Words Matter

Text: Proverbs 15:1-33

Improves or the lack thereof

(Proverbs 15:1-7)

A gentle answer prevents or takes away a person’s anger but harsh words stir up anger. It should be an obvious observation, but it is difficult to put into practice. We strongly tend to answer others in kind. We respond to politeness with politeness, but to anger, we respond with anger.

A wise person knows how to make facts acceptable to his audience (Proverbs 10:32). It requires considering his audience – what they already know and how to reason with them. A foolish person doesn’t consider his words. He doesn’t often have knowledge; let alone the ability to consider his audience when speaking. Instead, he just gushes out words. See also Proverbs 10:19.

God watches everyone and everywhere. In this context, this truth means that God is aware of everything we say. “But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment” (Matthew 12:36).

Calm words give life to the hearers. They can heal a broken spirit and give encouragement. Twisted words cause the hearers to be discouraged and become depressed.

Fools reject correction. Prudent people pay attention to reproof because they know no one is perfect; therefore, everyone needs to be corrected in order to improve. Fools think only about their present feelings and not about their future. See also Proverbs 10:17; 12:1; 13:18.

You can find great wealth with the righteous. The wealth under consideration is not monetary because one can be poor and righteous. Instead, the righteous accumulate teachings that benefit those in the house (Matthew 6:19-21). The wicked only earn for themselves trouble. It is not something found but something that comes in payment for their actions and words. By implication, the righteous are protected from trouble.

Wise people spread the knowledge that they have. Fools have nothing within them to spread. See also Proverbs 15:2.

For discussion:

  1. Compare Judges 8:1-3 and Judges 12:1-6. What went right or wrong in each situation?
  2. What are crooked or perverse words?

How you live your life

(Proverbs 15:8-10)

The wicked bring sacrifices to God, but they are just deeds without sincerity, so the Lord finds them disgusting. A multitude of sacrifices cannot pay for a person’s sins (Isaiah 1:10-20). Prayers cost nothing, but God finds the prayers of those pursuing righteousness delightful because they are sincere. Notice that a person is trying to be righteous, while not always successful. Thus, the deeds of a person’s life are more important than their attempts at worship, even though worship is required.

When a person leaves the path of righteousness, he will face stern or evil punishment. Because he dislikes correction, he will die. See also Proverbs 9:7-8. The severity of the correction will not turn him back to righteousness. Sadly, Israel serves as an illustration of this truth (Isaiah 5:18-25), as does King Ahab (I Kings 22:8,23,37).

The effect of attitude

(Proverbs 15:11-17)

If God knows all that goes on in the grave (Sheol) and even in the side of the grave known as torments or Abaddon (Job 26:6), then the idea that God knows the hearts of people should not be surprising (Psalms 44:21; Acts 1:24). This is a continuation of the idea presented in Proverbs 15:3.

A scoffer only believes what he already accepts, so if someone does attempt to correct him, he will reject it and blame the person who attempted to make him see that he could be wrong (Amos 5:10; II Timothy 4:3-4). Nor will a scoffer voluntarily seek out advice from someone wiser – mostly because it would be admitting that he isn’t right about something.

When you feel happy it is hard to hide it from your face, but when you are sad it affects you deeply inside even if you manage to hide it (Proverbs 14:10, 13).

A discerning person seeks out facts in order to make good judgments. But foolish people feed on foolishness (Proverbs 14:7). They don’t check the credibility of their sources and find outlandish claims to be tantalizing tidbits.

When you are depressed, you only focus on the bad things that happen. When you are happy you find additional things that continue your happiness. Life is a mixture of good and bad, but your personal attitude affects what parts of life you take notice of.

It is better not to have much but to have the fear of the Lord than to be wealthy and all the turmoil that comes with wealth. By implication, those who fear the Lord experience peace (Philippians 4:4-9). Like the verse before, it is also better to have just vegetables to eat and have love than to be well fed with hatred around you. The food imagery provides the chain between these proverbs. Too often we focus on the tangible things and forget that spiritual things have a greater value. It is not saying that wealth is wrong and that we all should be poor. The emphasis is on the greater value of peace in the Lord versus turmoil and love versus hatred.

