Toxic Talk
God Has an App for That – Part 4
Proverbs 18:21

If you have your Bibles turn to the Book of Proverbs.  You can go to the center of your Bible, go to the right just a bit, and you should be in Proverbs.  We are in a series called “God Has an App for That,” and what we are learning is that the Bible has all kinds of application to our everyday lives.  And as we study through the Book of Proverbs it just speaks very specifically, oftentimes, into the situations, into the relationships, into the circumstances that we deal with.

One of the things we saw last week is that the key to effective application is not behavior modification, and yet that is how we tend to think of it.  We think, “If I want to apply God’s Word, if I want to change something in my life, then I’ve got to change my behavior.  I’ve got to do things differently.”  So we tend to come up with a list.  “I need to do this, and I need to stop doing this.”  But behavior modification…it doesn’t work because it doesn’t last.  It might work for a while – maybe for a few weeks, a few months, you see some changes in your life – but true transformation comes from the inside out.

So last week we saw where Solomon says, “Guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life” (Proverbs 4:23).  That everything comes from the heart and if we are trying to bring about change without first addressing what is in the heart, it just…it just doesn’t work.

When we lived in Oklahoma, we had a handyman from our church come to the church parsonage to hang a light fixture in the kitchen.  He came and he got everything hooked up.  He wired it up and turned on the light.  Nothing happened.  He wired it.  He rewired it.  He kept trying.  He was getting frustrated because it wasn’t working.  And as I stood there watching, I began to think to myself, “Well, what’s wrong?  Is the light bad?  I’m not sure what the problem is.”  And then I got to thinking and I determined, “I’m fairly certain he is not flipping on the right switch.  The one next to it is the one he is flipping on.”  And I’m not going to say that out loud—right?—because if I’m wrong on that it’s just going to illicit mockery and laughter.  So I decide I just…I’m going to go try it.  I walk over to the wall, flip on the switch, and the light comes on.  Mr. Handyman, right?  I fixed the problem.  Now for all of his knowledge and for all of his expertise and for all of his effort—because he was really working at it—it didn’t really matter until he flipped the right switch.

And I think what many of us can discover as we study through the book of Proverbs is that the switch that has yet to be flipped is the heart.  And we will try all kinds of things.  We will wire and rewire.  We will attempt behavior modification and buy self-help books, and we’ll listen to the Oprah podcast.  We will do all kinds of things trying to bring about change in our lives.  But until that switch is flipped, until we address it from the inside-out, until we are honest about the condition of our hearts, it just doesn’t work.

Now that is especially true with what we are talking about today, because we are going to talk about the words that we speak—what we say.  And if you read through the book of Proverbs, you will find that Solomon makes a direct connection from our mouth to our hearts. Seven times he makes this specific connection: that what we say with our mouth reflects what is in our heart.

Jesus taught this as well.  I want to look at a couple of passages together.  

In Matthew 15:18 Jesus says, “But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart…” (KJV).  

Matthew 12:34, “For whatever is in your heart determines what you say” (NLT).  

And most of us have had this experience where we have said something—we’ve spoken in anger, we’ve raised our voice and yelled, we’ve called a name—and as soon as we said it, we regret saying it.  We didn’t mean to say it.  It just came out, right?  Well, why?  Why did it come out?  Jesus would say, “Well, it’s because it was really in your heart.”  We try to filter what comes out of our mouth.  We try to filter what is in our heart.  But when we are angry, when we are upset, when we are frustrated, when we’ve had it with somebody, suddenly that filter breaks down.  The words come out and what is in our heart is reflected.  So as you read through Scripture you will see this connection of the mouth and the heart: That what is in your heart is projected when you speak.

So the question is, as we study this together, what do your words say about your heart?  What do your words say about what is on the inside?

And we have all kinds of ways to use words today.  We don’t just talk on the phone, but we email, we text, we Facetime, we Zoom, we Skype, we Twitter and we Facebook.  We have all kinds of ways to use words.  On average we have about thirty conversations a day…thirty separate conversations a day.  We spend around one-fifth of our lifetime just talking…about one-fifth of the time.  Now some of you are skewing that average big time!  But on average…one-fifth.  If you were to record a person’s words (every word they spoke, every conversation they had) through the course of one year, it would be enough over the course of one year…it would be enough to fill 132 books, 200 pages each.

