The Bible warns us against talking too much or being overly talkative. In fact, the Bible says that a fool can be recognized by his many words (Ecclesiastes 5:3). Ecclesiastes 10:14 adds that a fool “multiplies words.”
The Bible discourages using an abundance of words where a few would suffice. “Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent, and discerning if they hold their tongues” (Proverbs 17:28). Those who feel compelled to give utterance to every thought in their heads usually end up in trouble.
Proverbs 10:8 describes the overly talkative person as a “babbling fool” (ESV, NASB), a “prating fool” (NKJV), or a “chattering fool” (ISV) who will come to ruin. Such a person is contrasted with one who is “wise of heart” and who “will receive commandments.” The antithetical parallelism of Proverbs 10:19 warns that talking too much naturally leads to sin: “When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent” (ESV).
The wise person refuses to talk too much. Rather, he fears the Lord, listens to the Lord, and obeys the Lord. He follows the example of Mary, “who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said” (Luke 10:39). When our mouths are full of our own words, we have little time or interest in God’s words. Talking too much usually means listening too little.
Modern culture offers numerous avenues through which we can express ourselves verbally. Social media, blogs, cell phones, and call-in radio all enable us to keep up a constant stream of chatter. But how much of our talking is truly edifying or important (see Ephesians 4:29)? Saying what needs to be said is important, but talking too much easily leads to saying what should not be said.
Restraining our lips is an indication of wisdom and humility. Talkative people often do not take the time between their many words to choose their words carefully. Christians should be aware that talking too much is detrimental to our witness in the world, as James reminds us, “If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless” (James 1:26). James later says that controlling the tongue is one of the hardest things to do, humanly speaking (James 3:2). In fact, “no human being can tame the tongue” (James 3:7). Fortunately, we have the Holy Spirit to help us with the task, and here is a helpful prayer: “Set a guard over my mouth, LORD; keep watch over the door of my lips” (Psalm 141:3).
The apostle Peter is often quoted in the gospels, and it seems that he was a talkative person by nature. In one instance at least, Peter’s verbosity was ill-advised. On the mount of transfiguration, Peter says to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what to say . . .)” (Mark 9:5–6). Notice that Peter “did not know what to say,” so, of course, he said something! It’s just what talkative people do. God quickly silenced Peter by redirecting his focus: “A cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: ‘This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!’” (Mark 9:7). Peter’s talking had to be replaced with listening.
Just as the overly talkative person displays foolishness, the one who holds his tongue demonstrates knowledge and understanding. “He who has knowledge spares his words, and a man of understanding is of a calm spirit” (Proverbs 17:27). We can’t gain knowledge if we are constantly talking, but understanding comes from listening and using our words sparingly. “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak . . .” (James 1:19).