In chapter 3, James writes of the dangers our mouth can get us into. "How great a forest is burnt with a little fire". He speaks of the difficulty in controlling our tongues, going so far to say that no one can do so -- and obvious exaggeration as he then instructs us to learn to control it. Controlling what we say and how we say it being a big part of wisdom, is it any wonder that Proverbs devotes more space to this subject than any other except the need for wisdom itself? There are at least 86 passages in Proverbs dealing with proper control of what we say. So many, in fact, that I originally did two sermons on the subject, rather than one, and will write two posts on the subject.
Prov. 10:11a "The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life. . ."
Prov. 10:14b ". . . the mouth of a fool brings ruin near."
The first thing to think about is Proverbs' contrast of the mouth of the wise, righteous man with that of the foolish (and possibly wicked) man. The outcomes of each are telling.
Prov. 10:21 "The lips of the righteous feed many, but fools die for lack of sense."
Prov. 12:13 "An evil man is ensnared by the transgression of his lips, but the righteous escapes from trouble."
Prov. 18:6-7 "A fool's lips walk into a fight, and his mouth invites a beating. A fool's mouth is his ruin, and his lips are a snare to his soul."
The mouth of the wise, righteous man is a fountain of life that feeds many and helps him escape from trouble. The mouth of the foolish man brings ruin near, leads him to be ensnared for his crimes, and invites a beating. So that leads to an obvious question: How do I obtain and maintain a righteous mouth?
Prov. 17:27 "Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding."
The first answer to keeping my mouth righteous is to keep it closed. Abraham Lincoln once said that it is better to be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt. Solomon said something similar:
Prov. 17:28 "Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent."
You can't possibly make any dumb mistakes with what you say if you don't say anything. How often do we just ramble on unthinkingly and then realize we just put our foot into our mouth?
Prov. 10:19 "When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent."
Prov. 13:3 "Whoever guards his mouth preserves his life; he who opens wide his lips comes to ruin."
The more we speak, the greater chance of transgressing, but we preserve our lives if we guard our mouths.
Prov. 18:13 "If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame."
If someone asks us a question, we need to think before we answer. We especially need to hear the whole question before we answer. Do you know anyone who is always finishing your sentences for you? Occasionally, you are asking a question and they assume they know what you are going to ask and then answer the wrong question because they didn't listen, right? And then you either laugh at them or get irked. It is his folly and shame.
Prov. 21:23 "Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble."
Prov. 29:20 "Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him."
One of the major themes in Proverbs is how much Solomon dislikes fools. So for him to say that there is more hope for a fool than a man who is hasty in his words is a very strong statement. So, the first lesson in how to have a righteous mouth is to keep it closed and to think very carefully before we decide to open it.
The second lesson should be second nature to Christians. A righteous mouth is an honest mouth.
Prov. 24:26 "Whoever gives an honest answer kisses the lips."
Prov. 12:19 "Truthful lips endure forever, but a lying tongue is but for a moment."
Prov. 14:25 "A truthful witness saves lives, but one who breathes out lies is deceitful."
The liar may gain status for a bit, but the honest man with truthful lips is the one who endures. The truthful man saves lives and his answer is like a kiss on the lips. The righteous mouth is an honest mouth.
A righteous mouth is also graceful.
Prov. 15:26 "The thoughts of the wicked are an abomination to the LORD, but gracious words are pure."
Prov. 16:24 "Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body."
If grace is unmerited favor then gracious words are kind, gentle words spoken to someone even if they aren't owed. Even if they deserve worse. These are words that bring people back together, rather than extending the fight. These are words that heal and bring "sweetness to the soul". These are words that a righteous mouth utters.
A righteous mouth is also kind.
Prov. 12:18 "There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing."
Prov. 15:4 "A gentle tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit."
Instead of striking again with the sword, our tongues should bring healing to the situation. Our tongues can be like the tree of life or they can break someone's spirit. Guess which is righteous? Before we speak, we need to consider what is kind.
A righteous mouth is righteous because it is thoughtful.
Prov. 10:32 "The lips of the righteous know what is acceptable, but the mouth of the wicked, what is perverse."
Prov. 15:23 "To make an apt answer is a joy to a man, and a word in season, how good it is!"
Prov. 15:28 "The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things."
If we take a moment to think, we know what is acceptable to say. Of course, it isn't only what is said, but how it is phrased and even when it is said that makes it good or not. The apt answer, not just correct but apt, brings joy. The word spoken in the correct time is good. A kind of silly example is Prov. 27:14 "Whoever blesses his neighbor with a loud voice, rising early in the morning, will be counted as cursing." This man is bestowing a blessing, which is good and kind, but he is doing it at the wrong time. That early morning blessing might as well be a curse as far at the recipient is concerned. (This reminds me of when Dad used to call me just to chat at 7:00 a.m. on mornings after I had to close Publix and hadn't gotten to sleep until 2:00 a.m. While I was happy Dad wanted to chat, I wasn't so happy at the timing and eventually unplugged my phone before going to bed.) Also, the righteous man ponders, takes the time to think, before answering questions. He knows his answers could affect another's life, and so he doesn't answer flippantly or too quickly. He thinks before he speaks.
Finally, the righteous mouth teaches others wisdom.
Prov. 10:11 "The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life, but the mouth of the wicked conceals violence."
Prov. 10:20-21 "The tongue of the righteous is choice silver; the heart of the wicked is of little worth. The lips of the righteous feed many, but fools die for lack of sense."
Prov. 25:12 "Like a gold ring or an ornament of gold is a wise reprover to a listening ear."
Prov. 10:31 "The mouth of the righteous brings forth wisdom, but the perverse tongue will be cut off."
The mouth of the wise righteous man is a fountain of life, is choice silver, is like a gold ring, and brings forth wisdom. There is value (gold, silver) to what he says. It will help you live better. It teaches wisdom. This is how a person with a righteous mouth uses his mouth.
So I can use my mouth to help people, to teach wisdom, and to be kind, or I can use it to hurt others, to cause division and strife. It takes effort to control, but I can maintain a righteous mouth.
Prov. 11:11 "By the blessing of the upright a city is exalted, but by the mouth of the wicked it is overthrown."