Proverbs 15

Proverbs 15:1-8
1 A gentle answer turns away wrath,
but a harsh word stirs up anger.
2 The tongue of the wise adorns knowledge,
but the mouth of the fool gushes folly.
3 The eyes of the Lord are everywhere,
keeping watch on the wicked and the good.
4 The soothing tongue is a tree of life,
but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit.
5 A fool spurns a parent’s discipline,
but whoever heeds correction shows prudence.
6 The house of the righteous contains great treasure,
but the income of the wicked brings ruin.
7 The lips of the wise spread knowledge,
but the hearts of fools are not upright.
8 The Lord detests the sacrifice of the wicked,
but the prayer of the upright pleases him.
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The first five verses are about communication and how we use our words. God sees beyond our words, he can see into our hearts and can weigh our motives. This is something that is impossible for man. Other people’s motives are not our business.

Gentle words are more effective than harsh words. We can say something very direct with gentle words and most likely it will have greater impact.

Verses 2 & 7 tell us that the words of a fool tend to be unbridled and without any real substance. Often emotional or emotive language but when you scratch beneath the surface it’s not really thought through. 

It makes me think of the recent (this was originally written in August 2016) Brexit referendum. It seemed to me that both sides were full of soundbytes without substance. We had nothing to base our decision on. There was a lot of self preservation and ego going on in the discussion. The words of fools. The tongue of the wise however adorns knowledge and understanding.
Our speech should be gentle, respectful and honest. A soothing tongue without honesty though is perhaps more destructive than unbridled truth. The violence of silence.

There is something about discipline. Particularly the discipline of a parent. Whilst it may rarely be administered perfectly we know that almost all the time it comes from a place that we can trust and is underpinned by love. It is through discipline that we grow. We are disciplined first by God’s word, second by honest counsel and third by the hand of God through life since he has wired the universe with its own cause and effect system which automates discipline when the other gentler methods fail. The question is do we listen? Or more to the point do I listen? The DNA of the universe is wired with God’s wisdom.

There are words about treasure and ruin. This is not necessarily material gain but is the overall effect of righteousness and evil. God is the greatest treasure. He told Abram “I am your very great reward” …the presence of Yaweh as we sojourn through life. God in all his manifestations is a treasure that will fulfill us, will quench our thirst and meet our deepest needs if we allow it. The ways of evil on the other hand lead to darkness, ruin, chaos, broken relationships.

 The good news is that in his wisdom and wired into the DNA of creation that’s when we can experience the presence of God without all the noise that’s going on around us. Rock bottom is a solitary place and to sit with yourself and all of your darkness is not an easy thing but when you have nowhere else to go and the cause and effect of the universe has forced you there then this is the moment God enters. He sits next to you. He puts his arm around you and asks you “What do you want to do?”. At least that’s how I experienced it on the day that I walked along the Roding River.

Verse 8 informs us that the sacrifice of the wicked is no sacrifice at all. Primarily we have to think about Israel’s sacrificial system. There are many that would have sacrificed for show. They would have approached it casually with unclean hearts. I think about all those special contributions I gave to keep up with others or outdo what others were giving as I plunged my family into deeper debt, all the marathon prayers and heroic evangelism (2000 before 2000). It was all for show. It was about me looking impressive. The January contact goals on staff. I always made sure I was near the top of the table. God detests this kind of sacrifice. I know there were moments of sincere compassion, love for the lost and genuine connection in my prayer time and my passion for what we built with the camps was always honest and sincere. 

I would have done that all year round. It was my dream for the church to own the site that hired where we ran all of our camps and retreats and that I would run these events all year round. Post 2009 I reasoned that even if it did happen it would have been taken off of me and given to some model leader trained in a model church such was my cynicism. The truth is that it was my dream and not God’s dream. 

