Unwise words are no rare event, being, unfortunately, very common among Christians. Surely James was correct when he wrote that “we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. . . . no human being can tame the tongue” (James 3:2, 8).
If no one can completely avoid foolish words, then in one sense our speech is a lifelong exercise in damage control. Have you ever hurt someone with hasty, careless words? Ever spread a rumor that proved to be untrue? Ever joined in gossip? Ever watched your poor attempt at humor cause an offense? Have you slandered someone out of spite? Or given bad advice that harmed others? Have you spoken the right words, but at the wrong time? We all have, and the goal is to do so less often.
Yet it is also by words that the gospel is preached, and that we can encourage one another with truth and express godly affection. Paul urges us to speak “what is good for edification according to the need of the moment, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29). Scripture repeatedly tells us to bless and encourage one another with our words.
Therefore, our speech is much more than damage control. It’s also a lifelong effort to pass along to others the grace and love God has given us. Have you ever blessed and encouraged someone with your words? Ever said just the right thing at the right time? Have you given sound advice which helped to spare someone from suffering and harm? Have you stopped the progress of slander by speaking a gentle word of truth? I’m sure all of us have, and the goal is to do so more consistently.
So while we must be cautious about our words, we can also be hopeful. God is eager to be at work through us as we speak. For most of us, each day offers numerous opportunities to speak wisely, in matters both small and great. The Book of Proverbs has much to teach us about making the most of these opportunities by avoiding foolish speech and pursuing words that are wise.
Let’s begin with Proverbs 25:11, which packs a great deal of wisdom into a small space: “A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.” In fact, this wisdom from the pen of King Solomon is a perfect example of what it describes—it explains wise speech and demonstrates it at the same time! Let’s look at its component parts.
- Such words are like gold: They are inherently and universally valuable and attractive.
- Indeed, they are like apples of gold: Their value and attractiveness has been enhanced through skillful craftsmanship that has molded them into a pleasing form.
- These words are in a setting: They are presented in a way that is perfectly fitted to the circumstances.
- The setting is silver: Although attractive in itself, its very attractiveness enhances its primary purpose—to display the unique beauty of that which it holds.
Such words are described as being “aptly spoken.” “Apt” is not a term you hear every day. It means “exactly suitable; appropriate.” What makes for such suitable and appropriate speech? How does one go through the day crafting words that are like golden apples in silver settings? I believe Proverbs teaches us that such speech—speech that is biblically wise—can be seen as involving three essential components: thoughtfulness, timeliness, and truth.
Excerpted from A Proverbs Driven Life by Anthony Selvaggio