Speech in Proverbs

How we talk – what we say – is a reflection of what is in our hearts and displays our self-control. Luke 6.45 says:

“A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” Another translation says “…for out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.” If you want to know what’s in another person’s heart, just listen to what they say.

Another aspect of our character – self-control – is on full display when we talk (James 3.2)

“We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.”

If you can tame your speech, you’ll be able to keep your whole body in check. But since few of us, if any, keep our whole body in check, it stands to reason that we are sometimes at fault in what we say.

Hence, two core aspects of our personas are on full display when we talk: the quality of our hearts and our self-control. With this in mind, let’s learn about what Proverbs has much to say about our speech. I will apply this to the world of business ownership and Christian Business Owners.

Proverbs 1.20-21

Out in the open wisdom calls aloud,
she raises her voice in the public square;
on top of the wall she cries out,
at the city gate she makes her speech

Wisdom is communicated through speech. We’ll learn that folly is connected with a person who speaks before he thinks. In this verse, we learn that wisdom (which we can have simply by asking God for it in faith – see James 1.5-7) is communicated through speech and that she (the Hebrew word for wisdom (חָכְמוֹת) is a feminine word) is calling out (רנן, lit. to emit a tremulous and stridulous sound) in the public square. In other words, she’ll talk with anyone who will talk with her. In business terms, she’ll work with anyone who will work with her. She is not ashamed of her ideas, insights, observations or conclusions. She knows she is right and yet is not arrogant. She wants to share her wisdom and so she stands in the public square and calls out.

So, the application of this for Christian Business Owners is a question, not a conclusion: Are you listening?

Proverbs 4.24

Keep your mouth free of perversity; keep corrupt talk far from your lips

In this verse, the Hebrew word for perversity (עִקְּשׁוּת) means the wrong use of something or someone. You’ve taken something intended for a legitimate use and used it for an unintended purpose. The Hebrew word for corrupt (לָזוּת) means a quality of being deceitful and underhanded. Deceit is when you lead someone to believe something is true when it is not. Certainly, not all deceit is sin. For example, most sports include the expectation that the offense will try to deceive the defense in an effort to score. But within the context of sports, deceit (based on the rules of the game) is both expected and applauded when successful. But in life, generally speaking, deceit is sin.

Hence, in our speech, when we take words and use them to lead others to believe something other than what is true, we have both perverted and corrupted our speech.

Now, the fact that our speech might be *legal* (“…it depends on what the meaning of the word “is” is…) doesn’t mean we can engage in perverse or corrupted talk.

The words we choose to use in marketing and sales need to be run through this filter: is our marketing speech perverse and/or corrupted? I think the latter is difficult to maintain in sales and marketing. “We’re number 1” or superlative phrases such as “the best” or superlative words such as “unparalleled” or “unmatched” need to be fully vetted and thought through. The Christian Business Owner should be circumspect in his or her sales and marketing claims. It’s best to be as accurate as possible and lose some sales or market share than to sin.

Finally, note that God hates perverse speech (Proverbs 8.13):

To fear the LORD is to hate evil;
I hate pride and arrogance,
evil behavior and perverse speech

Let’s keep perverse and corrupt talk far from us.

Proverbs 5.3 and 6.4

5.3: For the lips of the adulterous woman drip honey,

and her speech is smoother than oil

6:4 keeping you from your neighbor’s wife,
from the smooth talk of a wayward woman

Speech can be seductive an alluring. Nearly all temptation involves either speech or site. In both instances, one gets the impression that simply by the way the woman talks, the man becomes spellbound and loses his moorings to his principles as he is seduced and destroyed by the adulterous woman. A Christian Business Owner needs to be on alert for speech like this.

But it’s not just the adulterous woman again whom we need to be on guard. We need to be aware that most marketing materials are filled with words and phrases designed to get you and I to want their product and buy it (here). So, as a consumer, be aware that “smoother than oil” words are around us all the time and that our emotional responses to sales and marketing pitches need to be submitted to the Lord as we let him evaluate our desires.

It’s my observation that those times when I’ve walked closest with the Lord are the same seasons in which I’ve not wanted to purchase very many things – I was happy and content with what I already had. As I drift from the Lord, I can become more discontent. One of the ways to know if a purchase is wise is to compare it to the characteristics of Godly wisdom in James 3.17-18:

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. 18 Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness

Note that this wisdom is:

  • Pure
  • Peace-loving
  • Considerate
  • Submissive
  • Full of mercy
  • Full of good fruit
  • Impartial
  • Sincere

The alluring speech of the adulterous woman (and most marketing copy today) is anything but these qualities. A Christian Business Owner will walk closely with God and discern between alluring, seductive speech and speech filled with wisdom.

Proverbs 12.6 and 12.13

12.6: The words of the wicked lie in wait for blood,
but the speech of the upright rescues them

12.13: Evildoers are trapped by their sinful talk,
and so the innocent escape trouble

The 12.6 proverb comes as part of a series of proverbs that compares the righteous and the wicked:

“The unity of this collection is indicated in the Hebrew structure. These three proverbs follow a logical progression: the righteous make plans that are just, but the wicked scheme with deceitful counsel (v. 5); the wicked attempt to ambush the righteous with their lies, but the righteous are delivered by their integrity (v. 6); the wicked are totally destroyed, but the righteous stand secure.” (Garrett, D. A. (1993). Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (Vol. 14, p. 130). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.)

