Proverbs 15:4 – “A gentle tongue is a tree of life... - Geneva College, a Christian College in Pennsylvania (PA)
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Biblical Wisdom Faith
September 1, 2018

Proverbs 15:4 – “A gentle tongue is a tree of life...

Proverbs 15:4 – “A gentle tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit.”

by Dr. Bill Edgar, former chair of the Geneva College Board of Trustees, Former Geneva College President and longtime pastor in the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America (RPNCA)

A family of gentle speech, a church where people speak kindly, an office with such conversation, is like a Garden of Paradise where one would want to live forever. Could there be higher praise than to compare something to a tree of life, which bestows immortality (Genesis 2:9, 3:24, Revelation 2:7, 22:2)?

A gentle tongue will rebuke at times, never out of pique, but always for the good of the hearer. Words from a friend pointing out a fault will hurt, but they come from faithful love. The gentle tongue instructs, speaking wisdom, with words that fit each situation, like apples of gold in a silver setting. With a soft answer that turns away wrath, the gentle tongue is merry, doing good to the hearer like medicine to the sick (Proverbs 27:6, 25:11, 15:1, 17:22).

Perverse words cannot break bones like sticks and stones. They do worse. An evil tongue can kill a spirit and break a heart. With our tongues we demean others, declaring them insignificant, a species of murder (Matthew 5:22). With our tongues, we can destroy. Iago’s deceitful words led Othello to ruin in Shakespeare’s play of the same name. As he handed Him over to the soldiers, Judas Iscariot called Jesus “Master,” and kissed Him. Evil tongues make family life agony, turn churches into dens of envy and malicious gossip, and make workplaces torture chambers. More than one church has sadly lost a member, and yet a month later people start remarking, “I still miss him, but I’m glad the attitude is gone.” Emails, Facebook, text messages, and Tweets amplify a tongue’s power to break spirits.

This short proverb, telling the tongue’s power to give life or kill the spirit, does not tell us how to cultivate a gentle tongue. James does: “But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath (James 1:19).” Paul does: “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt (Colossians 4:6).” Peter says to defend the faith, but “with gentleness and reverence (I Peter 3:15).” The Psalmist prayed: “Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips (Psalm 141:3).” And Jesus is our example. “All spoke well of Him and were amazed at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth (Luke 4:22).” Is it easy to cultivate a gentle tongue? No! “If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man (James 3:2),” and only one Man has ever been perfect. But striving to speak words that heal rather than wound merits lifelong effort, because a gentle tongue is a tree of life.

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