“The one who guards his words guards his life,
but whoever is talkative will come to ruin”
Proverbs 13:3 (NET)
God has been wrecking me with Proverbs lately. If you do not know, go to Proverbs if you want to look at the duality of life. The author does a beautiful job of juxtaposing the wise and the foolish ways we live our lives. If you want a kick in the gut, ask the Spirit to show you which of the two you are on a regular basis. It will convict you—like it has me.
The area God has been working on me is my words. Proverbs has a lot to say about the power of your words—for better or for worse. The biggest lie that we can believe about our words is they are neutral or objective in meaning. This is just simply not true no matter which way you try to justify it. Your words carry weight. Your words inherently have meaning, whether you mean it or not. When someone hears the words you spoke they are instantly processed, and you have no control over this process. Whether something is taken like you meant it or misconstrued, you are helpless once they have left your mouth. You can try to clarify and back-track, but the message has already been communicated. Your words carry the power to speak life or death into someone. This means what you say matters.
Proverbs tells us to guard our words because it, in turn, guards our life. If we are selective in what we say then we learn when we should speak and when we should not. If we do not guard our words, they will get us in trouble.
As I was meditating on this verse three groups of people came to mind.
The first is those who Proverbs calls talkative. These are the people who, regardless of their knowledge of the topic, just talk. They insert their opinions, two cents, and ideas into every conversation. They always have to have the last word. They always want you to know what they read, learned, or heard about the topic of conversation. They dominate round table discussions and will probably argue with you to assert their dominance if you disagree.
The problem at the heart of the talkative person is pride. They want to be seen, noticed, listened to, and heard. They want to be the center of attention. They want the conversation to revolve around them. They want to showcase what they have accumulated. They are so absorbed with who they are that they forget there are others around them with differing ideas, opinions, facts, and perspectives.
The second is not explicitly mentioned in Proverbs but it is the opposite of the talkative person: the person who says nothing. These are usually the shy ones who sit in the corner and say nothing at group dinners or parties. You have to make an effort to ask for their opinion or thoughts on a matter, but even then, you are not guaranteed you will get a response. They usually are uncomfortable by conflict, therefore keep quiet in order to keep everyone happy.
It is easy to look at the person who does not say anything and classify them as just being humble, but it is a false humility birthed out of fear of what others will say and others will think. At one level, it is still rooted in pride because they are so concerned with themselves they neglect others. At another level, fear paralyzes them from speaking up and speaking out.
I know I have been in both camps and am guilty of both on a daily basis, sometimes in the same conversations. My awareness that I am consistently battling between these two types of people is what God has been convicting me of while I have been studying Proverbs. But, the author gives us an insight into how we should act.
This is the third group of people. These people appear to be quiet and can easily be confused with the person who says nothing. In fact, they might be quiet for a long time, but they are not waiting out of fear, they are waiting for the right moment. They are the people listen to when they speak. The room appears to quiet down and attention is fixed on them. They are not shouting across the room at someone else about a problem that has lingered on too long. They have a quiet confidence and command of their words that stir others to pay attention. Their words carry just as much weight as the talkative people, but because they choose them carefully the speak to the heart of the issue rather than the symptoms. These people do not want to impress you with their knowledge, they want to speak insight into conversations. They are balanced between listening and speaking, guarding their words, only saying what needs to be said at the precise moments it is needed to be said.
Guarding your words is not an easy thing to do. That is why we must walk with Jesus and ask Him to redeem our words even before we say them. We need to ask for wisdom—the most obvious overarching theme in Proverbs—for what to say and when to say it. While we think that God is concerned with the timing of big events—which He is—we forget that he is also concerned with the timing of small, seemingly insignificant events as well—even our words.
The question I have to ask myself in every situation is am I saying too much, not saying enough, or only what needs to be said? Am I choosing pride, fear, or wisdom in the course of my conversation?