A Word Fitly Spoken

A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver.” ~ Proverbs 25:11

Words are such little things. They have no material substance, yet they have built and ruined empires. James, half brother of the Lord and pastor of the first Jerusalem Church, writes, “Behold also the ships, which though they be so great, andare driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small helm, whithersoever the governor listeth. Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth! And the tongue isa fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell” (James 3:4-6). There can be great destructive force in our words. But here in the text above we find the opposite is also true. Fitly spoken words have great value.

What does it mean to have a “fitly spoken” word? It comes from a root word meaning, “to revolve,” and carries the idea of a word as a pot on a potter’s wheel.[1] As the wheel turns (in this case each revolution of a given period of time) the potter’s hands (our mind) mold and sculpt the clay (the word) quickly and efficiently into the perfect form. It indicates a well-crafted and well-timed word, which is a work of art and beauty. The question is, what is involved in crafting the fitly spoken word? I think there are three things to consider.


In order for the word to have its golden substance it must be true. The Bible places the very highest premium on the truth. Sometimes the truth comes as a relief and sometimes as a burden. The truth relieves us when we are reminded of God’s sovereignty in human affairs or of the precious promises that He has given us. It is a tremendous joy to think of the truths of God’s great character. Theologian Millard Erickson has divided the attributes of God into those that represent His greatness, and His goodness.[2] His greatness assures us that He is supremely able. His goodness assures us that His supreme ability operates primarily for His supreme glory and secondarily for our supreme benefit. It has been said that the job of the pastor is to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable. The Christian is to serve God as “salt and light” in whatever setting he finds himself. Salt has tremendous value as both a purifier and a preservative. It also irritates. It is not always pleasant, but it is always true to God. We cannot have a truly fit word based upon anything else.


We are to be the salt of the earth, but we need to do that with a sweet spirit. Some of the best snacks have an even balance of sweetness and saltiness. I love Pay Day candy bars. I survived Artillery training at Fort Sill, Oklahoma due in small part to a Pay Day bar at the end of each week. It was my reward. The sweetness mellows out the saltiness without changing the salt itself. The positions that Christians hold as believers in God’s holy righteousness never waver. That fact irritates a lot of people in our culture today. But the counterbalance is love, demonstrated in a sweet spirit. In fact, in a previous post, I talked about how love can be either pleasurable or painful. We ought never to hold forth the truth with a bitter, spiteful, proud attitude. Understand that it was by grace that God saved you and by grace that He reveals truth. Having a sweet spirit makes you a hard person with whom to stay mad. That sweetness tells the world that it is the truthrather than the person that judges them worthy of either praise or rebuke.


Sometimes we want to blunder ahead in a hurry with our well-spoken words. This adds dross to our gold. Wisdom picks the right time, as we have seen already. There are times when we need to speak comforting passages of Scripture to loved ones. They are hurting or need consolation. We must discern the appropriate promises and premises for the situation. Out of a whole Bible full of truth, we need to pick the right verse for the situation.

Sometimes comforting words are not the need of the hour. Sometimes we must admonish others. There are those who rightly believe in taking a stand for God’s Word, but have the misconception that such a stand must be taken instantly on every occasion. As a result they are always popping off at the mouth. This practice diminishes the impact of the Word of God. The proper attitude appears in the answer to a simple question: Did God reveal all of your sin at once? Of course he didn’t. He chooses the time and the place He will speak to our faults. That’s why we grow spiritually at a pace instead of being perfectly transformed at the moment we are saved. When we have to take a stand, make sure that such a stand does not draw unnecessary attention. Pride loves to draw attention to self. Even if it comes with the expectation of being ridiculed. Resist the temptation to take pride in how you have suffered for righteousness.

With wisdom there is also the concept of order. The order of what we address is closely connected with the timing of what we say. Before speaking the truth in love, stop and ask yourself if perhaps what you are about to say is the most necessary thing. Some of the things that first come to mind may not be the greatest need for the situation.


A word fitly spoken is a well-measured, well-timed work of art. Speak the truth in love with wisdom. Be mindful of your circumstances and the circumstances of others. Let the Holy Spirit lead you. May we never suffer the affliction of Peter (foot-in-mouth disease)! Fitly spoken words restrain sin, build character, and encourage others. In substance and form, they are works of art!

[1] C.F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, Keil and Delitzsch: Commentary on the Old Testament, Vol. 6, 10 vols. (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2001) 369-370.

[2] Millard Erickson, Christian Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007).