We use words all the time.  My question is, if someone were to pull a book off the shelf and they were to read the words that you spoke this last week and the conversations that you had this last week, what would it say about you?  What are your words projecting about your heart?  Because what is in your heart comes out of your mouth.

And as we read through the book of Proverbs one thing you will see again and again is Solomon’s emphasis on the power of the tongue.  

Proverbs chapter 18 is probably the best verse…18 verse 21…that captures the overall wisdom of Proverbs.  We will look at a number of them together, but Proverbs 18:21 just sums this up in a sentence for us—this wisdom of Solomon with the words we speak—and it says, “The tongue has the power of life and the tongue has the power of death….”

Most of us have experienced both.  If I asked you about words that have brought life, my guess is you could think of these, right?  I mean, can you think of a statement or sentence or two someone spoke to you at just the right time—maybe when you were a child—and those words just brought life to you?  In one way or another, they really ended up directing your life and shaping how you saw yourself.

If you were to ask people to respond to the question, “What are some words that have brought life to you over the years?” you might hear some responses like these.  “When I grow up I want to be like you.”  “You’re my favorite teacher.”  “I’m praying for you.”  “Kids, doesn’t your mom look beautiful tonight?”  “Goodnight, Princess.”  “You’re a great Mommy.”  “You played awesome tonight, Buddy.”  “Your voice is a gift from God.”  “Whoever marries you will be one lucky man.”  “I am more proud of who you are than what you do.”  “You get prettier every day.”  “You are such a hard worker.”  And the list could go on and on.  And I pray that you have experienced some of that in your life.  That at the right time the right person said the right thing, and life came to you.  Words can do that – they have the power of life.

But Solomon says words also have the power of death.  

In some ways it is easier for us to recall some of those words that have been spoken to us.  Proverbs 12:18 says, “The words of the reckless pierce like swords….”  They pierce like swords.

Every once in a while, if you hang around with the same group of guys long enough, the conversation will, you know, slide down into the point we are comparing scars.  I am guessing you ladies don’t do this.  Maybe you do.  But they will compare scars.  Guys will talk about the different scars that we’ve got, and every scar has a story.  You know, there will be a knee surgery scar and there will be a skateboard accident scar.  They’ll show a scar on their hand where they accidentally stabbed themselves with a table knife.  That’s my…that’s my story!  And you try to figure out who’s got the best scar, who’s got the best story.  And over time what you discover is that a lot of those scars…they fade.  They don’t look as impressive as they once did, right?  But they’re still there.  They don’t completely disappear.

And I think, for many of us, this is what we do.  We kind of carry around these scars from swords that have stabbed us, words that were spoken to us.  And, yeah, they’ve gone away some.  The pain has stopped considerably, but the scar is still there.

And if you were to ask another group of people, “What are some words of death that wounded you in some way and you just…you just can easily still recall them?” you might hear responses like these.  “That was the worst performance I’ve seen in 25 years of teaching.”  “No one will ever want to be with you.  You’re damaged goods.”  “You are so lazy.”  “You’re just not smart enough.”  “Why can’t you be more like your sister?”  “We are terminating your employment.”  “I wish you were never born.”  “You will never amount to anything.”  “You and your brother were just in the way of me living my life.”  “No one will ever want to marry you.” “You lost the game for us tonight.”  “I met someone else.”  And the list goes on and on.  

And most of us have experienced those wounds because words have the power of death.

What I want us to do is just do an overall look at the book of Proverbs and understand some of Solomon’s wisdom when it comes to words that are toxic—what I call “toxic talk.”

They just over time begin to tear down and destroy.  Toxins are either abrasive or corrosive, and they just gradually wear something away.  They gradually tear something down.  Without even realizing it, our talk becomes toxic.  And some of you are living in toxic homes and you’re working in toxic work environments and you live in a toxic neighborhood.  Why?  Because of the way someone is using their words, and it brings death.  So, we’ll look at that and we also want to understand some ways that we can bring life with our words.

(1)  So if you’re reading through the book of Proverbs and you’re looking for these warnings about our tongue, one category of toxic talk would be Gossip and Slander.  

