A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold In settings of silver. (Proverbs 25:11, N.K.J.V.)
Ed Young Sr., using this verse as the text for a daily devotion, writes the following:
In ancient times, when an oriental king gave a banquet and wanted to show how rich he was, he would take apples and cover them with gold, place them in silver baskets, and distribute them to his guests. “Take a golden apple with you,” he said, and these golden apples became prized possessions.
Since the text verse is part of a chapter that begins with the words “These also are proverbs of Solomon,” we might assume that King Solomon knew all about this kingly custom. Perhaps he even practiced it himself. If that was indeed the case, it would explain why he used the custom as an illustration of the wonder and beauty of a word fitly spoken.
I do appreciate the fact that Solomon doesn’t attach a precise definition to the phrase “a word fitly spoken.” I say that because such a word can come in a variety of shapes and sizes. For example, one translation translates the phrase as “a ruling rightly given.” Another translates it as “timely advice.” Others translate it as “a word spoken at the right time” or “a word spoken in right circumstances.”
Certainly such a word can be a word of encouragement spoken to someone who is filled with anxiety. As Proverbs 12:25 says: “Anxiety in the heart of man causes depression, But a good word makes glad” (N.K.J.V.). By contrast, such a word can also be a word of rebuke. As Proverbs 28:23 says: “He who rebukes a man will find more favor afterward Than he who flatters with the tongue” (N.K.J.V.). The point is that the word is not only spoken at just the right moment, it is appropriate for the moment. The moment is like a setting of silver, and the word is like the golden apple sitting in the setting. The word and the setting go together like a matched pair.
It takes wise discernment to know when to encourage and when to rebuke. For that matter, it takes wise discernment to know when to say anything at all. Whereas a wrong word spoken at a time when something should be said will not produce a desirable effect, neither will a right word spoken at a time when silence is the best course of action. Isn’t it amazing just how complicated this whole verbal communication thing can be?
Think back over some of your recent conversations, Christian, and be honest with yourself. Have you been handing out any apples of gold? If so, have you been handing them out in appropriate settings of silver? If you can answer, “Yes” to both of those questions, good for you. May your tribe increase! But if you have been using your speech to either hand out ugly apples or hand out beautiful apples during times when they can’t be properly appreciated, you should ask the Lord to help you use your speech more effectively in His service. This much is for sure: The world can always use more people who know what to say and when to say it, and you can be such a person if you will learn how to place your apples of gold in their settings of silver.