A Woman of God

10 An excellent wife who can find?
    She is far more precious than jewels.
11 The heart of her husband trusts in her,
    and he will have no lack of gain.
12 She does him good, and not harm,
    all the days of her life.
13 She seeks wool and flax,
    and works with willing hands.
14 She is like the ships of the merchant;
    she brings her food from afar.
15 She rises while it is yet night
    and provides food for her household
    and portions for her maidens.
16 She considers a field and buys it;
    with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard.
17 She dresses herself with strength
    and makes her arms strong.
18 She perceives that her merchandise is profitable.
    Her lamp does not go out at night.
19 She puts her hands to the distaff,
    and her hands hold the spindle.
20 She opens her hand to the poor
    and reaches out her hands to the needy.
21 She is not afraid of snow for her household,
    for all her household are clothed in scarlet.
22 She makes bed coverings for herself;
    her clothing is fine linen and purple.
23 Her husband is known in the gates
    when he sits among the elders of the land.
24 She makes linen garments and sells them;
    she delivers sashes to the merchant.
25 Strength and dignity are her clothing,
    and she laughs at the time to come.
26 She opens her mouth with wisdom,
    and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.
27 She looks well to the ways of her household
    and does not eat the bread of idleness.
28 Her children rise up and call her blessed;
    her husband also, and he praises her:
29 “Many women have done excellently,
    but you surpass them all.”
30 Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain,
    but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
31 Give her of the fruit of her hands,
    and let her works praise her in the gates. – Proverbs 31:10-31 ESV

It would seem that King Lemuel had a mother whose praises he was eager to sing. These closing verses of chapter 31 are a testimony to his mother’s character and the impact she had made on his life. For Lemuel, the woman who had raised him and inculcated words of wisdom into his life became the model for what it means to be a godly mother and wife.

Lemuel had high standards when it came to looking for a wife. And his mother had warned him not to waste his time and energy pursuing women whose lack of moral integrity and character would only end up damaging his reputation and his reign. As a king, Lemuel would have had no shortage of potential marriage candidates. There would have been an endless supply of young ladies eager to win the attention of the king and secure themselves a permanent place by his side as queen. So, as Lemuel wrestled with the weight of finding a suitable mate, he was forced to admit:

Who can find a virtuous and capable wife?
    She is more precious than rubies. – Proverbs 31:2 NLT

Lemuel bemoans the fact that finding a good wife is difficult work but well worth the effort. As he considers his own mother’s life and legacy, he recognizes the value of setting a high standard and refusing to settle for less.

We all know how difficult it can be to find the “right” person to spend the rest of your life with. But Lemuel’s advice is to take your time and wait until you discover someone whose life is marked by godly characteristics that are of surpassing value and worth. King Lemuel poses a wonderful question when he asks, “Who can find a wife of noble character?” He compares the search for such a woman to the quest for a priceless jewel. She is rare and extremely valuable, and well worth searching and waiting for.

Lemuel goes on to list the kinds of qualities that mark the virtuous woman, and it is an extensive and impressive list. She will be trustworthy, faithful, hardworking, industrious, diligent, entrepreneurial, energetic, strong, caring, compassionate, wise, and godly. And those qualities will not only make her an excellent wife, but an influential mother, friend, and neighbor.

She will fear God and love her family. But what’s interesting is that King Lemuel spends no time describing her looks. In fact, he states that “charm is deceptive, and beauty does not last” (Proverbs 31:30 NLT). But then as now, culture puts a high priority on charm and beauty. Looks are important, and Lemuel is not dismissing the importance of physical attraction. He is simply stating that beauty can be skin deep and, when looking for a wife, you want to look beneath the surface.

To be honest, I was first attracted to my wife because of her looks, but then I quickly discovered her charm. As I spent more with her, I realized there was more to her beauty than had first met my eye. I was fortunate to discover that she was also a “woman who fears the Lord” (Proverbs 31:30 NLT).

One of the greatest desires of any parent is for their son to find a woman whose life will be characterized by the qualities found in these verses. And for Christian parents, one of the most important characteristics we pray for in our future daughter-in-laws is that they fear the Lord. We long for our son to find a woman who loves, respects, and reverences God and who displays a steady and growing dependence upon Him.

Lemuel’s concept of an ideal wife is a woman who answers to God. She is committed to living for God. She is learning to rest in God. And what father would not want his son to find a woman like that. Let’s face it, there are many beautiful, charming women in the world, but who can find a woman of noble character? Those kinds of women are few and far between. They are rare and priceless. They are limited to those who have given their lives to Christ and who are willing to allow Him to so radically change their hearts that they become priceless treasures in His hands. They are the ones who have allowed God to transform their lives in such a way that their inner beauty far surpasses their physical looks. Beauty fades but character lasts.

Charm is deceptive, and beauty does not last;
    but a woman who fears the Lord will be greatly praised. – Proverbs 31:30 NLT

According to Lemuel, what makes a woman truly attractive is the godly character that far surpasses any outward charm they may possess. The apostle Peter describes it as a “beauty that comes from within.” And he encourages godly women to place a higher priority on cultivating their inner character than they do on enhancing their outer beauty

Don’t be concerned about the outward beauty of fancy hairstyles, expensive jewelry, or beautiful clothes. You should clothe yourselves instead with the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God. – 1 Peter 3:3-4 NLT

That kind of woman will greatly enrich any man’s life, and he will find she is well worth searching and waiting for. He will learn that she is of extreme value and deserves a husband who is also a man of noble, moral, and upright character. He will be motivated to display a character that is in keeping with hers. His love for and fear of God will mirror that of his wife. And sadly, those kinds of marriages seem to be few and far between. But they’re worth praying and waiting for.

In a society obsessed with outer beauty, it pays to be reminded that God looks at the heart. He is not impressed with externals. He does not measure our value based on our good looks or outer attractiveness. God is all about inner character. He sees what others too often fail to see and what most of us even refuse to look for. In this famous Proverb, King Lemuel describes a most impressive woman. She is industrious, a successful businesswoman, a loving mother, a highly disciplined worker, a caring friend, and a dedicated wife. In fact, this woman is almost too good to be true. But I don’t think the point of this Proverb is to hold up this woman as a model for all women to follow. Lemuel is simply reminding us that character counts.

It is what is on the inside that gives our lives value. This woman’s industry and hard work are laudable, but they are not the point. Hard work can simply become another form of idol worship, leading to workaholism and self-sufficiency. While King Lemuel describes this woman as dressing in fine linen and purple gowns, he says, “She is clothed with dignity and strength” (Proverbs 31:25 NLT).

Her inner character was outwardly visible by virtue of the way she lived her life. She worked hard out of love for her family, rather than love of self. She was industrious because she cared for others more than she cared for herself. This woman feared God. She had a reverence for God that drove her actions and determined her attitude about everything. Verse 10 describes her as “virtuous.” That word really has to do with inner strength. She was trustworthy, good, hard-working, discerning, compassionate, giving, humble, wise, kind, loving, and worthy of praise from both her children and her husband. Why? Because she had an inner beauty that was far more than skin deep. It was the byproduct of time spent with God.

If some of us, both men and women, spent more time in the Word and less time in the gym or in front of the mirror, we might exhibit more of the character qualities this woman possessed. If we cared more about the condition of our souls than we did about our bodies, we would be far more attractive to the world around us.

Charm can mislead and beauty soon fades. The woman to be admired and praised is the woman [or man] who lives in the Fear-of-GOD. – Proverbs 31:30 MSG

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.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

Wine, Women, and Words

1 The words of King Lemuel. An oracle that his mother taught him:

What are you doing, my son? What are you doing, son of my womb?
    What are you doing, son of my vows?
Do not give your strength to women,
    your ways to those who destroy kings.
It is not for kings, O Lemuel,
    it is not for kings to drink wine,
    or for rulers to take strong drink,
lest they drink and forget what has been decreed
    and pervert the rights of all the afflicted.
Give strong drink to the one who is perishing,
    and wine to those in bitter distress;
let them drink and forget their poverty
    and remember their misery no more.
Open your mouth for the mute,
    for the rights of all who are destitute.
Open your mouth, judge righteously,
    defend the rights of the poor and needy. – Proverbs 31:1-9 ESV

These proverbs are presented as the words of King Lemuel and the first nine verses come in the form of an oracle taught to him by his mother. The Hebrew word translated as “oracle” is maśśā’ and it refers to a message with a heavy burden. These are weighty or substantive teachings that were passed down from mother to son and then collected for distribution in Solomon’s book of Proverbs.

It would appear that Lemuel was a foreign king because his name appears nowhere in the chronicles of the kings of Israel of Judah. He could have been a proselyte to Judaism and, therefore, a worshiper of Yahweh. His mother, the former queen, could have been a descendant of Abraham or a convert to Judaism who passed down her faith to her young son. If the remainder of the chapter is biographical in nature and refers to Lemuel’s mother, it would be safe to say that she was a godly woman and had a tremendous influence on her son.

Verses 2-9 are the loving words of a mother to her son but they are rather unique in that they address the dangers facing a king. These words of warning come from someone who seems to have had firsthand experience in the matters she raises. As the former queen, it is likely that she had seen her husband, Lemuel’s father, struggle with these matters.

Her words are rather succinct and deal with three main topics: Women, wine, and words. She presents the first two as potential hazards to be avoided. It is not that either is particularly evil but that, for a king, they can prove to be dangerous and even deadly. Perhaps her husband had been a philanderer who allowed his love for women to destroy his marriage and weaken his kingdom.

Over the centuries, there has been repeated speculation that Lemuel was a pen name for Solomon. That would make the mother referred to in this chapter none other than Bathsheba. She would have had ample knowledge of the seductive influence that a woman can have on a man. And she knew what it was like to be the target of a man’s fatal attraction. After all, as a married woman, she had been seduced by King David and committed adultery with him. In an attempt to cover up the son their sin produced, David had Bathsheba’s husband murdered. He then took Bathsheba to be his wife and she bore him a son, the fruit of their adulterous affair. But that son died in infancy, a punishment from God for David’s transgression. Then God blessed Bathsheba with another son, Solomon.

And when Solomon grew up and ascended to the throne of his father, it would make sense that Bathsheba would express concern about his apparent weakness for women.

“What are you doing, my son? What are you doing, son of my womb?
    What are you doing, son of my vows?
Do not give your strength to women,
    your ways to those who destroy kings. – Proverbs 31:2-3 ESV

The book of 1 Kings paints a rather lurid picture of Solomon’s attraction to the opposite sex.

Now King Solomon loved many foreign women. Besides Pharaoh’s daughter, he married women from Moab, Ammon, Edom, Sidon, and from among the Hittites. The LORD had clearly instructed the people of Israel, “You must not marry them, because they will turn your hearts to their gods.” Yet Solomon insisted on loving them anyway. He had 700 wives of royal birth and 300 concubines. And in fact, they did turn his heart away from the LORD.

In Solomon’s old age, they turned his heart to worship other gods instead of being completely faithful to the LORD his God, as his father, David, had been. – 1 Kings 11:1-4 NLT

Whether Lemuel was Solomon’s pseudonym and the loving mother in this passage was Bathsheba is all nothing more than speculation. But the biography of Solomon provides ample evidence that the maternal counsel found in this passage is more than merited.

But she didn’t stop there. She also warned her son about the dangers of wine.

It is not for kings, O Lemuel, to guzzle wine.
    Rulers should not crave alcohol. – Proverbs 31:4 NLT

This loving mother seems to have firsthand experience with the dangers of alcohol. Perhaps she had watched Lemuel’s father struggle with controlling his consumption of wine and had seen how it had negatively impacted his ability to rule wisely. So, she pleads with her son to practice moderation and self-control. Notice her words. She does not forbid the use of alcohol but warns against its abuse. Lemuel is not to “guzzle” wine. He is not to “crave alcohol.” In other words, Lemuel is to avoid addictive behavior.

While the Scriptures do not completely prohibit the use of alcohol, there are plenty of verses that warn against it. And while there are some religious groups that abuse and misinterpret these verses, there are just as many that ignore them altogether.

In our desire to justify our use of alcohol, we tend to portray the Scriptures as seemingly silent on the topic. But repeatedly in the Book of Proverbs, we have seen Solomon warn his sons about the inherent dangers of alcohol consumption. In Proverbs 31, King Lemuel is warned against drinking to excess. This passage isn’t prohibiting the use of alcohol. In fact, in those days, to deny the use of alcohol in the court of a king would have been unheard of. It would have been absurd.

But excessive use of alcohol should be avoided at all times, especially by those who hold positions of responsibility and authority over the lives of others. The problem is that alcohol distorts the senses, muddies the mind, and can lead to poor decision-making. Whether you’re a king, national leader, company president, or a parent, the last thing you should want is to have your mind clouded by alcohol, rendering your judgment impaired and your ability to perform your responsibilities diminished.

There are far too many stories concerning wives whose husbands have struggled with a drinking problem. In many cases, these men were hard workers and loving husbands and fathers, who allowed alcohol to destroy their ability to lead and protect as they should. As Lemuel is warned, when they drink, they tend to make unwise decisions. They lose the capacity to think and rule wisely. Under the influence of alcohol, “they may forget the law and not give justice to the oppressed” (Proverbs 31:5 NLT).

They lose their moral bearings, their sense of right and wrong, and their understanding of justice. In the end, they make poor decisions that put their families at risk – financially, emotionally, and even physically. Alcohol in all its forms can be deadening and even deadly. Solomon warns us, “Wine produces mockers; alcohol leads to brawls. Those led astray by drink cannot be wise” (Proverbs 20:1 NLT). Here are a few of the other admonitions about wine and alcohol in the Book of Proverbs:

Those who love pleasure become poor;
    those who love wine and luxury will never be rich. – Proverbs 21:17 NLT

Wine produces mockers; alcohol leads to brawls.
    Those led astray by drink cannot be wise. – Proverbs 20:1 NLT

Don’t gaze at the wine, seeing how red it is,
    how it sparkles in the cup, how smoothly it goes down.
For in the end it bites like a poisonous snake;
    it stings like a viper.
You will see hallucinations,
    and you will say crazy things.
You will stagger like a sailor tossed at sea,
    clinging to a swaying mast. – Proverbs 23:30-34 NLT

In Proverbs, wine and mixed drinks are closely associated with the wicked and the immoral woman. It is almost always used in the sense of excess and over-indulgence. It appeals to the sensual side of man. It can dull our senses and feed the sinful side of our sensual nature.

There is a need for wisdom when it comes to the use of alcohol. We must be fully aware of its dangers. We must acknowledge its ability to impact and impair our judgment. It is a mind-altering, mood-enhancing substance that, if used wisely and appropriately, can have positive benefits. But it can also be misused and abused. It can destroy and divide. It can be used to escape reality and avoid responsibility. It can bring pleasure but it can also produce immoral behavior.

The final word of motherly advice has to do with words. Lemuel’s mother warns him to watch his tongue. Just as women and wine can have a negative influence, so can words. As a king, Lemuel wielded tremendous power. With a word, he could condemn or commend. He could use his authority for good or evil. So, she calls on her son to use his sovereign power to protect the less fortunate within his kingdom.

Open your mouth for the mute,
    for the rights of all who are destitute.
Open your mouth, judge righteously,
    defend the rights of the poor and needy. – Proverbs 31:8-9 NLT

A wise king understands that he serves God and acts as a steward of His divine authority. God defends the downtrodden and disadvantaged and He expects His vice-regent to do the same. Lemuel’s mother wanted her son to use the power inherent in his words for the good of all. She longed for him to judge righteously and to rule wisely.

Women, wine, and words. These three simple topics have the capacity to make or break any man, especially a king. And Lemuel’s mother loved him enough to warn him to tread carefully with all three.

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.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

A Lot to Learn

10 Do not slander a servant to his master,
    lest he curse you, and you be held guilty.

11 There are those who curse their fathers
    and do not bless their mothers.
12 There are those who are clean in their own eyes
    but are not washed of their filth.
13 There are those—how lofty are their eyes,
    how high their eyelids lift!
14 There are those whose teeth are swords,
    whose fangs are knives,
to devour the poor from off the earth,
    the needy from among mankind.

15 The leech has two daughters:
    Give and Give.
Three things are never satisfied;
    four never say, “Enough”:
16 Sheol, the barren womb,
    the land never satisfied with water,
    and the fire that never says, “Enough.”

17 The eye that mocks a father
    and scorns to obey a mother
will be picked out by the ravens of the valley
    and eaten by the vultures.

18 Three things are too wonderful for me;
    four I do not understand:
19 the way of an eagle in the sky,
    the way of a serpent on a rock,
the way of a ship on the high seas,
    and the way of a man with a virgin.

20 This is the way of an adulteress:
    she eats and wipes her mouth
    and says, “I have done no wrong.”

21 Under three things the earth trembles;
    under four it cannot bear up:
22 a slave when he becomes king,
    and a fool when he is filled with food;
23 an unloved woman when she gets a husband,
    and a maidservant when she displaces her mistress.

24 Four things on earth are small,
    but they are exceedingly wise:
25 the ants are a people not strong,
    yet they provide their food in the summer;
26 the rock badgers are a people not mighty,
    yet they make their homes in the cliffs;
27 the locusts have no king,
    yet all of them march in rank;
28 the lizard you can take in your hands,
    yet it is in kings’ palaces.

29 Three things are stately in their tread;
    four are stately in their stride:
30 the lion, which is mightiest among beasts
    and does not turn back before any;
31 the strutting rooster, the he-goat,
    and a king whose army is with him.

32 If you have been foolish, exalting yourself,
    or if you have been devising evil,
    put your hand on your mouth.
33 For pressing milk produces curds,
    pressing the nose produces blood,
    and pressing anger produces strife. – Proverbs 30:10-33 ESV

In this next section, Agur shifts the focus of his proverbs from his relationship with God to the need for wisdom when it comes to human interactions. Agur knew that a strong bond with God was essential to having healthy relationships with all those around him. He stresses the need for integrity and honesty. There is no place for slander or false accusations among the godly. Even if someone spread malicious rumors concerning a slave, their lies would only come back and expose them.

And worse yet is the sin of hypocrisy or disingenuous. He gives the example of someone who outwardly curses his father and displays ingratitude toward his mother, all the while considering himself pure in his own eyes. This individual ignores his own inner impurity and, filled with a false sense of pride, looks down on others in disdain. These kinds of people “have teeth like swords and fangs like knives. They devour the poor from the earth and the needy from among humanity” (Proverbs 30:14 NLT). In other words, they have no regard for the less fortunate. Viewing themselves as superior, they see nothing wrong with despising and even taking advantage of the poor and needy. Because they have no understanding of God and His ways, they develop a false view of their own self-importance and treat all others with disdain.

Agur describes their appetite for self-gratification as insatiable, comparing them to a blood-sucking leech.

The leech has two daughters:
    Give and Give. – Proverbs 30:15 ESV

The inference behind this verse is that greed is contagious. In a sense, it is hereditary and is passed down from one generation to another. The leech has two daughters who share the same name: Give. Their desire has become their identity. And Agur goes on to describe the sad reality of a life marked by avarice and gluttony. He uses four familiar illustrations to accentuate the futility of a life marked by dissatisfaction and greed.

There are three things that are never satisfied—
    no, four that never say, “Enough!”:
the grave,
    the barren womb,
    the thirsty desert,
    the blazing fire. – Proverbs 30:15-16 NLT

Sheol or the grave is never satisfied. Its gates never close and there is always room for more. A barren womb never experiences the one thing it most desires: A child. So, it remains unfulfilled and dissatisfied with life. A parched and barren desert will never receive enough rain to transform it into a garden. And a blazing fire will continue to consume wood as long as someone feeds its flames.

With these two verses, Agur introduces an interesting literary device. Five different times, he introduces one of his proverbs with some variation of the phrase:, “There are three things . . . even four.” It seems that Agur is stressing that these lists are not to be considered complete or exhaustive. He could add an endless number of entries to each one. It is almost as if he is inviting the reader to come up with their own illustrations so that they might better understand the message he is attempting to convey.

Agur seems to be stressing that there is a created order to God’s world. There is a way in which things can and should work so that we experience peace and not chaos, calm instead of confusion. And when God’s way is either ignored or rejected, the result can be catastrophic and earth-shattering. It may seem simple and innocent enough, but when we fail to do life according to God’s terms, it never turns out well. When we depart from God’s natural order or path of wisdom, it creates a hole in the fabric of the universe.

in this Proverb, Agur uses this series of “three-four” sayings to act as warnings against life lived outside of God’s prescribed plan. At first glance, they appear somewhat humorous, but upon closer examination, it becomes evident that these sayings are intended to be sobering warnings.

In verses 21-23 we find a list of four seemingly innocent and innocuous individuals who find themselves in improved situations.

There are three things that make the earth tremble—
    no, four it cannot endure:
a slave who becomes a king,
    an overbearing fool who prospers,
    a bitter woman who finally gets a husband,
    a servant girl who supplants her mistress. – Proverbs 30:21-23 NLT

You have a slave who winds up a king, a fool who has an endless supply of food, an unloved woman who lands herself a husband, and a servant girl who ends up taking the place of her master’s wife. Each of these individuals experiences an unexpected and elevated change in their social status that is unaccompanied by a change in their character.

Agur seems to intend them to represent events that are not in keeping with God’s natural order of things. A slave is not meant to become king. If he does, he will tend to take advantage of his newfound power and authority and lord it over those under his control. A fool who refuses to work and is inherently lazy, but who finds himself with an endless supply of food, will gorge himself on it and never learn that blessing is the result of diligence. A bitter, unloved, and unhappy woman who suddenly finds herself a husband will not automatically become satisfied and content. She will continue to struggle with the same issues, driving her husband insane and, ultimately, away. A servant girl who becomes the focus of her master’s affections, even taking the place of his wife, will fail to honor the one for whom she works.

Each of these people is pictured as getting what they long for: power, prosperity, affection, and position, yet they remain dissatisfied and discontent. They have attained their new status unfairly or even unnaturally. Their circumstances have changed apart from God’s natural order of things. It is like a poor couple winning the lottery and suddenly finding themselves rich beyond their wildest imaginations. The likelihood of their situation turning out well is less than ideal. It is likely that their newfound wealth will result in unwanted, but NOT unexpected consequences.

It’s interesting that these examples of unhealthy life changes are stuck between Agur’s statements regarding the blood-sucking leech who is never satisfied and a series of four other creatures that reflect diligence, hard work, and a reliance upon God’s creative order for all things. Get-rich-quick-schemes are warned against all throughout the Proverbs. Laziness is villainized. The expectation of reward without work is discouraged. Achieving the apparent blessings of God without living according to the expectations of God can be dangerous and is to be avoided at all costs. We must do things God’s way, with no shortcuts and no compromises. It has to be His way if you want to experience His blessing.

Even a look at nature reveals that God has created an order to His creation. Within the animal kingdom, there is a clear display of the divine mandate for hard work, organization, diligence, and cooperation. The humble and seemingly insignificant ant provides a compelling illustration of how God has blessed the smallest of His creation with life-sustaining attributes.

There is no place for pride and arrogance within the heart of a man. While men and women may represent the apex of God’s creative order, they are still nothing more than the byproduct of God’s grace. He has made them what they are. He has given them life and blessed them with the capacity to know and obey Him. Unlike insects or animals, humanity has been made in the likeness of God. We have been given the right and privilege of knowing Him. We can commune with the Almighty and enjoy the benefits of His fathomless wisdom. Yet, far too often, we view ourselves with an inordinate and unjustified sense of self-worth, failing to recognize that, without God, we are nothing. Apart from Him, our lives lack meaning and a sense of purpose. And without His wisdom, we become no better off than the rest of the animal kingdom.

So, Agur gives us a parting word of advice.

If you have been a fool by being proud or plotting evil,
    cover your mouth in shame. – Proverbs 30:32 NLT

May we listen to the words of Agur and respond like Job with humility and repentance.

“I know that you can do anything,
    and no one can stop you.
You asked, ‘Who is this that questions my wisdom with such ignorance?’
    It is I—and I was talking about things I knew nothing about,
    things far too wonderful for me.
You said, ‘Listen and I will speak!
    I have some questions for you,
    and you must answer them.’
I had only heard about you before,
    but now I have seen you with my own eyes.
I take back everything I said,
    and I sit in dust and ashes to show my repentance.” – Job 42:2-6 NLT

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.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

Getting to Know God

1 The words of Agur son of Jakeh. The oracle.

The man declares, I am weary, O God;
    I am weary, O God, and worn out.
Surely I am too stupid to be a man.
    I have not the understanding of a man.
I have not learned wisdom,
    nor have I knowledge of the Holy One.
Who has ascended to heaven and come down?
    Who has gathered the wind in his fists?
Who has wrapped up the waters in a garment?
    Who has established all the ends of the earth?
What is his name, and what is his son’s name?
    Surely you know!

Every word of God proves true;
    he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.
Do not add to his words,
    lest he rebuke you and you be found a liar.

Two things I ask of you;
    deny them not to me before I die:
Remove far from me falsehood and lying;
    give me neither poverty nor riches;
    feed me with the food that is needful for me,
lest I be full and deny you
    and say, “Who is the Lord?”
or lest I be poor and steal
    and profane the name of my God. – Proverbs 30:1-9 ESV

The closing chapters of the book of Proverbs are attributed to two different individuals whose identities remain a ministry. The first is Agur, the son of Jakeh. The second is referred to as King Lemuel. But we know nothing else about these men. Lemuel’s name does not appear anywhere in the list of the kings of Judah or Israel, found in the books of Kings or Chronicles. So, it is unclear where his kingdom was located. Some have speculated that Lemuel was a pen name for Solomon, but without evidence to back up their claim. The names Agur and Jakeh appear nowhere else in Scripture, so we have no way of knowing who they were or when and where they lived. But Agur and Lemuel were considered to be sages whose wise sayings were included in Solomon’s compendium of proverbs.

The first part of Agur’s collection of proverbs deals with man’s relationship with God. The author opens his list of three proverbial statements regarding God by speaking in the third person, describing himself as “weary and worn out” (Proverbs 30:1 NLT). He addresses his statements to God and makes a stunning confession:

I am too stupid to be human,
    and I lack common sense. – Proverbs 30:2 NLT

Agur acknowledges that his lack of wisdom has left him unable to truly know and understand God.

I have not mastered human wisdom,
    nor do I know the Holy One.
Proverbs 30:3 NLT

Agur is not declaring himself to be a fool, but he is simply acknowledging the transcendence of God. Agur’s wisdom is limited in scope and incapable of plumbing the depths of God’s character and nature. That is why Agur asks five probing questions that are intended to reveal man’s incapacity to fully know and appreciate the greatness of God.

Who but God goes up to heaven and comes back down?
Who holds the wind in his fists?
Who wraps up the oceans in his cloak?
Who has created the whole wide world?
What is his name—and his son’s name? Tell me if you know!

