“Whoever guards his mouth preserves his life; he who opens wide his lips comes to ruin… 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…Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble.” (Proverbs 13:3; 18:6-7; 21:23)
We live in a world where language is constantly in flux and people under the age of twenty-five seem to use new words every day. It does not follow, however, that words are any less important than they used to be. Our choice of words says as much, if not more about us today as ever. I regret the times when I say, “Yeah” instead of “Yes,” because the former is rough and can be condescending, whereas “Yes” is definite, acceptable to everyone, and easier to hear by those with hearing difficulties.
In our passage, I happened upon a four-verse sandwich. In the Proverbs 13 and 21 verses we are taught that those who are careful with their mouths are more secure and safe (preserves his life and stays out of trouble). In the Proverbs 18 verses (and 13:3b) the writer exposes the consequences of fools’ words: they get them into fights, invite beatings, ruin them, and endanger their souls. And the way we talk matters as much as what we say. We know that this is not a new concept because there are plenty of saints in the Bible who were concerned about their manner of speaking, including Moses and Paul (Exodus 4:10; 1 Corinthians 2:1-5). But before we speak, how shall we determine if we should speak at all, or how much is appropriate? Less is better according to these verses.
There are some ways in which all Christians should guard our mouths. For example, we should not misuse God’s name by using the acronym OMG or the longer version. (Please forgive me for writing it here; I couldn’t think of any other way to describe this specific problem.) I am offended by the use of this phrase, as is God. Wise people think about the consequences of what they are about to do. If I don’t ask for a raise, I may be passed over again and have to wait another year before talking with my boss. If I ask and she is annoyed, she may refuse to hear my request for a long time to come. What do I do? If I ask for a raise because I do not trust God to work on my behalf, I may not be trusting in God’s faithfulness and care. If I refrain from asking for a raise because I am afraid of the power my boss has over me, I may be idolizing her and giving her more power that I should. It’s complicated.
What is the wise person to do? Let’s start with asking ourselves, “Will voicing this please God or offend him?” and go from there.