Proverbs 16:21

The wise in heart shall be called prudent: and the sweetness of the lips increaseth learning.


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Wisdom and graciousness combine for great effect! Which of these two precious things do you lack? Or are you short of both? This proverb presents great men and women – a wise heart that is recognized by others – and gracious speech to communicate it to them. By these two means, you can nobly improve the lives around you to God’s glory.

The measure of a man’s life after fearing God is his effect on others. The second commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself. The grand goal is to be a tree of life and save men from sin and folly by excellent advice (Pr 11:30). Daniel compared such men to the bright stars of heaven (Dan 12:3). Only fearing God leaves you half a success.

The proverb describes wisdom of the heart, for which others will call you prudent. Note two things – this wisdom is in the heart, not the head; and the effect is prudence, not brilliance. The wisdom here is not head knowledge, but the understanding of a discerning heart. The result is prudence, which is practical wisdom for happy and successful living.

If you have practical wisdom in your heart, you may not know how to communicate it to others to gain their trust, calm their fears, satisfy their questions, or change their minds. There are men and women with discernment and prudence, who leave no mark on the world, because their abrupt, calloused, insensitive, or rude communication turns others off. This is a great waste, for the wisdom that could serve others never gets to them.

How should wisdom be communicated? With gracious speech and sweet words! Good teachers create good hearers; poor teachers make poor hearers. The sweetness of gracious speech causes others to listen intently to the lovely sound conveying the wisdom of life. “Every man shall kiss his lips that giveth a right answer” (Pr 24:26). “A man hath joy by the answer of his mouth: and a word spoken in due season, how good is it” (Pr 15:23)!

A pure heart full of wisdom will generally lead to gracious lips, which even kings will desire to have around them (Pr 22:11). “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver” (Pr 25:11). This is the ultimate tree of life, for not only is there wisdom in the heart, but there is also grace in the lips to help others learn. “A wholesome tongue is a tree of life: but perverseness therein is a breach in the spirit” (Pr 15:4).

Gracious speech is necessary to win hearers. “Pleasant words are as an honeycomb, sweet to the soul, and health to the bones” (Pr 16:24). “The lips of the wise disperse knowledge: but the heart of the foolish doeth not so” (Pr 15:7). “Ointment and perfume rejoice the heart: so doth the sweetness of a man’s friend by hearty counsel” (Pr 27:9). To increase the learning of others, you must acquire both practical wisdom and gracious speech.

This proverb is precious and valuable for ordinary men, but much more for God’s ministers. They are stewards of the manifold wisdom of God (Jer 3:15; Matt 13:52; I Pet 4:10). If they are not apt to teach, they do not belong in the office (I Tim 3:2). Of all men, they must teach God’s wisdom with gracious and sound speech (Titus 2:7-8). Lord, pour into the lips of your servants a measure of that grace that was first poured into yours!

Kings knew Joseph, Moses, and Daniel had both – wisdom of heart and sweet lips (Gen 41:37-45; Acts 7:22; Dan 1:17-21; 5:11; 6:1-5). Yet Jesus of Nazareth had all the treasures of wisdom and the most gracious lips of all! Hearers could not believe the combination (Ps 45:2; Luke 4:22; 24:32; John 7:46; Col 2:3)! No wonder Mary could not leave him to help her sister Martha prepare for a meal (Luke 10:38-42).

Make all four your models! Learn wisdom from the Bible, and let your speech be alway with grace (Ps 19:7; 119:130; Eph 4:29; Col 4:6). Be a tree of life to those God brings across your path in your family, church, job, etc. The King of kings will be your friend!