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Wisdom and Words | Proverbs 10-31

As preached by Timothy O'Day.

"Your words are powerful, so it holds that wisdom requires you to be judicious in your speech."

In Proverbs, we see the contrasts of...

1) Speaking Rashly vs. Speaking Thoughtfully

2) Speaking Lies vs. Speaking Truth

3) Speaking to Destroy vs. Speaking to Heal

Wisdom and Words

Proverbs 10-31 on Speech

July 7, 2024


In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth, and he did so through words. The refrain, “And God said…” rings out through all of Genesis 1. The climax of the chapter comes with the creation of man, who is made in God’s image. Being made in God’s image means many things, but one of those things is that we share in the use of powerful words. 


Of course, none of us can say, “Let there be light” and suddenly have light come into existence. Yet, we can speak to each other, and thoughts that did not exist come into being. When you preach the gospel, God brings about faith through such conversations. Likewise, our words can turn one away from discouragement or break the courage of another. As Proverbs 15:4 states, 


“A gentle tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit.” 


Your words are powerful, so it holds that wisdom requires you to be judicious in your speech. 


Words in the Book of Proverbs

As a book, Proverbs tells us how to live in accord with God’s creation and ways. In fact, that’s what wisdom is. Wisdom is employing knowledge in line with God’s good creation. Folly is to stand against God in his creation against him. 


As we saw in Proverbs 9, wisdom and folly are two competing paths of worship. To walk in wisdom is really to walk in worship of the one true God; to walk in folly is to ignore God and give yourself over to idolatry. As you look at the wisdom sayings of Proverbs, you will see that how you view and use your words is a matter of worship. Your words are tools that you employ to engage in true worship or idolatry of self. 


To be wise with your words means you speak what is true with the aim of honoring God. To be a fool with your words means you twist the truth with the aim of honoring yourself. 


Proverbs makes this point repeatedly by using contrasts to show how important speech is, showing us the differences between wise speech that reflects reality in order to honor God and foolish speech that twists reality for one’s one pleasure. 


So let’s spend the rest of our time looking at a few of these contrasts to clarify our thinking in how we are to speak with wisdom in order to glorify God. 


Speaking Rashly vs. Speaking Thoughtfully

Words spoken without thoughtful consideration are dangerous. This is because sin cuts through each of our hearts and the mouth speaks from what is in the heart. Even if you are in Christ, making Christ your chief identity now, you must also still know and acknowledge that sin still indwells you. One day, you will be completely sanctified at the return of Christ, but until that day you are still progressively being conformed to his image by the power of the Spirit.


This is important to remember because it means there is still indwelling sin in your heart. You have foolish thoughts, motives, and desires that manifest in your actions and, yes, even in your words. This is true for the believer and the unbeliever alike. Just consider Proverbs 10:19-21,


“When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.” 


Proverbs 12:13 hits a similar note,


“An evil man is ensnared by the transgression of his lips, but the righteous escapes from trouble.”


Consider also Proverbs 13:3, 


“Whoever guards his mouth preserves his life, he who opens wide his lips comes to ruin.” 


And lastly, Proverbs 15:28 tells us,


“The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things.” 


The Differences Between Wisdom and Folly in Speech

That small sample of Proverbs shows us the difference between wisdom and folly in speech. The one who exercises wisdom is slow and thoughtful in his speech because he wants to honor God and give life to others through his words. In contrast, the fool speaks without a filter. When you do not check your heart, evil can pour forth and destroy. As Proverbs 12:18 states,


“There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” 


The reason transgression is not lacking when your words increase is because your heart will be revealed by your words. 


Why Discipline with Words Is Hard

Being disciplined in the use of words is hard because it requires an acknowledgment of our broken and twisted hearts. Our default is not wisdom. We must be changed and checked by God’s Spirit and God’s word if we are to walk—and speak—in wisdom. 


