Proverbs 14:3 ESV
By the mouth of a fool comes a rod for his back, but the lips of the wise will preserve them.
Ever said something you really, really shouldn’t have? We’ve all done it, me not the least, and we’ve all regretted it, sometimes five seconds later, sometimes (the worst times) five years later. Even if you can’t think of such an incident right now, though, you’ve probably seen a film or read a story where a character says something and you think ‘He really shouldn’t have said that?’. Maybe you winced, maybe you even stood up and started berating the inanimate simulacrum for his stupidity, for his foolishness. That sort of speech is what today’s proverb is all about- foolish tongues and their opposites.
Today, at least, the mechanics are obvious. If you enter a complex situation and just start running your mouth (brain semi-detached), you’re gonna say something that gets you in trouble. Whether you incite anger or hurt or simple disgust, something is bound to go wrong. Conversely, if you take care with your words, applying wisdom to gather and analyze the information available, you run a much better chance of not only saving yourself but helping others.
If we all know what the problem is, why haven’t we already fixed it? Here’s where the pesky problem of sin comes into play. As a result of the Fall (Gen. 3), unregenerate man is pervasively corrupted by sin; even regenerate man, he whom God has remade and is progressively sanctifying, is still imperfect upon this earth, worthy of redemption only in Christ, whose worthiness is imputed to him. As James says, “If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man…” (3:2). None of us is yet perfect. All of us, being imperfect, therefore stumble with our tongues, lighting fires and dousing torches willy-nilly as we go.
All this doesn’t mean we can’t ameliorate the problem. Proverbs is, after all, a very practical book, calling us to apply it to life, not merely consider it in abstraction. Fools call down rods upon their back, as per this verse, and the wise preserve themselves by their speech, in God’s grace, in soul if not always in body (Acts 26:1-11). We are called to wisdom (2 Chr. 1:10-11). Since an aspect of wisdom is the bridling of the tongue, we are called to bridle our tongues, however difficult it may be, even if the job will never be complete on this earth (1 John 1:10).
Among the many potential applications of this principle, consider the admonition given in Romans 14: “As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions” (1). As becomes clear throughout the rest of the chapter, these ‘opinions’ are moral positions which, while they may have significance, are not salvation issues, are not close to salvation issues (as contrasted to principles such as sola fide, the denial of which produces a ‘different gospel’, over which Paul pronounces anathema (Gal. 1:1-8)). For some of us (like myself), arguing over these opinions sounds really interesting, even enjoyable. Paul, however, urges restraint of the tongue (as well as other behaviors). We are to be careful not to bring others into turmoil unnecessarily. Perhaps, one day, God-given wisdom will guide us to see that our brother is ready to discuss the issue without trouble to his faith (and perhaps on that day, the stronger brother will prove to be the weaker). Until that day, we must exercise restraint, must bridle our tongues, that we may not bring judgement upon ourselves by causing a brother to stumble.
Wisdom should pervade our lives. Righteousness, to the glory of God, should be our joyous duty all our days, both in speech and in all else; this is the path of wisdom. Though we shall not fully reach that goal upon this earth, we can strive towards it, with the hope and the surety that “… those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified” (Rom. 8:29-30). A part of that glorification, after all, will be the final bridling of that tongue (and our whole selves) to righteousness, to holiness. In that hope we may rest, so long as we rest in Him.
Sanctuary Functional Medicine, under the direction of Dr Eric Potter, IFMCP MD, provides functional medicine services to Nashville, Middle Tennessee and beyond. We frequently treat patients from Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Ohio, Indiana, and more... offering the hope of healthier more abundant lives to those with chronic illness.