“Whoever belittles his neighbor lacks sense, but a man of understanding remains silent.”
Proverbs 11:12 (ESV)
Proverbs 11:12 is a convicting verse for those of us who speak before thinking and for those of us who like to air our negative opinions, especially when they are about someone else. Have you ever belittled your neighbor? The Hebrew word for belittle is buwz, meaning to despise, disrespect or hold in contempt. This idea also encompasses judging others, for if we are speaking ill of someone we are doing so because we have judged them by some standard we think they cannot meet.
While we all have people we don’t like, we are responsible for how we handle our disdain. Proverbs 11:12 tells us that keeping our negative thoughts silent shows understanding. We are called to build up one another, not tear each other down (Ephesians 4:29), and silence is a building block when rude comments lurk. Solomon further encourages us that where words are many, sin is present (Proverbs 10:19) and his father David wisely prayed for a guard over his mouth that he might not sin against God (Psalm 141:3).
How can we learn to think before we speak, or, better yet, to transform our thoughts so that we think well of others and speak kindly?
Commit James 1:19-20 to heart: “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” (NIV)
Read Scripture daily so that you can transform your thoughts as described in Romans 12:2: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (NIV)
When you have negative thoughts, do not dwell on them. Stop thinking them immediately and replace them with something positive and Scriptural. 2 Corinthians 10:5 tells us to “demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and [to] take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (NIV)
Pray for the person of whom you think ill. Jesus commands us to love our enemies and pray for them (Matthew 5:44).
Remember your neighbor is anyone with whom you come in contact (Jesus used the parable of The Good Samaritan to explain this in Luke 10:25-37). So, when we consider Proverbs 11:12, we want to speak well of, or keep silent about, anyone we meet. In doing so, we build others up either by positive words or by the sweet sound of silence.