It’s almost as if Agur was familiar with the book of Job because he seems to mirror the questioning style found in chapters 38-42. In the book of Job, God confronts the main character with a series of questions that are designed to reestablish His own greatness and Job’s insignificance.

“Who is this that questions my wisdom
    with such ignorant words?
Brace yourself like a man,
    because I have some questions for you,
    and you must answer them.”  – Job 38:2-3 NLT

And God precedes to expose Job’s unwarranted boldness to question His goodness and glory by asking a series of rhetorical questions.

“Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?” – Job 38:4 NLT

“Have you ever commanded the morning to appear
    and caused the dawn to rise in the east? – Job 38:12 NLT

“Have you explored the springs from which the seas come?
    Have you explored their depths? – Job 38:16 NLT

For two solid chapters, God levels question after question to Job. And when He is done, God asks Job, “Do you still want to argue with the Almighty? You are God’s critic, but do you have the answers?” (Job 40:2 NLT). To which Job humbly responds:

“I am nothing—how could I ever find the answers?
    I will cover my mouth with my hand.
I have said too much already.
    I have nothing more to say.” – Job 40:4-5 NLT

Like Job, Agur understands that he has no right to question God. His wisdom is insufficient to comprehend the will and the ways of God. And he is worn out from attempting to gain enough wisdom to know and understand God.

But he has learned enough to know that God’s word is always true. Agur’s God is faithful and can be fully trusted.

In reading the book of Proverbs it would be easy to focus on what appear to be the main themes or topics of the book: Wisdom, knowledge, and understanding. There is a natural tendency to make the gaining of these three things our sole or primary objective. After all, no one wants to be a fool, so it would make sense to pursue wisdom, knowledge, and understanding. But in doing so, we would miss the real objective of the book.

If you recall, in the very first chapter, Solomon stated that “Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true knowledge” (Proverbs 1:7 NLT). In other words, while wisdom, knowledge, and understanding are worthy objectives, they are only available through a right relationship with God. The Message paraphrases Proverbs 1:7 this way: “Start with God — the first step in learning is bowing down to God.”

It all begins with God. In Proverbs 30, Agur confesses, “I am weary, O God; I am weary and worn out, O God. I am too stupid to be human, and I lack common sense. I have not mastered human wisdom, nor do I know the Holy One” (Proverbs 30:2-3 NLT). When we fail to start with God, and we neglect to get to know Him for who He is, we end up worn out, and lacking in the very things we need to survive and thrive in this world: wisdom, knowledge, and understanding.

Yet, when we make getting to know God our objective, we discover the true source of all wisdom. He is the creator of all things. His wisdom and knowledge are beyond our comprehension, yet He makes Himself known to us when we seek Him. He gives us His Word and it is completely reliable and true. Growing in our knowledge of God gives us a greater understanding of ourselves – our weaknesses, limitations, sinful tendencies, and our total dependence on Him.

Getting to know God gives us a new perspective on life. It changes our priorities, which is why Agur could say, “O God, I beg two favors from you; let me have them before I die. First, help me never to tell a lie. Second, give me neither poverty nor riches! Give me just enough to satisfy my needs. For if I grow rich, I may deny you and say, ‘Who is the Lord!’ And if I am too poor, I may steal and thus insult God’s holy name” (Proverbs 30:7-9 NLT).

Growing in our knowledge of God refocuses our priorities and puts Him at the center of our lives. When we begin to understand just how much God hates pride, we will no longer desire to see it in our own lives. When we see it in others, we are turned off by it. We understand the danger of pride, arrogance, and over-inflated self-worth in our children. A growing knowledge of God will expose the ever-present danger of gluttony in our lives – in all its forms.

We are prone to discontentment and incessantly desire more and more of just about everything, including pleasure, food, attention, accolades, money, and power. Like the leech, we cry out, “More, more!” A person who has an intimate understanding of God is able to see through the facade of temptation and spot the dangers that lurk behind the lure. The fool is simply that person who doesn’t know God and, as a result, lacks wisdom, knowledge, understanding, and basic common sense. Like Agur, they end up weary from trying to live life in this world with nothing but their own human understanding to rely upon. That’s why it pays to start with God. The first step in achieving wisdom is learning is bow down before God. He is the key to life.

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.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

Spare the Rod, Spoil the Child

15 The rod and reproof give wisdom,
but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother.
16 When the wicked increase, transgression increases,
but the righteous will look upon their downfall.
17 Discipline your son, and he will give you rest;
he will give delight to your heart.
18 Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint,
but blessed is he who keeps the law.
19 By mere words a servant is not disciplined,
for though he understands, he will not respond.
20 Do you see a man who is hasty in his words?
There is more hope for a fool than for him.
21 Whoever pampers his servant from childhood
will in the end find him his heir.
22 A man of wrath stirs up strife,
and one given to anger causes much transgression.
23 One’s pride will bring him low,
but he who is lowly in spirit will obtain honor.
24 The partner of a thief hates his own life;
he hears the curse, but discloses nothing.
25 The fear of man lays a snare,
but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe.
26 Many seek the face of a ruler,
but it is from the Lord that a man gets justice.
27 An unjust man is an abomination to the righteous,
but one whose way is straight is an abomination to the wicked. – Proverbs 29:15-27 ESV

The life of wisdom begins in childhood. Children are natural-born fools. They come out of the womb with a predisposition for foolishness because they are born with a sinful nature, a sad but all-too-real byproduct of the fall. Many of the proverbs of Solomon are based on the premise that “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child” (Proverbs 22:15 BSB). That’s why there are numerous proverbs dedicated to the training and discipline of children.

Train up a child in the way he should go;
even when he is old he will not depart from it.– Proverbs 22:6 ESV

Training includes exposing the child to the ways of God and encouraging him to follow the path of the righteous. But when the child fails to obey, loving discipline is required. The child must learn that disobedience comes with serious and sometimes painful consequences. Here in Proverbs 29, we find yet another wise saying that encourages the practice of loving correction so that the child will increase in wisdom rather than foolishness.

To discipline a child produces wisdom,
but a mother is disgraced by an undisciplined child.– Proverbs 29:15 NLT

But the biblical concept of discipline also includes the occasional use of corporal punishment. There will come times when a child needs to experience the painful consequences of his refusal to obey. While a “time out” may be appropriate for a very young child, that kind of behavioral correction will diminish in its effectiveness as the child matures. That’s why the Proverbs encourage a brand of discipline that includes the use of some form of physical punishment.

Those who spare the rod of discipline hate their children.
Those who love their children care enough to discipline them.– Proverbs 13:24 NLT

Some people believe in discipline, but not in physical discipline such as spanking. However, the Bible is the final word on what is truth; it is not mere opinion or theory. The word rod indicates a thin stick or switch that can be used to give a small amount of physical pain with no lasting physical injury. A child should never be bruised, injured, or cut by a physical correction. – What does it mean to “spare the rod and spoil the child?”, http://www.gotquestions.org

Our modern culture tends to reject the concept of physical discipline, having deemed it as antiquated and a rather barbaric form of punishment. Instead, parents are encouraged to see the use of reason and logic as a more enlightened means of correction. And while there is nothing inherently wrong with appealing to a child’s intellect, it fails to adequately teach the painful consequences of sinful behavior. That is why the Proverbs are filled with repeated admonitions to not “spare the rod.”

Don’t fail to discipline your children.
    The rod of punishment won’t kill them.
Physical discipline
    may well save them from death. – Proverbs 23:13-14 NLT

And Solomon understood that the concept of loving discipline was not a man-made invention, but the will of God. It was in keeping with the way God disciplines those whom He loves.

My child, don’t reject the Lord’s discipline,
    and don’t be upset when he corrects you.
For the Lord corrects those he loves,
    just as a father corrects a child in whom he delights. – Proverbs 3:11-12 NLT

It is likely that Solomon knew the story of his own birth and its close association with the sin of his own father. David had committed an egregious sin by committing adultery with the wife of one of his own soldiers. Having discovered that his one-night stand had resulted in an unwanted pregnancy, David tried to cover up his sin by ordering the woman’s husband back from the battlefield. His plan was for Uriah to be reunited with his wife so that there might be another explanation for her unexpected pregnancy. but Uriah refused to enjoy the pleasures of his wife’s company while his fellow soldiers suffered on the battlefield. So, David ordered that Uriah be sent back to the front lines and exposed to enemy fire. In other words, David ordered Uriah’s murder.

Upon news of Uriah’s death, David took Bathsheba to be his wife. But the story doesn’t end there. God was displeased with David’s actions. And while Bathsheba eventually gave birth to the son she had conceived with David, God would not allow David to enjoy the “fruit” of his sin. Nathan the prophet delivered the painful news that David’s sin would have devastating consequences.

“…the Lord has forgiven you, and you won’t die for this sin. Nevertheless, because you have shown utter contempt for the word of the Lord by doing this, your child will die.” – 2 Samuel 12:13-14 NLT

David mourned the loss of his child, but God eventually blessed him with another son.

