“My son, do not forget my teaching, But let your heart keep my commandments; for length of days and years of life and peace they will add to you. Do not let kindness and truth leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. So you will find favor and good repute in the sight of God and man. Trust in the LORD with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your body and refreshment to your bones.” – Proverbs 3:1-8 NASB
Daniel J. Estes writes concerning the proverbs:
“Instead of treating Proverbs as a treatise that has clearly definable development across the whole book, a different approach is (to be) used. After the individual proverb is exegeted, its meaning is synthesized with that of similar sayings that speak to the same subject. Because Proverbs are inherently limited, no single maxim presents the entire picture. That portrait emerges only when all of the relevant sayings on the topic are considered together.”
Simply put, understanding a proverb—or anything else in God’s word—requires having a bigger picture. This is what I like to call the Psalm 119:160 principle.
“The sum of Your word is truth,” David says, “and every one of Your righteous ordinances is everlasting.” – Psalms 119:160
The sum of God’s word is where we find truth. Are the parts true? Sure. But only as they’re understood within the context of the whole. This is tremendously important when discerning doctrinal truths in the Bible and, for our purposes in this series, proverbial wisdom.Understanding a proverb—or anything else in God’s word—requires having a bigger picture. This is what I like to call the Psalm 119:160 principle. Click To Tweet
Let me give you an example: Proverbs 26:4 says, “Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you will also be like him.”
Now if we take this without considering any other proverb we might conclude that it’s wise to completely ignore a fool—to write them off. I mean after all none of us want to be like a fool, right? However, is this what the rest of the Scriptures are saying? Is this even what this immediate passage is saying? The answer of course is no.
If not for correcting foolishness what’s the point in Matthew 18 and church discipline? What about Galatians 6—even though it’s to be done in a spirit of gentleness? Or what about Jesus’s instruction to remove the log from our eye, so that we can see clearly when removing a twig from another’s eye. The point I’m making is that in the end, all of this is correction and we are correcting the foolishness that resides in our hearts—this foolishness is our sin.
Let’s consider another proverb about child rearing: Proverbs 22:15 which says, “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; the rod of discipline will remove it far from him.”
If we misread Proverbs 26:4 then Proverbs 22:15 is at best irrelevant, leading to the neglect of our children, or at worst a blatant contradiction. The truth is, it’s neither! What we should do at this point is just keep reading. We must examine the whole of God’s wording if we’re to rightly divide it.We must examine the whole of God’s wording if we’re to rightly divide it. Click To Tweet
In this instance we don’t have to look any further than the very next verse. Proverbs 26:5 goes on to say, “Answer a fool as his folly deserves, that he not be wise in his own eyes.”
Okay, so what are we actually to do with a fool? We’re not to answer according to their folly, but we are to answer. With respect to the first verse we’re not to lower ourselves to the fool’s level and per the second verse we are to answer according to what their folly deserves. We’re to be a good Samaritan helping our brother out of a pit not jumping in with him.
In this, the punishment should fit the crime as we like to say. And this is really big, Church. Not only should we correct a fool, but we’re to do it in a situation-specific manner—one size just doesn’t fit all with correction.
There’s also a very clear purpose for this correction. Proverbs 23:9 says, “Do not speak in the hearing of a fool, For he will despise the wisdom of your words.”Not only should we correct a fool, but we’re to do it in a situation-specific manner—one size just doesn’t fit all with correction. Click To Tweet
The reason we’re not to sink to the level of a fool is because 1. we’ll become just like them—the blind leading the blind. And 2. maybe more importantly is the fact that they won’t listen to us anyway.
This plays out in parenting all the time. Parents seem to want to get down on the same level as their children. But what happens is they start acting like children themselves. While this is going on, the parents lose any say in their child’s life whether they recognize it or not.Parents seem to want to get down on the same level as their children. But what happens is they start acting like children themselves. While this is going on, the parents lose any say in their child’s life. Click To Tweet
So again, we are supposed to answer a fool, but we must do it appropriately. The ultimate goal of this is related to our theme this week—to drive out pride. We answer a fool according to their folly so they won’t be wise in their own eyes. This kind of pride is the most common attribute for a fool, which is why Proverbs 3:7 warns us as it does, “Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and turn away from evil.”
When Jesus tells us in the New Testament not to call a brother a fool (Matthew 5:22), He is not implying that there are no foolish people in the world. Rather He’s teaching, in a roundabout sort of way, that the aim of any Christian is restoration, not condemnation. This is what our Heavenly Father has done for us and as forgiven people we must be a forgiving people.
Have you struggled with what appeared to be contradictions in the Proverbs? Have you sought out the sum truth of God’s word to resolve them? I’d love to hear an example. Comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. In the next post we will look dive into a story about a royal family and pride.