Speech in Proverbs

I’ve been reading Proverbs recently. I’ve always tried to read Proverbs slowly, at a rate of one or two verses a day, so I could let it sink in and meditate on how it applied to my life. While that might have helped me find a couple of verses that have stuck with me over the years, it never helped me actually finish Proverbs, or get a sense of the book as a whole.

I’m taking a different approach now. I’ll pick a main topic and scan all of Proverbs to look for scriptures that relate to that topic and write them down. Then I’ll go back slowly and review all of them. This has been a pretty cool experience, since it allows me to get a great sense of how that topic is spoken about in the book, and it keeps me moving throughout a lot of material, which I generally find helpful to consistency in reading.

One of the topics where there are a lot of scriptures is speech. I was scanning the book looking for other scriptures on friendship and discipline, but speech just kept on coming up over and over again. There are some main points that are emphasized a lot regarding speech. These are the ones I noticed:

  • There’s a strong connection between your speech and your heart. Each tends to reveal and influence the other.
  • The wise exercise restraint in their speech. They talk less, and when they talk, it means more.
  • Speech should be trustworthy and truthful. This might include saying things that are difficult to hear.
  • Gossip is powerful and dangerous: stay away from it.
  • Flattery harms both the person hearing it and, ultimately, the person giving it.
  • There’s a reward for speech - if bad, then bad; if good, then good.
  • Speech is flat out powerful. It has the ability to create both great harm and great good.

Below are a bunch of scriptures that give a sense of these main topics. There are a lot, but it’s helpful for me to type them out to remember them. Any emphasis is mine.

Speech and the Heart

See also Mark 7:20-23, Luke 6:45-45 for Jesus’ take on this topic.

“The tongue of the righteous is choice silver, but the heart of the wicked is of little value.” 10:20

“The lips of the righteous know what is fitting, but the mouth of the wicked only what is perverse.” 10:32

“The lips of the wise spread knowledge; not so the heart of fools.” 15:7

“A wise man’s heart guides his mouth, and his lips promote instruction.” 16:23

“A scoundrel plots evil, and his speech is like a scorching fire.” 16:27

Restraint

“A man who lacks judgment derides his neighbor, but a man of understanding holds his tongue.” 11:12

“A prudent man keeps his knowledge to himself, but the heart of fools blurts out folly.” 12:23

“He who guards his lips will guard his life, but he who speaks rashly will come to ruin.” 13:3

“A man finds joy in giving an apt reply – and how good is a timely word!” 15:23

It’s much easier to say the right thing at the right time if you say less.

“The heart of the righteous weighs its answers, but the mouth of the wicked gushes evil.” 15:28

“A man of knowledge uses words with restraint, and a man of understanding is even-tempered.” 17:27

“Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue.” 17:28

“A fool finds no pleasure in understanding but delights in airing his own opinions.” 18:2

“He who answers before listening – that is his folly and his shame.” 18:13

I find this one (18:13) particularly easy to do. It’s easy for me to think I know what someone is saying, or what they really mean, without actually taking the time to listen to them. While I might be correct a small fraction of the time, in the vast majority of cases I’m way off — and even where I am right, the fact that I interrupted and cut off the other person generally negates any insight I might have had into what they were saying.

“It is a trap for a man to dedicate something rashly and only later to consider his vows.” 20:25

Trustworthiness/Truthfulness.

“There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.” 6:16-19

Note the connection again between the speech and the heart in 6:16-19, and that two of these behaviors relate to lying.

“The wise in heart accept commands, but a chattering fool comes to ruin.” 10:8

“A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy man keeps a secret.” 11:13

“Truthful lips endure forever, but lying lips lasts only a moment.” 12:19

“The Lord detests lying lips, but he delights in men who are truthful.” 12:22

“An honest answer is like a kiss on the lips.” 24:26

Gossip

“A gossip betrays a confidence; so avoid a man who talks too much.” 20:19

“The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to a man’s inmost parts.” 18:8, 26:20

“Without wood a fire goes out; without gossip a quarrel dies down.” 26:20

Flattery and its opposite

“A lying tongue hates those it hurts, and a flattering mouth works ruin.” 26:28

“Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.” 27:6

“He who rebukes a man will in the end gain more favor than he who has a flattering tongue.” 28:23

This one strikes me - isn’t gaining favor with people one of the motivations for flattery? Yet, in the end, a rebuke brings more favor.

“Whoever flatters his neighbor is spreading a net for his feet.” 29:5

Rewards

“From the fruit of his lips a man is filled with good things as surely as the work of his hands rewards him.” 12:12

Power

“The lips of the righteous nourish many, but fools die for lack of judgment.” 10:20

“With his mouth the godless destroys his neighbor, but through knowledge the righteous escape.” 11:9

“Through the blessing of the upright a city is exalted, but by the mouth of the wicked it is destroyed.” 11:12

“Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” 12:18

“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” 15:1

Some Extra Goodies

These didn’t necessarily fit in to any of the themes I’ve discussed up above. However, these are some of the most helpful for me as I’m considering what my own speech would look like. I find 27:2 to be particularly convicting.

“Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; someone else, and not your own lips.” 27:2

“Better is open rebuke than hidden love.” 27:5

“Like clouds and wind without rain is a man who boats of gifts he does not give.” 25:14