He that keepeth his mouth keepeth his life: but he that openeth wide his lips shall have destruction.
Life or death is in your tongue (Pr 18:21). How you talk determines your future. Is speech really this important? Yes. King Solomon wants your attention to help you. Can you rule your mouth to save your life? Or does your mouth rule you, and will it destroy you?
Great men and women are easily known by their speech (Pr 11:16; 22:11; Ec 10:12; Luke 4:22; John 7:45-46). Fools and scorners are also identified by their words (Pr 10:10,14; 18:6-7; Eccl 10:12-14). Your life and future are at stake. Will you examine your speech?
Do you need another proverb about speech? Yes! Why? Because your tongue is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison, a world of iniquity, set on fire of hell! Is this criticism too harsh? Read James (Jas 3:2-12). His words were inspired by the living God, Who knows every word in your tongue before it is even spoken (Ps 139:4). James wrote about you.
Unless you foolishly claim perfection, you have a problem with your speech. Though men have tamed all kinds of wild creatures, no man can fully tame his tongue. Solomon repeatedly warned his son and you about the danger of speech. God wants you to know that your tongue is not your own (Ps 12:4). Every word you form by it must please Him.
Mouth and lips in this proverb are metonyms for speech. You use your mouth and lips to talk, so the means of talking is put for speech itself. The man who keeps his mouth rules his speech; the man who opens wide his lips does not. Guarding your words will save you; talking freely will destroy you. The lesson is simple; the consequences are great.
Your words can greatly help you or hurt you. Gracious and wise words will cause even kings to love you (Pr 22:11; 24:26). Foolish or too many words will mark you as a fool and cost you good friends (Pr 9:6; 14:7; 17:27-28; 18:6). Scornful speech will cause wise men to hate you (Pr 24:9; 22:10). Disrespectful speech will get you punished (Pr 19:25; 20:20; 30:17). Contentious words will cost you a good marriage (Pr 19:13; 29:21).
Solomon knew the grave danger of unguarded speech, so he warned about it often (Pr 10:31; 12:13,18; 16:23; 17:20; 18:7,21; 20:15; 21:23). Your words can get you in serious trouble, so be very careful every time you open your mouth. You can save your life by taking heed to each word you speak and making sure it has God’s clear approval. Or you can destroy yourself by speaking impulsively without careful and godly prudence.
To soberly learn the lesson, and to fear the danger in your mouth, consider a few sins of the tongue: answering again (Tit 2:9), arrogance (I Sam 2:3), backbiting (Pr 25:23), boasting (Ps 94:4), bitter remarks (Eph 4:29-32), complaining (Num 11:1), contention (18:6), debate (Rom 1:29), despising others (Pr 11:12), disrespect to parents (Pr 20:20; Deut 27:16), extortion (Pr 20:14), false accusations (Ex 20:16; Tit 2:3), flattery (Ps 12:3), flattering titles (Job 32:21-22), flirting (Pr 2:16), foolish talking (Eph 5:4), harsh fathering (Col 3:21), hasty or broken vows (Eccl 5:1-7), hypocritical worship (Is 29:13), irreverence by a wife (Eph 5:33; I Pet 3:6), jesting (Eph 5:4), taking the Lord’s name in vain (Ex 20:7), lying (Pr 12:22), nagging by a wife (Pr 27:15-16), name calling (Matt 5:22), ostentatious praying (Matt 6:5), questioning God (Rom 9:20), repetitive and rote prayers (Matt 6:7), risqué speech (Col 3:8), slander (Pr 10:18), speaking against a pastor (Ezek 33:30; III John 1:9-10), speaking evil of dignitaries (Eccl 10:20; Jude 1:8), speaking evil of a brother (Jas 4:11), speaking without study (Pr 15:28), suretyship (Pr 11:15), swearing (Jas 5:12), talebearing (Pr 11:13), unlearned questions (II Tim 2:23), whispering (Pr 16:28), and women speaking in church (I Cor 14:34-35; I Tim 2:11-12).
If those sins were not enough to sober you, consider the words of the Lord Jesus Christ, “O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things. But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned” (Matt 12:34-37). No matter how religious a man may claim to be, he is to be measured by how well he bridles his tongue (Jas 1:26).
Cut your words in half. Speak only half as much as usual. Say only half of what you want to say. Cutting words in half wisely limits your speech and trouble, for there is certain sin in much talking (Pr 10:19). Speak only if necessary. Do not let an idle word escape your lips. Men will quickly think you are wise (Pr 17:27-28). Your reputation will improve.
Slow down. Be swift to hear, slow to speak (Jas 1:19). Think before you release hurtful words (Pr 12:18; Ro 3:13; Col 4:6). Hear a matter out before responding (Pr 18:13; 25:8-10). Godly men study before answering (Pr 15:28). Take conscious thought every time you open your mouth (or type an email or text). Emphasize thankfulness (Eph 5:3-7).
Make graciousness your constant goal (Eccl 10:12; Col 4:6). Let kindness govern every word (Pr 16:24). Remember how David’s pure heart and gracious words won Jonathan and Israel (Pr 22:11; I Sam 18:1-5). Remember how Daniel’s excellent spirit won Darius the Mede (Pr 17:27-28; Dan 6:3). A woman who speaks graciously will always be honored (Pr 11:16; 31:26). Follow the example of Jesus Christ (Ps 45:2; Luke 4:16-22).
Pray like Isaiah did when He saw the glory of God. “Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips (Is 6:1-5)! Pray like David. “Set a watch, O LORD, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips” (Ps 141:3). And also, “Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer” (Ps 19:14).
Like David, stand in awe of God and do not sin with your mouth (Ps 4:4). Ask God to fill your mouth with His praise all day long (Ps 71:8). Remember that Jesus Christ is coming again to judge this world for filthy speech, foolish talking, and jesting; Paul warned the children of God to replace all such speech with giving of thanks (Eph 5:3-6). Amen.