When Words Make Well (Proverbs 10:11)
Topic: One Truth: Walk in Truth Passage: Proverbs 10:11
When Words Make Well
(One Truth: Walk in Truth)
March 8th, 2020
Listen to what one commentator said about a particular political candidate over a decade ago. She wrote: “And the truth is he will never become a cool, smooth, silver-tongued orator.” (Michelle Goldberg) That's an interesting qualifier, isn't it: “silver-tongued”. Have you ever heard that expression?
“Silver-tongued” is a 400-500 year old phrase that, in general, refers to a person who is “marked by convincing and eloquent expression”. But oftentimes, the expression is used in contexts where the emphasis is not simply persuasiveness, but manipulation. Consider another definition:
Able to speak in a way that makes people do or believe what you want them to do or believe.
Thus, it's not surprising when “silver-tongued” is used to describe salesmen and politicians. But listen to what seems like a related verse from the book of Proverbs. This is 10:20...
The tongue of the righteous is choice silver; the heart of the wicked is of little worth.
Though this verse also talks about having a silver tongue, clearly the focus here is not on a person who can wow and work other over with his or her words; it's on the worth of someone's words. Worthy words. Worthwhile words. I'm not sure I've ever met a person who didn't want to have worthy, worthwhile words (or at least, who didn't want others to think what they had to say was worthwhile). Or to put it another way, no one wants their words to be worthless.
So what would it mean for you, for me, to have a Proverbs-defined 'silver tongue'? Let's consider that this morning by looking together at that same chapter, Proverbs 10.
II. The Passage: "A Fountain of Life" (10:11)
Look with me at verse 11 of chapter 10. This is what Solomon tells us about worthwhile words:
The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life, but the mouth of the wicked conceals violence.
You may remember that in our last lesson, we talked about 18:21, where Solomon asserts that “death and life are in the power of the tongue”. Here in 10:11, we find a similar emphasis on that idea of what we, in the previous message, called 'life-giving' words.
But I thought it would be helpful this time to really dig into what Proverbs has to say about words that are worthwhile; words that somehow... give life. If we simply think about the two sides of this proverb, and do that in light of the rest of the book, I think it's fair to say that worthwhile words are...
1. Words That are Truth-Filled and Constructive (v. 11a)
Listen again to some of the verses we heard last week. These are those proverbs that speak about having what we could call 'life-giving' speech. The final phrase of Proverbs 12:18 describes how “the tongue of the wise brings healing”. We find that same word for “healing” at the beginning of Proverbs 15:5 , where we read that a “gentle [or healing] tongue is a tree of life”. The next chapter over, in 16:24, we find an expanded description of this same effect:
Gracious [pleasant] words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.
So notice the descriptors here. What kind of words are life-giving words? They are “healing” or “gentle” words. They are also “gracious” or “pleasant” words. Take a second to ask yourself honestly, “Would those around me describe my words in this way?” Healing? Gentle? Gracious? Pleasant?
“The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life” because the words which spring from it, the words that flow from it, are words that give, that lift, that bless, that help and heal.
But I also want you to consider what 15:28 tells us about the “mouth of the righteous” We read..
The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things.
We hear something similar in the next chapter, in Proverbs 16:23...
The heart of a wise person instructs his mouth; it adds learning to his speech.
So the man or woman who is righteous, the man or woman who is wise, will speak from a righteous and wise heart. If you are sincerely seeking to obey God and walk in his ways, then that has to affect how you speak to others. That kind of person will be asking, “God, how can I honor you as I talk with this person? How might you be glorified in my response?”
Is your heart for God causing you to carefully consider how you answer others? Is the wisdom of God instructing your mouth? Is it informing your speech? If it is, or if you want it to, then think as well about two more verses that connect wisdom with our words.
The mouth of the righteous brings forth wisdom, but the perverse tongue will be cut off. [10:31]
When, at the end of the book, we meet the righteous and wise woman of Proverbs 31, we read:
She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. [31:26]
So when Proverbs 10:11 speaks to us about the mouth of the righteous being a fountain of life, it's hardly surprising that twenty verses later (in 10:31), that same mouth is described as “bring[ing] forth wisdom”. Wisdom is exactly what Solomon has been praising, what he's been endorsing, what he's been recommending to his son in the first nine chapters of this book. Of course worthwhile words include words of wisdom. Why? Because wisdom leads to life. What does Wisdom promise those who seek after her?
For whoever finds me finds life and obtains favor from the LORD... [8:35]
Words of wisdom are words of life. Along those lines, we go on to read this in Proverbs 15:2...
