Sweet Words

Original Date: 
Sunday, February 7, 2016

Proverbs 16:24 Taming the Tongue: Sweet Words

Bee Jokes
My text this morning, my key verse, is Proverbs 16:24:

24 Gracious words are a honeycomb,
sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.

Since the verse talks about honey, I thought I’d look to see if there were any good beekeeper jokes. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into! (Nothing bad.) It seems there are message boards for nearly anything on the internet, including beekeepers. I came across a bunch of chat boards for those who keep bees, including quite a large number of beekeeper jokes.

So, I don’t promise that these are all funny, but here are a few jokes about bees:

Q: What do honeybees do in the winter?
A: They do what anyone smart would do; they snuggle with their honey!

Q: What rock singer do bees listen to?

Q: What did the bee say to the other bee in summer?
A: Swarm here isn't it!

Q: Can bees fly in the rain?
A: Not without their little yellow jackets!

And my personal favorite:

A man in a movie theater notices a honey bee sitting next to him.
"Are you a honey bee?" asked the man, surprised.
"What are you doing here at the movies?"
The honey bee answers, "Well, I liked the book."

We’re not going to talk about bees today. Today, we are finishing our series called “Taming the Tongue.” For the past five weeks we’ve been looking at “sins of the tongue”, different ways our mouths can get us into trouble. We’ve covered grumbling, lying, swearing and gossip. And we’ve been joking that that doesn’t leave a lot to talk about.

So, before I finished the series, I thought I’d do a message on good ways to use our tongues. A message on more appropriate patterns of speech. And that’s where this verse comes in. Proverbs 16:24.

We’ve looked a lot at Proverbs throughout this series. That’s because Solomon has a lot of warnings about misusing our tongue. But he also recognizes that there are good words we can use. Pleasant words. Gracious words. And he says that when we do, it’s like honey from a honeycomb.

Honey is good, isn’t it? Honey is naturally occurring sweetness. Honey today is the same as honey in Solomon’s day. Nothing artificial about it. Nothing added to it. Just busy little honeybees making this wonderful sweetness that brightens up your tea or tastes great on toast.

And this proverb says that there are words that are sweet like honey. And they have a wonderful effect. They are not just gracious and pleasant but sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.

There are spiritual benefits to gracious words and even physical benefits to gracious words. Our words have great power not just for evil, but for good.

So I want to end our series by talking about sweet words. And to do that, I took my Bible app and I searched the book of Proverbs for the words “lips”, “tongue” and “mouth” and I looked for all the proverbs that had something good to say about our words. Instead of looking for ways we can use our mouths to hurt, I looked for ways we can use our mouths to heal.

So, I’m going to jump around the book of Proverbs this morning, and I’m going to share a lot of verses with you, but these are five categories of sweet words that we can use. These are not the only kinds of gracious words we can use, just five that stood out to me. But they give us an idea of some of the powerful ways we can use our tongues for good.

Keeping Silent
So, first: sometimes the best words you can speak are no words at all. No Words. If you want to improve the quality of your speech, think about saying less.

Look with me at Proverbs 10:19:

19 Sin is not ended by multiplying words,
but the prudent hold their tongues.

“Sin is not ended by multiplying words.” This is a little clunky in English. Other translations have “When words are many, sin is not absent” (NIV 1984); “In the multitude of words there wanteth not sin” (KJV) and “Too much talk leads to sin” (NLT). That last translation is probably the easiest to understand. What this Proverb is saying is that where there is a lot of talking, there is probably a lot of sin.

I know how true this is. Sometimes I go into a conversation, and I tell myself: “I’m not going to gossip. I’m not going to complain. I’m not going to let my mouth take me somewhere I shouldn’t go.” And then we get to talking, and the conversation jumps from one topic to another, and before I realize it we’ve been going on for an hour and I’ve gotten grumbly, and we’ve talked about how so and so did this and that, and the conversation ends and I realize I’ve said way too much.

“Sin is not ended by multiplying words.” “Too much talk leads to sin.” So what should we do? Well, the prudent person, the wise person, holds his tongue. Say less. Talk less. And your mouth is much less likely to get you into trouble. Silence can be golden.

