A gentle tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit. Proverbs 15:4 (ESV)
The soothing tongue is a tree of life, but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit. Proverbs 15:4 (NIV)
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You've probably heard the phrase sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me. If you've ever been hurt by words, however, you know this phrase is entirely untrue. There are moments in life when words hurt more than broken bones. There are moments when the wounds caused by words are far more painful than the wounds we experience physically. Sometimes the pain inflicted by words is more profound than the pain inflicted by sticks or stones.
Words can hurt people. Words can cause destruction. But words can also bring life. Words can provide hope in times of uncertainty and healing in times of pain. Words can be life-giving to your soul.
King Solomon knew the power of words. He wrote, "A gentle tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit (Proverbs 15:4)." Just a few verses before, he wrote, "A gentle answer turns away anger, but a harsh word stirs up wrath (Proverbs 15:1)." There is a connection between wisdom and the way we use our words. A wise person uses their words to build up. A foolish person uses their words to tear down. And specifically, in Proverbs 15:4, we see that a wise person is gentle with their words.
Sometimes we hear the word gentle and think weak, passive, wimpy, or fragile, but that's not what King Solomon had in mind when he wrote this proverb. Instead, a gentle tongue is wholesome, truthful, and brings healing. A gentle person encourages you when you're feeling down, gives courage when you're afraid, and speaks gospel truth when you're tempted to believe lies of guilt or shame. This is why Proverbs says, "A gentle tongue is a tree of life," because it leads to the flourishing of others.
In contrast, a devious or perverse tongue breaks the spirit; it's twisted, false, and deceptive. It doesn't lead to the flourishing of others. It leads to their destruction. King Solomon is saying that our words can be gentle and life-giving or twisted and death-dealing. This is the power of words.
Our words have the power to encourage, build up, and restore — the choice is yours. Will you speak words of gentleness this week? Or will you speak twisted words of destruction?
Here's another way to think about it. Would you be rich or poor if you were given a dollar for every gentle word you spoke and lost two dollars for every destructive word you said? What is the consistent pattern of your words? Do they build up, or do they tear down? I know far too often that my words cause destruction rather than life. There are too many moments when my words are not gentle. This week, let's work hard to be gentle with our words.
I hope that you and I are people who make the love of Jesus known by the gentle words we speak. So maybe today, you start simple and think of one person you can encourage through a gentle word. Our words can be life-giving or death-dealing. Let's choose, by God's grace, to use gentle words today.
Not only do I want to speak gentle words that are encouraging in their truth but HOW I speak them must be with gentleness too. It is oftentimes this nuance which is missed from texts, emails, social media and so at times even a gentle tongue can seem harsh in its truthfulness.