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Wisdom in speaking well in the community

Proverbs 10:10-14

10 He who winks with the eye causes trouble,
But a prating fool will fall.

11 The mouth of the righteous is a well of life,
But violence covers the mouth of the wicked.

12 Hatred stirs up strife,
But love covers all sins.

13 Wisdom is found on the lips of him who has understanding,
But a rod is for the back of him who
is devoid of understanding.

14 Wise people store up knowledge,
But the mouth of the foolish is near destruction.


Do you “Yelp?” Do you “Zomato?” Are you a “Foursquare” contributor, or a “Tripadvisor?”

These are all the names of popular food- and business-rating apps or websites that allow users–consumers–like you and me to log on and share an opinion of a meal well-served, or a customer experience worth celebrating. 

But “sharing the love” in the electronic age is a two-way street. These apps are also allow and encourage negative reviews. For every positive review there can be a negative review detailing a bad meal, poor service, or one’s change being short. 

Glowing reviews often venture into ecstasies of taste, atmosphere, and expectations exceeded–while sour reviews can dive into the depths of “worst ever,” “never going back,” and other descriptions of goods and services that seemed to have ruined the very lives of some consumers. 

Negative reviews can drive a business owner or store manager into bouts of depression, and the anxiety associated with receiving a bad review can be almost unbearable for some. 

Others take a different approach. I have seen a photo of at least one restaurant sign with the message written: “Come in and have the WORST meatball sandwich that one guy on Yelp ever had in his life.” Sometimes a good sense of humor can be the best defense against the darkness of this world. 

You and I truly do not realize the power of our words. I do not often leave reviews of any kind, and am very careful about leaving negative reviews. If I have a bad experience I usually tell the manager then–or simply move on to a different business next time. 

Once, however, I received a friendly note from “Google Maps.” It read “Your recent review is getting noticed!” I had not made any “recent reviews” but when I looked, I saw that I had indeed left a review–a one-star negative review…on a bakery…in south Texas. 

Having never traveled to south Texas, and being of the temperament to love nearly every bakery I have ever patronized, I was puzzled. Fortunately, I was able to delete the bad review and it had not yet elicited a response from the shop owner. I only hoped they, and any prospective customers, had not seen it.

The mystery was quickly solved when I discovered other “funny” reviews left by my young son, who had been happily playing with my phone and had discovered this new feature. After deleting these, we had a nice father-son chat about technology and the power of words. 

Here in Proverbs 10, Solomon is again laying out the power of negative speech and its lasting impact. He, too, is teaching his young son the value of wise words. In verses 6-9 he tells of how negative speech will hurt the self, putting the speaker on the path to death and destruction. In verse 10-14, he illustrates how negative words can harm others–especially the people of God:

10 He who winks with the eye causes trouble,
But a prating fool will fall.–Proverbs 10:10

Verse 10 is a transition verse, or “Janus” as one commentator describes it. Instead of one positive and one negative, both versets describe the ruinous fate of the evil-speaking fool. The “winking” of an eye, evokes the image of a liar or “flim-flam” artist–someone who deceives with his words. “Prating” or “babbling” was mentioned before in verse 8, and refers to “many words” or smooth talking.” 

These words have a painful effect on others:

11 The mouth of the righteous is a well of life,
But violence covers the mouth of the wicked.–Proverbs 10:11

The mouth of a wicked person can bring outright violence. Intemperate speech can turn a peaceful family dinner into a fiery argument. Riots and mobs are usually incited by words, and wars often begin over “saber rattling” rhetoric. 

And in some cases, your angry, wicked talk may earn you a literal punch in the mouth.

In contrast, wise words give hope, instruction, and life to the speaker and the hearer. Like travelers gathering at a roadside spring to refresh themselves, the life-giving nature of kind, generous, godly speech inspires all who hear it. Commentator Bruce Waltke observes: 

The open and virtuous speech of the righteous, like an oasis in the desert, draws the community to gather around and receive moral, intellectual, physical, and temporal sustenance.–Bruce Waltke, “Proverbs” 

Have you experienced this at home, at church, or at work? A good supervisor is one who encourages his employees as much as presses them to produce. A foolish one rules by fear and anger. Solomon continues:

12 Hatred stirs up strife,
But love covers all sins.–Proverbs 10:12

This is a beautiful proverb in its simple and contrasting images. So much so that Peter quotes it in his first letter (I Peter 4:8). Wisdom is not only love, it employs it like a balm on a burning wound. It is sacrificial:

Instead of exposing the wrongdoer, love, at great cost to self, absorbs the wrong in order to reconcile and save the offender from death.–Bruce Waltke

You can easily see this image as bearing the shadow of Christ, who, for the sake of your sin, humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. (Philippians 2:8).

