Word Power Made Wise


Biblical Truth: Because of speech’s power, God expects His people to use their words for good, not evil.

Choose Your Word Carefully: Proverbs 17:27-28.

[27]  He who restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding. [28]  Even a fool, when he keeps silent, is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is considered prudent.  [NASU]

[27]  Self-control pays high dividends! Wise is the one who restrains his words. The verb can mean refrain, withhold, keep in check, prevent, spare and even hoard something. In this case, it is one’s thoughts, feelings and ideas expressed in words. When a person practices this kind of self-control in his speech, he proves that he has knowledge, or, more literally, ‘knows knowledge.’ The verb is the familiar Hebrew word for deep, personal, experiential knowledge. One sure way to prove that you have truly embraced the knowledge of God is to hold your tongue when tempted to make a retort. That the first line has primary reference to the temptation to retort when tempers start to flare is made obvious by the second line. A cool spirit rather than being a hot-head proves that one has come to possess understanding. To make a point, to put someone in their place or to get the last word may feel like the ‘right’ thing to do, but it is seldom anything more than a foolish indulgence of one’s pride.

[28]  Read this proverb in connection with the previous one. There, restraint of one’s words is evidence of wisdom. Here, it is merely a cover for folly, though an effective one. Two warnings emerge. First, that not all who appear silent and thoughtful are in fact just that. Second, measured words are best, no matter what your proximity to wisdom. Even Job’s friends appeared caring and wise while they remained silent [Job 2:13]. Once their mouths were opened, however, Job sarcastically lamented: O that you would be completely silent, and that it would become your wisdom! [Job 13:5]. The problem is that A fool does not delight in understanding, but only in revealing his own mind [Prov. 18:2]. Instead we should learn that When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable, but he who restrains his lips is wise [Prov. 10:19].

Respect the Power of Words: Proverbs 18:20-21.

[20]  With the fruit of a man’s mouth his stomach will be satisfied; he will be satisfied with the product of his lips. [21]  Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.  [NASU]

[20]  This proverb and the one following provide a healthy balance for each other. The fruit of a man’s mouth is a poetic expression to describe the words he says, as is also the product of his lips. The word fruit ties this proverb with the next. One’s words make him satisfied, the word being found in both lines here. The point of this proverb is that what is inside a man defines him more than that which he might acquire and take into his life. Proverbs often speaks of the positive benefits of wise speech, both for others and even for one’s self, as here. How wise the man who prays daily, Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips [Ps. 141:3]. We are, because of our own blunders, all too aware of the negative consequences of unwise words, but we need to remember both the consequences and benefits of our speech. A man will be satisfied with good by the fruit of his words [Prov. 12:14a].

[21]  This proverb follows on the previous one, being tied together by the common word fruit and the common theme of speech. Here, death and life are said to lie in the power of the tongue. One’s tongue is attributed with power. The particular power attributed to the tongue is the ability to bring life or to bring death. Part of the life that well-spoken words bring to the speaker is their life-giving effect upon his listeners. Part of the death they bring is the destruction wreaked upon the relationships of the speaker as his words come to others. Proverbs stresses the life-giving effects of wise speech. The reverse is also true, however, and one’s words may destroy. While the exact effect of one’s speech may not be determined exactly, the fact that those who love it will eat its fruit is a given. We will reap the benefits or endure the pains of what we say. The word its refers to one’s speech, the product of one’s tongue. Our words are seeds sown in the soil of other people’s lives. Those words never remain neutral. They yield a harvest either to life or to death for them and for us. The one who loves to talk will live or die by his speech. Jesus warned us: But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned [Matt. 12:36-37].

Use Good Words: Proverbs 25:11-12.

[11]  Like apples of gold in settings of silver is a word spoken in right circumstances. [12]  Like an earring of gold and an ornament of fine gold Is a wise reprover to a listening ear.  [NASU]

[11]  This introduces a series of proverbs on speech [11-15]. The imagery of apples of gold in settings of silver, while not entirely clear, is obviously meant to describe that which is beautiful, valuable and carefully crafted. That which is likened to this is a word spoken in right circumstances. So what is beautiful about these words? Probably the timeliness of the words and their substance are in view. A good word at the wrong time can fail to produce its intention. There may be a time for speaking, but not just any word will do. The New Testament calls us to this kind of speech as well in Ephesians 4:29. It is to be a balance of well-chosen (only such a word as is good for edification) and well-timed words (according to the need of the moment).

