Article from the Swindoll Study Bible

“The tongue can bring death or life; those who love to talk will reap the consequences.” Proverbs 18:21, NLT.

I want to turn your attention to the power of that muscle that lies within your mouth. I’m referring, of course, to your tongue. Let’s consider the words that we use in giving counsel to one another.

If you and I really believed that “the tongue can bring death or life,” I’m convinced that it would make a profound difference on the rest of our lives. Our words can destroy or they can build up. The tongue has the power to discourage or to encourage.

An example comes from Proverbs 14:25, which envisions a person on a witness stand giving a testimony. A witness who lies creates treachery and can ruin or end someone’s life. More often, the life and death that words bring is figurative. Proverbs 16:24 says, “Kind words are like honey—sweet to the soul and healthy for the body.” There have been times in my life when my troubles have been great, my heart has been heavy, and my spirit has been almost broken. But along comes someone with words that are “sweet to my soul,” and this brings healing deep within my bones and deep within my soul.

If you are a professional counselor, a trained lay leader at your church, or just a sincere friend reaching out to fellow believers, you are engaged to some degree in giving counsel. This is a very significant and serious work—you have the power to shape people’s thinking, bring them through the minefield of their experiences, help them process a multitude of feelings, and assist in bringing them to a better place in life.

Do not take your words casually—the people you are counseling won’t. Do not just toss out a thought on a lark to see if it will make sense. Gauge your counsel wisely. As it says in Proverbs 17:27, “A truly wise person uses few words.” Ration your words.

If you are receiving counsel, listen with discernment. Not all advice given is advice that should be followed. One who seeks the will of God will often seek the counsel of other people. “Get all the advice and instruction you can” (Prov. 19:20); God honors that. But invariably you will hear opinions that differ from person to person. Obviously, all of them cannot be right, so you must listen with discernment. Remember well that “truthful words stand the test of time” (Prov. 12:19). There are many voices of so-called authority, but valuable is the person who tells us the truth. This is a person committed to words that square with Scripture, come at the right time and in the right way, and are said in the right spirit.

This kind of wise correction brings life. As I look back and remember time spent with those I would call my mentors, I have found that the things that have stuck with me have been their reproofs and valid criticisms of me. These remain in my mind like “golden apples in a silver basket” (Prov. 25:11-12).

Learn more about the Swindoll Study Bible