A word spoken in right circumstances


[Proverbs 25:11-15]


At some point, a pastor in Korea asked me to find out if there are any books on “etiquette” in the United States.  The reason he asked me this way was because he thought that we Christians seemed to lack basic etiquette.  So he was interested in writing a book about Christian etiquette.  It was interesting to me that he was going to write such a book at that time.  The reason for this is because, not only myself, but probably most of us Christians don’t regard Christian etiquette very seriously.  At the same time, I thought that we need it when he said that he was going to write such a book.  On the contrary, I thought that we should be more etiquette than non-Christians, so it was necessary that such a book should be released to stimulate all of us.


Dr. Young-sook Lee, the head of the Good Tree Character School, said in a column titled Education for children in immigrant society, Etiquette is character, and that teaching children etiquette early on is teaching respect for others (Internet).  She said in that column that parents teach and help their children to have good thoughts when they are young and that their thoughts can be tamed into good habits, and grow up with good character is the most important ministry of all else.  She said that it is to teach them good character to make sure that their behavior is expressed in good etiquette to others.  First, she mentioned 5 etiquettes that should be held in general, regardless of time and place.  Two of them are ‘Don't deliberately say bad things or swear to others’ and ‘Don't speak badly or gossip about others.’


I saw again that I posted something like this on my personal blog on February 12th, 2014 in A few words to share;” ‘Although I have to think about what to say to a loved one, when and how, I also have to think about what not to say anything for that person.’  But when I read this post again, the thought that hit me in my head was, 'Ah ...  I shouldn't have said that to that person.’  In other words, I came to realize that I was unable to live by practicing what I wrote.


When we read the Bible, there are a lot of word about words, especially in Proverbs.  To give some examples: “A fool's lips bring him strife, and his mouth invites a beating” (18:6), “The heart of the righteous weighs its answers, but the mouth of the wicked gushes evil” (15:28), “When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise” (10:19), “If you argue your case with a neighbor, do not betray another man's confidence” (25:9).  Among those words, I like Proverbs 15:23 – “A man finds joy in giving an apt reply-- and how good is a timely word!”  The reason I like this word is because I have experienced many times in my life that the Holy Spirit works on the other person's heart because the Holy Spirit makes my lips to say “a timely word”, that is, the words that are right at the right time.  Especially, since the indwelling Holy Spirit reminds me of the word of God, there were times when I spoke the word of God to the other person and that word comforted the other person.  Also, I have experienced many times the work of the Holy Spirit piercing the other person’s conscience so that he or she repents his or her sin.  So I think that “a timely word” and the words that are right at the right time are very important as Proverbs 15:23 says.


Even in today's text Proverbs 25:11, King Solomon speaks of “a word aptly spoken” or “a word spoken in right circumstances”: “Like apples of gold in settings of silver Is a word spoken in right circumstances.”  What does it mean?  Here, the Hebrew word for “right circumstances” means “wheel”, which means ‘spinning in good control in the circumstances at that time’ (Park).  In other words, at that time, the appropriate word that is well controlled in the circumstances has a great value like apples of gold in settings of silver.  I would like to receive lessons from Proverbs 25:11-15 with three kinds of words that are spoken in right circumstances (timely words).


First, the word spoken in right circumstances is a wise man’s rebuke.


Look at Proverbs 25:12 – “Like an earring of gold or an ornament of fine gold is a wise man's rebuke to a listening ear.”  Do you like to listen to praise or rebuke?  Of course our nature wants to listen to praise.  I am sure nobody likes to listen to rebuke.  Our sinful old nature never wants to be rebuked; rather, it wants to be praised.  Personally, I have a question about raising children in the Korean way in the days of my parents.  That question is the Chinese word ‘Joo-ma-ga-pyun’ (走馬加鞭), which means “whipping an already galloping horse” or “urging (a person) to further efforts” (Naver dictionary).  I still don't fully understand why a person needs to whip a horse more which runs well.  This is my father’s generation’s method of raising us.  But shouldn’t the person stroke the horse if the horse runs well?  I think I am more used to how American parents are raising their children.  The American parenting of children I'm talking about here specifically refers to the praising or encouraging their children by parents.  But what if that praise was just a pretense or a mischievous thing without love?  But if rebuke is done because the other person loves you, do you think listening to that rebuke is better than hearing such praise?  If we look at Proverbs 27:6, the Bible says about ‘rebuke’: “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.”  While meditating on this verse before, I wrote two short writings like these on my blog: ‘I would like to yearn for a word of rebuke that speaks with love rather than million words of praise that are without love’ and ‘True friendship in the Lord is humbly receiving even the painful rebuke of a friend.’  In fact, it hurts more to be rebuked by the friend we love than to be rebuked by someone we don't know that well.  However, the Bible says that the wounds from such a beloved friend can be trusted.


