10 Wisdom Principles on Hearing and Speaking

1. “Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding” (Proverbs 17:27-28). 

Restraint in speech, both in content and manner, is a mark of a Christian. How we say something can be as beneficial or harmful as what we say. The unrestrained man, in either content or manner of speech, is an example of one without knowledge and understanding. As we meet and hear people who exhibit these characteristics, we ought to treat their report with great discretion.

2. “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding but only in expressing his opinion” (Proverbs 18:2). 

A mark of folly is a rush to judgment without hearing words of “understanding”. That often means delaying speech and judgment until better informed. We are all prone to this – we receive a report of another person’s alleged sin and are often inclined to believe it. Some will seek to publicize that alleged sin to further their own goals. Scripture has something to say about that also “Whoever covers an offense seeks love but he who repeats a matter separates close friends” (Proverbs 17:9).

3. “A fool’s lips walk into a fight, and his mouth invites a beating. A fool’s mouth is his ruin and his lips are a snare to his soul" (Proverbs 18:7). 

Sometimes we just cannot help ourselves. We have to say something. Whether we know or are ignorant of the situation, we just find ourselves having to speak. This proverb warns us that the fool, who “takes no pleasure in understanding” (18:2), receives a just recompense for his conduct. His mouth invites a beating and his lips bring his ruin. This may come through many forms: if the Christian behaves like the fool, the Lord will chasten him. If the fool remains in his behavior, it will lead to his everlasting ruin. 

4. “The words of a whisperer are like delicious morsels; they go down into the inner parts of the body” (Proverbs 19:8). 

This is the danger, the great danger of being a gossip and receiving gossip. Gossip tastes so good on the tongue! When it reaches the stomach, it causes nausea – spiritual nausea. It titillates but ultimately destroys both the subject and object of the gossip. What a dangerous sin it is to receive an ill report of someone. To be sure, there are times where we have to do so. However, how we conduct ourselves in such times will ensure we do not fall foul of this sin. To receive a bad report without checking sources, speaking to the people in question, or silencing the gossip, put the hearer in great danger.

5. “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and his shame” (Proverbs 18:13). 

Much like point 2, this proverb reveals the actions and the end of the proud. Why would one answer before he hears? Why would one pass judgment before finding out the facts? Why would one think it wise to comment out of ignorance? The simple answer is pride. JC Ryle once noted that some are so full of themselves, there is no room for God. That is what pride does and it always leads to folly and shame.

6. “An intelligent heart acquires knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge” (Proverbs 18:15). 

Proverbs speaks positively concerning knowledge, hearing and speech. Intelligence, in the first couplet parallels wisdom in the second. Seeking and acquiring knowledge, whether it be spiritual or factual is a mark of a righteous and wise person. Conversely, the “fool” takes no pleasure in seeking wisdom and is all too ready to express his baseless opinion.

7. “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him” (Proverbs 18:17). 

A theme that keeps cropping up – the need for balance and knowledge before judgment. Why would Proverbs highlight this matter? Perhaps because it is such a problem in the covenant community. We are too prone to believe a report, especially a bad report, especially when receiving that bad report either advances our own cause, or corresponds to our own preconceptions. However, the proverb warns – “find out the other side”, lest you found wanting and siding with unrighteousness.

8. “Death and life are in the power of the tongue and those who love it will eat its fruits” (Proverbs 18:21). 

The apostle James wrote, “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.” Notice than a lack of self-control in speech could be a mark of worthless religion. To bridle the tongue is to have first bridled the heart, for “out of the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34). The Scriptures teach us that the tongue’s speech is the reflection of the heart, and this proverb teaches that the power of the tongue is that of life and death. It can build up or break down. Whichever way one uses one’s tongue – for life or death – you will reap what you sew. You will “eat its fruits” to life or death.

9. The is one who speaks rashly like the thrusts of a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing” (Proverbs 12:18). 

What an effect the tongue, or the keyboard, can have on the reputations of brethren. Sometimes the church outstrips even the world of politics in its willful misrepresentation of truth. To lie, gossip, form opinions based on half-truths is like a thrust of a sword, bringing injury and fear. Conversely, the Christian tongue ought to heal. Even when it has hard and difficult news to bring, it ought always to heal. Such was the manner of our Lord.

10. “The Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth comes knowledge and understanding” (Proverbs 2:6).

Let us never forget that wise, knowledgeable words are of the LORD. That which is unwise has no point of origin in, or stamp of approval of God. Any word, no matter how small or apparently trivial, if it is not a word of the wise, does not come from God.

Matthew Holst