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Last week Solomon reminded us that we should be on a lifelong journey in our pursuit to know Christ. Our learning never ends and he said we should be loving instruction. We don’t dismiss instructions from people that are godlier than we are, that are more experienced than we are, that are more like Christ than we are. This morning, we’ll discover additional characteristics of the righteous and the wicked and look at the speech of each.
I encourage you to take the time and read Pro. 12:5-14 so you understand where Solomon is coming from.
Verses 5-7 contain the familiar patter we’ve seen Solomon use before. He speaks of the righteous, wicked, wicked, righteous, wicked, and righteous. “The thoughts of the righteous are just.” You know this because he said it in 11:23. In Ps. 119:15 David said, “I will meditate on Your precepts and regard Your ways.” That’s a good principle to live by. If you’ve ever wondered how to clear your mind, this is one way to do it. For many of us, if we could get a handle on our thoughts, we’d be free from many of the issues that seem to plague us. An issue marinates in our mind and it grows because we continue to think about it. Oftentimes, there is a small issue, but is allowed to grow big and strong and it festers. “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.” (Phil. 4:8) The thoughts of the righteous, those that belong to Christ, are just and fair. The righteous give the benefit of the doubt. Don’t you just hate it when someone thinks the worst of you? That’s something that the wicked do. “But the counsels of the wicked are deceitful. The words of the wicked lie in wait for blood.” Notice in the previous verse, Solomon talked about thoughts and now those thoughts give way to words. I cannot emphasize strongly enough just how important our words are. The wicked are deceitful; there are often hidden agendas or motives. What you see or hear may not be what you get. The words of the wicked are full of lies, slander, false accusations, and half-truths which put people’s lives in danger. In a practical application, I think of the false teaching out there about who God is. God is love and patience and all the things that go along with the idea that God approves of all people and it doesn’t matter how one thinks or acts because God is love. People that have no idea who God really is are defining who God is and other people are being led astray. People are acting wickedly and may not even know it. I think Solomon is talking more along the lines of people that do know what they’re doing and are intentional about it.
“But the mouth of the upright will deliver them. The wicked are overthrown and are no more, but the house of the righteous will stand.” Our speech should define who we belong to. As I have often said, it is a primary indicator of who has our heart. Our words should reflect the love of Christ in all circumstances. Our speech often denies who we belong to and is a primary indicator of our relationship with Christ. We should take the advice of James and be quick to hear and slow to speak, and slow to anger. (Ja. 1:19) Even though the wicked may prosper in the short run, or at least seem to prosper, they will be overthrown and will be no more. The house of the righteous will stand because it’s built on the foundation that is Jesus Christ. That’s why it’s righteous.
Solomon now addresses the area of respect. I would venture that most people would like to be respected. We want to be treated and spoken to respectfully. What’s funny is that even when we don’t treat people respectfully, we still want the respect we believe we deserve. “A man will be praised according to his insight.” Praised means approval or admiration. Insight means understanding. Insight can also be translated – you guessed it – wisdom. This is a guy that lives by wisdom; that provides practical evidence of a life that is guided by wisdom. This is a smart guy, well mannered, stately, honorable, and all the other adjectives you can come up with for a man held in high regard because of who has his heart rather than any office or position of authority he might hold. Listen to how David is described: “So David went out wherever Saul sent him, and prospered; and Saul set him over the men of war. And it was pleasing in the sight of all the people and also in the sight of Saul’s servants.” (1 Sam. 18:5) This is a man that is recognized and appreciated because of the wisdom that exudes from his being. David wasn’t just pleasing to his friends; he was pleasing to all the people – the common folk and to the servants. It says a lot about a man when the servants have high regard for you. To put it in a modern context, think of the supervisor employee relationships. David was a man of honor and integrity. Instead of being respected, “But one of perverse mind will be despised.” Perverse here means a deliberate and obstinate desire to behave badly. We are living in a day according to Is. 5:20 where evil is being called good and good is being called evil, but there still remains behavior that is generally viewed as acceptable or generally viewed as wrong.
Solomon now provides us with a series of one liners. “Better is he who is lightly esteemed and has a servant than he who honors himself and lacks bread.” This is an interesting collection of words so let me rephrase it. It’s better to work hard, be considered average and have someone to help you around the house than it is to pretend you’re something you are not and have nothing to eat. Another way to say it is it’s better to be unknown and be able to afford a servant than it is to pretend to be rich, but can’t even eat. “A righteous man has regard for the life of his animal, but even the compassion of the wicked is cruel.” This is for all the animal lovers out there. Animals were an important part of life back in Solomon’s day. They provided the power to work the land, to make flour from grain, to mill corn, provide milk, provide transportation as well as a number of other uses. The righteous man recognizes their importance and takes care of the animals to make sure they have what they need not just to survive, but to prosper. On the other hand, the compassion of the wicked is cruel. Even when they are trying to emulate some good qualities, they fall short.
“He who tills his land will have plenty of bread, but he who pursues worthless things lacks sense.” If you work your land, you’ll always have food to eat. This applies even if you’re not a farmer. If you’re willing to work hard, you’ll have food to eat. Pursue worthless things is also translated chase fantasies. All kinds of things are coming to mind. I’m sure people back in the day made fun of people like Eli Whitney, Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, and the Wright brothers. There is a difference between having a vision and being visionary. Chasing a fantasy is telling the judges that you can sing when you can’t carry a tune in a bucket. “The wicked man desires the booty of evil men, but the root of the righteous yields fruit.” Wicked people want what other wicked people have. Pirates steal from other pirates. Drug dealers steal from other drug dealers. The righteous are planted in good soil rooted in Jesus Christ. When you’re a healthy plant rooted in good soil, you can’t help but produce fruit.
The next ten verses or so deal specifically with the speech of the wicked and the speech of the righteous. “An evil man is ensnared by the transgression of his lips, but the righteous will escape from trouble.” Proverbs has a lot to say about getting trapped. We saw this first back in 6:2 and in context Solomon was talking about debt – making promises to repay what could not be repaid. Now he’s talking about talking too much. It could be slanderous speech, gossip, speaking out of turn, or having an opinion about anything and everything and then making sure everyone knows that opinion. We see that on Facebook all the time. Matthew Henry refers to this as cutting one’s own throat with his tongue. Ps. 34:19 says, “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all.” The righteous are delivered by the wisdom of their speech and that wisdom comes from God. “A man will be satisfied with good by the fruit of his words, and the deeds of a man’s hands will return to him.” Sticks and stones the saying goes, but I think that’s way off the mark. We cannot overestimate the power of words. With our words we have the power to edify or tear down. The power to lift up or lash out. The power to encourage or the power to deflate. The tongue is just like the rudder that controls the direction of a ship: even though it’s very small, it can change the course of that big vessel pretty quickly. Think of a time you used words that picked someone up, that encouraged them, that gave them the hope they needed to go on, or the words you used to help them resolve some conflict. The righteous man uses his words for good and is deeply satisfied. When you work for the Lord, the Lord will reward you, but that’s not why we serve Him. All the good you do for the Kingdom is doing something. Keep working and allow God to work things out. The good you do for the Kingdom does not go unnoticed.
Thoughts often lead to deeds. When you can control your thoughts, life is easier. There are always challenges, but God gives you what you need to be an over comer when you need it. Don’t waste your time chasing fantasies. The righteous continue to do what is righteous and the wicked continue to do what is wicked. Use your words to encourage and edify rather than tear down.