Proverbs Thematic Sermon - Words of Life and Words of Death (Erik Veerman)

Apr 28, 2024

Please take out the Proverbs insert in your bulletin.

You can see on the front page that we are in the last third of our study. I did want to note two things.

1. First, we skipped over the one titled Financial Wisdom, Giving, and Wealth. A couple of you have asked about that. Tim Townsend will be preaching on that one later next month and it has just been a matter of timing. Stay tuned.

2. Second, our theme today is on words. There are a many many proverbs that relate to our words. We’ve already covered some of them like honesty and deceit. Several of the other themes include proverbs about our words as they relate to the specific theme. The proverbs today are more foundational to our speech. Open up the insert and look at Proverbs 18:21. It’s there on the right-hand side. It begins, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” That pretty much captures our focus this morning.

Let’s now consider these specific Proverbs.

Reading of selected proverbs:


10:11 The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life, but the mouth of the wicked conceals violence.

10:19 When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.

10:20 The tongue of the righteous is choice silver; the heart of the wicked is of little worth.

10:31 The mouth of the righteous brings forth wisdom, but the perverse tongue will be cut off.

10:32 The lips of the righteous know what is acceptable, but the mouth of the wicked, what is perverse.

11:9 With his mouth the godless man would destroy his neighbor, but by knowledge the righteous are delivered.

12:18 There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.

12:25 Anxiety in a man's heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad.

13:2 From the fruit of his mouth a man eats what is good, but the desire of the treacherous is for violence.

13:3 Whoever guards his mouth preserves his life; he who opens wide his lips comes to ruin.

15:4 A gentle[z] tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit.

15:23 To make an apt answer is a joy to a man, and a word in season, how good it is!

16:13 Righteous lips are the delight of a king, and he loves him who speaks what is right.

16:21 The wise of heart is called discerning, and sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness.

16:23 The heart of the wise makes his speech judicious and adds persuasiveness to his lips.

16:24 Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.

17:27 Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.

18:4 The words of a man's mouth are deep waters; the fountain of wisdom is a bubbling brook.

18:8 The words of a whisperer are like delicious morsels; they go down into the inner parts of the body.

18:21 Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.

20:19 Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets; therefore do not associate with a simple babbler.[i]

21:23 Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble.

25:11 A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.

26:2 Like a sparrow in its flitting, like a swallow in its flying, a curse that is causeless does not alight.



Last summer, while visiting Washington DC, we stopped by the National Archives. There we saw the Declaration of Independence, the US Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. They are all housed in a huge rotunda. The original documents are displayed in special cases around the room. And it’s very dimly lit to preserve the fading script… but even that adds to the gravity of the revered texts. They indeed are national treasures.

But besides that, do you know what they are?

Words. Mere words.

Yet, these words created a nation.

It’s tempting to think that the most powerful tools on the plant are weapons of war, but that is not true.

No, the most powerful tools on the planet are words.

·      Throughout history, words have started revolutions and reformations.

·      Words have declared freedom.

·      Besides creating nations, words define laws. Words can have legal and binding power.

·      Through words, husbands and wives make wedding vows.

·      Words give shape to cultures and people.

·      Words persuade and galvanize people together. Think of famous speeches in history… Winston Churchill’s World War 2 speech, Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream" speech. Maybe you remember Ronald Regan saying “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall”

·      It is through words that we learn history and through words that we explain life and being.

·      Words, in fact, differentiate humanity from the rest of God’s creation.

·      Truth is conveyed through words and words express meaning and love.

But words can also be the tools of destruction.

·      Words incite violence and through words of insults and slurs people are belittled and marginalized.

·      Words of dishonesty betray and words of hate kill.

·      By words of decree and calls to action… genocides have been started. The Huguenots, Jews in Europe, the Tutsis in Rwanda, the Uyghurs in China, and many others all throughout the world… even today.

·      We use words to break contracts and nullify vows.

Words. Words of life and words of death.

And Proverbs calls us to bring life through our words.

