“The highway of the upright turns aside from evil; whoever guards his way preserves his life. Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”
Proverbs repeatedly paints the picture of two paths: one path leading to life and the other path leading to destruction. In this verse Solomon paints that picture using the metaphor of “the highway.” The wise person pays attention to the path he is on, and is careful to “guard his way,” thereby preserving his life. He takes the highway that bypasses evil.
The implication is that the foolish person is careless about what path he takes. He travels a highway that leads to wrong places, and he associates with people who do wrong things. But because the fool is arrogant and self-centered, he doesn’t see the danger of the path he is on. He is blinded by his arrogance, Destruction is coming, but he doesn’t see it. He is self-deceived.
A few verses later, Solomon says this: “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death” (Proverbs 16.25). When we arrogantly and pridefully reject God’s truth, when we insist on going our own way, we are actually headed toward death.
“Whoever gives thought to the matter will discover good, and blessed is he who trusts in the Lord.”
This verse gives straightforward, practical advice. Before taking action or speaking, wise people pause and think. They aren’t impulsive. They don’t react thoughtlessly. They evaluate and assess a situation or statement before responding. And they trust God. Their thinking includes prayer and knowledge of God’s word.
“The wise of heart is called discerning, and sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness.”
This verse is similar to the previous one in that it describes wise people who think before acting or speaking. The wise of heart are discerning. They see situations clearly and evaluate the statements that people make, and then they respond carefully and persuasively. Not everyone can be persuaded, of course, but wise people are able to reach those who are reachable.
Proverbs 16.23-24 has more to say on this: “The heart of the wise makes his speech judicious and adds persuasiveness to his lips. Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.”
Note that gracious, judicious, and persuasive speech comes from the heart of the wise. The wise person speaks from a wise heart, and his words are therefore gracious and helpful. He encourages the hearts of others. His words help and heal.
The foolish person speaks from a foolish heart, and his words are therefore damaging and harmful. He seeks to tear down, criticize, manipulate, and deceive. He doesn’t want to help, he wants to hurt. His words discourage and do damage to others.
In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus literally speaks to the heart of this issue. “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks,” the Lord says. “The good man out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil man out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. I tell you, on the day of judgment men will render account for every careless word they utter; for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned." (Mt 12.34-37)
In other words, what we say is the fruit of what is on our heart. Before you say anything externally, you have first cultivated it in your heart. Every conversation you have is with yourself, and occasionally you include others. We speak from the treasure of our heart. If we nurture and cultivate our new nature in Christ (wisdom), then we will speak in a way that reflects Christ. But if we feed and cultivate our old nature (foolishness), then we will speak in a way that reflects sin and self-centeredness.
As always, it is a heart issue. If you desire to be gracious in your words, you must first guard your heart. Our words reveal the true condition of our heart. You sometimes hear someone say, "He really spoke from the heart." The truth is, we always speak from the heart. This is why Paul admonishes us in Ephesians 4 to put off the old nature (which has a heart for sin) and put on the new nature (which has a heart for God). It is a constant battle.
Here is a simple discipline you can build into your life that will help be more judicious in your words. Before you speak, press pause and ask yourself:
Does it align with God’s standards?
Does it help achieve a goal or solve a problem?
Does it make the situation better?
May you be discerning and judicious in what you say. My your heart be wise and your words be gracious. What comes from the heart, touches the heart.
Psalm 19 provides a most appropriate closing prayer: "Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer."