Pro 15:14-19 The heart of him who has understanding seeks knowledge, but the mouths of fools feed on folly. (15) All the days of the afflicted are evil, but the cheerful of heart has a continual feast. (16) Better is a little with the fear of the LORD than great treasure and trouble with it. (17) Better is a dinner of herbs where love is than a fattened ox and hatred with it. (18) A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, but he who is slow to anger quiets contention. (19) The way of a sluggard is like a hedge of thorns, but the path of the upright is a level highway.
Today’s sermon is more like a series of many mini-sermons, but for that it is not less important. I suppose if I had to sum it up into a single thesis statement I’d say that, “The wise person accepts the world as it is and then obeys the Lord.” What I mean by that is that the wise person accepts that fact that some things are true and some are not and tries (not just learns by accident), but tries to know the difference. The wise person learns to recognize when they are in a state of internal duress and then does something about it. The wise person recognizes the great value of a proper relationship to the LORD, of loving relationships with family, of not being easily offended, and the unpleasantries of laziness.
- (14) The heart of him who has understanding seeks knowledge, but the mouths of fools feed on folly.
This particular passage of Scripture is meant to challenge you to change what you do with your mind. Do you wish to be a fool? Do wish to understand the world? You cannot, ultimately have both mindsets. Thus, the challenge is this: seek knowledge. If you spend all of your time mindlessly surfing the internet, mindlessly watching television, mindlessly listening to the radio, etc, then you will likely become a fool. Seek actual knowledge about yourself, seek knowledge about the world around you at school, with good books, or a fruitful use of the internet. Also, seek knowledge of God in the Scriptures. But you must seek it. Anybody can learn things by accident, babies do that. But only somebody with a heart of understanding seeks out knowledge. With this heart of understanding you can accept the world as it is, then obey the Lord.
- (15) All the days of the afflicted are evil, but the cheerful of heart has a continual feast.
The idea here according to the commentators is that those who are in a state of internal anxiety often find the negative in every situation. Those who are in a state of internal joy can find something good and feast-like in every situation. Now, this Proverb is much more descriptive than prescriptive I would think. One type of person, the negative Ned, or the man of enduringly Eeyore-ian disposition can find something troublesome about every situation and use that to be sad, depressed, or defeated. The other type of person, the cheerful of heart/Polyanna Pam finds a continual feast upon the goodness of creation. At first this sounds good and down right mystically appropriate (see Thomas Traherne). But upon further reflection, such a person might gloss over real problems because they refuse to see that there is a famine. So, certainly the text is descriptive. But there is a prescription in Scripture for both kinds of people. If you’re a negative Ned all of the time, then it might do you and those around you some good to intentionally look for the actual, really, truly there goodness in a situation. Even better, it would do you good to remember the blessings of the gospel. Part of the fruit of the Spirit is joy and Paul says elsewhere that this joy is commanded this way, “Rejoice in the Lord.” This means to rejoice in the blessings of the gospel message: God loves you, God forgives you, the Lord will judge evil and renew the cosmos, you have a family with the church, you’re a new creation, and so on and so forth. If you’re a positive Pam who refuses to see true problems and feasts on emotional highs because you cannot think critically for even a second, then you need to see the evils that are there in your day. Jesus himself noted that each day has trouble. The truly wise person sees the world as it is and then obeys the Lord.
- (16) Better is a little with the fear of the LORD than great treasure and trouble with it. (17) Better is a dinner of herbs where love is than a fattened ox and hatred with it.
Now, Socrates has a similar notion to this, “It is better to suffer injustice than to commit it.” So did Jesus, “Blessed are you when you suffer for righteousness’ sake.” It appears in several Bible stories. A favorite is in Dan 3:16-18, “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. (17) If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. (18) But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”” It also appears in C.S. Lewis,’ ““Doubtless this signifies,” said the Prince, “that Aslan will be our good lord, whether he means us to live or die. All’s one for that.” “Courage friends,” came Prince Rillian’s voice, “whether we live or die, Aslan will be our good lord.” Christian, your very name signifies that you have committed yourself to follow Jesus. Whether you live or die and whether it turns out pleasant or not, Jesus will be your good Lord. The truly wise person sees the world as it is and obeys the Lord.
- (18) A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, but he who is slow to anger quiets contention.
This is an especially important proverb for myself. I, personally, have always had a rotten temper. That temper has occasionally led to actions that I have regretted. It has led to many that I have perhaps sinfully bragged about. Unleashing the brunt of anger always feels like it will make a positive change, but these feelings are not true. Being hot tempered can be precisely what stirs up unnecessary strife in an otherwise slightly frustrating or innocuous circumstance. It doesn’t matter if anger is justified in one circumstance out of ten (my normal justification), it is simply true that strife comes if you let your temper flare without thinking the issue through or letting it play out for a while. Those who are slow to anger, though, are able to quiet contentions. It will take a great deal of work for me, but I do indeed see this path to be the most obviously Christ-like (at least in the context of business/family/work/church endeavors). Thus, in this case too, the truly wise person sees the effects of their anger, and then obeys the Lord.
- Questions for Reflection
- Do you ever feel tempted to simply wish the world were different all day instead of actually viewing it at how it is?
- Do you tend towards unrealistic cheeriness when others ask for advice or toward impossible negativity? What can you do about it?