It has been said that the “pen is mightier than the sword.” In a day in which we see and hear about the horrors of war on a daily basis it may be difficult to believe that little saying, but if you will stop and really consider the thought then you will be able to understand the widespread devastation and loss that has been brought about because of this deadly weapon of mass destruction.
Abraham H. Foxman, the National Director of the Anti-Defamation League, is all too familiar with the deadly force of the tongue. Mr. Abraham lost family members in the Holocaust, an all out attempt to annihilate the Jewish people, an effort that was started with an army of rhetoric and weapons of hatred. He shared some of his thoughts at the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies. Mr. Abraham said,
The gas chambers in Auschwitz did not begin with bricks, they began with words-ugly words, hurtful words, evil words. They were met with silence. If there were other words that stopped them, you wouldn’t have had the building blocks, which eventually wound up in building the crematoria. (Abraham H. Foxman, April 21, 2004)
Hitler and his henchmen may have been dealt a fatal blow, but their army of rhetoric and weapons of hatred live on in their destructive, demonic descendants. The army is still at work around the world–even here in the good ol’ U.S.A.
A few years ago, right here in Edmond, Oklahoma, we saw another example of the destructive power of words, the hurtful affects of words, the alienating, dividing power of the 26 soldiers of the alphabet when they are arranged in a formation of destruction. It was a Tuesday when the police set up their post at the school. The FBI was called in. Patrol cars instead of smiling teachers greeted students when they arrived for class. Armed Police officers stood around the football field like college scouts looking for next year’s stars as the players practiced for their upcoming game. 500 students decided to stay home from class on that Tuesday morning. What could cause such a stir? What terrorist threat brought about such alarm and struck such fear in the hearts of administrators and students? That’s a great question!
A student at Edmond North High School wrote a letter targeting twelve students at the school. The letter stated that on Tuesday, October 5, twelve students would be killed because they were black. A message was painted on the bathroom wall. Twelve tiny soldiers were called out of the 26 member platoon by an evil dictator who gave them their marching orders. They took their place on the bathroom wall and every student who entered saw them. They were full of hatred. They stirred up old stories of years gone by and a history that we would like to outlive. Their message read, “I hate niggers.” Oh, they were just twelve little letters. Nothing that a little elbow grease and Comet can’t fix. Right? Wrong! Words mean things. Words hurt. Words communicate messages that stick in our hearts and will not go away.
Today, the words are gone from the bathroom wall. The Police have dispersed. Students are now back in class, but words have power and their effects linger long after the walls are scrubbed.
The harmful and hurtful power of words is not limited to racist rhetoric. Husbands and wives slice and dice one another with their tongue and bring the stench of death to their marriage. Venomous words spewed by frustrated parents leave their mark on the hearts of their kids for years to come. Frustrated kids, who don’t get their way, scream “I hate you!” and sink their parent’s heart like the Titanic. Kids at school say mean things, hurtful things that cause other kids to lie in bed at night and cry in their pillow feeling all alone in a world of 7 billion people. Claire Colvin wrote an article in Women Today Magazine that puts flesh and bones on my point. Claire writes,
Pictures of me as a little kid are really cute–curly blond hair, a quick smile and eyes always looking for the next adventure. I had the confidence that comes from knowing you are truly loved. If we painted pictures at school, I painted three. I was the product of an almost perfect childhood, but I didn’t stay that way. Around grade six I became the kid everyone picked on. Maybe I didn’t wear the right clothes, maybe kids are just mean sometimes, for whatever reason it started and it kept going. By high school there was a group of four or five guys who told me I was stupid and ugly every single day. I believed them. It is amazing what you accept as truth when you hear it enough times. As my confidence faltered and my self esteem withered away I stopped talking in class, in groups, or in the hallways. I dreaded lunch hour, never stepped foot inside the cafeteria and the thought of class presentations literally made me sick. I stopped smiling. They tell me I went a whole year and never smiled once. Convinced I was worthless I would stress over every test and paper even though my grades were consistently in the 90′s. My whole life revolved around being as invisible as possible, thinking that I couldn’t get hurt if everyone forgot I was there. (Claire Colvin, http://www.womentodaymagazine.com)
The twenty six soldiers of the alphabet under the command of mean, self-centered, evil dictators roam school hallways, office complexes, board rooms, living rooms, and locker rooms. They are sweeping across the nation wreaking havoc on hearts and minds today. The real tragedy is that the tiny soldiers of the alphabet can just as easily be arranged to protect and bless as they can to destroy and inflict pain.
As we move into the second section of Proverbs this morning we are going to shift the way that we study these powerful messages of Solomon. Rather than study them line-by-line and verse-by-verse we are going to take a look at some of the prominent themes that appear in Solomon’s teaching. Today we are going to take a look at the power of words. I want our time to be spent in seeking to learn how we can use our words to bless and encourage one another. In Proverbs 10:11 Solomon writes,
11 The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life, but violence overwhelms the mouth of the wicked. (Proverbs 10:11 NIV)
Once again Solomon paints a portrait of two different kinds of people: the righteous and the wicked. How do you determine who falls into which category? Do you take a popular opinion poll? Run an on-line survey? Measure people by what society determines is the norm for goodness and wickedness? Hardly. Solomon says that the righteous are a “fountain of life” to those around them. The wicked have mouths that are full of violence, words that hurt other people.
