A longer-than-usual post today, but worth reading the whole thing…
Several things are clear and lie right on the surface of today’s text. The first obvious thing is that God is a lover of life; he likes to promote life, not violence and death. “The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of LIFE.”
The second obvious thing is that life comes from the mouth. That may not be the only source of life, but the text is clear that it is one source. The mouth can be life-giving. “The MOUTH of the righteous is a fountain of life.”
The third obvious thing is that a life-giving mouth is like a fountain not a factory. The image is not of labor and sweat and weariness that somehow produces the product of life. The image is restful and clean and cool and refreshing; life bubbles up and overflows from somewhere deep in the earth with scarcely any effort. “The mouth of the righteous is a FOUNTAIN of life.”
And the last thing that is obvious from the text is that what makes a mouth into a fountain of life is righteousness. “The mouth of the RIGHTEOUS is a fountain of life.”
Not So Obvious Things in the Text
But there are also some things that are not so obvious and we need to dig for these as well. For example,
- What is this RIGHTEOUSNESS that makes a mouth into a fountain of life?
- And, why does this righteousness make FOUNTAINS and not factories?
- And, how does LIFE for others come out of this fountain-like mouth?
Before we tackle those three questions, let me make sure something else is obvious. You sense, don’t you, that God cares about your mouth? God cares about your lips and your tongue. He cares about what goes in, but he cares a lot more about what comes out (Matthew 15:11). So I think what God means to do through this message is to help you become the kind of person whose mouth will freely, refreshingly bring forth more and more life for other people. God wants to make your mouth a fountain of life.
1. What Is This Righteousness?
So our first question has to be: What is this righteousness that makes mouths into fountains of life? How do you become the kind of person whose mouth freely brings forth life?
The way I tried to answer this question was to look at other places in Proverbs where it says something is a fountain of life. I thought this would show me just how this righteousness is thought of that turns mouths into fountains of life. Here’s what I found.
“Fountain of Life” Elsewhere in Proverbs
Proverbs 13:14 says, “The teaching of the wise is a fountain of life” (cf. 16:22). So if the “teaching of the wise” is a fountain of life, and “the mouth of the righteous” is a fountain of life, then one element in this righteousness is true wisdom. Righteous people are people who live by true wisdom.
Then I remembered that the most crucial thing Proverbs says about wisdom is that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (9:10). So I assumed that “the fear of the Lord” is right at the heart of the wisdom which is the basis of the way righteous people live (fear of the Lord—wisdom—righteousness). The surprising thing was the way this was confirmed in 14:27, “The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life.”
So I conclude that the mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life (10:11) because righteousness is a life based on true wisdom which is a fountain of life (13:14), and true wisdom is a fountain of life because it begins with the fear of the Lord, which is a fountain of life (14:27).
Changing the Image to a Tree
But we’re not quite at the bottom of things yet. If we change the image from a fountain to a tree, the “fear of the Lord” is the root of “wisdom” which grows up like a trunk and then sprouts branches of “righteousness” where people can pick the fruit of life (cf. 11:30). So life seems to flow through the root of the fear of God into the trunk of wisdom out through the branches of righteousness into the fruit of the lips which people eat and live. But where does it come from?
The answer comes when you think about the fear of the Lord or when you look up Psalm 36:9. The fear of the Lord means at least two things:
- it means we stand in awe of the majesty and power and justice and holiness and grace of God. We tremble at his Word (Isaiah 66:2); and
- it means that we shudder with dread at the thought of leaving our God and how terrible it would be to forsake this great God.
And so one reason the fear of the Lord in us is fountain of life for others is that it keeps us with the Lord. Forsaking the Lord is a terrifying prospect to those who fear the Lord. He’s everything. He is Life. Leaving God and going away to look for some other spring of water is so shocking and so frightening that we can’t do it (cf. Jeremiah 2:13).
So those who fear the Lord stay with the Lord. They love the fellowship of God more than anything. And because they stay with the Lord and don’t forsake him for broken cisterns in the world, their roots are in the eternal fountain of life, God himself. This is what Psalm 36:9 says: “You [God] give them to drink from the river of your delights. For with you is the fountain of life.”
