Words of Wisdom

14 Whoever blesses his neighbor with a loud voice,
    rising early in the morning,
    will be counted as cursing.
15 A continual dripping on a rainy day
    and a quarrelsome wife are alike;
16 to restrain her is to restrain the wind
    or to grasp oil in one’s right hand.
17 Iron sharpens iron,
    and one man sharpens another.
18 Whoever tends a fig tree will eat its fruit,
    and he who guards his master will be honored.
19 As in water face reflects face,
    so the heart of man reflects the man.
20 Sheol and Abaddon are never satisfied,
    and never satisfied are the eyes of man.
21 The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold,
    and a man is tested by his praise.
22 Crush a fool in a mortar with a pestle
    along with crushed grain,
    yet his folly will not depart from him.

23 Know well the condition of your flocks,
    and give attention to your herds,
24 for riches do not last forever;
    and does a crown endure to all generations?
25 When the grass is gone and the new growth appears
    and the vegetation of the mountains is gathered,
26 the lambs will provide your clothing,
    and the goats the price of a field.
27 There will be enough goats’ milk for your food,
    for the food of your household
    and maintenance for your girls. – Proverbs 27:14-27 ESV

Words matter because they provide a great barometer for measuring the condition of a man’s heart. They are the outward manifestation of one’s inner spiritual state and serve as powerful indicators of heart health.  Jesus put it this way:

“A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. What you say flows from what is in your heart.” – Luke 6:45 NLT

And the apostle James echoed the words of Jesus but added his own description of just how dangerous and deadly the tongue can be.

…but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

With the tongue we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, this should not be! Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? – James 3:8-11 BSB

So, it is no wonder that Solomon’s collection of wise sayings has a great deal to say about the tongue and the vital role it plays in all our human interactions. It seems that the tongue has an almost unique capacity to cause joy or pain. With the tongue, we can lift a person up or tear them down. We can compliment or we can complain. We can use it to do good or a great deal of damage. And only a wise person knows how to wield the tongue correctly. When it comes to the tongue, timing is everything. The right thing said at the wrong time can end up producing a bad outcome.

A loud and cheerful greeting early in the morning
    will be taken as a curse! – Proverbs 27:14 NLT

Knowing what to say and when to say it is vital if one wants their speech to be effective.

A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver. – Proverbs 25:11 ESV

It takes godly wisdom to know when to speak up and when to shut up. And it requires discernment to know when you’ve said too much.

A quarrelsome wife is as annoying
    as constant dripping on a rainy day.
Stopping her complaints is like trying to stop the wind
    or trying to hold something with greased hands. – Proverbs 27:15-16 NLT

There may be ample reasons for a wife to complain about her husband’s behavior. She may have every right to express her dissatisfaction with his treatment of her, but this proverb describes a woman who persistently and unrelentingly nags her husband. Her words have become caustic and unproductive. Rather than changing her husband’s behavior, she ends up driving him away. But Proverbs 31 describes a very different kind of woman who uses her wisdom and her speech to produce a very different outcome.

She is clothed with strength and dignity,
    and she laughs without fear of the future.
When she speaks, her words are wise,
    and she gives instructions with kindness. – Proverbs 31:25-26 NLT

The tongue can be a helpful resource for lifting up and encouraging others. For a person with wisdom, it can be a powerful tool for transforming the lives of friends and enemies alike.

As iron sharpens iron,
    so a friend sharpens a friend. – Proverbs 27:17 NLT

Praise is a powerful commodity but it should be used wisely and sparingly. Too much praise can produce pride. Too little praise can result in resentment and bitterness. Everyone needs to hear words of praise on occasion, but when it is given it must be sincere and well-deserved. False praise is nothing more than lying. Praising someone who has an addiction to praise can be destructive. Failing to praise someone who is deserving of praise is ultimately selfish and like stealing what is rightfully theirs.

The writer of Proverbs 27 knows the power of praise and warns us about it.

Fire tests the purity of silver and gold,
    but a person is tested by being praised. – Proverbs 27:21 NLT

Like fire, praise can do much good, but it can also be dangerous if treated flippantly or foolishly. He warns us against self-praise, which is basically bragging. Nobody likes to be around a braggart, yet we’re all guilty of it at times. We want others to know our accomplishments and to be impressed with our exploits. Self-praise can be as simple as hanging all your diplomas on the wall of your office for everyone to see. If it is meant to impress, it is self-praise, and self-praise is never attractive.

Self-praise can be as innocent as fishing for compliments by chumming the water with stories of your good deeds. It is manipulative and unattractive to watch. We are warned, “Let someone else praise you, not your own mouth – a stranger, not your own lips” (Proverbs 27:2 NLT).

One of the hard realities of life is that the lack of praise we experience may be the result of us having done nothing praise-worthy. But it could also be that any praises we receive are meant for the ears of others. Those praising us may be telling our boss or supervisor. They may be praising us to their friends. We may not hear it, but we benefit from their praise just the same. If we HAVE to hear praise to benefit from it, our motivation needs to be questioned.

How we receive praise reveals much about us. “A person is tested by being praised” (Proverbs 27:21b NLT). In other words, if praise tends to make us proud and puffed up, it is exposing a heart problem. It is showing us that we have a character flaw. We crave praise. We are addicted to praise. We are motivated by praise.

If we don’t receive it, we lose our motivation. We become like an actor who loses his love of acting because he fails to receive the applause he thinks he so richly deserves. At that point, he is acting for the applause, not because he loves to act. If we require the praise of others to make us do what God requires of us, we are doing it for the wrong reason. Doing good deeds in exchange for praise turns our efforts into nothing more than a job. It becomes little more than energy expended in exchange for payment. But we are to do good deeds out of the motivation to honor God. Our efforts are for His praise and glory, not our own. Any praise we receive is an extra-added bonus. It is to be like a sacrifice. Those who brought sacrifices to God did not receive applause from the crowd standing around them. Their effort was what was expected of them as servants of God.

But praise is not a sin. It is a vital part of doing life together as human beings. The key is that praise is something to be given and not sought. It is like a commodity we have that is to be shared with others, sparingly and wisely. Too much praise, like too much honey, can make the other person sick. When it comes to praise, you can have too much of a good thing. And man’s love for praise can become insatiable.

Just as Death and Destruction are never satisfied,
    so human desire is never satisfied. – Proverbs 27:20 NLT

Praising a child for anything and everything can end up making them proud, arrogant, and addicted to praise. When they grow up and don’t receive it, they will become angry, resentful, and begin to question their own self-worth. Too little praise can be destructive as well. Withholding praise is nothing short of cruel. It is like refusing to pay an employee for a job well done. But for some of us, words of praise are difficult to produce. Maybe it’s because we failed to hear them as children. We are unaccustomed to hearing words of praise. But words of encouragement can be a gift we give to those in need. They can be like water to a thirsty man – refreshing, reinvigorating, and re-energizing. It takes wisdom to know how to use praise effectively. False praise is disingenuous and deceitful. It’s nothing short of flattery designed to benefit the one giving it. False praise is ultimately self-centered.

Praise is powerful. It has the potential for doing harm and good. So, it is to be used wisely and carefully. It is not something to be sought, but to be given. The praises of men should never be our motivation. Seeking to please God is what should drive us, inspire us, and motivate us. The praises of men, when given, are to be received humbly, gratefully, and with an understanding that the one who really deserves credit for them is God.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

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