Proverbs 18:21

Death and life are in the power of the tongue: and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof.

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Your speech will either help or hurt you (Pr 10:14; 12:14; 13:2-3; 18:6-7,23). If you are older, it already has! Many have ruined their lives by not ruling their mouths. Others have been exalted for their kind and wise tongues. Your speech will bring either blessing or cursing on you from both God and men, in both time and eternity. Do you love good speech or bad speech? Your future will be impacted heavily by your choice and habit.

A tongue can kill or save others’ lives. A false witness can cause the death of an innocent man, or a comforter can restore a dejected man by an uplifting word. A slanderer can kill the reputation of a good man, or a wise counselor can guide a young man through the dangers of youth. A seducing woman can ruin a man’s life, or a godly mother can teach her children the truth. A tongue definitely affects others, but that is not the lesson here.

The tongue also affects speakers. The death and life in the power of the tongue are the effects of your speech on yourself. You learn this by the second clause, which teaches that those loving their use of the tongue will eat either the fruit of death or life. You also know this by the context, for the previous proverb reads, “A man’s belly shall be satisfied with the fruit of his mouth; and with the increase of his lips shall he be filled” (Pr 18:20).

Consider the love of speech, which is a key in this proverb. Even evil men can say good things when it is to their greedy purposes to do so, and good men slip from time to time and say things they should not (Pr 23:6-8; Eccl 10:1). But only good men truly love good speech, and only evil men truly love evil speech. The law of the proverb is based on what kind of speech you love – the speech you commit your heart, mouth, and habits toward.

When you see a man failing in life, he likely did not rule his tongue. You can see the failure in his marriage(s), with his children, and in his profession. Criticism and harshness cost him affection. Exaggerations and extreme words cost him trust. Complaining and whining cost him influence. Arrogance and disrespect of authority cost him promotions. Too many words cost him listeners. Backbiting and talebearing cost him respect. Foolishness and jesting cost him honor. Unkept promises made him a liar. He is dead!

He committed suicide with his tongue! He ate the fruit of death! He used the power of his tongue to his own destruction. He would not rule his spirit or teach his tongue wisdom (Pr 16:23; 25:28). Therefore, both God and men punished him for his verbal folly. God turned to be his enemy, and men avoided him and cut him out of their friendships and profitable endeavors. He used the power of his tongue to his own destruction and death.

Other men rise like cream to the top, because they rule their speech. They limit words (Pr 10:19; 17:27-28). They use gentleness rather than bluster (Pr 15:1; 25:15). They speak only the certain words of truth (Pr 22:17-21). They never talk against a man not present (Pr 16:28; 26:20-22). They study and think before speaking (Pr 15:28). They are always thankful. They seldom speak up unless asked (Pr 18:13; 29:11; Jas 1:19). Their gracious speech wins the hearts of men and women – they are soon friends with the king (Pr 16:13; 22:11). They are a tree of life to others and to themselves (Pr 10:11; 13:3; 15:4).

When a woman is a failure, she likely did not rule her tongue. Harsh and critical speech, nagging reminders, snotty retorts, or constant suggestions destroyed her husband’s affection – she killed her marriage. Her children cannot wait to get out of the house, because the overbearing and continual criticism is too much to bear. She is odious! She has no friends, because everyone hates an odious woman. She committed marital, domestic, and social suicide with her tongue. She ate the fruit of death. She is dead.

A gracious woman is always honored (Pr 11:16). The rule is simple and absolute – a woman that rules her tongue will have many friends and a glorious reputation. She has the law of kindness in her mouth, and she only speaks when she has something wise and important to say (Pr 31:26). She never speaks to hear herself talk, to offer trivialities, to correct minor details, or to make sure she contributes more than others in a group. She has a meek and quiet spirit – one that hates talking without a noble purpose (I Pet 3:3-4).

Young man, learn sound speech before it is too late. Keep company only with gracious and wise men, who rule their mouths. Reject every man with a foolish and loud mouth. Learn Solomon’s wisdom about teaching your lips (Pr 4:24; 6:12; 8:13; 10:31-32; 15:28; 16:23). You can greatly enhance your future by learning good speech for all occasions.

Young woman, you should learn and practice the same things. If you do not, you will have difficulty finding a man that will ruin his life by marrying you. An odious woman is a terrifying threat to men, and a young man can discover you with his ears. You must despise idle chatter, giggling, foolish talking, opinionated debate, or other odious traits.

Old man, you are already eating the fruit of your mouth. The only hope you have is to confess your sins of speech to God and men, speak only gracious and wise words when asked, and beg God for the wisdom and strength to rule your unruly tongue. Learn Paul’s advice for you to be sober and grave, so cut out jesting and foolish talking (Tit 2:1).

Old woman, you have likely scarred your husband’s heart. And your children, while not telling you, rejoice when they can get away from you or end a phone conversation. How many crave your presence and pursue conversation with you? If the number is low, you have a speech problem. Follow the advice given to the old man and trust God for mercy.

Reader, your words will bring death or life in this world and the next. Jesus said, “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 12:36-37). Death and life are in your tongue. Choose life!