“A man shall eat good by the fruit of [his] mouth: but the soul of the transgressors [shall eat] violence.”
The Fruit of the Mouth
As part of our church anniversary on we enjoyed lunch together. A team of mostly young women spent several hours preparing the food on both the Saturday and the Sunday, and then they served the meal to those who stayed after the morning service. The same ladies cleared away and washed up. They left church mid-afternoon knowing that they had done a good job, but their mood was lifted collectively by the many words of thanks and encouragement they received from so many people who benefited from their work. Interestingly, our guest speaker when talking about discipleship during the evening service said; “encouragement is important and powerful.” You could say that our church ate well yesterday, before the fruit of our mouths provided huge and well deserved portions of encouragement to those responsible for what we ate.
A Different Meal
The main course for our anniversary meal was shepherd’s pie. When Jesus described Himself as the Good Shepherd He warned about the voices of strangers, thieves and robbers who come to steal and destroy. The suggestion is that theft and destruction are not limited to physical acts of violence, but may also be initiated by words. There is no doubt that words can change lives, which is why the book of Proverbs contains so many warnings about how we speak, how we choose our words, and what finally comes out of our mouths. The warning in this verse is that bad words bring a different meal to those who speak them.
We ate good food yesterday at church and thankfully we responded well with words of thanks and appreciation. We’re human. We need to be encouraged. We need to lift other people with our words, and we need to be lifted by the words of others. What we receive will surely be governed by what we give.
Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. (John 10:7-13)
“The hand of the diligent shall bear rule: but the slothful shall be under tribute.”
Hard Work Never Hurt Anyone!
Ever had a lazy day? Did you feel better afterwards? Perhaps you did. Perhaps you followed one lazy day with another. We are told that there are people in society who live like this. Certain elements of the media in the UK regularly feature stories of large lazy families who spend their lives doing nothing, apparently encouraged and supported by the welfare state. It is wrong to condemn those who may have to rely on welfare in difficult economic times, but it is hard to understand those individuals who just don’t want to work.
Working for God
Scripture tells us to do everything as if we were doing it for God (Colossians 3:23). This instruction should apply equally to every aspect of our daily lives whether we are at work, at home, at church, or socializing with friends, etc. Nowhere in Scripture are we told that laziness is acceptable. So why are there so many passengers in church?
All Hands on Deck
Think of church as a working ship. If the church is the body of Christ then there can be no passengers. We are called to work together for the advancement of God’s kingdom. If all we do is occupy a seat every Sunday morning then the warning about slothfulness contained in this proverb needs to be heeded. In a working ship there is no room for the slothful. Every person has a job. Every job is important. While the captain is ultimately in command he cannot sail without a crew. A ship needs watch-keeping officers and engineers, deckhands and catering staff. It is vital that the right skills are exercised in the correct places, and it is important that all members of the crew are diligent in their work. Is your church a working ship or a passenger liner where half the people on board are on permanent vacation?
“There is that speaketh like the piercings of a sword: but the tongue of the wise is health.”
I have never been pierced with a sword but I have been cut open during surgery. While under anesthetic the surgeons made a twelve-inch incision from my chest bone downwards so that they could gain access to my abdomen to remove a large section of diseased colon. Thirty-five metal staples were used to close the wound. When I came round after the surgery the pain was indescribable.
Of the several tubes I found attached to my body, one was set up to allow me to self administer measured doses of morphine. This dulled but did not remove the pain. It was ten days before the staples were removed and I was discharged from hospital. Although the pain had reduced it took a while for it to fade completely. For three months the discomfort meant that I slept sitting up, while the scar remained sensitive for years.
Pain or Healing?
This proverb is a warning of the pain that words can cause. “Reckless words piece like a sword” says the NIV, “but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” The truth is that words can hurt just like the cutting of a sword, or a surgeon’s scalpel. Pain of this nature does not go immediately; it lingers. It may fade, and time may indeed be a healer, but words can cause lasting damage. It may be years before the scars left by hurtful words cease to be sensitive.
Where words of healing are required then the challenge is to select such words with the utmost of care, and preferably under the guidance and instruction of the Holy Spirit. It is often the case that we mean to bring healing, but the words that we use merely intensify the pain. Be careful. Sometimes it is wiser not to speak at all.
“The words of the wicked [are] to lie in wait for blood: but the mouth of the upright shall deliver them.”
“The words of the wicked are like a murderous ambush, but the words of the godly save lives.” (NLT)
The Power of Words
Words have great power. Words can build up, and words can tear down. Words can point in the right direction, but words can also lead astray. Words can encourage, and words can cripple. Words can heal, and words can hurt. There can be no doubt that words spoken thoughtlessly or without wisdom can cause untold damage. The statement in this proverb that words can be like a murderous ambush provides a serious warning about how we choose to speak, and the words that leave our lips.
Be Careful What You Say
As a teenager I can remember being told to put my brain in gear before opening my mouth! This was good advice. Before we open our mouths we have to consider how our words will be received. What is their purpose? Every word is important. Every word has the potential to be good or to be evil. Be careful what you say!
