“A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver” – Proverbs 25:11
Our nation is so divided. It seems every day there’s a new or renewed argument. Every issue is a war of words. It often begins by President Trump tweeting or speaking a direct forcefully raw assessment of an opponent and their actions or inaction. Sometimes he is responding to one of the many attacks or accusations brought against him. He’s justified and accurate in his assessment more often than not, but his way of communicating is usually free of graceful lubricant. That’s just the way this street fighting President fights the swamp of corruption. His targets respond in kind with usually worn out unimaginative retorts of his being “racist,” “hateful,” etc., and any number of add-ons of derogatory nature. If in doubt shout, seems to be their strategy.
There’s a “squad” of anti-Trumpers now who refer to the president as an “occupant” rather than the “president.” Of course that doesn’t sit well with the President and there we go, the war of words. The mainstream media who have no love for the president, don’t help. They love a good fight. A good fight makes for better ratings. Civility is dragged down in the mudslinging. Communication and discussion and anything close to negotiation is trashed. You can pick your sides. This is a down and dirty fight. And maybe that’s necessary. Those entrenched need to be dealt with directly at times. For too long the Millard and Mildred Milktoast politicians elected by their constituents to do something, to clean the mess up, have done nothing. Maybe we need a bit of a bull in the China shop President to do something, actually get something done. It’s seems to have worked these first few years of the first term of this administration.
But these are exceptional times. They are times of change. They are times of challenge. They are times of throwing the covers off of years of corruption. Those stripped of their cover retreat in obfuscation until they can regroup and counter attack. It’s bombastic. It’s a theatre of blowhards at times. It isn’t pretty. There is a better way. I hope one day soon we find it.
Words are important. And the way we say words is important. Solomon, the most successful king of Israel who came the closest to conquering and claiming the actual borders God had set for Abraham, he had a wise way about him. He even compiled a book of his wisdom entitled “Proverbs.” It’s the twentieth book of the Bible. If you judge him by Proverbs, Solomon knew how to speak discreetly as well as powerfully. He knew how to strike a balance to effectively use words to obtain his objectives. One verse of his inspired writings aptly conveyed the worth of using the right words in the right situation. He wrote, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver” (Proverbs 25:11).
The word “fitly,” (Hebrew ophan) means right on time, at the right time. The idea here in this verse is the right word for the right time. One commentary states:
The right word at the right time is like well-crafted jewelry, which is admired and appreciated. Though remarks may appear clever or witty in casual conversation or impromptu remarks, words that are remembered, and thus become effectual, are the product of one who has a disciplined inner life, constantly pondering what he will say under various circumstances (cf. Col. 4:6). This extends even to the proverbs themselves, for one aspect of wisdom is knowing when to apply a particular proverb to a situation.
Say what you will about President Donald J. Trump. Say his way of communicating is insensitive, coarse, harsh, jagged, sharp, or mean. One thing that can’t be argued with is the effectiveness he has had thus far in his first term. His opponents are often in a quandary. He’s usually a few steps ahead of them. While some might see him as untethered and out of control on the surface, there is a certain measured cool calculation to what he says and the way he speaks. If we were to assess the effectiveness of his way of communication, we would have to say, at least if we are his supporters, that his words are “apples of gold in settings of silver.” Look at President Trump’s accomplishments with North Korea. He’s made unprecedented advances to quell the conflict between North and South Korea. He must be doing and saying something right to have accomplished such diplomatic international advances. In many ways he has accomplished his election promise to “Make America Great Again.” He’s done that with the words he’s chosen, even if they make people wince at times.
Now you might be thinking, Wow! You lost me on that one pastor. (You call yourself a Pastor? A Bible teacher? A Christian?) President Trump’s words are anything but “apples of gold in settings of silver. He’s . . . (fill in the blank)” Well, don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying his means of communication is holy. I’m simply saying that what he says, and the way he says it, might indeed be the right words for the right time. Politics has become a very dirty cutthroat business. There’s a great deal of corruption entrenched. Those entrenched are not going to give up their power and prosperous positions easily. As we’ve seen it’s a knock-down, drag out, down and dirty fight. Maybe the President’s straightforward, no nonsense tactics are called for. Maybe that’s the only way the clean up can be done, (if it can be done at all.) I tell you what, I certainly wouldn’t want the Presidents job. And If I did have it, I doubt I’d do it for free and donate my presidential salary to charity like he has!
