Proverbs 15:1-17: Wisdom’s Surprising Truth!
August 20, 2022
TODAY'S BIBLE READING:
This section of Proverbs is subdivided into three subsections: speech, the Lord’s judgment, and the heart. Many of the proverbs turn up surprises, but once understood, grasp you by the lapels and urge you to listen to their truth!
First, we come across a series of proverbs that relate in one way or another to speech:
“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (15:1).
“The tongue of the wise adorns knowledge, but the mouth of the fool gushes folly” (15:2).
“The eyes of the Lord are everywhere, keeping watch on the wicked and the good” (15:3).
“The soothing tongue is a tree of life, but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit” (15:4).
“A fool spurns a parent’s discipline, but whoever heeds correction shows prudence” (15:5).
“The house of the righteous contains great treasure, but the income of the wicked brings ruin” (15:6).
“The lips of the wise spread knowledge, but the hearts of fools are not upright” (15:7).
Here is a good reminder any time someone comes to you in an upset mood. A gentle answer turns away wrath (15:1). Sometimes all that is needed is an understanding word or two, with gentleness and kindness, appreciation and empathy.
There are those, though, who despise all forms of eloquence as only so much “show.” But, verse 2, not so the wise: the tongue of the wise “adorns” knowledge. It makes knowledge attractive, appealing, and beautiful. Pick your words carefully; speak with precision. Adorn knowledge with eloquent speech. The opposite is simply to let words come out in a jumble, a “gush” of verbiage; that is the path of folly. Instead, be circumspect with your diction.
Now, verse 3, there comes a counter-perspective. While words are important, and adorning knowledge is also important, we cannot go to the opposite extreme and think that smooth speech will protect us against the ramifications of evil deeds. No, the eyes of the Lord are everywhere keeping watch on the wicked and the good (15:3). You cannot hide your actions from God behind a fig leaf of pious patter.
How, then, can we use words well? Verse 4 tells us how words can have a healing impact; a soothing tongue is a tree of life. Words can give sustenance to the mind and therefore the body. But because words are so powerful, a perverse tongue crushes the spirit. If you see someone whose spirit seems crushed, it may be that they have around them someone who is speaking to them out of perversity, demeaning and immoral. Do not surround yourself with people who speak with a perverse tongue; surround yourself with people who speak with a soothing tongue.
Verse 5 tells how we should listen to the instruction of our parents, or those who are wise to instruct us from their vantage point of godliness and experience. If someone you trust, someone you know loves you, someone who is godly and wise—if that person corrects you, then make sure you listen. It would be foolish to harden yourself to the correction of your elders or your pastors, a mentor or a real friend.
Verse 6 seems to come in the middle of the stream with a contrary emphasis: the house of the righteous contains great treasure, but the income of the wicked brings ruin. The proverb is not saying that the wicked do not receive an income; it is just saying that that income will in the end bring ruin. Nor is the proverb saying that the house of the righteous will necessarily be extensive or plush; it is just saying that in the household and life of the righteous there is great treasure, most of all the great treasure of Christ.
Verse 7 tells us that the righteous person overflows to influence others through righteous lips, whereas with the fool, even his heart is not upright. A righteous person, trusting in Christ, a disciple of Christ, spreads the knowledge of the gospel of God. Be that kind of person.
Now we come to a section that uses strong language about what God “detests”:
“The Lord detests the sacrifice of the wicked, but the prayer of the upright pleases him” (15:8).
“The Lord detests the way of the wicked, but he loves those who pursue righteousness” (15:9).
“Stern discipline awaits anyone who leaves the path; the one who hates correction will die” (15:10).
“Death and Destruction lie open before the Lord – how much more do human hearts!” (15:11).
Verse 8 sticks in our throat: how could God “detest” anything? But if God is righteous, then he will stand opposed to what is not righteous—even if that “not righteous” is masked with religion flim-flam. “The sacrifice of the wicked” does not impress God any more than any other kind of deed of the wicked. Whereas merely the prayer—no expensive sacrifice—of the righteous pleases God. What matters to God is the heart.
Again, verse 9, tells us what God “detests”: the way of the wicked. By contrast, he loves those who pursue righteousness. Therefore, of course, pursue righteousness!
And, verse 10, make sure that we continue to follow that path of righteousness, for “stern discipline” awaits those who leave the path. God disciplines the child he loves, but it is still discipline, and therefore to be avoided if at all possible. Especially to be avoided is “stern discipline.” And if you are in sin and are disciplined, then do not “hate correction.” For that would be even worse and lead in the end (if unrepented) to death.
You might wonder how God can make these judgments. It is because the human heart lies open to God. The motivations of our hearts may be hidden to others, but not to God. Those motivations may at times be confusing even to us, but they are not to God. Therefore, seek single-minded devotion, purity of heart, seeking first the kingdom of God, loving God with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself.
Having begun to think about the heart, the Proverbs now switch to focus gradually more on this all-important part of our lives: our hearts.
“Mockers resent correction, so they avoid the wise” (15:12).
“A happy heart makes the face cheerful, but heartache crushes the spirit” (15:13).
“The discerning heart seeks knowledge, but the mouth of a fool feeds on folly” (15:14).
“All the days of the oppressed are wretched, but the cheerful heart has a continual feast” (15:15).
“Better a little with the fear of the Lord than great wealth with turmoil” (15:16).
“Better a dish of vegetables with love than a fattened calf with hatred” (15:17).
Why, verse 12, do those who mock at truth and godliness and righteousness avoid the wise? Because deep down, truly, they “resent” correction. They do not want to be put right, so they stay away from those who could show them the right, and instead merely mock at the righteous from a safe distance.
Verse 13 is a famous proverb and for good reason. “A happy heart makes the face cheerful…” It’s amazing how much of our inner disposition is displayed on the unwary face for those who observe carefully. And heartache crushes the spirit. A man or woman who is demotivated, not urgent in their work or settled in their home, may have some heartache, and it is the heart that must be cured for the rest to be cured.
Verse 14 tells us that the discerning heart seeks knowledge. If you wish to grow in knowledge and impact for Christ, then seek knowledge of him, his word, and the world all around you. Whereas the mouth of the fool feeds on folly, constant “entertainment” will not build a life that can have a glorious impact. There is a place for a “fun” TV show or Netflix program. But a discerning heart seeks knowledge, not merely passing the time in front of a screen learning nothing.
Verse 15 shows us that while often we think it is circumstances that determine our happiness, really it is the state of our heart that does. If someone feels “oppressed” internally, then whatever is happening externally, however many mansions they own, they will live a wretched life. By contrast, a cheerful heart has a continual feast, whatever the external circumstances. If you wish to be happy, then, work on your heart. Find joy in God, for God can never be taken from you. Learn to be content and grateful for what God has given you. Develop a cheerful heart and even in dire circumstances, you will still have a feast!
Verse 16 should be written above the walls of the major stock exchanges of the financial centers of the great countries of our world. Great wealth is of no lasting value if it is accompanied by great turmoil. “Better a little with the fear of the Lord.” With the fear of the Lord comes peace, joy, love; better to have that and only have a little money than to have much money and to be lonely, isolated, and disconnected from God and other people in hell’s turmoil.
Verse 17 should be read at every wedding! “Better a dish of vegetables with love than a fattened calf with hatred.” If you are married, don’t strain your relationship with your spouse to try to earn more money. Eat vegetables and nourish your love for each other! That’s a far wiser choice. Similarly, do not marry someone for money; better a dish of vegetables with love than prime steak every night in a mansion with an atmosphere of mutual hatred.
Some surprising Proverbs. They catch you unawares and show you the surprising truth!
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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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