Word Useage

Words from a wise man’s mouth are gracious, but fools are consumed by their own lips.  At the beginning their words are folly; at the end they are wicked madness—and fools multiply words.  Ecclesiastes 10:12, 13.


The word “but” is a comparative word, signaling a contrast or new direction.  In modern English we get what I’m going to call “the hard” comparisons where the contrast is obvious—a this-versus-that scenario.  I’ve noticed, however, Solomon’s contrasts are more descriptive and less obvious.

So if the wise use words tempered by grace, it follows that fools do not.  The hard contrast here cannot be missed really because the word “but” makes sure we see there is one.  At the same time what we are given is not the hard contrast but the wise person’s gracious words versus the fool’s outcome—consumed by their own lips.  Solomon then spends more time describing the fool’s use of words than he does the wise.

I looked up the word gracious and found it consistently used in both the KJV and NIV, although it can also be translated favor in another context.  In this context the translators used gracious intentionally since a wise man doesn’t always grant favor but does use gracious language.  What this means for the hard contrast then is the fool doesn’t use or seek to use gracious language and is consumed by the lack of grace in their interaction.  The wise set out to be full of grace and use words carefully so as to be certain of their reception or the listener’s grasp of the meaning.

If we were to paraphrase the last sentence a bit, it might go somewhat like this:  When fools start to speak the very words they use are silly, frivolous and ungracious; when they finish speaking the point of their conversation ends up being detrimental and devious.  And they use a lot of words either to disguise their intentions or to convince whoever is listening.  The intent for them is to get their way not to do what is best.  If we work or live around someone who constantly demonstrates a lack of concern for others and generally doesn’t care who they offend, we must be aware and beware of what could happen as a result of any interaction with them.

Of all the types of people we encounter as followers of Jesus the fool/careless person is the hardest to live around.  What’s strangely consistent is that these people permeate the church to a degree that they become the squeaky wheel rather than just an annoying subculture.  Not only are they careless in their words in the body of Christ but continue to “witness” to this attitude with full intensity outside it as well.  I’d say any negative rep the church has in the world stems mostly from the fools within it who use words to manipulate, subjugate and generally dominate others.

James called for the church to gain godly wisdom, proclaiming as one of its main ingredients being considerate (see James 3:17).  A follower of Jesus who submits to the lesson of the cross submits to the character of the Master.  Being considerate is an outgrowth of peace-loving and results in being full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.

In full disclosure I have been the inconsiderate follower of Jesus.  Was I sincere in my desire?  Yup!  But I was (and still am in many ways) a fool.  I have hurt people and the rep of Jesus by being overbearing, pushy with my ideas and stingy with grace and mercy.  As hard as I try to be considerate, the moment I open my mouth to instruct someone I find long practiced habits take over without constant vigilance beforehand over my thoughts.  If I disagree with someone—even a fellow believer, it becomes apparent what my thought life is when I speak ungraciously.

We are all fools to one degree or another.  We all damage the reputation of Christ in the world by our behavior and sinful nature affecting our attitude and beliefs.  Unfortunately, if we are going to be growing Christians who deny the old nature for the new, we will fail to represent the Master properly.  It’s futile to believe anyone escapes this fool category for we are all simply too steeped in past habits and affected by the scars to be anything but fallible.

Sounds hopeless, huh?

What is impossible with man is possible with God.

Do we think God is surprised by the failure of the church to represent Him right?  Do we believe that if we just tweaked our message enough, we would be better witnesses?  Do we truly buy into the teaching that somehow we are going to get over our sin this side of glorification?

If you said “yes” to any of those questions, you have been fooled by the worst of the devil’s lies.

A child grows in stages of development not from full knowledge or experience but through incremental gains in both.  A believer is rightly called a newborn child of God at baptism, which should carry the weight of experiencing the corporeal growth as a metaphor for the spiritual.  We develop our understanding by failing and getting back up again to retry until we do it right by habit.  I don’t know anyone who is the epitome of Christ-like behavior or teaching—as if I would recognize it anyway given the bias we all share.  I am also not recommending any sort of throwing in the towel because that means an early death or a miserable life—neither of which speak from the heart of God.

Jesus promised an abundant life for those who followed His teaching.  To reiterate a point I’ve made before (sorry if I appear to harp on this) Jesus never said the truth by itself would set us free but “IF you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.  Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”  John 8:32.  The world quotes this verse but leaves Jesus out of it; we Christians often quote it and leave Jesus’ teachings out of it too.  The world implies that there is some magical liberating component to truth itself— though not exactly an altogether wrong notion it’s not accurate either.  Knowing truth means light has shined on a dark subject revealing the reality hidden.  Understanding the truth will free us up to stop worrying about the unknown probably, but it doesn’t exactly follow that we will find less to be worried about in the long run.

Slavery for many people is a truth.  For instance the recent news of three women being held captive for more than a decade reveals how true this fact is.  The realization that they were sex slaves didn’t and never would set them free, although grasping the reality of it probably saved them a beating or few.  No amount of acknowledging their truth held any liberty in it for them at all.

Christ’s discipline is not about reward punishment rather it points to a practice of right/healthy living.  God designed the product (our bodies and psyche) and then wrote the operation manual.  Stepping outside that design is like pouring Coke on a computer keyboard—one can do it but shouldn’t complain when the known outcome happens.  Understanding what being a disciple is frees us to live our lives in ever increasing growth while experiencing setbacks, failures and generally being human.  While these negative experiences and attitudes might interfere with our goal of being like our Master they are simply obstacles which discipleship helps us address.

Anything outside the character of Jesus is foolishness, therefore being Christ-like is wisdom.  Jesus came to deliver us from foolishness; sin is foolish, make no mistake about it.  The wise use words which are gracious, I believe, precisely because they know what the alternative means.  Most wise people have been fools often enough to avoid it—if not out of wisdom exactly, then out of self-preservation.  God promises an abundant life IF we hold to the teachings of Jesus.  Only then will we know the truth and be set free.

The word most people miss is disciple, which points to following and adhering to the disciplines of the teaching.  A discipline is a practice one follows into a habit so that it becomes second nature rather than planned.  The freedom therefore must come from the continued practice of Jesus teachings.  Yet, later Jesus told the disciples (another derivative of the word “discipline”) “You can do nothing of yourselves; just like branches cannot bear fruit without being attached to the vine itself.”  He is the vine, we are the branches.  He provides the spiritual sap; we bear the fruit.  But notice we do something as a result of our attachment to Him.

The word “gracious” is a derivative of the root “grace”.  This means the wise are full of grace and their language reflects it.  The mouth speaks what the heart thinks; it naturally follows gracious words must emanate from grace filled thoughts.  Fools don’t think of grace so naturally it cannot be part of their vocabulary.  If you meet a Christ-follower who practices ungracious language, most likely they are either young in the Lord or not steeped in the discipline of Christ.  Christ is full of grace and mercy.  He did not come into the world to condemn it.  His intention was and is to save the world through His teachings and actions—the cross and resurrection.


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