James 3:1-5 “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For we all stumble in many ways, and if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body.”
Watch your thoughts, for they become words, watch your words, for they become actions, watch your actions, for they become habits, watch your habits, for they become character. Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.
We all have heard the little jingle when we were kids: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” It sounds good and perhaps even has a ring of truth to it, but it is not true. Words can hurt; words can kill or words can bring life.
The wise man portrayed in the book of Proverbs knows that words have great power. For example, we know that words of the wise man are able to rescue people from the wicked who lie in wait for their blood. “The words of the wicked lie in wait for blood, but the speech of the upright rescues them.” Proverbs 12:6
Wise counsel or words have the power to help a person escape the traps that the enemy so easily puts in front of us to snare and destroy, and to bring on death. I have often said that a person can learn through experience, but it takes a wise person to learn from the experience and counsel of others. “The teaching of the wise is a fountain of life, turning a man from the snares of death.”
Words have the power to bring healing and comfort, and to bring hope to a despairing soul. Sometimes, it is not even the words that we speak, but having a listening ear as they are able to express their sorrow or sense of despair. A wise man, according to the book of Proverbs, is a man who knows how to use faithful words and knows when to be silent. “The tongue that brings healing is a tree of life, but a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit.” Proverbs 15:4
As already mentioned, words have the power to either bring life or death. As I was meditating upon this the thought that came was how words were used by some of the dictators in this past century. For example, Hitler using words to rally a nation, inspired a war that left Europe desolate and in chaos with millions dead. Or, on the flipside, words that were used by men like CS Lewis, A. W. Tozer, Francis Schaeffer and many others were words of life. “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.” Proverbs 18:21
While our words have power we also need to understand that there are limitations on our words. We have often heard the saying: We should walk the talk. In other words, our actions should go along with what we preach. For example, we could talk about the perfect scheme to get rich, but if we do not work towards it we most usually end up in poverty. “All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty.” Proverbs 14:23
Smooth talk cannot cover-up the fact of who a man is. In other words, using right words will not cover-up of bad character. “Like a clay pot covered with cheap silver, so is smooth talk that covers up an evil heart. Whoever is filled with hate disguises it with his speech, but inside he holds on to deceit.” In other words, smooth talk cannot alter the facts.
In closing, the wise man of Proverbs is a man whose walk and talk go together. What the wise man says coincides with his actions. A great need today in the church, and in our public discourse as well as in the political and economic realm – the need for men and women is to walk the talk.