That’s Odd and Destructive

Like snow in summer or rain in harvest,
    so honor is not fitting for a fool.

Proverbs 26:1 ESV

Snow in the summer is odd. Rain during the harvest is destructive. Why would the writer use these two word pictures to say that it is not fitting to offer honor to a fool?

First, it’s odd to bestow honor on a fool. In Proverbs, the fool is the one who is unwise and destructive in action, spirit, or attitude. Why would you heap honor on that person? Honor is rightly reserved for that which is good or excellent. The Super Bowl MVP gets a trophy, not the player with the worst statistics on the losing team. The kid who wins the spelling bee by correctly spelling “scherenschnitte”* receives the scholarship, not the kid who misspelled “dog” in the first round. This is intuitive; it makes sense, naturally.

Second, honoring a fool for his foolishness is not only odd, it’s destructive. Farmers race to get the crops in ahead of the rain during harvest season because of the potential harm to the crop, both in the field and in the barn. Among other things, late rain can stimulate mold growth, which can make its way up the stalk, destroying the corn or grain. A wet harvest can also require extra labor to dry the crop or risk loss of the crop due to mold and mildew while the crops are being stored.

Honoring a fool is destructive because it encourages the fool to continue his foolishness. Why would a man seek wisdom when he is being honored as a fool? Social media may be the most appropriate illustration of this principle. Outrageous behavior or speech is rewarded with likes and shares. And, rather than curb their outrageous behavior, people think … “I can outdo that. Let’s see how many likes I can get.”

Questions:

1. In what ways has my foolishness been honored? Did that honor move me toward godliness or away from godliness?

2. In what ways do I honor fools? Does that move others toward or away from godliness?

3. How has this passage helped me to see a better way?

* 13-year-old Vanya Shivashankar of Olathe, Kansas, was declared co-champion of the 2015 Scripps National Spelling Bee after correctly spelling “scherenschnitte.” She shared the honor with 14-year-old Gokul Venkatachalam of Chesterfield, Missouri, who correctly spelled “nunatak.”

A Golden Outcome

Like a gold ring or an ornament of gold
    is a wise reprover to a listening ear.

Proverbs 25:12 ESV

The writer mentions two parties in this verse, the speaker and the listener, and both have an important part in the relationship.

The speaker is described as wise, and his words are corrective. And, though it is not stated specifically the speaker has a willingness to engage another who, given the context, is not doing something correctly. Thus, we could summarize the speaker’s qualities as wisdom and willingness.

In a similar way, the listener demonstrates a willingness to be engaged and corrected by another person, which demonstrates his own wisdom. We can say this with confidence, though it is not explicitly mentioned in this verse, because elsewhere in Proverbs, such a person is described as wise. For example, 10:1 says, “A wise son hears his father’s instruction ….”

The word picture used to illustrate these two people is a gold ring or a gold ornament. These items are used to add value or enhance someone or something else. Thus, the wise reprover adds value to the wise listener. In other words, “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17).

Questions:

1. In what way are you preparing yourself to be a wise reprover? How do you build your credibility to offer reproof to another person.

2. Do you have a listening ear, one that accepts correction? When was the last time you received correction/instruction from another person? Did you receive that correction happily or begrudgingly? In what way can you improve in this area?

A Timely Re-Post: Connecting the Dots … Wrongly

This was originally published here on January 12, 2014.

In my Acts of the Apostles course, one of the projects the students are required to complete is the Personal Application Paper, which requires the student to catalog twenty principles they have discovered in their study of the book of Acts. They are then required to formulate a plan to apply each of the principles to their lives.

An example of how this project works follows:

PRINCIPLE: Everything isn’t as it immediately seems, therefore, don’t draw definite conclusions hastily.

TEXT: Acts 28:3–6

BACKGROUND: En route to Rome according to his appeal to Caesar, Paul survived a treacherous voyage at sea and landed at Malta, battered but alive. Paul was among 276 survivors who were welcomed by the local residents. However, he was a prisoner, which apparently communicated certain things about him to his hosts; namely, that he was somehow shortchanging justice by surviving the shipwreck. This conclusion regarding their assumptions is based on what his hosts said in response to Paul being bitten on the hand by a viper,

“No doubt this man is a murderer. Though he has escaped from the sea, Justice has not allowed him to live.”

Acts 28:4 ESV

In the minds of those who were watching Paul, certain things were obvious: a) He was a prisoner who was guilty, likely of murder; b) he deserved punishment, though somehow he had apparently dodged it by surviving the shipwreck; and c) Justice (or fate) had finally caught up to him by way of the viper.

The dots were connecting very nicely … until Paul simply shook free of the viper and suffered no ill effects (28:5). However, being certain that “a” leads to “b” leads to “c”, their confidence was only slightly halted by the delay in any obvious effects of the snake bite. Because these dots were so easy to connect, they could wait expectantly for Paul “to swell up or suddenly fall down dead” (28:6). But, after waiting a long time and having none of their expectations realized, they had to reconsider their conclusions regarding Paul.