I want to spend just a minute taking a look at the phrase “fountain of life” because it shows up over and over again in Scripture. Turn with me to Psalm 36 and let me show you what I am talking about.
5 Your love, O LORD, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies. 6 Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains, your justice like the great deep. O LORD, you preserve both man and beast. 7 How priceless is your unfailing love! Both high and low among men find refuge in the shadow of your wings. 8 They feast on the abundance of your house; you give them drink from your river of delights. 9 For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light. (Psalm 36:5-9 NIV)
Do you see what David is telling us about God as he writes this Psalm? God’s love, faithfulness, and justice fill His creation. He is the Sustainer and Preserver of every living creature. There is room under His gracious care for the mightiest and the lowliest in society. All of these things are true because God is the “fountain of life.”
During Jeremiah’s day the nation of Israel was under attack. The nation had gone astray. The people were experts at taking advantage of one another. The spiritual leaders were as lost as the next guy in the pew. God stepped onto the scene and diagnosed the sickness of Israelite society. Turn with me to Jeremiah 2:13 and let’s hear the Doctor’s diagnosis.
13 “My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water. 14 Is Israel a servant, a slave by birth? Why then has he become plunder? 15 Lions have roared; they have growled at him. They have laid waste his land; his towns are burned and deserted. 16 Also, the men of Memphis and Tahpanhes have shaved the crown of your head. 17 Have you not brought this on yourselves by forsaking the LORD your God when he led you in the way? (Jeremiah 2:13-17 NIV)
What was the problem in Israel? A declining economy? An influx of foreigners from south of the border? Lack of educational opportunities for the young or marginalized? A weak national defense? Oh, there were probably some folks in Israel who thought that these things had contributed to the weakening of the nation, but God spoke up and set the record straight. “You have forsaken Me, the spring of living water.” The people had forsaken “the fountain of life.”
You see folks, God is our source of life. He is the well spring of life. He is the Living Waters. He alone can nourish our souls, quench our thirst, and moisten our parched hearts. His Living Waters rush in upon those who are frightened and afraid, overwhelmed, and intimidated. He alone can displace the despair with the joy and strength of the Lord.
Let me show you what I am talking about. In Joshua 1 we read that Moses has died and Joshua has been handed the shepherd’s staff. His task was to lead the Hebrew slaves into the Promised Land where the enemy would be waiting to send them back to Egypt with their tails tucked between their legs. I’m sure Joshua thought to himself on more than one occasion, “Moses could do this, but who am I? I don’t even know where to begin. Where’s Moses when you need him?” God steps onto the scene and says,
1 After the death of Moses the servant of the LORD, the LORD said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ aide: 2 “Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them–to the Israelites. 3 I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses. 4 Your territory will extend from the desert to Lebanon, and from the great river, the Euphrates–all the Hittite country–to the Great Sea on the west. 5 No one will be able to stand up against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. 6 “Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them. 7 Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. 8 Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. 9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” 10 So Joshua ordered the officers of the people: 11 “Go through the camp and tell the people, ‘Get your supplies ready. Three days from now you will cross the Jordan here to go in and take possession of the land the LORD your God is giving you for your own.’” (Joshua 1:1-11 NIV)
The timid young man’s knees grew strong when God spoke up. The enemy didn’t look so large when God raised His voice. The waters of fear were held back by the Fountain of Life.
Over and over again in Scripture we find this same scenario take place. Those who are weary are strengthened. Those who mourn are comforted. Those who are broken are healed. Those who despair are watered by the joy that is God’s alone. Solomon knew all about the fountain of life and His life-sustaining water. When he was just a young man Solomon became king. He could barely spell the word and yet he was it–Solomon the King. He worried. He fretted. He couldn’t sleep at night. Then one night God showed up and said, “Ask for anything you want Solomon and I will give it to you.” Solomon’s answer shows his desperation. Turn with me to 2 Chronicles 1 and let’s read together.
