Giving God More of our Tongue

Title: Giving God More of our Tongue

Bible Book: Ecclesiastes 10 : 11-14

Author: Steve Wagers

Subject: Tongue; Speaking; Words



Justin Martyr said, “By examining the tongue of a patient, physicians find out the diseases of the body; philosophers find out the diseases of the mind; and, Christians find out the diseases of the soul.”

In a little English cemetery there is a tombstone that reads:

Beneath this stone, a lump of clay

Lies Arabella Young

Who on the twenty-fourth of May

Began to hold her tongue

I recently read about a man that worked in the produce department of a grocery store. One day a lady asked if she could have a half-a-head of lettuce. He replied, “Half-a-head? Are you serious? God grows full heads and that is how we sell them.” The lady said, “You mean that after all the years I’ve shopped here, you will not sell me half-a-head of lettuce?” The man said, “Look, if you like I’ll ask the manager.” The lady said she would appreciate that, so the man marched to the front of the store and manager’s office.

He said to the manager, “You won’t believe this, but there’s a lame-brain idiot of a lady that wants to know if she can buy half-a-head of lettuce.” About that time he noticed that the lady was standing behind him. Quickly he added, “And this nice lady was wondering if she could buy the other half.”

Later that day, the manager said to the man, “That was the best example of thinking on your feet I have ever seen. Where did you learn that?” He replied, “I grew up in Grand Rapids and if you know anything about Grand Rapids, you know that it’s known for its great hockey teams and its ugly women.” The manager’s face flushed and he interrupted, “My wife is from Grand Rapids.” Without batting an eye, the man asked, “And which hockey team did she play for?”

Words are interesting things. Often, what we say can either make us or break us. Our words can be used tools of blessing, or tools of cursing. They can be used to build someone up, or tear someone down. There are times when we can be hung by our tongue. We say the right thing in the wrong way, or the wrong thing in the right way.

As we are considering the thought, “Giving God More in 2004,” we are focusing today on the matter of our tongue. We have already examined the matter of giving God more of our thinking, and our time; but, today we will examine a matter that is of the utmost importance and influence in all of our lives: the tongue. In Ecclesiastes 10, Solomon gives excellent advice as it pertains to our tongue.

Someone has said, “We should remember that the tongue is in a wet place and can slip easily.”

Leslie B. Flynn said, “Experience has taught me that whenever anything is on the tip of my tongue, I should keep it there!”

Abraham Lincoln spoke volumes when he said, “I would rather be thought a fool than open my mouth and remove all doubt!”

I once read a story about Winston Churchill and a woman named Lady Astor. They both disliked each other greatly, but because of their social standing, they often found themselves together at various events. On one occasion they were seated next to each other. Lady Astor said to Churchill, “Sir, if you were my husband, I would put poison in your coffee.” Churchill replied, “Lady, if you were my wife, I would gladly drink it.”

On another occasion Lady Astor walked into an elevator that Churchill was on. It was obvious that he had a little too much to drink. Lady Astor said, “Ah hah! You are drunk!” Churchill said, “Yes, and you are ugly. But, tomorrow I’ll be sober and you will still be ugly.”

The Bible has much to say about our words, our speech and our tongue. In fact, the word “tongue” is mentioned 215 times in the pages of God’s Word. It describes the angry tongue, the bitter tongue, the boasting tongue, the crafty tongue, the complaining tongue, the cursing tongue, the deceitful tongue, the filthy tongue, the flattering tongue, the gossiping tongue, the lying tongue, the murmuring tongue, the mischievous tongue, the perverse tongue, the persuasive tongue, the slanderous tongue, the sensual tongue, the tale-bearing tongue, the vile tongue and the wicked tongue.

In our text, Solomon makes an interesting comparison and contrast between the tongue of a wise man, and the tongue of a foolish man. Let’s examine this passage and see how we might be able to give God more of our tongue. First of all, we find:

I. The Distastefulness of a Careless Tongue!

I once heard of a seminary president who was speaking to his up and coming preacher boys during a chapel service. He was preparing them for the realities of the ministry, when he said to them, “Boys, be careful what you ask God for! For example, don’t ask God for a big church, because He just might give you a big church, and with that big church comes a lot of big problems. Whatever you do, don’t ask God for a big church!”

The following year one of his students came back to campus, and attended a chapel service. He was called upon to give a testimony. He began by saying, “Last year, Mr. President, you advised us to be careful what we asked God for. You repeatedly told us not to ask God for a big church. However, I did. I repeatedly ask God for a big church, but I added something to it to make it sound less selfish. I asked God for a big church and a pretty wife; but, I got a pretty church and a big wife!”

There is an old Latin proverb which states, “Three things once released will not return again: an opportunity neglected; an arrow released from its bows; and, a word spoken in haste!”

