Man’s misuse of his tongue, the power of the spoken word and what it reveals about the heart of man is a frequent theme in Proverbs. A reading of today’s proverbs reminds us that, although times have changed, the sinful bent of man’s heart is the same. His tongue is a barometer for the spiritual condition of his soul (James 1:26).
Proverbs 17:4 – “A wicked doer [evildoer] giveth heed [listens] to false lips [lying]; and a liar giveth ear to a naughty tongue [wicked, perverse speech].”
Solomon taught his son that he would be wise to become an observer of men’s words and conversations. Nothing is more indicative of a man’s character than what he says and gives ear to. It is the nature of a wicked man to hear and believe lies; while the nature of a liar is to entertain false accusations against good men.
Life has taught me that a true friend will believe the best about you, but an enemy will believe the worse. An enemy will listen to gossip and care nothing for the truth or protecting the testimony of a good man. Lies are for the wicked a provocation to stir up strife and destroy.
Proverbs 17:7 continues the subject of the tongue with an exhortation to exercise discretion in one’s conversation.
Proverbs 17:7 – “Excellent [excessive; abundant] speech becometh not [is unseemly] a fool: much less do lying [deceiving] lips a prince [nobleman].”
The word “excellent” can allude to the quality of one’s speech as well as the quantity or volume of one’s words. A fool speaks to excess and is known by his unbridled tongue. Solomon suggests in a later proverb that even a fool is perceived as wise when he harnesses his tongue and is a man/woman of few words (Proverbs 17:28)!
Having dealt with the voluminous characteristic of a fool and his words, Solomon cautions that it is unbecoming for a prince or nobleman to lie or deceive. This truth comes to mind when you hear politicians and public figures dodge and weave around questions that demand nothing more than a simple “yes” or “no”.
Allow me to close with an invitation for you to perform a self-examination in this matter of your tongue. Excessive talk is not only unseemly for a fool, it is unbecoming for a Christian. Conversation among church members often resembles the qualities against which Solomon was warning his son. The gossip and the hearer are “birds of a feather”– they manifest the same character for “a liar giveth ear to a naughty tongue” (17:4).
We should all practice what parents once taught their children: “If you don’t have something good to say, don’t say anything at all!”
Ephesians 5:3-4 – “…let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints; 4 Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking [gossip; idle talk], nor jesting, which are not convenient [unbecoming}: but rather giving of thanks.”