19 Better to be lowly in spirit along with the oppressed than to share plunder with the proud. 20 Whoever gives heed to instruction prospers, and blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD. 21 The wise in heart are called discerning, and gracious words promote instruction. 22 Prudence is a fountain of life to the prudent, but folly brings punishment to fools. 23 The hearts of the wise make their mouths prudent, and their lips promote instruction. 24 Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones. 25 There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death. 26 The appetite of labourers works for them; their hunger drives them on. (Prov. 16:19-26 NIV)
19 Better to be lowly in spirit along with the oppressed
than to share plunder with the proud.
To be lowly in spirit means to be humble. To be humble is to have a true appreciation of your limitations. It is to realise how much we are in need of the Lord. Even if being humble means being associated with the oppressed this is a better state to be in. To be numbered with the oppressed and of a humble attitude is better than being numbered with the proud, even if you get to share the plunder that they have acquired through unethical and immoral means.
20 Whoever gives heed to instruction prospers,
and blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD.
Many times we have heard the Teacher promote the idea of a teachable spirit. He tells us the benefit of listening to instruction. Those who listen and pay heed to instruction will prosper. The point of the repetition of this instruction is that having an unteachable heart is a likelihood. Did you ever find yourself so discouraged that you refused to listen to the instruction of encouragement from God’s word? Did you ever find yourself rejecting instruction of rebuke from God’s word because you explained it away by saying that it did not apply directly to you? Did you ever reject the example of a godly person in the Scriptures by saying that they were different or special and that you are just ordinary? We can come up with all kinds of ways to reject instruction. Our rejection of the word of God tends to be subtle and slight, just enough to ignore the word but not enough to cause any alarm bells to go off. The person who trusts in the Lord’s word rather than depending on their own ideas is blessed by God and blessed by the obedience because obedience is the wise way to live.
21 The wise in heart are called discerning,
and gracious words promote instruction.
It is interesting to note here that the focus is on how we speak wisdom. It is possible to say the right thing but in a wrong way. The wise in heart are able to discern what is right to say and how to say it. Sadly, many on the more conservative side of the church know what truth is but they tend to speak truth in a blunt and uncaring way. There are times when it is appropriate to ask questions but that can be done with a very critical tone often asserting that we have a right to know. Gracious words promote an atmosphere where people are happy to take instruction. So when we think of the things that need to be taught and the warnings that need to be made, or the questions that need to be asked, first ask if this really needs to be said or asked, be clear as to why you are asking it and decide how graciously it can be said. If the plan is to be critical, or to fault find then it would be better to remain silent.
22 Prudence is a fountain of life to the prudent,
but folly brings punishment to fools.
The contrast here is between the prudent and the fool. Wisdom and prudence are life giving and life affirming. Prudence is the ability to have insight into what is happening. It is important not to confuse wisdom and prudence with intelligence. It is possible to be very intelligent but not be prudent or wise. Emotional intelligence is often spoken about today. Emotional intelligence is being sensitive to your own emotions and the emotions of others. When we care about how we might make another person react then we can be this fountain of life. It is possible to deal with issues and controversies without being confrontational. Confrontational attitudes show little care and respect for how other people might react. If the plan is to have a good reaction, a good outcome, an improved way of doing things, then careful thought should be given to how best to say what you feel needs to be said. When we deal foolishly with matters it is not surprising that we bring a lot of difficulty into our lives.
23 The hearts of the wise make their mouths prudent,
and their lips promote instruction.
Why would we want to bother to put all the energy into being careful about what we say, and concerned about how other people might feel? The answer to this can only be found in the heart of one who has embraced wisdom. When the heart is wise, then what comes from the heart and appears on the lips are prudent words. That mindset promotes instruction and creates an environment where people are willing to learn.
24 Gracious words are a honeycomb,
sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.
How will we know when our words are gracious? That can be seen by the reaction of others. The metaphor of the tasting of the honeycomb helps us understand. When we taste the honeycomb we just know its sweet. When gracious words are spoken it can be sensed in the atmosphere that something wholesome, constructive and wholesome has been said. When someone has soured the tone, the silent glances between the hearers tell the story. If the person speaking is a frequent offender, then you can see people shake their head or roll their eyes. Gracious words are sweet to the soul and bring a sense of wellbeing.
25 There is a way that appears to be right,
but in the end it leads to death.
Sometimes things just appear right. When that happens stop and think. Get it tested. There is only one adequate test and that is to bring it under the scrutiny of God’s word. It may feel right, you may even feel it in your heart because it seems so right. Appearing right is not enough. If we want a thing badly enough we can convince ourselves that it is right. It is best not to proceed with it until it has been tested. The appearance of right is still foolishness and it doesn’t end well.
26 The appetite of labourers works for them;
their hunger drives them on.
This proverb states what seems to be obvious, but sadly we often fail to grasp the obvious. The Teacher is looking at what motivates people. The need for food in this case is incentive for the worker to work hard in order to provide for themselves and for those who are dependent on them. We live at a time where many generations have lost this work ethic.
Heavenly Father, help us to take time to make ourselves aware of others’ feelings and how we make them feel by what we say and do. Help us to speak truth and ask questions in a gracious way that promotes instruction, because we ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.