13 Even in laughter the heart may ache,
and the end of joy may be grief.
14 The backslider in heart will be filled with the fruit of his ways,
and a good man will be filled with the fruit of his ways.
15 The simple believes everything,
but the prudent gives thought to his steps.
16 wise One is cautious and turns away from evil,
but a fool is reckless and careless.
17 A man of quick temper acts foolishly,
and a man of evil devices is hated.
18 The simple inherit folly,
but the prudent are crowned with knowledge.
19 The evil bow down before the good,
the wicked at the gates of the righteous.
20 The poor is disliked even by his neighbor,
but the rich has many friends.
21 Whoever despises his neighbor is a sinner,
but blessed is he who is generous to the poor.
22 Do they not go astray who devise evil?
Those who devise good meet steadfast love and faithfulness.
23 In all toil there is profit,
but mere talk tends only to poverty. – Proverbs 14:13-23 ESV
Life can be tumultuous and uncertain. It is filled with peaks and valleys, highs and lows, and a wide range of disparate experiences that can make your head spin. And without godly wisdom, it will be difficult to make sense of it all. The diversity and seeming inequality of our life experiences can create an inner dissonance that is difficult to resolve. But wisdom can bring clarity and a sense of meaning to it all.
For instance, the wise person understands that laughter, while beneficial, can never fully alleviate pain and suffering. It is a temporary fix that can lift one’s spirits for a time but will never fully assuage the hurt and heartache that can accompany life in a fallen world. That’s why Solomon points out, “Laughter can conceal a heavy heart, but when the laughter ends, the grief remains.
Laughter can make difficult times more bearable but it can’t change circumstances. As the proverb says, it can conceal a heavy heart, but it can’t heal one. Laughter may make you forget your troubles, but it can’t make them go away. There is nothing wrong with laughter. It is a gift from God. I think God has a sense of humor but laughter was never meant to serve as a replacement for guilt, a narcotic to deaden our pain, or an entertaining diversion to replace the joy and peace that can only come from God.
Think about how many times you’ve found yourself down in the dumps and turned on the TV in an attempt to find something that might make you laugh. Or you’ve gone to a movie to forget about your cares, if just for an hour or so. For a few brief moments, you were able to forget about your problems and laugh. But when the TV show ends or the movie is over, you find yourself right back where you started. Nothing has changed. “When the laughter ends, the grief remains.”
Wisdom recognizes that God is the ultimate answer to our sorrow, weariness, lack of fulfillment, and longing for purpose in life. The person who makes God his highest priority will be rewarded for seeking to live according to His will (verse 14. The godly will know how to live prudently, conducting his life with discernment that is based on the wisdom of God (verse 15). The wise know the value of turning away from (verse 16) and have the God-given capacity to refrain from anger that produces foolish and sometimes fatal outcomes (verses 17-18).
In the end, the godly will come out on top. The wise will live to see righteousness win. It may not happen in this life but, eventually, the way of the wise will prove to be the victorious way.
Evil people will bow before good people;
the wicked will bow at the gates of the godly. – Proverbs 14:19 NLT
When God’s grand plan of redemption is complete and His Son returns to establish His earthly Kingdom, the wicked will find themselves bowing down before Christ and having to confess that He is the King of kings and Lord of lords.
And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying: “To Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power forever and ever!” – Revelation 5:13 BSB
Wisdom wins. The way of the righteous will culminate with the will of the Father bringing about the worship of His Son by all mankind. Even those destined for an eternity separated from God will be forced to acknowledge the sovereignty of His Son, Jesus Christ. And as the children of God, we will find ourselves enjoying our undeserved yet privileged position as fellow heirs of Christ in the coming Kingdom.
In this life, we have to witness the gross injustices that are part and parcel of a fallen world. The poor find themselves despised because of their poverty. Not only do they lack worldly goods but they find friends to be in short supply. But the wealthy seem to have no shortage of treasures or admirers. But it will not always be that way. One day, justice will be served and all the wrongs will be righted. The injustices will be dealt with once and for all.
But in the meantime, Solomon calls us to practice justice to the best of our ability. Rather than despise our impoverished neighbors, we are to love and care for them (verse 21). While the wicked makes plan to do evil, the wise come up with ways to do good. They use their God-given capacity to seek the well-being of others to display steadfast love and faithfulness to all (verse 22). They practice selflessness. They demonsrate compassion. They model the character of God to both the godly and the godless. And because they are doing the will of God, their efforts pay off (verse 23). Their reward is the blessing of God. He extends His grace, mercy, and love to His children so that they might continue to serve as His conduits of divine blessing to all those around them.
The book of Proverbs is all about two paths or ways of life. One is committed to living life according to God’s terms, while the other is pictured as the self-made, self-reliant, self-directed individual who rejects God’s way as the best way. The Proverbs are not presenting two equally viable alternatives to living life. You can’t expect to choose either option and get the same results. In the end, it all goes back to the fear of God. “Those who follow the right path fear the Lord; those who take the wrong path despise him” (Proverbs 14:2 NLT). The fear of the Lord is all about humility in the face of God’s glory. It is an awareness of His majesty, holiness, and power and our own inadequacy. Only a fool would look at God and decide to run his own life because he knows better. Only a self-consumed egomaniac would reject God’s way for his own, arrogantly thumbing his nose in the face of God and stubbornly walking right into destruction. “The wise are cautious and avoid danger, fools plunge ahead with reckless confidence” (Proverbs 14:16 NLT).
Man is so prideful that he would rather suffer the consequences that come with self-rule than give up his precious autonomy. It reminds me of the lyrics to the song made famous by Frank Sinatra, “I Did It My Way.” That song could be the official anthem of the human race. We stand before God and shout, “I did what I had to do and saw it through without exemption. I planned each charted course, each careful step along the byway. And more, much more than this, I did it my way.” Doing it our way is more important to most of us than doing it the right way. We will stubbornly cling to our right to be wrong. We will painfully pound our heads against the wall of God’s righteousness rather than submit to His will and accept His way as the only right way to live. And in doing so, we miss out on His love, mercy, grace, and divine plan for a better life. Our obsession with self-rule ends up in our own self-destruction.
The closing lines of the song, “I Did It My Way” are sobering and provide a very insightful look at the stubbornness of sin.
For what is a man, what has he got?
If not himself, then he has naught
To say the things he truly feels and not the words of one who kneels
The record shows I took the blows and did it my way! Yes, it was my way
What a sad picture of the foolishness of man. Rather than kneel before God and admit His majesty and power, men would rather stand tall and take the blows – all so they could do it their way. They find God’s way restrictive and stifling. His offer of peace, rest, and salvation from sin appear unattractive and even unnecessary to them. They are deceived by the offers of this world and the lies of the enemy. They choose compromise over conviction every time. Jesus told us it would be this way. He warned us that few would choose the path God offers. “You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it” (Matthew 7:13-14 NLT). The way God provides IS restrictive, narrow, and demanding. It demands that you abandon your own way and go His. It requires that you trust God’s way as the right way. It unapologetically expects you to fear God and humbly, dependently follow Him, believing He knows what’s best for your life. You can do it your way or you can kneel before God and do it His way.
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.