Proverbs 16:17-33: Pursue Wisdom!
August 23, 2022
TODAY'S BIBLE READING:
It is easy to assume that evil is something obvious, rare, or unlikely to affect us. But the reality is subtler. Here is a set of Proverbs that press into various ways that we need to resist evil and develop Christlikeness in the pursuit of wisdom to the glory of God.
We begin with a proverb about evil:
“The highway of the upright turns aside from evil; whoever guards his way preserves his life” (16:17).
Sometimes doing wrong is presented as fun or enticing; there is an offer of sweetness to it. If the sin did not seem enjoyable, then I suppose few would do it. It is good then to be reminded that to guard your way from evil will actually preserve your very life. The daily battle for holiness is not a minor or unimportant issue. It is a matter of life and death.
Then come two proverbs about pride:
“Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (16:18).
“It is better to be of a lowly spirit with the poor than to divide the spoil with the proud” (16:19).
Pride is a perennial temptation for us all. And if you don’t think you have a problem with pride, then you are probably more in the thralls of pride than anyone. Pride makes us think we are better than others; it can also make us miserable by thinking we are deserving of far more than we receive. So learn these truths: pride goes before destruction. It is better to be of lowly spirit with the poor than to divide the spoil with the proud. Better to be poor and humble than proud and wealthy. For where there is pride, in a moment will come destruction.
Now comes a series of proverbs about thinking:
“Whoever gives thought to the word will discover good, and blessed is he who trusts in the Lord” (16:20).
“The wise of heart is called discerning, and sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness” (16:21).
“Good sense is a fountain of life to him who has it, but the instruction of fools is folly” (16:22).
Someone once said that most people would die rather than think, and most people do. Thinking, really thinking, is hard. It takes effort, energy. It challenges what we think we know. But the battle of life is fought in the mind. What we think we soon become; what we conceive of in the mind, we do in the deed. Therefore, use your mind to give thought to the word (16:20). Bible study, preaching, even devotionals are to engage our brains to lead us towards an ever-increasing biblical worldview.
To be wise also requires the thought to be discerning, to think things through, to sift them and discern what is right and what is best. With such thinking comes sweetness of speech, verse 21. Effective speech that persuades emerges first from the idea that is formed in the mind.
To motivate us to the hard work of thinking well, verse 22 tells us that good sense is a fountain of life. This is not some merely theoretical pursuit; it’s a fountain of life! Whereas the instruction of fools is folly. Therefore, think God’s thoughts after him!
Now come two proverbs about speech:
“The heart of the wise makes his speech judicious and adds persuasiveness to his lips” (16:23).
“Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body” (16:24).
From such thoughts about wisdom and discernment, the Proverbs move again to think about rhetoric, the oratory of godly speech. If you want to be persuasive, then be wise, verse 23, for godly wisdom adds persuasiveness and judiciousness to your speech! And such words of grace, verse 24, are sweet, pleasant, as well as giving health to the body. Again, wisdom that generates this kind of speech is commended to us. Do what you can to be wise! Study the Bible. Spend time with wise people. Ask questions. Soften your heart towards God. Read great books. Learn from your experience. Repent of any known sin. Humble yourself before God. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.
Then a proverb about the need to avoid over self-confidence:
“There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death” (16:25).
Just because a choice or a direction, verse 25, seems right to you does not mean it necessarily is. Some ways that seem the correct path can still lead to death. It is important to be humble enough to take advice, learn from the Bible, and ultimately seek to be led by Christ himself through his Word.
Then a proverb about work:
“A worker’s appetite works for him; his mouth urges him on” (16:26).
Necessity is the mother of invention, it is said, and this proverb, verse 26, in a way confirms the truth: If you want to be productive, the answer is not always to create the perfect environment, but to find the right balance between opportunity and necessity.
A series of proverbs about evil:
“A worthless man plots evil, and his speech is like a scorching fire” (16:27).
“A dishonest man spreads strife, and a whisperer separates close friends” (16:28).
“A man of violence entices his neighbor and leads him in a way that is not good” (16:29).
“Whoever winks his eyes plans dishonest things; he who purses his lips brings evil to pass” (16:30).
It is easy in some religious circles to begin to have a pollyannaish approach to life. But the Bible is clear: we are all sinners. There are people who give themselves over to plotting evil and speaking words to do damage. This proverb, verse 27, stands as a reality check to an overly positivistic view on life. Verse 28 follows on by describing what happens when dishonesty and gossip or whispering takes place. So damaging is that, it can even separate close friends. Surprisingly, verse 29, violence is a more subtle temptation than it might at first seem: it entices and leads. For some people there is an attraction to the simplistic so-called solutions that violence seems to present. Body language, verse 30, can give you clues as to what someone is planning. The proverb does not mean that every wink, or every pursing of the lip, is a sign of planning dishonesty or evil; it means that very often evil plans show themselves in body language. We are wise then to pay attention to not just what someone says but also what they do.
Some proverbs that turn some contemporary assumptions about life upside down:
“Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life” (16:31).
“Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city” (16:32).
These are two proverbs that turn our expectations on their head. We hear so often about the wonderfulness of youth. Here, verse 31, is a proverb in praise of old age. Gray hair is a crown of glory. There is a place for youthful energy. But there is also a place for the glory that comes with a life of wise righteousness. Do not despise the aged and godly.
Similarly, verse 32, we tend to think that anger and going with the aggressive option is the right way forward. But actually, being patient and slow to anger is better even than the mighty, and if you can control your spirit, it’s better than being a conqueror of a city. Work hard at controlling your temper; if you cannot control yourself, how will you gain control of anything else?
Finally, a proverb about luck:
“The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord” (16:33).
This section finishes with a reminder that there is no such thing as chance: you can cast lots, but God is in charge of all luck, and every decision from the dice is from the Lord. Don’t give into thinking that you have bad luck or good luck, but instead trust God with the outcome of events that you cannot control.
Resist evil, avoid pride, develop godly thinking, from which will come sweet speech, do not be overly self-confident, work hard, and know that all comes from God, the fear of whom is the beginning of wisdom. Therefore, pursue wisdom!
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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