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Pastoral 2013

Wise Speech – Part II


Words of Wisdom

The book of Proverbs lauds men who impart wisdom and understanding to others. In fact, it exhorts the readers to seek after such people and listen to them intently.

Who speaks words of wisdom? Proverbs 10:13 casts light on those who utter words of wisdom. “In the lips of him that hath understanding wisdom is found.” In Proverbs, a man of understanding is one who yields his mind to the fear of the LORD (2:5) as well as righteousness (2:9; 8:8; 10:32), learning (1:5; 16:21), prudence (14:8, 15; 16:21) and knowledge (2:5; 8:9; 14:6; 18:15; 19:25; 28:2). Such a man will possess wise thoughts and is deemed wise.

Proverbs 10:31 sheds more light on how we can be wise in our speech. It says, “The mouth of the just bringeth forth wisdom.” Just men are mentioned here as speaking wisely. The same is said about the virtuous woman of Proverbs 31 — “She openeth her mouth with wisdom” (v. 26a). A commitment to righteousness or virtue will help us dispel foolish and ungodly thoughts and attitudes so that we may speak wisely.

We are also told in Proverbs that through much learning (cf. Proverbs 1:5; 16:21) and careful analysis (cf. Proverbs 14:8, 15; 16:21) we can obtain needful knowledge for wise speech. Proverbs 15:7a says, “The lips of the wise disperse knowledge.” Not only does he possess knowledge, but he is also committed to use it to everyone’s benefit, unlike fools who use their knowledge to the hurt of others. “The tongue of the wise useth knowledge aright: but the mouth of fools poureth out foolishness” (Proverbs 15:2).

Words Used Sparingly

A wise man generally uses few words. In fact, Proverbs teaches us to use words sparingly and speak slowly.

“In the multitude of words there wanteth not sin: but he that refraineth his lips is wise” (Proverbs 10:19). Firstly, the verse warns us that constant talking will eventually lead us to sin and trouble. Secondly, it teaches us to avoid that danger by refraining our lips from uttering too many words.

The warning against chattering is repeated two other times in the same chapter. We read: “a prating fool shall fall” (Proverbs 10:8b and 10b). Likewise, Proverbs 11:12 says, “He that is void of wisdom despiseth his neighbour: but a man of understanding holdeth his peace” (cf. James 3:2-8). The Hebrew word for “despise” (bûz) can also mean “deride” or “belittle”. It often expresses the idea of speaking contemptuously of another. It makes no sense to deride one’s neighbour (one who lives or works in close proximity). Since this causes friction and dissension, it is wise to “hold his peace”. Divine wisdom highly recommends friendly silence rather than unwise ridicule.

Wisdom of silence is again mentioned in Proverbs 17:27-28 – “He that hath knowledge spareth his words: and a man of understanding is of an excellent spirit. Even a fool, when he holdeth his peace, is counted wise: and he that shutteth his lips is esteemed a man of understanding.” Proverbs also advises us to refrain from gossiping. “A talebearer revealeth secrets: but he that is of a faithful spirit concealeth the matter” (Proverbs 11:13). This verse recommends prudent concealment, rather than spreading rumour. A friend who confides should not be betrayed by a talebearer. It is foolish and unrighteous to reveal what one has been entrusted with.

Proverbs also tells us that guarding one’s speech is self-protection: “Whoso keepeth his mouth and his tongue keepeth his soul from troubles” (Proverbs 21:23). A man who guards his speech protects himself from many troubles that careless words would have brought to him. By a constant watchfulness over our words, we can avoid the many troubles of an ungoverned tongue.