Say What You Need To Say
Then there are the words that we find difficult to say. These are the words that should restore relationships, or ‘save lives’ as the NLT translates this proverb. We all know what these words are, and we have all struggled to say them with heartfelt meaning. These are words for our families, and for our friends:
“I forgive you.”
Remember that it is not only the words we speak, but also how we say them. I know when my children are sorry, and I know when they are not. They know when I have forgiven them, and they know when I haven’t.
Then there is God and the things we say to Him. God knows our hearts completely. He knows when we are sorry, and He knows when we are not. He knows when we are hungry for Him, and He knows when we have no space for Him in our busy lives. Here are three words we need to say to Him with meaning.
“I love You.”
Say what you need to say.
Say what you need to say (Say – John Mayer).
Be careful little lips what you say. For empty words and promises lead broken hearts astray (Casting Crowns – Slow Fade).
“A good man obtaineth favour of the LORD: but a man of wicked devices will he condemn.”
Obtain or Deserve?
‘Every Good Boy Deserves Favor’ was the title of a 1971 Moody Blues album. The cover shows a young child and a wizened old man, the child apparently in awe of the old man, perhaps receiving instruction. But why should a good person deserve favor? Didn’t the Moody Blues know about grace? In terms of the human relationship with God His favor is not something that is deserved. It is only possible through grace.
Grace Not Works
But if salvation is possible through grace rather than works, why does Solomon state that a good man obtains favor from the Lord? The answer is simple. Because when salvation occurs Jesus Christ moves in and lives inside us. This may sound weird, but when you think about it we cannot become good, or do good works, unless we are equipped. Having Christ in us provides the enabling for us to obtain the favor of the Lord as we move forwards in obedience to His instruction and guided by His knowledge (Proverbs 12:1).
As always in life we have a choice. There is another way. A way condemned by the Lord. A broad road that leads to destruction, but which is favored by many because of its apparent pleasures. Take a look around. Are you standing in Broad Street? If you are then perhaps it is time to move on. Time to search for the grace that brings eternal favor, rather than temporary pleasure. You have a choice. You always have a choice.
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Ephesians 2:8-10 (NIV)
“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. Matthew 7:13-14 (NIV)
He that trusteth in his riches shall fall: but the righteous shall flourish as a branch.
It Isn’t Ours
I have been self-employed for the last twenty years. Income in 1992 when I started out was modest, but I believe that over the years God has blessed the business and blessed my family. In turn I have tried to bless others. I have not amassed cash to any extent, other than making provision to eventually pay off the mortgage on the family home through endowment policies and savings. I would not say I have trusted in my financial assets, but I believe that I may have become increasingly complacent, and forgotten one small detail: None of it belongs to me.
Whatever we have on earth we have because God allows us to have it. Over the last three years my income has fallen and it has become increasingly difficult to get paid. While prayers have been answered I have had to dip deeply into savings as it takes longer and longer to receive payment for invoices. I have also had to review my giving. While that has been difficult I have been reminded that it was never mine in the first place. God has challenged me about becoming proud about what I have given.
We cannot and must not rely on or trust in the temporary benefits associated with worldly wealth. We leave the world in the same way that we arrive. Empty handed. Even if we are blessed with monetary riches, nothing can be considered permanent, as many a person who has fallen on hard times can testify. The challenge we face as human beings is to be wise in our choices, and wise in our use of everything God has placed into our hands. It doesn’t matter if the world considers us rich or poor in terms of possessions. What matters most is what God sees in us.
How to Flourish?
So how can we flourish? Jesus spoke about branches that flourish and those that do not. He said:
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. (John 15:1-8 NIV)
“The wicked worketh a deceitful work: but to him that soweth righteousness shall be a sure reward.”
National and international systems of justice and punishment exist to deter citizens from engaging in criminal behavior. Yet despite the threat of fines, imprisonment, or even death, there are those who believe that they can escape justice and live their lives at odds with society. On the basis that not all criminals are caught and punished it could be argued that the first part of the above proverb is not true.
Where this proverb is correct is in its assessment of the rewards that criminals can expect. Take the case of Mr Eddie Maher. Mr Maher used to drive an armored vehicle in the UK. He disappeared along with more than £1.3 million back in 1993, but was later arrested in the USA (February 2012) and ultimately sentenced to five years jail time in the UK after a plea deal (March 2013). It seems that Mr Maher (or Fast Eddie as the press calls him) had not been living a life of luxury while hiding from justice. When arrested by the FBI he was working as a broadband cable technician. It appears that Fast Eddie had spent the last nineteen years moving from one small US town to another, constantly looking over his shoulder. I wonder what happened to the money? Did it all get blown in the first year?
Despite his conviction, all is not lost for Fast Eddie. Being found guilty, he will have to accept the punishment handed down by the judge, but there is still hope. It says so in the second part of Proverbs 11:18, which speaks of a reward that none of us deserve. Because when God looks at our hearts, none of us score any higher than Fast Eddie. But God loves us so much, that he sent His Son to take our punishment.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16 (NIV)
There is a sure reward. It is not like the reward that Fast Eddie’s daughter-in-law is trying to claim for turning him in (£100,000). It is a reward that none of us deserve. It is a reward of forgiveness. It is the reward of eternal life. But, we have to consider what we are sowing:
Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers. Galatians 6:7-10 (NIV)