Can you think of ways where you can share the love of Christ to cover sins? Perhaps instead of bridling at an angry comment or complaint directed at you, you can respond in patience, kindness, and self-control. 

This can be very difficult to do–especially in the church. As a believer, you are surrounded by other Christians, and there is a level of expected peace and harmony that comes with this. When that harmony is shattered, the pain can be more acute than that of an angry co-worker. 

What is more, there are times when you may feel that the honor of the Bride of Christ is at stake, or that things need to be managed better in order to promote the gospel, or keep the devil at bay. This can lead you to make harsh comments, to gossip, or even rebuke others whom you feel are going astray. 

The result of this can be highly destructive, like a spreading forest fire. James speaks of this in his warning about the tongue: 

5...See how great a forest a little fire kindles! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell.–James 3:5b-6

The tongue may be small, but the spark of a single negative utterance can set a family, or a church ablaze–and the fire can burn for generations.  

Can you think of a time you have said something rude or cruel, and are aware of the lasting pain it has caused? Or when someone said something to you that still aches in your heart today? Solomon says that this is a form of real-time punishment for such sin: 

13 Wisdom is found on the lips of him who has understanding,
But a rod is for the back of him who is devoid of understanding.–Proverbs 10:13

The use of “understanding” here is about seeing things clearly. Speaking kindly, and with wise words shows a heavenly perspective in a fallen world. When you see your sin, and others as fellow sinners, you can craft your speech to share God’s mercy. In contrast, those who cause destruction with their foolish talk lack understanding–or sense. In short, you are acting like an idiot. 

So how do you correct this foolish, negative tendency to speak in ways that bring hurt to others? Solomon offers a clue in verse 14:

14 Wise people store up knowledge,
But the mouth of the foolish is near destruction.–Proverbs 10:14

Instead of earning destruction for yourself, your family, your friendships, or your church, you are called upon to continually seek to improve the way you communicate. As you pour over the Word, read the works of saints who have gone before you, and pray earnestly to your Father for relief, you will grow in wisdom and grace.

David prayed this in his great song of restoration, Psalm 51: 

15 O Lord, open my lips,
And my mouth shall show forth Your praise.–Psalm 51:15

He knew that his words were weak and called on God give him the words to say that would be right, just, and glorifying to Him. When you speak God’s words, you will only build up all within hearing. 

This may mean holding your tongue when others are sharing their opinions, refraining from public criticism, or being more careful when confronting someone without careful consideration first. You are called upon to speak the truth, but there is wisdom in knowing the difference between speaking the truth and simply speaking your mind. 

There is an amusing quote in the recent mystery thriller movie “The Glass Onion.” A murder suspect states she simply "speaks the truth,” and the detective replies:

It's a dangerous thing to mistake speaking without thought for speaking the truth. 

You must speak the truth in love. Paul guides you on this in his letter to the Ephesians: 

15 but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ—Ephesians 4:15

In order to speak truth in love, you must first truly love. J.C. Ryle is attributed to a reminder of this:

Speak the truth in love. Truth without love is barbarity; love without truth is cruelty.–J.C. Ryle

How do you keep your sinful barbarity at bay? Solomon offers an example in Proverbs 15: 

1 A soft answer turns away wrath,
But a harsh word stirs up anger.–Proverbs 15:1

Is this not a truly wonderful life verse to adopt? Think of all the ruined family gatherings, split churches, and dysfunctional organizations that you have been a part of, that would have been better had people simply spoke kindly to one another. Consider a nation of people, who instead of squabbling angrily over race, politics, and vanity, spoke honorably and gently to one another.  

When you speak with the kind wisdom of Jesus you bring healing to those around you, and you add strength to your home, your church, or your workplace. Instead of striking out to cause a forest fire of anger and resentment to burn in the hearts of others, set them afire with the words of Christ and the love of the gospel.

This is what the two disciples experienced on the road to Emmaus. As they lament the crucified Christ, a mysterious stranger joins them in their walk. As they talk, the stranger shares with them the redemptive history of God’s plan of salvation for His people. Finally, they sit down for a meal, and as the stranger breaks the bread they recognize Him–it is Jesus, their risen Savior!   

32 And they said to one another, “Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us on the road, and while He opened the Scriptures to us?” –Luke 24:32  

Now THAT is a five-star review for a meal!

Use each precious moment of this life, and every one of your words to build up others in the love of Christ. In doing so you will be wooing them to heaven with you, like the old hymn sings:

Christ, the blessed One, gives to all
Wonderful words of life;
Sinner, list to the loving call,
Wonderful words of life.
All so freely given,
Wooing us to heaven; 

Beautiful words, wonderful words,
Wonderful words of life…



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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