10:19 Wordy Sins

Abraham Lincoln, whose Gettysburg Address is a masterpiece of brevity.

When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise. Proverbs 10:19.

The more we talk or write, the more likely we are to say something stupid, false, or harmful. Josephus is an example. His lengthy histories, which were written to ingratiate the Romans, reveal him as a schemer, boaster, and a traitor to his own nation. As his biographer Bentwich says, “Hard circumstances compelled him to choose between a noble and an ignoble part, between heroic action and weak submission. He was a mediocre man, and chose the way that was not heroic and glorious. Posterity gained something by his choice; his own reputation was fatally marred by it.”

Short speeches and writings often have power completely out of proportion to their length. Consider Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. He spoke so briefly that the professional photographer did not have time to complete the adjustment of his old-fashioned equipment. The other lengthy orations of that historic occasion have not been remembered, but what an inspiration the president’s few words became to the United States!

Jesus also couched almost all of his most memorable teachings in just a few, well-chosen words and images. Such were the Lord’s Prayer, the Beatitudes, all of the parables, and most of his answers to questions. Only the Sermon on the Mount, the Olivet Discourse, and his final instructions to his disciples before his crucifixion approach lengthiness. He knew the power of succinctness and showed an absolute mastery of his tongue that we would do well to emulate.

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