The Seriousness of Saying (Proverbs 18:21)
Topic: One Truth: Walk in Truth Passage: Proverbs 18:21
I. “Just Saying”
Have you ever heard, or have you ever used the phrase, “just saying”?
If you aren't familiar with this expression, let me use it in a sentence:
That might not be the best way to get the gas out of the gas tank. Just saying. OR Isn't that blouse a little small for you? Just saying.
The idea is that you are softening the blow of a comment that is really a criticism or a complaint; or as an online commentator put it, “there is an obvious implication of what I just said, but I formally disavow that implication.” So the implications here would be, “That's a really dumb way to siphon gas and your gonna get someone killed.” OR, “You look ridiculous in that tiny shirt.”
But somehow, saying “just saying” is supposed to change the dynamics. But the fact is, saying is never simply a “just” kind of thing. If you think about it, there is no “just saying”. Why is that? Because saying is always a powerful thing.
No one says, “I'm just splitting an atom”. Why? Because nuclear fission is a powerful thing. Whether it's used to blow something up or power a generator, it's a powerful thing. Words are always powerful things.
This morning I'd like to talk about the seriousness of saying by looking together, once again, at the book of Proverbs. This is the eleventh message in our study of Proverbs. And one of the things we've discovered in the prior messages is that this book is a collection of collection; that is, it contains a variety of smaller collections of these short wisdom sayings we call proverbs. These saying saying are meant to train us in moral skillfulness, providing us with direction for daily life.
Let's talk more about the seriousness of saying by looking together at Proverbs 18:21
II. The Passage: "The Power of the Tongue" (18:21)
This is what King Solomon tells his son about the seriousness of saying. 18:21...
Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.
That's serious power, isn't it? “Death and life are in the power of the tongue”. Wow! Do you think about your words in those terms? When you make a comment, when you have a conversation, when you share a thought, when you speak your peace, when you 'have the floor', when you answer a question, when offer your 'two cents', do you remember that “death and life are in the power of the tongue”?
But what exactly does that mean? I thought “sticks and stones could break my bones, but word... words could never hurt me”? Well, let's just take v. 21 piece by piece and consider how the immediate context and related ideas from the book can help us understand this “power”.
First of all consider with me those times...
1. When Your Speech is Deadly (v. 18a)
Is Solomon saying that our words can kill when he talks about “death” and “the power of the tongue”? Well in some cases “yes”. Later, in 26:18, 19 we read...
Like a madman who throws firebrands, arrows, and death  is the man who deceives his neighbor and says, "I am only joking!"
There's some hyperbole there [some literary exaggeration], but the idea that our words can be very destructive comes through loud and clear. And that destructiveness cannot be rationalized by saying, “Oh. I was just kidding. I wasn't serious.” Words are serious. Words are powerful. We read this a chapter earlier in 25:18...
A man who bears false witness against his neighbor is like a war club, or a sword, or a sharp arrow. [those are all deadly weapons, aren't they?]
As Solomon confirms in 12:18... There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts...
But I think Solomon is probably emphasizing something else in 18:21. Consider how a couple of verses earlier in this same chapter connect with verse 21. Look with me at verses 6 and 7...
A fool's lips walk into a fight, and his mouth invites a beating.  A fool's mouth is his ruin, and his lips are a snare to his soul.
Notice first that that foolish words can bring about serious and harmful consequences. Second, notice the escalation here. Foolish words lead to a beating in verse 6. But in verse 7, a person's “soul” is ensnared as a result of foolish talk. Solomon will go on to give two very practical examples of how foolish words can have deadly consequences:
A false witness will not go unpunished, and he who breathes out lies will perish. [Proverbs 19:9]
The getting of treasures by a lying tongue is a fleeting vapor and a snare of death. [21:6]
As Solomon would go on to say in another book, the book of Ecclesiastes...
The words of a wise man's mouth win him favor, but the lips of a fool consume him. [Ecc. 10:12 ]
So the fact that “death” is “in the power of the tongue” is not only about how my words can destroy others, but even more so, in Proverbs, about how my words can destroy me; how there are consequences to my words; serious consequences.