Then David comforted Bathsheba, his wife, and slept with her. She became pregnant and gave birth to a son, and David named him Solomon. The Lord loved the child and sent word through Nathan the prophet that they should name him Jedidiah (which means “beloved of the Lord”), as the Lord had commanded. – 2 Samuel 12:24-25 NLT

Solomon was the byproduct of God’s discipline of David. He was literally “beloved of the Lord” but he understood that his very existence was due to the loving discipline of God. Solomon’s father had committed a terrible sin against God and had paid the price. That’s why Solomon so strongly encouraged the practice of godly, loving discipline.

Discipline your children, and they will give you peace of mind
and will make your heart glad.– Proverbs 29:17 NLT

Solomon understood that instruction alone was not enough. To simply teach someone the ways of God was no guarantee that they would walk in them. Successful communication of the rules will not assure compliance because people have to make the choice to obey.

When people do not accept divine guidance, they run wild.
    But whoever obeys the law is joyful. – Proverbs 29:18 NLT

That’s why physical discipline is required. Not everyone obeys. Not everyone willingly adheres to the rules. But if disobedience brings attention-getting and sometimes painful consequences, there is a higher likelihood that the sin will not be repeated a second time. As the proverb states, “Words alone will not discipline a servant; the words may be understood, but they are not heeded” (Proverbs 29:19 NLT).

Wisdom reveals that the coddling of a child or a servant will not end well. It will not produce the outcome you desire.

A servant pampered from childhood
    will become a rebel. – Proverbs 29:21 NLT

Those who go through life without the threat of discipline never learn the consequences of their sin. They become prideful and arrogant. They display disdain for rules of any kind. They become a disgrace to their parents and a blight on the community. The undisciplined end up becoming increasingly ungodly because they have never learned to fear God. Because their unrighteous behavior has gone unpunished, they never learn to fear the righteous wrath of God.

There is no guarantee that the godly discipline of your children will turn them into godly and God-fearing adults. But no discipline at all will almost always assure that your adult child will be characterized more by foolishness than wisdom.

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.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

Abuse of Authority

1 He who is often reproved, yet stiffens his neck,
    will suddenly be broken beyond healing.
When the righteous increase, the people rejoice,
    but when the wicked rule, the people groan.
He who loves wisdom makes his father glad,
    but a companion of prostitutes squanders his wealth.
By justice a king builds up the land,
    but he who exacts gifts tears it down.
A man who flatters his neighbor
    spreads a net for his feet.
An evil man is ensnared in his transgression,
    but a righteous man sings and rejoices.
A righteous man knows the rights of the poor;
    a wicked man does not understand such knowledge.
Scoffers set a city aflame,
    but the wise turn away wrath.
If a wise man has an argument with a fool,
    the fool only rages and laughs, and there is no quiet.
10 Bloodthirsty men hate one who is blameless
    and seek the life of the upright.
11 A fool gives full vent to his spirit,
    but a wise man quietly holds it back.
12 If a ruler listens to falsehood,
    all his officials will be wicked.
13 The poor man and the oppressor meet together;
    the Lord gives light to the eyes of both.
14 If a king faithfully judges the poor,
    his throne will be established forever. 
– Proverbs 29:1-14 ESV

This chapter continues the collection of wise sayings compiled by the officials of King Hezekiah (Proverbs 25:1). We know from 1 Kings 4:32, that Solomon “composed some 3,000 proverbs and wrote 1,005 songs.” Hezekiah’s royal scholars were assigned the task of finding additional proverbs written or edited by Solomon so that they might be added to the original collection. And while there appears to be no clear categorization of these supplemental proverbs, there does appear to be an underlying theme. Since the men who gathered and curated them were working for the king, the proverbs they chose to add have a distinct leadership tone to them.

They reflect an emphasis on the need for godly wisdom at the highest levels of administrative power.

When the godly are in authority, the people rejoice.
    But when the wicked are in power, they groan.Proverbs 29:2 NLT

All of these proverbs can be applied on a broad scale and are not solely applicable to kings and other authority figures. But it almost appears as if the men who collected these sayings were purposefully concentrating their efforts to find those proverbs that would make the greatest impact on their employer: The king.

A just king gives stability to his nation,
    but one who demands bribes destroys it. – Proverbs 29:4 NLT

The sheer number of references to rulers and kings would seem to indicate that there was a concerted effort to choose those proverbs that might influence King Hezekiah to rule wisely and ethically. It was to their benefit that the king behave in a manner that was in keeping with the will of God.

If a ruler pays attention to liars,
    all his advisers will be wicked. – Proverbs 29:12 NLT

If a king judges the poor fairly,
    his throne will last forever. – Proverbs 29:14 NLT

In a way, these men were acting as unofficial counselors to the king by providing him with advice in the form of these Solomonic sayings. As the king read each proverb, he would have been positively impacted by the wisdom found in them. And while many of these sayings have a positive tone to them, there are some that could easily come across as veiled criticism. Hezekiah’s officials must have realized that, with each negative proverb they included, they were at risk of offending their employer. But verse one would have reminded the king that criticism carried just as much weight as a compliment.

Whoever stubbornly refuses to accept criticism
    will suddenly be destroyed beyond recovery. – Proverbs 29:1 NLT

These proverbs have universal application and appeal because all of us long for power in some form or fashion. Any thought of being weak and powerless is naturally repulsive to us. And the truth is, we all wield some kind of authority over someone or something else. The question is – how do we handle power when we have it? Are we fair and just or do we display our power with pride, arrogance, and in an abusive manner?

Authority is a divine concept and God holds those in authority responsible for their actions. God gave Adam and Eve special responsibility to steward His creation. Abraham was given authority by God to serve as the progenitor of a great nation. And Moses was given authority to lead those very same people out of captivity and into freedom. The prophets were given authority to act as God’s spokespersons and proclaim His word to His rebellious people. God gave the disciples authority over demons, disease, and even death.

But all authority can be abused. We can utilize our positions of power or influence for good or bad. A parent can abuse their child, using their authority to destroy the heart and soul of the one they are to nurture and love. A boss can abuse their responsibility, taking advantage of his employees, and overworking them while he underpays them. Politicians and rulers can abuse their authority, ignoring the needs of their constituents in favor of maintaining their party’s power and their own position.

The godly care about the rights of the poor;
    the wicked don’t care at all. – Proverbs 29:7 NLT

The book of Proverbs has a lot to say about authority and this chapter is no exception. It reminds us that godly leadership is the best form of leadership because it produces positive benefits for its constituents (verse 2). But ungodly leadership produces pain and heartache for those who must bear up under it.

According to God, the kind of leadership or authority He is looking for is just, fair, compassionate, and caring. In other words, God expects those with authority over others to practice His brand of leadership. He wants them to lead the way He leads. That means we must lead through love. We must discipline on occasion, but always out of love. We must judge at times, but never in an unloving manner. We must guide and direct those under our care with love and not with anger.

Fools vent their anger,
    but the wise quietly hold it back. – Proverbs 29:12 NLT

Authority is a huge responsibility. Ultimately, those in authority will be held responsible by God for their actions. There’s no place for pride, selfishness, greed, or self-gain.

Those who hold positions of authority exist for the good of others. They hold the welfare of others in their hands, whether they lead a nation or a family. But ungodly, unethical leaders can use their influence to stir up trouble and cause dissent.

Mockers can get a whole town agitated,
    but the wise will calm anger. – Proverbs 29:8 NLT

People who hold positions of authority but who lack godly wisdom can be dangerous. They lack insight and are incapable of seeing the world the way God does. They view their power as a right and a privilege and fail to understand that they are no better than the people they oppress and abuse.

The poor and the oppressor have this in common—
    the Lord gives sight to the eyes of both. – Proverbs 29:13 NLT

Because they have no fear of God, they do not realize that He watches over the helpless, hopeless, innocent, and powerless. He will hold those in authority responsible for the manner in which they rule, judge, lead, care for, and protect those under their care. And anyone who holds a position of authority is wise to recognize and constantly remind themselves that God is the ultimate authority. He is the one who is in control of all things. All others report to Him. They owe their positions to Him. They get their right to rule from Him. So they should rule well and lead wisely. They should use their god-given authority responsibly.

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.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

A Leadership Void

15 Like a roaring lion or a charging bear
    is a wicked ruler over a poor people.
16 A ruler who lacks understanding is a cruel oppressor,
    but he who hates unjust gain will prolong his days.
17 If one is burdened with the blood of another,
    he will be a fugitive until death;
    let no one help him.
18 Whoever walks in integrity will be delivered,
    but he who is crooked in his ways will suddenly fall.
19 Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread,
    but he who follows worthless pursuits will have plenty of poverty.
20 A faithful man will abound with blessings,
    but whoever hastens to be rich will not go unpunished.
21 To show partiality is not good,
    but for a piece of bread a man will do wrong.
22 A stingy man hastens after wealth
    and does not know that poverty will come upon him.
23 Whoever rebukes a man will afterward find more favor
    than he who flatters with his tongue.
24 Whoever robs his father or his mother
    and says, “That is no transgression,”
    is a companion to a man who destroys.
25 A greedy man stirs up strife,
    but the one who trusts in the Lord will be enriched.
26 Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool,
    but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered.
27 Whoever gives to the poor will not want,
    but he who hides his eyes will get many a curse.
28 When the wicked rise, people hide themselves,
    but when they perish, the righteous increase. 
– Proverbs 28:15-28 ESV

We have a leadership void. Don’t get me wrong; we have no shortage of leaders in this country. It’s just that we don’t have very many godly leaders. There are plenty of ambitious, intelligent, capable, and sometimes even moral men and women who hold positions of leadership in our nation, but most of them lack the wisdom that only God can provide.