God Is a Fountain of Life and the Righteous Live on God
Now we are at the very bottom of things. Now we know why righteousness makes the mouth into a fountain of life. The reason is that righteousness is a life based on true wisdom, and true wisdom begins with the fear of the Lord, and the fear of the Lord roots people in God himself and keeps us close to him in personal fellowship, and God—and God alone—is the ultimate, self-replenishing, inexhaustible fountain of life.
“The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life” because GOD is a fountain of life and the righteous live on God.
Now notice something very carefully. We have defined righteousness contextually and biblically, and yet without any reference to a particular list of behaviors you are supposed to perform for God. This is the answer to our second question
2. Why Fountains and Not Factories?
Why does this righteousness make FOUNTAINS out of our mouths and not factories?
Not Things You Do but Whom You Trust
The answer is that righteousness means being rooted in God, not standing outside God trying to earn your way in with a list of behaviors. Biblical righteousness is not primarily a set of things that you do but rather it is whom you trust and whom you live with and whom you fear to forsake, and whom you learn from to be wise. Or to use the New Testament terminology, righteousness is abiding in the vine, not working for the vine, but trusting the vine to work through you, and flow through you. Righteousness is being in Christ and living by faith in his power and grace and wisdom.
That kind of relationship with God and his Son makes your mouth a fountain and not a factory. There is a great difference between the freedom of a fountain and the frenzy of a factory. God means to make our mouths pure and life-giving not by commanding us to marshal more human resources and digging up raw materials and organizing labor and management like a factory—like: “Get your psychological corporate act together!” Instead God means to make our mouths pure and life-giving by becoming our resources and our raw material and our labor and management himself.
Living on the Abundance of God
“Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks,” Jesus said (Matthew 12:34). And the way God means to change the mouth is by becoming that abundance. He means to be a fountain of life for us and in us so that out of that abundance our mouths can be a fountain of life for others.
That’s the answer to our second question: The mouth of the righteous is a fountain and not a factory because righteousness means living on the abundance of God—moment by moment drinking at the fountain of living water which is nothing less than God himself, manifest in Jesus Christ, and welling up in our hearts by the Holy Spirit (John 4:14; 7:38–39).
So the heart of this sermon is a call to trust God as your abundance and treasure. To live in God, to feed on God, and drink from God, and fellowship with God, learn all your wisdom from God, and fear to forsake God (Ezra 8:22). He invites you this morning very earnestly and sincerely: “Let him who is thirsty come, let him who desires take the water of life without price” (Revelation 22:17). The fountain of life is free. And it reproduces fountains not factories.
But there remains one question:
3. How Does This Produce Life for Others?
How does LIFE for others come out of this fountain-like mouth?
Let me just give you three pointers for you to apply in your life. For life to be sustained—whether spiritual or physical (and I think both are in view here)—it needs to be fed when it’s hungry and healed when it’s sick and delivered when it’s under attack. So if the mouth is going to be a fountain of life, what comes out of it needs to feed and heal and deliver.
I don’t choose those three things at random. I choose them because that’s what I found in the book of Proverbs. Proverbs 10:21 says, “The lips of the righteous feed many.” Proverbs 12:18 says, “The tongue of the wise brings healing.” And Proverbs 12:6 says, “The mouth of the upright delivers men.” So the mouth is a fountain of life for others because it brings forth words that feed and heal and protect.
So I close with these probing questions: Does your mouth usually feed people with the truth and substance of what you say, or does it starve people through silence or empty speech (maybe even your children)? Does your mouth usually heal people with words of grace and love and kindness, or does it wound people with insensitive, harsh, critical, unhelpful words? And does your mouth usually deliver and protect people with advocacy and partnership, or does it join the attack?
If you answer, “My mouth is too seldom a fountain of life; there is too much starving and wounding and attacking; it comes far too naturally,” then don’t try to become a factory of good works for God. Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The problem is that we are not living on God as our abundance and treasure. We have turned from the abundance of God’s feeding and God’s healing and God’s deliverance. We have sought our joy and hope in other things, and our mouths bear witness that we have forsaken the fountain of life, and our hearts are starving, sick, and threatened. So return with me again to the fountain of living waters.