The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life… Proverbs 10:11
I knew someone many years ago who had a wonderful singing voice. She reminded me of the American folk singer Joan Baez; like her, she accompanied herself on the guitar. Everyone who ever heard her, in church or wherever, agreed that she was really used by God. There was only one problem – persuading her to get up and sing was hard work! For some reason I was never quite able to fathom – perhaps she was just too humble – she seemed reluctant to make use of her gift. It was really frustrating.
Gifts are there to be used, not sat on. Jesus told us to “let our light shine” before the world, not to hide it away – as long, of course, as our motive is to give glory to God.
“Well,” you could say, “this is no doubt true, but it doesn’t really apply to me – I don’t have any particular gifts, and certainly my singing wouldn’t be a blessing to anybody!” Well, maybe (though the Bible does in fact tell us that we all have various God-given gifts). But this verse from Proverbs alerts us to one potentially massive gift that we all have – the tongue. Virtually all of us can talk.
You could paraphrase Proverbs 10:11 much more matter-of-factly: The way a true Christian speaks does real good to everyone who hears. But that’s pretty plodding, and the writer prefers to use the poetic image of the fountain. I’m glad he does. Of course we shouldn’t think of some ornamental fountain such as you find in the gardens of a big country house. No, this is a natural spring, clear and cold, invigorating and refreshing, that bubbles up from the ground in a dry, parched country. It’s not just nice to look at; it really could be the difference between life and death for some worn out traveller.
Do you see your mouth, your tongue, in this way? Have you ever thought that when you go out to work, or wherever, you can make a big difference to people’s lives just by the way you speak? Truly, you can bring light, love, hope and peace to someone in trouble. Or perhaps a word of warning to someone in moral danger. Even a word of rebuke to someone acting wrongly. You could – and I mean this absolutely literally – be used to change someone’s life for ever.
Our world is awash with words. Many of them, sadly, are ugly and destructive. Angry. Harsh. Lying. Violent. Crude. Mocking. Critical. Vulgar. This is human nature, just one of the many forms sin takes in our fallen world.
So what a difference it makes when someone comes along who guards his or her mouth, and aims that every word they ever speak should be under the lordship of God’s Holy Spirit. Words of truth and kindness, forgiveness and care, sensitivity and love, cheerfulness and good humour. No lies. No lashing out. No inappropriate humour. No snidy sarcasm or smart-alec comments. And why shouldn’t that “someone” be you or me?
Jesus’ brother James expands on this at length in chapter 3 of his letter in the New Testament. His emphasis is more negative than positive: how hard it is to control the tongue, “a restless evil, full of deadly poison”. It’s well worth thinking about – why not have a look at it?
But I think Proverbs 10:11 isn’t too bad to be going on with. If it changes the way we open our mouths today it will have done some good.
Lord, forgive the often careless and sometimes sinful way I open my mouth. Please help me to grasp my tongue’s potential for great good. Please make it a real “fountain of life” today. Amen.