We’re going to be in Proverbs 10 today. We’re going to be chewing on one verse today… just one proverb today.
A couple of weeks ago we wandered into a vast treasure chamber—
a chamber filled not with real jewels or real gold but with our real humanity.
The Scripture uses words like wisdom and knowledge and insight and righteousness but the truly human life—the truly alive life— that’s something God always holds before us as the one of the goals of our faith.
Proverbs opens up before us like a vast chamber of wisdom and invites us to become better at the art of human life.
This truly-alive-kind-of-life does not begin with us—
with anything that we do or learn or practice.
And that’s especially counterintuitive as we’re in the Book of Proverbs, but if we’re looking for wisdom or knowledge or a truly alive life it’s not going to come from us.
The beginning of this kind of life comes as we recognize that every single one of us are a part of a mystery bigger than ourselves.
We’re all alive—we’re all here— but none of us had any hand in choosing to be here.
And we need to stand
in awe and reverence and even fear and trembling
at the Mysterious Someone who has made all of us.
That reverence—that fear of the Lord—is where the truly-alive-kind-of-life begins.
There’s a familiar line in John Newton’s famous hymn that says: “Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved” and that’s profoundly true in the chamber of wisdom.
We need some kind of reverence—some kind of fear— to drive us to the end of ourselves (that’s the beginning of wisdom) but then (as we heard last week) there is a Person always calling out to us— always inviting us into a deeper and better and eternal way of living.
This is foundational: the truly alive life doesn’t begin with us fixing ourselves.
Wisdom doesn’t begin with us fixing ourselves.
Wisdom begins when we finally abandon ourselves and embrace this Person calling out to us.
The nine chapter poem that begins the Book of Proverbs paints us a portrait of this Other Person we’re invited to embrace— and it bears a remarkable resemblance to Jesus of Nazareth. The joyful, delighting Presence of Jesus was with God from the very beginning of everything and helped God bring order to the chaos of the world.
And the joyful, delighting Presence of Jesus invites us to come and and have all our fears banished and have the chaos of our worlds brought into order.
Proverbs is saying what the rest of Scripture bears witness to—
that all we can ever do with our lives is respond to God’s invitation. We respond to this invitation—respond to his grace, respond to his love—
and learn to practice participating in his love.
Because responding to this love, receiving this love,
practicing love, participating in love,
there is nothing deeper.
That’s the truly alive life.
That’s how we practice the art of human life.
The life of wisdom is the life learning to participate in love.
That sounds all well and good—living lives that participate in love— but what does that look like on the ground?
If the fear of Lord that relieves all our fears and the love of God that reorders our lives—
if these things just remain concepts that we think about
if these things just remain ideas that we reflect on,
if these things aren’t slowly transforming the way we live our day-to-day lives—
the way we think and act and feel and interact with people—
then we’re not really participating in love.
We’re just fooling ourselves.
In the words of one early Christian leader:
(1Jn 4.19-20) We love because [God] first loved us.
Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.
The brilliant thing about the Proverbs is they specialize in holding our lives before us and helping us examine whether we’re actually learning participate in love or whether we’re just lying to ourselves.
They help us move from ideas to action.
From ideas that we say we believe to what we actually believe.
(Because if we want to know what we actually believe, all we have to do is look at the way we actually live.)
The Proverbs specialize in what it looks like “on the ground” to participate in love.
And one of the first places—one of the primary places— that Proverbs will direct us (again and again and again) is our mouth.
Our voice box.
Our tongue. How do we use our words?
The Proverb that I want to chew on for a few minutes today is found in Proverbs 10.11:
The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life,
but the mouth of the wicked conceals violence.
Proverbs presents us with two kinds of people—
those who are whole and healthy and do what is right (the righteous)
and those who are disjointed and unravelling and rebellious (the wicked).
And these two kinds of people use their words in very different sorts of ways.
Jesus says something very similar in Matthew 12:
(12.34b-35) The mouth speaks what the heart is full of. A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him.
Jesus seems to be saying that you can glimpse who people really are by listening to what flows out of them.
Our words show others the shape of our heart.
The simple, common, everyday practice of using our lungs and lips and tongue and teeth to form words— that’s a sure-fire place where others find out what is in our heart.
If we want to know what’s in our heart,
we need to watch what we’re doing with our lips.
The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life, but the mouth of the wicked conceals violence.
The righteous, well, their mouth is like a spring of water in the desert— it’s a fountain of life.
In the arid, desert climate of the Ancient Near East, if you could just find a well of water— a place where you reach down into the earth and access water— an entire community could spring up.
A village could form, a town could develop, a group people could live from just a well of water.
But a fountain of water—my goodness!
A place where nobody reaches down into the earth,
but the earth itself spontaneously and consistently pours out water on it’s own accord…
you could build a city around that.
Any kind of fountain is a fountain of life— and it’s a rare thing indeed.
That’s the wise way to use our words—a truly-alive way to live.
Like a fountain.
Our lives are not meant to be basins or reservoirs or water-towers— we’re meant to be fountains.
Fountains have an outward movement.
Instead of collecting and conserving and hoarding life
they give and pour out and make alive.
People don’t have to reach or dig or search—
they just consistently and spontaneously flow to bring life.
If you start reading through the Proverbs, you’ll find again and again that is how the wise use their words: the wise are those learning to use their words to bring life around them.
Encouraging when needed,
thanking when needed,
correcting when needed, confronting when needed,
but the wise are always aware of the incredible power of words
and harnessing that power for the sake of others.
I’m suspicious that fountains like this will still build a cities—and schools and families and lives.