Here’s what Proverbs 11:12 says:

12 Whoever derides their neighbor has no sense,
but the one who has understanding holds their tongue.

Sometimes we think it makes us look smart when can talk about our friends and neighbors. We think it shows we are “in the know” if we have all the latest details about their mistakes and bad choices. Sometimes it makes us feel big and important. But Solomon says if you are constantly belittling and despising people, it doesn’t make you look smart, it makes you look senseless.

If you want to look smart, Solomon says, if you want people to see that you are sensible, then hold your tongue. As you have all heard your mothers says: “If you can’t say anything nice, then don’t say anything at all.”

Proverbs 17:28:

28 Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent,
and discerning if they hold their tongues.

Even the dumbest person can look smart if they keep quiet.

And the opposite is also true. There’s a great quote, attributed both to Abraham Lincoln and Mark Twain, that goes like this: “Better to keep your mouth shut and let people think you are a fool, then to open it and remove all doubt.”

Sometimes the sweetest words we can speak are no words at all.

Think Before You Speak
But, of course, sometimes words are necessary. So the second category of sweet words are what I am going to call “considered words.” Considered words. This falls into the category of “think before you speak.”

Proverbs 12:18:

18 The words of the reckless pierce like swords,
but the tongue of the wise brings healing.

The key word here is “reckless.” People who speak without thinking are reckless. They are careless. They run off at the mouth. Think of a reckless driver, careening through a crowd. People get hurt.

“The words of reckless pierce like swords.” It’s nice to meet somebody who can make a point without stabbing people.

I read a story about an elderly man who had serious hearing problems for a number of years. His family tried again and again to convince him to get a hearing aid. Finally he relented and was fitted with a set of hearing aids that restored his hearing to 100%.

A month later he returned to doctor to have his hearing tested and the doctor said with a smile, “Your hearing is perfect. I bet your family is really pleased that you can hear again.”

The gentleman replied, “Oh, I haven’t told my family yet… I just sit around and listen; I’ve already changed my will three times.”

Reckless words lead to trouble.

But “the tongue of the wise brings healing.” When you consider your words, when you are careful with your words, you can bring a lot of healing to those who listen. Proverbs 15:28:

28 The heart of the righteous weighs its answers,
but the mouth of the wicked gushes evil.

“Weigh your words.” That takes time, doesn’t it? That slows down your talking.

When I was a teen-ager, I worked for a very brief time at our local grocery store. This was back when small towns all had their own stores. And there was a meat counter in the back. And customers would come in and ask for a pound of sliced ham, or a pound and a half of sliced turkey. Irv the grocer would fire up the slicer and slice a pile of meat and then put it on the scale. He’d be a couple ounces short, so he’d run a couple more slices. He’d fuss and pick until he had just the right amount. It took a couple minutes. And I’d wonder, “Why don’t the customers just grab the pre-packaged ham?” But, of course, by taking his time and weighing it out, Irv was able to give the customers exactly what they wanted. He was serving them.

When you weigh your words, when you slow down your reckless mouth, it’s much easier to make sure your words are healing and not wounding. You can serve your listeners if you consider your words before you speak them.

A Soothing Tongue
So what are the words you should weigh out? Try to speak Kind Words. That’s my third category of sweet words. Kind words. Proverbs 12:25:

25 Anxiety weighs down the heart,
but a kind word cheers it up.

The King James has: “Heaviness in the heart of man maketh it stoop: but a good word maketh it glad.”

That’s a good word picture, isn’t? Solomon is so good at this. Anxiety is like weight on our hearts. It feels like we are carrying around this heavy burden. And it’s true. There are physical symptoms of stress. We pull our shoulders in, we hunch over, we get tight muscles in our neck and back.

But then someone comes along and says a kind word. Somebody says something nice to us. A note of thanks. A word of appreciation. And suddenly, we stand up a little taller. Our shoulders relax. That weight gets a little lighter.

So the question is: who are you lightening the load for? Who are you speaking kind words to?

We all like to be around people who speak kind words, don’t we? Karmen Brown is one of those people. She’s an elder here at Hope who is in Haiti this week. But before she left on Monday, she pulled me aside and told a little story about how one of my sermons had affected somebody. And it was really kind. And it made me feel good. It cheered my heart. And I’ve been going back to that story for encouragement all week.