I think this is clear when we also consider the times...
2. When Your Speech is Life-Giving (v. 18a)
Remember 12:18, the proverb about “sword thrusts”. Well listen to the whole verse:
There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.
We hear similar language in 16:24...
Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.
This is why Solomon says in 15:5 that, “A gentle tongue is a tree of life...” But in contrast to the lying tongue of the fool, we read in 13:14 that...
The teaching of the wise is a fountain of life, that one may turn away from the snares of death.
Those are powerful words, aren't they? A “fountain of life”. Words can be like “a tree of life”.
But again, as we just saw regarding “death.. in the power of the tongue”, we also find that are life-giving consequences to our words. Look at the verse immediately preceding our main verse. This is Proverbs 18:20....
From the fruit of a man's mouth his stomach is satisfied; he is satisfied by the yield of his lips.
Now what exactly does that mean? Well, we find the same expression in 12:14 and 13:2. Taking all these verses together, I think what Solomon means is that wise words can lead to a life of genuine flourishing. Wise words can help create opportunities and also diffuse potential problems. And as Proverbs regularly makes clear, God blesses those who walk (and speak) in wisdom.
So our words can be life-giving in the sense that they can be healing. Our words can also be life-giving inasmuch as our words point others to the path of life. And our words can be life-giving in that, just as our foolish words can have destructive consequences, our wise words can, by the grace of God, lead to real flourishing in this life.
But I also want you to notice how Solomon concludes the proverb we heard in 18:21. He also talks about those times...
3. When Your Speech is Costly (v. 18b)
Look again at verse 21:
Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.
Now what exactly does that mean? Those who “love it”? “Love” what? Well, I think what Solomon is talking about are people who love to talk. I think the context gives us a couple examples of this. Look at verses 2 and 13...
A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion. ...  If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.
We read about this same kind of person in Proverbs 10:19...
When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.
Similarly, in Ecclesiastes, Solomon writes about how “a fool's voice [comes] with many words” and how “a fool multiplies words”. [Ecclesiastes 5:3; 10:14]
Why does Solomon adds this note to the end of 18:21? I think he wants to emphasize that there are always real-life consequences when it comes to our words, AND, if you love to talk, you shouldn't be surprised when your many words lead to many consequences, and typically, many unenviable consequences; many hard consequences.
III. Out of the Abundance of the Heart
Think about it: in our media-saturated world, we have so many opportunities to hear words and speak words (and don't be fooled, the words we hear really can shape the words we speak). In this kind of world, it's very easy to minimize the importance of words, isn't it; to minimize the seriousness of saying. But God is reminding us this morning: words have power, don't they?
Remember what the Apostle Paul wrote to followers of Jesus in Ephesians 4:29...
Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.
Your words can either corrupt... or they can build up, in grace. Given this reality, do you take time to think about your words? Yes, in your face-to-face conversations. But also in your texts and emails and social media posts. Honestly, think about your words from this morning, or from yesterday, or from last week: which sphere best describes those words: the sphere of death, that is, getting, grabbing, jabbing, toxic, tearing down, divisive, destructive... OR, the sphere of life: giving, gracious, loving, building up, healing, mending, gentle, kind, truth-filled?
If we are followers of Jesus Christ, then it's so important to remember that, according to Romans 15:4, Proverbs was ultimately written for us. Proverbs, though written before Christ, should help us become more like Christ. And that means becoming more like Jesus in how we use our words. Jesus knew full well that, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue...” Remember what he taught us about our words in Matthew 12:34–37...
“For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.  The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil.  I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak,  for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”
What do our words reveal about our heart? First and foremost, that we are desperately sick and desperately need a Savior. How could we ever escape, in light of God's judgment, from the eternal consequences of so many foolish and hurtful words? By being “justified” by our words. How is that even possible? By “confess[ing] with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believ[ing] in your heart that God raised him from the dead... For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” [Romans 10:9-10]
Words reveal the neediness of the heart. So changing the mouth begins with changing the heart. Let's pray that over next few weeks, as we study, God would change us in this very way.