Unlike his father David, Solomon didn’t have any wars. But he did have words and he knew what words were for. He knew what words could do. Words can wound. They can tear down, destroy and break. They can also build worlds, save souls and heal broken hearts.
In Proverbs chapter 4, Solomon repeatedly encourages his son to listen, hold onto, keep and preserve wise words.
My son, be attentive to my words; incline your ear to my sayings. Let them not escape from your sight.
Keep them within your heart. For they are life to those who find them and healing to all the flesh. (Proverbs 4:20-22)
Wise words guard us (Proverbs 4:6), steady our walk (Proverbs 4:12) and bring life (Proverbs 4:13). For the one who wears them, wise words are also a graceful garland and a crown upon your head (Proverbs 4:9).
The apostle Paul picks up on this idea of our words being a means of grace in Ephesians chapter 4,
Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. (Ephesians 4:29)
The word, “corrupting” here means, “worthless.”
We might have thought that Paul’s solution to a gutter mouth was a clean mouth, but no.
Instead of proposing clean language, he proposes a whole new way of thinking about language. For Paul, the question of language was not a clean mouth or a potty mouth but, “is your speech actually worth anything?”
Is your speech a means of grace?
Paul invites us to judge our speech, not by the use of adjectives, expletives and adverbs, but by what it brings to the table. What do your words achieve?
He is asking you to ask yourself, “Is my mouth a means of grace? Am I meeting a need with the words that are coming out of my mouth? Am I building faith, hope and love into the hearts of those who hear?”
He did something similar in the previous verse when he said,
He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing good with his own hands, that he may have something to share with the one in need. (Ephesians 4:28)
The point is the same. What am I bringing to the table? Are my hands a means of grace or a means of gain?
This is a revolutionary way to think about your mouth, just like verse 28 is a revolutionary way of thinking about your labour.
Do you see the parallel?
A Christian is not the man who has stopped swearing. A Christian is not the woman who has learned the art of pleasant, Victorian conversation.
The Christian is the one who seeks to give something from his mouth that will bind, heal, correct and build.
A Christian is the one who asks himself, “Is my mouth a means of grace and truth?” Does it guard, guide and give life-giving grace to the hearer?
God has given us lips that we might impart grace to others.
Of course, our speech ought not to be vulgar. But neither is it the constant drip of soft goo.
Grace is not a feather duster with which to tickle the aorta. It’s the hammer of truth, breaking stony hearts that the love of Christ and the tender mercies of God might shine through.