But the wicked—oh man— this is a completely different use of the mouths.
To hide horror.
To conceal violence.
What does the proverb mean right there?
It it talking about concealing the crime or concealing the crime scene?
The answer is, of course, “yes.”
The wicked try to conceal the violence
of both the crime and the crime scene.
Oh maybe it’s not always physical violence,
but we use words to hide the crime.
We use words to cloak our daggers—our resentment and anger and hatred— in the forms of gossip and sarcasm and jokes.
And we often use words like a bucket of bleach at the crime scene—
getting rid of all the blood and fingerprints we can.
We’re always trying to protect ourselves, to cover our tracks, to hide our shame, so that no can one discover what we did, what we said, what we think.
Concealing violence— that’s another way of using the mouth.
Which of those is a better way of being a human being?
Which way is hidden and isolated and in darkness?
Which way is alive, which way is open,
which way is flowing out and flourishing and building up?
That’s kind of a no-brainer.
But then the harder question to answer might be,
what does our mouth tell us about our heart?
How do we use our words most of the time—
to bring life to others or to conceal violence?
Like fountain of life or a bucket of bleach?
It’s a harder question because it’s hard to listen to how we’re using our words—
it’s hard to listen because we’re too busy talking.
A few weeks ago,
Joy and I were watching a home video of my family from Christmas of 1997
and there were a several places in the video where
I heard myself talking and physically cringed.
Not just because it’s terrible hearing recordings of yourself, but because I could hear a deep anger and sarcasm in my teenage voice.
There’s no way I could hear it at the time.
But with the distance of almost 18 years,
I heard the words I was choosing and the way I was speaking
and it was not bringing life to my family around me.
My words in this video are concealing violence— anger and frustration and despair.
I can vaguely remember feeling those emotions during that particular Christmas, but I had no idea how my words sounded—I was too busy talking.
It took eighteen years for me to listen to myself.
Thankfully there are ways of hearing yourself and seeing the shape of your heart— that don’t require eighteen years of distance and a video camera.
At least three ways come to mind.
First, trying listening to another person.
Asking someone who knows you well how you use your words.
You might want to give them a little bit of time to think about it,
and you definitely need to make sure that both of you feel safe.
That they feel safe enough to speak honestly,
and you feel safe enough to really listen.
But ask someone outside of you—
“How do I use my words? Do I use my words to heal or to conceal?”
The very act of doing this—of asking another person this question
and then trusting them enough and valuing them enough to listen to them
is actually the act of drinking from a fountain.
We’re letting another person be a fountain, and learning to receive healing from them.
Another strategy that I’ve found really helpful is intentionally listening to your own silence.
What I mean by that by that is try using words less often than you normally would for a particular day (or for part of a day).
Maybe even try to talk as little as possible for the day.
And then listen to your own silence.
Listen to the moments when you most want to speak. The times that I’ve practiced this, I’ve found it amazing how often I want to use my words to manage someone’s impression of me or defend myself or conceal my own faults.
That’s when I most want to speak.
And that’s evidence of some deep part of me that is far more obsessed with
collecting and conserving and hoarding life for myself
than with bringing life to others.
The third way is tricky, but I think it’s extraordinarily helpful: try listening to your own violence.
Most of us spend our lives trying to deny our violence, and sometimes even using our spirituality or religion to deny it.
But maybe—maybe—try to be aware of the moments during the day when you experience violence inside: anger or jealousy or hatred or lust.
Listen to those moments—
try to name what’s going on and why.
That will tell you a lot.
Listen to your own violence… and then confess it.
The mouth of the wicked conceals violence, and so if you want to run in the complete opposite direction try to practice confessing your violence to someone.
Because not everyone is safe.
But the act of confessing our violence to someone safe—
someone who will use their words to pour forgiveness and love into us—
that’s one of the most transformative habits we can practice.
That’s part of what’s happening when we come to this table.
When we come to this table, we’re confessing that something deep within us is violent— we don’t use our words or our lives to bring life to others.
In an early chapter of Romans, Paul strings together the lyrics of a variety of psalms to say:
(Rom 3.10-14) “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.”
“Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit.”
“The poison of vipers is on their lips.”
“Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness”
Central to the life of faith and following Jesus is confessing the ways we violently fall short of true life—
My throat is often like an open grave. My tongue frequently practices deceit.
My lips full of poison. My mouth full of bitterness.
But as we come to this table confessing our violence, we find Wisdom himself—God himself— using his words and every energy within him as never-ending fountain of life for us.
We find forgiveness of our sins and our violence, and we find a new life—complete with a new mouth and a new heart— always being given to us.
Here we find the Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, taking bread, and when he had given thanks, he breaks it and says, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.”
And in the same way, after supper he takes the cup, and says, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
This table is the place where we confess together that all of us (and our mouths and our words included) are a part of the world that descended in violence upon God himself. And this table is the place where we hear that same God remind us that he has absorbed our violence and defeated our death, and that he pours his very own life into everyone who is thirsty for it.
In just a few moments you’ll be invited to come to this table.
You will be invited to receive some bread,
you’ll be invited to dip it in the cup, before you return to your seats along the sides.
This table is open—open to anyone willing to confess their violence and to thirsty to receive this truly alive life of Wisdom.
Lord God, as we come to your table this morning,
may you teach us how to participate in your love with our mouth—with our words.
May we be opened to the never-ending fountain of your love and your life,
may we confess our foolish violence to you and to others and find ourselves full of forgiveness and freedom,
may you give us hearts that bear good fruit and mouths that pour life into others.