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(Proverbs 9–30)  The Word on Words

(Proverbs 9–30) The Word on Words

Ref: Proverbs 9–30

Language can serve as a force of good as well as a force of evil depending on how you use it, and Solomon gives us example after example of both kinds of uses. So join Stephen now as he brings us Solomon's word


The Word on Words

Selected Proverbs

Yesterday at 3:00 when the snow began to fall, I put my Sunday morning preparation aside . . . unsure if we’d even have a service.  One of my staff members called me and suggested that since the moisture would probably pose a danger on Sunday night that we ought to cancel Sunday night, and I ought to preach my Sunday evening sermon this morning.  That way everyone would stay on track in our series in Revelation and we could give those who showed up this morning a taste of Proverbs.  I thought that was a great idea.

This is part 6 in a series we’ve called, “The Quest for Hidden Treasure.”  Solomon called wisdom better than buried gold and silver.  Last Lord’s day we made observations from an Anthill and the lifestyle of a sluggard who was told to go and watch the ant and learn how to work and live.  We’ve also covered the subject of how to avoid certain people – that is, the enticing invitations of sinners. 

Today, we’re going to look at what the Proverbs have to say about our words.  This is the word on words.

One of the better known jingles in the world of communications today is, “I heard it through the grapevine,” which is odd, because if you placed the end of a grapevine next to your ear, you would hear nothing.

In order to understand that lyric, you need to travel back to a time in American history when the abolition of slavery was gathering momentum.  A time when groups of runaway slaves from the south were making their way north along the underground railroad.  The underground railroad was simply a reference to safe houses along the way that would hide these runaway slaves, feed them and help them get to the next safe location.

You need to travel back when Cincinnati was a key location

where thousands of slaves could slip across the Ohio River on their flight to freedom.

One of the ways sympathetic people communicated with these slaves along the underground railroad was through the use of laundry, strategically hung outdoors on the line.

One selection of clothing communicated that it was unsafe to travel in that area – stay hidden!  Another selection of clothing meant that it was now safe to move through that area, even identifying safe houses where food and rest could be found.

I also read that quilts were often created with patterns that actually gave directions to runaway slaves.

Since rope was expensive in the mid-1800’s, grapevines were often substituted as clotheslines and this primitive system of communication actually became known as the grapevine telegraph.

Adapted from Bringing Home the Bacon (Castle Books, 2002), p. 81

Eventually the word “telegraph” was dropped, and people simply referred to the grapevine. 

We use the word “grapevine” today, don’t we?!  We use it to refer to hearing the latest news . . . the newest gossip . . . the latest tale.

“I heard it through the grapevine” is now an expression everyone knows has nothing to do with bringing people to freedom; in fact, it may mean just the opposite.

Solomon wrote to those who will join him in the quest for wisdom – the hidden treasure of insight and discernment and maturity and grace, “Life and death are in the power of the tongue.”  (Proverbs 18:21)  Not just the hand . . . or the knife;  not just the sword . . . but the tongue.

People today aren’t emancipated by the grapevine, they are often imprisoned instead.


I have read that the average person has around 700 opportunities to speak every day.  And the average person will speak some 12,000 sentences. 

Husbands, perhaps that’s why when you come home you find your wife wanting to talk.  You’ve been talking to clients all day but she’s got at least 10,000 unused sentences ready to go.  And since she spent her day chasing a 1 year old around the house, none of her sentences were actually complete – so they didn’t count.

The truth remains, we speak around 50,000 words a day.  Imagine that!  50,000 words is the size of a small book in your library.

It’s the size of this book – where I got the history of the grapevine.  (Hold up!)  What do you think of when you see this book?  Carolina Blue – UNC basketball.  No, I want you to consider that you are writing a book this size, every single day.

I wonder, at the end of the day, how much of what we say would be worth writing down . . . or even further, worth reading over.

No wonder, one of the most significant subjects to study in our quest for hidden treasure of wisdom, is the subject of our speech.

It happens to be one of Solomon’s favorite subjects in his collection of Proverbs is the tongue.