Those things tend to be linked together.  We tend to think of gossip as just, you know, talking behind someone’s back, saying things that aren’t true.  That is rumor.  Gossip is broader than that.  It is saying something behind someone’s back where, if they knew you said it, it would hurt them.  It does nothing to solve a problem.  It does nothing to uplift or encourage.  It doesn’t lead to any kind of positive outcome.  It’s just hurtful talk.

The Bible says in Proverbs 16:28, “A perverse man stirs up dissension, and a gossip separates close friends.”  

Solomon says, “Look, when you gossip, it causes dissention; it separates relationships.”  

The Greek word for gossip helps us understand a little bit, I think, what the meaning is.  It just literally means “the whisperer,” the whisperer.  It is someone who just goes around and whispers things about other people so they can’t hear, but it doesn’t encourage; it doesn’t build up.

Now here is the thing with gossip, slander.  We tend to hear it when other people do it. We recognize it as such.  But when it comes from ourselves, we are so good at justifying it we don’t even realize we are doing it.  And so, somebody will say, “Well, I don’t really have a problem with gossip, but you should hear my next-door neighbor,” right?  That tends to be the attitude with which we approach this. 

So what I’ve done is I’ve tried to come up with some ways that we justify our gossip, some ways we try to call our gossip something else.  

And one category of gossipers would be the “I have a prayer request gossiper.  

You will meet these within the church sometimes. They will tell you something about someone else, but they cloak it in the spiritual language of a prayer request.  So they’ll say, “You know, I walked by my neighbor’s house the other night and they were just…I could hear them yelling at each other.  They’re having some marriage problems.  We need to pray for them.”  Or they’ll say, “The Smiths are two months behind on their rent and we need to pray.  They just need our prayers right now.”  Or, “Sara has an eating disorder.  I don’t know if you all knew that but let’s…let’s just all be in prayer for Sara.”  And that tends to be how this goes.  And we are spiritualizing our gossip by calling it a prayer request, but it is still gossip and it is still a sin.

Here is another type of gossiper: it’s the Bless their heart” gossiper.  

Right?  You know these people.  It basically is this idea: you can really say anything you want about anybody as long as after you’re done saying it you bless their heart!  That means everything is fine, that it’s not really gossip because you blessed their heart when you were finished.

So it looks like this.  “He’s trying to make his hair look like Justin Bieber.  Bless his heart.” That’s…  That’s gossip.  It’s sin and we will repent before we leave here today!  That tends to be…that tends to be how some of us do it.  And we cloak our gossip in concern.  “Well, I’m just being a good Christian by expressing my concern, by making sure everybody is aware.”

For example, someone comes up to a man at church and says, “Hey, I’ve been hearing some talk because you don’t ever wear a wedding ring when you go to work.  There are some people saying that you’re having marriage problems.”  No, this man has been happily married to his wife for fifteen years, but he doesn’t wear a ring to work because the nature of his job makes it a hazard.  And somehow that translates into, “They must be having marriage problems, because he doesn’t always wear a wedding ring.”  

Now how does that happen?  Well, here is how it happens.  Someone sees, “Oh, he didn’t wear his wedding ring to work.  He must be having marriage problems.  I wonder if they sleep in the same bed?”  And the talk just grows and grows.  And God says what it does is it stirs up division.  It causes problems.  But we cloak it in concern.  We make it sound like, “Well, it’s just my Christian duty to make sure that we talk about this.”

Here is another kind of gossip: it is the “I’m just telling it like it is” gossiper.  

This tends to be how men gossip, right?  “I’m just tellin’ it like it is.”  They make it sound like that talking behind someone’s back is actually quite courageous.  

Now here are some ways you know you’re talking to an “I’m just telling it like it is gossiper.”  They will say things like this.  They’ll say, “I’m not telling you anything I wouldn’t say to him.”  That’s what they’ll say.  They’ll say, “I’d say that to his face.”  No, they wouldn’t.  If they say that, they wouldn’t say it to their face.  If they had said it to their face, they wouldn’t be saying it to you, right?  But we cloak our gossip in this justification.  But God calls it a sin because of what it does to relationships.

