The book of wisdom says, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” (Proverbs 18:21). I understand this scripture to mean that we have the power to speak words to others unto life or words unto death, so we should choose our words carefully. If we love to talk, we better make sure our speech represents who we are because we become what we speak (eat your words). Our words are death and life to our own bodies.
I keep coming back to the issue of the heart. I know we need to have a heart for God if we desire to be with him and his son in the Kingdom of God. But how do we really know if we have a heart for God? The heart can be seen in the things we do that correspond with Jesus’ commandments (love) that we must do to enter in. Works are fruit but works can be deceiving if the heart behind the works is not motivated by love. Mathew 7:15 – 23 says:
15 “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? 17 So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 So then, you will know them by their fruits.
21 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. 22 Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’
The people speaking to Jesus in this passage are shocked that Jesus doesn’t know them. The works mentioned in this passage do outwardly appear to be good fruit. Fruit can look good on the outside but can be rotten on the inside.
It can be difficult to identify bad fruit sometimes. If you really want to know if you’re producing good fruit or not, there is one particular fruit that’s pretty transparent, at least to the people we’re around the most. Our words are a good indication of what’s in our hearts.
Here’s a similar passage from Luke’s perspective in Luke 6:43-47:
43 For there is no good tree which produces bad fruit, nor, on the other hand, a bad tree which produces good fruit. 44 For each tree is known by its own fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they pick grapes from a briar bush. 45 The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart.
46 “Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? 47 Everyone who comes to Me and hears My words and acts on them, I will show you whom he is like:
Jesus has a little more to say about the mouth in Mathew 12:30-37:
30“He who is not with Me is against Me; and he who does not gather with Me scatters.
31“Therefore I say to you, any sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven people, but blasphemy against the Spirit shall not be forgiven. 32“Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come.
33“Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for the tree is known by its fruit. 34“You brood of vipers, how can you, being evil, speak what is good? For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. 35“The good man brings out of his good treasure what is good; and the evil man brings out of his evil treasure what is evil. 36“But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment. 37“For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”
James gives us even more clarity about the power of our speech in chapter 3:5-12:
5 So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things. See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire! 6 And the tongue is a fire, the very world of unrighteousness; the tongue is set among our body’s parts as that which defiles the whole body and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell. 7 For every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by the human race. 8 But no one among mankind can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people, who have been made in the likeness of God; 10 from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, these things should not be this way. 11 Does a spring send out from the same opening both fresh and bitter water? 12 Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters, bear olives, or a vine bear figs? Nor can salt water produce fresh.
Are you noticing as I am that some of the scariest, most convicting verses in the bible for a supposed Christian regard our speech? We must tame our tongue. To tame the tongue we must change our hearts.
By examining our own words, we can tell if we have a heart for God or not. I think it’s a really good indication about our destiny too. If you really want to know if you are producing good fruity speech, ask those who are closest to you how they perceive your speech towards them. If they aren’t on the receiving end of your good fruity speech, that’s not good. Be prepared with your response. If you don’t like what you hear, how will you respond? Choose your words wisely.
If you know you will have trouble responding with good fruit, prune your speech! You might find it helpful to practice not saying anything at all. Proverbs is chock-full of verses that tell us that there is wisdom in keeping our mouths closed. Even a silent fool is considered wise if he keeps his mouth shut. We can use that silent time to pray for wisdom and words of life and in the meantime, practice our sacrifice of praise to God, which is the fruit of our lips that give thanks to his name.
Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – 1 Chronicles 3-4 and Proverbs 18