(This is the continuation of the article on “Our Speech Matters!” by Pastor Koshy, published last week. It is compiled from several articles that he wrote in Bible Witness, Volume 11, Issue 4. Part 3 will be published next week.)
The Book of Proverbs describes various characteristics of wise speech. It also provides practical instructions on developing wholesome speech so that we may speak wisely. These biblical counsels on wise speech are discussed below.
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 to 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, he is also committed to using it to everyone’s benefit, unlike fools who use their knowledge to hurt others. “The tongue of the wise useth knowledge aright: but the mouth of fools poureth out foolishness” (Proverbs 15:2).
In order that we may know and speak the truth, the Book of Proverbs records the words of the wise. “Have not I written to thee excellent things in counsels and knowledge, that I might make thee know the certainty of the words of truth; that thou mightest answer the words of truth to them that send unto thee?” (Proverbs 22:20-21). Biblical wisdom is absolute truth, and we should never doubt the veracity of its wisdom. God’s wisdom declares, “Hear; for I will speak of excellent things; and the opening of my lips shall be right things. For my mouth shall speak truth” (Proverbs 8:6-7a). It calls the readers to take heed of its excellent counsels, for they are truth.
If we utter a word that is contrary to the Scriptures, it is a lie, and hence deceitful. If we speak contrary to the truth of God’s wisdom, we become false witnesses and deceivers. So, we must uphold the wisdom of God’s Word in our conversations. Proverbs 12:17 says, “He that speaketh truth sheweth forth righteousness; but a false witness deceit.” We must guard and guide our speech according to the true wisdom of His Word, lest we become false witnesses. When our words are based on the truth of His Word, we shall be faithful and righteous in our conversations and instructions. Otherwise, our speech will be deceitful.
Moreover, Proverbs 14:5 reminds us that “a faithful witness will not lie”. While commenting on this verse, Matthew Henry described a faithful witness as such: “He speaks truth and represents everything fairly, to the best of his knowledge, whether in judgment or in common conversation, whether he be upon his oath or no, he shows forth righteousness; he makes it to appear that he is governed and actuated by the principles and laws of righteousness, and he promotes justice by doing honour to it and serving the administration of it.” Proverbs 13:5a says, “A righteous man hateth lying”. The righteous man does not just avoid lies; he hates them!
Those who speak the truth according to God’s Word shall be a great blessing to those who hear them. Proverbs 14:25a says, “A true witness delivereth souls”. A man of integrity would endeavour to bring truth to light and rescue those who are injured by falsehood. Over and above, a faithful Christian who truly witnesses against sin and preaches the Gospel truths of Jesus Christ will be an instrument in God’s hand to deliver souls from eternal death. A truthful person, even if he is a child, can bring great joy to those around him. A father’s admonition in Proverbs 23:16 testifies to this blessing: “Yea, my reins shall rejoice, when thy lips speak right things.”
The words that a righteous man speaks are acceptable to God. Proverbs 10:32 says, “The lips of the righteous know what is acceptable: but the mouth of the wicked speaketh frowardness.” Unlike the wicked, the righteous man seeks to please God in his speech. He will not allow his mouth to speak any perverse thing, which is detestable to the holy God.
Hence, words that spring forth from the righteous will have the qualities that impart spiritual blessings. They will be helpful and life-giving. “The mouth of a righteous man is a well of life”, proclaims Proverbs 10:11. A righteous man’s words are depicted as “a well of life”. The Hebrew word for “well” (māqôr) is normally translated as “fountain” or “wellspring”. The picture is of a vibrant, bubbling fountain. The speech of the righteous is intellectually, emotionally, morally and spiritually rejuvenating to his hearers.
Not surprisingly, Proverbs 10:20a gives much praise to “the tongue of the just”, and says that it “is as choice silver”! Like the silver that is refined by the removal of dross, a just man would carefully refine his speech by removing every unacceptable word.
Furthermore, Proverbs 10:21 speaks of “the lips of the righteous”, which “feed many”. The Hebrew word for “feed” (rā˓â) indicates more than just “feeding”, as it occurs widely in connection with shepherding. Therefore, it can be said that the speech of the righteous does the work of a shepherd, such as guiding, leading, feeding, nursing, caring and guarding. Righteous words will nurture the hearers.
“Pleasant words are as an honeycomb, sweet to the soul, and health to the bones” (Proverbs 16:24). The Hebrew word translated as “pleasant” (nō˓am) occurs about seven times; and the King James Bible translated it as “beauty” four times, “pleasant” twice, and “pleasantness” once. The root form of this word is even used to refer to the beauty of the LORD (cf. Psalms 27:4; 90:17a). Here, pleasant words are compared to the sweet and healthy honeycomb. This comparison is meant to show us that pleasant words sweeten fellowship and restore troubled relationships.
Besides Proverbs 16:24, there are other passages in Proverbs that speak of pleasant words. Proverbs 16:21 says, “The wise in heart shall be called prudent: and the sweetness of the lips increaseth learning.” Sweet words, which are the result of prudence, promote instruction in the sense that they make learning desirable. Before one opens his mouth to speak, there must be much forethought concerning the attitude and choice of words. This is further emphasised in Proverbs 16:23 – “The heart of the wise teacheth his mouth, and addeth learning to his lips.” Prudence of heart is essential in developing pleasant speech.
Proverbs 27:9 also provides a similar instruction: “Ointment and perfume rejoice the heart: so doth the sweetness of a man’s friend by hearty counsel.” According to this verse, the “hearty counsel” adds sweetness to one’s speech. But what is hearty counsel? It is sincere and passionate advice given without any hidden agenda or deceit.
To sum it up, this thought is repeated in Proverbs 15:4, which says, “A wholesome tongue is a tree of life”. The words, “wholesome” (Proverbs 15:4) and “health” (Proverbs 16:24), are from the same Hebrew word (marpē˒). A wholesome tongue is a healing tongue, i.e. a conciliatory or appeasing tongue. This is compared to a “tree of life”, an emblem of a blessed and meaningful life.