We can all do that for other people. “Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.” Proverbs 15:4 says this:

4 The soothing tongue is a tree of life,
but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit.

We can use our mouths to build life into people. The Christian recording artist Toby Mac has a song about this called “Speak Life”. Some of the lyrics are:

We can turn a heart with the words we say.
Mountains crumble with every syllable.
Hope can live or die

So speak Life, speak Life.
To the deadest darkest night.
Speak life, speak Life.
When the sun won't shine and you don't know why.
Look into the eyes of the brokenhearted;
Watch them come alive as soon as you speak hope,
You speak love, you speak Life.

(If you know that song, it is now going to be rattling around in your head for the rest of the day. You’re welcome.)

We can all speak life. Seek opportunities to speak kind, tenderhearted words. Say something affectionate to a loved one at an unexpected time. Seek to only speak words that are “good for building up,” and that “give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29).

The Right Kind of Kiss
Fourth, Honest Words. When we talk about sweet words, we are not talking about sickeningly sweet words. People who are always relentlessly upbeat and sliver-lining and out of touch with reality. The truth is, sometimes negative things need to be talked about. Your mom’s saying: “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all” doesn’t always hold up. Sometimes, especially when you are a parent or a teacher or a supervisor or even a friend, you have to talk about things that aren’t so great. Here’s what Proverbs says about that. Proverbs 24:26:

26 An honest answer
is like a kiss on the lips.

A kiss on the lips is good, right? It’s nice to be kissed on the lips. The Message translation of this verse says “An honest answer is like a warm hug.”

Nobody likes to be lied to. And we don’t like it when people hide from us or give us an evasive answer or hold back information we really need. Sometimes people say things we don’t really want to hear, but we know it is true, and so we appreciate that people have been honest with us.

You all met my friend Matt a couple of weeks ago. He wrote the book that we have been selling with this series, Resisting Gossip. Today is the last day we’ll have it available. We’re going to ship whatever we have left back to him tomorrow.

Well, anyway, since he has gotten a book published, I’ve been asking him for some advice because I have some things I’d like to try to get published. And this week, I sent him something I had written and asked his opinion. He wrote back that he appreciated the point I was making, but I took too long getting there. He said that he was tempted to skim over the stuff at the beginning just to get to the interesting part at the end.

Ouch! But you know what? He’s right. And his honest answer is what I needed to hear. If people want to skim over what I have written, it’s going to be pretty hard to get published, isn’t it?

There’s another Proverb about this, 27:6:

6 Wounds from a friend can be trusted,
but an enemy multiplies kisses.

Here’s the wrong kind of kisses. This is what happens when we don’t get an honest answer. Flattery, false praise, evasiveness. We have a phrase for this, we call it “kissing up.” It doesn’t help. Proverbs 28:23:

23 In the end, people appreciate honest criticism
far more than flattery.

But remember, even as you are being honest, you can still be kind. Just because you are speaking the truth that doesn’t mean you need to hit people over the head with it. Proverbs 15:1:

A gentle answer turns away wrath,
but a harsh word stirs up anger.

Matt was honest with me, but he wasn’t harsh. He was gentle. I knew that his answer came from a place of care. Honest words can be sweet words too.

Fitting Praise
Then, fifth: Affirming Words. When we give fitting praise to those around us, it is sweet. Compliments. Attaboys. Affirmation. Proverbs 31:30:

30 Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;
but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.

This is the chapter about the Excellent Wife. This is about what to look for in a potential bride.

And what to do with her once you got her.

Proverbs 31 gives a list of the godly virtues of a noble wife, and then it ends like this:

“Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: ‘Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.’ Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised. Give her the reward she has earned, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.”

Four times it says that this woman is worthy of praise. Her children call her blessed. Her husband praises her. They praise her at the city gate. “A woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.”

And the principle we can draw from this is that it is right and good to praise someone who has earned it. Not just a noble wife, but anyone who does something good. It is sweet to affirm those who have earned it.

When was the last time you told someone, “Good job!” “I like that.” “Well done.” “I’m proud of you.” ? Those are sweet words. Like honey from the honey comb. Sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.

I’ve been reading a book called Practicing Affirmation by Sam Crabtree. It’s about giving God-centered praise to those who are not God. Only God deserves to be worshipped, but it is good to affirm the God-given virtues we see in others. How much better would our conversations be if we learned to affirm one another? I know this is something I can get a lot better at.

