We live in a world and a swirl of communication. We talk on our landlines, our cell phones and occasionally even the people right there across from us. We type, text and Instagram and email all in an effort to try to communicate with folks and to spread an idea or information. Studies show that the average person only uses about 3,000 words over and over. They say that it does not matter your educational level, that you may use more complicated words, more sophisticated words, more academic words that are in the higher level of understanding, but still you have that reservoir of about 3,000 that you keep pulling from. I can see where that would be true.
The wise writer of the Old Testament said in Proverbs 25:11, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver.” It is actually a picture of a platter, a dish, made of silver in which there were attractive apples made of solid gold. If you listen to Solomon long enough you probably come to understand that the daily goal may well be to say words in the right place at the right time with the right understanding and fit the right need. A word fitly spoken is what we are all reaching for.
In the graduation period of 2015, I saw the media reporting that our president was going to speak to one of the graduating classes of one of our military academies. To these young men and women who had devoted their lives in preparation to defend our country on the front lines of a life and death struggle, he chose as his primary focus at their graduation to speak on the urgency to deal with global warming. I’m not sure who advised him of making that his topic but at first glance, it seems to be a little bit out of context with the entire program and situation.
I know what that feels like. I am not just being critical, because it is an unending search to try to find appropriate words for an appropriate setting in a group. Though it has been decades ago, I still remember what I did on the Sunday of one of my first Mother’s Day events as the pastor. In the business of life and just preparing for the next Sunday trying to come up with some word from the Lord for our folks, I was going to be preaching on — and really with little thought for the day or the context — the reality of hell. I was not a mother. My wife was not a mother. My mother was not going to be there. At the moment, it seemed like it would be fine, and so I did it. As they say in this day and time, #iwontdothatagain.
What does it mean for a word to be fitly spoken?
Well, for one thing it means that it is appropriate. Sometimes we say things that are just inappropriate. I’m not talking about using foul language. I’m just talking about, it’s inappropriate. We don’t intend for it to be like that, but it comes out that way, sideways and doesn’t fit the place nor the room nor the setting nor the mood. However, a fitly spoken word is appropriate. When you think about inappropriate words I don’t know that it could be any worse than the young preacher who got a call about one of his members who was at death’s door. The young preacher jumped in his car, headed to the hospital, rushed in the door, down the hall, went to the room, and found that his member was still alive. He rushed in and spoke to him and said, “I’m so glad that I got here in time. I was so afraid you were going to die before I got here.” That is not a word fitly spoken. Sometimes the best thing
you can contribute to a moment may be silence.
The second thing it means is that it is attractive. Solomon in his unique way of raising the level of grandeur said that those words fitly spoken are like gold apples in silver platters. They are beautiful, meaningful, attractive, expensive, of great value. Strangely, many of us, maybe most of us, have a unique way of turning words and phrases into moments when they’re not valued, and maybe not even valuable. People may hear us speak and shake their heads, but it doesn’t mean they are blessed and impressed and embrace the value of what we are saying.
I don’t suppose that there’s anybody who has been noted for making strange verbiage that just makes you wonder, “What does that mean?” more than Yogi Berra, the Hall of Fame catcher for the Yankees. There are books written on Yogi because he would say the strangest things that almost made sense but made none. Speaking of baseball, he said, “Ninety percent of this game is half mental.” He and some friends going out to eat were talking about what restaurant they would go to and somebody suggested one and he said, “No one eats there anymore; it’s too crowded.” It was Yogi who said, “When you come to the fork in the road, take it.” On the other hand, there are people who, not just once or twice but time and time again, have touched my life and made a difference for people all around them, because they had a caring, sensitive, gentle word that was so effective that it was of value to everyone who heard it.
A third feature of a fitly spoken word is that it is acceptable. By that, I mean well-timed in the appropriate place and the appropriate mood. It is not just saying a right thing; it is saying a right thing at the right time. Apparently, the wise King Solomon was able to do this and obviously the Master Teacher, Jesus Himself, could do this. Oh, that all of us would strive to have a word that could be fitly spoken. From time to time I’ll hear someone say, “Well, I just tell it like it is.” Well, the problem with that is you may not really know how it is, and the other thing that needs to be kept in mind is that while Jesus knew everything just like it was and how it should be, He did not just pour out commentary on peoples’ lives or indiscretions, wrongdoings, or hurtful pasts. To a woman who was dragged into the public arena to be criticized and threatened with death because of her actions, Jesus wrote something on the ground and then, looking at the mob that had gathered around ready to stone this lady, He said, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her” (John 8:7). Probably following a quiet moment, he began to hear the stones hit the ground instead of the woman, and one by one those who had come to kill her recognized their own problem with sin and they left. The Master then said, “Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee?” She said, “No man, Lord.” Jesus said unto her, “Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more” (John 8:10-11). What a word of grace fitly spoken.
If you want to tell someone like it is, tell them that you care and that you love them and that you’re praying for them. God may be able to take it and fit it into the transformation of someone’s life because you spoke.
The author can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.