Condemnation. I could read it all over her, from her downward expression to her slumped shoulders. A verse had been placed before us, and the apparent truth in it hit her like a ton of bricks. We Christians are really good at broadcasting a verse and leaving it sit there as the final authority. But what about those who struggle with the core value of that verse?
Please don’t send me hate mail. I’m not advocating we ignore any verse in the Bible or that the Bible isn’t the final authority on life.
But I wonder how often we get so focused in on one verse that we forget to share the whole picture. The whole biblical truth.
Let’s get practical
For example, recently I posted this verse on my social media.
For the most part, this verse doesn’t bother me because I’m what Gary Chapman calls a “dead sea personality” (read more here: 5 Love Languages). I’m good with quiet and I often prefer to listen rather than speak. Even when something phenomenal happens to me, I tend to summarize the highlights in a couple minutes. Sure, there’s often way more to the story, but if it’s not critical, it’s not important. Okay, so I minimize a lot of things too, but that’s a different issue. My point is that I don’t need to speak a lot of words each day. It’s not how God made me.
But I have dear friends who are the polar opposite of me, what Mr. Chapman calls “babbling brooks.” They freely tell me all kinds of things. I know that with them I’m going to get the full details of a story because, to them, there is nothing minute in a story. It’s all important!
Does this verse mean they sin when they drag their stories out? Or they are more prone to sin than I am?
The quick answer is no. They are not sinning, and they are not more prone to sin.
A bigger view
First, let’s look at this same verse again. I like the changes the writers of the New International Version made to this verse with their 2010 edition. The difference is quite striking. The new version says,
Sin is not ended by multiplying words, but the prudent hold their tongues.
The Contemporary English Version helps clarify it further:
You will say the wrong thing if you talk too much—so be sensible and watch what you say.
I would guess that you can remember a time when you said something you didn’t mean. Maybe you said something without thinking. Or maybe you didn’t understand where another person was in their life and offended them. Or maybe you just don’t express yourself well. It happens.
But this illustrates that the point of the verse in Proverbs is not merely directed toward babbling brooks. No, something else is behind the truth of this verse: the truth that we all sin with words.
Let’s take a look at a small sampling of other verses that speak to our words.
The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. Proverb 12:18
A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. Luke 6:45
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. Ephesians 4:29
Whoever would love life and see good days must keep their tongue from evil and their lips from deceitful speech. 1 Peter 3:10
What do these have in common? The intent behind our words and what we store in our hearts.
This is where the old cautionary warning comes to mind: garbage in, garbage out. Keeping our tongues from evil is a discipline and a choice. But that choice is made much easier when we take the time to choose wisely what content we digest on a regular basis.
And the Bible provides great advice on that too:
The Bible has many more verses on the words we speak. What is one of your favorites?