‘The Lips of Truth Will Endure Forever’
LIKE a little fire that can set aflame and destroy a whole forest, it is capable of contaminating an individual’s entire life. It can be full of venom, but it can also be “a tree of life.” (Proverbs 15:4) Death and life are in its power. (Proverbs 18:21) Such is the strength of this little member, our tongue, that can spot up all the body. (James 3:5-9) Wise we are to guard the tongue.
In the second part of the 12th chapter of the Bible book of Proverbs, King Solomon of ancient Israel provides valuable counsel that helps us safeguard our speech. By means of concise but meaningful proverbs, the wise king shows that spoken words bear consequences as well as reveal a great deal about the qualities of the one speaking them. Solomon’s inspired advice is indispensable to anyone desiring to ‘set a watch over the door of his lips.’—Psalm 141:3.
‘The Transgression That Ensnares’
“By the transgression of the lips the bad person is ensnared, but the righteous one gets out of distress,” says Solomon. (Proverbs 12:13) Lying is a transgression of the lips that becomes a death-dealing trap for the one practicing it. (Revelation 21:8) Dishonesty may seem like an easy way to escape punishment or to get out of an unpleasant situation. But does not one lie often lead to other lies? Just as a person who starts gambling with small amounts is drawn into making bigger and bigger bets as he attempts to recover losses, a liar soon finds himself enmeshed in a vicious cycle.
The transgression of the lips further ensnares in that the one lying to others can end up lying to himself. For example, a liar can easily convince himself that he is very knowledgeable and brilliant, while in reality he knows very little. He thus begins to live a lie. Indeed, “he has acted too smoothly to himself in his own eyes to find out his error so as to hate it.” (Psalm 36:2) What a snare lying proves to be! The righteous one, on the other hand, will not get himself into such a difficult situation. Even under distress, he will not resort to a false tongue.
‘The Fruitage That Satisfies’
“Do not be misled: God is not one to be mocked,” warns the apostle Paul. “For whatever a man is sowing, this he will also reap.” (Galatians 6:7) This principle certainly applies to our speech as well as to our actions. Solomon states: “From the fruitage of a man’s mouth he is satisfied with good, and the very doing of a man’s hands will come back to him.”—Proverbs 12:14.
A mouth that “utters wisdom” produces the fruitage that satisfies. (Psalm 37:30) Wisdom requires knowledge, and no human is the repository of all knowledge. Everyone needs to listen to fine counsel and to heed it. “The way of the foolish one is right in his own eyes,” says the king of Israel, “but the one listening to counsel is wise.”—Proverbs 12:15.
Jehovah gives us sound counsel through his Word and through his organization, using the publications provided by “the faithful and discreet slave.” (Matthew 24:45; 2 Timothy 3:16) How foolish to reject good advice and insist on our own way! We “must be swift about hearing” when Jehovah, “the One teaching men knowledge,” counsels us through his channel of communication.—James 1:19; Psalm 94:10.
How do the wise and the foolish respond to insults or unjust criticisms? Solomon answers: “It is a foolish person that makes known his vexation in the same day, but the shrewd one is covering over a dishonor.”—Proverbs 12:16.
When he is slighted, a foolish person gives an angry response quickly—“in the same day.” But a prudent individual prays for God’s spirit so as to exercise self-control. He takes time to meditate on the advice of God’s Word and appreciatively ponders Jesus’ words: “Whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other also to him.” (Matthew 5:39) Desiring to “return evil for evil to no one,” the shrewd person restrains his lips from speaking thoughtlessly. (Romans 12:17) When we similarly cover over any dishonor that we may encounter, we avoid further contention.
‘The Tongue That Heals’
The transgression of lips can cause much damage in a judicial setting. The king of Israel says: “He that launches forth faithfulness will tell what is righteous, but a false witness, deception.” (Proverbs 12:17) The true witness launches forth faithfulness because his testimony is reliable and trustworthy. His words contribute toward having justice done. The false witness, on the other hand, is full of deceit and promotes the miscarriage of justice.
“There exists the one speaking thoughtlessly as with the stabs of a sword,” continues Solomon, “but the tongue of the wise ones is a healing.” (Proverbs 12:18) Words can pierce like a sword, killing friendships and stirring up trouble. Or they can be delightful and pleasant, preserving friendships. And what are name-calling, shouting, constant criticism, and degrading insults if not the stabs that cause deep emotional wounds? How good it is to correct any slipups we may make in this area with healing words of sincere apology!
During the difficult times that we live in, it is not surprising that many are “broken at heart” and “crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:18) When we “speak consolingly to the depressed souls” and “support the weak,” are we not putting into effect the healing power of spoken words? (1 Thessalonians 5:14) Yes, sympathetic words can encourage teenagers who are battling harmful peer pressure. A thoughtful tongue can reassure the elderly that they are needed and loved. Kind words can certainly brighten the day of those who are sick. Even reproof is easier to accept when given “in a spirit of mildness.” (Galatians 6:1) And how healing is the tongue of the one who uses it to share the good news of God’s Kingdom with those who listen!