God had a different plan. A better plan that involved me walking through the valley of the shadow of death and knowing his presence in a new way. The prayer of the upright pleases him.
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Proverbs 15:9-14

9 The Lord detests the way of the wicked,
but he loves those who pursue righteousness.
10 Stern discipline awaits anyone who leaves the path;
the one who hates correction will die.
11 Death and Destruction lie open before the Lord—
how much more do human hearts!
12 Mockers resent correction,
so they avoid the wise.
13 A happy heart makes the face cheerful,
but heartache crushes the spirit.
14 The discerning heart seeks knowledge,
but the mouth of a fool feeds on folly.
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These verses bring two main themes to the table. The first is that our outward behaviour is a reflection of what is going on inside. It doesn’t tell the story of a man’s heart completely because there is so much more than the surface symptoms. The heart of a man is deep waters but the bahaviour gives an indication. 

Outward sin is a sign that all is not well but it doesn’t tell us exactly what is not well. We know that sin is a result of relationship problems … Relationship with God, with self and others but it still is only a symptom and cannot be dealt with in isolation.

God’s discipline is the other theme and this is God’s way of drawing our attention to the problems and encouraging us to deal with them.
If a person does not accept God’s correction, then that person will suffer. We have a choice as to whether we respond or not. What we do know is that in the end the conscience always wins. It will either win in leading us to repentance or will win in leading us to destruction. It will not allow us to sit on the fence for too long.
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Proverbs 15:15-19

15 All the days of the oppressed are wretched,
but the cheerful heart has a continual feast.
16 Better a little with the fear of the Lord
than great wealth with turmoil.
17 Better a small serving of vegetables with love
than a fattened calf with hatred.
18 A hot-tempered person stirs up conflict,
but the one who is patient calms a quarrel.
19 The way of the sluggard is blocked with thorns,
but the path of the upright is a highway
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Verses 15-16 remind us that the allure of wealth will leave us empty and bitter. You can have the world and all it’s turmoil and clamouring for more because that is all that materialism and worldly desire does it fixes you on always wanting more. 

I am experiencing the joy of not having much and feeling like I have everything. It’s a matter of perspective really. Each month is a challenge to make ends meet but not stressful. It’s deeply satisfying making sure that we keep our heads above water and then when we can do something we want or buy something extra it’s underpinned by gratitude rather than entitlement. That’s a great feeling. For some people it’s constant stress to make ends meet and that’s hard but the turmoil of the wealthy is also hard.

The theme continues in verse 17. Love and vegetables is better than the best choice food without love. Meal times are important for connection, for fellowship and to be together but what is on the table is not so important. We had a great curry last night but the baked potato the previous night was just as much a blessing. Who is at the table is way more important than what is on the table.

The poor have more. I think Mother Theresa said something about the greatest malaise in this world is loneliness not poverty.

Verse 18 is about patience. Patience is powerful. We live in a world that almost applauds impatience and wanting it now, or wanting change now, or making something happen now. God is patient. Patience plays a huge part in bringing about change. A patient man can resolve a conflict in a way that a hot headed man has no power. I need to hold onto this as I am the go between in a very challenging situation between family members that struggle to be present with each other. 

A sluggard is very slow. He has lots of excuses. Solomon uses humour here. Nobody could be so slow that plants grew on his path. The truth is that the man was very lazy.

The good man is like someone who travels along a good, clear road. A good person is patient (verse 18). But, at the right time, a good person acts very quickly. He is not lazy! He will achieve what he sets out to achieve. He is hard working and industrious. He is not a procrastinator and does not put off to tomorrow what could and should be done today.
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Proverbs 15:20-27

20 A wise son brings joy to his father,
but a foolish man despises his mother.
21 Folly brings joy to one who has no sense,
but whoever has understanding keeps a straight course.
22 Plans fail for lack of counsel,
but with many advisers they succeed.
23 A person finds joy in giving an apt reply—
and how good is a timely word!
24 The path of life leads upward for the prudent
to keep them from going down to the realm of the dead.
25 The Lord tears down the house of the proud,
but he sets the widow’s boundary stones in place.
26 The Lord detests the thoughts of the wicked,
but gracious words are pure in his sight.
27 The greedy bring ruin to their households,
but the one who hates bribes will live

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Similar to Proverbs 10:1, 15:20 calls on parental respect. The honour of father and mother is one of the commandments given to Israel at Mount Sinai. Being a parent, the older I get I realise how much is bound up in my children’s decisions. One of my children is almost 30 and is a parent herself, another is at university and my youngest is at a sports development centre. I still worry about their decisions and choices it’s not a neurotic worry but a sincere concern and longing for their lives to go well.  I don’t think that goes away. I think my parents would feel a strong sense of sadness or disappointment with decisions I have made and it lingers into their old age. 

