The word of the day is “speech.” The Prayer of St. Ephraim asks the Lord to remove the spirit of “idle talk” from our hearts. The wise sage of Proverbs warns against such frivolous speech in our reading of Proverbs 10:1-13. The astute elder writes, “The wise of heart will heed commandments, but a babbling fool will come to ruin” (OAB vs. 8). Today’s study will teach us why we should be discrete both in our speaking and in our listening to others.
According to the apostle James, the tongue gets more people into temptation than any organ of the body. The apostle writes in James that it “is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison” (OSB James 3:8). The more words that gush out of a loquacious chatterbox, the more suspicious we should be. Either the speaker is a fool and does not know what he is talking about or, more likely, he is concealing something.
Words that Conceal Evil
Thus, Proverbs observes twice that “… violence covers the mouth of the wicked” (NKJV vs. 6 and 10). Various interpretations attempt to explain this enigmatic phrase. But we find the simplest solution to the meaning of the image in The New King James Version. It translates, “The mouth of the wicked conceals violence.” This thought goes along with another verse in our reading, “Whoever hides hatred has lying lips… (NKJV vs. 18).
Accordingly, words disguise the evil motives in the heart of the wicked (NKJV vs. 19). And they conceal their perverse ways (OSB vs. 10). And the more words, the greater the coverup.
The Plain Truth Needs No Embellishment
Hence, in both speaking and listening, the Scriptures recommend the fewer words, the better. The sage of Proverbs says, “He who restrains his lips is wise” (NKJV vs. 10:19). And the apostle writes in James, “So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak (James 1:19).
The plain truth needs no embellishment. Simple words ring true. The Lord observed that truthfulness does not require the support of oaths and copious assertions of honesty. He said, “But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one” (NKJV Matthew 5:37).
Why then should we avoid “idle talk”? Empty speech is careless speech. The blabbermouth goes on and on about trivialities and banalities and only proves the windbag’s foolishness.
What’s the Matter With Idle Talk?
But idle talk is also dangerous talk. Those who run off at the mouth disengage all reason and get carried away by the stream of words that comes from their lips. Imagine that there is a direct pipeline from the passions to the mouth. Through that tube, all sorts of garbage flows out into the ears of others. Once the surge of words begins, it is hard to stop. The more uninhibited words pour out, the more sewage they contain: gossip, slander, suspicions, hatreds, perversions, and false charges against the neighbor.
Idle talk may seem to be simple foolishness. But it releases the tongue from reason so that the passions are in control of what we say. Eventually, our chatter becomes sinful, and all the warnings of today’s reading against unwise and deceitful speech apply. On the other hand, if we restrain our tongue, we let godly wisdom direct what we say, and it edifies others.
Once Abba Makarios dismissed the assembly of the monks with one word. “Flee,” he said. “Flee what,” asked the brothers. He put his finger to his lips and said, “Flee that!”