The following verse above paints a pretty bleak picture for a nation that finds itself with a moral and spiritual leadership void.

When there is moral rot within a nation, its government topples easily.
    But wise and knowledgeable leaders bring stability. – Proverbs 28:2 NLT

The Message paraphrases verse two this way: “When the country is in chaos, everybody has a plan to fix it – But it takes a leader of real understanding to straighten things out.”

What an apt description of our own country at this stage of the game. We are in chaos, and everybody has a plan to fix it. We have an abundance of “princes” as the NIV describes them. These so-called leaders and a host of political pundits each offer up solutions to our nation’s myriad problems, but none of them really have a clue as to what should be done about the economy, terrorism, or any other issue facing us. They fail to realize that the root of all our problems is a spiritual one.

A wicked ruler is as dangerous to the poor
    as a roaring lion or an attacking bear.

A ruler with no understanding will oppress his people,
    but one who hates corruption will have a long life. – Proverbs 28:15-16 NLT

Because they lack the wisdom of God, these godless rulers have no way of understanding that the troubled economy is a symptom of a much more serious issue. Raising or lowering taxes is not going to fix what is broken. A larger or smaller government will not be the panacea for our problems. In the very next chapter, Solomon gives us the real solution.

When the godly are in authority, the people rejoice.
    But when the wicked are in power, they groan. – Proverbs 29:2 NLT

In other words, when godly men and women lead a nation according to godly principles and provide wisdom and insight directly from God Himself, the people find themselves living in peace and moral prosperity. Godly leaders make godly decisions. They are not selfish and self-centered. They are not greedy and out to benefit only themselves.

Greedy people try to get rich quick
    but don’t realize they’re headed for poverty. – Proverbs 28:22 NLT

Leaders who lack godly wisdom operate in a spiritual vacuum and are unable to see things from God’s perspective. They are motivated by pride and consumed with the need for recognition. But a godly leader views any power they possess as having been given to them by God, to whom they must report and by whom they will be held accountable.

The trustworthy person will get a rich reward,
    but a person who wants quick riches will get into trouble. – Proverbs 28:20 NLT

What we pass off as leadership today is a far cry from what God had in mind. All you have to do is look at Jesus to see what God views as godly leadership. Jesus came to earth to be the Messiah of Israel. He was to be their King and set up His kingdom on earth. And yet, Jesus claimed that He “came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28 ESV).

Jesus came to give His life away for the sake of others. He was concerned with and consumed by the will of His Father. He was obedient to God to the point of laying down His life. He knew that the world’s problems were spiritual in nature and the solution would have to be a spiritual one. Toppling the Roman government was not going to bring peace to the Jews. Only a Savior could heal them from what ailed them. They needed deliverance from sin, not relief from high taxes. They needed dependence on God, not independence from Rome.

Jesus did not come to tell people what they wanted to hear. He refused to tickle their ears with pleasant-sounding platitudes or comforting words designed to placate their guilt. No, as the apostle Paul makes clear, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners…” (1 Timothy 1:15 NLT). And as this Proverb so powerfully states:

In the end, people appreciate honest criticism
    far more than flattery. – Proverbs 28:23 NLT

Jesus was the ultimate example of a godly leader. After all, He was God in human flesh and as a man, He manifested all the wisdom of God perfectly and completely. Jesus lived to do the will of His Father.

“My nourishment comes from doing the will of God, who sent me, and from finishing his work.” – John 4:34 NLT

“For I have come down from heaven to do the will of God who sent me, not to do my own will. – John 6:38 NLT

Jesus was not a flatterer or glad-hander. He didn’t tell people what they wanted to hear but, instead, He boldly proclaimed the words of His Heavenly Father and demonstrated the attributes of a godly leader. And His example was emulated by men like the apostle Paul.

For we speak as messengers approved by God to be entrusted with the Good News. Our purpose is to please God, not people. He alone examines the motives of our hearts. Never once did we try to win you with flattery, as you well know. And God is our witness that we were not pretending to be your friends just to get your money! As for human praise, we have never sought it from you or anyone else. – 1 Thessalonians 2:4-6 NLT

Paul and his fellow apostles modeled their lives and ministries after Jesus. They fully understood the wisdom found in Proverbs 28:26.

Those who trust their own insight are foolish,
    but anyone who walks in wisdom is safe.

But we live in a day when everyone seems to be doing what is right in their own eyes. Our society is obsessed with the idea of individual autonomy and freedom from restraints of any kind. Everybody wants to be their own king ruling over their kingdom. And yet, when things don’t turn out quite the way we expect, we look to the government or a political leader to bring us relief and restoration. We naively expect a flawed and failed system to deliver us from our self-inflicted predicament.

Yet God has already provided a deliverer in the form of His very own Son. Godly leaders point a nation back to God. They don’t try to act as a substitute for Him. We find ourselves in trouble as a nation, not because of a bad economy, social inequities, or global warming, but because we have appointed leaders who have no respect for God. Without Him, they are helpless and hopeless to lead us because they lack the wisdom required for the job.

We need to pray that God will raise up men and women who know Him, love Him, and are willing to live for Him. But we also need to pray for a spiritual reawakening among the people of God who have become complacent and sometimes even contributors to the moral chaos facing our nation. We lack godly leaders because we have become a godless nation. But the wise see things from God’s perspective and always know there is hope.

When the wicked take charge, people go into hiding.
    When the wicked meet disaster, the godly flourish. – Proverbs 28:28 NLT

In the end, the godly win. The wicked may have their 15 minutes of fame, but the righteous will always come out on top. Those who walk the way of the wise will find that their path ultimately leads to joy, peace, comfort, and blessing.

trusting the Lord leads to prosperity. – Proverbs 28:25 NLT

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.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

The Law, Love, and Justice

1 The wicked flee when no one pursues,
    but the righteous are bold as a lion.
When a land transgresses, it has many rulers,
    but with a man of understanding and knowledge,
    its stability will long continue.
A poor man who oppresses the poor
    is a beating rain that leaves no food.
Those who forsake the law praise the wicked,
    but those who keep the law strive against them.
Evil men do not understand justice,
    but those who seek the Lord understand it completely.
Better is a poor man who walks in his integrity
    than a rich man who is crooked in his ways.
The one who keeps the law is a son with understanding,
    but a companion of gluttons shames his father.
Whoever multiplies his wealth by interest and profit
    gathers it for him who is generous to the poor.
If one turns away his ear from hearing the law,
    even his prayer is an abomination.
10 Whoever misleads the upright into an evil way
    will fall into his own pit,
    but the blameless will have a goodly inheritance.
11 A rich man is wise in his own eyes,
    but a poor man who has understanding will find him out.
12 When the righteous triumph, there is great glory,
    but when the wicked rise, people hide themselves.
13 Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper,
    but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.
14 Blessed is the one who fears the Lord always,
    but whoever hardens his heart will fall into calamity.
– Proverbs 28:1-14 ESV

This Proverb, while a collection of independent wise sayings, does have somewhat of a theme. Most of the verses can be tied right back to the Ten Commandments, the original Law of God given on Mount Sinai to Moses during the days of the Exodus. Here they are:

  1. You must not have any other god but me.
  2. You must not make for yourself an idol of any kind or an image of anything in the heavens of on the earth or in the sea.
  3. You must not misuse the name of the Lord your God.
  4. Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.
  5. Honor your father and mother.
  6. You must not murder.
  7. You must not commit adultery.
  8. You must not steal.
  9. You must not testify falsely against your neighbor.
  10. You must not covet.

If you notice, the first four regulate our relationship with God, while the last six deal with our human relationships. Now if you go back to Proverbs 28, you will see that most, if not all, of these verses have to do with our outlook on the law of God and its impact on our relationships with others.

Throughout this Proverb, virtually every verse contrasts the wicked and the righteous. One group rejects the law of God while the other embraces and obeys it. But verse nine contains a sobering warning.

God detests the prayers of a person who ignores the law. – Proverbs 28:9 NLT

This wisdom saying should grab our attention and make us question what it means to ignore the law. But what law is he talking about, and what does it mean to ignore it? You and I certainly don’t want to find ourselves in the position where God detests our prayers. We don’t want to find ourselves crying out to God only to have Him refuse to hear or answer our prayers because of the fact that we have ignored His law.

