Proverbs 15:4

A wholesome tongue is a tree of life: but perverseness therein is a breach in the spirit.

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Does your speech nourish others or cut them? King Solomon commended the value of wholesome speech and condemned the damage done by perverse speech. If you crave wisdom to bless others’ lives, God has sent understanding from heaven for you. Noble speech nourishes the lives of others, but perverse speech can break their hearts. By your speech, you are either a tree of life to them or a breach in their spirit.

What do others think when you talk? Are they delighted with pleasure and rewarded with profit? Are your words the helpful words of truth and wisdom? Do you edify your hearers with kind and uplifting speech? Are family and friends strengthened by your gracious words? Do you motivate others to godliness and zeal? Are they thankful to have you around? Are you asked for advice from many quarters? Do you cause hearts to sing?

Or is your speech contrary, discouraging, and offensive? Do others consider you irritating and avoid you because of your mouth? Are family and friends tired of your foolish talking, jesting, criticizing, or whining? Do you leave hearers bleeding from sarcastic cuts and defeated by negative comments? Are others angry about your regular backbiting and talebearing? Are you known as seldom being cheerful or thankful?

You are either a tree of life to others or a breach in their spirit. You either heal and help with your words, or you hurt and injure. You either instruct and uplift, or you corrupt and offend. “Death and life are in the power of the tongue: and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof” (Pr 18:21). You can be a tree of life, providing kind and useful words to help others, or you can cause a breach in their spirit, discouraging and hurting them.

A wholesome tongue is a metonym for good and helpful speech. Such a man speaks carefully for pleasure and profit of hearers. He has a healthful effect on them (Pr 12:18). Every person can benefit that hears him speak. He chooses his words carefully from a pure heart, says no more than necessary, and seeks to improve every person he addresses. He never wastes words in foolish banter or uses them to hurt. He studies before answering, and he knows the certain words of truth for answers (Pr 15:28; 22:17-21).

He is a tree of life. Here is a powerful metaphor. He provides the fruit of knowledge and wisdom to others by his words (Pr 10:21; 11:30; 15:7). Wise men love him and his words (Pr 22:11; 24:26). They know his advice, counsel, instruction, reproofs, and warnings make them better. He gives knowledge to many, and men crave his words. The simple pursue him, for he teaches them wisdom; the wise seek him, for he makes them yet wiser.

But a perverse tongue represents corrupt and evil speech that hurts and injures others (Pr 12:18). This critical, filthy, foolish, haughty, or whining person is offensive to all good men. He or she irritates and offends hearers, for words are poorly chosen, the occasion inappropriate, the motives selfish, the content evil, and the effect destructive. Yet he keeps on talking. He is impossible to shut up. He spouts foolish answers to questions, sows discord among friends, and promotes sin among listeners (Pr 6:19; 15:2,28; 18:13).

What are the consequences of a perverse tongue? Instead of being a tree of life by giving health and wisdom to others, it creates a breach in their spirit by its corrupt words. What is a breach in the spirit? A broken, corrupted, damaged, or injured heart! A corrupt tongue works ruin (Pr 6:14; 12:18; 25:18,20; 26:28; I Cor 15:33). Many wives and children have been hurt and scarred by a cruel tongue. Many others have had reputations destroyed, relationships ruptured, hope lost, and wisdom forfeited by perverse speech.

A man married to such a woman is in a terrible calamity (Pr 30:21-23). He is pained and tortured at home (Pr 19:13; 21:9,19; 25:24), and he is shamed and disgraced in public (Pr 12:4; 25:15-16). It would be better to camp alone in the wilderness than to be stuck with his cruel wife. Many men have been slowly bludgeoned to death in their spirit by an overbearing, nagging, questioning, and suggesting woman. Cemeteries, hunt clubs, hobby shops, and overtime rosters are filled with these men. They avoid the house at all costs!

But a gracious woman, with a mouth speaking kindness and wisdom, is adored and honored by all (Pr 11:16; 31:26). She is incredibly rare, and she is sought after by all wise men. Young man, take heed, your future happiness or pain is at stake. Young woman, it is a meek and quiet spirit directing your tongue that is most beautifying (I Pet 3:3-4). Forget the false glamour of hair, makeup, and clothing. Cultivate this precious spirit.

Parent, you must show, teach, and enforce a wholesome tongue in your children. If this were done, there would be more trees of life. You must eliminate Hollywood’s arrogance, jesting, filth, disrespect, and sarcasm. Children do not have a right to say what they think. They have a duty to think and say what is right. Require your children to speak to you with great respect and to each other with constant kindness and helpfulness. Where are the mothers that once washed children’s mouths with soap for breaking either rule?

Before you get worked up about teaching and enforcing your children to use wholesome speech, make sure you show them how to do it every day by your own speech. The Bible warns about fathers who discourage their children, and it is the overbearing, criticizing, short, and harsh speech of fathers that have sliced many a child’s heart (Col 3:21). Think carefully about your boss or adversary speaking to you the same way.

How will you speak to your spouse today? How will you address your subordinates, colleagues, or superiors at work? How will you talk to your children or your parents? Put a guard before your lips, and do not speak unless you have something healthful and wholesome to say that will make your hearers better by the sounds in their ears. Your reputation depends on what you say today. Are you a tree of life or a breach in the spirit?

This proverb has another lesson: your mouth can only say what is in your heart (Matt 12:33-37; 15:18-20). If you have not thought it, you will not say it. You cannot correct your speech without correcting your heart. A pure heart forms gracious speech that delights even kings (Pr 22:11). Therefore, keeping your heart is a priority (Pr 4:23). All sins begin in the heart, and this is true of perverse speech as well (Jas 1:13-16; 3:1-18).

No one spoke like Jesus of Nazareth (Is 50:4; Luke 4:22). His enemies admitted He had no peer (John 7:46). He caused the hearts of good men to burn with understanding and joy (Luke 24:32). The common people heard him gladly (Matt 12:37). Every minister is bound to follow His holy example (II Tim 1:13; Titus 2:7-8). Those called to preach the gospel of God must not pollute it with the folly of man. The jokes, anecdotes, and antics now common in the pulpit are a disgrace to Jesus Christ and sound speech.

God gave you a tongue to glorify Him and help others (Ps 30:12; 108:1; Mal 3:16; I Thess 5:14; Heb 10:24-25). Boasting in the Lord and magnifying Him is a grand way to honor God and uplift others (Ps 34:1-3). Will your funeral be cause to reflect on how your tongue was a tree of life to many, or a breach of the spirit to many? Will there be grief for the loss of your words? Or relief that your negative and stinging tongue is gone?

You can have a wholesome tongue and be a tree of life to others. First, your heart must be pure before God, your mind must be filled with His words, and you must learn the wise rules for speech that are contained in the Bible (Pr 16:23; Ps 19:7-11; Eph 4:29; Col 4:6). The choice is yours, but you will answer for your choice to both God and men.