Which, again, is why wisdom begins by fearing the Lord. The first section of Proverbs, chapters 1-9, begins and ends with this reminder to fear the Lord. Proverbs 9:10 says,


“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.” 


Wisdom begins with the fear of the Lord because when you fear him, you will want to hear him. Fearing God is giving him preeminence of place in your thinking and in your contemplation. When I tell my kids on Christmas Eve that they will be allowed to open presents at a certain time, they believe me and make sure that they are up at that time. My words take preeminence of place in their calculations because they have a proper regard for their dad. 


Likewise, if you fear the Lord, you will listen to what he says and become preoccupied with what he says. As you listen to what he says, this is what will become clear to you: your desires have been corrupted by sin. And if your desires are corrupted by sin, then you need to check your desires—and the words that flow from those desires—before you speak. 


The Role of Humility in Slowing Down Speech

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom because a heart that knows God is moving in the direction of humility, not pride. A humble heart is the key to slowing down and considering what you say before you say it. Conversely, a proud heart rashly goes ahead because it does not consider that it could be wrong. Consider Proverbs 3:7,


“Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil.” 


Do you desire to be slow to speak and quick to listen? Turn your attention to God’s word and see who you are according to him. You are a sinner saved by grace. You are not wise in and of yourself. But he offers wisdom to you.


This is the first step to gaining control of a tongue that feels out of control. You must humble yourself by listening to God in order to learn about yourself and submit to his instruction. 


Speaking Lies vs Speaking Truth

Lies are dangerous. That may sound silly to say because it seems obvious, but the fact that lying remains a prevalent practice shows us that we can know something is dangerous and still take it up recklessly. Just like a smoker continues to smoke, knowing full well that smoking causes cancer, saying, “It won’t cause cancer in me,” a liar continues to lie saying, “It won’t cause death in me.” If you say that and believe it, then you might be the greatest victim of your own lies. 


Lying is twisting the truth to benefit yourself or holding back the truth in order to benefit yourself by harming another. Consider what Proverbs has to say about lies and liars. Proverbs 12:17 says,


“Whoever speaks the truth gives honest evidence, but a false witness utters deceit.”


Proverbs 12:19 picks up this thought further,


“Truthful lips endure forever, but a lying tongue is but for a moment.” 


Proverbs 12:22 states what God thinks of liars and truth-tellers,


“Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, but those who act faithfully are his delight.”


Proverbs 21:6 tells us the end that liars can expect,


“The getting of treasure by a lying tongue is a fleeting vapor and a snare of death.” 


What Lying Does

Why is lying so dreadful? Why is it an abomination in God’s sight? Because it destroys God’s good creation by destroying relationships. Lies set people against each other. Think back to what Proverbs 6:16-19 tells us,


“There are six things that the LORD hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.” 


The Lord hates these things and sees them as all related. A lying tongue can pit people against each other, making discord where there was once peace. 


But lies do not only disrupt the relationship that others have with each other. By their very nature, lies destroy the relationships of the liar as well. 


Think of it this way: if you habitually lie about yourself to others, then you aren’t really in a relationship with anyone. You’ve simply created a false self that is in a relationship with other people. Brothers and sisters, there are too many stories of the sins of Christians coming out after their deaths for me to mention this to you. You can make yourself into something that you are not, claiming to be a person that doesn’t actually exist. This is a key case of using your words toward the end of idolatrous worship. While you might think this is worth it, no one—including God—knows you. And you risk hearing on the day of judgment, “Depart from me, you worker of lawlessness. I never knew you.” 


What Lying Is

Lying is an attempt to recreate reality around yourself. You are trying to fashion truth in accord with your desires, centered on your glory, and aiming at your pleasure. This is why lying is an abomination to the Lord (12:22). When you try to fashion reality around yourself, you necessarily treat yourself as the center of the universe and the one by whom all will have life, joy, and purpose. But you cannot give that. Your lies pull attention away from God, which means you pull attention away from the one through whom all people will have true life. This is like running into a closet in a burning house and then crying out for all to hear, “Come this way! It is the way out!” This is why the lies of Joseph Smith and Muhammad are so sinister. 


