Greg Norfleet, Associate Pastor
According to Scripture, “wisdom” is the art of knowing how to live, and one behavior that the Book of Proverbs is especially concerned to highlight and transform is the way we speak. Since God is the speaking God, and since we are created in his image, key questions confront us: Does the content of our talk image God’s truth, and does the intent of our talk image God’s love. The words that we speak are never neutral: They are either wise (a truth spoken to build up) or foolish (a lie spoken to tear down).
When we follow the thematic thread of “wisdom” from the Book of Proverbs to where it leads in the New Testament, we find that wisdom comes to full expression in the person of Jesus. In him “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom” (Colossians 2:3). So, having been united to Jesus by the Holy Spirit, and by drawing daily from Jesus by faith, we can grow up in the wisdom that walks and talks like Jesus!
As we survey the Book of Proverbs with an eye toward growing in wise, Christ-like speech, what emerge are both a vision to pursue and a method to employ. The vision set before us? “Like cold water to a thirsty soul, so is good news from a far country” (25:25). Like a city planted beside and nourished from the river that runs through it, so the Book of Proverbs envisions God’s people planted beside and nourished from a river of wise counsel infused with Good News: “Take heart; your God reigns!” (cf. Isaiah Isa 52:7). And the method to guide us? Proverbs outlines at least three principles.
First, Proverbs calls us to listen carefully before we speak: “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame” (18:13). What is more, we must listen carefully in two directions. One the one hand, we are to probe and pay close attention to God’s Word, “For the LORD gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding” (2:6). On the other hand, we are to probe and pay close attention to our neighbor’s heart, for “The purpose in a man’s heart is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out” (20:5).
Second, Proverbs calls us to think biblically before we speak: “The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things” (15:28). Failing to match a true word with a real need pays a great price: “Whoever sings to a heavy heart is like one who takes off a garment on a cold day, and like vinegar on soda” (25:20). But, wisely connecting the word of truth to the need of the hour reaps a great reward: “Like apples of gold in settings of silver is a word spoken in right circumstances (25:11; cf. 15:23).
Finally, having listened carefully and pondered biblically, Proverbs calls us to speak truth lovingly. In some cases, speaking truth in love looks like coming alongside to comfort. For example, “An anxious heart weighs a man down, but a kind word cheers him up” (12:25); “Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones” (16:24); “Oil and perfume make the heart glad, so a man’s counsel is sweet to his friend” (27:9). In other cases, speaking truth in love looks like coming head-on to confront. For example, “An honest answer is like a kiss on the lips” (24:26); “Better is open rebuke than hidden love” (27:5); “He who rebukes a man will in the end gain more favor than he who has a flattering tongue” (28:23).
Oh, the beauty and utility of wisdom that talks like Jesus! Curious to learn more? Join us this Sunday, August 27th, from 9:15 to 10:25 a.m., in the Franklin Room, as we begin a six-week Adult Sunday School that explores how the Holy Spirit transforms the way we speak.