You know, these last few sermons on wickedness and righteousness have been a little harder to apply. Maybe you’ve sensed that. Wickedness is such a strong word, and being wicked is not something that generally characterizes Christians, although there are exceptions. We’ve been saved out of our wickedness and into righteousness. So that last few sermons have been more worldview orienting.  

But today is quite different. Let me ask you a question. Do you remember things said to you that have caused you deep pain? I bet that every single one of us would say “yes.” And I think every single one of us can remember words that have encouraged and brought life.

But not only that, most of us here can think of times when we’ve hurt others through our words, and maybe times we’ve blessed others.

You and I cannot escape our own words and how they affect the lives of others. What I’m saying is that there’s so much here to apply.

So, let’s get into it.

We’ll work through three questions this morning.

1. Are your words thoughtful or thoughtless?

2. Are your words wise or wicked?

3. Are your words helpful or harmful?

1. Are your words thoughtful or thoughtless?

So first… thoughtful or thoughtless.

I think probably the most well-known proverb in the whole list is 10:19 “When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.”

Now, some of you are extroverts and enjoy being with and talking to others. Others of you are introverts but you may still process things externally. Each of us has a propensity to talk in different situations. This Proverb is not saying that if you have many words that you therefore are sinning.

One of Amy’s extended family members enjoys talking. He’s also very funny. He said to me once, “you know, you’re hearing what I’m thinking at the same time that I’m hearing it for the first time.” We got a laugh at that one. Actually, he is a loving pastor and very kind and thoughtful.

So, it’s not necessarily the amount of words we speak which gives rise to transgression. However, the more you talk, the more likely you will sin. The more you talk, the higher the possibility that your words will at times be thoughtless.  

The warning is not to babble. That’s one of the words in these verses.

It’s going on and on about things without a purpose. It’s saying everything that comes to your mind. It’s thoughtless and careless words, which may flippantly dismiss something or someone. Or you may betray confidence by being loose with your words. Those ideas are both conveyed here.

Have you heard the phrase before, “Loose lips sink ships.” That phrase comes from a WW2 slogan. It was a reminder to military people to be cautious and guarded about telling others what they know. Even if the slightest word got out about military plans, the results could be tragic.

We’re called here to be thoughtful and careful about our words. Here are some of the phrases:

·      “whoever restrains his lips is prudent…”

·      “Whoever guards his mouth preserves his life”

·      “Whoever restrains his words has knowledge”

·      “Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble.”

Being careful means asking yourself these questions:

Are my words necessary? Am I adding value to the situation I’m in? When I am speaking, am I being fully honest about everything I am saying? Will my words diffuse and help a situation, or will they throw gas on the fire? Here’s a hard one to ask yourself: When I am talking about something, am I talking as if I know more than I really know? In other words, am I being honest about the extent of my knowledge?

There are so many ways in which we just haphazardly talk and talk and talk without caution and thoughtfulness about what we are saying and how we are saying it.

But when you are thoughtful… do you know what will happen? When your words are careful, knowing the situation in which you are speaking, knowing what you are speaking about, and being sensitive to those with whom you are speaking, then your words will be gold and silver. Look at Proverbs 25:11 “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.”

Honestly, this has been an area for me where I’ve come a long way, but I have a long way to go. You can ask my sisters about my thoughtless words when we were all young, and I’m sure they would agree (maybe too much). And beyond them, I’ve felt convicted over the years about being insensitive or at times too direct about what I think.

To be sure, I think being clear and straightforward is often helpful, but it can be done in a loving manner. I’ve had to learn the hard way at times. When I get frustrated at something, I still find myself reverting back to those thoughtless tendencies.

These Proverbs today have been a good reminder to me about being mindful of my words.

Ok, that’s the first category. Being thoughtful and careful with our words compared with being thoughtless and careless with them.


2. Are your words wise or worthless?

This next category takes us deeper into the content of our words. Are your words wise or wicked?

Honestly, this is where all of our Proverbs study comes to bear. What do you say to someone who is searching or looking for guidance?