The point I’m trying to make is that when we think of “words fitly spoken,” we should perhaps be thinking of the appropriateness of words based on the specific circumstances of life. Different situations require differing use of words. When orders or commands are called for, there is a word choice and firmness of tone that is required. When we’re talking to our honey or our honey is talking to us, there is a kind of warmth, tenderness, and love expressed (at least I hope there is!) There’s a different way that leaders in government, military, or business settings speak to people. And there is a different way leaders in a church setting are supposed to speak. The standard for the Christian, regardless of their station in life, is to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). Some claim President Trump is a Christian.  It’s true he seems to be an avid and devoted supporter of the right to life against abortionists. He has supported and defended Christians in America.  And there is definitely a need for that.  We see his compassion for patriot families who have lost loved ones. We see his focus on creating more jobs for the working class. So, there are signs, fruit of a relationship with God. Some would say there is fruit to the contrary. Some would attribute any good thing the president does to mere political expediency. I don’t believe that.
This is really not meant to be a referendum on whether or not you or I support President Trump. I am simply calling attention to a current condition of communication where God’s word can and should be applied. We aren’t close enough to the President to know for sure where he is at with the Lord. If he is a Christian, I would agree with Franklin Graham that he is “a work in progress.”  And as a Christian, work in progress, there is some work to be done in his choice of words and the way he speaks to others. We need to be praying for our president.  We should, as Christians, be praying regularly for our public servants (1 Timothy 2:1-7).
God has chosen to communicate and reveal Himself to humanity through words (Ps. 119). He exalts His word above His own holy name! (Ps. 138:2). We aren’t to alter His word in any way but instead we are to take it in and obey it (Deut. 4:2, 6; Rev. 22:18-19). God tells us we need to live according to His word (Deut. 8:3). He foretold the coming of Messiah through the inspired words of the prophets (Heb. 1:1-2). Jesus came as “the Word made flesh” (Jn. 1:1-2, 14). He said His words are, “spirit and they are life” (Jn. 6:63). The Holy Spirit helps us to understand God’s word and we can’t understand Gods’ word without the Holy Spirit’s help (Jn. 14:26; 15:26; 1 Cor. 2:9-14). God’s word is important.
God, in His word, inspired the Apostle Paul to exhort His followers to, “Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma” (Ephesians 5:1-2). How does God speak? When we look at the Bible, we see that there are times when God speaks very forcefully, directly, without tenderness even. God referred to His people as “stiff necked” (Exodus 32:9; 33:3, 5; Deut. 9:6, 13). He said the shepherds of his people had become “dull hearted” (Jeremiah 10:21). Anyone who reads the major or minor prophetic books of scripture can see that God Almighty doesn’t mince words in calling out people for sin. If we are to imitate Him, maybe we should consider that there are times when we too, as led by the Spirit, should speak without mincing words about sin to sinners.
God’s predetermined purpose for us is to be like Jesus (Romans 8:29). We are to follow in His steps (1 Peter 2:21). We are to walk as He walked (1 John 2:6). What do we see in Jesus’ words when we look at His life? Jesus called hypocrites, well, He called them “hypocrites!” (Matthew 7:4; 15:7; 23:13, 15, 16-17, 23-24, 25, 29, 33). He called the hypocritical pharisees “white washed tombs . . . full of dead men’s bones” (Matthew 23:27-28). By today’s standards of some people, that’s hurtful and not a very nice way to talk. Of course, to some people, any contrary or opposing view to theirs is “hate speech” regardless of whether or not it is the truth.
Jesus told his opponents they were, “of your father the devil” (John 8:44). He called them “liars” (John 8:55). He said they were dishonorable (John 8:49). Jesus addressed His own disciples saying, “you foolish ones” (Luke 11:39; 24:25). It would seem, by the example of Jesus, that there is a time and place for strong words, that some might see as harsh.
Jesus spoke such words and of Him it was said, “For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). The Apostle Paul seems to have taken a page out of Jesus speech book when he addressed the Galatians, “O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified?” (Galatians 3:1). Hmmm, I don’t think that, by todays standards, such words as “foolish” would go over very well. (Even though people use words much worse than this in the public arena.)
