Proverbs 15:4

ESV A gentle tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit.
NIV The soothing tongue is a tree of life, but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit.
NASB A soothing tongue is a tree of life, But perversion in it crushes the spirit.
CSB The tongue that heals is a tree of life, but a devious tongue breaks the spirit.
NLT Gentle words are a tree of life; a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit.
KJV A wholesome tongue is a tree of life: but perverseness therein is a breach in the spirit.

What does Proverbs 15:4 mean?

Words can discourage or encourage others. Solomon uses a Hebrew root word here which can also mean "healing," "wholesome," or "soothing." He compares such a tongue to a tree of life. A properly nourished tree grows and provides shade and refreshment for all who seek its shelter. A fruit tree is also a tree of life because it provides sustenance for those who take in what it produces. Similarly, encouraging words provided by a wise tongue provide refreshment and sustenance for those who receive them. That applies to the critic as well as the friend, or the opponent as well as the ally. Calm, truthful, measured words to others are infinitely more productive than hateful, spiteful, or "perverse" reactions. This proverb resonates strongly with the first two of this chapter, contrasting different approaches to speech (Proverbs 15:1–2).

This proverb denounces speech described using the Hebrew root word celeph, also used in Proverbs 11:3. This most literally means that which is twisted or warped—"crooked"—but can also refer to something unhealthy or disordered. That which "breaks the spirit" is especially important to avoid when dealing with children (Ephesians 6:4; Proverbs 18:14). Our choice of words matters, and how we respond to others reflects our own wisdom. Inappropriate words send the wrong message and may even depress those who hear them.

The New Testament Epistles exhort believers to encourage one another and to shake off discouragement. Concluding his message about Jesus' return in the air to rapture believers, Paul writes: "Therefore encourage one another with these words" (1 Thessalonians 4:18). In 1 Thessalonians 5:14, he writes: "We urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted." In Ephesians 4:29 he writes: "Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear." The writer of Hebrews also exhorts believers: "And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near" (Hebrews 10:24–25).
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