Today’s post from Proverbs about using your faith to help others is a small but important read. Too often we get swept up in our own accomplishments, and forget that our efforts should be aimed toward honoring God and helping to build His kingdom.
When we talk about discipline and correction, we’re usually referencing public schooling and parenting tactics–in short, how we raise our kids. But this verse of Proverbs has no such age restriction: this is meant for ALL people, young and old. No matter how old we get, God is still shaping us, sculpting us through the people and events He brings into our lives.
This is a hard verse to read, especially the bit about “hating correction,” because I’m a perfectionist and hate to admit I need correction–correction means I’ve failed. After all, adulthood is often championed as the time in our lives when we finally have everything together, when we are self-sufficient and wise and don’t need anybody to correct us. But here, we see that we cannot invest ourselves with so much importance (read: pride) as to disregard God altogether. Divine discipline (both punishment and training) brings us knowledge and wisdom we can never possess on our own, and divine correction, even as humiliating as it can be sometimes, brings us closer to God when we finally allow Him to work in us. (Found that out during my ill-fated teaching career, LOL)
This verse forces us to think: “What is God trying to correct in me? What is He training me for?” These are important and powerful questions for any point in a Christian’s life–in fact, they can be daily questions!
4 Humility and the fear of the Lord bring wealth and honor and life.
At first, this verse can seem contrary to all the traditional human wisdom we know. How can being humble and fearing anyone bring wealth or honor, and least of all life? But the humility and fear described in these verses is the humility of wisdom, and reverence for God.
For instance, when we are wise enough to understand that pride and arrogance will only ruin us in the long term, humility follows as we trust God with the things we know we cannot control. Also, when we have become humble, we are more ready to give God the honor and reverence He deserves, rather than relegating Him to a back-burner position in our lives as we stride on self-sufficiently following our own plans.
But what do humility and reverence have to do with wealth, honor, and life? Well, they have nothing to do with the worldly versions of these things, but rather the eternal/spiritual versions. It isn’t about getting rich, but getting saved; not about worldly honors, but the spiritual honor of heaven; not about physical life, but about eternal life. Humility and reverence, genuinely cultivated in our hearts, bring us closer to God, which is the best wealth, honor, and life we could ever dream of.
Better a meal of vegetables where there is love than a fattened calf with hatred.
In this proverb, short but profound, we find advice which is less about food than wealth in general. Meals of vegetables, being cheaper, were more common in Biblical days; meals featuring fattened calves were luxuries, saved for very special occasions. But here, the author of Proverbs advises that a cheap meal served in an atmosphere of love is better than a luxurious meal served in an atmosphere of hatred.
This seems counter-intuitive at first. Wouldn’t we all want to eat the expensive, sumptuous food rather than the cheap stuff, no matter what kind of “atmosphere” it’s served in? But in this proverb, spiritual riches and material riches are contrasted; the spiritual riches of love are better than the culinary riches of meat, or indeed any other kind of worldly material wealth.
This strikes to the heart of our modern lifestyle, which often prizes instantly-gratified material wishes over concepts like family ties, loyalty, friendship, and compassion. All our wishes for material wealth–all the “fattened calves” we covet–have their place, but they pale in comparison to love, in all its various expressions. Material riches are inevitably consumed and discarded, like the fattened calf at a large dinner, but spiritual riches are eternal…like God’s love for us.
So, considering all this, which kind of riches do you want in your own life?
19 Better to be lowly in spirit and among the oppressed than to share plunder with the proud.
As part of the “Proverbs of Solomon” contained within the larger Book of Proverbs, this verse cautions us not to be “proud,” but rather “lowly in spirit.” But what do the words “proud” and “lowly” mean, in this context?
According to other similar verses in the Bible (Proverbs 3:34, Isaiah 57:15, Matthew 5:3, Proverbs 1:13-14, and Judges 5:30), being “proud” in God’s eyes means being too self-sufficient to acknowledge your need for God, or too bent on worldly wealth, prestige, and power to remember God. By contrast, being “lowly in spirit” means being humble and remaining dependent on God for spiritual strength, blessings, motivation, and forgiveness (both for yourself and for others through you).
In our modern culture, calling someone “dependent” is an insult–it usually means that the person wants others to do things for him or her because of laziness. We highly value self-sufficiency and individuality, and frown on people who act helpless so that they don’t have to make an effort. But that is not the kind of dependence this verse is asking us to have. Living a life dependent on God is actually rather active; it means praying to Him about what you’re going to do, lifting up your efforts to God while you work to accomplish things, and trusting God with the results, including setbacks or do-overs. It’s about acknowledging that everything we do is by the grace of God.
I’ve lived a proud life, a self-sufficient life, before, and I’m working on living a humble, dependent life now. I know which life feels less muddied, less drifting, and which life felt empty and meaningless after a while. Life honestly does work better if we trust God and are actively dependent on Him to lead us. After all, if all we truly depend on is ourselves, what room is there for God?
17 Whoever loves pleasure will become poor; whoever loves wine and olive oil will never be rich.
This proverb is direct, but a little baffling at first. The word “rich,” in our culture, is often associated with the ability to access pleasure and wealth when we want it; in ancient Israel, wine and olive oil were some of the most luxurious products available, usually only provided for feasts and expensive ointments. Why would the writer of Proverbs tell us that these kinds of wealth will make us poor?
The key here is to remember that physical wealth and spiritual wealth are two very different things. Physical wealth, the wealth we can see and touch, brings us passing happiness and pleasure, as well as the ability to access more of that state of being. Spiritual wealth, on the other hand, is not made up of things we can own, see, or touch, but is instead a wealth of inner peace, calm, and wisdom of the Holy Spirit.