He refers to:

  • A proud tongue
  • A lying tongue
  • A perverse tongue
  • An angry tongue
  • And encouraging tongue
  • A crafty tongue
  • A seductive tongue
  • A deceitful tongue
  • A soothing tongue
  • An instructive tongue
  • A flattering tongue
  • A guarded tongue
  • A quite tongue
  • A crass tongue

And on and on and on.

Listen, God has a lot to say about what we say!

For the sake of tackling such an expansive subject, I wanna divide our study into two sections. 

The first is positive and the second is negative.

The first has to do with how our words can help; and the second has to do with how our words can hurt.

First, How Words Can Help

  1. For starters, Solomon informs us that our words can provide good counsel.

He writes in Proverbs 27:9, “Oil and perfume make the heart glad, so a man’s counsel is sweet to his friend.”

The influence of a friend’s counsel is unparalleled.  That’s why we’re to guard who we allow to counsel us.

A godly friend, teammate, spouse, co-worker, fellow student can impact your life through their words, but here’s the point – you can impact them.

One of God’s intended benefits for a body of believers is that we together admonish one another – the words admonish is nouqetew which gives us our word for nouthetic counseling. 

Nouthetic counseling – biblical admonition – even occurs every time we sing as a body of believers. 

Paul wrote to the Colossians, “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and nouqetew – admonishing – one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (Colossians 3:16)

We reiterate the truth with helpful words – to help one another develop thankful hearts to God.

The question then should be asked, “Did that conversation I just had with another believer leave them more thankful to God or less thankful?”

Did I counsel them or corrupt them.

One author made the interesting comment that our daily conversations are actually mutual counseling sessions whereby we exchange the reassurance and advice that help us deal with the routine challenges of life.

Robert J. Morgan, Nelson’s Complete Book of Illustrations (Thomas Nelson, 2000), p. 261

That’s a great way for the believer to view his conversations – as a mutual counseling session for the betterment of both.

  1. Not only do words counsel, but they can also confront.

With this comes the idea of correction.  Not just the advice of a friend, but the accountability of a friend.

Solomon writes in Proverbs 17:10, A rebuke goes deeper into one who has understanding than a hundred blows into a fool.

In other words, you challenge a committed believer that what they are doing or saying or how they are living is missing the mark of holy living or quiet surrender they will deeply consider it. 

Your confrontation will get their attention for the good.

We use the expression, “a word to the wise is – what – sufficient.”  It comes from the implication of this and other Proverbs. 

Just a word or two and a wise person will listen and learn from his mistakes, accept the word of admonition, yield to authority, and take the appropriate action.  Not so a fool, Solomon writes here in chapter 17.  Even if he’s beaten black and blue – with a

hundred strokes of a rod – he will go back to his folly.

John Phillips, Exploring Proverbs: Volume One (Kregel, 1995), p. 518

Solomon also warned you, “If you rebuke a scoffer he’ll hate you – but if he’s wise, he’ll love you.”   (Proverbs 9:8)

Not everyone you confront or challenge will love you in return.

So it may take the courage and insight of Nathan who confronted David’s murder and adultery with Bathsheba.  It might take the boldness of Joab to confront David that his unbounded grieving over Absalom was hurting his integrity as a ruler.

Adapted from John Phillips, Exploring Proverbs: Volume 2 (Kregel, 1996), p. 393

And David, proving that he had not completely shut off his heart to wisdom, listened – in 2 Samuel 12 & 15.

  1. Thirdly, your words can counsel and confront, but also comfort.

In Proverbs 25:11, the Bible says, Like apples of gold in settings of silver is a word spoken in right circumstances.

I would agree with Charles Bridges who wrote in the mid-1800’s that this is literal fruit – golden apples, served on silver trays.

Charles Bridges, Proverbs (Revised by Mott Media, 1978), p. 553

How refreshing then are words – like ripe fruit – which come served in the finest way possible, satisfying both hunger and thirst at the same time.

  1. Along these same lines, words not only counsel and confront and comfort but they can also cheer.

Solomon wrote, “A soothing tongue is a tree of life, but perversion in it crushes the spirit.”  (Proverbs 15:4)

This is the power of encouragement.

Can it really make a difference? 