To reject the law is to praise the wicked;
    to obey the law is to fight them. – Proverbs 28:4 NLT

God’s law is the standard for all life on this planet. The rules that govern how we are relate to Him and how we should treat one another are contained in the law. It gives us the basis for all our interactions. Without a standard, everyone does what is in their own best interests and according to their own set of self-centered rules. It leads to corruption, graft, greed, abuse, neglect of the poor, and justification of all kinds of harmful actions.

We are warned, “Those who trust their own insight are foolish, but anyone who walks in wisdom is safe” (Proverbs 28:26 NLT). To walk in wisdom is to live your life according to God’s terms, in obedience to His law or standards for life. God cares deeply about our human relationships. He wants us to treat one another with care, concern, respect, dignity, love, and honor – because all mankind is made in His image. But when we reject God’s law and disrespect our parents, murder out of hatred or for personal gain, take another man’s wife, steal what belongs to someone else, discredit another human being, or desire what they have more than we desire a relationship with them, we are fools. We lack wisdom because we are rejecting the conditions for life given to us by God Himself. It results in “moral rot” as described in verse 2. It leads to abuse and oppression. It becomes contagious, leading even good people to do bad things. It causes men to justify their actions and reject accountability for the wrongs they commit.

The Ten Commandments begin with four statements about honoring God. We are to treat Him with respect, dignity, and honor at all times. As Proverbs 1:7 says, “Start with God – the first step in learning is bowing down to God; only fools thumb their noses at such wisdom and learning” (Proverbs 1:7 MSG).

Our relationships with men are all based on and dependent upon our relationship with God. Wise rulers are those who know God and honor Him with their lives. They live according to His law and don’t rule based on their own set of subjective standards. Wise parents are those whose households are God-honoring, where He is lifted up and held as the standard for life. Wise young people obey the law because they love God. Wise vendors don’t try to take advantage of their customers in order to make a buck, because they love God and know that dishonesty is dishonoring to Him.

The wise commit sins, but immediately confess them to God because they know He sees all and they value their relationship with Him more than any pleasure their sin may provide.

Loving the law is simply loving God. It is obeying His Word because you trust Him. It is doing what He says because You recognize that He knows best. And when you love God and keep His law, you end up doing what is just and right.

Evil people don’t understand justice,
    but those who follow the Lord understand completely.
Proverbs 28:5 NLT

The opening line of the United State’s pledge of allegiance contains the four simple words: “And justice for all.” Many of us remember reciting them each day in the classroom. But what do they mean? What would justice for all look like and does it ever really happen? Verse give tells us that justice is understood only by those who follow the Lord. Those who are wicked or simply choose to reject the way of the Lord have no concept of godly justice. They tend to see it from their own perspective and define it for their own good. But according to the NET Study Bible, the Hebrew word for justice used in this verse (mishpat) refers to the legal rights of people, to decisions that are equitable in the community. It has a communal aspect to it.

Justice is not just about MY rights, but the rights of all. And those who follow the Lord will understand justice from that perspective because God is concerned about justice for all. He is concerned for the rights and welfare of the poor, needy, disenfranchised, neglected, abused, and all those who lack representation and protection. God cares about the alien and foreigner, the widow and the orphan, the slave and the servant, the falsely accused, and the unfairly treated.

When asked what the greatest commandment was, Jesus simply said, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind,’ This is the first and greatest commandment. The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40 NLT).

Love God. Love others. There it is. We are just as obligated to love others as we are to love God because to fail to express love to those made in the likeness and image of God is a slap to the face of their creator.

One of the most effective ways of expressing love to others is by assuring that they receive justice. It is making sure that their rights are protected and their status as one of God’s creatures is maintained. Justice is not just an arbitrary requirement placed on man by God. It is part of His very nature, His character. God is just and righteous and always does what is right – every time, all the time. So, God expects His people to love justice just as much as He does. He requires them, as His representatives, to make sure that all men receive justice. One way we do this is by ensuring that just and righteous men and women are elected to high offices in our nation. Otherwise, we will experience exactly what Proverbs 28 warns us about.

A wicked ruler is as dangerous to the poor
    as a roaring lion or an attacking bear. – Proverbs 28:15 NLT

A ruler with no understanding will oppress his people,
    but one who hates corruption will have a long life. – Proverbs 28:16 NLT

When the wicked take charge, people go into hiding. – Proverbs 28:12 NLT

Justice is an expression of God’s character, while injustice is anti-God. Ignoring the needs, rights, and concerns of others is selfish and, ultimately, sinful. It is ungodly, unrighteous, unloving, un-Christlike, and unacceptable in the life of a believer. To love others as we love ourselves is to do whatever we can to protect them, provide for them, and speak up for them when necessary.

Injustice is all around us because sin and Satan thrive on it. The enemy preys on the weak, pitting the strong against them. His objective is to divide and conquer. He strives to create disunity rather than community. He breeds selfishness and self-centeredness. He thrives in an atmosphere filled with narcissism and self-gratification. He lulls mankind into a self-centered stupor that becomes insensitive and, eventually, oblivious to the injustice taking place all around us.

But God calls for justice. He demands love expressed in actions. He calls us to love others as much as we love Him, as an expression of our love for Him. That’s quite a calling. And it’s one we have ignored for far too long.

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.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

Words of Wisdom

14 Whoever blesses his neighbor with a loud voice,
    rising early in the morning,
    will be counted as cursing.
15 A continual dripping on a rainy day
    and a quarrelsome wife are alike;
16 to restrain her is to restrain the wind
    or to grasp oil in one’s right hand.
17 Iron sharpens iron,
    and one man sharpens another.
18 Whoever tends a fig tree will eat its fruit,
    and he who guards his master will be honored.
19 As in water face reflects face,
    so the heart of man reflects the man.
20 Sheol and Abaddon are never satisfied,
    and never satisfied are the eyes of man.
21 The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold,
    and a man is tested by his praise.
22 Crush a fool in a mortar with a pestle
    along with crushed grain,
    yet his folly will not depart from him.

23 Know well the condition of your flocks,
    and give attention to your herds,
24 for riches do not last forever;
    and does a crown endure to all generations?
25 When the grass is gone and the new growth appears
    and the vegetation of the mountains is gathered,
26 the lambs will provide your clothing,
    and the goats the price of a field.
27 There will be enough goats’ milk for your food,
    for the food of your household
    and maintenance for your girls. – Proverbs 27:14-27 ESV

Words matter because they provide a great barometer for measuring the condition of a man’s heart. They are the outward manifestation of one’s inner spiritual state and serve as powerful indicators of heart health.  Jesus put it this way:

“A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. What you say flows from what is in your heart.” – Luke 6:45 NLT

And the apostle James echoed the words of Jesus but added his own description of just how dangerous and deadly the tongue can be.

…but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

With the tongue we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, this should not be! Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? – James 3:8-11 BSB

So, it is no wonder that Solomon’s collection of wise sayings has a great deal to say about the tongue and the vital role it plays in all our human interactions. It seems that the tongue has an almost unique capacity to cause joy or pain. With the tongue, we can lift a person up or tear them down. We can compliment or we can complain. We can use it to do good or a great deal of damage. And only a wise person knows how to wield the tongue correctly. When it comes to the tongue, timing is everything. The right thing said at the wrong time can end up producing a bad outcome.

A loud and cheerful greeting early in the morning
    will be taken as a curse! – Proverbs 27:14 NLT

Knowing what to say and when to say it is vital if one wants their speech to be effective.

A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver. – Proverbs 25:11 ESV

It takes godly wisdom to know when to speak up and when to shut up. And it requires discernment to know when you’ve said too much.

A quarrelsome wife is as annoying
    as constant dripping on a rainy day.
Stopping her complaints is like trying to stop the wind
    or trying to hold something with greased hands. – Proverbs 27:15-16 NLT

There may be ample reasons for a wife to complain about her husband’s behavior. She may have every right to express her dissatisfaction with his treatment of her, but this proverb describes a woman who persistently and unrelentingly nags her husband. Her words have become caustic and unproductive. Rather than changing her husband’s behavior, she ends up driving him away. But Proverbs 31 describes a very different kind of woman who uses her wisdom and her speech to produce a very different outcome.

She is clothed with strength and dignity,
    and she laughs without fear of the future.
When she speaks, her words are wise,
    and she gives instructions with kindness. – Proverbs 31:25-26 NLT

The tongue can be a helpful resource for lifting up and encouraging others. For a person with wisdom, it can be a powerful tool for transforming the lives of friends and enemies alike.

As iron sharpens iron,
    so a friend sharpens a friend. – Proverbs 27:17 NLT

Praise is a powerful commodity but it should be used wisely and sparingly. Too much praise can produce pride. Too little praise can result in resentment and bitterness. Everyone needs to hear words of praise on occasion, but when it is given it must be sincere and well-deserved. False praise is nothing more than lying. Praising someone who has an addiction to praise can be destructive. Failing to praise someone who is deserving of praise is ultimately selfish and like stealing what is rightfully theirs.

The writer of Proverbs 27 knows the power of praise and warns us about it.

