Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding. Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent (Proverbs 17:27-28).
The Scriptures are full of warnings about our speech. James spoke of the power of the tongue, writing that “no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (James 3:8). The proverbs speak of impending judgment coming upon the evil tongue: “The mouth of the righteous brings forth wisdom, but the perverse tongue will be cut off” (Prov 10:31). Jesus taught that “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matt 12:34; Luke 6:45), and that whatever we say in secret will ultimately be made public (Luke 12:3). Trifling with the tongue is a serious matter indeed.
And therefore we don’t. The proverb quoted above is full of practical wisdom: Keep your mouth shut. Of course, this does not mean never to speak, for there are times when the Scriptures call us to speak, times when silence is sinful and destructive. But there are also times to remain silent. In fact, the proverb suggests that the time to be silent is probably most of the time.
The call to remain silent is, of course, no small matter, precisely for the reason Jesus gave us—out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. Or, in the words of the proverb, “whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.” Our spirits—our tempers—are connected to our lips. In other words, our lips willingly betray the content of our hearts. Have you ever noticed how eager a hot-tempered person is to speak? The cool in spirit, on the other hand, is content to be silent.
Why would this be? Let me offer several suggestions. The cool in spirit is one who trusts God, that “vengeance is mine, says the Lord” (Rom 12:19; Heb 10:30). He knows that what is done is secret will be made public, and therefore is free from the impulse to defend himself. The cool in spirit is humble, realizing he partakes of the same fallen nature as the one against whom he might lash out, walking in the frame of the Publican who prayed “Lord, have mercy upon me, a sinner!” (Luke 18:9-14). He realizes that there is much he doesn’t know, particularly why certain people do what they do. He realizes in the end that self-control is a fruit of the Spirit, and therefore does not seek to will himself into self-control, but rather seeks God, whose Spirit gives the power to walk in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal 5:22).
And what of those with hot tempers? Perhaps restraining our tongues can be a means of restraining our tempers. That is not to say that we can simply, in our own strength, decide to walk in self-control. Our flesh will not so willingly be tamed. Again, self-control is a fruit of the Spirit, as is the generosity of heart that seeks to see the best in people, realizing there is much we don’t know. But a commitment to restraining our tongues is a way of drawing near to God, who has promised that when we do so, He will draw near to us (James 4:8). In other words, restraining our tongues is also a prayer—that God will work in me the fruit of His spirit, bringing forth in me love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. It may well be a costly prayer, and hard won with much wrestling and perhaps tears. But He will surely do it.