Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Communicating with Wisdom: Part Three

In this three-part series on communicating with wisdom, we have seen what Proverbs 15 says about communicating with God and what it says about listening to other people. Here I want to address what it says about speaking to other people. As with the other two posts, the key principle here is humility rooted in the fear of the Lord (Prov. 15:33). Humility leads the wise person to speak carefully.

3. Speak to others with humility by speaking carefully.

Christians are called to be peacemakers, to reconcile with their adversary, to live peaceably with all as far as it depends on them. You have a duty to seek peace with your words. You also have a responsibility to edify one another with your words, speaking the truth in love. What that looks like depends on your place in life - when you speak out of place, it is called meddling rather than edification.

Men, this instruction has special relevance for you. As heads of the home, you have a greater responsibility to instruct and reprove, so be especially careful how you do it. In Colossians and Ephesians the apostle Paul specifically tells you to not be harsh with your wives, to not provoke your children to anger, and to stop threatening your servants. Do you see a theme?

Everyone - especially those who are in authority, who speak authoritatively, who have a greater responsibility to instruct and reprove - should be very careful to instruct and reprove wisely, in a way that promotes peace and growth, not anger and destruction.
"A soft answer turns away wrath,
but a harsh word stirs up anger."
(Proverbs 15:1)
Wrath can be turned away by the way you answer an angry person. Likewise, wrath can be stirred up by your words where no conflict yet existed. Words can put out the fire as well as spark the flame, depending on whether they are soft or harsh. A soft answer is when you speak with gentleness, in a conciliatory manner. The point is not weakness, but persuasiveness and restraint. For example, see Gideon's words in Judges 8:1-3. A harsh word is a “painful” word, an attack word, a cutting word, an insulting word. It provokes a defensive response rather than a receptive one. Jesus took harsh words very seriously (Matt. 5:21-22).
"A gentle tongue is a tree of life,
but perverseness in it breaks the spirit."
(Proverbs 15:4)
"Gentle" here literally means "healing." A "tree of life" refers to a "life-giving tree." Words can give healing and vitality, or they can also crush and destroy. Good reproof is like disinfectant on a wound - it might sting, but it designed to cleanse and heal, and the sting is kept to a minimum. Good reproof gives assurances of love in the midst of correction. But there is also bad reproof, which uses excessive pain and does not heal. It leaves one insecure and discouraged. There is life-giving reproof and there is life-crushing reproof. The tongue can be perverted by deceit, ulterior motives, pride, and anger.
"To make an apt answer is a joy to a man,
and a word in season, how good it is!"
(Proverbs 15:23)
The same words can be beautiful when said in one situation but ugly in another, similar to how the color orange can be beautiful or ugly depending on where you put it. When the words fit the occasion, how good it is! What a joy it is to hear an apt answer! On the other hand, words out of place can be jarring. Even truth - even Bible verses - can be ugly when said on the wrong occasion. Consider the counselors of Job who said many true things, but without a good understanding of the occasion, and so caused pain rather than healing. It is not enough to study the Bible. It is also important to study the situation, both the broader context and the particular situation. Fitting the words to the occasion is a skill, like painting or matching clothes, and it can be learned with diligence and practice. It also leads us to the next proverb:
"The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer,
but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things."
(Proverbs 15:28)
The heart of the righteous considers what it should send to the mouth, while the mouth of the wicked merely needs to open and the contents of the heart spill out. The righteous show discrimination, restraint, and forethought. The mind of the righteous is active, even before it comes time to speak. The righteous are humble, realizing that not everything they might say is good. They are careful because they fear the Lord. The wicked, though, are impulsive and do not show discretion.

So humility shows itself in our speech by the care that is taken. Specifically, to speak wisely, you should aim to speak in a way that (1) promotes peace, (2) promotes healing and growth, (3) is apt for the occasion, and (4) shows forethought.

This applies in our relationships in our families, in our church, as well as the broader society. Think of how we talk as parents, spouses, siblings, pastors, friends, politicians, reporters, journalists, talk show hosts, managers, trainers, coaches - so many occasions to use our words promote harmony, growth, and maturity, or to stir up strife, destroy others, and pour out evil things.


The fear of the Lord is instruction in wisdom. It leads you to listen attentively to God’s word and to humbly admit your sins and your need for instruction. Those who humble themselves before God will be exalted, and their prayers will be heard. They will also learn to communicate with others wisely. Those who are humbled by the fear of the Lord will be earnest to find wisdom from the wise. Those who are humbled by the fear of the Lord will also be careful how they speak.

So let us humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God and clothe ourselves with humility towards one another, so that our tongues may be instruments of blessing, bringing peace and life to our neighbors and offering acceptable praise to our Lord and Savior, to whom be all glory and honor forever. Amen.

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