• Proverbs 17:27-28; 18:20-21; 25:11-12; 26:20-22, 28Proverbs 17:27-28; 18:20-21; 25:11-12; 26:20-22, 28
What bothers me so badly about a loud mouth in a restaurant or theater having a cell phone conversation? Is it that it’s just loud? Or am I bothered by the fact that I’m hearing way more personal information than I need or want to know?
At the core of this social faux pas is the truth that some folk have no boundaries; words to them are cheap and flow effortlessly and thoughtlessly.
Your learners will connect easily to this lesson because each of us has experienced the misuse of words. Words can distance people from one another. Words can offend. Words can hurt. Words can lie. Words can damage.
But words also can do good. Words can bring people closer. Words can solidify people around ideas. Words can bring healing. Words can convey deep truth. Words can carry love, understanding and encouragement. This is the reason why Christians must carefully choose words, and sometimes censor our words rather than blurting out whatever comes to mind.
This week’s Bible reading teaches us that we are accountable for our words and that God wants us always to use our words for good. Words have real power and we should use them with wisdom.
Choose your words carefully (Proverbs 17:27-28)
Ask your learners if they’ve ever said something they regretted? By nature, humans make that mistake. Sometimes we say things in anger that hurt others, and later, we must apologize. Sometimes we say things hurriedly, and our impatience betrays us to less mature ways.
Ask your learners if they’ve ever fallen into the trap of “angry e-mail.” That’s a situation where many people have found themselves. For example, they receive an e-mail from another party that is offensive and they yield to the temptation to use words inappropriately. The reason this is a persistent problem in our culture of computers is that we are more likely to blast someone via e-mail than in person. And, like the toothpaste out of the tube, once that e-mail is out there, it can’t be retrieved.
This passage teaches that keeping silent is better than commenting on situations we don’t fully understand. It also teaches that saying things that are reactionary, rather than well thought out can lead to difficulty in relationships.
It’s best, then, to keep silent until we have chosen our words carefully. By thinking before they speak and being careful about what they say, God’s people avoid getting into trouble because of their words. Moreover, we can avoid embarrassment and trouble by carefully guarding our speech.
Respect the power of words (Proverbs 18:20-21)
We show wisdom when we understand how our words can bear fruit in others lives. The power of words is real and can be used for good effect. Proverbs 15:4 is an additional text you will want to highlight for your learners, as it points to the power of a good word, comparing it to a tree of life.
Undoubtedly, we have been hurt by the words of others, and have caused hurt in the lives of others with words. This is something we continually must examine in our spiritual lives. But we have a responsibility that goes beyond “do no harm” and extends into “do good with our words.” Christians can be life-affirming and life-giving in every social circle and have a responsibility and privilege to counter negativity, falsehood and slander with words that communicate God’s light. It is a very real and practical way in which we can be a blessing to others around us.
Perhaps the greatest use of time at this point in the lesson would be to allow for some silence and prayer asking God to reveal better ways to use their words. Consider these statements as a guided prayer for your group:
• God, reveal to me times when I have caused hurt with my words.
• God, give me insight into how I can speak words of encouragement to someone specific in my life.
• God, forgive me for using words negatively, and forgive me for times when I have failed to use words for good.
• God, give me sensitivity to know when to speak and when to remain silent.
Use good words (Proverbs 25:11-12)
Now that you have spent some time with your learners thinking about good and bad uses of words, it will be helpful to look at specific traits of good words. This proverb teaches that an aptly spoken word is like apple of gold set in silver—precious and desirable. But what makes for an “aptly spoken word?” There are many elements, but to be sure the definitions include truthfulness, gentleness and pleasantness.
We’ve been taught from a young age to always speak the truth. Proverbs 14:25 reminds us that a truthful word has the ability even to save lives, and that a mistruth can bear false witness— and even lead to death.
As your learners concentrate on using good words, truthfulness will be the primary characteristic you want to reinforce. The reality is that while we all know this teaching is the ideal, many times we fail to achieve the standard. Use of good words does not leave room for outright lies, nor lies of omission.
Speaking the truth is hard, and even more difficult is the challenge to speak truth gently. A gentle tongue can indeed turn away wrath but also can promote the ability to be truly heard by the other.
Ask your learners to remember a time when someone told them something they didn’t want to hear. Ask them to consider whether they heard that truth better or worse because of the tone of voice, the eye contact or the body language of the other. Ask them to consider ways that speaking truth gently can happen. Is it all in the words you say? Or is it how the words are delivered?
Avoid trash talk (Proverbs 26:20-22, 28)
Scripture pinpoints gossiping, constant quarreling and flattering someone insincerely as examples of especially hurtful, destructive speech. This passage points to the troubles of such speech, and also to the consequences of such speech. The bottom line? The truth comes out eventually.
By refusing to gossip or listen to gossip, we can help cool down conflict rather than heat it up. This is one of the most prevalent problems in established churches. There is a lack of focus on doing justice and mercy when gossip is the main food of the fellowship, and even listening to such talk is destructive to the church.
You can call your learners to self-examination and confession about this topic. Ask your students how they perceive the gossip/trash talking affects your congregation.