The Skill of Nutritious Speech


The lips of the righteous feed many…
~ Proverbs 10:21

I’m a father of two young children, both of whom are constantly asking questions. I serve as a pastoral minister, thus teaching half the time while counseling and mentoring during the other half. I also tutor students where I am helping students grasp complex concepts.

In other words, I talk a lot because I have to talk a lot. I’m still a classic “introvert” by nature, so I’m exhausted by the end of each day from all the conversations I engage in. But my function within my home, my church, and my community requires constant verbal communication across a broad range of topics. During any given twenty-four-hour period, I may find myself explaining the eschatological view of dispensationalism to a curious church member, the biblical solution to depression to a struggling brother, the relationship between second derivatives and concavity to a calculus student, or the proper way to clean teeth to my son. During any given week, I’ll find myself communicating with people ranging from ages three to seventy-three. Again, it’s part of the job. You can’t be a husband, father, pastor, and teacher and insist on not talking.  

Not Mere Talk
But I wasn’t commissioned by God to merely talk and share my thoughts for their own sake. My words were meant to make an impact. My words are supposed to effect a specific type of change in the people to whom I speak. If they aren’t eliciting such change, then I ought to look for another job. Thus, over the years, I’ve become more sensitive to the kind of long-term impact I have on people through my conversations with them. In the process, I’ve also become more cautious with the words I say, to whom I say them, how I say them, when I say them, why I say them, and how often I say them. The increasing sensitivity to what comes forth from my tongue comes from a growing appreciation for the truth that God designed a man’s words to not merely reveal information, but to change lives for the better. Words have a powerful effect. Depending on how they’re used, they can both nourish or poison those who hear.  

Words have a powerful effect. Depending on how they’re used, they can both nourish or poison those who hear.  

This is the truth of Proverbs 10:21: “The words of the righteous feed many.” Righteous men speak in a way that produces a specific kind of impact on those around them—their words feed. The original Hebrew here literally says that the lips of the righteous “pasture.” How’s that for an illustration? The words of the righteous nourish the people around them with good nutrition the same way shepherds feed their sheep. Righteous men let forth the right words at the right time in the right amount with the right motives in a way that builds up the strength and health of the people who hear their words. Their speech is never vain, never wasted, and never destructive.    

This proverb implies that one of the several indicators of a man’s righteousness is the manner in which people are changed by his speech. In other words, what happens to those to whom you speak is a big deal. Foolish people are only concerned about how much they can speak and how they sound when they do—they couldn’t care less about the effect their words have.

Speech for the Good of Others
Righteous people see the speaking not as a right to be exercised, but as an opportunity to minister for the good of others, and are thus careful and purposeful in wielding their tongue. Ask yourself: Do people find it fruitful to converse with you? Do you find that people gravitate to conversations with you in the same way that sheep gravitate to green pastures? Are you the type of person who people enjoy talking to? Do you find that people regularly seek your counsel, even though you don’t always give them what tickles their ears? Are you the type of individual whose words strengthen—not break—the spirits of individuals from different walks of life? After all, this proverb says that the words of the righteous feed many—not just family and close friends or people who make up your particular demographic.

To be clear, I am not saying that a charismatic personality equates to a righteous character. Just because people want to hear what you have to say doesn’t mean that you’re saying the right things. And there are times when right words, chosen at the right time, directed at the right person, and spoken in the right manner, will not be received well. But generally speaking, the common man can distinguish nourishing words from empty ones. Those who are truly righteous are able to speak in a way that the people with whom they interact are blessed, built up, nourished, encouraged, and impacted for the better. Just like sheep with green pastures, people flock to the righteous for the opportunity to be spoken to.  

Every Christian who is serious about acquiring wisdom should be concerned about how those around them are affected by their words. Words were designed to feed—and to feed a delicious, nutritious meal. Not junk food, or dessert, or greasy, fatty food, or rotten and decaying food—but healthy food. A wise Christian ought to be a haven of nutrition for the spiritually and emotionally famished people around them. It’s no surprise, then, that during those times when our Lord Jesus Christ spoke, people were hanging onto his words (Luke 19:48).    

What Does Nutritious Speech Look Like?
So what exactly is nutritious speech? Proverbs has much to say about it. Righteous speech is, first and foremost, righteous. It is truthful, filled with integrity in both content and motive. Healthy speech that feeds is also gracious and soothing. It is well-pondered and prudent, stemming forth from the mind of the thoughtful. It is both well-informed and timely. It has clarity and forthrightness, and is without haughtiness. A wise man will be one who seeks to be equipped with the skill of nutritious speech.  

Every Christian is a steward of the words that God has entrusted to them. Some, in God’s providence, have been given more opportunities to speak than others. But all have been given the ability to make an eternal impact on those around them through godly speech. Be selective, then, with your words; choose them wisely for the right people at the right time. Consider how to deliver them, and be equally concerned about how they are digested by those who hear. The sheep, if you haven’t noticed, are hungry and waiting.  

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