In Proverbs 25:12, the Bible says, “Like an earring of gold or an ornament of fine gold is a wise man's rebuke to a listening ear.”  If we think about this verse in connection with verse 11, the Bible says that timely (appropriate) rebuke is of great value to those who obey it, such as “an earring of gold or an ornament of fine gold”.  When I think of these words, I think that not only the person who gives timely rebuke is a wise person, but also the person who obeys it is a wise person.  First of all, I think that the wise person is the one who gives the right rebuke in the right time because I think that it is impossible to do so without God’s given wisdom.  In other words, without wisdom we can not give the right rebuke in the right situation and at the right time.  Dr. Yoon-sun Park gave four advices, saying that the adviser should consider various things when speaking to the other person and adjust it well: (1) The person giving advice must speak when he has love and peace.  (2) He must not speak in a humiliating manner.  (3) He must not speak hastily.  (4) He must not speak without courtesy (Park).  But in reality, when I think about whether I speak when I have love and peace when I rebuke someone I love, or whether I am speaking hastily, I think I sometimes speak emotionally and too quickly.  However, I think the person who listens to the rebuke humbly and well is also a wise person.  The reason I think so is that it is our nature that we don’t want to hear even the right words of rebuke without the wisdom that God gives us through His grace.  If we look at Proverbs 9:7-8, the reason we don’t listen to God's rebuke of wisdom is because we are arrogant.  That arrogance leads to contempt and rejection of the teachings and rebukes of the truth.  And that arrogance is making us hear the sound of foolishness and temptation of the world too quickly.  In the end, without the wisdom God gives us, we refuse to listen, no matter how rightly rebuke people speak to us.


I think of David when I think of a man who humbly listened to rebuke.  Look at Psalms 141:5 – “Let a righteous man strike me--it is a kindness; let him rebuke me--it is oil on my head. My head will not refuse it. Yet my prayer is ever against the deeds of evildoers.”  In the midst of his hardships, David not only didn’t reject the rebuke of the righteous, but he considered it grace.  How is this possible?  Isn’t it true that our nature wants to be comforted when we face difficulties and are suffering?  I think it's because David had humility and wisdom.  David humbled his heart before God in prayer with his eyes fixed on the Lord, and he didn’t reject the rebuke of the righteous, but regarded it as grace.  In Ecclesiastes 7:5, King Solomon says that the whipping of the wise is better than the praise (encouragement) of the fool.  Look at Ecclesiastes 7:5 – “It is better to heed a wise man's rebuke than to listen to the song of fools.”  Here, King Solomon's “the song of fools” refers to ‘the false consolation of the wicked’ (Park).  King Solomon is telling us to guard against the false comforts of the wicked.  Why should we guard against the false comforts of the wicked?  The reason is because the laughter of fools that is like the crackling of thorns under the pot is meaningless (v. 6).  In a word, the reason we must guard against the song of fools, the false comfort of the wicked, is because it is meaningless.  We should prefer to listen to rebuke such as the whip of wisdom than to the false and vain consolation of the wicked.  The reason is because it will be painful at the time when we feel remorse for being right with the words of the whip, but later it will be a good medicine for our hearts and our lives.


Professor Seyoon Kim of Fuller Theological Seminary said this in his book, ‘Lecture on 1 Corinthians’: ‘In the end, neither human criticism nor praise is due to 'prejudice', which means that it is meaningless.  What really matters is God's judgment and God's praise at the final judgment.  …  Therefore, the preachers of the gospel must not be shaken from side to side by the criticism or praise of the congregation, but must be absolutely faithful to Christ as servants of Christ.  In addition, the members of the church must realize that the judge of all of us is God and the Lord Jesus Christ, and refrain from our human judgments, where we can only judge by looking at our appearances’ (Kim).  What do you think of this statement?  I fully agree with Professor Seyoon Kim's statement that “neither human criticism nor praise is due to 'prejudice', which means that it is meaningless.”  I also agree with his statement “What really matters is God's judgment and God's praise at the final judgment.”  In particular, when it comes to rebuke, we humbly listen to the timely rebuke of the wise person more than anyone else.  And it is necessary to think deeply at least once, ‘Maybe the Lord rebukes me through that wise person.’  Furthermore, we must listen to the words of God the Holy Spirit who rebuke our sins by His holy word (Eph. 5:11).  This is because God's rebuke is profitable for our souls (2 Tim. 3:16).  What is the profit?  Because we are rebuked by God, we are repented and turned and corrected even while walking in the path of sin.  I hope and pray that we will be rebuked and repent, so that we can walk the path of righteousness.


