Proverbs 17:4

ESV An evildoer listens to wicked lips, and a liar gives ear to a mischievous tongue.
NIV A wicked person listens to deceitful lips; a liar pays attention to a destructive tongue.
NASB An evildoer listens to wicked lips; A liar pays attention to a destructive tongue.
CSB A wicked person listens to malicious talk; a liar pays attention to a destructive tongue.
NLT Wrongdoers eagerly listen to gossip; liars pay close attention to slander.
KJV A wicked doer giveth heed to false lips; and a liar giveth ear to a naughty tongue.

What does Proverbs 17:4 mean?

An important but often overlooked aspect of Jesus' teaching was that God looks beyond physical actions. The Lord cares about our motives and attitudes as much as any aspect of our lives (Matthew 5:21–22, 27–28). The idea that dwelling on sinful thoughts is, itself, sinful is greatly challenging. In the same way, this proverbs touches on an area where sin can be committed without action, but through being passive.

Several points in Scripture condemn practices such as gossip and slander (Leviticus 19:16; Proverbs 11:13; Romans 1:28–31). Yet the person who willingly listens to such speech, including rumors and misrepresentations, is also committing sin. "I'm not the one who said it, I was just listening to it" is no defense. It's as pointless as a person claiming, "I didn't commit adultery, I just fantasized about it." Solomon explicitly describes someone who "listens" or "gives ear" to speech that is "wicked" or "mischievous" as an "evildoer."

Gossip and scandal can be extremely tempting (Proverbs 18:8), but the proper response is to avoid even listening to it (Proverbs 20:19). Those who find juicy rumors hard to avoid are not alone; Scripture describes the entire human race as sinners. Gossip is a natural temptation for human beings. Paul writes in Romans 3:12–16: "All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one. Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive. The venom of asps is under their lips. Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes."

Another facet of this statement is the connection between speech and inner spiritual condition (Luke 6:45). What a person believes influences behavior and speech. Those who listen to wicked talk, accept sinful advice, or love gossip, slander, or misrepresentations are participating in evil. Those who more readily wallow in that kind of conversation are more easily persuaded to other sins.
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