‘The Lip That Endures’
Using the word “lip” as synonymous with “tongue,” Solomon states: “It is the lip of truth that will be firmly established forever, but the tongue of falsehood will be only as long as a moment.” (Proverbs 12:19) The expression “the lip of truth” is singular in Hebrew and has a deeper meaning than just truthful speech. “It implies such qualities as durability, permanence and reliability,” says one reference work. “Speech which has this quality will endure . . . for ever because it will be found to be reliable, in contrast with the lying tongue . . . which may deceive for a moment but cannot prevail when put to the test.”
“Deception is in the heart of those fabricating mischief,” states the wise king, “but those counseling peace have rejoicing.” He adds: “Nothing hurtful will befall the righteous one, but the wicked are the ones that will certainly be filled with calamity.”—Proverbs 12:20, 21.
The plotters of mischief can cause only pain and suffering. On the other hand, the counselors of peace reap contentment from doing what is right. They also have the joy of seeing good results. Most important, they enjoy God’s approval, for “false lips are something detestable to Jehovah, but those acting in faithfulness are a pleasure to him.”—Proverbs 12:22.
‘Speech That Covers Over Knowledge’
Describing yet another difference between the one who is careful about words and the one who is not, the king of Israel says: “A shrewd man is covering knowledge, but the heart of the stupid ones is one that calls out foolishness.”—Proverbs 12:23.
A shrewd, or prudent, man knows when to speak and when not to. He is covering over knowledge by restraining himself from making a showy display of what he knows. This does not mean that he always hides his knowledge. Rather, he is discreet in his display of it. On the contrary, the stupid one is quick to speak and make his foolishness known. Let our words, therefore, be few and our tongue refrain from bragging.
Continuing to draw contrasts, Solomon makes a dramatic point regarding diligence and slothfulness. He states: “The hand of the diligent ones is the one that will rule, but the slack hand will come to be for forced labor.” (Proverbs 12:24) Hard work can lead to advancement and financial independence, laziness to forced labor and servitude. “Given enough time,” says one scholar, “the lazy man will become a slave to the diligent one.”
‘The Word That Causes Rejoicing’
King Solomon returns to the matter of speech with a keen observation about human nature. “Anxious care in the heart of a man is what will cause it to bow down,” he says, “but the good word is what makes it rejoice.”—Proverbs 12:25.
Many are the anxieties and concerns that can cause the heart to be weighed down with sadness. What is needed to lighten the burden and make the heart rejoice is a good word of encouragement from an understanding person. But how would others know the intensity of the anxious care in our heart unless we open up and talk about it? Yes, when experiencing distress or depression, we need to confide in an empathetic person who can help. Moreover, putting feelings into words relieves some of the heart’s anguish. Therefore, it is good to confide in a marriage mate, a parent, or a compassionate and spiritually qualified friend.
What better words of encouragement are there than those found in the Bible? We must then draw close to God by appreciatively meditating on his inspired Word. Such reflection can certainly bring joy into a troubled heart and light to sad eyes. The psalmist attests to this, saying: “The law of Jehovah is perfect, bringing back the soul. The reminder of Jehovah is trustworthy, making the inexperienced one wise. The orders from Jehovah are upright, causing the heart to rejoice; the commandment of Jehovah is clean, making the eyes shine.”—Psalm 19:7, 8.
The Path That Is Rewarding
Contrasting the way of the upright with that of the wicked, the king of Israel says: “The righteous one spies out his own pasturage, but the very way of wicked ones causes them to wander about.” (Proverbs 12:26) The righteous one is cautious about his own pasturage—the associates and friends whom he chooses. He selects them wisely, endeavoring to avoid dangerous contacts. Not so with the wicked, who refuse counsel and insist on their own way. Misled, they wander about.
King Solomon next presents the difference between the slack and the diligent from yet another perspective. “Slackness will not start up one’s game animals,” he says, “but the diligent one is a man’s precious wealth.” (Proverbs 12:27) A slack person—“the lazy man”—does not “start up,” or “roast,” his game. (New International Version) For that matter, he cannot finish what he starts. Diligence, on the other hand, is synonymous with riches.
So harmful is laziness that the apostle Paul found it necessary to write to fellow Christians in Thessalonica and correct certain individuals there who were “walking disorderly”—not working at all but meddling with what did not concern them. Such ones imposed an expensive burden on the rest. So Paul openly counseled them, exhorting them to ‘work with quietness so that they could eat food they themselves earned.’ And if they would not respond to this firm counsel, Paul admonished others in the congregation to “withdraw” from them—to avoid them, evidently in social matters.—2 Thessalonians 3:6-12.
We must take to heart not only Solomon’s counsel on being industrious but also his advice on the proper use of our tongue. Let us endeavor to use that little organ to cause healing and rejoicing as we avoid the transgression of the lips and pursue an upright course. “In the path of righteousness there is life,” Solomon assures us, “and the journey in its pathway means no death.”—Proverbs 12:28.
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“The one listening to counsel is wise”
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“The tongue of the wise ones is a healing”
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Confiding in a trusted friend can bring comfort
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Appreciatively meditating on God’s Word causes the heart to rejoice