The integrity of the righteous saves them from being devoured by the wicked.

We have learned that the Christian Business Owner who is walking with God can spot seductive speech and avoid being injured by the wicked person (adulterous women) who is speaking. We have learned that we can avoid sin by making sure our speech is pure and holy, not perverse and corrupt. But we can’t achieve this from the outsideà in, we need to have our hearts and minds transformed so that our speech reflects what is in our hearts (insideàout). It is the transformed pre-disposition to purity and holiness and the supernatural anointing of the Holy Spirit that will help us see the ambush and avoid it, not because we are smart or clever, but because our pre-disposition to purity and integrity will lead us away from the ambush.

The meaning of 12.13 is a bit more clouded, so Garrett helps us here:

“This collection employs two metaphors of gathering food: hunting with snares (symbolizing the wicked) and laboring to raise crops (symbolizing the righteous). The wicked are always looking for ways to defraud people (v. 12a) but are trapped by their own machinations (v. 13a). The righteous, however, allow their prosperity to grow gradually from deep, strong roots (v. 12b), escape the traps set for them (v. 13b), and see their way of life (“fruit of his lips”) yield a bountiful harvest (v. 14).”

Note that the core idea of the righteous being delivered from the ways of the wicked because they escape the traps set for them by wicked people is repeated. The Christian Business Owner and Business Leader sees potential danger and avoids it.

Proverbs 14.23

All hard work brings a profit,
but mere talk leads only to poverty

The principle that wealth is a reward for diligence is clearly taught here. Elsewhere in Proverbs we’re taught to moderate our hard work (23.4), but here a clear connection is made between wealth creation and hard work. Conversely, if you just sit around and talk about an idea, you won’t create wealth. You must put your talk into action.

Proverbs 20.19

A gossip betrays a confidence;

so avoid anyone who talks too much

The company we keep should reflect who we are in Christ as Christian Business Owners. Those who talk too much end up betraying confidences, so let’s limit our company to those who have self-control and know how to keep confidences.

Proverbs 24.1-2 and 26.23-26

24.1-2: Do not envy the wicked,

do not desire their company;

for their hearts plot violence,

and their lips talk about making trouble

26.23-26: Like a coating of silver dross on earthenware

are fervent lips with an evil heart.

24 Enemies disguise themselves with their lips,

but in their hearts they harbor deceit.

25 Though their speech is charming, do not believe them,

for seven abominations fill their hearts.

26 Their malice may be concealed by deception,

but their wickedness will be exposed in the assembly

The wicked will often have money. Elements of their lives may be attractive to us, such as their power, influence, possessions and so forth. If you listen closely to their speech, they may sometimes talk about making trouble for the other guy. Pay attention to this and then control your desires so that you don’t desire to be with them. The implication here is that spending time with them may likely corrupt your desires as you learn to desire what they desire. Stay away from them. You don’t want to put into your heart what is in their heart.

Notice in the 26.23-26 passage that they disguise (נכר, lit. to be foreign, to estrange, to be strange) themselves with their lips (think about how smooth the adulterous woman’s speech is to seduce and entice a Godly man into her bed) to hide the deceit their harbor in their hearts. Their speech is charming (חנן, lit. to be inclined towards or to show favor to someone), but we are instructed not to believe them.

It will require discernment to not believe them. This passage gives us a hint of what we will see: fervent (דלק, lit. to set on fire, to burn, to hotly pursue) lips. Combined with vs 25, we can learn that they will be “over the top” in their effusive praise and favor toward us. They will compliment us to the point where we feel uncomfortable with their praise and favor. This is your indication that their hearts are likely filled with evil and deceit and that you should stay away from them.

Gossiping

Turning to a topic in Proverbs called gossiping (הלך lit., to go around), Proverbs consistently condemns this type of speech. Here are the verses regarding gossip in Proverbs:

11.13: A gossip betrays a confidence,

but a trustworthy person keeps a secret

16.28: A perverse person stirs up conflict,

and a gossip separates close friends

18.8: The words of a gossip are like choice morsels;

they go down to the inmost parts

20.19: A gossip betrays a confidence;

so avoid anyone who talks too much

26.20: Without wood a fire goes out;

without a gossip a quarrel dies down

26.22: The words of a gossip are like choice morsels;

they go down to the inmost parts

Those who engage in gossip:

  • betray confidences
  • create conflict
  • injure people to the core of who they are
  • separate close friends

All of us have engaged in gossip at one time or another. Gossip should not be characteristic of the Christian Business Owner or a Christian Business Leader.

Summary

In this post, we have learned from Proverbs several points and principles to bear in mind as Christian Business Owners:

  1. What we say and how we say it is a reflection of what is in our hearts
  2. Wisdom is communicated through speech and is available to anyone who wants it. The question is: Are we listening?
  3. We need to keep perverse and corrupt talk far from us
  4. We need to walk with God so that we can discern smooth speech that has deceit and evil behind it
  5. If we just talk and take no action, we’ll not be prosperous
  6. We should avoid associating with a gossip and we should not engage in gossip
  7. Unnecessary flattery means there is an evil intent in the heart of the other person

Bill English
Founder, Bible and Business

image_pdf

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *