Should I have felt flattered to have two young ladies fighting over me in church? Well, they were youngish compared to me. I am as old as my tongue, slightly older than my teeth and considerably older than my dentures. And no, they didn’t actually fight over me with sharpened finger nails during the Sunday service. They just disagreed amicably, while serving refreshments, about something I had said.
‘Hugh, you must stop saying “I’m old,”’ cautioned Sister A (as she moved a tray), warning me that I could become ‘ensnared by [my] lips’ (Proverbs 12:13). ‘But I am old,’ I protested. Then Sister B (as she poured the tea) remarked, ‘He only said he’s old, but he didn’t say he was decrepit. He’s still fit and active in body and mind.’ I agreed that I am indeed in fine fettle, by God’s grace, although I am old.
After all, the apostle in prison didn’t fear that he might stay trapped there indefinitely when he described himself to Philemon as ‘I, Paul, an old man’ (verse 9). Nor did their joke about being past it prevent aged Abraham and Sarah producing miraculously a post-menopausal child (Genesis 17:15-17; 18:9-15; 21:1-7).
So, what words could trap us harmfully? Here are a few examples from the book of Proverbs.
- Beware the snare of an impulsive promise (e.g. to be a guarantor)
When you ‘have given your pledge for a stranger … you are snared in the words of your mouth.’ Solomon counseled his son, if he should ever find that he had so trapped himself, to ‘hasten … and plead urgently with’ his creditor and ‘save yourself … like a bird from the hand of the fowler’ (Proverbs 6:1-5). Now, that is sound advice concerning a real verbal trap that could land the speaker in debtor’s prison.
- Beware the snare of dishonest talk
‘An evil man is ensnared by the transgression of his lips’ (Proverbs 12:13). The one who tells lies to cover up his mistakes, or exaggerate his contribution in a successful venture in order to earn popularity, will eventually be trapped by his speech and be exposed as a hypocrite.
- Beware the snare of aggressive speech (whether shouted or whispered)
‘The fool’s lips walk into a fight, and his mouth invites a beating. A fool’s mouth is his ruin, and his lips are a snare to his soul’ (Proverbs 18:6-8). So be wise when you have to confront anyone with whom you have a disagreement.
* But it is perfectly safe to say: ‘I have been young, and now I am old’, for King David published that line, openly and permanently, in the lyrics of one of his Spirit-inspired songs (Psalm 37:25).