This time, though, things were more clear: a) a man who survives a stormy sea and shipwreck, b) which is immediately followed by a deadly snakebite that has no ill effect, c) is clearly “a god” (28:6). Paul must be a god. Yes, that has to be it; those dots connect very nicely! Or, … perhaps, there is still a better – more correct – explanation.

POINT: Sometimes, things aren’t what they seem … even when they seem so obvious or clear. For those of us who believe we can read people well, this is a difficult thing to accept. Better yet, it’s difficult to practice patience. And this lack of patience can be particularly harmful (to us and others) when we begin to assign motive for their actions. Here’s the truth: sometimes people do things for reasons that appear very obvious, but in reality, are for very different reasons or for no real reason at all. Sometimes we do dumb things or do things badly, just because we are people.

“Why did you throw a rock through Mrs. Jones’ barn window?” the teenager’s mother angrily enquired. “It’s because she told us that she saw you smoking at the back of her property; it’s payback, isn’t it?” his dad accusingly interrupted, conveniently wrapping up the mystery. “No! I didn’t even think about whose window it was. I don’t know why I did it; Joe and I were walking behind her barn and we saw some rocks and a dusty old window, and without really thinking we thought, ‘let’s see who can hit the window.’ He threw first and missed. Unfortunately, I won; I hit it on my first try,” the teen explained.

In the fictional conversation above, the dots connected very easily for the teen’s parents: a) They knew their son; b) Mrs. Jones had reported his smoking; and c) that report obviously led to retaliation. Or did it? In reality – as much as a fictional story can portray reality – their son broke the window because: a) he is a teenage boy in the company of another teenage boy; b) he had access to rocks and an old window; and c) it seemed like fun to see who could break the glass. Pretty simple. Pretty reasonable, … if you know teenage boys who have access to rocks and old windows.

But, if the glass is still broken, what difference does it make if it was broken for revenge or the result of a poor decision? It makes all the difference in the world in terms of how the matter should be handled. In this case, revenge is a matter of the heart; a poor decision is a matter of maturity. Furthermore, the revenge angle wrongly assigns evil intent to the teen, which unfairly harms his reputation and the relationship between him and his parents.

APPLICATION: I will endeavor to be slower and more considered (i.e., investigative) in connecting dots, particularly when the dots lead to negative conclusions about others based on their actions. Proverbs 18:17 offers wisdom to this end:

“The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.”

An Eternal Perspective

Let not your heart envy sinners,
    but continue in the fear of the Lord all the day.
Surely there is a future,
    and your hope will not be cut off.

Proverbs 23:17-18

Here, the writer encourages his reader to take the long, eternal perspective. The natural tendency is to desire that which we can see. And in this case, the implication is to chase whatever it is that sinners have or are doing. Maybe it’s wealth. Prestige, perhaps. Whatever it is, the writer says, Don’t long for that! It’s here today, gone tomorrow. It’s temporal (see Ecclesiastes 1:3-4, Hebrews 11:24-25).

In contrast, we are encouraged to continue trusting, by faith, in the Lord.

The New Testament shares this same theme:

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

Hebrews 11:1

Hebrews 11 continues, “By faith …

  • we understand that the universe was created by the word of God
  • Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Can
  • Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death
  • Noah built an ark
  • Sarah received power to conceive
  • Abraham offered Isaac on the altar
  • Isaac invoked future blessings on Jacob and Esau
  • Jacob, while dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph
  • Moses left Egypt
  • the people crossed the Red Sea
  • the walls of Jericho fell …”

What is to be gained for those who fear the Lord rather than envy the sinner? A hope and future that will not be cut off (Proverbs 23:18).

Questions:

What do you envy about sinners, in general, or a specific sinner?

Why is that, whatever it is, more inviting than a future that will not be cut off?

There’s a reason …

A fool takes no pleasure in understanding,
but only in expressing his opinion.

Proverbs 18:2 ESV

My elementary school report cards were often littered with X’s on the Excessive Talking line, so it was not infrequent that I was reminded, “There’s a reason God gave you only one mouth and two ears.” In other words, “you should listen at least twice as much as you talk.” In the south, perhaps other places as well, this phrase is used as a logical argument for why a kid (or an obnoxious adult) should demonstrate self-control and talk less, particularly in a group setting.

In Proverbs 18:2, the writer is pressing deeper than simply the matter of self-control. Here, he is suggesting that for the fool what can appear to be a self-control issue is actually a window into the heart. The reason his mouth works overtime is pride.

Beware strong silent types, the fool doesn’t have to be a Chatty Kathy. A quiet reserved person can also struggle with pride, engaging with others only when his/her thoughts or opinion can be shared.

Proverbs fleshes out this idea in other places by describing the wise person. For example, “A wise son hears his father’s instruction, but a scoffer does not listen to rebuke” (13:1 ESV). Or, “Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning” (9:9 ESV).

Whether we are loud or quiet, an important question to ask ourselves is, What do my conversations reveal about my heart? Am I a fool who is only interested in sharing my own opinion or knowledge? Or, do I demonstrate wisdom by being open to instruction and/or correction? Am I willing to learn from others?

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