Two Typical Misuses of the Tongue:
“Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, but those who act faithfully are his delight” (12:22). The first clause of this proverb describes the amount of hatred the Lord has for lying lips. I think we understand that overt deception is not tolerated by God. There is no justification. There are not white lies or lies of convenience. But speaking false words is not the only way that we can lie, according to Solomon.
Look at the rest of Proverbs 12:22. Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord. But lying lips are placed in contrast to people who act faithfully. It is interesting that Solomon does not say that truthful lips are God’s delight. Rather, Solomon teaches his son the need to follow through with what he says he will or will not do. The lying lips are not simply about saying something that is false, but saying that we will do something, but then do not perform the act. Solomon touches upon a common form of lying that we engage in: saying we will do something, but then deciding or neglecting to not perform what we said we would do. I think this is an important proverb that we need to be aware of concerning our faithfulness to God. We may be of the righteous character that would not speak an outright lie. But lying is also not following through on our words. Our “yes” needs to be “yes” and our “no” needs to be “no” (Matthew 5:37).
“He who conceals his hatred has lying lips, and whoever spreads slander is a fool” (10:18). I do not think that I have thought that concealing hatred is having lying lips. But such an act reflects dishonesty. Since this the first clause is connected to spreading slander, the proverb seems to point out the two-faced person. Solomon describes the person who conceals his or her hatred of you to your face. They speak nice, kind, or flattering words. But then they express their hatred of you to other people. Saying nice words that we do not mean is lying. Acting dishonestly toward a person is lying. You think the person is your friend based upon the conversations that you have. But little do you realize that this person who think is your friend despises you and speaks badly about you to other people. These are lying lips.
“A perverse man sows strife, and a whisperer (gossip) separates the best of friends” (16:28). This proverb really shows the amount of damage that can be done by being a whisperer or a gossip. Even the best of friends will become divided if one of the parties is engaging in gossip. This is a comparative proverb. The perverse person is compared to the whisperer. Sowing strife is compared to separating the best of friends. The gossip never thinks of himself or herself as a perverse, evil person. Every gossip thinks the things that he or she is saying is innocent. We are just talking about someone. We must remember that if what we are speaking is not useful, is not beneficial, and is not something you would want the other person to hear, then you are gossiping.
“Fire goes out without wood, and quarrels disappear when gossip stops” (26:20). Just as wood is fuel for the fire, so also is gossip fuel for fights. Strife, quarrellings, and relationship problems are guaranteed to come when there are whisperings and gossip. Friends will split and marriages will fracture when we speak to others about things were entrusted to us in confidence. “A gossip betrays a confidence; so avoid a man who talks too much” (20:19). Acting like a friend or a spouse, but speaking against them to others, is dishonest and has already been identified by Solomon as lying lips.
“The words of a whisperer are like delicious morsels; they go down into the inner parts of the body” (18:8; 26:22). This proverb is stated twice by Solomon and describes two problems with gossiping. First, the pain of saying hurtful words reaches all the way down into the inner parts of the body. But the other point, which is the key point Solomon is making, is that we want to listen to the words of the gossip. A gossip’s words are like delicious morsels. We want to listen to the words of a whisperer. We desire to hear the dirt on another person. It is well been said many times that if the gossip had no one to listen to him, there would not be any whisperings. We are condemned for listening to someone speak about another person.
“An evildoer gives heed to wicked lips; a liar listens eagerly to a spiteful tongue” (17:4). Notice that we are evildoers for listening to these words. We are the evil one for listening! Let that sink down into our ears. We want to blame the one speaking the gossip. Certainly the gossip is condemned. But Solomon spends more time condemning the person who is listening. We are the ones who must change the subject. We are the ones who must walk away from the person speaking with wicked lips. We are the ones who must tell the other person that it is not that person’s business and should not be speaking gossip. Otherwise, we are evildoers because we are joining the gossip.
The Wise Tongue
Controlling the tongue:
1. Speak less.
“He who guards his mouth and his tongue, guards his soul from troubles” (21:23). Solomon has described how the tongue causes strife and brings trouble. Now Solomon reminds us to guard our mouth and we will keep ourselves out of trouble. So many of the troubles that we encounter come from not controlling our tongues. We say things that we know we should not say, but we say it anyway, and our words come back to haunt us.
“In the multitude of words sin is not lacking, but he who restrains his lips is wise” (10:19). The call is to control the tongue. The more we talk, the more likely we are going to get ourselves in trouble. The more we talk, the more likely we are going to commit sin.
2. Think before speaking.
“Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him” (29:20). We need to think before opening our mouths. We know this, but rarely do we follow through with thinking before speaking. The condemnation for the person who speaks before thinking is very strong: there is more hope for a fool. This is sad considering that Solomon has repeatedly taught that there is no hope for a fool in his folly.
3. Listen before speaking.
“The one who gives an answer before he listens— this is foolishness and disgrace for him” (18:13). Not only do we often not think before speaking, but we also do not listen to the whole matter before speaking. Sometimes we do not get all of the information about a particular decision or matter and we make a hasty response. How many times have we made a decision without all the facts and we look like a fool for our actions.
What to speak:
1. Fitting words.
“A word spoken at the right time is like golden apples on a silver tray” (25:11).
“A man finds joy in giving an apt reply— and how good is a timely word!” (15:23). Solomon reminds us of the usefulness and value of being able to speak the right words at the right time. We should want to work to be people who have the wisdom to be able to say the right thing at the right time. Too often we are like the fools we read about earlier who cause problems because they cannot give a timely word.
2. Pleasant words.
“Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones” (16:24). Solomon is showing us the amazing power of words to bring healing to people in pain and suffering. The book of Job reminds us of the power of words. The three friends showed a total inability to speak the right words and the right time. They could have brought healing and comfort to Job. Instead, they are described as miserable comforters (Job 16:2).
“The tongue that brings healing is a tree of life, but a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit” (15:4). This proverb makes the same comparison about the ability of the tongue to be able to heal or hurt. We can crush other people with thoughtless, careless words. “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit” (18:21). If we will control our tongue, think before we speak, and listen before speaking we could have tongues that bring healing. So how can we have tongues of healing? Consider the next proverb:
“A wise man’s heart guides his mouth, and his lips promote instruction” (16:23). A healing tongue only comes from a wise heart. If we are swift to speak and are typically not givers of helpful words, then Solomon says that a change of heart is required. The tongue speaks the matters of the heart. Our tongues reflect our character. We find out who we are by the way we talk.
3. Reproving words.
“Like an earring of gold or an ornament of fine gold is a wise man’s rebuke to a listening ear” (25:12). Notice that there are two necessary components for the rebuke/reproof to be like an earring of gold or an ornament of fine gold: (1) a wise man must be giving the reproof. Solomon is thinking about the person who is able to give the timely word, fitting for the occasion. The reproof must come from the wise. (2) A listening ear that is accepting the rebuke is also needed. What good is the timely word if the person receiving the timely word is not listening? When the wise speak, we need to listen. When those who have respect and knowledge in righteousness speak, we need to always listen and consider the points they are making.
“He who rebukes a man will find more favor afterward than he who flatters with the tongue” (28:23). This proverb has always been humorous to me because the favor comes afterward, not before or during the rebuke. We can find endless favor by only being a flatterer. But the flattery is not useful like the right words in the right circumstances. You will be appreciated and respected later for your wise words.
- Mean what you say. Follow through on your words because God hates lying lips.
- Gossip causes strife and destroys relationships. If the words are not useful, helpful, and something you would say to person, do not speak them.
- Stop listening to gossip. It may be “juicy” but we are ungodly if we listen.
- Be thoughtful and slow to speak. We have a responsibility to control the tongue.
- Be able to speak the right words at the right time. Bring words of healing not pain.