Wisdom and Words

We talk a lot. According to the best research I can find, the average American speaks roughly 16,000 words per day. That’s 1,000 per waking hour and 16 per minute.

What follows is a walk through one of the richest passages in Proverbs concerning our words: Proverbs 4:20-27. In this passage we’ll discover a three step process for speaking more wisely. 

20My son, be attentive to my words;
incline your ear to my sayings.
21Let them not escape from your sight;
keep them within your heart.
22For they are life to those who find them,
and healing to all their flesh.
23Keep your heart with all vigilance,
for from it flow the springs of life.
24Put away from you crooked speech,
and put devious talk far from you.
25Let your eyes look directly forward,
and your gaze be straight before you.
26Ponder the path of your feet;
then all your ways will be sure.
27Do not swerve to the right or to the left;
turn your foot away from evil.

Step One: Listen Well

20My son, be attentive to my words;
incline your ear to my sayings.
21Let them not escape from your sight;
keep them within your heart.
22For they are life to those who find them,
and healing to all their flesh.

While researching how many words we speak, I also discovered how many words we hear: roughly 100,000 per day. Not all these words are worthy of attention; but some are. When we hear worthy words, we must open our ears. This is where growth in wise speaking begins. 

There is no word more worthy than God’s word. He created everything with it (Genesis 1). Jesus is called The Word (John 1). It is the light for our path (Psalm 119:105). It is “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). When Solomon, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, invites us to incline our ears to his sayings, he is inviting us to listen to God’s word.

But that’s not all. We are to listen to these words and to keep them within our hearts, which is where words go after we hear them. In a spiritual diagram of the human body, there would be a canal running from the ears directly to the heart, which leads us to step two. 

Step Two: Guard Your Heart

23Keep your heart with all vigilance,
for from it flow the springs of life.

Fort Knox is guarded by four foot thick granite walls, a 22 ton blast-proof door, every-square-inch surveillance cameras, a multi-layered cement and granite foundation, manned sentinel stations on the grounds and upper levels, 27 inch thick steel and concrete vaults, four individual fence barriers with electricity and armed guards, a specially trained police force with access to robust military back-up including tanks, armored personnel carriers, attack helicopters and artillery–as well as a host of suspected defense measures the public doesn’t even know about.

Your heart is your Fort Knox. Heart security is more important than a healthy diet, good insurance, a home alarm system, a gun and any other protective measure you could possibly imagine.

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Why? Because “from it flow the springs of life.” Your heart is the source of all your living. If your heart is compromised, every other aspect of your life is in jeopardy, including your speech. Jesus put it this way in Luke 6:43-45, “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.”

You’ve heard it said that “you are what you eat.” More truly you are what you speak. Your words reveal your heart, which is the core of who you are. This is why the Biblical approach to wise speaking is not comprised of tips and tricks, but heart transformation.

We manipulate people with our words because we are manipulative people. We deceive with our words because we are liars. We slander with our words because we have hatred in our hearts. If we ever hope to speak true and life-giving words, we must become true and life-giving people. And there is only one word that can transform the human heart in this way: the gospel.

Jesus Christ never spoke a sinful word. He died to pay for all our sinful words. When we trust in him for forgiveness from our sins based on his death and follow him as our Lord based on his resurrection, our hearts are changed. “I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26).

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Once our ears take in these good words and our hearts retain them can we change our speech patterns. Rather than spraying verbal Febreeze over our rotten hearts, trying to be more careful with our words, we can receive true transformation through Jesus Christ. We can be pure people and thus speak pure words. First the ears. Then the heart. And then the mouth,  which brings us to the third step. 

 

Step Three: Speak Straight

24Put away from you crooked speech,
and put devious talk far from you.
25Let your eyes look directly forward,
and your gaze be straight before you.
26Ponder the path of your feet;
then all your ways will be sure.
27Do not swerve to the right or to the left;
turn your foot away from evil.

One commentator defined ‘crooked speech’ and ‘devious talk’ as “distorted words that deform their hearers.” Considering how verses 25-27 emphasize straightness, ‘crooked’ and ‘devious’ seem like the right words to use in verse 24. In fact, I believe these are umbrella terms that can include many types of crooked words Solomon mentions in Proverbs:

  • manipulative
  • deceptive
  • loud
  • murky
  • extraneous
  • ruinous
  • slanderous
  • over-abundant
  • perverse
  • destructive
  • belittling
  • secret-revealing
  • blood-thirsty
  • false
  • wounding
  • rash
  • worthless
  • abominable
  • foolish
  • boastful

Crooked people speak these sorts of words. In Christ, we are straightened out and can begin to speak words that are:

  • true
  • transparent
  • life-giving
  • wise
  • restrained
  • valuable
  • nourishing
  • satisfying
  • appropriate
  • quiet
  • discrete
  • freeing
  • honest
  • healing
  • enduring
  • humble
  • guarded
  • carefully chosen
  • life-preserving
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Conclusion

Word problems are heart problems. Heart problems are ear problems. When I speak harsh words of impatience to my children, it isn’t because they are being disobedient. It’s because I’m impatient and selfish in my heart. When I speak discouraging words of almost atheistic pessimism, it isn’t because the situation is hopeless. It’s because my heart doesn’t believe in God’s promises.

Heart problems are ear problems. When I’m impatient and selfish it’s because I have forgotten words like Philippians 2. When I’m disbelieving it’s because I’ve forgotten words like Romans 8.

So when your words go crooked, remember: ears –> heart –> mouth. Hear the gospel afresh. Keep it in your heart. And speak straight.

Discussion Starters

  1. Has your mouth ever gotten you in trouble? Are there any examples you can share with the group? Which sorts of “crooked” speaking do you tend to struggle with the most? (Use the list of different types of crooked speech above for help.)
  2. If that was too hard a question to answer honestly, try this one. Have you even been hurt by someone else’s words? Are there any examples of this you can share with the group without slandering anyone (keeping it anonymous)?
  3. List together all the sources of words you’ve heard (or read) today (think people, radio stations, television, books, etc.).
  4. How do words make their way to our hearts? What is the correspondence between ears and hearts?
  5. Read Proverbs 4:20-23. How does one keep good words within their heart?
  6. Read Proverbs 4:24. What are some specific, practical ways we can guard our hearts? 
  7. Consider together why it is important to deal with heart issues when dealing with word issues? (Luke 6:43-45 will help).
  8. Take some time to pray together.

 

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