In this proverb, the emphasis is on words that are apt by virtue of their timeliness. To be wise, our words must not only be thoughtfully chosen, but well-timed. This is obviously not the timing of a comedian who knows exactly how long to hold a pause before delivering the punch line. This timing involves a natural and spiritual sensitivity to circumstances which God can help us develop.
Timeliness is an area in which we should all be seeking to grow. While some words would of course be wrong on any occasion, the book of Ecclesiastes reminds us of the corresponding truth that there are no words suitable for every occasion. That is, some communications, however true and valid, are simply not the right thing at a given time.
“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven . . . a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance . . . a time to keep silent, and a time to speak” (Ecclesiastes 3:1, 4, 7). When there is laughter, wisdom rejoices as well. When there is weeping or mourning, wisdom resists bright and chipper comments, knowing that sometimes the greatest blessing is found in the simplicity of silent companionship.
Timeliness is especially necessary when delivering words of reproof or correction, which we are all called to do as a service to Christ and one another. A corrective word that is untimely is a corrective word that is unwise, for however true and valuable it may be, it is far more likely to be ignored, misinterpreted, or dismissed.
This matter of correction between believers can, of course, get tricky. Yes, some people are holy and mature enough that they could humbly receive a word of correction from anyone, at any time, under any circumstances, no matter how well or poorly the correction is delivered. But all those people are sinless and in heaven! The rest of us, until we leave these bodies, will remain to some degree proud, self-centered sinners. And when one proud, self-centered sinner speaks a word of correction to another, wisdom is needed.
This book is not intended to discuss correction generally, so I’ll just make two brief points about the timeliness of a corrective word. When you believe a word of correction or reproof is in order, here are two things to consider: the virtues of silence, and the perceived right to speak.
Excerpted from A Proverbs Driven Life by Anthony Selvaggio