But what I have said thus far should not be misconstrued as an excuse to speak crassly or in an unholy fashion. We are exhorted, “Let no corrupt words proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers” (Ephesians 4:29). The word “edification” (Greek oikodome) is a construction term which means literally to build, build up, construct, to promote another’s growth. The words we use, may at times be to the point and straightforward, they may be no-nonsense by definition as well as the tone in which they are delivered, but whatever they are, they must be for the ultimate objective of building up.
Sometimes, when we build, a previous existing structure must be torn down. Military boot camp involves breaking down people and then building them up. Life can be like that. When we look at Jesus and His disciples, we can discern a stage of breaking down in their lives, a certain losing of your life in order to find it (Matthew 10:39; Luke 9:24; 17:33). “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me” (Luke 9:23).
God uses words to help us through that sanctifying process of life with Him. Really, such breaking down and building up is a core message of the entire Bible and life with God in Christ. “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). Crucifixion of the flesh is breaking us down. Living by faith in ‘Christ is building us up. That’s the message of God’s word (cf. also Romans 5-8).
While God’s word is supremely important, our words are important too. God knows every word we speak (Ps. 139:4). We speak in the presence of God. Therefore, it would be wise to watch our words (Ps. 39:1). Our words are intertwined with our eternal destiny. Jesus states in His word that people will be held accountable for every word they say:
- Matthew 12:33-37 – 33 “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or else make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for a tree is known by its fruit. 34 Brood of vipers! How can you, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. 35 A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things. 36 But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. 37 For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”
“Idle” (Greek – argos -ἀργός) words are barren, useless, thoughtless words; they are words with little to no thinking behind them. They are words with no purpose. They are words that do not yield fruitfulness. What we say and how we say it is very important. Our words need to be “fitly spoken,” or we need to prayerfully think before we speak so that our words fit the occasion or life circumstance. We want our words to be right. We want them to be right in terms of their suitability and appropriateness of the life circumstance we are in. But more importantly, we want them to be right as far as God is concerned. We should want to speak in a way that accomplishes God’s objectives and ultimately brings glory to Him!
What we say and yes, the way we say it, is important. We will be held accountable by God for what we say. Because of that, God in His word gives us clear instruction on our wording. He instructs us to ration and think about our words. He counsels us to be wise in our use of words. The best place to find wisdom is in God’s word. And one of the best places to find wisdom in God’s word is in that portion which is referred to as Wisdom Literature. Here are a few verses from the wisdom literature of God’s word and what they say about our words:
- Proverbs 10:19 – In the multitude of words sin is not lacking, but he who restrains his lips is wise. (“Wise” – to be circumspect and hence, intelligent; prudent; skillful; successful; understanding.)
- Proverbs 13:3 – He who guards his mouth preserves his life, but he who opens wide his lips shall have destruction.
- Proverbs 14:3 – In the mouth of a fool is a rod of pride, but the lips of the wise will preserve them. (“Fool/foolishness” – without understanding; wisdom is beyond their grasp – Prov. 24:7. “Pride” – swelling; haughty; seeing oneself as high – Prov. 16:18).
- Proverbs 14:23 – In all labor there is profit, but idle chatter leads only to poverty.
- Proverbs 15:2 – The tongue of the wise uses knowledge rightly, but the mouth of fools pours forth foolishness.
- Proverbs 15:23 – A man has joy by the answer of his mouth, and a word spoken in due season, how good it is!
- Proverbs 15:28 – The heart of the righteous studies how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours forth evil.
- Proverbs 16:23 – The heart of the wise teaches his mouth, and adds learning to his lips.
- Proverbs 17:27-28 – He who has knowledge spares his words, and a man of understanding is of a calm spirit. Even a fool is counted wise when he holds his peace; when he shuts his lips, he is considered perceptive.
- Proverbs 18:2 – A fool has no delight in understanding, but in expressing his own heart.
- Proverbs 18:13 – He who answers a matter before he hears it, it is folly and shame to him.
- Proverbs 21:23 – Whoever guards his mouth and tongue keeps his soul from troubles.
- Proverbs 25:28 – Whoever has no rule over his own spirit is like a city broken down, without walls.
- Proverbs 27:14 – He who blesses his friend with a loud voice, rising early in the morning, it will be counted a curse to him.
- Ecclesiastes 5:1-2 – Walk prudently when you go to the house of God; and draw near to hear rather than to give the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they do evil. Do not be rash with your mouth, and let not your heart utter anything hastily before God. For God is in heaven, and you on earth; therefore let your words be few.