Solomon issues a warning to one with a careless tongue. He reminds us of the fact that our words can often entrap us, ensnare us and enslave us. Thinking upon this concept, notice with me as Solomon defines:

A. The Origination of Foolish Speech!

Notice verse 13. “The beginning of the words of his mouth is foolishness…”

Solomon is describing the words of a foolish man. He is telling us that from the very moment a foolish man opens his mouth his words are destined to fail, because they have a faulty beginning or origination. Simply put, a foolish man speaks foolish things.

The origination of the human vocabulary is something of a marvel. The process of forming words and putting words into a spoken dialect is an amazing, and astounding thing. We are told that the speaking process involves two distinct components. The first component deals with lexical selection. It is the mechanism that, given semantic input, selects one appropriate lexical item from the mental lexicon.

The second component deals with form encoding. It computes the articulatory gestures needed for the articulation of the selected item. Simply put, the words we speak are being continuously selected from a mental lexicon of hundreds of thousands of words.

An average adult, in our Western culture, has produced over 50 million words, which have been stored in their mental lexicon. There is hardly any other human skill that is so well practiced as speaking. In normal speech we produce 2-4 words per second. The average person knows 10,000 words, and uses 5,000 words in everyday speech. Someone such a journalist knows approximately 15,000 words and uses around 10,000 everyday.

However, the origination of our words goes much deeper than our tongue: they come from the heart. Jesus said, in Matthew 12: 34-35, “…out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. (35) A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things.”

Thus, the foolish man, described in our text, pronounces foolish words because he possesses a foolish heart. In other words, his words are wicked because his heart is wicked. His words are defiled because his heart is defiled. It is not a human speech problem; it is a heart/soul problem, from where his words originate. However, we not only see the origination of foolish speech; but:

B. The Obligation of Foolish Speech!

Our words obligate us. Once they are spoken, for the good or bad, we are obligated to follow through with what has been said. Look at how Solomon describes in the verse 13, “The beginning of the words of his mouth is foolishness: and the end of his talk is mischievous madness.”

The phrase “mischievous madness” is better translated “confused, or chaotic bedlam.” In other words, when we are careless about what we say, like the foolish man, then our words obligate us to a confusing and chaotic end.

I think of the story of a wealthy grandfather who was getting up in years. He was going deaf, so he went to the doctor and was fitted for a hearing aid. It not overcame the old man’s deafness, and allowed him to hear perfectly, but it was so concealed that no one could see it, or notice it. When he went back to the doctor for a check-up, the doctor said, “Your family must be extremely happy to know that you can hear now.” The old man said, “Well, I haven’t told them about my hearing aid. I just sit around and listen to their conversations; and, I’ve already changed my will three times.”

Be careful little ear what you hear. Be careful little eye what you see. But, oh, be careful BIG mouth what you say. You might bite off more than you can chew. You see our words have the ability to demand and dictate our actions. What we say can take something from being an option and make it an obligation. In Ecclesiastes 5: 4-6, we’re reminded, “When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it; for he hath no pleasure in fools: pay that which thou hast vowed. (5) Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay. (6) Suffer not thy mouth to cause thy flesh to sin…”

In other words, if we are bold enough to say it, then we better be big enough to back it up. How often do we get ourselves into trouble by the distastefulness of our careless tongue? Secondly, our text speaks of:

II. The Disgracefulness of a Corrupt Tongue!

There is a vast difference between saying something that we didn’t mean to say, and saying something we should have never said. In other words, our words, at times, may be careless, but for the Christian, they should never be corrupt.

As we discussed earlier, what we say often reveals just who we are. It is not a matter of our speech, but a matter of our soul. Solomon goes to great lengths to describe how disgraceful a corrupt tongue can be by speaking of:

A. The Poison our Words Can Inject!

Notice verse 11. “Surely the serpent will bite without enchantment; and a babbler is no better.”

Solomon is making a comparison between the words of a foolish man and a serpent’s bite. He is basically saying, “If the serpent bites before it is charmed, then it is no use to call a charmer. But, the words of a foolish man are no better, and they are just as dangerous.” Our words have the ability to inject a lethal poison into our victim.

In his book, “Dangerous to Man”, Roger Caras gives a list of the 10 most poisonous snakes in the world.

10) JARRACUSSU: An aquatic snake from South America with a deadly bite. It causes immediate blindness and tissue damage.

9) COMMON COBRA: Also known as the Indian Cobra. Just one bite has enough venom to kill 30 people.

8) TIGER SNAKE: Named for the yellow stripes covering its body it usually feeds on mice, frogs and rats. It is considered to be the most dangerous snake in Australia with a mortality rate of 40%.

7) TROPICAL RATTLESNAKE: Has venom 10 times more potent than its cousin, the Western Rattler. It is predominantly found in Central and South America.