And I’ve seen this.  I’ve seen what it does to families.  I’ve seen what it does to churches. When it just goes unchecked and people talk negatively and they whisper, it can destroy.  And the longer it goes unchecked the worse it gets.  

Proverbs 26:20 says, “Without wood a fire goes out; without gossip a quarrel dies down.”  

It is amazing how quickly things settle down when you go to the person and you ask them directly.  It is amazing how quickly the fire dies down when you say to the person who is gossiping to you, “Hey, let’s just go…let’s just go talk to that person right now and let’s find out if that’s really true.  Let’s find out what’s going on.”  The fire dies down.  When there is gossip, when there is lots of whispering, it stirs it up; it causes division.

Now here is what is interesting as you read through Proverbs.  That gossip is a sin that’s not just attributed to the person who speaks it but also attributed to the person who listens to it.  

That is to say, gossip is not just something we do with our mouths but it’s something we do with our ears.  When we listen to gossip, we are gossiping.  

Listen to what Proverbs 17:4 says: “Wrongdoers eagerly listen to gossip…” (NLT).  

So we have a responsibility not just to avoid speaking gossip but to avoid listening to gossip.  So that is one category of toxic talk that can just ruin a relationship and destroy an environment.

(2)  If you’re reading through Proverbs, I think another category would be the Criticism and Complaining.  

It’s just toxic, isn’t it?  Do you know somebody like this?  Now remember it all reflects the heart, so this negative talk almost always reflects this negative heart.  But if you know someone like this, you know what they can do.  It’s just…it’s like a slow death when you’re around them, because they’re a sponge and their negativity just sucks the life out of people they share life with.  You talk to them about anything, and they see the negative.  If you ask them about their job, they complain about their boss and they complain about their coworkers; they complain about the commute.  You ask them about their family and, you know, they complain about what their spouse isn’t doing; they complain about their child; they complain about the school; they complain about gas prices.  If you talk to them about church, they complain about the sermon; they complain about the preacher; they complain about the worship; they complain about the youth groups.  And it just…it’s always negative.

Now I maybe shouldn’t tell you this…but I will.  A lot of pastors that I know have a list—it’s kind of an unofficial list—of these types of people.  And do you know why?  It’s because they know it doesn’t matter what you do.  You can listen to them, and you can try to make some changes and make some adjustments, and you’re going to hear from the same people the next week or the next month.  Because this is…this is how they see the world.  They look at something and they see the negative side of it.

One preacher friend of mine related that their church had a special baptism service where over fifty people were baptized.  He said it was an incredible Sunday morning.  Then on Monday he got an email from someone, and he said he saw the name and he knew what it was about.  The email was not about the fifty plus people that were baptized; it was about the fact that instead of wearing white robes in the baptistery they were wearing T-shirts.  And that’s just the way these people tend to see the world.

And when you’re around someone like that, it just…it’s death.  They are just words of death.  

Listen to the way Proverbs explains living with someone who is like this.  Proverbs 27:15 and 16: “A nagging spouse (someone who is negative, critical about everything) is like a drip, drip, drip of a leaky faucet; You can’t turn it off and you can’t get away from it” (MSG).  

Right?  And some of you are being waterboarded, right?!  I mean, that is what it is like in your house.  You just…it’s like, “Oh, are you serious?”  And it’s just drip, drip, drip, drip.  And it’s just this constant negativity and it wears you out.  It’s death.

The University of Denver has done a study where they were trying to show how negativity is one of the most accurate predictors of the success or the failure of marriage.  They studied couples who had been married ten years and here is what they discovered.  That in marriages where the ratio of comments was five or less negative comments per one hundred, almost guaranteed they were going to stay together.  When the ratio was ten or more negative comments (criticism, complaining) per one hundred comments, it was almost guaranteed that they were going to split up.  Why?  Because those negative words of complaining and criticism, they just…they just begin to suck the life out of a relationship.  It is the drip.  It’s drip, drip, drip.  And it’s this poison.  It poisons our relationships and families and churches and work environments.

And some of you have lived in this toxic environment.  You know just what I mean, because you know that every little thing can become a really big thing.  The tone is always harsh—it doesn’t matter what is being talked about—and voices are easily raised.  

