I recently came across an interesting observation about the spoken word that bears repeating:
"He who thinks by the inch, and talks by the yard, should be kicked by the foot."
This is one of those “anonymous” quotes that can’t be credited to any single individual, but Mr. or Ms. Anonymous had it right. It ranks right up there with, “When all has been said and done, more has been said than done.”
We live in a society – and a world, I suppose – where there is no lack of words. “Talk is cheap,” the adage reminds us. Maybe the price of talk should be a lot higher so we’d be forced to use words more economically and strategically.
Years ago many of us saw commercials that declared, “When E.F. Hutton speaks, people listen.” Alas, E.F. Hutton, founder of the iconic stock brokerage firm, is no longer with us. The sentiment, however, still seems sound. When we practice measured speech, waiting to give ample thought before opening our lips and permitting words to escape, what we say can become more valued.
I still remember how people admired a friend of mine years ago, a man who would sit in board meetings, attentively listening but rarely speaking. Like ole E.F. Hutton, when Bob spoke, people were quick to listen because they knew what he had to say was worth considering.
This is one reason, when I hear someone discount the Bible as outdated and irrelevant, I’m tempted to reply, “Are you stupid, or what?” Because on so many levels, the Scriptures are eminently practical – including the areas of speech and human discourse.
For instance, the Bible affirms the principle behind the unattributed quote above, in different words: "When there are many words, sin is unavoidable, but he who restrains his lips is wise" (Proverbs 10:19). This happens to be a personal favorite, because over much of my life I’ve had a bothersome habit of putting my mouth in drive while my mind was still in park. Hopefully I’ve gotten somewhat better in that regard over the years.
Everywhere, it seems, people are intent on demeaning people they don’t agree with. Whether we like them or not, these folks fall into the category the Bible would classify as “our neighbor.” So it’s convicting to read, “A man who lacks judgment derides his neighbor, but a man of understanding holds his tongue” (Proverbs 11:12).
What about being a person that’s known for meaningful, uplifting speech? There’s good news, according to the Scriptures: “From the fruit of his lips a man is filled with good things, as surely as the work of his hands rewards him” (Proverbs 12:14).
We can choose to use our words as weapons, or apply them like a soothing balm. “Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing” (Proverbs 12:18).
In Proverbs alone, the so-called “the book of wisdom,” more than 50 verses relate directly to the spoken word, in both its most positive and most perverse forms. But the problem of indiscreet speech was not just an issue for Old Testament readers.
After drawing comparisons to a bit in a horse’s mouth, and a small rudder directing the course of a ship, the Bible declares, “Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on ire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body…. With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness” (James 3:3-10).