But this is also why you hiding sin is such a problem. Let me explain: When you hide sin or outright deny that you have sinned, you are attempting to fashion reality around your perfection and glory. You are denying that your sin against God is actually bad. You are denying that God is gracious and will actually forgive you. You are denying that reconciliation with God is better than merely looking holy and good in the eyes of another man. You are, in fact, living in the fear of man. You have come to think that the approval of man is more important than the approval of God. Lying proclaims your glory and demands others submit to it. Telling the truth proclaims God’s glory and humbly submits to it. 


All lies destroy others (14:4; 19:28; 21:28; 24:28-29; 25:8, 18; 29:24), but it will also destroy you. For the truth will come out in the end, which is why lying is such a foolish endeavor. Proverbs 19:5, 


“A false witness will not go unpunished, and he who breathes out lies will not escape.” 


Living by lies will lead to your judgment and eternal death. You might be able to fool others, but you aren’t fooling God. 


Are you living in lies? Have they become second nature to you? Then be warned: you are walking the path of the fool. You think that by your lies you will attain honor, but you will find that only wrath awaits you. 


What should you do? Remember Proverbs 12:22,


“Lying lips are an abomination to the LORD, but those who act faithfully are his delight.” 


Being faithful doesn’t mean being perfect. It means believing what you hear. And what should you believe? Proverbs 30:5 adds to this,


“Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.” 


While lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, he will delight in you if you believe him and run to him for refuge. You can stop lying in order to get people to be pleased with you since God offers you to delight in you. All you have to do is come to him and speak the truth.


Speaking to Destroy vs. Speaking to Heal

Proverbs is clear that speech can be a form of an attack that one takes against another. While truth can bring healing, destruction can come by lies, gossip, and slander. We just dealt with lies, so let’s turn our attention to what Proverbs has to say about gossip and slander. 



Gossip is using your words to destroy the reputation of another person by sharing information behind his back. Gossip, however, is not simply damaging to the immediate subject of the gossip. It is like an acid that destroys the whole community. Proverbs 16:28 says, 


“A dishonest man spreads strife, and a whisperer separates close friends.” 


A gossip spreads dissension and discord among the whole community, so the whole community is healed when he is silenced or removed, as Proverbs 26:20 tells us, 


“For lack of wood the fire goes out, and where there is no whisperer, quarreling ceases.” 


That term “whisperer” is striking, isn’t it? It almost gives you a visceral reaction. You hate it when you walk into a room a people are whispering. Your immediate thought is, “Why don’t they want me to hear that?” Even if it isn’t about you, it feels like it is. Whispering kills community because it kills trust, which is the lifeblood of community. If a church is without trust, then it will not last long at all. 


It doesn’t even matter if what is being whispered is true. It may be true, but the intent of sharing it is not to help the person and the timing of it isn’t fitting with the command of love. Gossip aims to hurt another, not help. 


Brothers and sisters, let’s not whisper about each other. Let’s guard each other instead.


But Proverbs doesn’t just address gossip, it warns of slander as well. 



Slander is similar to gossip, but much more direct. Slander is an attempt to hurt others by sharing secrets about them. Proverbs 11:13a,


“Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets…”


Unlike gossip, slander is open and could be said directly to a person’s face or behind their back. While gossip is spreading the information, slander is spreading information as a judgment against the person. Gossip says, “Can you believe she did that?” Slander says, “Can you believe she did that? She needs to be punished, right?” 


Why Do We Desire to Engage in Gossip and Slander? 

When I explain it like that, you are probably thinking, “Why would anyone ever do that?” But engaging in this kind of speech is incredibly tempting. After all, Proverbs 26:22 says,


“The words of a whisperer are like delicious morsels; they go down into the inner parts of the body.” 