If you work in a place like this then you know it’s miserable, right?  It’s miserable.  If the person in authority over you, if they have this ratio out of balance…  So if it’s ten criticisms for every one encouragement, what happens?  Well, you’re unmotivated and you’re scared because it doesn’t matter what you do, you feel like you’re going to be criticized by it.  It just…it sucks the life out of a work environment.

Now here is one of the ways you know you have got someone like this in your life.  It’s when you see their name pop up on your phone, do you want to answer it?  Right?  Some people you do.  You want to answer it.  But there are some people…you know if they’re calling it is going to be a long conversation and it’s going to be negative; and it’s going to be critical and they’re going to be complaining.  And it’s hard to take those phone calls.

Another way that you can tell…  At work, if you pull into the parking lot at work and you look around…subconsciously you look around…and secretly rejoice when someone’s car isn’t there.  I mean, it’s like, “Oh, it’s going to be a good day.”  And it’s because of what those people can do to an environment.  It brings death.

But here is what Solomon would say in Proverbs 10:11 on the other hand: “The words of the godly are a life-giving fountain…” (NLT).  They just bring life to the people they are around.

Proverbs 10:21 says, “The words of the godly encourage many…” (NLT).

So are your words, words that build up or tear down?  Do you complain or do you compliment?  Do you criticize or do you encourage?

There is a book out called The Carrot Principle.  It says that business research indicates that encouragement is the missing ingredient or “the hidden accelerator” (that’s what they call it) in most work environments.  They interviewed 200,000 people over a ten-year period and they found that encouragement is the number one thing employees want from their bosses.

Here are some statistics from the book.  

It says that of those reporting high work morale…94.4% would agree that their managers show appreciation; 79% of employees who quit their jobs cite a lack of appreciation and encouragement as the key reason for leaving; 56% of employees who report low work morale also give their managers low marks for encouragement.  And The Carrot Principle concludes this way.  It says, “The simple act of a leader expressing appreciation to a person in a meaningful way is the missing accelerator that can do so much but is used so sparingly.”  

So, our words have the power of life, and our words have the power of death.

But if you find yourself spewing out this toxin, this toxic talk, what do you do with it?

Well, the first thing you have got to understand is, as we said, is that it comes from the heart.  And I know we want to skip this step.  You, like me, you want the three or four things—count to ten and whatever it is.  But it comes from the heart.  And if you are a person who is constantly criticizing someone—let’s say it’s your spouse—it’s a likely indication that you have got bitterness and anger in your heart for your spouse.  And you can say, “I’m not going to be critical anymore,” but until you forgive and until you give grace, you’re going to keep being critical.

Or perhaps you have a heart that was heavily criticized growing up and you don’t have an encouraged heart.  Until you forgive your mom or your dad and until you start hearing the true words of what God says about you, until your heart is encouraged, it’s going to be hard to encourage others.

Or maybe you’re one of the complainers.  You just complain about everything.  You don’t mean to, but you just are always complaining.  Where does that come from?  It comes from the heart.  Usually, it is a spoiled heart.  And you can try and stop complaining but until you start taking time every day to get on your knees and to thank God for His blessing in your life, to thank God for His grace and His mercy and His salvation and His forgiveness…until your heart is filled with gratitude, you’re going to keep complaining.

And you may be a person who gossips, and you don’t mean to.  You don’t even realize you’re doing it, and then when you realize it, you’re convicted.  Where does that come from? It typically comes from a jealous heart, and you compare yourself to other people.  And until you start celebrating with others in their good news, until you start praying God’s blessing upon the people that you share life with, chances are you’re going to keep struggling with gossip, because everything comes from within.  It all flows…it all flows out of the heart.

But if you look through Proverbs there are just a few other little things that I think can make a big difference.  

One is, “Think before you speak,” which we are told that as kids, but you just see this wisdom all throughout Proverbs.  

Proverbs 29:20, “Do you see a man who speaks in haste?  There is more hope for a fool than for him.”  

Chapter 10, verse 19, “…he who holds his tongue is wise.”  

Proverbs 15:28, “The heart of the righteous weighs its answers….”

Think before you speak.  I might change it to “Pray before you speak.”  That in the moment before you open your mouth, you stop and you ask God for His wisdom.  And you ask God for His tone, you ask God for His words, and you ask Him to guard your lips.  And the less you feel like doing that, the more important it probably is that you do it.  So, you think before you speak; you pray before you speak.

