Words for Writers in Proverbs 10

I’ve been reading through the wisdom books in preparation for our women’s bible study this fall, and as I often am in reading the wisdom books, I’ve been struck by the bigness of God displayed in these books contrasted with the smallness of man. I’m confronted with my sin and inability to live wisely in my own strength. I’m amazed at God’s work among his people throughout the centuries. I’m convicted in how I live as a wife, friend, church member, neighbor, daughter, sister, and mother.

Proverbs 10 hits me right between the eyes in my work as a writer. Proverbs has a lot to say about how we use our mouths, and while I will be the first to admit that my mouth is often my greatest weakness and my greatest strength, Proverbs 10 convicted me in how I use my “mouth” through the form of writing. The words that go from my brain through my fingers to my computer screen have as much of an impact on God’s image bearers as the words that come flying out of my mouth do. So if you are a writer, or just use your words in other ways throughout your week (meaning: everyone!), then let’s look together at three verses in Proverbs 10 that have something to say to us about how we use our words.

“Whoever heeds instruction is on the path to life, but he who rejects reproof leads others astray” (verse 17).

This verse struck me primarily because I am about to enter the editing stage for my next book. In my pride I want to be able to say my book was lightly edited. But that doesn’t serve anyone.  I have no idea what edits will look like for me this time around, but I know I want this verse surrounding me whenever they come my way. We have an obligation, as writers, to steward our words well. One of the ways we steward our words is through the editing process, as we humble ourselves to the reproof of another in the hopes that our words might not lead others astray.

“When words are many transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent” (verse 19).

Along with being edited, learning to cut words is a good thing for the writer. But so is learning when to write and when to put the computer away. In our day, where we can publish our thoughts without giving them much thought, it is easy to think we must speak to everything. The more we speak or write, the more we are susceptible to saying things at the wrong time, without proper context or forethought, or just simply saying things that are unhelpful. Those of us who are gifted with words must wield those words with caution and care.

“The lips of the righteous feed many, but fools die for lack of sense” (21).

I found so much hope in this verse. What writer doesn’t pray this for his or her words? “Lord, let my words be a source of spiritual food to the hungry souls who read them.” I know I pray this for my own writing. There is an implication in it though—that we are righteous. I know my own heart, and while I have good days where I see fruit, I have plenty of sinful, unrighteous days, too. Where are we to go when our lips feel unrighteous, yet we have a writing deadline? Can we still feed many? Is there hope for us?

The great hope that fuels the promises and exhortations in the wisdom books is that there is a righteous one who does all of these things perfectly—he feeds hungry souls, his words always speak hope to people, his words are perfectly suited for situations and people, he is the path to life, and he submitted to reproof that was completely undeserved by him. Jesus is the ultimate hope for our words as writers. We will fail to heed reproof well, we will say too many words at the exact wrong time, we will write out of a spirit of frustration or anger, we will write in our own strength (and not the one that God supplies), and we will fail to give glory to God when our words give hope to others. But we have an advocate, who is both the source and the model for our ministry. He is the source in that he secures our salvation and sanctification at the cross, meaning we can lean on his perfect righteousness. And he is the model, meaning he always did these things perfectly.

The stakes are high in this word-filled life we lead as writers. But the blessings are many, and the hope is secure in Jesus. We can write knowing that he is fueling our words with every type of the keyboard. He is using reproof to sharpen us with every critique and edit we receive. And he is using our ministry of words to build up his church, to feed hungry souls, with the feeble words of men and women.