The lips of the righteous know what is fitting, but the mouth of the wicked only what is perverse. Proverbs 10:32
The righteous know what is fitting because they know three important things: the heart of God, the heart of others, and their own hearts.
"The lips of the righteous know what is fitting" refers to speech. Fitting speech refers to words that are spoken at the right time to the right people in the right circumstances. Someone who handles words this appropriately are artists and craftsmen.
My girls were excited when I arrived at home with a bunk bed kit for their room. But excitement turned to disappointment when several re-cut pieces didn’t fit and pre-drilled holes for the screws didn’t line up. Someone in the factory was careless with their measurements, cutting and drilling.
It is too easy for our speech to be as haphazard and ill-fitting as the pieces of the bunk bed. For the wicked, speech is perverse, meaning it violates moral and societal standards. Perverse means to "turn upside down." It is immoral, offensive, and inappropriate. Children exposed to this kind of speech grow up without any internal apparatus for tuning in to spiritual thoughts or behavior.
But inappropriate speech doesn’t just emanate from those with impure and wicked hearts, nor is it limited to that which is immoral or offensive. Inappropriate speech is that which fails to take into account people’s feelings and situations.
One year after losing their oldest son, friends of ours were asked by a lady at church, "Are you still grieving for him? It’s been a year." She has no idea how she cut the heart of our friends. It wasn’t wickedness that prompted her cruel comment; it was simply an unsympathetic and undiscerning heart. Because she didn’t know the heart of God, the heart of her friends, or even her own heart, she spoke words that tore the spirit.
The heart of God is compassionate, gracious, slow to anger, loving and faithful (Exodus 34:6). To know his heart is to walk in his kindness, showing compassion to the hurt and suffering. Someone attuned to the heart of God would never so callously dismiss the constant ache felt by grieving parents. God knows the pain of losing a son.
Secondly, to know the heart of another person is to place ourselves in the drama of their lives and feel, as best we can imagine, the joys and hurts they experience. Though our children may be alive and healthy, can we imagine what it would be like to visit our own child in the cancer ward? Can we stretch to think what it must be like to make the funeral arrangements for our son or daughter? Such thoughts are not pleasant, but neither are they morbid if the focus of such thoughts is to enter into another’s suffering and experience life with them.
Finally, to be able to speak words that are fitting, we must know our own hearts. "The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?"(Jeremiah 17:9). We all have an amazing capacity for thoughts, speech and behavior that is inconsiderate, selfish, and even evil. We can become so absorbed in our own lives that we become blind or insensitive to the circumstances of others. For those of us who have never experienced loss, grieving for a year may seem like sufficient time to calm the ache of a heart. But have we really put ourselves in the place of those parents who still see the empty chair at dinner time?
It takes a craftsman who knows wood to fashion furniture so that the pieces fit and are aesthetically pleasing. Likewise, it takes a craftsman who knows hearts to fashion words so that they fit the setting, offering peace, comfort or even rebuke, as the situation may demand. To become a craftsmen of words, studying hearts, beginning with the heart that yearns to make us righteous: God’s.