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Proverbs 18:20-21 & James 1:26 by Robert Dean
Don't be a motor mouth! Our tongues are barometers of our thinking so don't say the first thing that pops into your mind. Listen to this lesson to learn how our words have a tremendous impact on others and on ourselves. See what it means to criticize and judge and why our words can be like a boomerang coming back to destroy us. Understand that the most important words we can say are ones that showcase God's love. See how to avoid being a gossip, a talebearer, or badmouthing others as we respect people's privacy.
Series:Proverbs (2013)
Duration:43 mins 25 secs

Uh Oh! The Mouth! Proverbs 12:14, James 3:10. Proverbs 18:20-21


We are now looking at a topic that is convicting for every single one of us. We are dealing with the area of the sins of the tongue. This is not easy for any of us. What the apostle James says in his epistle is true, as he warns us about the dangers of the tongue, the dangers of a lack of self-control, self-mastery in the area of our mouth. So we need to learn to watch our mouth.


James is a good place to introduce this. James 1:26 NASB "If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his {own} heart, this man's religion is worthless." In this passage James is talking about people who think that they have arrived spiritually. That is what he means by religious. Sometimes we use the word "religion" as a contrast to Christianity. We often talk about it as being human systems of achieving a relationship with God based upon works. A lot of Christian denominations emphasize works over grace and a lot of world religions emphasize works over the provision of Jesus Christ on the cross for our salvation. We use the word religion, therefore, as a sort of technical term for any kind of works based system for approaching God. But James, uniquely from any other writers of Scripture, uses the term and refers to just the spiritual life of the individual, their walk with the Lord. So he is addressing a problem that he sees in that congregation that he is addressing and he says that there is a problem with people who claim to be learning the Word but are not really applying it. That is what he means by being a hearer and not a doer of the Word. A hearer is someone who studies the Word; a doer is someone who applies it. Someone who applies the Word is truly religious in the sense that James is using the term, i.e. having an ongoing relationship with God based upon grace and based upon principles of the New Testament.


So he say that if you think that you are have the spiritual life, if you think that you are walking with the Lord, if you think that you are walking by the Spirit, and you don't bridle your tongue then you are not there, you are making a false claim. If you claim that you have arrived spiritually and you don't have self-control over what you say, what comes out of your mouth, then you are in self-deception; you are deceiving your own heart.


We can expand this a little as we talk about the sins of the tongue. We can also say that this applies to the sins of the pen, the sins of the typewriter, the sins of the keyboard. This applies to any sort of verbal expression that engage in, whether it is actually something we say orally or whether it is something that we write, some email that we pass on; there are a lot of applications of this in different areas of our life. So the issue here is really the self-control of the tongue. And we have to remember that self-control is a fruit of the Spirit—Galatians 5:21-23. This is something we are not going to be able to do on our own, it is something that is generated, produced, enabled in us as a result of our walk by the Holy Spirit.


But there are those who think that somehow they have arrived. They have enough doctrinal notebooks on the wall, they have taken a lot of notes, they attend Bible class three or four times a week, they have all the jargon down. But James says let's a little practical test here. Can you control your mouth? Can you control the expression of your soul through what you say, through what you write? If not you are in self-deception and your spiritual life is pretty much useless.


James talks a little bit more about the sins of the tongue in chapter three. James 3:8 NASB "But no one can tame the tongue; {it is} a restless evil {and} full of deadly poison." This is stated as a universal principle. It is not possible for us in the power of our own sin nature to tame the tongue. Galatians 5 talks about the works of the flesh. Along with sins such as adultery, fornication, immorality, it also lists sins such as strife, slander, divisiveness, heresies; things of that nature. Those are all the results of the sins of the tongue, and so it is evidence of the sin nature control. [9] "With it we bless {our} Lord and Father, and with it we curse men …" In other words, the tongue gives us a barometer of what is going on inside of our soul.


All of the sins of the tongue really manifest mental attitude sins. That is at the real core—arrogance, hatred, fear, worry, jealousy. All of these different mental attitude sins lie behind these awful things that come out of our mouth. We say things in anger. We run down other people because we are angry with them, jealous of them, or we think that somehow by tearing them up we build ourselves up, whatever it may be. These sins of the tongue reflect certain mental attitude sins. James says that the tongue really reflects what is coming out of our soul. If we are walking by the Holy Spirit then what comes out of our mouth reflects the fact that we are walking by the Spirit, that we are walking in fellowship. But in the next second we can be out of fellowship and we are cursing someone.


James 3:10 NASB "from the same mouth come {both} blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way." In other words, this is not how to conduct ourselves as believers. There is a protocol for living the Christian life, a codex, a standard. This is not legalism. [11] "Does a fountain send out from the same opening {both} fresh and bitter {water?}" The implication is that it should not.


