There is a unifying theme that threads throughout the whole of Proverbs, and it’s the idea that there is a distinction between the way the righteous and the wicked live their lives, as well as between the outcome of those lifestyles.
Proverbs 18 pinpoints the power of words as it plays a huge part in this overarching contrast between righteousness and wickedness - or more specifically, between wisdom and foolishness. The majority of its verses emphasize that there are not only consequences to what we speak, but also to how, when, and why we speak. Proverbs 18 teaches that our words obviously say something about the subject we’re speaking on, but even more than that, they say something about us and our character. I can use my mouth to promote, pursue, and demonstrate wisdom, or I can use it to make a fool of myself.
I think it’s really interesting that the very first verse of Proverbs 18 sets a very relational tone. It shouldn’t be surprising, though, considering the purpose of speech is to communicate and interact with people outside of ourselves. But this verse says something we often don’t like to hear in our individual-oriented culture: “Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment” (v. 1). The ESV Study Bible notes that “‘whoever isolates himself’ translates a Hebrew word that refers to someone who is either reclusive or divisive.”
We don’t often think of reclusiveness as being dangerous on the scale that divisiveness is, but we can see here that Scripture doesn’t see much of a difference between the two. Antisocial lifestyles prevent community from functioning in the beneficial and edifying way it’s meant to. We can be antisocial by diving good community as well as by diminishing good community. This is no small matter, according to Proverbs 18, because good community is the fountainhead of wisdom and of righteous living. When we neglect to be involved in wise relationships, we are subjecting ourselves instead to our own direction, which is usually distorted by our own selfish desires. This is why our speech is so important. We either use it in wisdom to pursue and maintain these relationships, or we use it foolishly to divide and neglect them.
Of course it is important - essential, even - that we are in relationship with others who model a life of wisdom with their actions as much as their words, but just as words are weightless without actions, actions are meaningless without words. We are edified by actions when we know where they come from and why they are performed. This edification happens when we approach wise people around us and actively glean from them. Because of this, we cannot afford to underestimate the power of our own words or the words we choose to consume in our pursuit of righteousness and godly relationship.
One verse that really stands out to me in this area and theme of Proverbs 18 is verse 13, which I personally find to be really convicting: “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.” I’ve heard a similar statement even from the secular world. It says something along the lines of, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand. They listen with the intent to reply.” It’s easy for us to read this verse - and even this quote - and think of someone we know who is guilty of such a thing, but I think we’d be hard-pressed to look within our own lives and not see this sinful trait pop up at some point or other. I know I can. Even when the reply I hastily give is a good reply, and I’m speaking something edifying, it is unwise and sinfully prideful of me to assume that I know the answer to something before I even understand the question. When we use speech unwisely in such ways, we nullify the good that our words could do if we spoke them in the right time and the right manner.
These verses pair with the other verses in this chapter (especially 10, 15, and 17-23) to push this idea further and emphasize that there is a very real difference between wisdom and foolishness when it comes to speech. And there is a very real difference in consequence to both kinds of speech. We may live in a society that glorifies isolation and the ideas of the individual, but if we walk in the way that Scripture promotes, we will instead value communal wisdom, loving correction, and personal humility. Proverbs 18:20-21 states, "From the fruit of a man’s mouth his stomach is satisfied; he is satisfied by the yield of his lips. Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits."
Jessica Ray is a native to the Appalachian mountains of Asheville, NC. She has been a lover of literature since elementary school and a lover of Christ since high school. She is currently pursuing an English degree that she hopes will help her more effectively minister to others through written words. Her favorite things on earth are chai tea, old books, autumn leaves, British history, dry humor, and rainy weather. She’s propelled by a passion for learning and demonstrating how the Gospel, objective truth, and sound theology are not only applicable but essential to all aspects of life as a woman in a world that celebrates sin, false doctrine, and self-sufficiency.