6) FER-DE-LANCE: A. K. A. The TERCIPELO, which is Spanish for “velvet.” It is relatively small, about 4 feet, but is especially dangerous to human because it is nervous and quick to bite. Its venom spreads through the body and causes interal bleeding.

5) WESTERN DIAMONDBACK RATTLER: Measures anywhere from 3-8 feet. It is the cause of more serious bites and deaths than any other snake in North America. Its poison can kill a mouse in a few SECONDS and a human in an hour.

4) BUSHMASTER: This is the world’s largest viper, found mostly in Central America. It is particularly dangerous because it attacks people rather than fleeing them, as most snakes do. Its power is unleashed through its 1 ½ inch fangs.

3) KING COBRA: The largest poisonous snake in the world. Many believe it to be the most dangerous, with venom so powerful it can kill an elephant. An average adult measures 14 feet, and when its hood expands it stands with its head 5-6 feet in the air.

2) TAIPAN: Also known as the “Fierce Snake,” it contains enough venom to kill 100,000 mice. A person bitten by a Taipan will die in a matter of minutes.

1) BLACK MAMBA: The world’s deadliest, as well as fastest snake. On average, they grow from 10-14 feet long. Two drops of black mamba venom can kill a person in 10 minutes.

As poisonous, and deadly as those snakes are, can I tell you something that is far more deadly and lethal than snake venom? It is the tongue. In James 3: 7-8, we read, “For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind. (8) But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.”

Interestingly enough, the word “tame” James uses is found only one other time in Scripture. In Mark 5: 4, the story is told of a Gadarene man who was demon possessed. It was said that “neither could any man tame him.” Thus, James is making a powerful comparison. He likens an unbridled, unskilled and unruly tongue to a man possessed with demons that no man can tame.

The old adage, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” is a cute cliché; but, nothing could be farther from the truth. The fact of the matter is that what we say can not only hurt someone, but it can inject a deadly, and lethal poison.

I think of a recent study performed by psychologists Cliff Notarius, of Catholic University and Howard Markham of the University of Denver. They studied newleyweds over the first decade of marriage and they found a very subtle, but telling difference about their relationships. Among couples who would ultimately stay together, 5 out of every 100 comments made about each other were putdowns. Among couples who later split up, 10 out of every 100 comments were insults.

That gap magnified over the following decade, until couples heading downhill were flinging 5 times as many cruel, hurtful comments at each other as did happy couples. Dr. Markham concluded, “Hostile putdowns act as cancerous cells that, if unchecked, erode the relationship over time. In the end, relentless, unremitting negativity takes control, and the couple can’t get through a week without major blowups!”

If we are not careful our words can become like a serpent’s bite and inject a deadly poison. However, Solomon goes on to speak of not only the poison our words can inject, but:

B. The Peril Our Words can Inflict!

Again remember that Solomon is describing the speech, or the tongue of a foolish man. This is the man whose careless tongue is distasteful, and whose corrupt tongue is disgraceful. He says, in verse 12, that in the end, when it is all said and done, “…the lips of a fool will swallow up himself.”

The word “swallow” comes from a word that literally means, “to engulf or consume.” Get the picture. Solomon is describing the man who has allowed his words to control and corrupt him. He has taken no thought to what he has said, OR to whom it may have affected.

As a result, in the end, his own words will turn on him and swallow him up. In other words, he will be consumed and engulfed by his own words. You have someone say, “Get ready to eat your own words.” However, we’re reminded here that our words may turn and eat us. They not only have the ability toinject poison, but they can inflict peril as well.

I’m sure that many of you remember well-known singer Karen Carpenter who died unexpectedly and prematurely, in the height of her career, of heart failure at age 32. It was discovered that her heart failure was brought on by years of self-abuse from the eating disorber Anorexia Nervosa. A few years later, CBS released a program called, “The Karen Carpenter Story.” The news anchor covering the story asked, “What brought on Karen’s fatal obsession with weight control?” And to his surprise it was discovered that a newspaper columnist once called her “Richard’s chubby sister!” Those words would eventually become the very thing that drove her to her early grave.

In Proverbs 18: 7-8, we read, “A fool's mouth is his destruction, and his lips are the snare of his soul. (8) The words of a talebearer are as wounds, and they go down into the innermost parts of the belly.”

Then, in verse 21, of the same chapter we read the immortal words, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue…”

That is an amazing thought! Our tongue, our speech and our words have the power to either produce death, or promote life. An unknown author captured it well,

“A careless word may kindle strife;

A cruel word may wreck a life.

A bitter word may hate instill,

a brutal word may smite and kill!”

Before we should ever speak, we ought to stop and ask ourselves 3 questions: 1) Is it True? 2) Am I saying it in the right spirit? 3) Will it help, or will it hurt?

