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A Word, Fitly Spoken

Wisdom in speaking kindness 

Proverbs 10:6-9

Blessings are on the head of the righteous,
But violence covers the mouth of the wicked.

The memory of the righteous is blessed,
But the name of the wicked will rot.

The wise in heart will receive commands,
But a prating fool will fall.

He who walks with integrity walks securely,
But he who perverts his ways will become known.


You have probably said it a thousand times over the course of your life–beginning with first grade recess:

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me!

Of course, you knew in your heart the whole time that this was not true. There you stood, hands on hips and tongue sticking out in defiance of your mockers, who were doubtless casting some shade on your haircut, or poking fun at your new plaid pants from JC Penney. 

(Sorry, I did not mean to sidetrack down my own memory lane, there…)

Of course words can hurt. Sometimes they can cause a lot of pain, and that pain can last a lifetime. In this day and age of “wokeness,” so much fuss is made about “triggers,” “hate" speech, and the eternal victimhood of the individual, that the reality of the actual pain that words can cause a person can be lost. 

This is not about racism, sexism or free speech, but about how the cumulative effect caused by continual negative talk, thoughtless comments, or a critical spirit can have on the heart–especially on the heart of the speaker.

Here, in chapter 10, Solomon lays out for his son, and the young people of Israel, a recipe for a life that can be ruined by negative speech. 

The second scroll of the book of Proverbs [Chapters 10-22], is made up of individual sayings in the form of parallels. They can be taken individually, but often are part of a group of couplets that have a similar theme. 

Verses 6-14 of Proverbs 10, share the theme of negative speech, but these verses can be divided further. Verses 11-14 describe how this negative talk affects others. First, however, you must consider verses 6-9, and how the foolishness of negative talk impacts the self:

Blessings are on the head of the righteous,
But violence covers the mouth of the wicked.–Proverbs 10:6

Solomon chooses his words carefully, and “blessings” has rich meaning. This refers to the ultimate goals of an earthly life, what a commentator calls the ability to reproduce life, obtain wealth, and overcome obstacles. These are in store for those who walk in God’s wisdom.

The “head of the righteous” points to the place where physical blessing can be applied: the anointing of oil, for instance, or the laying on of hands. Your head is the pivot of your life, where your mind and reason lay, and where a crown of honor may rest for a life well-lived.  

Solomon is saying that if you are wise, if you speak well, you will be a blessing and receive blessing. The second part of the verse records the results of doing the opposite: “violence” will “cover the mouth” of the wicked. The image is stark and simple: negative, critical, or evil speech will bring retribution and dishonor–in this life and the next. 

Commentator Bruce Waltke reveals the ultimate end of this will be death. “For,” he says,” God will not allow the fool to indefinitely speak evil with impunity.”

Waltke reveals the overall theme of what Solomon is teaching you: 

The unit trumpets the message, often overlooked, that one’s evil speech intended to harm others will inevitably boomerang to devastating effect upon itself.–Bruce Waltke, “Proverbs”

Solomon speaks of negative words and evil talk throughout Proverbs. You have read of the “mocker,” and of those who seek only to make trouble, but this is something different. It is what Jonathan Edwards called “a censorious spirit.”

In his book “Charity and its Fruits,” Edwards defines a censorious spirit as a “forwardness to judge ill of others' states…their qualities…and their actions.” More than simply making judgments based upon what other people say and do, it describes a tendency–a satisfaction–in doing so. As a result, you tune your words, and even your personality to carry this out.

Do you do this, or know someone who does? Perhaps they are unhappy in life and choose to use constant criticism to manipulate others or to build themselves up. 

Or maybe this is how you get your entertainment, through pointing out the foibles of others, keeping your co-workers, family, or friends on edge. With sharp comments, or a running commentary on everything around you, you can even maintain some level of perceived control over the chaos of your life. 

But that sense of control is fleeting and in the end, you will be remembered not for good things, but for the rich tapestry of negative talk that you have woven over a lifetime. As Solomon preaches further in verse 7: 

The memory of the righteous is blessed,
But the name of the wicked will rot.–Proverbs 10:7

In this verset you see the lasting impact of negative words on your life now, and in how you will be remembered. Do you spend hours arguing with strangers online, posting witty, critical memes on social media, or trading jabs with family members or people in your church in an effort to “speak truth to power” and assert your opinions?  

There can be something truly satisfying about a good argument [as this classic skit by the British comedy troupe “Monty Python” shows]. It can be indeed necessary to take a stand to defend truth, or your when your integrity is questioned, but when you seek to continually argue or dispute things, you may ultimately find yourself alone in the darkness. 

