What Proverbs Says about Speech

    July 05, 2020 | Books of the Bible | Proverbs by Jason Hall

    Why does the Bible generally, and Proverbs particularly, have so much to say about how I use my words? It's not because of the words themselves, but what they represent, and that is the thoughts and intentions of my heart. God cares about our words because God cares about us, and he wants to see us glorifying Him in everything we do.

    The Bible teaches a simple but unavoidable truth: When it comes to your speech, you can't fake it forever. Listen to Jesus' extended explanation in Luke 6:43-45:
    "For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thornbushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks" (ESV).

    Words = heart. Straightforward and true. Then, as those who seek to honor Christ, let us listen at the feet of the teachers of Proverbs as they speak to us about our speech.

    First, speech itself can be used for good or evil. In 18:21, we read, "Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits" (ESV). While sometimes words can cause fights that lead to literal death, most often the authors of Proverbs are pointing out that words have consequences, such as for the good of a community: "By the blessing of the upright a city is exalted, but by the mouth of the wicked it is overthrown. (11:11, ESV).

    Second, sound speech reflects reality, which is another way of saying that wise people tell the truth: "Truthful lips endure forever, but a lying tongue is but for a moment" (12:19, ESV). Conversely, the foolish will be known for their lies, whether they want to be or not. The end of Proverbs 26 is a commentary on this type of speech:

    "Whoever hates disguises himself with his lips and harbors deceit in his heart; when he speaks graciously, believe him not, for there are seven abominations in his heart; though his hatred be covered with deception, his wickedness will be exposed in the assembly" (26:24-26, ESV).

    Interestingly, though, one of the things that makes words wise in Proverbs is not just their truthfulness, but their timing. Let's pay attention to 15:23, followed by the famous aphorism in 25:11-12 (both from the ESV):

    "To make an apt answer is a joy to a man, and a word in season, how good it is!"

    "A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver. Like a gold ring or an ornament of gold is a wise reprover to a listening ear."

    For our speech to honor God, it must be authentic and timely.

    This is but a sampling of what Proverbs teaches about how to speak with wisdom. As you continue to read Proverbs this summer, mark those sayings about speech that stand out to you, and consider committing them to memory. Then, call those proverbs to mind the next time you start to open your mouth without considering the impact of your words. See what a difference wisdom can make!