Grab your Bibles, and let’s dive into Proverbs chapter 15. As we begin this chapter, I can’t help but think of the old saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but…” Now you know you just finished the saying in your head, and hopefully it won’t be stuck there all day. What parents tried to use to help children overcome the sting of gossip really flies in stark contrast to the word of God. Words can cut deeper and bring more pain and suffering than sticks or stones. But why is this the case? Well, most often words are used behind your back, so to speak. You can usually see the person flinging rocks in your direction, but it’s much harder to hear that someone you trusted shared something they shouldn’t have or shared something false to others. Now before we get too far off track, this chapter of Proverbs dives into much more than simply gossip or the effect of words, but let’s start by looking at the passages that warn us about our tongue:
15:1 A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. 2 The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouths of fools pour out folly.
4 A gentle tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit. 7 The lips of the wise spread knowledge; not so the hearts of fools. 26 The thoughts of the wicked are an abomination to the Lord, but gracious words are pure. 28 The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things.
One of my favorite things to do when I study the word is to draw out the compare and contrast style of writing. Let’s take these verses and separate the good tongue and its effects from the bad tongue and its effects.
According to these verses the good or righteous tongue:
Turns away wrath, commends knowledge, is a tree of life, spreads knowledge, delivers gracious words that are seen as pure by God, and the heart behind the righteous tongue is where this righteousness springs up from. It is slow to speak, pondering how to answer, that it might bring life and not death to the hearer.
In contrast the evil tongue:
Stirs up anger, pours out folly, is perverse and crushes the spirit, does not spread wisdom, is an abomination to the Lord, and pours out evil things.
So don’t move forward thinking of all the people who are filling up the “evil tongue” category in your mind; rather, consider how you use your tongue. Which of these categories would the Lord say your tongue is in? Let’s not be so quick to place people in categories and thereby relieve the conviction we should feel that may bring us to repentance for the way we use our words. Remember that out of the overflow of our hearts our mouths speak. We see this clarity in Matthew 12.
Matthew 12:33-37 A Tree Is Known by Its Fruit
33“Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit. 34You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. 35The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. 36I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, 37for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”
The entire point that Jesus is making here is that the fruit of your heart will be revealed through the way you speak. In verse 34, we see the clarity that out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. If this clarity wasn’t obvious enough, verses 36-37 really bring the hammer down. You will give an account for EVERY CARELESS WORD you speak. In fact, by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.
Every time I read this passage, I feel like I’ve been hit in the gut. I’m sure I am not the only one. A couple of points of clarity here are important. You will be justified by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone. So why does Jesus Himself say you will be justified by your words? Jesus is saying that your words will be the evidence that proves your salvation to have been true. Let me explain: If God saves you, He gives you a new heart. This happens at regeneration (being born again). We read in Romans 8:6-8 about our ability to submit to God before this regeneration: “For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” So we see that when a man is born again, his old heart that was in complete rebellion and unable to submit to God is removed, and a new heart is put within him. Praise God for this work, Christian, for apart from it we would be hopeless! Now this new heart has new affections and desires, and though we may progress slowly in our sanctification, there will be true and lasting fruit that gives evidence to what kind of heart (dead in sin or alive in Christ) each of us has. This evidence is what Jesus speaks of when He says we will be justified or condemned according to our words. Notice how he begins the passage with this phrase: “a tree is known by its fruit.” If you planted what you thought to be an avocado tree in your back yard, but when the tree matured it produced oranges from the branches, what kind of tree did you plant? Would you argue that you have grown a new type of avocado?
Of course not! That would be silly, as an avocado tree cannot grow oranges. No one would grab the orange and say, “Wow, this is the sweetest avocado I’ve ever eaten!” Rather, you would realize that though you thought you were planting something else, the tree that grew was indeed an orange tree. Why? Because a tree is known by the fruit it produces. Christian, the fruit you produce, as sure as an orange tree produces oranges, will prove that you belong to Christ. Your fruit, Christian, will produce the evidence that God has given you a new heart. Jesus says one of the key areas of life that will provide evidence is the way you speak.
Let’s move on. Verse 3 speaks to the omnipresence of God. This is a theological term to say that God is everywhere. There is not a place in existence where God is not.
