19 Evildoers will bow down in the presence of the good, and the wicked at the gates of the righteous. 20 The poor are shunned even by their neighbours, but the rich have many friends. 21 It is a sin to despise one’s neighbour, but blessed is the one who is kind to the needy. 22 Do not those who plot evil go astray? But those who plan what is good find love and faithfulness. 23 All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty. 24 The wealth of the wise is their crown, but the folly of fools yields folly. (Prov. 14:19-24 NIV)
19 Evildoers will bow down in the presence of the good,
and the wicked at the gates of the righteous.
When I lived in Northern Ireland, we used to go to the Ulster Hall at Christmas to see a performance of Handel’s Messiah. It was custom that the audience would stand when the Hallelujah chorus was sung. Over time I began to see that large proportions of the audience refused to stand. It always made me think of Phil 2:9-11:
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil. 2:9-11 NIV)
Those in the audience may feel they have exercised some right to refuse to honour Christ while they are here on earth, but in the company of the redeemed God will compel every man and woman and child to bow down, and more than that, to acknowledge Jesus Christ is Lord. You may have noticed on ‘Thought for the Day’ on Radio 4 or a little earlier in the morning, ‘Prayer for the day’ that nearly always the person giving the thought or prayer will only mention the name of God and leave out the name of Jesus in case they offend someone. In that future day God will not permit any to opt out. The presence of Christ will be so glorious that it will be like the response of the centurion at the cross, ‘Surely this is the Son of God.’
20 The poor are shunned even by their neighbours,
but the rich have many friends.
This proverb is not setting us an example to follow, it is merely stating a sad fact. A person’s popularity is determined by what he possesses. We have seen many examples of altruism during lockdown. People have donated food, and many examples of providing for others have been praised. Theodore Dalrymple has written an interesting book called ‘Life at the Bottom’. It is about life in Britain and in particular he writes about ‘an underclass’ of people living in ‘ghettos’, many from third and fourth generations of people who have never been employed. His lament is that they are institutionally trapped, as no one wants to be judgemental to say that certain behaviours are wrong, and so there is no force for change. He argues that they are trapped in their dilemma. He says that if anyone within the underclass tries to do well at school to try and escape that lifestyle, those around them will mock them and try to hold them back. Dalrymple says that society has shunned this group of poor people and they are not enabled to try and escape. In contrast the rich have many friends. There is a touch of irony here because the friends are not true friends.
21 It is a sin to despise one’s neighbour,
but blessed is the one who is kind to the needy.
In this proverb we do find an example that we can follow. To despise one’s neighbour whether they are poor or rich is a sin. You can see how Proverbs is really an extended commentary on the two chief commandments, to love God and love your neighbour. The person who is kind to the needy will be blessed. We can be involved in giving food parcels to the needy but still not be kind to the needy. Politicians may find a photo moment by serving soup at the soup station for the homeless, but once the camera is gone they too are gone. CS Lewis speaks about ‘need love’. Many people need to be loved, need to feel needed. Lewis also speaks of ‘gift love’, the love that gives not to feel fulfilled or needed but gives freely to meet the need of the other. That is kindness.
22 Do not those who plot evil go astray?
But those who plan what is good find love and faithfulness.
The question asked is merely rhetorical and the answer expected is ‘yes, they will go astray.’ Premeditated evil distorts the heart and the mind and produces a twisted person. Those who plan what is good find love and faithfulness within themselves and also from others. To spend your life plotting evil, composing nasty things to say, and plotting to score points over others is surely destructive, and makes you into a person who goes astray. Instead if all that energy was put into planning good actions, composing kind words, devising schemes to help others, how that is character forming.
23 All hard work brings a profit,
but mere talk leads only to poverty.
The walkers and the talkers are often contrasted. Good hard, honest work provides for your needs and the needs of the family and others. Talking a good talk doesn’t get the job done and results in poverty. We live in an age where there is an explosion of meetings. Many people move from one meeting to the next and the vast part of their time is preparing for the next meeting with less time to actually get the job done.
24 The wealth of the wise is their crown,
but the folly of fools yields folly.
Right living should mean that there are greater resources available so in this way part of the wealth of the wise is his riches. But the wealth here is greater than just material riches. The wealth is the wealth of the wisdom and knowledge that has been acquired by attending to what wisdom has to teach. This is their crown, meaning their honour before God and people.
Lord help us to be doers of the word and not mere hearers. Help us to walk the walk and not merely talk a talk. Help us to be sincere and work with integrity to the honour of our Lord Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.