A word fitly spoken
is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.
How often do we wish we could take back something we have said? We immediately begin to suffer the consequences. Yet how encouraging it can be to see someone’s life and outlook totally changed because of healing and uplifting words we have spoken. This is one of a number of proverbs that address our speech. Sometimes we tend to speak too much. Thus we are warned: "A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion" (Proverbs 18:2). Other times our speech is inappropriate. "Whoever belittles his neighbor lacks sense, but a man of understanding remains silent" (Proverbs 11:12). Some speech spread as choice morsels becomes gossip resulting in destructive quarreling. "For lack of wood the fire goes out, and where there is no whisperer, quarreling ceases" (Proverbs 26:20). In fact, some words wound others so much they feel that they are being stabbed to death, yet the words of others have the opposite effect. "There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing" (Proverbs 12:18).
The apples referred to in this proverb of "a word fitly spoken" are a reference to a decorative motif in jewelry, which is similar to the pomegranate pattern used on the holy garment robe for Aaron, the high priest (Exodus 39:24-25), and on the top edge of the capital at the temple (1 Kings 7:18). So the idea conveyed by this image is that "a word fitly spoken" is one that is very suited to the occasion. It is beautiful, it gleams, and it brightens everyone’s outlook. Perhaps it illustrates something that is not only outwardly appealing, but also delicious and nutritious for our health. Appropriate words heal, restore, invigorate and give confidence and peace. "Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad" (Proverbs 12:25).
Sometimes the apt word is a correction, admonition or exhortation. Good words can expose error and declare the truth. Jesus spoke harsh words, although fully appropriate, to the Jewish religious leaders. "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!… You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?" (Matthew 23:29, 33). On the other hand Jesus said, "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28). Some people need soothing, healing words for their despair, while others need to be jolted out of their hardheartedness. So we need to "comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable." We find in Jesus that he was both truthful and healing. He confronted sinners with their need of repentance and he healed the brokenhearted. When the temple guard was sent by the chief priests and Pharisees to arrest Jesus and were asked why they did not do so, "The officers answered, 'No one ever spoke like this man!'" (John 7:46). Jesus always spoke the right words given him by his Father. May we too look to our heavenly Father to give us apt words to say. Let us heed Paul’s instruction, "Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear" (Ephesians 4:29).
We will be judged for every idle word we utter. Jesus came to restore us from our curses, our cutting remarks, our stabbing innuendos and our destructive gossip by bearing those sins upon himself at the cross. We can come to him in repentance for forgiveness to heal us from our destructive and hateful words. Then pray for the empowerment of the Holy Spirit to give you "a word fitly spoken" that shines like a golden apple in a setting of silver.
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Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By Bruce McDowell. © 2020 Tenth Presbyterian Church. Website: tenth.org