Say Nothing (Proverbs 10:19)
Topic: One Truth: Walk in Truth Passage: Proverbs 10:19
I. The Seriousness of Not Saying?
You may remember, way back in our pre-pandemic world, that our first three Sunday mornings in March were all about the mouth. As we were continuing through our study of the OT book of Proverbs, we heard in chapter 18, verse 21 about the seriousness of saying. Solomon wrote:
Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.
“Death and life... in the power of the tongue”. Pretty sobering, right? That verse led us to consider what Solomon meant when he talked about “life” and our words. So we looked together at Proverbs 10:11 about words that make well, about how “the mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life”.
But we also considered what Solomon had in mind when he talked about death being in “the power of the tongue”. Listen again to the passage we studied as we thought about words that wound. This is Proverbs 11:9-12...
With his mouth the godless man would... destroy his neighbor, but by knowledge the righteous are delivered.  When it goes well with the righteous, the city rejoices, and when the wicked perish there are shouts of gladness.  By the blessing of the upright a city is exalted, but by the mouth of the wicked it is overthrown.  Whoever belittles his neighbor lacks sense, but a man of understanding remains silent.
This morning I'd like that final word of Proverbs 11:12 to be our launching off point. You see, as we just learned from our short review, there is a seriousness to our saying that we don't want to miss or minimize. But in the same way, there is also a seriousness to our NOT saying. Turn over to Proverbs 10, verse 19.
II. The Passage: "Whoever Restrains His Lips" (10:19)
Let me read 10:19, and as I do, think about what this verse teaches us about our mouths, about our words. Solomon tells his son (and God tell us this morning)...
When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.
Like so many of the proverbs in the book of Proverbs, there are two parts to this saying. Let's look at both sides of this proverb and see if we can't get a better sense of what Solomon is saying, and what God might have for us this morning.
Look again at the first of half of verse 19.
1. When Words Are Many (v. 19a)
Solomon writes, “When words are many, transgression is not lacking...”. What might that mean? Well, there are probably a number of ways this saying is true.
In another book (which, most likely, is also by Solomon), we read that “a fool multiplies words” (Ecclesiastes 10:14). In such instances, I think we could say that, first, the more words we use as sinners, the more opportunities we create for sin to express itself. It's like verbal 'Russian roulette'. We're the gun and sin is the bullet. The more you pull the trigger of your words, the greater the likelihood that someone is going to get hurt.
Second, people who talk too much are often talking because something inside them is driving that excessiveness; and that inner issue often leads to both foolish words and choices.
Third, if we combine those first two points, what we hear described in the first half is the exact opposite of what we find in the second half of Proverbs 10:19. We see a person who doesn't know when to be quiet; someone who doesn't know when to stop talking.
When words are many, transgression is not lacking... That's what I like to call a “check yourself before you wreck yourself” proverb. It should drive us to ask, “Do I talk too much? If so, why? And more importantly, do I find that in the multiplication of my words there is also a multiplication of problems, of conflicts, of injuries, of anxieties?” As we read in Proverbs 21:23, Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble.
2. When Words Are Few (v. 19b)
But that leads us to the second half of the proverb:
When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.
Verbal restraint. If you're arrested you'll be told you have the 'right to remain silent'. But what God is reminding us of this morning is that, oftentimes, it is right to remain silent. I love what Proverbs 17:28 tells us about remaining silent...
Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent. [if you think glasses make someone look smarter, try silence]
But all of this may have you asking, “When? When is it right, when is it wise (“prudent”), to remain silent?” That's a wonderful question too few of us ask. I believe there are a number of proverbs scattered throughout this book that can help us to get a better sense of this wisdom in saying nothing, rather than something. For example, think for a minute about...
Silence and Repentance
In Proverbs 30:32, a wise man named Agur shares this with us:
If you have been foolish, exalting yourself, or if you have been devising evil, put your hand on
Do you understand the wisdom of Agur's advice? When is it right, when is it wise to be silent? When you come to recognize that your words are foolish, false, or destructive. In such instances, silence is a fruit of true repentance.
Maybe this morning, God is already stirring your heart about the foolishness and/or hurtfulness of your words. Maybe you feel convicted about a particular relationship. It could be that God has called you to a season of silence in regard to that relationship. Most likely, that doesn't mean you say nothing. But it could mean that, if your communication is routinely hurtful, you'll have to limit that communication for a time. If that's the case, be sure to find a way to let that person know what God is doing in your heart. But a scenario like that naturally leads us to consider...
Silence and Pondering
King Solomon reveals this about silence:
The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things. [Proverbs 15:28]
Even though silence is not mentioned in this verse, it's implied, at least for silence for a time. Do you see that? The righteous person is quiet while he or she... ponders how to respond. But the wicked person is hasty in their answer. As we've heard before in 29:20... Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him.
It is right to remain silent whenever a situation clearly requires a thoughtful response. The world around us often demands quick solutions to complex problems. Unfortunately, that spirit can influence all of us. But as God's people, we need to cling to what God's Spirit revealed through Solomon, the words we heard seconds ago: The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer..