The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouths of fools pour out folly.
So these worthwhile words, these words that make well, are not simply gentle and gracious words, they are words of wisdom and knowledge. That means they are words that point others to God and his ways. They are truth-filled, in the fullest possible sense! Remember what Solomon told us earlier in the book:
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge... [Proverbs 1:7]
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom... [Proverbs 9:10]
To give wisdom and knowledge we must get wisdom and knowledge. And the foundation and focus of true knowledge and wisdom is reverence for and humility before God himself. So what have we seen, even right here from the immediate context of chapter 10? We learned that...
The tongue of the righteous is choice silver... Why? Because, the mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life... How? Because the mouth of the righteous brings forth wisdom. (2x)
Think again about your own life: when's the last time you were able to share God's wisdom with someone else? Wisdom that helped guide or guard? Wisdom that helped challenge or change? Wisdom that pointed someone to that which is truly life, AND the Giver of life itself?
2. Words That are Deceptive and Destructive (v. 11b)
But I also don't want to neglect that second half of 10:11. Look back at that verse...
The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life, but the mouth of the wicked conceals violence.
Think about that contrast for a moment. The mouth of the righteous is truth-filled and constructive. But the mouth of the wicked is deceptive and destructive. Whatever 'concealing violence' means, it's clear that, in general, there are, #2, words that are deceptive and destructive.
Now, these kinds of words, these kinds of worthless words, will be our focus next Sunday. But I think it's important this week to simply present the contrast, since that helps to highlight the distinctiveness of these words that make well. Clearly “the mouth of the wicked” is driven by what it can get, even driven to violence. But as we've seen, “the mouth of the righteous” is concerned with what it can give.
Notice also that “the mouth of the wicked” is not always easy to spot. As we see here in the second half of verse 11, something is being concealed. This wicked man or woman's words appear peaceful, but they are, in fact, hiding violence.
Again, how might all this be commending or convicting you personally? Do you recognize when your words are deceptive and destructive? As we'll see next time, sometimes, this can be very subtle. Other times, we know right away how our words have wounded others, instead of making them well.
III. Walking, Wisdom, and Your Words
When we think about an Old Testament verse like Proverbs 10:11 in light of the New Testament, it's not hard to hear in those words a description of Jesus. Listen again: The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life. That reminds me of what John wrote in 6:67, 68 of his Gospel. This was after many disciples turned away from following Christ. We read...
So Jesus said to the Twelve, "Do you want to go away as well?"  Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life...”
If anyone had a tongue of choice silver, if anyone had worthy words, worthwhile words, if anyone had words that make well, above all, it was and is Jesus Christ. His mouth was and is a fountain of ETERNAL life. As Jesus declared in John 5:24...
Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.
Have you been made well by the words of Jesus? I pray you have. If you haven't, I pray you will, even this morning. Reach out to him in faith. Ask for the ears to hear those words of eternal life.
And if you have, then God, because of Jesus and through his Spirit, wants to use your words to spread Christ's words. If the only, truly “righteous man” has given us his own righteousness, and is growing us in righteousness, then He also wants to make our mouths into “fountain[s] of life”. Listen to how the Apostle Paul talks about this very thing with language reminiscent of Proverbs. He encourages followers of Jesus to...
Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time.  Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person. (Colossians 4:5–6)
Did you hear those keywords? “Wisdom”, “speech”, “gracious”, and “answer”. This is how God wants to use your mouth. This is how he wants to work through your words.
Brothers and sisters, if you truly want to use your mouth to bless others, if you truly want your words to be a “fountain of life”, a “tree of life”; if you truly want your words to heal... then speak often and speak clearly of Jesus... in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. (Colossians 2:3)
Yes, speak kindly. But also speak of the kindness of Jesus. Yes, speak graciously. But also speak of God's grace in Jesus. Yes, speak truthfully. But also speak about the truth of Christ that will set people free. In a day and age where so many words we hear are not kind, are not gracious, are not truthful, we need to exemplify these things, don't we. But even more so, real change comes not when we somehow tame our tongues or help others to tame their tongues. Real change comes when God tames our hearts. When he transforms us. And that happens through the life-giving words of and about Jesus.
Think for a moment. Who are the people that God will place on your path today, or maybe this week, and how can your words be a fountain of life to each one? In light of Proverbs, make it your prayer to be 'silver-tongued' like Christ. Let's pray and thank our heavenly Father for working through his words this morning, that he might work through our words this week.