There’s a Proverb for That: Shut Your Mouth!

When we talk more than we listen, we can easily suffer very bad consequences. The book of Proverbs provides much advice on knowing when to shut up.

Of all the topics found in the book of Proverbs, one of the most prominent is communication and interaction with other people. After all, wisdom literature that reveals the mysteries of the universe can seem wasted if we don’t also learn how to get along with others. Knowing when to stop talking is paramount to this topic!

“Did he really just say that?”

One of the frequent themes of science fiction is the idea of time travel. But have you ever considered that the human fascination with going back in time is often based on the desire to right past wrongs and prevent mistakes? And often our biggest wrongs and mistakes are the absolutely stupid, hurtful and damaging thing we have said to others.

The key is to work on controlling our mouths before regretful words are even said.Many of our apologies contain the following lines:

  • “I’m sorry for what I said.”
  • “I didn’t mean what I said.”
  • “I said a lot of things that were unfair.”
  • “I can’t believe I just said that; I’m sorry.”

Unfortunately, though we may regret things we have said and though we may apologize, our words cannot be taken back. So the key is to work on controlling our mouths before regretful words are even said. Jesus Christ’s statement that we will be justified or condemned by our words (Matthew 12:37) adds emphasis to the importance of knowing when to “zip it.”

But, thankfully, there’s a proverb for that.

Proverbs and implications

1. Proverbs 10:19: “In the multitude of words sin is not lacking, but he who restrains his lips is wise.”

Short and sweet beats long and boring. This proverb exhorts us to choose our words carefully, and not just talk to hear our own voice. Other proverbs mention how idle chatter leads to poverty (Proverbs 14:23), the righteous study how to answer (Proverbs 15:28) and those with knowledge don’t say everything that comes into their mind (Proverbs 17:27).

Implications: Words chosen carefully, with wisdom and knowledge, do not come angrily flying out a mile a minute. In conversations, exert concentrated effort to stop talking and listen to others. With Facebook postings and other avenues of personal expression, perhaps read some of the proverbs listed above before embarking on a rant or commenting on a thread that will surely lead nowhere good. Ask: “Will any of these words really be beneficial … to anyone?”

2. Proverbs 13:3: “He who guards his mouth preserves his life, but he who opens wide his lips shall have destruction.”

Yes, words can destroy. They can be horrifically negative—wrecking friendships, marriages and even entire civilizations. The words we use should be guarded like a fortress, and we should have total control of what we let out. Other proverbs state how the wise teach their mouths with learning (Proverbs 16:23), while the wicked are ensnared by the transgression of their lips (Proverbs 12:13). Guarding our tongues definitely keeps us out of trouble (Proverbs 21:23).

Implications: Be a mindful talker. Sometimes very little talking is necessary. Other times, no talking is needed at all. We have to control what comes out of our mouths and make sure that it is put through a filter. The laws and principles of God’s Word should be that filter. If something gets out unguarded, we need to immediately clarify, correct, restate or apologize, instead of allowing it to linger and hurt us and others.

3. Proverbs 17:28: “Even a fool is counted wise when he holds his peace; when he shuts his lips, he is considered perceptive.”

This proverb clearly promotes this practice: sometimes we must force ourselves to shut up. Telling others to shut up is rude and doesn’t usually help situations, but routinely telling ourselves mentally to shut up is basic wisdom that shouldn’t be ignored.

Other proverbs describe how sometimes the best reaction to a fool and his folly is to simply not speak or answer (Proverbs 26:4-5; 23:9). Sometimes we should just focus more on understanding (thinking deeply about what others have said and what the proper response should be) than on expressing our own hearts (Proverbs 18:2).

Implications: When we hear or read something that provokes us to a passionate and fiery response—we should wait. Wait 5-10 seconds in conversation, and wait an “hour” or simply “sleep on it” when dealing with social media and emails. There’s nothing worse than realizing how much better off we could have been had we just remained quiet.

Plenty more where those came from

This post just highlights a few of the more than 50 proverbs related to communication. These proverbs have a consistent theme: “Brief, thoughtful communication is better for us and others than lax, unguarded communication.” In other words, sometimes we need to just shut up. When we see our foot flying toward our mouth, remember there’s a proverb for that.

Read the next blog in this series: “Gossipy Gossips and Their Gossip.”

For more insight into communication and controlling our speech, read “Are You Rude?” “Sticks and Stones: 6 Ways to Improve Your Words” and “Compassion Online Is Hard to Find.”  

About the Author

Eddie Foster

Eddie Foster

Eddie Foster was born in Ohio, and after living in several parts of the northeastern United States, he once again lives in the Buckeye State, most likely for good this time. He lives in the Dayton area with his wife, Shannon, and two daughters, Isabella and Marley. They attend the Cincinnati/Dayton congregation of the Church of God, a Worldwide Association.

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