Proverbs 18:20 NASB "With the fruit of a man's mouth his stomach will be satisfied; He will be satisfied {with} the product of his lips. [21] Death and life are in the power of the tongue, And those who love it will eat its fruit." What these two verses warn us about is that our words, what we say and how we say it, has a tremendous impact on others. It also has an impact on us. The picture created in Proverbs frequently is that our words and the fruit of our lives are something that other people feed on. Other people watch us. Our lives are something that influence other people and are a testimony to other people, including the words that we say.


Proverbs 12:14 NASB "A man will be satisfied with good by the fruit of his words, And the deeds of a man's hands will return to him." This talks about the fruit of our mouth and that this is related to what comes back to us as the recompense of what we do.


Proverbs 18:20 says, "from the product of his lips he shall be filled." This word "product" is the Hebrew word tebuah which means produce, harvest, profit.  It is the result of something. It is the result of an emphasis, the result of where we put our energy, our effort. So the product of the lips is a parallel to the fruit of our mouth. Here the writer is talking about what comes out of us. In the first line we read the statement: "his stomach will be satisfied." So there is this imagery here of eating, of being satisfied with a meal. Metaphorically though a man's stomach is a figure of speech where part of a person is used to indicate the whole of a person. Here the stomach is used as a representative of the entire person, both physically and spiritually. A person's appetite is satisfied from the fruit of his mouth. So the idea is that what we say not only affects other people but it comes back and has an impact upon us and influences us. Then the second line, the harvest. The harvest can be good or it can be bad, but the filling of one's self from the result of one's efforts is the emphasis here.


What exactly does this mean? Verse 21 says, death and life are in the power of the tongue. That is exactly the same kind of thing that James emphasizes, i.e. the tongue can produce either blessing or cursing, so the tongue has tremendous power to go in either direction, good or evil. Then, "And those who love it will eat its fruit." What this refers to is those who love to talk will eat of its fruit—either good or bad harvest. In other words, you are going to receive the result of what you speak. If it is good it returns blessing to yourself; if it is bad it is going to return judgment to yourself. All of this is just a poetic way of expressing what we have as an English proverb, that people is glass houses shouldn't throw stones. We are all somewhat vulnerable and what goes out of our mouths is going to come back to us one way or the other. So with our mouth we are a source of blessing and righteousness, and that will come back to us in a positive way; if we are harshly critical an judgmental, negative, gossipy, slanderous of other people, then that will be the standard by which we are handled and evaluated. This is exactly what Jesus said in Matthew 7:1-5.


Matthew 7:1 NASB "Do not judge so that you will not be judged." A lot of people quote this self-righteously in a lot of different ways and it is taken out of context and not understood. It is not a statement that we shouldn't have critical thinking skills and evaluate the thoughts, actions teachings of people. It is not talking about putting your brain in neutral and just accepting everyone or whatever it is that they want to say and want to do. It is talking about having a harsh judgment of other people. It is the verb krino and it is used in a wide variety of contexts. It is used in a positive sense to talk about positively evaluating certain situations, but it is also used negatively of people who have harsh, capricious criticism, who just jump against other people, who are always negative, always putting other people down and always ridiculing other people. It is a harsh form of judgment. [2] "For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you."


In other words, if you have a harsh, critical attitude toward other people that comes across, it comes out of your mouth all the time, and other people are going to evaluate you on the same basis. It is going to come back to haunt you.


Matthew 7:3-5 explains this in a little more detail. "Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? [4] Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' and behold, the log is in your own eye?" In other words, you have a glaring fault but you are ignoring it and spending your time on some small item in someone else. It is none of your business. The focus is for us to be focusing on our own spiritual life and not on other people's failures or problems. We are not to be getting involved in other people's business. 


Proverbs 18:20, 21 NASB "With the fruit of a man's mouth his stomach will be satisfied; He will be satisfied {with} the product of his lips. Death and life are in the power of the tongue, And those who love it will eat its fruit." This starts off by talking about fruit, the fruit of the mouth and then about production in the second line. Then in the first line of the second verse is the result—death and life are in the power of the tongue. It ends again with an emphasis on the fruit. Those who love to talk need to be careful of what comes out of their mouth. There needs to be restraint.


These verses also emphasize that we need to bridle our tongue, as James says. We need to have self-restraint in this area:


Proverbs 10:19 NASB "When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable, But he who restrains his lips is wise." The more we talk the more we are likely to have sins of the tongue. If we keep our mouth shut then we are going to limit that. 


Proverbs 13:3 NASB "The one who guards his mouth preserves his life; The one who opens wide his lips comes to ruin." We reap the consequences of what comes out of our mouths. So our prayer needs to be that of the psalmist at the end of Psalm 19. The first part of the psalm reflects upon the non-verbal communication of the revelation of God in the heavens. In the second part of the psalm there is a praise for the Law of the Lord—the verbal disclosure of God to us. But the last verse doesn't talk about God's Word to us. It is a response. Now that we understand how God communicates to us: Psalm 19:14 NASB "Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart Be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, my rock and my Redeemer." That is something we need to pray every day.


