We don’t always think about words as having “weight,” but they do – whether they represent “weighty” thoughts or not. Putting this fact another way, although we may sometimes use the expression “all words and no action,” the truth is that all words are actions that create reactions. That is why, in the expression used in Proverbs, the heart (mind) of the righteous weighs its answers before speaking them.
We all understand that just because something comes into our mind doesn’t mean it should come out of our mouths, yet most of us fall down in this area to some degree. Perhaps because there is more of a time-lag involved, we tend to do better in what we write. How many times have you typed an email or text message and then thought better of it, or at least made changes before clicking “send”? Yet the spoken word seems to occur at closer to the speed of light – no sooner do we think something than all too often we hear ourselves saying it. But it doesn’t have to be that way. We can learn to stop and weigh our words before speaking them if we choose.
We weigh physical things such as recipe ingredients on a scale to make sure they are enough for what is needed, but not too much. Weighing our words is the same because we can err by saying too much or too little.
On the one hand, we can err in not saying enough – in not verbalizing appreciation in our lives (Psalm 107:8-9, etc.), in not speaking up to help others when we should (Proverbs 31:9, etc.), and in many other ways. Matthew 18:15 alerts us to one of those situations: “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.” If we fail to do this, we fail in our relationship. Weighing our words involves thinking about this kind of thing – asking ourselves if we have said what we should say in a given situation.
On the other hand, saying more than we should is an even more common problem – and often the most serious. Once again, there are numerous ways this can occur.
Sometimes saying too much is just a matter of too many words. As the book of Proverbs puts it, “When words are many, transgression is not lacking but whoever restrains his lips is prudent” (Proverbs 10:19). Depending on the circumstances, not saying too much may even mean not saying anything at all – as Proverbs also tells us: “Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue” (Proverbs 17:28) – a thought that is sometimes humorously worded “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and to remove all doubt.” But although not speaking at all may only apply in occasional and extreme situations, the Bible does stress that we should “Avoid godless chatter” (2 Timothy 2:16), and this may be an area in which we should all weigh our words.
Sometimes saying too much is not just about the number of words spoken, of course, but about the harmful nature of even a few words spoken in anger or frustration. We have all heard the advice to “count to ten” before saying something when we are angry or upset, but counting may just be delaying our reaction. What we really need is to weigh the words before they are spoken – to assess the probable results before we speak – and that’s what Proverbs 15:28 is specifically talking about.
We may understand that relationships are often broken or damaged when things are said that are better left unsaid, but such “unweighed” words do not just include hurtful things such as unjust criticisms or angry retaliations; they can also include gossip, lies and exaggerations that hurt others (Psalm 34:13). Although we may not think of it this way, the use of irreverent, vulgar, or profane speech can also hurt both ourselves and others. That is why the apostle Paul urged, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:29).
There are even other circumstances where not weighing our words can lead to problems, not through saying something wrong, but perhaps through committing to do things we can’t or don’t do, for example. The book of Ecclesiastes tells us in this regard that: “It is better not to make a vow than to make one and not fulfill it. Do not let your mouth lead you into sin” (Ecclesiastes 5:5-6).
In these and many other ways we can fall down spiritually if we do not think about what we say before we say it. That may be difficult for most of us, but it’s why we should strive to weigh our words continually. As the apostle James wrote: “my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak …” (James 1:19 ESV), and we should never forget the warning that Jesus himself gave: “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak” (Matthew 12:36). If we need one, that’s a very good reason to weigh our words before, rather than after, they are spoken.