In the New Testament the letter of the James is seen as being written in a very similar way to that of Old Testament Wisdom Literature. And in James there is some very important wisdom on words. James is inspired by God to write:
- James 1:19-20 – So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; 20 for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.
There’s an old adage that sounds very similar to this verse. It states, you have two ears and one mouth, listen twice as much as you speak. Be attentive and listen to others. Listening is a major part of communication. A good listener will communicate effectively because they will be more likely to hit their target in their responses. A good listeners will also spare themselves much grief from words spoken more from impulse than hearing the pulse of a conversation. And “the wrath of man” or raging never accomplishes the “righteousness of God.”
A chapter of the Bible that gives great insight into the tongue and our words is James 3. James begins this chapter by cautioning people about the desire to be a teacher (3:1). No one should seek to be a teacher unless they are called and gifted by God to be a teacher (e.g. Eph. 4:11-12). The implication is that teachers are required to use many words. James uses this to share a bit about the tongue and speaking words. He gives us the following inspired words of wisdom on speaking:
My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment. 2 For we all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body. 3 Indeed, we put bits in horses’ mouths that they may obey us, and we turn their whole body. 4 Look also at ships: although they are so large and are driven by fierce winds, they are turned by a very small rudder wherever the pilot desires. 5 Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things.
See how great a forest a little fire kindles! 6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell. 7 For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and creature of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by mankind. 8 But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God. 10 Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so. 11 Does a spring send forth fresh water and bitter from the same opening? 12 Can a fig tree, my brethren, bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Thus no spring yields both salt water and fresh.
13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. 15 This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic. 16 For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there. 17 But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. 18 Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.
What can we glean from these wise inspired words? I’ll simply summarize the contents of this passage for brevity’s sake. Note the following about speaking:
- Humble acknowledgement of reality – “We all stumble in many things.” (3:2a)
- Spiritual maturity can be gauged by how we speak – “If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man” – “perfect” here means spiritually mature (3:2b).
- If you can control your tongue, you will be able to control other areas in your life – “able also to bridle the whole body” (3:2c).
- The tongue is a physically small part of our anatomy; it only weighs about 20 ounces. But like bridles in horse’s mouths, rudders on ships, and a spark that starts a fire, it holds the power of life and death (e.g. Prov. 18:21; 26:20). It can give direction or lead to destruction (3:3-6). It can build up or destroy.
- The tongue cannot be tamed in our own strength (3:7-8).
- In our own strength, trying to tame the tongue leads to inner conflict and outward contradictions in our words (3:9-12).
- In our own strength if we attempt to tame the tongue we will only be frustrated, bitter, rationalize our sin, deny the truth, and be confused. But if we seek God’s help, we will find heavenly wisdom that leads to purity, peace, gentleness, willingness to yield, mercy, good fruits, impartiality, and sincerity (3:13-17).
- Taming the tongue starts by sowing peace. This means taking action by faith in the strength of the Lord to implement His Word in the areas of our speaking. Holy speech involves:
- Speaking of God’s righteousness (Ps. 35:28).
- Speaking wisely (Ps. 35:28)
- Speaking God’s word (Ps. 119:172)
- Speaking praise (Ps. 126:2)
- Speaking truth in love (Eph. 4:15; Jn. 17:17)
- Confessing Christ (Phil. 2:11)
If we go further in this epistle, James 4 gives us instruction on how to bring our tongue under control.
- Eliminate selfish and worldly speech (4:1-4).
- Turn to the Spirit (4:5).
- Trade your pride for humility and seek God’s grace (4:6).
- Submit to God. Resist the devil (4:7).
- Draw near to God for cleansing (4:8).
- Grieve your sinful speech (4:9)
- Humble yourself before the Lord and trust Him to deliver you (4:10).
- Take action:
- Don’t speak any evil toward others (4:11-12)
- Don’t be boastful (4:13-16)
- Don’t ignore doing good (4:17).
I encourage you to look at the epistle of James and these sections noted here. Prayerfully putting this part of God’s word into life practice will help you get a handle on your words and help you to make them right words. And pray for our public servants and those in leadership positions whether in or outside the church. Pray that people learn to use the right words in their relationships.