The Proverbs also gives us a lot of warnings against the wrong kind of talk. Proverbs really seems to own this topic of gossip and slander and maligning other people, and telling tales on other people.


Proverbs 11:13 NASB "He who goes about as a talebearer reveals secrets, But he who is trustworthy conceals a matter." We should not tell others about our dirty laundry. We are not supposed to tell other people about other people's dirty laundry either. We need to have respect for people's privacy because we are all sinners; we all fail. What I've discovered over my years in the ministry is that people's failures that are evident to everybody sometimes have an extremely difficult time getting their life straight because the failures they have had in the past are constantly brought up before them. As wise Christians we need to respect people's privacy. We don't disclose other people's failures or talk about them.


Concealing a matter isn't talking about a conspiratorial cover-up. This is talking about the fact that we recognize that when people fail, they need  to be treated with grace and kindness. Let the Lord deal that problem; it is between them and the Lord. Everybody else doesn't need to know about their failures.

Proverbs 16:28 NASB "A perverse man spreads strife, And a slanderer separates intimate friends." So gossip causes division. Divisiveness and strife is part of the works of the flesh or the sin nature. 


Proverbs 17:9 NASB "He who conceals a transgression seeks love, But he who repeats a matter separates intimate friends." In both of these verses is the issue of how friends are separated as a result of someone talking out of turn, telling tales on somebody else, spreading gossip.


Proverbs 18:8 NASB "The words of a whisperer [talebearer] are like dainty morsels …" We just love the juicy gossip about people. We want to know what is going on. "… And they go down into the innermost parts of the body." In other words, this has an impact on the spiritual health of an individual.

Proverbs 20:19 NASB "He who goes about as a slanderer reveals secrets, Therefore do not associate with a gossip."


Proverbs 26:20 NASB "For lack of wood the fire goes out, And where there is no whisperer, contention quiets down." There is an analogy here that for a fire to burn there must be fuel. The fuel is wood. The fuel of strife and discord is usually gossip and slander. If we remove that then unity can be restored. [21] {Like} charcoal to hot embers and wood to fire, So is a contentious man to kindle strife."


So as we look at these passages we are reminded that there are these biblical standards for us in terms of understanding how we are to control what comes out of our mouth.


There is also a series of contrasts in the Scripture between the righteous and the wicked. Proverbs 10:20 NASB "The tongue of the righteous is {as} choice silver …" It has value. It strengthens discourse. It builds people up. It is something that is positive. But, "… The heart of the wicked is {worth} little."


Notice the parallel between the tongue of the wicked and the heart of the righteous. What comes out of the mouth reveals what is in the heart. The heart if the wicked is going to produce gossip, slander and lies, and is a source of discourse, whereas the tongue of the righteous builds up.


Proverbs 15:28 NASB "The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer …" Notice the self-restraint that is there. He thinks about how to answer, he doesn't just say the first thing that comes into his head, doesn't just react instantly; he thinks about what is the appropriate way to respond to a given situation. "… but the mouth of the wicked pours forth evil things."


Proverbs 15:2 NASB "The tongue of the wise makes knowledge acceptable, But the mouth of fools spouts folly."


Proverbs 10:31, 32 NASB "The mouth of the righteous flows with wisdom, But the perverted tongue will be cut out." That is simply a metaphor or way of talking about it being removed because of the destructive consequences of the perverse tongue. "The lips of the righteous bring forth what is acceptable, But the mouth of the wicked what is perverted." Again, there is the contrast in behavior between the righteous and the wicked in terms of what come out of the mouth.


Proverbs 12:6 NASB "The words of the wicked lie in wait for blood …" Someone lying in ambush. "… But the mouth of the upright will deliver them." The wicked are looking to take advantage of other people, to destroy other people. The focus of the righteous is to save or deliver other people. 


Proverbs 14:3 NASB "In the mouth of the foolish is a rod for {his} back …" The rod is often used as a physical instrument of domination. It is talking about abusive language. "… But the lips of the wise will protect them." What the wise person says preserves and delivers those around him.


Proverbs 14:23 NASB "In all labor there is profit, But mere talk {leads} only to poverty." Idle chatter. If you stand around and talk all the time you are all talk and no action. Nothing is positively produced.


Proverbs talks about the words that we say and the value of the words. There is a great application here for believers. What are the most important words that we can say?


John 6:68 NASB "Simon Peter answered Him, 'Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life.'" If we as believers are going to have words that have value the most important words that we have are those which focus other people upon the grace of God, first and foremost in salvation, and secondly in terms of the spiritual life.


John 6:63 NASB "It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life." So the wise words that we communicate can begin with the words of Scripture, the words of the gospel, and the words related to the spiritual life. We need to make sure that our words are "seasoned", as the Scripture says, with grace, that our focus is on the Word, and that people can see match between the way we live and the way we talk.