Or maybe they are not asking, but a situation has arisen, and you feel the responsibility to speak into their life. In other words, you are called to speak wisdom. Let me put it this way. We’re called to speak in wisdom …with wisdom…. what we say and how we say it.

Several phrases here capture that.

·      Proverbs 10:32 for example. “The lips of the righteous know what is acceptable.” Speaking in wisdom is discerning how to say something knowing what is appropriate in the situation.

·      Proverbs 16:21 is another one that captures this: “The wise of heart is called discerning, and sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness.”

·      Or I think my favorite… 18:4 “The words of a man's mouth are deep waters; the fountain of wisdom is a bubbling brook.”

Wise words bring peace and unity and give guidance. There are a few others that are similar.

What is the opposite? The opposite is wicked or foolish or worthless. Actually, the word captured here is “perverse.”

It’s used three times as the contrast to being wise and gentle. 15:4 is an example “A gentle tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit.” The Hebrew meaning of perverse is to confuse or warp what is true or good. You are perverting wisdom into worthless wickedness.

Alright, I want to take you back in time… to about the year 480 BC.

At that time, Persia was in control of the lands of Judah and Israel. Some of the Babylonian exiles had returned to Jerusalem and surrounding regions, however, most of God’s people were still scattered throughout the whole region.

And at that time, the king of Persia, Xerxes, appointed a new queen – Esther was her name. She was young and beautiful and wise. And she was Jewish. But the king did not know of her heritage nor much about her people.

But the king’s second in command, Haman, knew about the Jews. In fact, Haman hated the Jews. And so, he schemed and crafted a plot to have the Jewish people annihilated. He went to the king and to use the words of Proverbs, he perverted the truth.

He described the Jewish people as unlawful and dishonoring to the king and his kingdom. And with his words, Haman riled up King Xerxes in order to have them destroyed. The king gave Haman his signet ring with full authority to do whatever he wished.

And so, Haman issued a decree, in the kings name, that on a certain day, all Jews were to be killed – including the young and old, women and children.

It’s hard to even imagine the grief that Queen Esther felt over this decree… nor the risk to her own life. But the Lord gave her wisdom.

With a profound sensitivity, she went to the king.

She didn’t blurt out her outrage at Haman nor demand that the decree be rescinded. No, she recognized Xerxes earthly power with a thoughtful appeal. If it pleased him, she asked, would he give her an opportunity to present a request.

Her words were gracious and thoughtful. The timing of her words were wise. Have you ever thought about that? Being wise with your words is more than what you say, and how you say it, it’s also when you say it.

And so, Esther prepared a banquet to honor the king and to present her request.

The time had come, the banquet started. Haman was there with the king.

And here’s what she said… by the way, quoting directly from the book of Esther, chapter 7.  “If I have found favor in your sight, O king, and if it please the king, let my life be granted me for my wish, and my people for my request. For we have been sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be killed, and to be annihilated. If we had been sold merely as slaves, men and women, I would have been silent, for our affliction is not to be compared with the loss to the king.”

Words of wisdom, spoken with wisdom, at a time of wisdom.

The king was grieved and angry and responded, “Who is he, and where is he, who has dared to do this?” And Esther identified the very man in the kings presence… the evil Haman.

Well, it didn’t take long for the king put a quick end to Haman’s life… and he issued a new decree that would save the lives of  God’s people.

Words of wisdom by Esther contrasted with words of wickedness by Haman. His words ultimately brough his own destruction.

Proverbs 10:31 “The mouth of the righteous brings forth wisdom, but the perverse tongue will be cut off.”

Let me say, even if you are unsure at times what to say, will you seek out wisdom? And in wisdom, will you speak what is right and true versus what is perverse?

3. Are your words helpful or harmful?

So. Are your words thoughtful or thoughtless. That was number 1. Are they wise or wicked. Number 2. And now Number 3: Are your words helpful or harmful?

By the way, all of these questions relate, of course. This one is about whether you are ministering to others through your words. Are you seeking to be a blessing? Or, are your words hurtful?