[12]  The golden imagery of the previous verse pours over into this one. Here, the metaphors are of an earring of gold and an ornament of fine gold. Both articles were emblematic of wealth, blessing, and beauty. The presence of wisdom has been compared to such personal adornment [Prov. 1:9; 3:22; 4:9]. Yet, here, it is not a personal character quality that is considered beautiful and worthy of display. Rather, it is a personal acquaintance that is valued in this way. The person is called a wise reprover. They may be so esteemed and, thus, labeled because they are adept at bringing a word spoken in right circumstances [11] Their words are well-thought-out, well-timed and well-delivered. The beauty of such reproof is not obvious to all. It takes a person with a listening ear to detect their beauty and to rightly estimate their worth. A listening ear requires the humility of heart and hunger after wisdom that puts one in a place to gladly receive a reproof if it will advance one in the school of insight and understanding. To ‘hear’ or to ‘listen’ is to hear with a view toward conformity and obedience [15:31]. The wise reprover holds his insight until he discovers one with a listening ear. The listening ear seeks diligently for one who might serve him as a wise reprover. When the one meets the other, he wears that relationship like his most valuable possession.

Avoid Trash Talk: Proverbs 26:20-22,28.

[20]  For lack of wood the fire goes out, and where there is no whisperer, contention quiets down. [21]  Like charcoal to hot embers and wood to fire, so is a contentious man to kindle strife. [22]  The words of a whisperer are like dainty morsels, and they go down into the innermost parts of the body. [28]  A lying tongue hates those it crushes, and a flattering mouth works ruin.  [NASU]

[20]  This subsection [20-22] addresses the problem of a slanderous tongue. The problem person is called a whisperer, a character we meet four times in Proverbs. Such a person’s gossiping ways are tantalizingly fun to enter into [18:8; 26:22], but, when the fun is over, a string of broken relationships is left [16:28]. In Proverbs, the problem of gossip is dealt with more generally as well [11:13; 20:19; 25:9]. Ultimately, the gossip is no better than the mocker, in that both wreak the same havoc upon relationships [22:10]. Such an individual is the fuel that fires contention. Once the whisperer is removed, the strife quiets down.

[21]  The repetition of the words wood and fire links this verse with the one that precedes it. The point is nearly the same as well. What is stated negatively there is now cast in the positive. When one piles fuel on an existing fire, one produces a greater inferno. The effect of a contentious man is much the same. He is fuel to all the smoldering embers of bitterness in the lives of those he comes in contact with [15:18; 29:22]. He is, ultimately, deemed a fool, for a fool’s lips bring strife [18:6]. The remedy is the same as that stated in verse 20: the contentious man must be removed. Drive out the scoffer, and contention will go out, even strife and dishonor will cease [22:10]. Whereas, in verse 20 the problem was a whisperer (a gossip), here the problem is a contentious man. While they present themselves differently socially, the two are conjoined twins, sharing a corrupt heart. The gossip moves with stealth, while the contentious man is loud and brash. Yet their impulses are not far apart and their results are much the same.

[22]  This proverb is an exact repetition of Proverbs 18:8. The whisperer of verse 20 is reintroduced, binding this triplet of verses together. The problem is this individual’s words. Indeed, he is one who murmurs and whispers about others behind their backs. He is a gossip, and what he has to say is like dainty morsels. Listening to gossip is as easy as downing a delightful dessert. Putting a stop to gossip is as difficult as refusing that tantalizing confection when everyone else is indulging. The danger is found in that, once indulged, the gossip goes down into the innermost parts of the body. Gossip does not merely fall upon your ears; it settles deep within you. You cannot help but be influenced by it. You will never look at the person of whom the gossip spoke in the same way again. Gossip irrepressibly shapes our view of people, no matter how hard we try to discount it as probably untrue.

[28]  The emphasis on deceit and hatred resurfaces. The two lines are not perfectly synonymous, but, generally, reflect the same thought. The first line speaks of a lying tongue while the second looks at a flattering mouth. The manifestation is different, but the essence is the same. The overly flattering one is as dangerous as the bald-faced liar. The results of these seemingly divergent actions are quite similar as well. The first crushes its victims with premeditated hatred and the second works ruin. In the end, we must admit, Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy [27:6].

Questions for Discussion:

1.          How do we grow in the ability to not say the wrong or hurtful thing? What is the connection between thoughts and words? Why does self-control over our words prove that we have knowledge?

2.          What is the point of the proverb in 18:20-21? Why is it so important to guard our words? Meditate on why Jesus placed so much importance on our words in Matthew 12:36-37.

3.          Why do well-chosen and well-timed words have such great value? What is the connection in this proverb between well-chosen words and wise reprover; between well-timed words and the listening ear?

4.          Who is the whisperer in 26:20-22? What is the danger of gossip for good relationships? Ask God to convict and protect you from both being a whisperer and from listening to their gossip.


Proverbs, John Kitchen, Mentor.

Proverbs, Tremper Longman III, Baker.

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