ARE YOU TALKING TO ME?

Usually the question “Are you talking to me?” is confrontational, but in asking it this morning I mean it. Like I have done the past several years, I am again reading the book of Proverbs during the month of January. There are 31 days in January and 31 chapters in the book, so I read a chapter a day. The last verse in yesterday’s chapter and two verses in the first 13 verses of today’s chapter got my attention.

The last verse yesterday, 17:28, is a verse I have always liked and often quoted: “Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent, and discerning if they hold their tongues.” When I read this I thought of all the people I know who could benefit from it if they would just listen to it.

When I read 18:2 this morning, “Fools find no pleasure in understanding but delight in airing their own opinions,” I remembered the last verse from yesterday and then thought about the current state of political discussion on TV, Facebook, and in Washington. I said to myself: “many of those people could certainly benefit if they would take this verse to heart!”

Eleven verses later I came to “To answer before listening—that is folly and shame.” That reminded me of what I had read a little earlier so I went back and read verse 2 again. I was right, the two verses relate. Then I remembered what I had read yesterday, went back to 17:28, and thought “these three all relate.” I looked the verses up in a couple of other translations and what I thought was confirmed. The GNB rendering of Proverbs 18:13 is especially strong: “Listen before you answer. If you don’t, you are being stupid and insulting.”

I was thinking about all the back and forth I read and hear from pundits, politicians, Facebook posts, and other discussions and how great it would be if those people would read and put into practice these three verses from Proverbs.

Then I had an epiphany. The reason I read the book of Proverbs each January is to learn and put into practice its wisdom. I’m not reading Proverbs to be reminded of the foolishness and folly of others, I’m reading this book of wisdom to have my own shortcomings pointed out and to be instructed in how to do better.

And so I asked the question, “Are you talking to me?” Perhaps I should listen more and more carefully as well as talk less.

Feel free to leave a reply below and share this post on Facebook or other social media.

photo credit: marneejill <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/7675787@N06/30590978751″>Donald and Hillary</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;

Advertisements

HOW TO ANSWER A FOOL

As I was getting ready to cover the book of Proverbs in my History and Literature of Ancient Israel class I was reminded of what many think is a clear contradiction in the book. Proverbs 25:4 instructs, “Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you yourself will be just like him.” The very next verse cautions, “Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes.”

Sure sounds like a contradiction doesn’t it? But it isn’t. This apparent contradiction provides the opportunity to suggest a few things for reading and applying this book of wisdom to our lives.

First, getting a handle on the meaning of wisdom in the book of Proverbs will be helpful. It’s not about intellect, a high IQ, or significant knowledge. According to Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart it is not theoretical and abstract. Wisdom in the book of Proverbs is practical insight for living a godly life. It’s about attitude and behavior in daily life. And Proverbs 1:7 gives the foundation, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” My sense of what it means to fear the LORD is to recognize and honor Him through worship and obedience.

Second, the affirmations in the book of Proverbs are not absolute laws. They describe life in terms of how things generally work; what they say is not always and universally the case. The first principle of interpretation Fee and Stuart list is “Proverbs are not legal guarantees from God.”

Finally, and flowing from the previous paragraph, what a Proverb teaches must be applied at the right time and in the right situation. In the words of Old Testament scholar Tremper Longman III, “Wisdom is knowing the right time and the right circumstance to apply the right principle to the right person.”

This brings us back to Proverbs 25:4 and 25:5. Do we answer or do we not answer a fool according to his folly? It all depends. It depends on the person and the situation. Sometimes to answer a fool would only give credibility to him. At other times not to answer a fool would only result in him thinking he was right.

Would you like to grow in wisdom? For the past several years I have been reading the book of Proverbs every January—one chapter a day, 31 chapters in 31 days. If you are not committed to a Bible reading plan I invite you to join me as we begin the month of April with Proverbs 1:1-7 and then go to chapters 10 through chapter 29. (You can go back and pick up the rest of chapter 1, chapters 2-9, 30, and 31 later because these chapters are not in the same form.) Go at your own pace—don’t rush—slow down and reflect on what you read.

And since we are coming to April 1, I close with, A proverb in the mouth of a fool is like a thorny branch brandished by a drunk” (Proverbs 26:9 NLT).

Share these thoughts on social media and feel free to comment below.

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/41115707@N05/4551694931″>IMG_5372</a&gt; via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;

 

 

HOW MUCH DO YOU THINK YOU KNOW?

I love the Old Testament book of Proverbs and have reread it every January for several years now. There is no way I could choose one favorite verse, but one I return to again and again is Proverbs 9:9. The New International Version renders this verse “Instruct the wise, and they will be wiser still; teach the righteous and they will add to their learning.” Here are four things I take from this verse.

I DON’T KNOW EVERYTHING. You may think that is obvious, but the truth is I sometimes come across as though I know a lot more than I do. I am finally learning that it is good to keep in mind that I don’t know everything; I don’t even know as much as I sometimes think I do.

Not only do I not know everything, I COULD BE WRONG. I don’t like to be wrong, but there have been plenty of times when I have been wrong. I’ve been wrong on some little things, and I have been wrong on some big things. It hasn’t always been easy for me to admit that I could be or was wrong.

If I could be wrong, then it follows that THE PERSON WHO DISAGREES WITH ME COULD BE RIGHT. If it is hard to admit you could be or were wrong, it’s probably even harder to admit that the person who disagreed with you was right.  I know people who have disagreed with me have been right at times.

In light of these first three revelations (that I’m sure surprise no one), I NEED TO KEEP LEARNING AND GROWING IN WISDOM. I don’t need to know everything, I don’t need to always be right, and it’s ok that someone who disagrees with me is right. What I need to do is to keep on learning and growing. And these four affirmations indicate at least some progress.

Going back to Proverbs 9:9, A CERTAIN LEVEL OF WISDOM IS ASSUMED if a person who is instructed will become even wiser. And A CERTAIN LEVEL OF RIGHTEOUSNESS IS ASSUMED if a person who is taught will learn more. I don’t think we can be too optimistic for those who think they know everything, who don’t think they are ever wrong and someone else could be right, or don’t realize they need to continue to learn and grow.

Proverbs 1:7 gives the theme of the book: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” By “fear of the LORD” the Bible does not mean that we shrink back in terror from God, but rather that we acknowledge Him as Creator, worship Him as God, and submit to Him as Lord. That is a good beginning point, isn’t it? From there we can continue to welcome wisdom and instruction into our lives.

Share this post with others if you think it will encourage them and I welcome comments below.

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/31167076@N07/5471047557″>question mark</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;