This saddens me. I ask myself about my relationship with my parents in this moment and I think I have not really shown them the honour and respect that they deserve. I am thinking about an amends process for them.

In verse 21 we read about the attraction of folly to the unwise and the straight and narrow path of the wise. There is something bohemian, non conformist and outside the box in my spirit. There is a creative energy in me that is drawn away from the mainstream religious life. I don’t really understand it completely but I have always been a bit outside the box. I need to learn how to express it in a healthy and God fearing way.

Advice is good but not all advice is good so many advisors are necessary to weigh up options and think things through. The main point of advice I suppose is to take out the emotional attachment to certain decisions and make them more objective but for an advisor to give good advice they must understand what you really want and not impose what they want for you on the advice. This is the shortcoming in “church advice” of the past. It was loaded with the advisors desires for you and not helping you to think through your options to your goal. 

In some situations your own objectives would not be clear, they would be deliberately void of information leaving the advisor to interpret your desired outcome or motives or even worse you might state an outcome that is not what you want but what you think you should want which also is going to inevitably lead to bad advice.

There is a huge responsibility on the part of advisor. It is not something to be taken lightly. It is something I have taken way too lightly in the past. An advisors role is not tell someone what to do or what to think but to help them process their own their own thinking. It’s important to think about, pray and reflect on any words of advice that I give. It’s important to think about probable outcomes.

In verse 24, Solomon is using humour. He imagines that the wise man is walking up a hill. Sometimes, it is hard to walk up a hill. However, the wise man needs always to travel upwards. He cannot travel downwards (opposite of upwards), because that way leads to death, the grave and hell. The phrase “uphill struggle” springs to mind.
God will tear down the houses, the empires and all that is established by the proud but he cares deeply about those who cannot do things for themselves, those without a voice and those without resources.

The last two verses in this section talk about what is done in secret e.g. bribes and assures that God sees everything and will use everything both good and bad to bring about his honour and his will.

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Proverbs 15:28-33
28 The heart of the righteous weighs its answers,
but the mouth of the wicked gushes evil.
29 The Lord is far from the wicked,
but he hears the prayer of the righteous.
30 Light in a messenger’s eyes brings joy to the heart,
and good news gives health to the bones.
31 Whoever heeds life-giving correction
will be at home among the wise.
32 Those who disregard discipline despise themselves,
but the one who heeds correction gains understanding.
33 Wisdom’s instruction is to fear the Lord,
and humility comes before honor.
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The Bible urges us to give careful thought to our ways. To be quick to listen and slow to speak. A man who does not fear God is quick to air his opinion and is not usually measured in his response.
Verse 29 reminds me of Isaiah 59. ‘God is not deaf or weak. The result of your evil actions is that you have moved far away from God.’ (Isaiah 59:1-2). I think in all my darkness I never completely lost sight of the fact that God was involved in all this. This is not to give myself credit for anything at all but I always was aware that the hand of God was on it. I think there is a point that God does not hear and that’s when you shut him out. It’s not about your behaviour but what is in your heart and your desires.

Verse 30 tells us about the light in our eyes can have a positive impact on others. It’s true that our attitudes, our demeanour, our positive, faithful outlook has a positive impact. It is contagious. This is unlike religious behaviour which is judgmental, self righteous or pious and turns people away.

These last few verses in this section tell us about the virtues of discipline and humility. The fear of the Lord means that we will respect his code of what is right and wrong above our own. We understand that he wired all of this into creation and this is how things work in his universe. The problem is that we think it’s our universe and we want to define what is right and wrong and how things work but this is flawed as it does not consider the rest of creation and considers only what’s in front of our own nose.

Humility is a special quality that has a low view of my own importance. It is not low esteem. It is just an accepting that actually the universe can still run without my influence, that everything can function in this world just fine without my influence.

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