Proverbs 11:12

He that is void of wisdom despiseth his neighbour: but a man of understanding holdeth his peace.

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How do you talk about others? It reveals your character and heart. It is easy to sin with your mouth, and there are many ways to do it. Can you stop despising those around you and hold your peace from critical or negative comments about them? A wise man will be sooner moved to pity and prayer for his neighbor than to contempt or scorn of him.

Solomon warned here against backbiting or insulting your neighbor. Wise men do not proudly despise others in their hearts or with words. They will hold back detracting or sneering words that fools or wicked men are often quick to say. They know all men are more similar than they are different, so contempt from one about another is not justified.

The limited context is the following proverb, which condemns talebearing, another verbal sin. “A talebearer revealeth secrets: but he that is of a faithful spirit concealeth the matter” (Pr 11:13). Talebearing is telling anything about another person, even if it is true, that is neither necessary nor helpful to their reputation. It is a very common sin.

Speech is one of the most certain evidences of wisdom, or the lack of wisdom. The words of a man’s mouth reveal his heart inside (Luke 6:45). Merely the quantity of words can prove either wisdom or folly. “A fool’s voice is known by multitude of words” (Eccl 5:3). A simple rule for wisdom is to cut your words in half. Speak less, even if it hurts!

The LORD, Creator of heaven and earth, hates evil speech about others, so He condemned backbiting, despite, gainsaying, hatred, malice, malignity, railing, reviling, slandering, swelling, talebearing, and whispering, among other related sins. Of course, you will rarely hear these sins named in public, let alone defined and condemned. If you differ from another, you should understand it is God that made it so (I Cor 4:7; 15:10).

The LORD considers unkind speech about another to violate the sixth commandment against murder. Jesus said, “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire” (Matt 5:21-22).

Loving your neighbor is the second greatest commandment (Matt 22:39), with your neighbor being much more than those living next door, as the Good Samaritan proved (Luke 10:29-37). Your neighbor extends even to servants of another man (Pr 30:10). And loving your enemies is a related commandment (Matt 5:43-48). So you have no room to hate or speak evil of others. All men are born hateful and hating each other in malice and envy (Tit 3:3), but now you are to be changed by Christ’s grace (Tit 3:2; Eph 4:31-32).

It has been said, “If you cannot say anything nice about them, then do not say anything at all.” Perfect! That is Bible wisdom! That is exactly what the proverb teaches! And parents should enforce this with children toward siblings, classmates, and any other persons that come up in conversation. Gracious and noble persons do not criticize others.

A cure for this wicked habit is to avoid despising others in your heart, “Curse not the king, no not in thy thought; and curse not the rich in thy bedchamber” (Eccl 10:20). Even if you must correct another overtaken in a fault, you should do it meekly and fearfully (Gal 6:1; II Tim 2:25; Jas 3:13; I Pet 3:15). Neither authority nor truth justifies cruelty.

When someone curses you, remember Solomon’s advice, “Take no heed unto all words that are spoken; lest thou hear thy servant curse thee: For oftentimes also thine own heart knoweth that thou thyself likewise hast cursed others” (Eccl 7:20-21). Return a blessing for their curse, not railing for railing (I Pet 3:8-9). Show yourself a child of the King!

God has overlooked much in your life. He has pitied you like a good father pities his children (Ps 103:13-14). Are you able to pity others, overlook their faults, and remember that God has forgiven your debt of 10,000 talents while they owe you only 100 pence? Can you learn to not think more highly about yourself than you should (Rom 12:3)?

Jesus rebuked those who thought they were righteous and despised others by the parable of the Pharisee and the publican (Luke 18:9-14). It is wicked pride and haughty conceit that cause a person to despise others (Rom 12:16). It is a shame that those who love to despise others for their motes are never wise enough to see their own beams (Matt 7:1-5).

There are those who should be despised, but they are not your personal enemies – they are God’s enemies (Ps 139:21-22). David’s list of righteous character traits includes contemning a vile person in your eyes (Ps 15:4). Yet it was David that eulogized his greatest personal enemy Saul with tears and gracious words of praise (II Sam 1:17-27).

How kind is God in the Bible, when He names those with faults? Gideon was a mighty man of valor and man of faith. Samson was a hero in the cloud of witnesses. And Lot was a just and righteous man, whose righteous soul was vexed every day (Heb 11:32; II Pet 2:7-9). Here is kindness and mercy, even to those with blots in their personal histories.

When Jesus was reviled and abused at His trial, He neither reviled nor threatened back, when He could have easily and justifiably foretold their earthly and eternal damnation. You are to follow the very steps of His example to be a noble Christian ruling your tongue, even when you are suffering wrongfully at the hands of others (I Pet 2:18-24).