Proverbs 12:18 captures this one. “There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”

Our words can hurt. You know that expression, “sticks and stones may break my bones… but words will never hurt me.” We all know, it’s not true. Words can be very painful. And we are naturally good, in our sinfulness, at dishing it out.

Kids… Many of you have brothers or sisters. If not, you have classmates. Isn’t it really easy to be ugly with your words? It’s really easy to say something mean, intentionally mean. Boys and girls, you both do it. And it escalates, doesn’t it?… Your brother or classmate says to you “you are funny looking”… and then you say back, “well, you are dumb.” And it goes back and forth, getting worse and worse.

And deep down it hurts, doesn’t it? And none of it is honoring to God.

What should you do instead? We’re to lift one another up with words of encouragement. Instead of tearing down, we’re to build each other up with words of love…

We should especially encourage one another in difficult times.

Every single one of us in life goes through times of discouragement or disappointment or some kind of relational pain. We grieve. We’re anxious. We weep and lament. We doubt and fear and despair. This is the human condition in the world in which we live.

And in those moments of life, there is nothing more powerful than a word that lifts us up. A word that ministers to our souls. Oh, how good and pleasant it is.

Over and over in these Proverbs, we’re told of the deep blessing of words that minister to our souls.

·      The very first Proverbs in our list tells us that our words should be… “a fountain of life.”

·      Here’s another one… “Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.”

·      Proverbs 12:25 “Anxiety in a man's heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad.”

These are the kind of words that we need in those moments.

But let me also say, we should not only be receivers of these words of healing, but we should be givers of words that bring life.

And the most important word that you can give in those times, and really any time, is the word of life.

The deepest encouragement that you can give is to minster the Gospel of grace. Your words can give the hope of Jesus in times of despair. In times of uncertainty, you can minister the certainty of Christ. When someone is burdened by their sin in whatever ways, you can speak about the love of God and the forgiveness and honor that he gives by faith.

Yes, all those things I mentioned up font demonstrate the power of words. The creation of nations – the binding power of vows – the persuasion of peoples for a cause.

But there’s something even more powerful that words convey - they convey the Gospel.

·      God uses our words and his Word, the Scriptures, to proclaim the name of Jesus – the one name under heaven whereby we must be saved.

·      God uses words to convey his truth and life.

·      Through words, God reveals himself. I am not saying that God only uses words to reveal himself. No, he also uses his creation all around us that testify to himself and truth, but words are the primary way through which we can know him and the hope and grace that he offers through Christ.

Jesus said it this way… “man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” God’s word gives and sustains life.

In fact, God’s word creates all things. That is how central God’s word is. In Genesis chapter 1, God spoke and creation came into being. Over and over, “God said.”

“God said let there be light” and there was. “God said let the earth sprout vegetation” … and it did. “God said, let the waters swarm with living creatures” and “let the earth bring forth living creatures…” and it was so. And he said, “let us make man in our image.” And he did.

And that word, God’s Word, who spoke all things into existence, is Christ. God the Son is the Word of God. Through him, God created all things and reveals all things. And as we read earlier in the service, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”

We can know God’s Word because we can know Jesus Christ. He has revealed himself to us so that we may reveal him to others.

Coleman made a keen observation in our Proverbs podcast this week. It is the Holy Spirit through which God’s Word is communicated. The Holy Spirit carried along the authors of the Scriptures to give us God’s Word. He is the comforter who works through the Word to minister God’s grace in us. He is called the Spirit of wisdom and truth because he gives us the wisdom of Christ. And if I could add to that, he works through us, so that our words can convey the wisdom and comfort of Christ.

Here’s the summary:

Proverbs is teaching us to be the conduit of God’s Word. We are channels through the Holy Spirit, to minister God’s Word. I’m including all the positive things that these proverbs speak of. Thoughtful and careful words that align with the principles of God’s Word. Wise words that convey the truth and righteousness found in God’s Words. And words that minister and heal as we speak of God’s love and grace in Christ Jesus, who is the Word of God.

Let me leave you with this: Proverbs 18:21 “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.” And the question is, will you eat the fruit of God’s Word and will it transform your words?