A fool gives full vent to his spirit,
but a wise man quietly holds it back.
The proverbs are full of vivid contrasts, especially between the foolish and the wise. The picture painted in this proverb contrasts the fool—who never has a thought or emotion that he doesn’t express in words or actions—with the wise man—who is measured and prudent in giving voice to his inmost thoughts and feelings. Is there anyone you recognize in this proverb?
We can all probably think of someone who never holds back the things that go on in their heads. Their interactions with others are full of criticism, gossip, oversharing, boasting, and complaining. If we’re honest, we’ll admit that each of us has fallen into the temptation of saying too much or letting sinful speech spew from our mouths. James 3:8 reminds us that the tongue, apart from the grace of God, is evil and poisonous. How many sins have we committed against God and others with our words? Each of us has been the fool in this proverb. That is a reminder that we need the grace of God in Christ to forgive us for our sins of speech.
But how can we be more like the wise man who quietly holds back? First, we can realize that those who are truly wise do have Someone to whom they can pour out their deepest thoughts and emotions: our covenant God. He knows us better than we know ourselves. There is no sin that will surprise him, no anxiety that he can’t relieve, no inward emotion that we can’t “vent” to him—just think of the Psalms! Because wise people pour out their inmost hearts to God, they are able to quietly hold back in conversation with others. Second, we can remember that, for Christians, our speech should always glorify God and serve our neighbors. “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths,” Paul instructs us in Ephesians 4:29, “but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” Like the wise man, let us heed the call to be discerning in our speech, only giving voice to those words that bring glory to our King and edification to our human hearers.