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Proverbs 12:1-28

March 23, 2015

“Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but those who hate to be rebuked are stupid.”  This is a hard proverb, and in our era of encouraging people’s growth through a steady stream of affirmation, this proverb may seem wrong-headed.  In general, people grow more through affirmation than through criticism.  I had a professor of New Testament Greek who managed to teach our class that difficult language without ever saying we were wrong.  She always had a way of affirming us even when our translations were quite faulty.  I also remember a man who, early in my ministry, praised me far above my abilities–and I have spent the rest of my ministry trying to live up to that praise.  So affirmation works, and works well.

But so does discipline.  If discipline gives us honest feedback, helps us to see reality a bit more clearly, then that is also crucial for our growth and wisdom.  We may not like being “rebuked,” but if it is offered to us by someone whom we respect, who genuinely cares about us and wants the best for us, then listen to it carefully and learn from it.  Even if it is offered by someone we do not respect, whom we do not like, do not brush it off too quickly.  Still search the words for insight.

I recently watched the Academy Award-winning movie, Whiplash.  The movie is about a top jazz teacher who is incredibly nasty and verbally abusive to his students (don’t watch it if you cannot tolerate watching abuse and foul language).  The excuse he gives for his behavior is that only this method can compel the very best from his students.  To say, “Good job,” is to undermine a student’s drive to become better.  The teacher, however, is not simply motivating his students; he is truly abusing them and making their lives miserable.  His method is not so much based on bringing out the best in his students as much as it is based on his own nasty personality.  It is one thing to offer a student completely honest feedback and to push the student to do better; it is another to belittle, intimidate, and seek to create terror.

The proverb in verse 3 compels us to reflect on security–what is it and what is it truly based on?  In politics, war and spy movies, security means getting or keeping what we want from others who also want it.  Security is a high stakes competition in which, ultimately, anything is permitted and anything is justified so long as one achieves the goal of getting what one wants.  But this proverbs denies that assertion.  Only right action, only good behavior, ultimately achieves security.  The means are the ends in the making.  Only just means can result in just ends.  Selfish and ruthless behavior will always provoke the same from others, resulting in a constant deadly competition.  This disastrous cycle must be broken by right action.  If our short-term goals are more important than long-term goals, then we will opt for the short-cut of grabbing what we can through whatever means we can.  But if our long-term goal of wellbeing for everyone is most important for us, if we recognize that only such a goal brings security, then we will act accordingly.

Verse 10 could almost be a critique of industrial farming today in which the welfare of animals is secondary to mass-produced meat, eggs and profits.  The practices of these farms are indeed a “cruel mercy.”

Verse 15 is a good reminder that wisdom begins with humility.  Instead of assuming your own thoughts are right, first listen to everyone else.

Verse 16 stands in strong contrast to the movies and “street wisdom” of our culture that say we must react to every insult and stand up to any perceived disrespect.  That is the path to escalating violence and everyone “standing their ground” till everyone is shot dead.  The prudent ignore insults.  An insult only hurts the one who speaks it.

Verse 18 uses a provocative image for rash words–they are “sword thrusts.”  Yes, our rash words only wound, they do not heal.  Take time and be composed before ever offering a response in difficult times.

Finally, verse 23 offers a bit of counter-intuitive advice.  A wise (or “clever”) person does not say everything he or she knows to be true.  It is better to hold back on some information, to be discreet and to not be blabbing everything.  A fool, in contrast, broadcasts everything.  Not all information is helpful or appropriate in all times and contexts.  Wisdom knows that there is much that is better to conceal.  This should not be confused with deception or keeping secrets for the sake of cover-ups.  That kind of concealment is destructive.

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From → Proverbs

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