When we speak, we are to speak with wisdom, knowledge and discernment. Today in the public environment, there are too many words and too little wisdom. Not much or nothing is accomplished by turgid and foolish speech. The news programs often give us a taste of the foolishness of the tongue.
Wisdom means the willingness to listen to the rede (counsel) of the wise and to receive their reproof, the power to discern right from wrong, the capability of giving good advice, and a deep understanding of the motivations of other people and an accurate appraisal of their moral character. Most of all, the wise know that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. (Proverbs 1: 7) The Law of the Lord is wisdom. The wise stand opposite scoffers, fools, and the wicked. (See Proverbs 1) Fools hate wisdom and instruction. (Proverbs 1: 7b) In Proverbs Solomon writes, “For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding; he stores up sound wisdom for the upright; he is a shield to those who walk in integrity, guarding the paths of justice and watching over the way of his saints, (Proverbs 2: 6-8)
Knowledge differs from wisdom in that its meaning has more to do with the grasp of a body of information and its interpretation. A fool may have knowledge on a subject, but not wisdom. The wise one may have wisdom but little knowledge. Recognizing their limited knowledge on a subject, the wise seek out that knowledge so that they may be informed on a matter of concern and debate. For example, the wise do not expound on a subject like the crusades witihout studying the crusades. The wise admit their ignorance and rectify it. There exists a difference between being ignorant on a topic and simply being ignorant.
Wisdom invites us to receive her words (Proverbs 1). We are fools if we do not. I have said earlier not to call people names, but if a term fits we may use it advisedly and wisely. The fact is there are people who are foolish in the thoughts of their hearts and minds and the conduct of their lives. Proverbs advises, “Do not speak in the hearing of a fool, for he will despise the good sense of your words.” (Proverbs 23: 9 ESV) We need to remember this when we are in a situation where any wisdom we may speak falls on unheeding ears. We must also remember that not all we say is wisdom; some of our words may be foolishness. We must be aware of this possibility and attend carefully to our speech.
To be wise is to be spare in our speech. The Book of James, akin to wisdom literature, deals with the taming of the tongue. The text on the tongue begins with a warning that many should not become teachers, for teachers will be judged more strictly and then comments, “For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body” (James 3: 2 ESV) The tongue is “a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” (James 3: 8 ESV) In his Rule Saint Benedict admonishes what we are to do and not to do regarding the tongue, “To guard one’s tongue against evil and depraved speech. Not to love much talking. Not to speak useless words or words that move to laughter. Not to love much or boisterous laughter.” Saint Benedict, The Rule, Chapter 4, translated by Leonard Doyle. The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota, 2001, p. 35. Fewer words often prevent evil and depraved speech. Laughter is a good thing, but should not lead to frivolity.
The Christian apologist and witness is wise and knowledgeable in his speech and spare in his words. In this way, he is much more effective in his testimony about Christ. Let us remember, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever! (Psalm 111: 10 ESV)
MIchael G. Tavella
January 14, 2020
Eivind Berggrav, Bishop of Oslo, 1959