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Walter on Good Talk

January 23, 2005

Dear Paul,

Last week I wrote about the tongue - especially all the hurt one man's words can do to another. I said a tongue could be a match, a blow torch or a flame thrower - starting fires all over the place, big or small, through over-talk, gossip and lies. I felt kind of bad addressing all these evil practices and leaving it at that, but I think it reflects the amount of attention God gives to this kind of speech in His Word.

Of course, that is not all He has to say! Death AND life are in the power of the tongue ( 18:21 ). A gun may kill man or save him - it's the hand that holds it that determines its use. One man uses the weapon to murder... another man uses it to fend off a ferocious bear. It's the same weapon, its just that to one it is life and to another it is death. Our tongue is the same... we can choose to flap our lips in a way that gives life or in a way that kills.

Like Jesus made clear, the real issue is what is in our hearts. If lies and gossip and over-talk is all that rolls off our tongue, that's because that is all that is in our heart. The mouth is a pipeline to the heart and that is why every careless word will be judged. What every one of us needs then is to look at our speech as a kind of thermometer on our spiritual condition. We need to look at what comes out of our mouth and ask, "What does this say about my heart?"

Like I said, we've already seen that there are plenty of rotten things we can do with our tongues. If that is all we do - we need to repent and ask the Lord to save us! But there are also some good things we can do with our mouth - and I want to look at a few of those today and ask if that is what characterizes us.

Old Solomon said that the "mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life" ( 10:11 ). I like that. Few things are as ugly as a well that belches out polluted water. It has all the appearances of refreshment and revitalization, but in the end it kills. A well that gurgles out a steady stream of cold, fresh water - now that is a sight for sore eyes... especially if it is in the middle of the desert! Christians ought to be an oasis in the desert of life and they'll do so by talking the right way.

First off, a good word is an encouraging word. When was the last time you were good and encouraged - where somebody just came up to you and thanked you or noted something about you that they appreciated? Why, it don't happen much to me and I doubt your mirrors talk, so it probably don't happen much to you either. Sure there are plenty of folk willing to tell us what is wrong with us, where we are failing, how we should change, what they would do if they were us, who we should try to be like, when it was we messed up... there is more criticism than birch trees in this world. But a Christian will be a reviving fountain if he only learns to say a few positive things. 

Proverbs 15:30   The light of the eyes rejoices the heart, and good news refreshes the bones.

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

I've seen 100 pound burdens roll off a man's back like they were a sack of feathers when an encouraging word is spoken to him. Besides everybody else telling us how wrong we're doing, we're generally quite active at it ourselves, filling up our heads with all kinds of accusations and justifications... then of course, there is the Devil, stoking that fire wherever he can and adding his own slanders and discouragements. Why, it's a wonder not more of us don't just wilt under the pressure! But, along comes a brother or a sister with words of encouragement... with no strings attached... and no response expected... and are bones quit aching and our step gets a bounce and suddenly the world doesn't seem so black and harsh a place anymore! The power of life is in the tongue!

Paul said it in black and white:

Ephesians 4:29  Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. 

Right there are some excellent fence posts to mark the territory of your speech. Everything we say ought to build up, fit the occasion and give grace! Wow! What a world it would be if we could all learn to talk to one another like that!

So, we've thought a little about encouraging words, but I want you to notice Paul's phrase: "as fits the occasion." 

Proverbs 27:14  Whoever blesses his neighbor with a loud voice, rising early in the morning, will be counted as cursing.

I'm all for being encouraged, but standing beneath my bedroom window at 3:00AM and shouting, "You've got the cleanest barn in the whole county, Walter!" Well, that kind of defeats the purpose! There is a time and place for everything, and part of growing wise in the things of the Lord is learning when that is. A man doesn't need to hear all about how you think he is the best thing since sliced bread while his barn is burning down. Now I suppose for some folks that seems kind of obvious - but there's enough Tom's telling jokes in the funeral parlor and Mary's saying "Your salad is best" in front of the other cook that speaking aptly deserves some consideration! 

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

Tell me where the water is during the drought, not after the flood. Let me know you liked that dinner right then, not 2 years later. Serve up your applause at the end of the concert, not the middle. Give your advice before I decide, not after.

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

Golden apples on a dirty paper plate lose some of their luster. A man needs to learn when to speak - not just what to speak. Fact is, you might save a brother from a heart attack!

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

Smiley faces and little notes only go so far - learn to be a woman who looks a sister in the eye and speaks words of life. Talk like that can go a long way to helping one another through the normal trials and difficulties of life.

So we need encouraging words and well-timed words. We also need to learn to have thankful words. Have you ever wondered at the lack of thanks in the world? People show up to work and feel grumpy. They sit down to lunch and never offer a prayer. They drive home in their warm cars without a twinge of gratitude they don't have to wait for a bus. Paul equates this unthankfulness with sexual impurity and off-colored jokes! That's right...

