The Wisdom of Words (Proverbs 22:17-21)

            Over the past several months, our family has experienced a lot of car trouble. We have had windows that will not roll down, doors that will not open, engines that have been over heating and a computer system that would randomly shut off leaving the car without air conditioning and windshield wipers. It has been a rough couple of months on the car front. Our cars have been perishing. We finally had to say goodbye to our family car, Big Blue. It was a 2003 Dodge Caravan with 245,000 miles that served us well, but it had to be replaced. It was a little sad saying goodbye to the family car, but we had seen that day coming for a while.

            We knew the van was sick, because of the noises that we would hear come out of the car. The car was so loud that I could tell when my wife was coming about ½ mile before I could see her. The noises the car makes is often an indication of its physical health. Many mechanics can listen to a car and diagnose the problem simply by listening to the engine. The average car customer, when buying a new car, always listens to the sound of the engine to see if anything sounds odd. The noise coming from a car is a barometer for its physical health. Likewise, the noises our bodies make are a sign of our physical health.

            The first thing the doctor does when he enters the examination room is to take out the stethoscope and listen to your heart. By listening to the noises of the body, he can make observations and judgments about the health of the body. The noises within the body indicate our physical health, but the noises that come out of the body indicate our spiritual health. The words we use are a barometer for our spiritual health. Jesus says, “What comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart.” (Matthew 15:18a) If we want to diagnose our spiritual health, we need to look no further than the tongue. In order to diagnose the health of our own soul, we need to be like the doctor and the mechanic and listen the noises coming out of our mouths. We have to examine their truthfulness and their timeliness.

            A key theme throughout the book of Proverbs is speech. Proverbs 18:21, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.” There is power in the tongue. Wisdom calls aloud from the street and beckons us to use our tongues to honor the Lord and to love his people. We have the choice every day to walk the road of folly with the tongue or the way of wisdom. James says, “With the tongue (it) we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. (James 3:9-10) Our words matter to God. We have the choice and the responsibility to walk in wisdom with our words.

The Wise Speak Gracious Words
        Solomon shows throughout the book how death and life are in the power of the tongue. He wants the youth to choose wisdom with their words so that they can be a blessing to their neighbor. It is hard to underestimate the importance of good communication for the health of any relationship or any community of faith. The words we use to one another have power to bring life to the soul. Proverbs 16:24, “Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.” The gracious words we use to and for others function like medicine to the sick soul. Solomon says that the anxious heart weighs a man down, but “a good word makes him glad. (Prov. 12:25) There indeed are so many helpful benefits of the good communication weaved throughout the Proverbs that it will be hard to touch on every one, but it is helpful to remind us how powerful our speech can be for the good of others.

            How often do you sit down at the end of the day and examine how you used your words that day? It is a helpful practice to think through conversations and to examine if our words were edifying. Did we say too much? Did we leave words unsaid? We will never grow in our speech unless we see the importance of it. All animals communicate to varying degrees, but only human beings have been given the power of speech. God has given us speech because we were made in God’s image. The very first words in the Bible, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…and God said, ‘Let there be light’ and there was light.” God speaks and creates life. Beloved, God has given us this gift. We speak and create life. Our words should be life-giving to our neighbors. Proverbs 10:11, “The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life.” God has given us the power to speak life into people’s wearied souls.

            The most obvious way we speak life is to speak the gospel. Paul writes to the Thessalonians, “As we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts. (1 Thessalonians 2:4) We speak the gospel because the gospel brings life. We should make a practices of speaking the gospel to our neighbors for this pleases God who tests our hearts.

If you are a visitor today, I wonder what you think when you hear the word gospel? ”Gospel” simply means good news. It is the good news about how God has sent His Son, Jesus Christ to stand in the place of sinners. God spoke the world into existence. He created man and breathed life into his body. Man rebelled against God’s Word and turned to folly. And because of Adam and Eve’s sin, we were born sinners. Born as fools. Our foolishness deserves to be punished. The Bible states that all fools will perish forever in a literal Hell. But God does not only speak a word of judgment, but a word of salvation. The good news is God sent Jesus Christ to us. He lived a perfect life and was punished as a fool on a cross to pay for our foolishness. He was dead and buried, but God raised him from the dead. Jesus overcame death and hell in his resurrection. And the beautiful word of the gospel is that if anyone turns from their sins and trust in Christ, then his death will be credited to you along with his resurrection. Whoever calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved. You can be saved from the consequences of your foolish, by turning from your sins and trusting in Christ.

