1 A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. 2 The tongue of the wise adorns knowledge, but the mouth of the fool gushes folly. 3 The eyes of the LORD are everywhere, keeping watch on the wicked and the good. 4 The soothing tongue is a tree of life, but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit. 5 A fool spurns a parent’s discipline, but whoever heeds correction shows prudence. 6 The house of the righteous contains great treasure, but the income of the wicked brings ruin. (Prov. 15:1-6 NIV)
1 A gentle answer turns away wrath,
but a harsh word stirs up anger.
The Teacher returns to giving advice on the wise use of words. The words we use can incite a riot. Hence in recent years there has been a focus on what is termed ‘hate speech.’ The banning of hate speech was once a laudable exercise, but it has extended now to include any objection to minority preferences. The expansion of the embrace of ‘hate speech’ has started to encroach on ‘free speech’. As we react against this tidal change we must do so with a gentle, courteous and firm response. The mood among people today on many issues is explosive, and so it is important that we are reasoned in our response because a harsh word just produces more anger.
2 The tongue of the wise adorns knowledge,
but the mouth of the fool gushes folly.
It is true that the wise have been blessed by the knowledge of God’s word and that they live in the fear of the Lord. However, today, unless you can reduce what you say to slogans, soundbites and abusive remarks, people have little time to listen. I’m reading a book at the moment by a secular journalist who I don’t always agree with. He writes on gender, race and identity politics. His book is well researched, and I find myself agreeing with a large part of what he has to say. While he is not a Christian and would be mildly critical of Christian views, it is clear that in common grace, he has a great insight into what is happening in society today. Yet the wise aspects of his knowledge never get discussed. The soundbites from fools gush forth from the mouths of those who promote many conclusions that lack a sound foundation. Of course the first nine chapters of Proverbs prepared us for this rejection of wisdom
3 The eyes of the LORD are everywhere,
keeping watch on the wicked and the good.
We may have felt more than a little frustrated by the second lines of the first two proverbs we have just looked at. Harsh words stirring up anger is seen more and more, and the fool gushing forth folly prevails right across society. The comfort to the Christian is that the eyes of the Lord are everywhere. The Lord watches both the wicked and the good. It may seem that much wrong and abuse has gone unnoticed, but there is no place to hide from the eyes of the Lord.
4 The soothing tongue is a tree of life,
but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit.
This proverb is a particular challenge to us as Christians. What kind of tongue do we have, a soothing tongue or a perverse tongue? We can usually tell by the trail that we leave behind us. After our words have been spoken and we have left the room, what sort of atmosphere prevails? Have our words left people feeling encouraged and invigorated, or have we crushed the spirit out of people that they are so discouraged they don’t know where to turn or what to do? What kind of reaction is it that we plan to leave behind or do we just recklessly say what we want to say and never care what mood we leave behind? The eyes of the Lord are watching everywhere, all the time!
5 A fool spurns a parent’s discipline,
but whoever heeds correction shows prudence.
When we look back over these few proverbs in this chapter, we can all see where we have got things wrong. If in our youth we spurned our parents discipline, it is likely that we have a mindset that will refuse correction from any source. It is prudent for us to allow ourselves to be corrected. Correction can take a number of forms. We read God’s word and see where we have been wrong. We should confess that sin and receive the Lord’s forgiveness. I think Proverbs especially has been a very convicting read because it deals with life at such a practical level, and we can think of times when we have got it wrong. The answer is to accept the discipline of God’s word and put it right.
6 The house of the righteous contains great treasure,
but the income of the wicked brings ruin.
One would expect that living the wise way would mean a greater abundance of material things. However, it may sometimes serve God’s higher purposes to allow the righteous to suffer deprivation. We have many examples of this mentioned in the NT. But the proverb is not limited to material treasure. Even in the midst of material deprivation there are many treasures that the righteous possess. If we count our many blessings and see what the Lord has done, we will soon appreciate that we have great treasure. If we recount the treasure and benefits that we have because we are united with Christ and think of the treasure laid up in heaven for us, we realise how greatly blessed we are. In contrast, all the treasure that the wicked have will bring ruin because ultimately they will suffer the greatest deprivation in being separated from God forever.
Lord help us have the condition of heart that will cause us to go to great lengths to ensure that our words are like a tree of life. Help us not to discourage people but to help them to prosper in their spiritual lives. Help us not to frustrate the efforts of those who would seek to serve you in the church. Lord help us to guard what we say and how we say it, because we ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.