Verse 7 is a call to ask yourself, “how will I be remembered?” Does a censorious spirit, or habit of negative speech lend to you being remembered as a blessing, or with loathing?

Bruce Waltke again reveals:

The righteous will be rewarded after death because the community will remember and mention their names when blessing others, thereby ensuring they live on in the memory of the community.–Bruce Waltke 

Within this warning is a call to tune your heart in the right direction: 

The wise in heart will receive commands,
But a prating fool will fall.

He who walks with integrity walks securely,
But he who perverts his ways will become known.–Proverbs 10:8-9

If you are “wise in heart,” (as opposed to wise in your own eyes) then you will be teachable, moldable, and you will be able to learn ways in which you can build up others in the Word and be an encouragement to them.

The opposite of this is to be a “prating” fool. A better translation of this is “babbling fool.” What is babbling? The answer is found with Jesus in Matthew 6 when He cautions His disciples to not to pray like the pagans, who use “many words” and “vain repetitions” in an effort to be heard. 

To babble in your speech is be a know-it-all who refuses to learn. It is to use words to manipulate others, always “smooth talking” to get your way or skirt the edge of lying. Waltke again describes this babbling:

This proverb offers immense comfort. To go through life without having to look over your shoulder to see which of your misdeeds is about to catch up with you an inestimable amenity.–Bruce Waltke

You may habitually speak this kind of nonsense in an effort to be inoffensive or avoid conflict. You may not speak critically of others, but to flatter or avoid the truth is just as evil. Author Tim Challies offers helpful advice on this:

If you feel your tongue itch to talk nonsense, trace it to the devil, not to the Spirit of God!–Tim Challies

So what to do? As Solomon instructs his young readers, you should seek to avoid being a critical spirit, a negative talker, or a flattering fool. Instead, seek wisdom, and when you have found it, share it with others. Your words, your tongue, is a tool of destruction, or a mighty weapon for good. You must learn to master your tongue for God’s glory.

This does not mean simply to keep your mouth shut. Sinclair Ferguson writes that, “you show mastery of the tongue not when you are silent but when you speak.”

The author of James understands this principle of mastering the tongue:

For we all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body. 3 Indeed, we put bits in horses’ mouths that they may obey us, and we turn their whole body. 4 Look also at ships: although they are so large and are driven by fierce winds, they are turned by a very small rudder wherever the pilot desires. 5 Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things.–James 3:2-5

We have a small fishing boat and when he was old enough, I let my son try his hand at running it. With excitement, he sat in the stern and grabbed the tiller handle of the motor, and we started off down the creek. As we came to a bend, I instructed him to turn the boat. He moved the handle slightly and yelped as the boat immediately heeled over in response to his touch. He quickly got the hang of things, and developed an easy touch for steering us in the right directions.

Like the boat, Sinclair Ferguson says, “the man who can master his tongue can master himself.” 

“But," you may say, “it’s my right to complain! If I do not speak up then people will walk on me, or others will gain my blessings!” There is nothing wrong with defending yourself, or standing for your principles, but you must do so in a spirit of love. Love, as Paul says: 

does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; 6 does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.–I Corinthians 13:5-7

Jesus spoke with profound love to those He encountered in this life. Christ, who was the love of God incarnate, had grounds to condemn all whom He met as sinners and fallen men. Instead, He modeled what Paul again would later write: 

14 Do all things without complaining and disputing, 15 that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, 16 holding fast the word of life, so that I may rejoice in the day of Christ that I have not run in vain or labored in vain.–Philippians 2:14-16

Are you beginning to see? A censorious spirit will create in you a hardened edge that will only bring harm to you in the end. Painting your speech with a palette of negative words can alienate others, leave them with a bad taste in their mouths, and you alone in the world. Can you be continually negative, complaining, or critical, and hope to be an effective witness for Christ? 

Speaking with kindness, gentleness, and charity will have a positive net effect on you, and as you model Christ in this way, you will draw closer to Him in the Spirit. 

Solomon records another bit of wisdom that illustrates the benefit of this very well:

11 A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold
In settings of silver.–Proverbs 25:11

Are your words as sweet and crisp as a fresh golden apple, plucked from a tree in the fall? Does your speech to others reflect the richness of the voice of Jesus, who called the suffering, the sinful, and the lost to Him?



The Monday—Friday DEEPs are written by Mike Slay and this Saturday Deep is written by Matt Richardson. To subscribe to all the DEEPs click here:

The weekly study guides, which include the Monday–Friday devotionals plus related questions for discussion or meditation, are available for download here:

Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. ESV stands for the English Standard Version. © Copyright 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved. NIV stands for The Holy Bible, New International Version®. © Copyright 1973 by International Bible Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved. KJV stands for the King James Version.

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