Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise: Living Ethically in the Light of the Bible
Luke 14:15-24; 2 Timothy 3:10-17; Proverbs 11:1-15; Isaiah 2-3
Words are of crucial importance throughout the Bible. Isaiah states that many peoples will come to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of God, to hear his word (Isaiah 2:3). God has communicated through words so that we can know how we should live. The question is whether we will humble ourselves to trust what he says. We often trust in the breath of our own noses (Isaiah 2:22) rather than the words that are God-breathed (2 Timothy 3:16). The Bible claims to be the word of God that trains and teaches us how to live and act, and develop ethically.
The Word of God is powerful in shaping our lives, and likewise our words can have a powerful impact on one another. Words have the power to build up or tear down people. Hence, the wise use of words is a major theme in the book of Proverbs. As with wisdom in general, understanding the use of words protects the wise person from harm. Some use words to destroy people, even their neighbours (v. 9). Families can tear one another apart with their words, lies get others into trouble and deceptive words scam people every day. The wise are knowledgeable enough to protect themselves.
Proverbs 11:9-15 addresses the power of words to build up or tear down a community. These are the literal meanings of the words for exalt and destroy in v. 11. Yet when people receive their just deserts, words are used to celebrate. Prosperity in v. 10 refers to material possessions, but the Hebrew word used for rejoicing always refers to a celebration of God’s victory (Psalm 9:2). Yet the rejoicing must be balanced by v. 12. Even when the wicked fall, the righteous should not deride them or gloat (Proverbs 24:17). Everyone remains a neighbour, regardless of their behaviour, and should be respected (Proverbs 25:21-22).
Wisdom also entails knowing when to remain silent. The fool is one who prattles on (Proverbs 10:8), betraying overconfidence rather than humility. Those without sense don’t know when to hold their tongues but blurt out whatever they are thinking or feeling (Proverbs 12:23). Similarly, Proverbs 11:13 points to the importance of keeping a confidence. At stake is the betrayal of trust that gossip brings, not to mention how gossip tears down individuals and their reputations. To love our neighbours as ourselves prohibits harmful speech, including slander, which is linked to a heart of hatred (Leviticus 19:16-18). Thus, words are important because they reveal the heart and character of the speaker.
In Proverbs 11:14, the combined words of the community are addressed. Wise counsel is important to involve others in planning and decision-making. Proverbs always refers to groups of counsellors, not one. The wise know they need advice from others as they can always add to their learning (Proverbs 1:5). Finally, Proverbs 11:15 transitions this section into the next one on wealth. In sealing a deal, words deliver the promise (surety) and reflect the speaker’s trustworthiness. However, discernment is needed to know when to avoid a commitment based on what is or is not known about the other person.
None of these proverbs dictate how words should always be used. They point to a practical wisdom that can help prevent potential problems. They also remind us that words proceed from our inner beings and shed light on the health of our hearts.