Proverbs 10:18-21 // How to Use Your Words Wisely

Wisdom is what lies behind the New Year’s resolutions that we make. We want to live wisely and make good decisions, aligning our goals with how reality works. We make resolutions to get ourselves back together and live according to the way God set things up to work. And that’s what wisdom is.

Proverbs is a treasure chest full of wisdom. Interestingly though, the wisdom we find in the Bible doesn’t always line up with what non-Christians are looking for. Wisdom from Proverbs emphasizes what comes out of our mouth more than what goes into it. It emphasizes our words more than our weight.

Today, we’ll be looking at Proverbs 10:18-21 to help us understand wisdom as it relates to our words. It’ll help us understand ourselves and other people and live life according to the way God designed it.

Wise People Reveal & Conceal the Right Things

The one who conceals hatred has lying lips, and whoever utters slander is a fool.

– v. 18

One type of foolish people has two traits. First, they have a heart full of dislike and ill will toward people and they hide it with deception. Second, they utter slander – they bring up bad and usually false things about others. That word “utter” can also mean “publish.” It gives the idea of putting something out there verbally that everyone can see and no one can take back.

Foolish people conceal and hold onto hatred for others, hiding it deceitfully. Hatred shouldn’t be concealed in the way verse 18 describes – it should be revealed to God in prayerful confession so He can exchange that feeling for love. Wise, Christian people do not let hatred fester in their hearts.

Foolish people also reveal negative, false things about others. They hear something bad about someone else and spit it right back out. It’s so common to find this on social media, even among Christians. But slander should be kept private out of concern for other people’s reputation. The wise Christian doesn’t slander, but is like an acoustic panel that absorbs the reverberating racket and keeps it from going further.

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Wise Christians need to forsake hatred and slander.

Why Do Christians Slander?

Now the question is, “Why would a Christian ever slander?” There are a lot of answers to this.

  • We want to look better. The easiest way for us to look better in 2020 is by making others look bad. It’s easier than working on ourselves.
  • We want to feel better. We know our own problems and feel bad about ourselves. So it’s nice to take our minds off our own imperfection and focus on someone else’s.
  • It’s an accident. We often talk about people when we’re genuinely concerned about them. It can quickly become slanderous, though, if we’re not careful. Even mature Christians fall into this kind of disguised slander.
  • The social media mob mentality. We slander as much with our fingers as we do with our mouths. It’s easy to just do what everyone else is doing and share bad things about other people.

Words are powerful – whether spoken or written. They can rip people apart or put them back together. They can escalate an issue or quiet it down so we can actually discuss it. There are important things to discuss right now, and we need Christian voices talking about them. But we need to do it wisely.

Wise People Speak Less & More Carefully

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

– v. 19

This verse has more to do with the quantity of words rather than the quality. Think about it. How often do you regret saying something when you should have just kept quiet? Foolish people shoot first and aim second. Their mouths are usually open, but the wise person’s mouth is usually shut.

In this case, quiet people have an advantage over people who like to talk. Some people are nervous talkers, some just have a lot to say, others are know-it-alls and want everyone else to know it, and still others are would-be comedians who race to the joke before thinking. Now is it a sin to like to talk? No, absolutely not. But if you talk a lot, you’re more likely to fall into sin than if you talk less.

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It’s wise to wait before you talk. Silence is okay. Waiting a couple seconds to speak gives you a chance to think through what you want to say before blurting it all out. Waiting gives you enough time to remember that it probably doesn’t matter that you’re right – just let it go. It gives you enough time to decide, “I’ll be the one who laughs this time instead of sharing the joke.”

Waiting before speaking gives you time to ask yourself, “What is the most valuable thing I can contribute with my words?” It might be no words, or it might be carefully chosen words that benefit other people. That brings us to our next point.

Wise People Have Valuable, Beneficial Words

The tongue of the righteous is choice silver; the heart of the wicked is of little worth.

– v. 20

The words of righteous people is “choice silver.” Their words are tested to make sure they’re worth saying. On the other hand, the very core of the wicked is “of little worth.” What righteous people say is valuable, but what wicked people think is worthless.

If we’re just pumping out words all the time, people aren’t really going to value them. But if we speak less or more carefully, when we do speak, our words will be like choice silver. We need to ask ourselves, “What’s the most valuable thing I can do with my words right now?” As it says in verse 21:

The lips of the righteous feed many, but fools die for lack of sense.

When wise people speak, it’s helpful and nourishing to others. Fools, on the other hand, are unable to do that.

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To Wrap Things Up . . .

Wise people know that words reveal character. Because they’re wise, they don’t slander. They restrain their words and say things that will benefit other people. They speak low quantity, high quality words – less but better.

There’s a problem trying to live like this, though. It’s impossible to remember these rules every time we enter a conversation. Words don’t create character – they reveal character. Words are indicator lights letting us know what’s going on in our heart. So it doesn’t make sense to change our words to fix the problem inside us. We have to change what’s inside us.

Jesus said that “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34). Word problems are heart problems. What we need is to be given a new heart (Ezekiel 36:26). Once we get a new heart through Jesus Christ, speaking wisely comes naturally. We don’t have to willpower our way into wiser words, we can just let our words reflect what’s actually inside us.

So, think about your words. Reread your social media postings. Think back over your conversations with other people. What is revealed in there? What needs to be confessed and made new in Christ? Let’s be wise people who speak wisely from wise hearts.

Discussion Starters

  • How is it foolish to slander other people?
  • Why do Christians slander?
  • Why is it foolish to talk a lot? How is speaking less wise?
  • How are the words of wise people helpful and valuable?
  • What do your words tell you about your heart?
  • What do you think needs to change?
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