"A fool takes no pleasure in understanding,
Our culture has become reactionary. There are a variety of factors to this: social media, the speed of the news cycle, the polarization of politics, etc., etc., etc.. We want to be right more than we want the truth. We live in a world where issues are deeply complex. Complex issues deserve thought out answers and sophisticated solutions.
This begins with listening. Listening is more than just hearing the words that I am planning to instantaneously refute and mock with my canned argument. Listening involves putting myself in the place of the person that is in front of me and doing my best to understand their argument and motivations and priorities. I can have sympathy for how and why behind their conclusions even when I do not agree with them.
When we take the time to do this we can disagree well. We can address underlying assumptions (and even evaluate our own). We can win a person rather than just an argument.
Let us respond rather than react. Let us think before we speak. Let us seek to understand rather than perpetuate rhetoric. In understanding someone else's opinion, we will likely make them much more open to our own.
"Let a man meet a bear robbed of her cubs,
I am currently living in the Pacific Northwest and have been warned of the dangers of encountering a bear cub because mamma bears tend to be a little protective of their little ones. I have seen the YouTube videos of people who have survived an encounter with a bear. They usually include a face that is barely recognizable as human and phrases like "I heard my bones crunching". Not pretty.
So when the biblical writer uses the image of a man meeting a bear robbed of her cubs, I am pretty sure he is going for one of the strongest and most vivid images of which he can imagine. This is the image he says is better than meeting a fool in his folly.
Think about that. It is better to be in as situation where you will fear for your life and likely soil yourself out of terror than be with a fool in his folly. It is better to have the potential to be mauled within an inch of your life than to be with a fool in his folly. It is better to encounter the full rage of a mamma bear than to meet a fool in his folly.
I am getting the impression the writer of these Proverbs thinks foolishness is a serious thing. We as Christians spend some effort and energy tending to the avoidance of blatant sin in our lives. I don't think we spend enough time pursing wisdom and fleeing from foolishness and folly. We should. It is apparently more dangerous and damaging than an enraged bear that could tear us limb from limb.
"Gracious words are like a honeycomb,
I love honey. There is something about it that reminds me of spring and summer. It is a reminder that the dark, coldness of winter has past and a season of brightness and warmth has arrived. Words can do the same thing. Gracious (Heb. noam) words have a sweetness to them that can soothe the bitterness of life. Whether it be an encouragement, an exhortation, or even humor, the right words at the right time can make the worst circumstances a little more palatable.
These words not only taste sweet, but the have healing properties as well. They are a salve on life's wounds. Words can diffuse anger. Words can disarm despair. Words can bandage hurt. We all have access to one of God's most potent remedies for life's ills: well timed and gentle words.
Let our words be sweet. Let our words be salve. Let us use our words to brighten the world and heal its ills.
"Where there are no oxen , the manger is clean,
I love simplicity. Multiple moving parts give me anxiety. Divided focus stresses me out. I am not alone. There are those people who love chaos and thrive in administrating an ever growing mess, but I think most of us like a simple, stable existence. Unfortunately, this proverb challenges us that impact and influence are not found in the vicinity of simple and minimalist.
This proverb acknowledges that where there are no oxen the manger is clean. There are no beasts to feed. There are no hooves to shod. There are no stalls to muck. There is no worry that my ox is going to gore another ox or a human being (I guess this was a major problem based on the amount of the civil code in Exodus dedicated to the issue). The manger is clean. Life is simple.
What is also true? The grain silo is empty. The barn is full of cobwebs. The grange sits unused. The abundant harvest comes through the strength of the ox. This proverb encourages to embrace the mess. To welcome the headache. To wade into the troubles. Why? Because doing anything of significance is going to take a lot of effort and energy. Nothing worthwhile in life comes easy.
For those of us who follow Jesus this is especially true of reaching people. People can be the messiest beasts of them all. Jesus referred to people as harvest (Matt. 9:37). He said the workers are few. If we are serious about proclaiming the gospel and seeing people come and live under the rule and reign of Jesus than we are going to have to embrace the mess, the headaches, and the troubles that come with an abundant harvest.
Let us leave the clean stable behind and relentlessly pursue full storehouses.
"Better is a dinner of herbs where love is
I imagine Solomon was no stranger to dinner parties. All of the political affairs, the social soirees, the wedding receptions... Solomon was well aqauinted with feasts that would have included the richest of foods and banquets with the most expensive luxuries. He was also no stranger to dining with enemies that wanted his kingdom, aquaintences who wanted to use his position and power for their own gain, and in-laws, lots of in-laws. His conclusion: It's not the quality of the food that makes the meal, it's the warmth of the company.
Being a pastor is certainly not the same as being a king, but I, too, have attended my share of dinners over the years. I can't tell you much about about what I ate in very many spots (except Boone's Thai food, that stuff is memorable), but I can tell you about some people who are incredibly hospitable (Boone's disposition warmed better than her coconut curry, for the record) and others whose home felt like interrogation centers.
Don't be fooled by wining and dining. See through bribery and false pretense. And don't miss out on genuine warmth and friendship just because it came with a plate of leftover pizza or corndogs.
Let us be people who offer not just a fancy plate, but genuine love.
"Better to be lowly and have a servant than to play the great man and lack bread."
Humans have an insatiable desire to feel important. Our egos hunger for power and position. Our pride thirsts for status and esteem. If we cannot obtain these things through our own merit, we are often willing to "fake it till we make it". The problem with this is it leads to frivolous spending on status symbols that are shallow and hollow. Then we wake up broke. It leads to the trampling of others and pushing them down to give ourselves the illusion of elevation. Then we wake up alone. In playing at greatness, we seed our own destruction and leave a wake of debt and pain.
People who are truly great have no need to feel that way. Their character and the fruits of righteousness are enough. They are content to be who they are whether the world takes note or not. They remember the upside-down nature of the Kingdom of God, less they forget Jesus said those who are first in this life will be last in the next. Let us stop playing. Let us put away our egos and pride. Let us be content to walk in biblical wisdom. Let us live for an audience of One.