Of course, our emotions can also tempt us away from silence and pondering. Listen to 17:27. Solomon writes, Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding. We see here that verbal restraint flows from spiritual restraint, or what we (and the NT) would call “self control”. This is why James 1:19 gives us similar instructions:
Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger...
Now, I believe this progression should drive us to a final pairing, that is, to the truth about...
Silence and Godliness
Listen again to Proverbs 11:12, a verse I shared at the outset in regard to words that wound...
Whoever belittles his neighbor lacks sense, but a man of understanding remains silent.
The individual who both recognizes and is remorseful over his or her foolish and/or destructive words, is the individual who begins, more and more, to ponder... to think before they speak. And the woman or man who is shaped by this practice, is the woman or “man of understanding” that Solomon mentions here. This is the person who is learning and has learned when it is right to say something and when it is right to say nothing.
The fool gets frustrated with or provoked by his neighbor and starts to belittle that person. But the person of understanding holds his or her tongue. They may share certain concerns about the frustrating individual, but they know verbally attacking someone else, that petty slander, is never fruitful, can actually create even more problems, and ultimately, does not glorify God.
So, in light of these things, I think it's fair to say that there will be many instances in which the godly man or woman is simply silent; when he or she says nothing... to the glory of God. You see, for that godly man or woman, silence has become a discipline.
Of course, Scripture makes it clear that there are also many times in which our silence is sinful. Solomon tells us, Better is open rebuke than hidden love. (Proverbs 27:5) It is good and right to rebuke someone in love when necessary, rather than remaining silent because of fear. In Proverbs 31:9, a wise man named King Lemuel encourages us to... Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy. It would be wrong to remain silent in the face of social injustice, wouldn't you agree? Solomon's father, King David, said this about sin and silence... For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. (Psalm 32:3) What does that mean? It means that when we need to confess, we should confess; that it is wrong to remain silent about the wrongs we've done.
III. Silence and Trust
Follower of Jesus, what is God saying to you this morning through his holy word? How does he want to challenge you in regard to verbal restraint, in regard to this issue of silence?
Let's be clear: this is not about whether you're an extrovert or introvert. This is not about people who are shy or socially awkward somehow being more righteous because they speak less. In the same way, this is not a call to simply use fewer words; as if godliness was determined by word count. No. As we've heard, the practice of silence is ultimately about the heart.
But what do we know about that heart of godly silence? Well, I love the encouragement Moses gives the Israelites on the shore of the Red Sea, with the Egyptian army nipping at their heels.
Exodus 14:14... “The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.”
The author of Lamentations tells us something similar in 3:26 of that book...
It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.
And David makes this confession in Psalm 62:1, 5
For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation... For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him.
These verses about silence before God and trust in God reach a climax in the latter chapters of Isaiah. This is what hear in Isaiah 53:7 about God's suffering servant...
He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he... opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.
Who is Isaiah speaking about? Well the Apostle Peter answers that for us. Turn to I Peter 2. We find that I Peter 2:21–23 reveals the identity of that suffering servant, and... calls us to follow...
For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.  He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth.  When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.
Peter has Isaiah 53 in mind when he talks about Jesus' verbal restraint. This is confirmed by other allusions to and a quotation from Isaiah in Peter's next two verses, 2:24, 25...
He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.  For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
Did you hear the reason Jesus was silent, like a sheep before its shearers? Because he (v. 23) “continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly”. As we've talked about before, Proverbs is not simply a book of sayings that can make us better or more successful people. When we think about this book in light of everything God has revealed, what we realize is that Proverbs is one of God's tools to make us more like Jesus. Both Proverbs and Peter confirm that, and specifically this morning, in regard to godly silence.
If you recognize this morning that verbal restraint, that the discipline of silence, is an area in which you need to grow, then remember that heart from that practice flows: it is a heart that continues to entrust oneself to God. How often do we speak when we should be praying instead? How often do we want our words to change something or someone, but should be trusting God for the change that's needed? How often do we, with anger or grief or fear in our hearts, how often do we say something that dishonors God, rather than saying nothing because we trust that God can handle things... and help us handle things?
The good news this morning is that God can help you practice this godly silence, and forgive all the times you did exactly the opposite. How? Why? Because Jesus first practiced godly silence on your behalf; a silence that led directly to the cross, where “he himself bore our sins in his body on the tree” (that includes the sin of saying something when it was right to say nothing). His silence as the Lamb of God was meant to change us. As Peter put it, “that we might die to sin and live to righteousness”. That's what it means to be “healed”. That's what it means to now be led by “the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls”.
If you recognize your need this morning, if you desire that change in your life, if you want to grow in that trust that inspires genuine, God-glorifying, people-loving verbal restraint, then it's time to talk to God about that. Let's do that, as we thank God for the One who spoke to us at just the right time, and was silent for us at just the right time.