Skilful Living - Part 3: Words

Proverbs addresses many areas of life: family, work, money, sexuality, justice, pleasure and so on. When preaching through this book, many preachers break the book into themes instead of working through the book in order. If you read Proverbs looking for the key themes, you’ll find that skilful living in how we use and receive words rises to the top. This is consistent with what the rest of the Bible teaches about words. Jesus said, “…what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart” (Matthew 15:18, see also James 3).

How we speak is addressed many times in Proverbs. 26:17-28 alone addresses the busybody, inappropriate joking, gossip, argumentativeness, insincerity and lying. All of these are foolish misuses of words. What struck me as I read through Proverbs for this series was how words relate to wisdom in other ways as well. The way we hear words matters. Both folly (the adulterous woman) and wisdom call out to us. How do we respond to their invitations? When we hear praise or correction, we need to consider the source and we need to check our hearts. “A rebuke goes deeper into a man of understanding than a hundred blows into a fool” (17:10); “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.” A wise Christian invites correction from mature people and takes flattery lightly.

Sometimes the best words are the words not spoken: “When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent” (10:19); “A prudent man conceals knowledge, but the heart of fools proclaims folly.” There are many more proverbs like this.

Words require careful timing as well. Sincerely meant but poorly timed words, or words out of context can do unintentional harm, or at least irritation. “Whoever blesses his neighbour with a loud voice, rising early in the morning, will be counted as cursing” (27:14). A well known example of the way we can use words wisely or foolishly is found in 15:1: “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” It is not always content that is heard – we need to consider how we come across in tone, volumes and body language.

God’s Words are life – quite literally. God calls into being the things that are not (Romans 4:17) as the one who created everything out of nothing by His Word (Hebrews 11:3). Our words do not have that power, of course, but we do have God’s Word to hear and to speak to others. The word of the Gospel is God’s means to bring salvation to sinners. As we learn wisdom from what the book of Proverbs says about words, we must remember that God brings life through His Word rightly handled by His people.

We are inundated with words all the time – TV, radio, work, home, church. We can forget just how serious words are. Proverbs reminds us that words have consequences – positive and negative – for all people. I would encourage you to keep looking to this book to learn skilful living. Particularly as it relates to the cloud of words that we speak and hear each week.