There is a simple way to change your world, impact those around you, and glorify God in your daily life. It’s through the power of wise words. This requires wisdom, which comes from the Lord (Proverbs 2:6). If we pursue His wisdom, He promises to give it to us (James 1:5). When put into practice, wisdom changes the words we choose, and these can do some powerful things.
First, wise words make knowledge appealing (Proverbs 15:2). A man once came to my home church with a bullhorn, signs, and a couple of cohorts, yelling at people as they came to the service. He was “warning of the judgment of God,” accusing us of luring people in with music, selling books, and not preaching repentance. Of course, he recorded his weird display and put it online.
I admit we have great worship music. People do come because the music is really good. But how is that incurring the wrath of God? Does He prefer lousy music? As for selling books, we don’t have a bookstore or book table or anything like that, so he was completely making that part up. But even if we did, who cares? But he really tipped his empty hand by accusing my pastor of not preaching repentance. He does. Routinely. Obviously, Mr. Bullhorn had never stepped inside our church.
But let’s pretend he did have a point about something. By standing at the edge of our church property screaming distorted accusations, he did nothing to sway anyone’s mind. He just looked like a nutcase. Any knowledge he might have had would be lost in the wind. He made what he had to say extremely unappealing. That’s not wise.
Second, the words of the wise are persuasive (Proverbs 16:23). One slightly funny moment in the protest video comes when someone who appears to be attending the church approaches the guy. (I didn’t recognize him, even though I know the staff and most of the regular attendees.) He looks quizzically at the small group for a moment, then asks, “Who are you protesting?” The bullhorn guy keeps ranting, yelling random and unrelated things. The church attendee shakes his head and walks away.
This incident is an extreme example of foolishness, but it clearly demonstrates the ineffectiveness of words that have zero persuasive power. The words were loud, but completely wasted. Wisdom would choose fewer and gentler words to penetrate the hearts and minds of people, not bullying or manipulation. Wise words lead people to think, reflect, and willingly change.
Third, we must learn the most important rule of communication: know your audience. The writers of the New Testament knew this, which is why many books acknowledge the recipients. Knowing your audience impacts your choice of words. To the Jews, Paul addressed the old covenant, grace, and the law. To the new Christians in pagan Rome, he spoke about morality and the doctrine of salvation. To the young churches springing up around the region, he discussed Christian conduct and foundational theology. Who you are addressing should affect the words you use.
To use a contemporary example, I often hear or read Christians arguing with non-believers about politicized topics, like abortion, economics, or sexuality, by quoting the Bible. Many of these people completely reject the Bible, so the good seed falls on hard ground and dies. They will, however, often respond to things like logic and science. So if I’m discussing abortion with a non-Christian, I’m not starting with the Jeremiah argument of “I knew you before I formed you in the womb” (Jeremiah 1:5). Instead, I’ll talk about ultrasounds. I won’t ask, “Don’t you know that God hates hands that shed innocent blood?” (Proverbs 6:17) I will ask, “Do you really believe a child is not a person until his or her birth?” For those who reject the authority of scripture, but revere science and logic, these are powerful, persuasive arguments. But before you can influence someone’s thinking, you have to know who you are talking to.
Fourth, wise words are nourishing (Proverbs 10:12). That means they feed the soul. We all know people whose words drain us, leaving us parched and exhausted. Christians are not to be these people. The Hebrew verb we translate “nourish” or “encourage” literally means “to pasture, tend, graze, or feed.” It’s the same word used in the 23rd Psalm: “The Lord is my shepherd.” A more literal translation of that phrase is “God tends to me.”
These are the kinds of words we must learn to speak. Our language must feed the souls of those we encounter. They must give life. They shouldn’t wear people out; they should make them want more. Of course, there will always be those who do not have “ears to hear,” but we don’t measure the wisdom of our words by whether someone receives them. We measure them by the standard of scripture and inspiration of the Spirit. Those words, when received, will bring people closer to God and help them look more like Christ.
Finally, sometimes the wisest words are those not spoken. It’s tempting to talk even when we have nothing to say. This never does any good. We must learn when to be quiet. “Even fools are thought wise when they keep silent; with their mouths shut, they seem intelligent” (Proverbs 17:28). When we are led by the Spirit, we should speak boldly and confidently. But when there is no leading, we shouldn’t try to fill the gap.
Creating a habit of wielding wise words makes us more effective as we make God more attractive to people. “The tongue can bring death or life” (Proverbs 18:21). May we pursue His wisdom so that our words will bring life.