A Proverb a Day: Speech

Proverbs about Good Speech

The book of Proverbs in the Old Testament is filled with both instruction and wise sayings/reminders. The book is an anthology of various sayings that were likely collected over the course of Israel’s history and compiled together as instructions, particularly for young folks (boys mostly or entirely) as they come of age. However, the wisdom contained within the book is applicable to all of us throughout our lifetimes, in most cases. 

Over the next several weeks, I would like to simply focus in on Proverbs 10, listening to the major themes that are present in the wisdom sayings of that chapter, for the themes contained in that chapter are also present in the remainder of the book. This week, we examine good speech.

Click here to read Proverbs 10.

The book of Proverbs, amongst its many themes and wisdom sayings, is very concerned with the topic of our speech. How we say what we say and the content of what we say, the book of Proverbs teaches us, defines oneself more completely than in any other act. Over and over again, the book lifts up speech that is truthful and reliable while denouncing lying and foolish speech. 

And it’s not hard to understand why.

As children, many of us were taught, or have taught our own children, that “sticks and stones can break our bones, but words can never hurt us.” The only problem with that is that it isn’t true. Ask someone who has been spoken down to, demeaned, or treated cruelly by someone else’s words or gossip, and I’m sure they will tell you that wound runs deep. (Of course, I understand the reason for teaching this aphorism to children–to try to help them in their growth to not be stunted by the potential mean comments of peers or others.) And so, Proverbs is adamant that how we speak and what we speak matters.

In this tenth chapter of the book, there are about 11 verses in the chapter (8, 10, 11, 13, 14, 18, 19, 20, 21, 31, 32) that refer to good or foolish speech, the action of lips, mouths or tongues, and the content of our words. Last week, we marvelled that nearly half of the chapter is dedicated to righteousness, and this week, we find that more than 1/3 of the chapter addresses how we speak. 

And Solomon’s proverbs in this chapter can easily be summarized in verse 11:

  • The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life, but the mouth of the wicked conceals violence.

Essentially, Proverbs tells us that our speech can bring life or violence. We can use our words to help or to harm, and we must always be careful, too, because words that seem comforting from the wicked can be hiding violence too.

So, what do we learn from these Proverbs? What do we learn from the book’s emphasis on good and right speech?

It is fairly simple. We must choose to use our speech and our words to give and bring life. 

In the New Testament, James writes about this very same thing and notes that we often fail to do this. In fact, we become proficient at speaking out of both sides of our mouth (blessing God and cursing other people, James 3:9). But James also tells us what wisdom looks like concerning our speech and actions. He says, “What of the wisdom from above? First it is pure, and then peaceful, gentle, obedient, filled with mercy and good actions, fair, genuine” (James 3:17). 

And so this week, let us cultivate good speech. Let us choose to give and bring life to others by our words. Let us seek to say that which is pure, peaceful, gentle, obedient, filled with mercy and good actions, fair, and genuine. 

Speak in peace.