Refraining Wisdom

“When words are many, transgression is not lacking, 

but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.”

Proverbs 10:19

If you are anything like me, and I am confident that I am not the exception here, then you love to hear yourself talk. According to the Bible though, this is not a good thing. Lately, this particular sin pattern of mine has been at the forefront of my thinking—it has caused me to examine myself. And I figured one of the best ways to examine myself was to ponder and meditate on Proverbs 10:19. In this blog, I’ll just mention a few of my thoughts on this popular but poorly applied, at least in my case, verse.

The Untamed Tongue

It should not surprise us, biblically or experientially, that our hearts are evil (Gen. 6:5). And when we consider that our words flow from our evil and wicked hearts (Matt. 12:34), “we cannot conceive of words, much less a multitude of words, without sin.”[1] It is as though our tongue is a “restless evil, full of deadly poison” (Jas. 3:8). Sure, the tongue is a small member of our body, but it is a small member that has catastrophic affects—much like a small spark that causes a devastating wildfire (Jas. 3:5). Even though the tongue is a slender portion of flesh, it contains a whole world of iniquity[2], defiles and stains the whole body, sets our lives on fire, and is fueled by the very flames of hell (Jas. 3:6). 

Therefore, proverbial wisdom concludes that the increase of words inevitably leads to the increase of transgressions. In other words, the more we talk the more we sin! And I am sure that by now, if we are honest, we have come to realize that no other “member” of our body wreaks more havoc to our Christian lives as our tongues do.[3]

Godly Restraint

Thankfully, this verse does not just teach us that the increase of words leads to an increase of transgressions. The Spirit of God goes on to tell us that “whoever restrains his lips is prudent” (Prov. 10:19). To restrain means to keep back, withhold, or hold off. Prudence is simply the God given wisdom that enables us to live a life that magnifies the Lord. And it is the one who has enough self-control to restrain his lips that is prudent. So godly wisdom reveals that it is far better to largely keep our mouths shut than it is to incessantly open our mouths and multiply transgressions against our good and gracious God.

But how come so many Christians, including myself, do not restrain their lips? Well, I believe it is because we are not nearly as spiritually mature as we think we are. We think that if we put away sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, drunkenness, murder, and things like these, then we are spiritually mature—and to an extent this may be true. We forget, though, that few things clearly reveal the credibility and maturity of our Christian faith like how we manage our tongues (Mt. 12:33-37; Jas. 1:26; 3:1-4). 

So do some self-examination. Evaluate your spiritual maturity based on how you govern your tongue. How are you doing with these sins: grumbling, complaining, lying, crude joking, quarreling, degrading humor, gossip, slander, flattery, destructive sarcasm, and irritable responses? And do not just evaluate your spiritual maturity based on how you speak to co-workers and strangers; evaluate it based on how you speak to those closest to you, i.e., your friends, family, and spouse.

Gospel Comfort

This type of self-examination is helpful. Regarding sins of speech, self-examination enables us to see that these sins are not trivialities—they are treasonous acts against our Sovereign Lord that deserve a sentence of condemnation. Self-examination alone, though, is never good. It must also be paralleled with an examination of the grace of God in Christ.

If the Lord counted these sins of speech against us, who could stand on the day when we must give an account of every careless word we have ever spoken (Ps. 130:3; Mt 12:36)? None of us. Thankfully, in Christ, the Lord does not count these sins against us. Christ, with His single and efficacious sacrifice for sins, has made complete atonement for our sins, even our sins of speech (Heb. 10:11-13). Now we can exclaim with the Psalmist, “As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us” (Ps. 103:12). Praise the Lord!

Gospel Obedience

Gospel obedience is an obedience that is rooted in God’s love for us in Christ. Well, what does gospel obedience look like regarding Proverbs 10:19? Let me mention four ways this may look in the lives of Christians.

First, we need to have a biblical view of the seriousness of speech sins. We must never think of these sins “as anything less than the nails that pierced” Christ’s hands and feet. This will lead us to pray for an increase of “refraining wisdom.” [4] Second, we should be prudent and restrain our lips, “not indeed in silence, but in caution; to weigh our words before uttering them; never speaking, except when we have something to say; speaking only just enough; considering the time, circumstances, and person; what is solid, suitable, and profitable.”[5] Third, we must exercise the same level of refraining wisdom on social media, email, text, and any other medium we use to communicate these days. And fourth, when we hastily open our lips and use our tongues in destructive ways, we need to repent and cry out with Paul, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 7:24).


[1] Charles Bridges, Proverbs, Geneva Series of Commentaries (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth, 2008), 102.

[2] John Calvin and John Owen, Commentaries on the Catholic Epistles (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 320.

[3] Douglas Moo, The Letter of James, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2000), 159.

[4] Charles Bridges, Proverbs, 103.

[5] Ibid.

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