It is possible to speak with right words. I grew up in a very dysfunctional home. There was a lot of fighting. There was a lot of very poor communication and destructive speaking in our family. I grew up in a home where mental illness was present. There are few things in life that are more frustrating than dealing with someone who is mentally ill. Before I came to know the Lord, I vented my frustrations and exerted power by using four letter curse words. In fact, I became so comfortable with profanity that every sentence I spoke included some epithet or vulgar reference. My language became so bad that when I returned to my high school homecoming football game, I spouted such disgusting and profuse profanity that I was asked to leave. If I remember correctly, I nearly started a riot in the stands. I had a bad problem. The biggest problem was I didn’t know I had a problem. My words were crooked. My words were wicked. My words were wrong.
Well, about midway through my college education God reached down and got ahold of my heart. And when I confessed my sins and trusted Jesus as my Savior, a funny, no incredible thing happened. My profane and vulgar way of speaking instantly stopped. I didn’t even have to try to stop speaking curse words. The Lord just took that away from me. As I studied God’s word, I learned what Jesus said about, “But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man” (Matthew 15:18). The instantaneous halt to my profane way of speaking, to me, was evidence of the reality that Jesus had cleaned my heart. The Bible actually speaks of being given a “new heart” (Ezekiel 36). We are a “new creation” in our new relationship with Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:17). Peter, one of the Apostles that had a cursing problem himself (cf. Matthew 26:74; Mark 14:71), put it like this, “Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love” (1 Peter 1:22a). He spoke of “purifying their hearts by faith” in Jesus (Acts 15:9). I had put my faith in Jesus. And Jesus cleaned my heart out of all those trashy words. Thank you Jesus!
Years ago, when my children were young and still at home, part of our parenting and discipling of them involved teaching them to use the right words. No one in our home ever used four letter curse words. We loved the Lord. But my wife and I felt very strongly that we wanted our children to grow up in a healthy worded home. So beyond cursing, we also amade sure we all spoke kindly to one another. We wouldn’t stand for any character assassinating words in our home. For instance, we banned the word “stupid.” That was a six-letter curse word in our home. We never wanted our kids to feel “stupid.” To this day I don’t hear them using that word.
Well, kids will be kids and there was a time when it seemed to my wife and I that they were fighting a lot and not speaking nicely to one another. My wife and I discussed it and prayed about it. We brought it to the Lord. And as I prayed one day, the Lord put an idea in my head. I knew we should apply scripture to this family situation, but how would we do that? As I prayed the Lord gave me the idea of finding an appropriate scripture verse and making it into a song. The verse the Lord directed me too was Proverbs 25:28 which says, “Whoever has no rule over his own spirit is like a city broken down, without walls.”
So, I prayed and thought and I put that verse to song. It went like this: “The man who can’t control his own spirit, is like a city, without walls. The man who can’t control his own spirit is like a city, without walls. Without walls. Without walls. Without walls, broken down.” (If you come visit, I’d be happy to share that song with you; only if you wanted to hear it though.) But I gathered the kids together and we prayed. I told them I had prayed and the Lord gave me a scripture for our family disturbances and not so nice conversations. We got in a circle. First, I sang the song. Then they joined me. We sang the scripture song together, as a family. And in the end, when we sang the words, “broken down,” we all fell to the ground. That made it a fun lesson and memorable one. My kids remember that song to this day and it brings a smile to our faces.
Here’s my point. Our words and the way we speak are important. They are important to God. They are important to the people we speak to. They are especially important to the people we care about and love. Our objective is to accomplish God’s purposes and bring glory to Him. Our words are a big part of that process. We need to choose our words wisely. We need to prayerfully find and use the right words. “Lord help us find the right words. In Jesus’ name. Amen”
And, in closing, to our president, (and all those in authority), I would say, “Sir, there’s been a lot of discussion about wall building on our borders during your first term as president, and justifiably so. We want to protect people. We want to protect our homeland. But there are walls that are stronger than any metal or concrete walls. They are the walls of protection created by right words fitly chosen to forward the mission. Words spoken, by an unruled or uncontrolled spirit, can break down walls of protection and make you and us more vulnerable. Therefore, I would encourage you to prayerfully choose your words well. They matter. They can build up, or, they can tear down and destroy. I hope and pray the Lord leads you to the right words. I hope and pray you have a second term. The right words will help you reach that goal. The wrong words, well, they may prevent it. You’re in my prayers. You’re in our prayers. God bless you Mr. President. And God bless the United States of America; bless us all with right words! To the glory of God.”
 Complete Biblical Library Commentary – The Complete Biblical Library – Proverbs-Song of Songs.