Just listen the sports announcers this afternoon talking about which team has home field advantage. Why is the home field an advantage?  Because the players with home field advantage are playing in front of people who are screaming encouraging things rather than things you can’t repeat.  They are friends instead of foes.

And it is most likely that you will play your best game when the fans are cheering you on.  That’s why home-field is synonymous with advantage.

Has it ever occurred to you that the believer’s battles are all away games?  We are far from home.

And the world cheers on the other side that can defeat and discourage you and even bring you to despair.  The noise in the stadium is sometimes overpowering.

All our contests are away games. 

The only time you’ll hear much encouragement is when you’re in the huddle – with your teammates.  So here we are . . . this assembly is the huddle. 

So cheer one another on – the writer of Hebrews wrote, as he said, “encourage one another on as you see the day approaching – what day?  The day the contest is over.”  (Hebrews 10:25)

This is the power of encouraging words.

One author wrote about entering what was called “A Half-Ironman Triathlon.”  He was a pastor who just wanted to have this accomplishment in the bag.  He wrote, after the 1.2 mile swim and the 56 mile bike ride, I didn’t have much energy left fo the 13.1 mile run.  Neither did the fellow jogging next to me.  I asked him how he was doing and soon regretted posing the question.  He said, “Man, this stinks.  This race is the dumbest decision I’ve ever made in my life.”  He had more complaints that taxpayers against the IRS.  I knew if I listened too long, I’d start agreeing with him so I sped up.  I eventually caught up with a 66-year-old grandmother.   Her tone was just the opposite.  “Wow it’s hot . . . but at least it’s not raining . . . don’t forget to hydrate . . . you’ll finish this race,” she encouraged.  I ran next to her until I couldn’t keep up and she waved and ran on ahead.

Adapted from Max Lucado, Facing Your Giants (W Publishing Group, 2006), p. 65

Which runner represents you and your words as you jog alongside others in the race of faith.

  1. Your words counsel and confront and comfort and cheer and finally, #5, they construct.

Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, “build up one another, just as you also are doing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:11)

He wrote further, “We urge you brethren . . . encourage the fainthearted and help the weak.” (v. 14)

Teach . . . strengthen . . . build up one another in the faith.

Solomon put it this way, “The lips of the righteous feed many”

(Proverbs 10:21).  In chapter 15 verse 7 he writes, “The lips of the wise spread knowledge.”

This is the edifying, building, strengthening effect of words provided by the wise that constructs and counsels and confronts and comforts and cheers one another along.

What are you hanging out on the grapevine?  Does it lead to safety . . . and strength?

Words can help . . . but words can hinder as well.

Solomon provides insight into several way that words can hurt:

  1. First, words can deceive.

This is what one author included in what he called the primeval sins.  These are the sins of Satan’s nature.  Pride – in that he coveted the throne of God (Isaiah 14:12-17) and lying.  In fact, his first recorded words in human history was a lie to Eve – eat this and you will be as wise as God (Genesis 3:1-5).

Solomon recorded in Proverbs 6 that God hates seven activities – among these seven are pride and lying.

No wonder Solomon had a short prayer list. Listen to what it is from Proverbs 30:7; “Two things I asked of You Lord, do not refuse me before I die; keep deception and lies far from me .”

What he’s really praying is that he would be kept from the influence of Satan as well as a prayer that he would not imitate the great deceiver.

Adapted from John Phillips, Volume 2, p. 550

Why?  Because he recognized as we all should that we have the devilish ability to imitate our former father, Satan who is the father of lies. (John 8:44)

  1. Secondly, words can not only deceive but destroy.

Remember the child’s chant, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”

That’s a lie too, isn’t it?  It isn’t true.  Sticks and stones are easy compared to words.  I don’t have many scars from sticks or stones, do you?  I have one scar – at the corner of my right eyebrow – fairly easy to see.  I got it when I was around 6 or 7 years old – I was out in the front yard throwing a large rock up in the air and catching it.  That last time I missed . . . my mother had good reason to worry . . . he was playing catch with a rock – that’s my son.  

Rocks hurt for a while . . . words hang on.

Words have the ability to tear down and destroy everything from friendships to marriages to work places to churches.

