Q. What verses in the Bible discuss the power of the tongue?
My study of the Bible over a lifetime has concentrated on the Scriptures as a collection of literary compositions—stories, songs, letters, laws, oracles, etc.—rather than as a collection of individual sayings or Bible verses. In light of my studies, however, I can commend the entire book of Proverbs to you. It discusses the power of the tongue—that is, the effects of our speech on ourselves and those around us—within the context of a comprehensive understanding of how our speech, our use of money, our relationships, and our reputation combine to reveal the content of our heart and constitute an outward extension of ourselves. In the rest of this post, I’ll quote from a couple of the sessions in my study guide to Proverbs that explain this understanding. (The premise of the guide is that the groups or individuals using it are reading through Proverbs session by session, about 50 sayings at a time. The questions are provided for either individual reflection or group discussion. You can see or download the entire study guide here.) I hope this is helpful to you.
- According to Proverbs, each person has a core-of-being, or “heart,” that’s difficult to know because it lies so deep within them. However, because everything anyone says or does flows from their heart, its character and quality can be seen in certain personal spheres that give direct and effective expression to what’s in the heart.
The first of these spheres is a person’s use of money. Money is a prime area where the heart overflows because it gives us the capability to fulfill our desires. So long as we can afford it, we can pretty much get anything we want.
But money also reveals what’s in a person’s heart another way. Not how much money they have, but what kind of money they have, shows how they’ve gone about living their life. Those who are wise, who live in the fear of the LORD, will accumulate “good money.” It will last a long time and bring joy and satisfaction with it. Those who live without regard to God will acquire “bad money”: even if they make lots of it, it will come with trouble, and soon disappear. So Proverbs often cautions that we shouldn’t pursue money as an end in itself. But if we pursue wisdom, a steadily increasing supply of “good money” will ordinarily be a by-product.
~ Do you know anyone who suddenly came into a lot of money (such as by winning the lottery, receiving an inheritance, or getting an insurance settlement) and was able to buy pretty much anything they wanted? What did they do with this money? How long did it last? What did their use of the money say about what was in their hearts?
~ Read each of the following proverbs aloud and decide whether it’s describing “good money” or “bad money” or drawing a contrast between the two:
– “A fortune made by a lying tongue is a fleeting vapor and a deadly snare.”
– “The blessing of the LORD brings wealth, without painful toil for it.” (Or, “no trouble comes with it.”)
– “Dishonest money dwindles away, but whoever gathers money little by little makes it grow.”
– “Whoever increases wealth by taking interest or profit from the poor amasses it for another, who will be kind to the poor.”
– “Good people leave an inheritance for their children’s children, but a sinner’s wealth is stored up for the righteous.”
– “The house of the righteous contains great treasure, but the income of the wicked brings ruin.”
~ Do you know a person or family that has “bad money”? Why would you describe their money this way? Do you know a person or family that has “good money”? What makes it good?
~ If someone could see all of your expenses for the past year, how would they describe your priorities in life?
- What a person says, particularly when they’re free to say whatever they want, is a second area of life where their heart is directly expressed. To put it simply, what’s in your heart will come out of your mouth. “The hearts of the wise make their mouths prudent, and their lips promote instruction.” “Stay away from the foolish, for you will not find knowledge on their lips.”
In this area as well, what matters is quality, not quantity. Just because a person is a “real talker,” never at a loss for words, this doesn’t make them wise. Indeed, the more a person talks, the more they may be trying to hide, excuse or rationalize. “Sin is not ended by multiplying words, but the prudent hold their tongues.” (Or, to paraphrase, “whenever there are many words, something wrong is probably going on.”) Proverbs encourages us to speak valuable words, in prudent quantities, that will be a blessing to others, and not to speak a constant stream of worthless or deceptive words. “The tongue of the righteous is choice silver, but the heart of the wicked is of little value.” “The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life, but the mouth of the wicked conceals violence.”
~ Often we excuse something we’ve said by insisting, “Oh, I didn’t really mean that.” If words inevitably express what’s in the heart, can a person ever actually say something they don’t mean?
~ Think of a person who’s been helpful and influential in your life. Are there particular sayings of theirs that you remember and repeat, treasuring them like “choice silver”? Share one or more of these sayings with the group.
(If the topics of money and speech are of particular interest to you, keep an eye out for the many other sayings in the book of Proverbs that talk about them.)
- Our relationships are a third area of life where what’s in our heart gets expressed directly. It’s revealed, first of all, in what kind of friends we have. Like attracts like. The more our hearts have been shaped by the “fear of the LORD,” the more we will strike up friendships with wise, godly people. The more we live without regard for God, the more we will fall in with people who don’t care about God, and who won’t care about us, either. “The righteous choose their friends carefully, but the way of the wicked leads them astray.” “One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.”
Our relationships reveal what’s in our hearts in another way as well. The effect we have on the people we’re close to shows what kind of people we really are. “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” “Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm.” When you’re in a close relationship with another person, they begin to take on your character, and you take on theirs.
Just as the blessing of God is seen not in having a lot of money, but in having good money; and not in having a lot to say, but in having good things to say; so it’s seen in not necessarily having a lot of friends (being “popular”), but in having good friends. It’s a matter of quality, not quantity. Fake friends, who are only around for what they can get out of you, are a dime a dozen. “The poor are shunned even by their neighbors, but the rich have many ‘friends.'”
~ If we want to be wise and “choose our friends carefully,” how should we go about doing this? What qualities should we look for in a friend? What are the signs that someone would be a bad friend to have?
~ Think of someone who’s been a good influence on you over the course of a close relationship. By what means has their character “rubbed off on you”? In what ways are you a better person because of their influence in your life? Where are you beginning to have the same effect on other people yourself?
~ If you know someone who’s been betrayed by “fake friends,” tell what happened (without naming any names or revealing any identities). Once everyone in the group who has a story to share has told it, see what general lessons you can draw from all of the stories together.
- A fourth area of life where our heart is revealed is in our reputation. This doesn’t mean fame or celebrity. People can quickly achieve short-term notoriety for all kinds of things that have little to do with character. Rather, reputation is the way a person is regarded by the community of people who interact with them over a long period of time. Character comes to have a social footprint: “The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold, but people are tested by their praise.”
In a society that judges by superficial, inborn characteristics such as appearance and talent, a person who isn’t living in the fear of the LORD may initially achieve a very high “positive recognition factor,” while a godly person may languish in obscurity. But sooner or later, what’s really in a person’s heart will be expressed in their actions. If these actions are unjust and destructive to other people, the person will get a bad reputation. By contrast, those who quietly but consistently do good may eventually be recognized and celebrated. “When wickedness comes, so does contempt, and with shame comes reproach.” “When the righteous prosper, the city rejoices; when the wicked perish, there are shouts of joy.”
Reputation, too, is a matter of quality, not quantity. What matters is not how many people have heard of you, but what the people who have heard of you think of you.
~ “A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.” Are there sometimes circumstances in life where we have to choose between “a good name” and “great riches”? Do you know someone who has a “good name” because they pursued honor and integrity even though it cost them money? Tell the group about them if you can. Can you give examples of people who’ve lost their “good name” because they went after “great riches” instead?
~ Think of someone whose public reputation has suddenly changed from good to bad. Where did they go wrong?
~ Do you know someone in a service or sales position (car dealer, auto mechanic, dry cleaner, etc.) who you’d recommend to a friend without hesitation? What qualities do they have that make you vouch for their reputation?