We should take great caution in the words that form on our lips, because, if corrupt, they have the ability to inject dangerous poison, and inflict destructive peril. Finally, let’s consider:

III. The Delightfulness of a Controlled Tongue!

As I said at the outset of this sermon, in this passage, Solomon is making a comparison/contrast between the tongue of a foolish man and the tongue of a wise man. The tongue of the foolish is distasteful because of its carelessness; and, it is disgraceful because of its corruption.

However, in stark contrast, the tongue of the wise man is delightful because it has learned to exercise control. Let’s notice the difference between these two extremes, beginning with the fact that:

A. Where a Controlled Tongue is Absent We Find a Burden!

Notice verse 14. “A fool also is full of words: a man cannot tell what shall be; and what shall be after him, who can tell him?”

The phrase “full of words” literally means, “to multiply.” I prefer the English Standard Version’s translation, “A foolish man multiplies his words over and over again.” In other words, this man has not only lost control of his words, but he has also lost count of his words. Because a controlled tongue is absent, his words just keep piling up, and eventually become a great burden.

Have you ever met anyone who seemed to have an answer for everything? (Of course, I am not referring to wives!) It mattered not what was posed to them, they always had some sort of explanation, and appeared to an expert in whatever field was being discussed. I have met people who had no real idea of what was being talked about, but they possessed the ability to string hundreds of words of together in order to give their expert opinion.

Have you ever RUN across someone who never had anything good to say about anyone or anything? What they said was never useful, but useless; seldom helpful; but hurtful; seldom positive, but negative. If so, then you have met the type of person that is being described in our text. It is a person who talks just to hear themselves talk, and their words multiply over and over again.

Thomas Edison was being introduced at a banquet and the emcee was listing his many inventions. He stopped to dwell at great length on his invention of the talking machine. Edison, the aged inventor, rose to his feet, smiled and said, “I thank the gentleman for his kind remarks, but I must insist on a correction. God invented the talking machine. I only invented the one that can be shut off!”

Former White House Press Secretary Marlin Fitzwater put it well, “You never have to explain what you didn’t say!”

That is a great piece of advice, because where a controlled tongue is absent our words can become a burden. Finally, we see that:

B. Where a Controlled Tongue is Abundant We Find a Blessing!

Notice the vast difference between the foolish mans words and the wise man’s words. In the dialect of the foolish there is an absence of a controlled tongue, thus he finds his words to be a burden. But, in the mouth of the wise there is an abundance of a controlled, and he finds his words to be a blessing. Notice verse 12. “The words of a wise man's mouth are gracious…”

The words of a foolish man are grevious; but, the words of a wise man are gracious. The word “gracious” speaks of “pleasantness, beauty and delight.” It has for its root word the word “grace.” In other words, when we give God more of our tongue, we, like the wise man, will speak words of grace. That is, when we say what God would have us to say, what we say will be a blessing of grace to the hearer. An unknown author penned the words,

“A gracious word may smooth the way,

A joyous word may light the day,

A timely word may lessen stress,

A loving word may heal and bless!”

Proverbs 16: 24 declares, “Pleasant words are as an honeycomb, sweet to the soul, and health to the bones.”

In Proverbs 25: 11, we read, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver.”

You see, when it all comes down to it there are only two types of people: those who have something to say; and, those who have to say something. The one, with something to say, is the wise man; the other, who has to say something, is the foolish man. I wonder, which category would you fall into?

I think of a young man who was given the grim news that his tongue had to be removed. He had been diagnosed with cancer of the tongue of the most aggressive nature. The doctor informed him that his life could only be saved if they performed a procedure to remove his tongue. The young man agreed, and before the operation the doctor said, “Son, if there is anything you want to say; say it now, for these will be the last words you will ever speak.” Without any hesitation whatsoever, the young shouted, “Thank God for Jesus! I’m so glad that even without a tongue I will still be able to praise Him!”


If you only one last chance to speak, what would you say? If only one phrase could capture the thoughts, feelings and emotions of your heart, what would it be? The truth of the matter is that every TIME we speak, and everything we speak should be done to the praise, glory and honor of the Lord Jesus. We should exemplify the wise man of our text, and not the foolish man. It can be so when we learn to give Him more of our tongue!

William Cowper defines the solution:

“The tongue is like an arrow sharp,

And like a razor keen.

It utters many kindly words

And many that are mean.

It has the healing power of oil,

The burning power of fire.

It is possessed by friend and saint

By enemy and liar.

It wounds, it heals, it lies and prays,

And blesses, curses, sings;

It has the healing power of salve

With bitterness it stings.

It prays long prayers to God above,

It curses man below;

It heals the wounded, bleeding heart

It strikes the stinging blow.

No man can tame the wicked tongue,

No man his soul can save.

Only God above can cleanse the heart

And make the tongue behave!”

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