3 The eyes of the Lord are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good.
This takes on an even deeper meaning in verse 11, where we see the mind and heart of man is not hidden from God, for there is no place of thought in which the Lord is not present.
11 Sheol and Abaddon lie open before the Lord; how much more the hearts of the children of man!
This often reminds me of the sign, “Big brother is watching you,” that you see outside of convenient stores. The thought here is that if we warn people that there are cameras and they will be seen, perhaps we will discourage thievery. I wonder if the writer of this proverb was doing the same thing. This can be taken as a warning that there are no dark corners or secret places where we can escape the sight of God to indulge in sin. Let this warning remind you that you are not alone, and let it help you to fight off sin.
Now this also brings comfort. The same way it tells me the store takes security seriously and there will be less chance of something happening while I’m here, the proverb tells me God takes His glory seriously and will always be there for me to turn to instead of the sin I might be chasing. To those who think God cannot see what’s going on in their suffering or sinful struggle, they should take heart; God is always there. Even if God feels absent to you, remind yourself of the truth that God cannot be absent, and let that bring you comfort.
There is so much comparing and contrasting going on throughout the rest of this chapter, so I’d encourage you to take a pen and paper and make some notes. Write out two categories, one labeled righteous and one labeled wicked, and place under each category the characters and actions of the two contrasted peoples here in chapter 15. At the very least, it is a fun practice to do and will help aid you in future study of God’s word.
There is one more theme that I’d like to unpack more while I wrap up this study. There is an extra emphasis in this chapter regarding counsel and reproof. This is one area where I have seen more destruction or more fruit than almost any other area in the Christian life. Look first at the posture of the righteous man in these verses:
31 The ear that listens to life-giving reproof will dwell among the wise. 32 Whoever ignores instruction despises himself, but he who listens to reproof gains intelligence.
He heeds rebuke, he listens to correction. The righteous man grows in wisdom and applies the counsel of loving brothers to his life for growth. The righteous man is humble enough to be told he needs to make a change and is missing something in regards to how God has called him to live. Is this you? When a brother who loves you confronts you about sin and error in your life, do you receive it well? Are you thankful that a brother is willing to risk confrontation to love you well? Do you thank him and apply his counsel to your life?
Unfortunately, this is not usually our posture. We are so often offended when someone approaches us about an area of possible sin in our lives. This offense that we run to often reveals pride in our hearts. Pride comes before the fall (Prov. 16:18); just look at the destruction awaiting those who will not heed rebuke:
10 There is severe discipline for him who forsakes the way; whoever hates reproof will die. 12 A scoffer does not like to be reproved; he will not go to the wise.
The proud person in fact hates being corrected. He avoids reproof; he doesn’t speak to wise people, because he does not want to hear their counsel. Notice what happens to this person: he forsakes the way and will receive severe discipline. He who hates reproof will die! How many times growing up did you fail to heed your parents’ wise instruction? How many times in your life have you avoided a friend or maybe even a relationship altogether because you did not want to be loved this way? When we do this, we line ourselves up with destruction. One of the saddest realities in our churches today is that due to the sheer number of options available to people, whenever someone is pushed to grow and receive rebuke and counsel, they typically just bail out on the people who are trying to save their lives. There’s always another church you could go to or other people you could make friends with, but don’t forget but see the warning here in this proverb. A scoffer does not liked to be reproved; he will not go to the wise.
Oh, how much better for you would it be to humbly allow others into your life who have your best interest in mind? How many times have your plans failed because you did not seek counsel.
22 Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed.
Do not allow the sin of pride to deceive you into thinking you don’t need help. Wars are won with the counsel of many. And finally:
33 The fear of the Lord is instruction in wisdom, and humility comes before honor.
If you truly fear the Lord, you will seek instruction and welcome rebuke and reproof. You will embrace the Christian life that calls us to walk with the family and love each other well. Notice the last line: “humility comes before honor.” Will you attempt to honor yourself in your pride and die, or will you humbly receive the loving reproof of others and be honored by your Lord?
By His grace and for His glory,
Joshua “Shepherd” Kirstine
Soldiers for Jesus MC
* I want to thank Steve Obert for helping to write this week’s study. He is a great partner in the gospel, and a faithful man of God.