Proverbs 13:1-12: A Longing Fulfilled
August 16, 2022
TODAY'S BIBLE READING:
This section of Proverbs calls us towards the wisdom that pleases and honors God, and therefore is the life that is most fulfilling for us.
The first section is related to speaking:
“A wise son heeds his father’s instruction, but a mocker does not respond to rebukes” (13:1).
“From the fruit of their lips people enjoy good things, but the unfaithful have an appetite for violence” (13:2).
“Those who guard their lips preserve their lives, but those who speak rashly will come to ruin” (13:3).
Speaking is—it is strange to say—a two-way street. No one speaks to another if there was not at least the presumption of the other listening. Even those who speak to themselves out loud do so because they know that they themselves will listen! How foolish it is, then, to be someone who does not listen to his father’s instruction. Obviously, there are evil fathers whose advice we should not follow. But by and large, in usual circumstances, your father is uniquely qualified to instruct you for three reasons: one, he loves you; two, he knows you well; and three, he wants what is best for you. Therefore, listen to your father.
Speaking itself, when it is faithful speech, leads to the enjoyment of good things. Words have a power that can benefit the speaker when that speaker is speaking words of truth and faithfulness. Those who do not commit to such acts of negotiation often resort to violence; violence is the last refuge of the incompetent, and the frequent tool of the unfaithful. Instead, use your lips to advance what is right, rather than the blunt and incompetent tool of violence.
But while speech is important, that does not mean we should give in to verbal diarrhea. We should “guard your lips” and not “speak rashly.” Think before you speak. Think twice before you say something controversial. Set a guard on your lips—and on your social media pontifications too.
Now the Proverb of laziness reemerges (a common theme in Proverbs):
“A sluggard’s appetite is never filled, but the desires of the diligent are fully satisfied” (13:4).
Talent alone will not get you very far. As Einstein is reported to have said: genius is 1% inspiration but 99% perspiration. Sweat. Work.
Now then, Proverbs move from hard work to the kind of character that must accompany it:
“The righteous hate what is false, but the wicked make themselves obnoxious and bring shame on themselves” (13:5).
“Righteousness guards the person of integrity, but wickedness overthrows the sinner” (13:6).
How do you know whether someone has a good character? Listen to what they hate. Do they hate lies and deceit? Do they hate what is false? The righteous are not dispassionate; they are passionate, and even about what is false. What do you despise? The wicked, by contrast, at least in the end, bring shame on themselves. Be righteous; why? Righteousness, a strong character, will guard you, while wickedness will in the end overthrow you. As it has been said: “Character is who you are when no-one is looking.” It is character in the private space that guards us; we have nothing to fear from exposure. And so can stand strong when our enemies seek to find dirt on us.
Now we move to money, another common theme in Proverbs:
“One person pretends to be rich, yet has nothing; another pretends to be poor, yet has great wealth” (13:7).
“A person’s riches may ransom their life, but the poor cannot respond to threatening rebukes” (13:8).
The first observation, in verse 7, is acute, if surprising. “One pretends to be rich, yet has nothing.” Ask any salesman whether it is the person who comes into the store well-dressed who is always the wealthiest, and he will tell you the truth of this observation in verse 7. Some of the richest people I have known have not paraded their wealth – perhaps for fear of being always asked for money, or because they have realized that money is not all it is cracked up to be. But then, look at verse 8: here is an example of when Proverbs is true about life without passing any judgment on it. There is no doubt that in difficult circumstances, having money can buy you out of trouble, or “ransom” your life. That is by no means all that Proverbs (or the Bible) says about money. But money is a powerful tool, and if used rightly for the kingdom of God, can be a powerful way of investing in honoring Christ.
We then move back to character:
“The light of the righteous shines brightly, but the lamp of the wicked is snuffed out” (13:9).
“Where there is strife, there is pride, but wisdom is found in those who take advice” (13:10).
Again, the conclusion from verse 9 is therefore to invest in having an increasingly Christ-like character. Righteousness is like a light that shines brightly. Take the time, then, each day to confess your sins, repent of them, and turn to God to help you live in a way that is more pleasing to him. But now, verse 10, we come to a diagnostic: pride, that devilish sin, perhaps even (as C.S. Lewis argued) the root of all sin. It tends towards a characteristic effect: strife, conflict, arguments. If someone is proud, they tend to stir up difficulties and arguments around them. Do not be like that; instead have the wisdom to take advice.
Briefly, we return to money:
“Dishonest money dwindles away, but whoever gathers money little by little makes it grow” (13:11).
Here is advice for all the get-rich-quick schemes. None of them work in the long run. Money earned by deceit will seep away like sulfuric acid eating through metal; there is an inner corrosive nature to such ill-gotten gains. Instead, take the long road. Work hard; invest wisely; and be generous with what you have. John Wesley’s famous advice is worth repeating here: make as much as you can, save as much as you can, give as much as you can.
And then finally a Proverb that is more about the core inner life of a human:
“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life” (13:12).
The saying is “it’s the hope that kills you.” What that means is that it is hard to keep on hoping for something when it doesn’t seem to be ever going to happen. Proverbs acknowledges that reality. “Hope deferred makes the heart sick.” Are you feeling “sick” inside—that is, disappointed, bitter, as if life has no point, demotivated? Could it be that you have some “hope” that has not been fulfilled? Talk to God about that. Perhaps you have the wrong kind of “hope”; you are striving for something that is not in his plan. Search the Bible and see whether your “dreams” or “hopes” are in his will. If they are, then you have a comfort: “a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” There will come a day when that hope will be fulfilled! Look forward to that day, strive for it, and let that future prospect motivate you today. But if what you are hoping for is not something that he has revealed in his Word to give you, then consider this: put your hope in God, his gospel, and the advance of his kingdom. If that is where your hope is, you will never be ultimately disappointed!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Josh Moody (Ph.D., University of Cambridge) is the senior pastor of College Church in Wheaton, IL., president and founder of God Centered Life Ministries, and author of several books including How the Bible Can Change Your Life and John 1-12 For You.
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