Second, the word spoken in right circumstances is those of the faithful who refresh the heart of the Lord.


                In hot summer weather, one of the things I care about at my house is to take drinking water from an empty bottle and put it in the refrigerator.  The reason I do it is because I want to drink cold water.  So I get water from 4 or 5 bottles and put them in the refrigerator.  However, many times when I go home and open the refrigerator to drink cold water, there are many times when there are no cold water bottles.  The reason is because all three of my children drink.  Haha.  I am sure they also want to drink cold water in hot summer.  So I used to hide a bottle of water in the refrigerator drawer.  But now I gave up a little because it's ridiculous to see some of the children find and drink it.  Haha.  The problem is that children don't take water from an empty bottle after drinking water from a water purifier and put it in the refrigerator.  Of course, the youngest Karis sometimes takes water from an empty bottle like me and puts it in the refrigerator.  Even though the weather is a little cold, I put water in the bottle and put it in the refrigerator.  The reason is because I still want to drink cold water.


Look at Proverbs 25:13 – “Like the cold of snow in the time of harvest Is a faithful messenger to those who send him, For he refreshes the soul of his masters.”  In Proverbs 25:5, King Solomon says, “remove the wicked from the king's presence.”  The wise king fears God and hates evil (8:13; 16:12).  He doesn’t depart from God's word to guard against his own evildoing, but listens to and obeys the word of God.  Not only that, but he doesn't just watch his servants do evil.  He removes the evil servants.  In particular, he removes the wicked and cunning among his servants.  The reason is because he knows that if he doesn’t remove those wicked men, they will harm him.  And because what is harmful to the king will harm the country, the wise king resolutely eliminates the wicked servants.  Thus, he makes his throne stand firm through justice (16:12).  Not only that, the wise king puts his faithful servants next to him to keep his throne strong.  And he takes their advice very well.  Look at Proverbs 16:13 – “Kings take pleasure in honest lips; they value a man who speaks the truth.”  Here, “a man who speaks the truth” or “honest lips” refers to the loyalty.  And that loyalty means to speak the truth honestly to the king.  This means that the wise king puts these loyalists next to him.  And that means he listens to their advice.


In Proverbs 25:13, King Solomon speaks of “a trustworthy messenger”.  The Bible says that this trustworthy messenger refreshes the spirit of his masters like the coolness of snow at harvest time.  Here, the Hebrew word for “Like the coolness of snow” should be translated ‘It is like ice cold water at harvest time’.  It is said that the harvest time is the hottest in Palestine (Park).  At that time, the cold of snow can refresh a person, and the faithful messenger refreshes the heart of the master like this.  How, then, will the trustworthy messenger refresh the heart of the master who sent him?  Since he fulfills his mission for the master, the trustworthy messenger can greatly please and refresh the heart of the master (Park).  Here, when we say that the mission is accomplished, the person who is sent will fulfill the will of the master who sent him.  In the Bible, there are several trustworthy messengers who have fulfilled their mission, faithfully fulfilling the will of the master who sent them.  I would like to give two examples.  One is the chief servant in Abraham’s household, the one in charge of all Abraham had in Genesis chapter 24:2.  As his master Abraham commanded, he went to Abraham's hometown, Abraham's clan, and chose Rebekah (Gen. 24:15), for Isaac, the son of Abraham (vv. 3-4), and brought her (v. 61) in order to become Isaac's wife.  In this way, the old servant of Abraham obeyed his master's command and refreshed Abraham’s heart by fulfilling his master Abraham's will.  Another example is Timothy, Paul's spiritual son in 1 Thessalonians 3:4-10.  Timothy was sent to Thessalonica (church) by the apostle Paul, his spiritual father (v. 6).  The reason was because Paul could stand it no longer and wanted to find out about the Thessalonian church saints’ faith and that he was afraid that in some way the tempter might have tempted them and his and his coworkers’ efforts might have been useless and “so that no one would be unsettled by these trials” (vv. 3. 5).  Timothy, who was sent, faithfully fulfilled his mission, returned to Paul, and delivered the good news of the faith and love of the Thessalonian church saints (v. 6).  And Timothy said that the Thessalonica church saints always thought well of Paul and his co-workers and wanted to see them earnestly (v. 6), and he comforted Paul by telling them their faith (v. 7).  Look at 1 Thessalonians 3:8-9: “For now we really live, since you are standing firm in the Lord.  How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you?”  Timothy, who was sent in this way, comforted and pleased Paul, who sent Timothy to the church in Thessalonica.  He was the trustworthy messenger who refreshed his spiritual father Paul’s heart (Prov. 25:13).


