Proverbs has a lot to say about what we say and how we say it, confronting all the damage done by cruel, careless words. Proverbs denounces our deception and lies. It challenges our angry and quarrelsome speech. It exposes how empty flattery can give a false sense of self.
Proverbs drills down deep on the damage done by gossip. The gossiper is someone who tells stories that aren’t theirs to tell, sharing news no matter how hurtful it is to spread. Gossip is an enormous problem in our world and is always a temptation in church settings, masquerading as concern for others, for what’s right.
Proverbs highlights the damage of hurtful humor with one of my new favorite verses in scripture. “Like a maniac shooting flaming arrows of death is one who deceives their neighbor and says, ‘I was only joking!(26:18-19)'” This is not a call to be overly sensitive or lose our sense of humor, but wisdom means learning when a joke is humorous and when it is hurtful. Wisdom means learning when a joke is playful and when it’s really personal pretending to be playful.
14 times Proverbs chastises the “mocker” or “scoffer.” This is someone who always finds flaws and points out problems. This is the chronic complainer, the self-appointed Negative Ned or Debbie Downer.
In the face of the endless damage done with words gone wild, “…the one who has understanding holds their tongue(11:12). Wisdom means learning when “silence is golden,” when “you say it best, when you say nothing at all.” But of course there’s more we could do. “The mouth of the godly is a fountain of life… (10:11)” “The lips of the godly feed many...(10:21)” Choose to be a blessing in how you talk to people. Choose to be an encourager in what you say to and about people. After all, our very identity and calling is that we are people of Good News.