The tongue can be a raging fire ignited by hell itself (James 3:6)

Solomon wrote in Proverbs 18:6.  A fool’s lips bring strife, and his mouth calls for blows . . . in other words, he’s gonna start a fight – he’s gonna provoke some kind of controversy or argument where everybody loses.

Somebody’s reputation will be ruined . . . somebody’s name will be dirtied . . . somebody’s spirit will be crushed.

In seminary we were told by one of our pastoral theology professors sort of the ultimate nightmare, not only to make us careful as pastors to watch our steps, but to show us the destructive power of gossip. 

A pastor and his wife were barely squeaking by in their small church, but they faithfully served Christ.  There was a successful businessman in the church who was an immense help . . . he and his wife volunteered and served the church and the pastor’s family. 

On one occasion the pastor was invited to preach in a meeting in another city several hours away.  He didn’t have money for a plane ticket and his own car was a little too old to risk the drive, so this businessman found out about it and told him he had the perfect solution.  He had a business trip he had to make and he would be flying out of town during that very same period of time. 

So he told the pastor, “Listen, why don’t you drive over to my home, drop off your car, take me to the airport and then take off for your meeting in my nice new car – then pick me up when we both get back into town.”  That sounded terrific. 

The only problem was, this pastor now had his vehicle parked overnight at this man’s home, while his car was away.

The neighbor’s jumped to conclusions . . . and spread the word. 

In a matter of days that little community had heard the news.  The pastor ended up resigning, unable to overcome the destruction to his reputation and integrity.

There was no way he could compete with the grapevine that had spread like cancer all over that little town.

Solomon wrote, “With his mouth, the godless man destroys his neighbor.” (Proverbs 11:9)

Words can deceive, they can destroy.

  1. Thirdly, along this same line, words have the ability to divide.

This person is more than happy to hang dirty laundry out in the open on whatever grapevine is available.

Proverbs 16:28 say, “A slanderer separates intimate friends.”

Remember, this was the chief objective of Satan who accused Job before God – “Watch me and I’ll separate that man from walking with you . . . he’ll curse You to Your face.”

This was his plan with Adam and Eve – to separate them from their intimate relationship with God, but also separate them from each other.  How he must have rubbed his hands with glee as Adam and Eve accused one another and ultimately accused God.

Satan is the great deceiver, destroyer and divider of the brethren.

What’s startling about Solomon’s statement isn’t that distant acquaintances are separated . . . church members who hardly know each other . . . no, intimate friends or divided.

It was such a serious problem in the early church that nearly every Epistle dealt with the power of the tongue.

In fact, Paul bluntly told Titus to dismiss the divisive person from the assembly after the second warning.  This wasn’t traditional church discipline where witnesses were brought to bear, the congregation brought in to woo and warn the brother – no, Paul said, “Reject a factious man – a divisive man – after a first and second warning.” (Titus 3:10)

Why?  Because the church is to demonstrate unity in the Spirit and the transforming power of the gospel to produce love and good works.  And the enemy can use a divisive person’s words to handicap the church’s ability to demonstrate unity and love.

So, the question remains, what are we to do about this incredible power we carry around in our mouths?

We’re in this quest for wisdom – which is the application of this truth to life. 

What do we do about our speech?

What should we do with our words?

  1. First of all, surround them!

Solomon wrote, “He who guards his mouth guards his soul from trouble.” (Proverbs 21:23)

Isn’t that the truth.

We should have learned that in 3rd grade, right?  I was never sent to the corner of the room for staying quiet.

I laughed when I came across a story I had written down about a time when my twin sons were in elementary school.  As I read this account again, I couldn’t help but imagine the personal struggle this teacher was probably engaged in as he tried to maintain control of his emotions.   Before homeschooling, our sons were attending a public elementary school in Raleigh and they were in the second grade. 

We were sitting at the dinner table and one of my sons said, “Hey, Dad, I think our music teacher is a Christian.”  His brother chimed in, “Yea, we’re pretty sure he’s a Christian.”  I thought, “Man, my sons are really discerning about spiritual things at such a young age.”  I asked them, “Well, how do you know?”  They said, “Well, we were all sorta acting up in class and he went over to the corner and we could tell he was praying.”