Another piece of wisdom from Proverbs—it’s one of my favorite proverbs on the tongue—comes from Proverbs 25:11 and it says, “A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold and settings of silver.”  I like the way The Message puts this.  It says, “The right word at the right time is like a custom-made piece of jewelry.”

It is amazing the difference our words make when we say the right thing at the right time.  One woman conveyed that she walked across the graduation stage in high school and a teacher leaned forward and whispered in her ear, “I can tell you’re going to be one of the great ones.”  And that right word from the right person at the right moment changed how she saw herself.

So that is what I would say.  

Understand the power of this: That the right word from the right person at the right moment has the power of life!

Give life!

So as we finish up, here is what I want you to do.  Grab the sermon note insert from your bulletin and flip it over to the back.  This won’t take long.  This exercise helped me.  And in the left-hand column, I want you to answer this question: “Who are some significant people in your life?”  What are the names of some significant people in your life?  Okay?  

And if you’re not doing this now, please do it when you get home.  I just…I think that there is more of an impact here than maybe we realize.  Who are some significant people in your life?  Don’t over think it.  A family member, a friend, a neighbor, a coworker…first names.  

In the second column, the right-hand column, look at those names on the left and answer this question: “What life-giving words do they need to hear from me right now?  

See the name and ask yourself, “What are the life-giving words that they need to hear from me right now?”  Because I am telling you that the people in your left-hand column have words that they need to hear from you.  And really, you’re the one, when you say it, that will make the difference.  And they need to hear them right now because it is “aptly spoken.”  It’s the right words at the right time from the right person, and it brings life.

So when you say, “I am proud of you,” when you say, “You’re beautiful,” when you say, “I am sorry” or “You’re doing an awesome job” or “I am praying for you” or “You can get through this”— those are words of life.  You can finish that at home.

Right now, though, put your paper away for a moment.  And if you will, just bow your heads and close your eyes.  I just want to talk you through a couple of things as we finish up.

One of the challenges when it comes to the words we speak is that we don’t consider what we say or how we say it sinful…and it is sinful.  The tongue has a way of justifying itself. So, people who are critical will say, “That’s the way I’m wired.”  People who are negative will say, “That’s my personality.”  People who are argumentative will say, “Well, you should know the people I live with” or “You should understand the stress I am under.”  So suddenly their harsh tone or their angry words are justified because, in their mind, their spouse, their child, their employee, their neighbor, their coworker had it coming.  Someone else’s sin or someone else’s behavior makes their sin acceptable.  But it’s not true.  

So, we want to confess our sin.  Understand Jesus died for your harsh tone.  He died for your constant complaining.  He died for your gossip and for your name-calling.  It is a sin, and we need to repent of it.  We need to be sorrowful for the damage that we have done with our words.  So would you just confess that sin to God? (Pause)  Would you ask Him to heal the damage that your words have caused? (Pause)

And would you, in this moment, think of maybe a few people that you need to go to, and you need to say some words like, “I am sorry,” and, “I was wrong for what I said,” and, “Please forgive me”?  And you may think they’ve forgotten.  But they haven’t forgotten.  And some of you have the power today to change someone’s life by speaking some healing words into their heart.  Who are those people in your life?

Keep your eyes closed.  I want you, as we finish up, to just listen to some words that God wants you to hear from His mouth.  If you are a Christian, if you have put your trust in Jesus Christ, here are some words of life that God wants you to hear:

  • Romans 8: You are not condemned.
  • Ephesians 1: You are forgiven.
  • 2 Corinthians 5: You are brand new.
  • Ephesians 1: You are holy and without blame.
  • Colossians 1: You have been delivered from the power of darkness.
  • Jeremiah 31: God says, “I love you with an everlasting love and I have a plan for your life.”
  • John 8: You have been set free.
  • Philippians 4: You can do this and I will give you the strength.
  • Matthew 5: You are the light of the world.
  • 1 John 5: You are an overcomer.
  • Psalm 17: You are the apple of My eye.
  • 1 Peter 1: You are My child.

Hear these words from the Lord.

David Hall
First Church of Christ
May 23, 2021