We often strive so hard for the markers of physical wealth: a big house, fancy car, nice clothes, cushy job, latest technology, lots of friends, etc. Sometimes, we can let this pursuit of physical wealth start to rule our lives. We can even start associating physical wealth with self-respect, power, and our own personal “goodness.”
This proverb’s warning is that all physical wealth is transitory, and will not sustain us. When we rely too much on physical wealth, we deprive ourselves of spiritual wealth. The old adage “Money can’t buy happiness” is appropriate here, but should actually read “Money can’t buy you joy”–at least, not the long-lasting, utterly unshakable joy that comes from God. That is a wealth beyond any price tag, and makes you literally a more contented person.
If this proverb (and my explanation/application of it) seems a little too good to be true, then believe the words of a lifelong complainer/whiner: I never believed I could have that kind of joy, not until I rededicated myself to God. If you want that same kind of solid, dependable peace that physical wealth can never provide, it may just be time for you to close your eyes, bow your head, and ask God for help with whatever is bothering you. You may just be pleasantly surprised by the result.
17 Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when he stumbles, do not let your heart rejoice, 18 for the Lord will see and disapprove and turn his wrath away from him.
“Now wait a minute,” you might be thinking. “Aren’t we allowed a little laugh at our enemy’s expense, especially when they are justly punished for things they’ve done wrong to me?” We like to rejoice in our enemy’s misfortunes–after all, they’re our enemies and we don’t like them, thus, it’s good when something horrible happens to them, because they deserve it.
Is that right? Certainly I’ve laughed behind the wheel when I see that a police officer has stopped the guy who harassed me on the highway for 10 miles straight, all because I wouldn’t go 80 miles an hour like he wanted me to. It feels GOOD to laugh at that guy, and anybody else who crosses us and gets his or her comeuppance.
But while that feels good to us emotionally, it is decidedly not Christian. These two verses, which advise us not to gloat about an enemy’s fall, are part of the “Sayings of the Wise” in Proverbs, which instruct us about Christian and non-Christian living. As hard as it is (and believe me, it can be VERY difficult), if we are going to be Christians, we have to express sympathy and empathy for those who are suffering, even if they are or have been our enemies.
Take the example of the nations of Edom and Israel–Edom rejoiced over Israel’s destruction, and was soon transformed into a desert as punishment. God saw that the nation of Edom gloated about its good fortune and Israel’s ill fate, and Edom soon found out that Israel’s misfortune had nothing funny about it. We, too, may come to understand an enemy’s suffering all too well after we’ve laughed at them. This is not God doing evil acts to us, but instead reminding us that we are no higher or better a person than our enemies.
When we are gracious to our enemies rather than vindictive toward them, we are living more as Christ asked us to live when He said in Matthew 5:39, “If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.” Instead of retaliating in anger and then laughing over our enemy’s defeat, we should continue to treat them with the same serene grace and love that God has given us so freely. THAT is what sets Christians apart from others in the real world outside our churches–acting as Christ taught, showing what Christian love and forgiveness looks like, regardless of how much we want to rejoice in our enemy’s failures.
As part of a larger section in chapter 16 of Proverbs, about how a ruler can be Godly, Solomon writes this guideline about wrongdoing. It’s a verse many world leaders, past and present, would do well to follow–how many world leaders can we think of who have been caught in acts of injustice, greed, or unrighteousness? In each case, when such acts are brought to light, the welfare of the country often falls away and the scandal surrounding the leader is of paramount importance. These acts undermine authority and take away credibility, leaving nations often floundering for a leader they can trust again.
Even though human leaders are just that–human–they are still responsible for leading their people in a safe and trustworthy manner. Politics and its “deals” and “votes” comes second to God. When a leader is truly prayerful, considering God at every option, it shows, in a leadership that is firm without being brutish, gentle without being weak. Such leaders may not always appease everyone, but their actions are more centered on God, and for that, their leadership will be blessed, as David’s leadership was blessed in his reign of Israel.
This Goes for ALL Leaders–Including Us
This verse isn’t just for CEOs, presidents, and the like; it’s for any Christian who accepts a leadership position. We too have to take this same prayerful stance when we are given authority. We must not be caught in wrongdoing of any sort, because we are examples to the people we lead, and we are being observed, if not by others, then by God. Godly teachers must not cheat; Godly accountants must not fudge numbers; Godly managers must not treat employees harshly, and so on. (For example, in every lesson I do for the Sunday School class I lead, I must make sure that I am studying the Bible as deeply as I hope my class members are, and I must do my best to read Scripture as it was written and not just accept someone else’s interpretation.)
When we lead with God first and forget about all the politics and the pride of leadership, we might just find that leadership is a little bit easier, if not always a cakewalk. Sometimes, God puts us in power to help us guide others, and sometimes God puts power in our hands to teach us something, but in either case, we have to uphold righteousness in order to overcome our human weaknesses.
This verse is from a larger part of Proverbs which describes the spiritual makeup of a righteous person, and it reminds us that when we are living in God’s will, our works will encourage others and help us grow spiritually as well. And, when we help others grow in knowledge and wisdom according to the Word of God, we are wiser for having done so. Just as when you help somebody else study in school, and end up learning the material better for having taught it, you become stronger in your faith as you guide a new person in discovering theirs.
One important point to remember: it is not our works that make us righteous in God’s sight, nor is any Christian somehow “more righteous” than any other. We are saved only by Christ’s great sacrifice for us, and the way we show gratitude for that is to adhere as closely as possible to what God has asked of us. When we start focusing on all the good we think we’re doing, and how awesome we are, then we’re forgetting that God is the source of any goodness and righteousness, not our actions. Pride turns righteousness upside-down, so subtly that sometimes we don’t even recognize it. Let’s not rot the tree of life with our own pride!