wise understand words stick with people, words can build people up … words can scar people and tear people down … the wise understand that our words reveal our hearts … This doesn’t mean that we don’t say difficult things … it doesn’t mean that we don’t speak to things that need attention – “Like a gold ring or an ornament of gold is a wise rebuke to a listening ear” (Proverbs 25.12). The wise understand that there is such a thing as right words at wrong time … the wise understand that sometimes there just aren’t adequate words and silence is okay …
Proverbs’ understanding of the power of words, isn’t unique to scripture. Through the Bible we see that God cares how people speak to each other.
Think about the ways we see God use words.
If we look at the beginning of the Bible, in the first chapters of Genesis we read the account of creation. God creates all that there is by speaking. God speaks into the dark, empty void, and things happen –
“God said, ‘Let there be light” … “Let there be separation between water and sky” …
…“Let there be land” …
… Let there be lights to rule over the day and the night …
… Let the waters swarm with living things … let birds fly above the earth …
… Let the earth produce every kind of living thing: livestock, crawling things, and wildlife …”
God spoke and there it was.
God’s words create.
God’s words bring life.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus is called God’s word…
In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God … The Word became flesh and made his home among us. We have seen his glory, glory like that of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. (John 1.1, 14)
As God’s message to humanity, Jesus reveals God’s goodness and love in skin and bones. Jesus is God’s living, breathing, three-dimensional, word.
The beginning of the letter to the Hebrews also tells us that in Jesus, God is speaking:
Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word … (Hebrews 1.1-3)
God’s words are creative and life-giving. Jesus, God’s word to us, reveals God’s character and purposes.
Maybe one the most challenging passages that has to do with how Christians use their words comes from James.
2For all of us make many mistakes. Anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect, able to keep the whole body in check with a bridle. 3If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we guide their whole bodies. 4Or look at ships: though they are so large that it takes strong winds to drive them, yet they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. 5So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits.
How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! 6And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. 7For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, 8but no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. 10From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so. 11Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water? 12Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters, yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh. (James 3.1-12)
What comes out of our mouths, our words can do all sorts of things; our words can bless God, or our words can curse people who are created in God’s image; our words can tear down, or our words can build up … Words can calm … words can enrage. A few well-chosen words can open up the path to peace or they can kindle embers and start a war … We know this … We see this all around us. There is power in words – words can be poison, words can bring healing.
There is an old story about an ancient Jewish teacher who asked his servant to, “Go and buy me good food in the market.” The servant went and bought him tongue. The teacher said, “Go and buy me bad food in the market.” The servant went and bought him tongue. The teacher said, “When I told you to get good food you bought me tongue, and when I told you to get me bad food you also bought me tongue!” The servant replied, “Good comes from it and bad comes from it. When the tongue is good there is nothing better, and when it is bad there is nothing worse. (Interpreter’s Bible, v. 4, p. 890)
As God’s people, as people who have bet our lives on Jesus, God’s word of life to us, our words matter.
Let’s let our words be fountains of life to each other.