Beloved, the mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life so let us speak of the gospel that brings forth the fountain of living water. Let us speak about Jesus.

Of course we want our lips to constantly be extolling the gospel, but we also are going to speak about a variety of issues. The Scriptures should govern all our communication so let me give two practical questions that one can ask to improve their communication with others. “Should I say anything?” It is so easy to get in trouble by not practicing restraint. We do not need to speak into every situation. As Elvis has said, “Only Fools Rush In.” We can intentionally speak life by first asking if I should speak at all.  “Whoever guards his mouth preserves his life; he who opens wide his lips comes to ruin.” (Proverbs 13:3) “Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble.” (Proverbs 21:23) We all have probably had the experience of regret after quickly saying something foolish only to realize we can never take what we said back. Training our minds to ask the question, “Should I say anything?” will help us grow in much needed restraint in our communication. “There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” (Proverbs 12:18) Do not thrust the sword at your neighbor, but use a wise tongue to bring healing. This should be truth for all Christian communication, including that which occurs online.

The second question we should ask is, “What is the right word to say?” After we discover if we should say anything, then we need to think through what to say. Remember the goal is to speak life, not to voice our opinions. We want to speak life-giving gracious words, for a timely word is beautiful to its hearers.  “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.” (Proverbs 25:11) “To make an apt answer is a joy to a man, and a word in season, how good it is!” (Proverbs 15:23) We want to bring joy to our neighbors. Of course this requires thought and wisdom, but in working to find the right words we will speak life to our neighbors.

The Wise Avoid Foolish Words

            The wise speaks words of life, but they also avoid the various ways fools communicate. Pastor Ray Ortlund speaks about the seriousness of foolish communication by comparing it to the awful sin of adultery. He writes, “I have never seen a church split over the sin of adultery. Gossip is a sin rarely disciplined, but often more socially destructive than the sensational sins.” Gossip is one form of foolish speech and has destroyed countless people’s lives. I have seen relationships destroyed in my own family because of someone’s misrepresented, manipulating gossip. One of the best ways to have a healthy church community is to resolve ourselves to avoid using our words like a fool. As we examine the list of the particular foolish use of words, ask yourself which ones you are most tempted by and then work to eradicate them from your life.

Fools Lie

Lying lips are an abomination to the LORD, but those who act faithfully are his delight. (Proverbs 12:22) A lying tongue hates its victims, and a flattering mouth works ruin. (Proverbs 26:28) There are many reasons people lie: fear, shame, vengeance, or cowardice. Christians have been called to truth by Him who is Truth. God never lies and as his people neither should we.

Fools Flatter

Flattery is a cousin to lying, but just as dangerous. Flattery excessive and insincere praise, especially that given to further one's own interests. Flattery may not be malicious, but that does not mean it isn’t dangerous. Flattery may allow people to put confidence in skills that they do not possess. “A lying tongue hates its victims, and a flattering mouth works ruin.” (Proverbs 26:28) “A man who flatters his neighbor spreads a net for his feet.” (Proverbs 29:5)

Fools Gossip

            As I stated above, gossip is one of the deadliest forms of foolish speech. “Argue your case with your neighbor himself, and do not reveal another’s secret.” (Proverbs 25:9) “Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets, but he who is trustworthy in spirit keeps a thing covered.” (Prov. 11:13) We are guilty of gossip when we repeat that which is not worthy of repeating. Ending gossip is a community project. It involves both the gossiper and the one who listens to the gossip. “Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets; therefore do not associate with a simple babbler.” (Proverbs 20:19) For lack of wood the fire goes out, and where there is no whisperer, quarreling ceases. (Proverbs 26:20) If the whisperer has no one to whisper to, then they cannot whisper.

Fools Create Strife

            The end result of poor, foolish communication is that it divides and fractures relationships. Christians must be zealous for unity. Jesus prayed in John 17 that we should be one as Jesus and the Father are one. The unity of the church was on Jesus’ mind right before he hung on the cross. Proverbs 18:6 says “A fool’s lips bring strife,” and among the things listed in Proverbs 6 that God hates is “one who sows discord among brothers.”

