Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger;
(Jas 1:19 ESV)
I’m taking a slight detour from the Proverbs because I came across this insightful verse while doing my Bible reading today. Note the progression. First we listen. Second we speak. Lastly we react. Naturally we should avoid the anger part if at all possible, but sometimes we will be emotionally moved, and not in good ways. However, if it comes to that, make sure you have been careful to listen first (to both sides of every discussion), then you have spoken with the parties involved (including asking questions to make sure you understood properly), and lastly react. Don’t jump to the last step too quickly.
Like a gold ring and a fine gold ornament, so is constructive criticism to the ear of one who listens.
(Pro 25:12 GW)
Who likes to be criticized? Before you think this is a rhetorical question with the obvious answer, “nobody,” consider the message of this proverb. If you have the kind of ear that doesn’t listen, then criticism is most likely going to go in your one ear and out the other. However if you have a listening ear, as the proverb says, then criticism is of immense value, comparable to jewelry made of precious metals. How many of us have the nobility in our character to consider constructive criticism to be valuable; something we would pursue? It’s not always my first inclination.
There is another element to this. Other translations specify not just constructive criticism, but that it should come from a “wise reprover.” So to clarify, we should seek the reproof of the wise, not just any old man on the street. However, reproof is a strong word. According to the Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew Definitions (Strong’s number H3198), the word can mean a number of things including, “rebuke, reprove, correct, chasten.” In other words we’re not necessarily talking about a polite exchange of some friendly advice.
However, if it comes from somebody wise – somebody who’s character and life experience has earned them a place among those worth listening too – then such a chastening is well worth it!
The wise have also said these things: It is wrong for judges to be prejudiced.
(Pro 24:23 GNB)
If you compare translations on this one the message behind the verse is simple; truth is true regardless of where it comes from. We must not be prejudiced with respect to persons. Don’t just trust some people automatically and distrust others with equal ease. Rather, we need to consider carefully what claims people are making and weigh the claims on their own merits. We must stick to the same standards as judges when we are discussing the really big issues of life.
Do not speak in the hearing of a fool, for he will despise the good sense of your words.
(Pro 23:9 ESV)
As it also says in Ecclesiastes, there is a time to be silent (Ecc 3:7). With some people, unfortunately, the best option is to not bother saying a word. This is particularly difficult for Christians who are always motivated to share about Jesus – sometimes we shouldn’t, as strange as that sounds. Or, in some cases, we shouldn’t rush all the way to the heart of the Gospel, but instead focus on other foundational issues that parallel the Gospel before moving to the heart of the Gospel itself. Continue reading
Make no friendship with a man given to anger, nor go with a wrathful man, lest you learn his ways and entangle yourself in a snare.
(Pro 22:24-25 ESV)
The message here is not that we should never associate with unpleasant people, but rather that we should be careful not to let negative influences become our close, personal friends. We cannot help but be influenced by those we are very close to. Another proverb (extra-Biblical) says that if you show me a man’s friends I’ll show you his future. Part of being the right kind of person involves being in the company of the right kind of people. Chose your friends wisely, and at the same time be a positive influence on somebody who may be using you as their means to self-improvement!
If you don’t want to be an angry kind of person then keep angry people at the level of acquaintance and gracious people at the level of friend.
Drive out a scoffer, and strife will go out, and quarreling and abuse will cease.
(Pro 22:10 ESV)
The idea behind a scoffer is one who mocks, boasts, scorns (according to my Bible dictionary). Obviously this is not conducive to healthy conversation. With the scoffer out of the picture it’s no surprise we’ll lose the quarreling and abuse at the same time. If only, oh if only, the scoffer would just leave.
But here’s a thought… “drive out” the scoffer. Yes, be proactive, don’t just wait for the scoffer to suddenly grow some common sense and leave on his or her own. There are boundaries on this, obviously, but let us not forget that there is a time and a place to end the conversation and perhaps even ask somebody to leave if others in the group want to have a productive conversation. That’s a tough call to make, but let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that option is not available to us!
On the heels of humility (the fear of the LORD) are riches and honor and life.
(Pro 22:4 GW)
Various translations seem to tie together humility and fear of the Lord though some seem to treat them as distinct concepts. It would make sense that understanding one’s rightful place before their maker would lead to an attitude of humility, yet it is possible even for those who do not have that understanding to exercise an attitude of humility.
And they ought to! Humility is said to bring about riches, honor and life. The riches intended here are almost certainly not material possessions, but honor and life. Life, again, not being reduced to mere physical existence but something more akin to fulfillment of essence.
Those who are able to think in the deeper terms of “true” riches and “true” life are also the type of people who are more likely to arrive at the conclusion that humility is the order of the day. How beneficial would that be for interpersonal relationships if we could all be rightly described as “humble.”
Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble.
(Pro 21:23 ESV)
This seems to fit pretty squarely in the “self-evident” category. How many times have we blurted out exactly what we were thinking at a particular moment (of brutal honesty) and then immediately wished we could pull everything we just said right back into our mouths? If you haven’t been there then I’d like to shake your hand and be your friend!
The fine art of pausing, thinking and considering whether or not to say what’s on our mind is something that takes practice. Unfortunately there are all too many adults who still haven’t mastered the skill.
Keep yourself out of trouble; learn to place thinking one step ahead of speaking. It’s a tough habit to form, but a discipline well worth learning!
There is gold and abundance of costly stones, but the lips of knowledge are a precious jewel.
(Pro 20:15 ESV)
This verse utilizes irony to make its point. By seemingly dismissing rare and precious things (gold, costly stones) as though they were common and insignificant the author emphasizes the true value of “lips of knowledge.” Two observations are in order. First observation: the value of knowledge itself. Education, study, research – all forms of enhancing our intellectual capacities – are worthwhile goals. Continue reading
Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.
(Pro 19:11 ESV)
This seems like a rarely lived out proverb these days, doesn’t it? How cautious do we always need to be in order to make sure we don’t offend people? So quickly people throw around the phrase “such-and-such is offensive to me.” Go to the website of your local newspaper and do a word search for “offend” or “offensive” or some other similar word. If your results are anything like mine there are a lot of people who are deeply concerned about offending others and that’s probably because there are a lot of people who are easily and frequently offended! Continue reading