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Proverbs 27:1-27

July 27, 2015

This chapter is filled with rich reflections, mostly on friendship.  Here are a few highlights:

Let another praise you, and not your own mouth–a stranger, and not your own lips (v.2).

I knew a man who was constantly praising himself.  I wondered what kind of terrible insecurity compelled him to always toot his own horn.  And yet, from time to time I catch myself also mentioning my own accomplishments or noteworthy personal information.  I thank a friend of mine for pointing out one of the times I did this; it helped me become aware of what I had not noticed, and I have been much more conscious in trying to avoid self-praise.  This does not mean we should never list our accomplishments or gifts.  There is a time a place for doing this.  I am no fan of false modesty.  But sprinkling our ordinary conversation with little examples of our own importance is a sign of low self-esteem, a craving for attention and to be thought well of by others.  It is embarrassing to watch.

We should not pretend to be incompetent when in reality we know we are not.  That is false humility.  But we should cultivate a sense of inner confidence and peace with ourselves and God which frees us from any need or inclination to praise ourselves.

Better is open rebuke than hidden love (v.5).

Being openly confronted is challenging and painful.  Our initial response is usually defensiveness and anger.  But there is almost always something valuable to be learned in a rebuke.  It is often honesty in its starkest form.  When offered by someone we respect, it is a gift–if we know the person genuinely cares about us.  But if their love is hidden, unexpressed, we cannot thrive, and rebukes will usually do us no good.

A rebuke at least has the possibility of helping us; but unexpressed love helps us not at all.  This is why it is so important for parents to always offer words of encouragement, support, and unconditional love to their children.  Yes, you can also be angry and confrontive; but make sure love is never in doubt.

Do not forsake your friend or the friend of your parent; do not go to the house of your kindred in the day of your calamity.  Better is a neighbor who is nearby than kindred who are far off (v.10).

Sometimes friends are more valuable than family.  Yes, family should always be there for us–offering support and love.  But if we over-rely on family we never grow up.  In our adulthood our friends should become, in a sense, our family.  Our friends are our peers and are near at hand.  So it is important for us to be able to cultivate true and dependable friends–and to be the same for them.  I grew up in a close-knit family, which was very comfortable for me.  We often had a sense of “us against the world.”  But this becomes unhealthy.  Our identity must not be overly fused with that of our family.  To properly mature we need to strike out on our own, make friends beyond family, and have a much wider system of support and love.

Iron sharpens iron, and one person sharpens the wits of another (v.17).

I wish the English translators had left out “the wits of” since that is not in the original Hebrew and it limits what is meant.  A more literal translation would be:  “Iron sharpens iron, and one person sharpens the face of his friend.”  The edge of a blade is called its “face” in Hebrew, so when we interact with one another, we are sharpening our cutting edge–making one another more effective.  These are the kinds of friendships we should especially seek:  those whose interactions sharpen us, increasing our skills or creativity.  Years ago I was invited to help create a writers’ group; the expressed purpose was for “iron sharpening iron.”  At our monthly breakfasts we each shared what we had been writing, and the others commented in helpful and supportive ways.  As a result, we all became better writers.  As talented as John Lennon and Paul McCartney were as individual musicians and song writers, they were exponentially better when they were sharpening each other.

Just as water reflects the face, so one human heart reflects another (v.19). 

This is a hard verse to translate, but I think the NRSV translation has likely captured its intent.  When we look into a pool of still water we see our own reflection; we recognize ourselves.  So, in a similar way, when we get to know another person’s “heart,” we recognize ourselves, our own reflection.  Cultivating deep relationships and friendships with others helps us discover we are not alone; others possess the same hidden thoughts and inclinations.  We are able to then trust and share and discover our common humanity.  Indeed, by looking deeply into others we will likely understand ourselves and see ourselves more clearly.

The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold, so a person is tested by being praised (v.21).

This proverb harkens back to the first proverb I quoted, finishing the wisdom begun in the first.  Not only is self-praise a character flaw, but also how we receive the praise of others is a test of our true character.  So how should we receive the praise of others?  If it makes us haughty, giving us an inflated sense of our self-importance, then we have failed the test.  We must always remember that our friends are likely to compliment us more than they are likely to point out our flaws; as a result, the praise of our friends gives us a lop-sided view of ourselves.  Even when I meet with a counselor or spiritual director, I take their compliments with a grain of salt because I know that their knowledge of me is limited to what I have told them; and no matter how much I have tried to be open and honest about myself, I am sure I have still shared about myself in such a way that I come off looking good.  As the familiar saying goes:  Don’t believe your own press clippings.

On the other hand, it is not a sign of maturity to deny the compliments of others.  The inability to accept a compliment is either a sign of self-shaming or a faked humility aimed at being seen as humble and spiritual.  I think a mature response to being praised is to be genuinely grateful while also honest within oneself about one’s limitations.  In other words, say thanks and move on.

[I will be on vacation for two weeks, so this blog will resume on Monday, August 17.]


From → Proverbs

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