19 Sin is not ended by multiplying words,
but the prudent hold their tongues.
20 The tongue of the righteous is choice silver,
but the heart of the wicked is of little value.
21 The lips of the righteous nourish many,
but fools die for lack of sense.
It is not natural to hold one’s tongue, but it is prudent. Many of the lessons in Proverbs have to do with self restraint, especially when it comes to our speech. This is a central theme of biblical wisdom, there may be much to oppose in the outside world but we must first prevail over the foolishness within. This begins with paying attention to your thoughts, and being careful with which ones you actualize in word and in deed.
“The tongue of the righteous is choice silver, but the heart of the wicked is of little value.” Just as important as what you let out of your mouth, is what you let in to your heart. Before the righteous speak, they have refined their thoughts considered their value to others. It is a simple rule to only speak when you have something valuable to say, but that does not make it easy. “But the mouth of the wicked gushes evil,” because that is what fills their hearts. It is easy for them to let it flow out and pollute their lives – but this only makes things more complicated.
“The lips of the righteous nourish many, but fools die for lack of sense.” Today’s first verse commends the wisdom of holding one’s tongue, which this verse seems to contradict. Which is it, should we keep silent or should we speak? The wisdom of Proverbs is primarily concerned with character, from which behavior flows. Consistency of character is the goal, which allows one the freedom to act wisely in any circumstance. The answer then is neither never speak nor always speak but rather always be prudent with your speech. Sometimes speech is needed for the instruction and encouragement of others, while other times it is better to keep silent. It is the task of the wise to answer the question of when.