Think about the power of words for a moment.
Business deals are won or lost so many times not by the product we sell but by the words that we use in the deal. Company stock goes up and down based on just what people say about what’s going on there. Problems with neighbors or in the office are either resolved or just blow up because of certain words that are spoken.
How do most friendships start? They start with words people say, simple words. Love relationships are born many times by certain words spoken, and many times they’re broken apart by words, too. Family relationships can be repaired or ripped apart, sometimes by a single conversation or phrase or word that is spoken. Our self-image can be built up or demolished by words.
So when God says in Proverbs 18:21, “The tongue has the power of life and death,” He’s not exaggerating. I like how The Message re-words that verse: “Words kill; words give life. They’re either poison or fruit—you choose.”
You and I hold the power of poison and of life-giving fruit in us all the time—and it’s up to us how they will be used. That’s especially important for us as husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, grandfathers and grandmothers, sons and daughters, siblings, bosses, employees, and friends.
So how do we make sure our words are fruit, and not poison? The Bible gives us a clue in a prayer offered to God: “Set a guard over my mouth, Oh Lord, keep watch over the door of my lips.” (Psalm 141:3) God commands us to “set the watch” over our words, and what a powerful metaphor that is. Think of all the times in life that you wished you had a watch or a gate guarding words that are about to escape from your mouth. Then think of all the times you wish someone else had that guard.
Scripture shows us three important guards that God wants us to set over our mouths.
Guard the lips
Guard No. 1 comes from Proverbs 13:3:
“He who guards his lips guards his life. But he who speaks rashly will come to ruin.”
Guard No. 1 guards against rash words. How many times have you said something then decided later that you spoke too quickly? You wish you’d taken more time and thought it through before you responded? But it’s too late, and it’s done. Without a guard to stop rash words from passing, it’s going to happen. Many times rash words are grouchy, irritable words. But the consequences of rash words can be much broader than hurt feelings.
They can, for instance, commit us to something that could be ruinous, such as saying yes to a business deal or an investment or a job change. Don’t say yes too soon, before you’ve thought about it, prayed about, got input from people you trust and respect.
In the New Testament, James (Jesus’ brother) said it like this: Everyone of you should be quick to listen, and slow to speak (James 1:19). And that’s a strong guard against rash words. Let’s challenge each other to ask God to help us do exactly that: to be much quicker to listen and much slower to speak in our marriages, in our jobs, with our kids, with our friends. Imagine how much of an impact that alone could have!
The guard of forgiveness
Here’s another guard we need, Guard No. 2. Have you ever seen the redwood trees in Sequoia National Forest in northern California? They are incredible. Just to look at them they seem indestructible. One fascinating thing about these trees is that their rings reveal the history of that tree year by year; when there was a terrible drought, or if it was struck by lightning, or ever damaged by a forest fire. All this history lies embedded behind the bark of the great redwood—out of sight—in the heart of the tree. That’s the way it is with humanity. By the world’s standards, we can show up looking very successful, very accomplished. But just a few inches beneath the protective bark, are recorded the rings of our lives:
…parents who didn’t come through for us
…a spouse or a love that gave up on us
…the year when like a bolt of lightning the boss handed you the pink slip
…someone you trusted, but shouldn’t have
Within our rings are daily thoughts and emotions—and it’s hard not to sometimes be bitter. So we rehearse our speeches. We make up insults in our minds for people who’ve hurt us or wronged us. So what do you do with bitterness? Forty-fives times in the Bible we are warned about bitterness.
You tear yourself to pieces with bitterness — (Job 18:4)
A wise man restrains his anger and overlooks insults. This is to his credit… —(Proverbs 19:11)
When Jesus was on the cross, He looked at the people who condemned him to death and then tortured him, and as they were slowly, deliberately killing him, he says what? “Father, forgive them, they don’t even realize what they are doing.” Let’s commit to constantly asking God, “Set a guard over my mouth, Oh Lord, keep watch over the door of my lips, that bitter words may never pass.”
The guard of blessing
Guard No. 3 is more proactive. Have you ever had a special pass, like to a VIP section somewhere or back-stage? It always feels really cool to get past the crowds and the guards or bouncers. Guards don’t just keep things out, they also let some things pass through. The third guard that we need for our words is a guard that knows what things to let pass, and makes sure they get through. We need to have a guard set on our lips to make sure that words of blessing do get through. In the book of Hebrews we find these words: Encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today — (Hebrews 3:13).
See what that is saying?
If the day you’re in is considered Today, then seize that day and encourage the people around you. Speak words of blessing. Don’t wait until tomorrow or the next day, thinking you’ll have a chance to do it later. Take every chance you get to encourage, to build up and to bless each other with your words.
Our world may say “talk is cheap,” but our God, in His wisdom, reminds us that our words can be either poison or fruit; they can be destructive or life-giving. As we strive to be godly, let’s commit to asking our God daily to set these watches on our lips, that these guards can watch over our words. And let’s see how life-changing that can be for us, and how life-giving it can be for others.
— by Moss Carter
Moss Carter is an author, speaker, and campus pastor for Newbreak Church.