Fire tests the purity of silver and gold,
    but a person is tested by being praised. – Proverbs 27:21 NLT

Like fire, praise can do much good, but it can also be dangerous if treated flippantly or foolishly. He warns us against self-praise, which is basically bragging. Nobody likes to be around a braggart, yet we’re all guilty of it at times. We want others to know our accomplishments and to be impressed with our exploits. Self-praise can be as simple as hanging all your diplomas on the wall of your office for everyone to see. If it is meant to impress, it is self-praise, and self-praise is never attractive.

Self-praise can be as innocent as fishing for compliments by chumming the water with stories of your good deeds. It is manipulative and unattractive to watch. We are warned, “Let someone else praise you, not your own mouth – a stranger, not your own lips” (Proverbs 27:2 NLT).

One of the hard realities of life is that the lack of praise we experience may be the result of us having done nothing praise-worthy. But it could also be that any praises we receive are meant for the ears of others. Those praising us may be telling our boss or supervisor. They may be praising us to their friends. We may not hear it, but we benefit from their praise just the same. If we HAVE to hear praise to benefit from it, our motivation needs to be questioned.

How we receive praise reveals much about us. “A person is tested by being praised” (Proverbs 27:21b NLT). In other words, if praise tends to make us proud and puffed up, it is exposing a heart problem. It is showing us that we have a character flaw. We crave praise. We are addicted to praise. We are motivated by praise.

If we don’t receive it, we lose our motivation. We become like an actor who loses his love of acting because he fails to receive the applause he thinks he so richly deserves. At that point, he is acting for the applause, not because he loves to act. If we require the praise of others to make us do what God requires of us, we are doing it for the wrong reason. Doing good deeds in exchange for praise turns our efforts into nothing more than a job. It becomes little more than energy expended in exchange for payment. But we are to do good deeds out of the motivation to honor God. Our efforts are for His praise and glory, not our own. Any praise we receive is an extra-added bonus. It is to be like a sacrifice. Those who brought sacrifices to God did not receive applause from the crowd standing around them. Their effort was what was expected of them as servants of God.

But praise is not a sin. It is a vital part of doing life together as human beings. The key is that praise is something to be given and not sought. It is like a commodity we have that is to be shared with others, sparingly and wisely. Too much praise, like too much honey, can make the other person sick. When it comes to praise, you can have too much of a good thing. And man’s love for praise can become insatiable.

Just as Death and Destruction are never satisfied,
    so human desire is never satisfied. – Proverbs 27:20 NLT

Praising a child for anything and everything can end up making them proud, arrogant, and addicted to praise. When they grow up and don’t receive it, they will become angry, resentful, and begin to question their own self-worth. Too little praise can be destructive as well. Withholding praise is nothing short of cruel. It is like refusing to pay an employee for a job well done. But for some of us, words of praise are difficult to produce. Maybe it’s because we failed to hear them as children. We are unaccustomed to hearing words of praise. But words of encouragement can be a gift we give to those in need. They can be like water to a thirsty man – refreshing, reinvigorating, and re-energizing. It takes wisdom to know how to use praise effectively. False praise is disingenuous and deceitful. It’s nothing short of flattery designed to benefit the one giving it. False praise is ultimately self-centered.

Praise is powerful. It has the potential for doing harm and good. So, it is to be used wisely and carefully. It is not something to be sought, but to be given. The praises of men should never be our motivation. Seeking to please God is what should drive us, inspire us, and motivate us. The praises of men, when given, are to be received humbly, gratefully, and with an understanding that the one who really deserves credit for them is God.

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.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

Cultivating True Community

1 Do not boast about tomorrow,
    for you do not know what a day may bring.
Let another praise you, and not your own mouth;
    a stranger, and not your own lips.
A stone is heavy, and sand is weighty,
    but a fool’s provocation is heavier than both.
Wrath is cruel, anger is overwhelming,
    but who can stand before jealousy?
Better is open rebuke
    than hidden love.
Faithful are the wounds of a friend;
    profuse are the kisses of an enemy.
One who is full loathes honey,
    but to one who is hungry everything bitter is sweet.
Like a bird that strays from its nest
    is a man who strays from his home.
Oil and perfume make the heart glad,
    and the sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel.
10 Do not forsake your friend and your father’s friend,
    and do not go to your brother’s house in the day of your calamity.
Better is a neighbor who is near
    than a brother who is far away.
11 Be wise, my son, and make my heart glad,
    that I may answer him who reproaches me.
12 The prudent sees danger and hides himself,
    but the simple go on and suffer for it.
13 Take a man’s garment when he has put up security for a stranger,
    and hold it in pledge when he puts up security for an adulteress.
– Proverbs 27:1-13 ESV

Let’s face it. Relationships are messy. Living with others can be difficult at times. But there is a huge advantage to living in true biblical community. And the Proverbs have a lot to say about the impact of wisdom and foolishness on our relationships. While we can attempt to isolate ourselves from interaction with others, no one lives in a vacuum. And, whether we like it or not, we will eventually end up dealing with people from all walks of life and from every conceivable background. Even a few fools will cross our path as we navigate our way through life.

But this chapter continues to differentiate between the wise and the foolish, describing how each displays certain characteristics – some to be emulated and others to be avoided.

When it comes to relationships, a fool is self-centered, myopic, and tends to only think about himself. He lives his life with a certain level of insensitivity and never thinks about how his words and actions will impact those around him. In fact, he doesn’t even care. Because of their self-focused manner of life, fools tend to think too highly of themselves and have a distorted view of reality. That’s why the wise person should heed the following advice.

Don’t brag about tomorrow,
    since you don’t know what the day will bring

Let someone else praise you, not your own mouth—
    a stranger, not your own lips. – Proverbs 27:1-2 NLT

Instead, a man or woman of wisdom should readily accept their responsibility to care about and for those around them, and they should live accordingly.

Fools tend to leave a wake of disrupted relationships in their path. They are relationship wreckers who allow resentment, anger, and jealousy to wreak havoc on all those around them.

A stone is heavy and sand is weighty,
    but the resentment caused by a fool is even heavier.

Anger is cruel, and wrath is like a flood,
    but jealousy is even more dangerous. – Proverbs 27:3-4 NLT

Those who care about community understand that words are powerful. They know that there will be times when words of encouragement are needed, but also times when a word of warning or rebuke is necessary. In a healthy relationship, to withhold a much-deserved rebuke is as wrong as refusing to express our love verbally.

An open rebuke
    is better than hidden love!Proverbs 27:5 NLT).

While correction and criticism are never easy to receive, a true friend will care enough about us to tell us the hard truth.

Wounds from a sincere friend
    are better than many kisses from an enemy.Proverbs 27:6 NLT)

Fools make a habit of telling others what they want to hear. They use flattery to win others over but never truly mean what they say. And while a fool will butter someone up by telling them how wonderful they are, they will overlook the faults that are preventing that person from being who God wants them to be. False flattery is deadly. It puffs us up and gives us a false sense of confidence and feeds our self-righteousness. But a true friend will tell us the truth, even if it hurts.

As iron sharpens iron,
    so a friend sharpens a friend. – Proverbs 27:17 NLT

Friendships should involve some friction but it should be productive and not destructive. As we rub up against one another in our relationships there should be a certain give-and-take that allows us to push, prod, and pull each other towards increased righteousness.

But if we are honest, we have to admit that many of our relationships are shallow and dishonest. We refuse to speak the truth into one another’s lives. We openly tolerate godlessness and flatter one another with words of kindness when what we really need is a swift kick in the pants and a dose of reality.

The heartfelt counsel of a friend
    is as sweet as perfume and incense. – Proverbs 27:9 NLT

Yet, many of us are afraid to play hardball in our relationships because we fear what others may say about how we live our lives. We’re afraid that if we critique someone else’s life, it will leave the door open for them to return the favor. And, most likely, they will. But we should welcome it.

The truth is, most of us have no idea what we’re really like. We can’t see our faults and weaknesses. Our foolish friends will leave us thinking we don’t have any. But a true friend will point them out in a loving, caring way, and help us take steps to correct them. They are able to see the true condition of our hearts, something we can’t do on our own. ”

As a face is reflected in water,
    so the heart reflects the real person.Proverbs 27:19 NLT

We need one another. We need real relationships that produce real-life change. True biblical community is messy. It involves transparency, accountability, honesty, humility, patience and love. It takes work, but it is worth it. Cultivating true community has long-term, real-life benefits.

Never abandon a friend—
    either yours or your father’s.
When disaster strikes, you won’t have to ask your brother for assistance.
    It’s better to go to a neighbor than to a brother who lives far away. – Proverbs 27:10 NLT

You never know when you will need the help or counsel of a true friend. Life is full of all kinds of surprises and, in times of difficulty, you want to be surrounded by those who can step in and help. But you’ll want to make sure you’ve surrounded yourself with wise friends and not fools.

A prudent person foresees danger and takes precautions.
    The simpleton goes blindly on and suffers the consequences. – Proverbs 27:12 NLT

Prepare for the inevitable setbacks in life and maintain ongoing relationships with people who can provide wise counsel when you need it. In times of difficulty, a few friends with wisdom are of far greater value than a host of fools who lack sense. Life is too short and relationships are too important to waste your time cultivating friendships with fools.

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.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.