20Make your words good—
you will be glad you did.
21Words can bring death or life!
Talk too much, and you will eat
everything you say.
“From the fruit of his mouth a man’s stomach is filled” is how one version expresses the first part of verse 20.
What a fascinating and counter-intuitive thought! We might normally expect that our bellies are filled by what goes into them, not by what comes out – that what we say is the product, or fruit, of ideas and influences we have ingested. And, of course, that is true enough, but these two sayings playfully flip the obvious idea on its head.
Be careful what you say, Solomon is warning us, because you may have to eat those words!
The second proverb makes it clear just how powerful our words can be, for good or ill. We may speak words of life, words that fill others and ourselves with spiritual, emotional or intellectual nutrition, or we may speak words of death: judgment, discouragement, contempt. We may think that, in speaking thus to others we are doing them damage – and that may in fact be our intent – but we do not realize that we are also harming ourselves.
“It’s not what goes into someone that defiles him or her,” Jesus teaches us, “but what comes out” (Matthew 15:11).
Whether we speak life or death, we end up feeding on what we have to say. I want to eat healthy food – an appetizer of gratitude, an entrée of blessing, accompanied by side dishes of affirmation, encouragement, and tenderness, finishing up with a luscious dessert of peace and joy.
Living Word, you are full of truth and grace; you speak their sustenance into our hungry lives. Help us also to speak words of life to those around us, that we, and they, may live healthier lives in you. In the name of Jesus Christ, the Bread of Heaven.