There is something pleasing about hearing gossip and slander, like eating something tasty. But the reason is revolting. It feels good because it makes you feel superior. After all, this other person has problems, not you. You are forming a club of superiority with whomever you share the news. To engage in gossip and slander is to fall into a mindset of works-based righteousness. It says, “I am better than you,” which feels like a comfort to a sinner. After all, if I compare myself to other people, then I can make myself think that I am actually pretty decent sometimes. But when I compare myself to God’s perfect law, I realize that I am on the exact same footing as everyone else. No one can boast when he stands condemned before God. Likewise, none of us can boast if we stand at the foot of the cross pointing to him as our only hope of righteousness. 


Gossip and slander, like lying, are attempts to remake the world around an idolatrous view of ourselves. It forgets God. When we bring God back into the equation, thus shining a light on our own sin and inability to redeem ourselves, gossip and slander are seen as the foolish acts that they really are. 


How Are You to Avoid Gossip and Slander?

So what should you do when you are tempted to engage in gossip or slander? When you are tempted to gossip—which is speaking about another person behind his back, you should go to that person instead. Hear what Proverbs 25:8-10 says,


“Do not hastily bring into court, for what will you do in the end, when your neighbor puts you to shame? Argue your case with your neighbor himself, and do not reveal another’s secret, lest he who hears you bring shame upon you, and your ill repute have no end.” 


Here is what that means: instead of rushing off to judgment on another person, you should go directly to him or her instead. Do not bring in other people with the intent to harm the person you want to talk about. First, talk to that person.


Likewise, when you are tempted to attack someone, seek to understand him instead. Proverbs 14:29 says, 


“Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly.”


Slander is fueled by anger because it is a desire to destroy another person with your words. Anger, though, is diffused by understanding. When you gain understanding of why someone did something, it may not excuse his action, but it will help you gain sympathy and compassion for why he may have done it. 


This idea leads us to the most important tactic of all: genuine love for the other person. Love will guide you to correct others, not gossip about them or slander them. 


Correction Heals, Gossip and Slander Attack

Gossip and slander are ultimately attacks. Proverbs calls us to correct, which is an act of love because it leads to wisdom. Correction is like surgery that aims to heal another person while gossip and slander are attacks aimed at destroying another person. Consider what happens in surgery. A doctor shows a patient convincingly that something is dangerously wrong with him; the patient willingly agrees to the surgery; the surgery is not secretive, but explained to the patient; the surgery itself is precise, careful, and private—bringing in only those who are necessary; the surgery is aimed at healing the patient and doing him good; and the doctor rejoices in patients that live instead of die.


Contrast that with an attack in a battle. In an attack, both sides view each other as enemies who are wrong; one side gathers intel to use against the other side; one side brings in troops to attack the other side; one side acts in secret in order to surprise his enemy; he seeks to destroy the other by such secret activity; and he exults over his enemies destruction. 


Brothers and sisters, let’s not aim for destruction. Even when we are wronged, let us remember Christ who, while we were his enemies, died for us. His aim is not to destroy us but to heal us. Let us have the same aim with one another. 


What Will You Do with Your Words?

Telling the truth is hard, but you are empowered to do it. God has given you the power to speak so that you may have the joy of building toward life. He has overcome your sin so that, yes, you can actually take up these words and put them into practice by his power. 


If you are in Christ by faith, then these words are lights that go before you so that you may walk in wisdom. It is difficult, but he is with you and it is worth it.


If you are not in Christ, then this may sound impossible. How can you control your passions in the heat of the moment instead of blurting out your words in anger? How can you demolish the temple of self you have been building with lies and instead walk in the truth of God? How can you use your words to love instead of destroying? This is impossible without Christ. 


Wisdom means using your words to glorify God and love your neighbor. But you can only do this when you know and believe that he first loved you by giving his Son to die for your sin and give you new life. Christ himself bore your sin in his body on the cross so that you might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds, you have been healed. For while you were straying like sheep, he has come to seek and save you. Come to him today in faith.


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