Beloved, God views unity with the highest importance, and so must we. Do not use your lips to fracture the body. God hates the one who sows discord among the brothers. Repent of your use of foolish speech and giving an ear to foolish speech. Wise communication is a community project. Let us strive for unity in the bond of peace.

The Wise Heed Difficult Words

            We should exercise restraint in our communication. We should avoid foolish ways of communicating. We should be very careful with our words, but biblical communication still requires us to correct and admonish one another. Most people avoid correction or admonishment like the dentist. We do not want to give correction because there is the possibility of hurting someone we care about. I would say that withholding admonishments and correction actually does more to hurt the people we care about. Withholding correction is one form of selfishness. We are afraid more of how we will be received than the good of our brother or sister in Christ.

The other reason we do not offer correction is that people do not take correction well. In our flesh, we want to defend ourselves when corrected. The righteous should delight in correction because it leads us deeper into wisdom. Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid. (Proverbs 12:1 ESV) We want to love discipline for it is a sign we love the knowledge of the Lord. When we buck up against reproof it is our pride welling up in us. Human pride is against the Lord and the Lord is against the proud.

As Christians, we no longer need to worry about justifying ourselves. God is the one who justifies. And he justifies not on the basis of your righteous works but on His mercy. When someone corrects us and we get defensive, the kernel of self-righteousness is growing in your soul. It says, “This can’t be true about me, because if it is, then I will be in trouble.” The gospel says, “I am a sinner and will continue to sin until I die, but thanks be to God who saves me from this body of death.” How we respond to criticism is a good indicator of our true belief of the gospel? Do I need to justify myself? Or do I trust in the justification given to me by Jesus Christ?

Solomon continues contrast the righteous and the wicked in their ability to hear rebuke. A wise son hears his father's instruction, but a scoffer does not listen to rebuke. (Proverbs 13:1) A rebuke goes deeper into a man of understanding than a hundred blows into a fool. (Proverbs 17:10) Reprove a man of understanding, and he will gain knowledge. (Proverbs 19:25b) As the words we say indicate the spiritual health of our hearts, so too how we hear and listen to rebuke. We should not be defensive and self-justifying when we hear correction, but delight that God has sent someone to give us an opportunity to trust in the full atoning work of the gospel. Correction also gives Christians the opportunity to grow and move to Christ. Beloved, I pray we would grow into a community who both gives and receives correction well. It is an indicator of our spiritual health.

The Wise Reflect the Word

Ultimately, the reason we want to use wise words is because they reflect the Incarnate Word, the Lord Jesus Christ. John 1:1, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Jesus Christ, the Eternal Word, has called us to be salt and light to the world. The words we use reflect Him. Proverbs 30:5, “Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.” We want people to see God through our words. Every one of His words prove true so we want our words to prove true. We want all our words to be gracious and seasoned with salt so that we can draw men’s gaze to our great and glorious Savior. For drawing men’s gaze is to Jesus Christ is the only way one’s heart can be changed. If we want the world to be wise, then we point people to Jesus Christ. If we want our words to be wise, we fix our eyes upon Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith.

Jesus Christ is the perfect Word. The more we focus on him, the more we will become like him. Jesus Christ always spoke gracious words. John 6:63, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” Peter confirms this a few verses later, “Lord, to whom shall we go, you have the words of eternal life.” The Words of Jesus Christ, the Righteous, are a fountain of life welling up to eternal life.

Jesus Christ always avoided foolish words. He never lied, flattered, gossiped, or slandered. “He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.” (1 Peter 2:22-23) Jesus never spoke in sin, but avoided all foolish speech. He is wisdom personify. He lived and spoke as true wisdom.

Jesus Christ also heeded the most difficult word ever spoken. The word spoken by His Father that sent him to the cross. Jesus was sent in the world to be disciplined for the sins of his people. Jesus wanted the cup to pass from him. He prayed in the garden, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” Jesus cared more about the Word of His Father more than he did about his own life. He became obedient to death, even death on the cross. Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the Name that is all names. And at the name of Jesus every knee will bow and every tongue will confess he is Lord. Jesus heeded the hard word of the cross and God raised him from the dead. And because he heeded the Word spoken by the Father, we now can heed the same word by taking up our cross and following Him. And we too, like him, will be raised to life on the last day.

Beloved, we should care about our words because they reflect our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. King Jesus has taught us and continues to teach us to be wise in our words. Let the wise words of our Savior be forever on our lips, for that will show that He is the Lord of our heart.