“…I am purposed that my mouth shall not transgress” (Ps 17: 3)
If you work law enforcement, have ever been arrested or watched a crime show, you will be familiar with the title. The Fifth Amendment to the constitution of the United States gives everyone a right to protect themselves, not by use of a weapon, unlike the Second Amendment, but by keeping their mouths shut! The Book of Proverbs gives us a lot of instructions on a godly way of life but the one that intrigues me the most are its instructions on the use of the tongue.
In our criminal justice system, a person is condemned by evidence of guilt, or better still, his admission of guilt. A person can confess to an act or be proven guilty by substantive proofs which may include deed or speech. That means a person’s mouth or words can doom him. In much the same way, a person can, with the use of his mouth/ words, vindicate himself. That is why Jesus himself said “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matt 12: 36, 37).
Many times, this insightful Book of Wisdom, as well as many others, shows us how wise it is to be quiet in the face of hostility, contention and in fact, ignorance. Many of us do not know the value of our words and the prudence in being silent, not speaking too hastily and speaking at appropriate times: “…let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (Jas 1: 19). It is important to know that as Christians, the words of our mouths carry a lot of power “In the tongue is the power of life and death” (Pro18: 21).
The Bible tells us that the Lord, God created the world by his Word. Many other instances in scripture point us to the uses and ability of the tongue; to pronounce blessings and curses and to confess the Lord unto salvation. The messiah’s own brother, James, in his epistle points out that though the tongue may be small; its capabilities far outweigh it. This casts focus on the need to always have the tongue in check. He goes further to say that if a person can keep his tongue from causing him to sin, such a person is not far from perfection (Jas 3: 2- 8). For this reason, the Psalmist says “Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips” (Ps 141: 3). “I will watch my ways and keep my tongue from sin… (Ps 39: 1). It thus becomes imperative that wisdom must be exercised in the use of the tongue. “The one who has knowledge uses words with restraint…” (Prov. 17: 27). Many times we are lucky and we catch ourselves before saying something stupid. Oftentimes, however, we are there before we realize it. Borrowing another instance from the criminal justice system; whenever a notorious criminal is brought into a courtroom, regardless of the presence of law enforcement, he/she is also harnessed; bound hands and feet. This mitigates against any acts of violence and ensures the safety of others in the courtroom. Sometimes, when we realize the power of the tongue, such measures should not be seen as excessive. We have to keep the tongue in check and under guard by any means necessary (see James 3).
Furthermore, another way we can run afoul of God in the use of our tongue is in how fast we often use it. Jephthah, the warrior and judge of Israelite was quick to make a vow unto the Lord before going out to war against the Ammonites without giving any thought to the implication of his utterance (Jud.11: 31-35). He would eventually lose his only daughter, also an only child to the error of his tongue. “Do you see someone who speaks in haste? There is more hope for a fool than for them” (Prov. 29: 20).
“Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few…many words mark the speech of a fool” (Eccl. 5: 2, 3). When words are many, sin is not absent (Prov. 10: 19). Therefore watch your tongue and your speech. Use your mouths with discretion and ensure that only what you want God and man to hear proceeds forth out of it. Apply your heart unto wisdom and let words rich in insight roll off your tongue. Out of the mouth proceeds the wealth of the heart. So while you work on getting your heart to that place where it is rich and abundant in godly things, keep your mouth shut or at best keep it working in slow motion! “The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life…” (Prov. 10: 11).