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Proverbs 17:2728; 18:2021; 25:1112; 26:2022, 28comment (0)

June 19, 2008

By Jerry W. Batson

Related Scripture: Proverbs 17:2728; 18:2021; 25:1112; 26:2022, 28

Bible Studies for Life
Associate Professor of Divinity (Retired), Beeson Divinity School, Samford University

Word Power Made Wise
Proverbs 17:27–28; 18:20–21; 25:11–12; 26:20–22, 28

Most of us take for granted the ability to use our native language. We use words daily for giving and receiving communication. No doubt we are quite aware that human words have power to help or hurt. Someone’s kind words have encouraged us, just as harsh words have brought heaviness to our hearts. All too often, we speak without forethought as to whether our words will do good or evil. We have known people who take pride in protesting that they always speak their minds. Should people always speak exactly what they are thinking? Does the Bible expect Christians to take into account how their speech might be helpful or hurtful?

This study seeks to guide us to exercise godly wisdom in everyday life, including what and how we speak. Likely all of us can use help in having our “word power made wise.” The lesson passages furnish us four practical considerations.

Choose Your Words Carefully (17:27–28)
Of more modern vintage than the biblical proverbs is the one that says, “Keep your mouth shut and let people think you a fool, rather than open it and leave no doubt.” Our passage speaks to us in this general vein by stating that a fool is considered wise when he keeps silent. However, the message has to do with being people of intelligence and understanding. The passage speaks of people of an excellent spirit, a phrase that embraces the idea of possessing a “cool” spirit. Those who keep a cool head give evidence of such by their thoughtful and careful words.

Blurting out whatever comes to mind does not bespeak a person who possesses understanding and exercises careful thought. Embarrassment could be avoided by keeping a cool head and guarding our speech. The wisdom revealed in Proverbs is quite clear in maintaining that the heart of a righteous person ponders how to answer (15:28) and that people who keep their mouth and tongue keep out of trouble (21:23).

Respect the Power of Words (18:20–21)
The truth that human speech has power couldn’t be put more forcefully than our passage puts it: life and death are in the power of the tongue. Words can be life-giving when they affirm others or lift their spirits.

Through the years, my colleagues and I dealt with ministerial students so discouraged that they were determined to drop out of school. We attempted with words to say to them, “Just stay one more day.” Very often, the encouragement to hold out another day made the difference between the death of an academic career and its continued life.

Use Good Words (25:11–12)
Sometimes timing makes a word good. Our passage declares, “A word spoken at the right time is like golden apples on a silver tray.” If our words are meant to offer correction and are spoken at the right time and in the right way, then our passage describes them as a gold ring or a golden ornament. Good words are of great value always.

Good words are truthful and gentle words. Speaking the truth is commendable, but speaking it gently can be of immeasurable value. In another place, Proverbs reminds us that a soft answer turns away wrath (15:1). Good words are aptly spoken words. What we say must be truthful, but how we say it makes the difference in being heard or rejected. Proverbs again reminds us that gracious words are like a honeycomb (16:24).

We can show wisdom about the power of our words by giving attention to what comes out of our mouths by means of three simple matters: what we say, when we say it and how we say it.

Avoid Trash Talk (26:20–22, 28)
Those who are into team sports have encountered the term “trash talk.” Two everyday forms of trash talk are gossip and insincere flattery. Our passage declares that gossip wounds others in their inmost being and that a flattering mouth ultimately crushes others and actually reveals hatred for them.

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