Talk Is Cheap

Talk Is Cheap
By: J. B. Hixson, Ph.D.

Like a flitting sparrow, like a flying swallow, so a curse without cause shall not alight. (Proverbs 26:2)

When people are angry they will say almost anything. The tongue is hard enough to tame under normal conditions, but anger does something to the brain that causes us to replace common sense statements with hyperbolic declarations. Not just anger, but any emotion can have a negative impact on our ability to reason. Emotions are no friend of rationality.

My mom, like most moms, was the queen of exaggeration. When I was growing up, she would say things like, “Get off that table right now, before you fall and break every bone in your body!” Now, needless to say, the chances of a six-year-old breaking every bone in his body as a result of a three-foot fall are pretty slim. Yet in the emotion of the moment, such a statement somehow made sense to a frustrated mother trying to get her son to stop misbehaving.

I have been guilty myself of making absurd statements without thinking them through. We do not always mean exactly what we say. Words mean things, but sometimes their meaning is lost in the fog of emotionalism. In Proverbs 26:2, Solomon addresses such meaningless speech. He writes, “Like a flitting sparrow, like a flying swallow, so a curse without cause shall not alight.” In Solomon's time it was commonly believed that blessings and curses had a life of their own. That is, once they were uttered, words had an innate power.

Solomon disagreed, pointing out that the impact of a blessing or a curse depends on the power of the one behind it. For example, when Balak, the King of Moab, hired Balaam to curse Israel, Balaam could not curse what God had blessed (Numbers 23:8). Solomon’s proverb underscores the futility of superstition. If someone curses another person, such cursing is meaningless apart from God’s divine sanction.

We may not have a superstitious view of words the way they did in Solomon’s day, but some things never change. It seems to me that many of our words spend their existence flitting around in space with no place to land because they were idle or meaningless words in the first place, born out of feelings not fact. Empty words can be very dangerous because they will keep coming back to haunt you. They are like little metal balls that bounce around inside a pinball machine, except they never make their way to the hole and stop ricocheting off the bumpers.

Jesus said, “But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment.” (Matthew 12:36) The Greek word for idle that Jesus uses here literally means “free from labor” or “lazy.” It implies words spoken in haste without being thought through. It refers to impulsive words—words that hang out there in space doing continual damage to others.

Our challenge as believers is to say things that are edifying and encouraging to others. Talk is cheap. Edifying speech, on the other, hand is priceless. Solomon reminds us, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.” (Proverbs 25:11) The Apostle Paul used a different metaphor to express the value of meaningful words. He wrote, “Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt. . .” (Colossians 4:6) We have all heard of “colorful” speech. The real question is, how flavorful is our speech?

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