What makes life better

(Proverbs 15:18-21)

Being quick to get angry will stir up strife (James 1:19-20). Being slow to get angry tends to calm disagreements. People tend to respond in kind to how they are being treated. This is another application of Proverbs 14:19 and 15:1. The phrase “slow to anger” is literally “long of nostrils” in Hebrew. I assume the idiom comes from taking in a long, deep breath before responding.

In trying to avoid effort, lazy people end up making their lives more difficult, like trying to make your way through a blackberry patch (Jeremiah 18:15). The upright, who are not lazy by implication, have an easier life, like moving down a highway (Isaiah 35:8; 57:14; 62:10). An example of this are the Israelites in Numbers 14 who complained about the war they would have to fight to conquer Canaan, as a result, they had to wander the wilderness for forty years and never did enter the land.

Proverbs 15:20-21 makes an introverted poem, while each verse gives a complete thought at the same time.

A wise son makes a father glad,
But a foolish man despises his mother.
Folly is joy to him who lacks sense,
But a man of understanding walks straight. (Proverbs 15:20-21)

A wise child makes his parents happy. A foolish child despises his parents. His refusal to learn is also a refusal of his parents’ teachings. A similar verse was in Proverbs 10:1, but with a different twist. What makes a person without reasoning happy is foolishness. However, a man who can reason walks on the straight path. By implication, the person without reason wanders off the path.

Advice and plans

(Proverbs 15:22-27)

Plans will get frustrated without advice from others. One person cannot know everything or think of all the possible alternatives. Even if all the advice is not good, it at least brings up possibilities to be evaluated. This doesn’t remove a person's responsibility to decide the direction he will take, but he can select his path with more knowledge.

An appropriate answer given in a timely manner brings joy to the person offering the answer (Ephesians 4:29).

The path of a wise person leads upward to heaven, while the way of the fool (by implication) leads down to the grave (Proverbs 5:3-5; 7:27; 9:13-18). But consider also that an uphill path is harder than a downhill one (Matthew 7:13-14). A similar passage is Proverbs 12:28.

God brings down the house of the proud. A house appears to be a permanent structure, but it will not last before God. But God will uphold the boundaries of a widow’s land. While a widow looks defenseless, she has a strong defender (Psalms 68:5-6; 146:9). It is the proud who try to take advantage of the defenseless. A similar passage is Proverbs 14:11.

God finds plans to do evil disgusting, but pleasant words He sees as pure (Psalms 19:14). Notice a contrast between thoughts or plans and what a person actually says. It is not enough to think pleasant thoughts. They have to be expressed. A similar passage is Proverbs 15:8.

When a person makes money from illegal activities, he brings trouble to his own family and, by implication, ultimately death (Habakkuk 2:9-10). In contrast, a person who hates bribes, and other illegal activities, will live. A similar passage is Proverbs 10:9.


(Proverbs 15:28-33)

The righteous thinks about how to properly answer another (James 1:19), but the wicked just spills out what is in his thoughts. Consider the example of Nehemiah who stopped to pray and to think before replying in Nehemiah 2:4; 5:7. Similar passages are Proverbs 10:19; 12:18; 15:2.

God listens to the prayers of the righteous, not the wicked (Psalms 34:16; 145:18-19; James 5:16).

A person with a cheerful face will brighten the day of another person. In Proverbs 15:13 we learned that a person’s attitude is reflected in his face. Now we see that countenance can affect the attitude of other people. A person who brings good news to another person will refresh them.

None of us are perfect, but we can improve if we are willing to listen when we are told we are wrong. Those who listen to the corrections of life will be counted among the wise. This proverb is more than just the verbal rebukes that others might tell us. Life itself can give us hard knocks when we do wrong. We cannot ignore discipline, or else we show we don’t care about ourselves. Listening to reproof improves our ability to reason.

Ultimately it is the fear of God that teaches us wisdom and before we can gain honor, we have to be humble enough to learn.

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