11 A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver. (Proverbs 25)
To be able to speak aptly is perhaps the most difficult task to achieve for man. James says that no one can tame the tongue, a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
5 Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. 6 The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. 7 All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, 8 but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison (James 3)
James puts a diagnosis to the problem of the untamed tongue. We are all born with the sinful nature within us. Each person has evil within him, the type of evil varying with the person’s genetic makeup, upbringing and social circumstances. The tongue, above all other organs, takes hold of the sinful nature and expresses it to others, which in turn, compounds the corruption within and takes man deeper on a course of evil and destruction.
The first practical application to tame the tongue would be to take a decision to speak less. Monasteries have long practiced creating an environment of silence not only to avoid speaking unnecessary words, but also to foster the atmosphere of continual prayer.
‘A Trappist monastery is a quiet place! In a Trappist monastery, monks typically have three motivations to speak to one another: to get a particular work project carried out efficiently, to engage in a community discussion, or to discuss one’s spiritual progress with a director or confessor. Sometimes, too, Trappists will enjoy friendly conversations with each other in a conversation room or in nature. These different types of conversation are balanced with the discipline of fostering a general atmosphere of silence in the monastery. Trappists find the silence helps them to practice continual prayer.’ (borrowed from trappists.org)
For most people, who however have been called to a life in the community, speaking is unavoidable. To speak well and aptly, we all need to practice and learn. The Bible provides us with several pointers.
22 The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to a man’s inmost parts. ————-28 A lying tongue hates those it hurts, and a flattering mouth works ruin. (Proverbs 26)
It is not hard to understand but hard to practice a lifestyle that will get rid of all gossip, lies and flattery from our speech. Gossip is untruthful and unjust because it does not give the accused a chance to explain. It is unnecessary talk and should be differentiated from sharing information about others that is important in some way. Both lying and flattery are borne out of fear of man that co-exists with a lack of trust in God.
15 Through patience a ruler can be persuaded, and a gentle tongue can break a bone. (Proverbs 25)
Gentleness in speech is always appreciable. Harsh words can break a person and cause much damage; it also provides meager returns. In contrast, being gentle, which involves forgiveness, not having outbursts of anger and being humble is a powerful force that can persuade rulers in high places.
4 Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you will be like him yourself. 5 Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes. (Proverbs 26)
This is an interesting group of two verses because they appear to be the opposite of each other. Yes, the actions are opposite, but the ends are both in alignment with the will of God. There are times when a fool needs to be ignored, other times when a fool needs to be responded to and taught a lesson. To know the difference requires God’s wisdom. Jesus, who was the epitome was gentleness, was unusually harsh with the Pharisees for their duplicity. This passage also indicates that application of the guidelines provided in the Bible need God’s wisdom and that no rule can be appropriate all the time.
Finally, good speech flows out of a person who lives his life in discipleship to Christ and in doing so, stores good within him. Jesus’ words in Matthew 12 are illuminating in this regard.
33 “Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit. 34 You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. 35 The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him.
It is a rare but incredible sight to see someone who speaks well and uses words aptly. May the Lord help us to tame our tongues.
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- THIEF IN THE NIGHT
- THE HEART