8 Solomon answered God, “You have shown great kindness to David my father and have made me king in his place. 9 Now, LORD God, let your promise to my father David be confirmed, for you have made me king over a people who are as numerous as the dust of the earth. 10 Give me wisdom and knowledge, that I may lead this people, for who is able to govern this great people of yours?” 11 God said to Solomon, “Since this is your heart’s desire and you have not asked for wealth, riches or honor, nor for the death of your enemies, and since you have not asked for a long life but for wisdom and knowledge to govern my people over whom I have made you king, 12 therefore wisdom and knowledge will be given you. And I will also give you wealth, riches and honor, such as no king who was before you ever had and none after you will have.” 13 Then Solomon went to Jerusalem from the high place at Gibeon, from before the Tent of Meeting. And he reigned over Israel. (2 Chronicles 1:8-13 NIV)
“And he reigned over Israel.” See what happens when God speaks? When God speaks things happen. Good things take place in the lives of His people. God’s people are blessed when God raises His voice. Oh, that doesn’t mean that struggles and suffering are not part of God’s plan for His people, but it does mean that God gives His people faith, courage, strength, and courage for their journey through the valley of the shadow of death. Remember what David said? “I will fear no evil, for You are with me.” (Psalm 23:4)
Now let’s get back to Proverbs 10:11. We know what happens when God speaks, but what happens when you speak? Are people blessed? Are they encouraged? Are they strengthened? What happens when you come home from a long day at work? Are the words you speak to your family a fountain of life or do they drain the life out of everyone in your house? What about the words you speak to those at your office or those here in your church? Do they nurture, encourage, and heal, or do they just inflict further pain? How about to the kids at your school? Do your words cut like a knife or do they comfort like a warm blanket? Do the kids at your school, the kids on your team, feel better or worse after they’ve talked to you? Do your employees know whose “boss” or do they know that they’re blessed to be able to work with you? Boy those are tough questions aren’t they? They need to be. The world doesn’t need one more sharp-tongued person my friends. One day a hotheaded woman told John Wesley, “My talent is to speak my mind.” The great preacher responded to her by saying, “Woman, God wouldn’t care one bit if you would go and bury that talent.”
Just as God is a fountain of life to us–sustaining us, nourishing us, encouraging us–we are to be a fountain of life to one another. You see, it’s not about us, it’s not about me, but it is about Him, and about them. Lift them don’t crush them! Heal their hurts don’t inflict more pain! Encourage them don’t discourage them. Tell them about the source of their hope instead of being further evidence that this life is hopeless. If you and I will do that then He will be glorified, He will be exalted, and He will praised. Paul wrote to the brothers and sisters in Ephesus and said,
29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. (Ephesians 4:29-32 NIV)
“Build them up according to their needs.” That is so foreign to us today because we crush and demean those around us according to our need to feel better, to feel superior to those around us. Jesus cautioned those in His day to be careful of what comes out of their mouth. In Matthew 12:35-37 we read,
35 The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. 36 But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. 37 For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned. (Matthew 12:33-37 NIV)
Words mean things. We will have to give an account of the words that we speak my friends. Words are powerful. We see another example of the power of words in Proverbs 10:21-22 where Solomon says,
20 The tongue of the righteous is choice silver, but the heart of the wicked is of little value. 21 The lips of the righteous nourish many, but fools die for lack of judgment. (Proverbs 10:20-21 NIV)
Do your lips nourish those around you? Are they a fountain of life to those who know you? If you have a friend whose words are life-giving then you have a gift from God. Better yet, if you could be a friend whose words are life-giving to a friend who is sinking down then you could be a gift from God!
In Proverbs 10:32 Solomon shares another wonderful proverb with us that is so badly needed today. Read along with me.
32 The lips of the righteous know what is fitting, but the mouth of the wicked only what is perverse. (Proverbs 10:32 NIV)
There is such great counsel for us in this passage of Scripture. We learn here that the righteous “know” what is fitting. They know what ought to be said and what ought not to be said. They know when they should speak, how they should speak, and which words are called for in a given situation. How do they know this? How do you know what to say, what is appropriate, what would be Christlike? Those are great questions and I can tell you that you and I are not born with that information. There is a clue for us tucked in this verse for those who will have ears to hear. Take a look at the verse again with me. “The righteous know what is fitting.” The little Hebrew word for “know” is “yada” and the word means, “to know, learn to know, find out and discern, or to recognize.” How do you “know” what to say? You learn. You become a student of God’s Word and you find treasures like, 1 A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. (Proverbs 15:1 NIV) You become a student of those around you. “What is their vulnerability? How do they feel inadequate and weak? Oh, that’s where I can best be used! Use me Lord to be a blessing!” You also become a student of those who seem to always have the right words to say, those who know how to encourage others, those who know how to strengthen and comfort others, and you apply the lessons that you learn.
If you will remember Solomon learned some of these great proverbs from observation. He looked upon those who were lazy and he learned that a “little sleep, a little slumber, and a little folding of the arms” will bring on poverty. Well, we can use that same method of observation to learn how to use our words to bless the lives of others.
I do want to be honest with you and tell you that this is not merely an intellectual exercise, it’s not merely a more disciplined lifestyle. We get hurt, frustrated, and anxious and our emotions take control of us. We say things that we don’t mean. We say things that we do mean. We can’t simply resolve to do better, to stop using words that hurt others, we need something more than this–we need a new source of words. We need the fountain of living water to flush out our sinful ways and fill us with a rich reservoir of blessing for those around us. We need Jesus to take up residence in our hearts and speak through us. If you have never asked Jesus into your heart then I want to encourage you to do that this morning. Let Him come in and forgive you of your sins, heal your brokenness, and use you to be a blessing to those around you.
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114