He probably was.  And here’s what he just might have been praying, “Set a guard, O Lord over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips.” (Psalm 141:3)

Surround your words.  Lord, post guards at the door of my lips.  Don’t let anything out without clearance from You.

  1. Secondly, at every possible chance, silence your words!

Solomon records, “He who restrains his lips is wise.” (Proverbs 10:19)


Abraham Lincoln once wrote, “I have often regretted my speech . . . never my silence.”

I memorized a few months ago this little saying to roll around in my heart and mind . . . it goes like this, “My silence may be misinterpreted . . . it can never be misquoted.”


While you’re at it, let me recommend that you burn the grapevine.  Treat it like that poison ivy vine you have out by the back fence that keeps wanting to come back.  Deal severely with it.  Don’t ignore it.

Stay away from your group of internet friends if you’re having trouble staying out of the gossip mill.  Gather all your sources up and delete them. 

Solomon wrote later, “He who restrains his words has knowledge.”  (Proverbs 17:27)

In other words . . . one of the smartest things you can do sometimes is bite your own tongue. 

Surround your words . . . silence your words.

  1. Thirdly, sweeten your words!

“Keep your words sweet,” someone once said, “you never know when you’ll have to eat them.”

Solomon wrote it this way in chapter 16 and verse 24, “Pleasant words are a honeycomb.”

Good words are sweet.

Ray Pritchard in his devotional commentary on many of the Proverbs, wrote about a study he had read that stated it takes 8-10 positive comments to offset one negative comment.  In other words, 8-10 loving, caring kind words are needed to erase the effects of just one hurtful, unkind, unloving, careless word that was written on the blackboard of someone’s mind.

Ray Pritchard, The ABC’S of Wisdom (Moody Press, 1997), p. 290

So we’d better get busy.

What are some pleasant words that are sweet like honey?

Let me suggest a few you repeat often this week.

  • I’m proud of you.

Talk about sweet to the soul.  Letting someone know you admire them – you’ve noticed them – you’ve acknowleged their contribution – this is wind in someone’s sails.

Perhaps it’s been too long Dad, for your child to hear those words.  Perhaps it’s been too long young man or young lady for your parents to hear those words from you.

Here’s some more sweet words:

  • I forgive you.

Perhaps no more powerful words in the English language, besides “I love you” are these three words.

Life giving words.  Hope-filled words.  Reconciling words. 

A man came up to me a few months ago and said, “I took your advice and contacted my estranged wife and I just admitted I had been wrong and asked her to forgive me.”  And with tears streaming down his cheeks, unable to hardly get the next sentence out, he said, “And my wife said, “I forgive you.”

There might be a relationship between a son and a father; a businessman and a client; two believers caught in conflict; a teacher and a student; an employee and a boss; turned from darkness and despair to light and hope with the humility and grace offering of these words – I forgive you.

Let me give you one more set of words to practice.  They are simple, yet profound.

  • Thank you.

You say it to your waitress . . .you say it to your dentist . . . you say it to the nursery worker when you pick up your child – you mouth it to the guy parking cars in the church parking lot as you drive by.  Instead of mouthing something else – like, “I don’t wanna go there” you go there and say “thank you.”

Sweet words require humility.  To thank someone is to admit that you didn’t necessarily deserve it.  You couldn’t have done it without him or her . . . you needed their assistance.

That’s why hurtful words are words of pride and helpful words are words of humility.

Husbands, how long has it been since you said “thank you” to your wife for the myriad of things she does for you.  When’s the last time you thanked your wife for supper?  “Thank you honey, that was delicious.”  If you can’t say it was delicious, “Thank you honey . . . that was unforgettable.”

Ladies and Gentlemen, let’s be wise with our words.

With our words, we can:

Counsel, confront, comfort, cheer and construct.

With our words, we can also:

Deceive, destroy and divide.

-So surrender to the Spirit to surround them, silence them, and if we must speak, to sweeten them.

I love the prayer someone once prayed . . . it went like this,

Lord, fill my mouth with worthwhile stuff

And nudge me when I’ve said enough.”

Well, enough said.

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