And Crabtree has a chapter in his book in which he gives some coaching about how to be affirming. Quickly, here are some things to keep in mind as you seek to sweeten someone’s day with compliments:

  1. Affirmation should be detached from correction.

It’s tempting to think: “I’ll just save up my compliments until I need to talk with someone about something hard. Then, to soften the blow of my criticism, I’ll share some affirmations first.” It is a good idea to affirm the positive while you also point out areas for improvement, but if that is the only time you ever affirm someone, it loses its effectiveness. In fact, do this too much, and people will know that as soon as you say something nice, there’s probably something bad coming.

Crabtree writes:

Accordingly, it doesn’t work well to save up future affirmations, thinking, for example, that you want to speak with your husband about throwing his dirty socks on the floor, so you quickly rattle off a series of compliments like, “Thanks for paying the bills, shoveling the snow off the walks, and I see you shaved today. Now, about you socks…” Corrections tend to cancel affirmations, and the closer the proximity to correction, the more crippled the affirmation. (64)

  1. In the same way, Crabtree advises that we keep up a steady stream of affirmation.

Don’t assume that just because you said “I love you” on your wedding day that that covers you for the next 60 years. Crabtree says: “Yesterday’s refreshment doesn’t refresh permanently. You can’t stockpile freshness.” (67) So, always be on the lookout for things to praise in your spouse and in your children and in your co-workers and friends and keep a steady stream of affirmation flowing.

  1. But, at the same time, commend only the commendable.

Don’t make stuff up. Don’t give false praise. Crabtree says: “If affirmations are not true, they will not truly refresh, and they won’t last for long. They won’t really build up, because they are lies.” (68) I talked about flattery last week. Flattery is not sweet. It actually works ruin (Prov. 26:28)

  1. Make sure that your affirmations are God-centered.

That doesn’t mean you have to talk about God every time you give a compliment, but that you should try to affirm the work of God that you see in the other person’s life. Crabtree writes:

We help people be shallow when we focus our compliments on their braiding of hair, wearing of gold, putting on of clothing, sequins, piercings and tattoos (see 1 Peter 3:3-4). Such things are external. Rather, let us pay attention to patterns of character that emerge from the work of God going on inside a person…So make your commendations more about character than things like “you’re so cute.” Cute is a weak compliment. Cute comes and cute goes, and for most of us it’s well on its way out…While there is nothing wrong per se in complimenting a smile, it is better to commend cheerfulness. (69-70)

Instead of focusing on superficial things, or things that are beyond their control, compliment people for the evidence of God in their lives. If they have nice clothes, compliment their eye for color. If they have a nice home, compliment their sense of order. You get the idea.

Crabtree even has a chapter in his book with “100 Affirmation ideas for those who feel stuck.” We speak sweet words when we give fitting praise to those around us.

Pleasing in Your Sight
Finally, let me wrap-up this whole series about our tongues with one last piece of advice: Surrender your Speech to your Savior.

We’ve seen how influential our tongues are in our lives. And we’ve seen several ways that our tongues can get us into trouble. I’m pretty sure, if you’ve been around for even just a few of these messages, that we’ve all come under conviction that there are some patterns of speech in our lives that aren’t good.

It can be kind of discouraging. I’m guessing that for many of us, the fruit of this series is that we are just more aware of our sins of the tongue. I’m sure we’ve all caught ourselves grumbling or swearing or gossiping or lying in the last month. We don’t necessarily do it less, but we’re more aware of it when we are doing it. It can really drag us down.

As it says in James 3, the passage we started with, “no man can tame the tongue.” It’s not a surprise to God that we struggle with this.

So, again, what we need to do is surrender our speech to our savior. We can’t tame our tongues, so we have to turn them over to him.

At the end of Psalm 19 there’s little dedication. It’s like David is saying to God: “Here’s my song, God. I hope you like it.” But I also think it works as a prayer. A prayer that we can all say, every day. A way of offering our mouths to God.

It’s Psalm 19:14, and I encourage you all to memorize it and repeat it often:

14 May the words of my mouth
and the meditation of my heart
be pleasing in your sight,
Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.
Psalm 19:14