                Like this, the trustworthy messenger who refreshes the heart of the Lord never boasts falsely.  Look at Proverbs 25:14 – “Like clouds and wind without rain Is a man who boasts of his gifts falsely.”  What does it mean?  It means that the rainless clouds and wind seem to pour out of the rain right now, but in the end, as if it doesn't rain, they boast only the words, and don't give a gift, so they are discouraged.  When we apply this meaning to the trustworthy messenger in verse 13, it means that the trustworthy messenger is never such an insincere and disloyalty that he doesn’t act in false boasting.  It also means that he never discourages his master.  Rather, the trustworthy messenger doesn’t boast of lies, but sincerely puts into practice what has been promised to his master.  A good example is Abraham's chief servant in Genesis 24.  He put his hand under the thigh of his master Abraham (v. 2), and swore that he would not get a wife for Isaac from the daughters of the Canaanites but would go to Abraham’s country and Abraham’s own relatives and get a wife for Isaac (vv.3-4).  And he did as he swore and did as his master Abraham told him to do and brought Rebekah as Isaac’s wife.  In this way, the trustworthy messenger doesn’t speak only with words, but puts the oath (or pledge) to the master into practice, and fulfills the mission entrusted to him, thereby refreshing the master's heart.


It is Jesus who was sent to this earth who refreshed the heart of the sender the most.  Jesus is the one who refreshed the heart of our Heavenly Father, and pleased Him the most.  So Heavenly Father said to Jesus, “…  You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased” (Mk. 1:11).  We too must be those who please our Lord.  We must also be those who refresh the heart of the Lord who sent us to this world.  In order to do that, we must be faithful to the Lord (2 Tim. 2:2).   And the Bible 1 Corinthians 4:2 says, “In this case, moreover, it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy.”  I hope and pray that all of us can refresh the heart of the Lord by faithfully fulfilling the mission that the Lord gave each of us by His grace.


Third and last, the word spoken in right circumstances is soft words that are persuasive.


Do you have a “soft tongue”?  Do you speak soft words?  Or do you sometimes say harsh words?  This is what Proverbs 15:1 says: “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”  Can you imagine that even tough you have to calm the other person's anger with soft words, but you speak harsh words to the angry man as if you are pouring gasoline in the fire?  How would that angry man react to you?  This is what the Bible Proverbs 15:18 says: “A hot-tempered man stirs up dissension, but a patient man calms a quarrel.”  If we are in a hurry and get angry easily, we are bound to quarrel.  The reason is because we cannot restrain our mouths in anger, and speak the harsh words carelessly that hurt others (15:4).  So we need to close our mouths a little when we are angry.  In other words, when we are angry, we need to refrain from speaking.  The reason is because if we fail to manage our feelings of anger, the words from our mouths can be harsh.  Therefore, we should be slow to speak when we are angry because we can hurt the other person's heart (Jam. 1:19).


I have a lot of thoughts that I am doing wrong about the words that come out of my mouth these days.  I think I shouldn't have said something rather than I didn’t say something wellI remember the phrase ‘You have to use your three inches tongue well’.  It means that the tongue is that the words that come out of a short tongue are so important that life goes back and forth.  Of course, even if what I say with my short tongue isn't enough to tell the other person's life to go back and forth, I think I shouldn't underestimate the result of what comes out of my short tongue.  This is what the Bible James 3:5 says: “Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.”  The words from our tongue can hurt, frustrate, and disappoint other people.  Nowadays, even on the Internet, in some cases, a single word that people say inadvertently (because they leave a message on the Internet) causes the other person to take his or her own life.  If so, how important is a word from us Christians who believe in Jesus?  The Bible Proverbs 18:21 says: “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.”


Look at Proverbs 25:15 – “By forbearance a ruler may be persuaded, And a soft tongue breaks the bone.”  Proverbs 25:15 urges us to speak soft words.  What is the reason?  The reason is because the soft tongue can break the boneWhat does it mean?  How can the soft tongue break the bone?  This means that the soft tongue can do hard work (Walvoord).  So what can the soft tongue do?  It can persuade a ruler.  Here, the word “a ruler” refers to a high-ranking official, such as a judge.  So, the meaning of today's text is that a person who demands a correct judgment from an unrighteous judge is easy to resent because of the judge's negligence.  But if he keeps a meek attitude until the end, the judge will be moved (Park).  How is this possible?  How can we turn the heart of an unrighteous judge with our soft tongue?  It is possible with patient persuasion (v. 15).


Let us turn others' hearts with patient persuasion.  Let us turn the other person's heart with our soft tongues and gentle words.  May we all be able to change the other person's heart with persuasive and soft words, which are the word spoken in right circumstances.