Ephesians 5:1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. 2  And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

3  But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. 4  Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. 5  For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.

We Christians ought to follow the lone leper and come back often to Jesus to give thanks. Why, everything good is from above which means every good thing in your life is a blessing from God. A man who spends so much time thinking about what he wishes he could have is forgetting to thank the Lord for what he does have. If Christians would learn to publicly thank God for good report cards, baskets scored, business profits, good health, work completed on time, and the like, they may even learn to thank Him for the trials and difficulties as well.

Now imagine that if the next time you played basketball you said, "Praise the Lord" every time you drained a basket. Or if you spoke out loud the words, "Thank you, Lord" when your test is handed back with a passing grade. Beautiful lips are covered in thanks, not speckled gloss. They're exploding with gratitude, not botox. Boys and girls should start early-on learning the words to this little poem:

If I will live the way I should

I'll learn to make my speaking good

With gratefulness to God above

Who well deserves my thanks and love

Encouraging, well-timed and thankful words... is this a sum of your vocal activity? The Bible also says we need to be gentle with our words. There are few things as nice as a gentle giant - some overgrown dog that wouldn't hurt a flea or a giant of a man who loves little kids. What is it we like about those things? I think a part of it is that sense of comfort and protection we get when we see power under control.

Proverbs 15:4  A gentle tongue is a tree of life...

Now a tree is a big and strong thing, but I still love to nap underneath it. You city folks may not know the joy of tree-napping... but I tell you there are few things as pleasant as a hard sleep mid-day under the shade of a great, old oak tree. There is a comfort to it that the best bed in the finest hotel could never match. There's also protection should a sudden thunderboomer sneak up unawares. A man's speech ought to be tree-like... full of gentle power that offers both comfort and protection.

Proverbs 25:15  With patience a ruler may be persuaded, and a soft tongue will break a bone. 

Only a fool thinks that yelling is powerful. On your home stereo system, you generally have a power button and a volume knob... but the two should not be confused. You can turn the power on and keep the volume low! Power is not in the volume of your words... but in meekness and in patience. A wise lumberjack learns to keep a steady pace and let the saw do the work. A wise man learns to speak clearly and gently and let the force of his argument - not the force of his yelling - do the persuading. If a woman could learn to turn down her volume and soften up her words, she might find she breaks the back of her husband's argument twice as fast. "One little word shall fell him!"

I think that is why Solomon said things like this:

Proverbs 25:24  It is better to live in a corner of the housetop than in a house shared with a quarrelsome wife. (repeated 21:19 )

Proverbs 27:15  A continual dripping on a rainy day and a quarrelsome wife are alike; 16  to restrain her is to restrain the wind or to grasp oil in one's right hand. 

Picking a fight rarely does any good - and if it does seem to do some good, it is usually not half the good most of us would think is good when best is always more than half the better option. No wonder then, King Lemuel's momma taught him:

Proverbs 31:10  An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels.

26  She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue

Let your speech be encouraging, well-timed, thankful and gentle.

Finally, it strikes me that the best talkers are usually the best listeners. Do you know what I mean?

Proverbs 12:15   The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.

Proverbs 13:1 A wise son hears his father's instruction, but a scoffer does not listen to rebuke

Proverbs 18:13   If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.

Proverbs 21:28   A false witness will perish, but the word of a man who hears will endure. 

A man who takes the time to listen is usually a man who has something worthwhile to say.

Proverbs 26:4  Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself.
5  Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes.

One of the things I've learned over the years is that talk is cheap. A man may fill up the best part of an hour with all kinds of words - but when you leave him you feel like you've just eaten 10 pounds of cotton candy. There was something there... but it all disappeared as fast as it came out. Some women are steam factories, blowing off lots of vapours, but with little to show for it at the end of the day. If you want to be around the best talkers, look for the less-talkers... they generally have more to say.

Proverbs 25:25  Like cold water to a thirsty soul, so is good news from a far country. 

There you have it. I urge all of us to grow in our speech and to have mouths full of encouraging, well-timed, thankful, gentle and thoughtful words. If more of us learned to talk this way, we end up doing a lot more good in the world than we presently do. Remember that your words have the power of life and death - and that Jesus will and has not forgotten a single idle word you have or will speak. We owe it to Him to have mouths overflowing with good words, don't we? And for that to happen, we need Him to give us a new and good heart.

Friends, let us pray much for each other!

Your Friend,


P.S. Tell my old friend Darren to be on the lookout for an early 1980's Ford ½ ton pick up. Old Betsy can't seem to handle the cold anymore.

P.P.S. Thanks for the card.