As a child, my father passed along the following wisdom, “Son, it is better to keep you mouth shut and let others think you a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.” On another occasion, when something less desirable came from my lips, I heard my father say, “Son, you put things in your mouth that other people wouldn’t even put in their hands.” My mom, she was a bit more conventional with her wisdom. She was fond of saying, “Honey, if you cannot say something nice, then don’t say anything at all.”
These quotes came to mind as I was reading the counsel found in Proverbs 18. Some of the most pertinent sayings from the prophet were the following:
- A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.
- The words of a man’s mouth are deep waters; the fountain of wisdom is a bubbling brook.
- A fool’s lips walk into a fight, and his mouth invites a beating.
- A fool’s mouth is his ruin, and his lips are a snare to his soul.
- The words of a whisperer are like delicious morsels; they go down into the inner parts of the body.
- If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.
- From the fruit of a man’s mouth his stomach is satisfied; he is satisfied by the yield of his lips.
- Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.
- The poor use entreaties, but the rich answer roughly.
Therefore friends, let us watch carefully how we speak today.
Let us watch the timing of our speech. Because it is good to listen and think before speaking, we ought not talk to hastily. And because we wish to honor others better than ourselves, we ought not interrupt others as they are seeking to express their thoughts. Then, in sharing our wisdom, counsel, or the Gospel of Christ, let us not “cast our pearls before swine.” Sometimes it is best “not to answer a fool according to his folly.” Sometimes it is more prudent to loving shake our head, bite our lip, wait for another day, and keep on walking.
Let us watch the content of our speech. When we speak, we ought always to tell the truth. Then, after we speak and make commitments, we ought always to honor our word. In addition, good worshipers of Jesus Christ ought to talk more about Jesus and others than they do about themselves. We ought not be haughty in our own eyes or in our own communication. Also, in all our dialogue, our conversation should be ethically and culturally pure. That which God forbids ought not come out of our mouth, and that which our culture deems to be salty and offensive ought not be spoken either. Then, let us not be so negative. A nagging husband, wife, boss, parent, pastor, or teacher is hard to bear. So, with every word of condemnation that we utter, let us find ways to encourage and build up those who are forced to hear our commentary and assessment.
Let us watch the amount of our speech. With many words there is more potential for sin. So, while we ought always to speak the truth, we ought not always speak the truth. What do I mean by this seemingly nonsensical statement? When we speak, we ought always be honest, but there are many times when spreading the truth is a form of gossip, infidelity, busyness, lack of forgiveness, or a lack of charity. Stop speaking so much and start sinning less.
Let us watch the manner of our speech. As we communicate with our words, our tone, volume, phraseology, posture, and facial expressions communicate as well. A minister can call sinners to repentance through screaming, pointing, and pounding the pulpit, or he can do so with a calm demeanor, bold speech, and a tear in his eye. So as we communicate truth today, let us speak words of grace in a gracious manner.