“Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few” (Ecclesiastes 5:2).
Words. Gotta love ’em. Gotta hate ’em. One day they lift you up; the next day they plunge you into deep despair. They can heal; they can hurt. They can encourage; they can discourage. It is no wonder God’s Word talks about our use of words so much. No wonder Proverbs 18:21 reminds us, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.”
The above passage from Ecclesiastes relates to the promises we make to God. We are told the foolishness of using our words to make vows to God. He is the ultimate promise keeper; we are not. After all, “God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent, has He said, and will He not do? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?” (Numbers 23:19). God always speaks truth. God always keeps His promises.
Man…not so much. Oh we may mean well many times, but we are by nature people of unclean lips. James reminds us, “…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).
Can you bridle your whole body? I know I can’t. I can’t even keep my hand from reaching into the cookie jar for the third (or maybe this is the 4th?) cookie! And before you, yeah, you, the one nibbling on your healthy carrot stick like a good little bunny, get all holier than thou on me, I’ll let you in on a not-so-secret secret. No one is perfect. Sure, you may be able to say no to cookies (although I don’t know why you’d want to), but I can guarantee you’ve succumbed at least once, if not many times, to the tantalizing sin of unwholesome speech. For as it is written, “None is righteous, no, not one…” (Romans 3:10). And anyone who thinks he does not sin, “we make him [God] a liar, and his word is not in us” (1 John 1:10).
According to the Oxford Dictionary website, “The Second Edition of the 20-volume Oxford English Dictionary contains full entries for 171,476 words in current use, and 47,156 obsolete words” (see full article here ). That is a lot of words. Yet throughout the Bible–which is God’s Word–we are encouraged to let our words be few. Jesus Himself tells us we will be held accountable for every idle word we speak (Matthew 12:36-37). Proverbs reminds us in the multitude of words, sin is not lacking (Proverbs 10:19) and “the fool’s mouth is his ruin” (Proverbs 18:7). James spends a chapter warning us about the power and unruliness of our tongues. He also reminds every person to be “quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19).
Basically, God’s Word continually reminds us to limit our words. Really limit them. This can be a difficult pill to swallow for those of us with a propensity for prolific writing. Yet the One who created each of us, the One who knows well our sinful tendencies, fills His Word with apt reminders that it is better to remain silent than to speak and regret what we’ve said.
During a breakfast conversation with a wise woman of God, the godly woman commented she is careful what she does and says because she doesn’t want to have to say she’s sorry. She did not mean this in a prideful way–like she just doesn’t like to say she’s sorry even if she’s wrong. Rather, she knows if she does overstep her bounds, God’s Holy Spirit will surely let her know, and she’ll surely have to make amends. Indeed, the best way to prevent having to apologize is to be careful and wise in what we do and say from the get-go.
We need to let our words be few for our ears to hear what His Spirit is saying.
Now even though you are probably chuckling to yourself by now at the plethora of words I am subjecting you to as I discuss the importance of our words being few, I must continue because God did reveal to me another aspect of this passage in Ecclesiastes. Here it is: in addition to being careful how much we say, I also believe we need to be careful with the words we use when we choose to use them.
Since I am a writer, I love to use words, words, and more words. And I love variety. I actually recently compared my use of words to a waterfall–I can pour them out–lots of them–all at once. Some people I know, on the other hand, use words more sparingly, like a bubbling brook. Of course, both the waterfall and the brook are majestic, refreshing, and display God’s creative beauty, for God uniquely designed me to display His beauty one way, and He uniquely designed you another way. Yet regardless of whether our words are fast, furious, and overflowing like a waterfall or slow, methodical, and bubbling like a brook, I believe God still asks that our words be few.
Think about it. It’s not that we are to keep our mouths completely shut. God gave us words. Speech is an aspect of His creative character. God Himself uses speech. He spoke us into being! We must speak if we are to share God’s Truth to a world in need. We must open our mouths in order to encourage one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (Colossians 3:16).
Nevertheless, as I said, the key is our words must be few. Our words. Not His Word.
What makes a waterfall a sight to behold? Is it not all the fresh, clean water cascading over the hillside, causing a refreshing mist of water to rise up? Then when the sun hits the mist, a beautiful rainbow appears. Even the sound of the waters pouring over the banks and crashing into the rocks below allows the observer to drown out the cares of the world for a moment.
The same goes for the brook. The sight of the glistening water invites me to take my shoes off and sink my bare feet into its shallow depths. My soul is revived as I observe the peaceful ripples of the water meandering over the stones and pebbles.
But what if that water were polluted? What if the water were brown, dirty, and emitting a foul odor? Not so majestic, huh? I’d be running from the waterfall, not basking in its beauty. And there is no way I’d ever consider sticking my feet into a murky mess.
So I believe this verse in Ecclesiastes reminds anyone (yes, anyone) who uses words to use our words–our human, broken, dirty words–sparingly. Instead of using our words based on our finite human nature, we are to speak God’s eternal, life-giving Word. After all, God’s Word alone is pure. His Word. Not my words. Not your words. If we want to reflect God’s wonder and majesty on this earth, if any of us want to truly honor Him, then we indeed must let our words be few. Our words must decrease so His may increase.
Now how do we do this? How do we use our words less and His more?
Well, first we must know His Word. We cannot use what we do not have. We must read it, meditate on it, memorize it, speak it, and pray it. We must “treasure” His Word in our hearts that we may not sin against Him (Psalm 119:11). We must pray like David for God to “set a guard…over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips! (Psalm 141:3).
God’s Word reminds us, “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45). Therefore as we fill our hearts with His Word, we will find ourselves speaking it as well. We will discover God’s words pouring forth, “building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29). We will find our speech becoming “gracious, seasoned with salt” (Colossians 4:6). We will see the fruit of our lips giving thanks to His Name because what will be flowing from our mouths won’t be dirty, human wisdom but pure, godly wisdom (Hebrews 13:5). Our words will indeed be few, but God’s Word will be in abundance.
And we know where God’s Word is, there is power, there is life, there is hope, and there is promise. So join me today in asking God for the grace not only to speak less and listen more, but also that when we do speak, we won’t speak our words, but His Word–His powerful, life-giving, soul-changing Word.
“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:10-11)