My Uncle Larry and I form a study in contrasts. He rarely talks; I rarely shut up. While you have to wade through thickets of verbiage to find the hidden treasure in what I say, pretty much everything my uncle says has “X marks the spot” written on it. He’s a wise man. I’m still in process.
I thought about the differences between Uncle Larry and me when I began to study what the Book of Proverbs says about our speech. Proverbs 25:11 is a good starting point:
A word aptly spoken
is like apples of gold in settings of silver.
Proverbs 15:23 adds this thought:
A man finds joy in giving an apt reply —
and how good is a timely word!
These two proverbs encourage us to say the right thing at the right time. Doing so is like apples of gold in settings of silver because it is both beautiful and valuable. And as a beautiful, valuable painting delights the eyes, so apt words bring joy to their hearers.
The important question is: How do we develop apt speech?
Part of aptness is truth. You can never say the right thing at the right time if you say the wrong thing (i.e., what is false, unrighteous, or malicious). We’ll consider that issue in our next devotional. But in this devotional, I want to focus on the question of right time. There are four practices that will help us develop right timing in our speech.
First, we should listen before we talk.
He who answers before listening —
that is his folly and his shame (18:13).
What we tell our children is good advice for ourselves: God gave you two ears and one mouth so you would listen twice as much as you talk. And you can’t stuff a foot into a closed mouth.
Second, we should think before we talk.
The heart of the righteous weighs its answers,
but the mouth of the wicked gushes evil (15:28).
He who guards his mouth and his tongue
keeps himself from calamity (21:23).
Do you see a man who speaks in haste?
There is more hope for a fool than for him (29:20).
Notice the imagery. A wise person weighs his words and guards his mouth. This implies deliberation. A hasty speaker, by contrast, is worse than a fool.
Third, we should limit our words.
A man of knowledge uses words with restraint,
and a man of understanding is even-tempered.
Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent,
and discerning if he holds his tongue (17:27-28).
A gossip betrays a confidence;
so avoid a man who talks too much (20:19).
Limiting words is not merely a matter verbal quantity but of moral quality. Don’t make promises you can’t keep!
Like clouds and wind without rain
is a man who boasts of gifts he does not give (25:14).
Finally, we should be cognizant of the timing of our speech. Proverbs 27:14 is intentionally funny:
If a man loudly blesses his neighbor early in the morning,
it will be taken as a curse.
But there’s nothing funny about the right word spoken at the wrong time. And, obviously, there’s never a right time for the wrong word.