Proverbs 18:2, 6-7 A fool has no delight in understanding, but in expressing his own heart….A fool’s lips enter into contention, and his mouth calls for blows. A fool’s mouth is his destruction, and his lips are the snare of his soul.
Proverbs 13:3 He who guards his mouth preserves his life, but he who opens wide his lips shall have destruction.
In their coolly expressive wisdom, the observations we find in Proverbs are invariably true, often very funny, and full of sage advice for those willing to receive it. Some proverbs are not meant to be recommended behavior; they are simply observations of what tends to happen in our fallen world.
When it comes to the reflections on the mouth, the Proverbs present the best advice, only partnering with the book of James on the subject of what we say. James talks about the tongue. Proverbs uses the lips to mean the same thing.
The fool and the wise person are the two opposites presented in wisdom literature, and we learn much by their juxtaposition. Perhaps no age in history has been in more need of the wisdom of Proverbs than our own, where continual (and public) expression is encouraged to a damaging degree.
While we are encouraged to express/share/talk, the Scriptures caution against an excess of expression. The second half of Proverbs 13:3 (above) focuses on the amount of talking we do. It’s a perfect correlation verse to Proverbs 10:19: “In the multitude of words sin is not lacking, but he who restrains his lips is wise.”
Some of the dangers we might encounter if we talk too much are found in Proverbs 18:6-7 (above) as well as 13:3. Another translation for 18:6 is a bit more colorful: “A fool’s lips walk into a fight, and his mouth invites a beating.” In any translation, the idea is clear: loose talk can cause great personal damage. Proverbs 18:7 goes even deeper, saying that loose lips can lead to destruction and that one’s speech can be a snare to our very souls.
Perhaps 18:2 presents the reason for much of the damage: our heart’s inclination. If our goal is simply to express ourselves, with no real interest in hearing others (otherwise known as learning), we are bound to get into trouble. The overly expressive heart is a proud heart, and pride comes before a fall. A person who delights in understanding, who listens, who has an open heart to learn—that one is humble, and humility comes before honor.
Most of us need to embrace the call to less self-expression. Yet quiet or talkative, we all need to heed the call to guard our mouth, and to be someone who delights more in understanding than in expressing our own hearts.
Prayer: Father, remove any strain of verbal foolishness within me and replace it with the wise and edifying use of my lips. Help me to be wise in speech, and touch my heart to be more inclined to listen and learn than to express myself.