The proverb says that if you set out to correct a scoffer, then you’re going to be abused for it, and if you reprove a wicked person, then you’ll receive injury. He continues by saying that in addition to that, the person is just going to hate you. But he also says that if you reprove a wise man, he’ll love you for it. That’s because the wise man knows that the only way to become wiser is by receiving instruction—which is why he’s wise in the first place. He says, “teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning.”
Well, that’s some wisdom, isn’t it? Nowadays it’s almost as if nobody is willing to listen. It’s almost like some people will just never learn, huh. Nowadays we increasingly experience reinforced echo-chambers that it becomes more and more difficult to even fathom that someone could hold a differing point of view. In fact, artificial intelligence and carefully calculated algorithms dictate what we see online and encounter in social media. They further validate and reinforce our own perspective, because it’s been shown that that’s what keeps us coming back for more. Television programs and political pundits do the same. When’s the last time you got in a discussion or maybe an argument with someone who doesn’t see the world the way you do? How did you respond to that perspective? Was it a civil conversation? Was it in person or online? You have to remember to be careful. Remember the proverb, “Whoever corrects a scoffer gets himself abuse, and he who reproves a wicked man incurs injury.”
That also assumes that the person giving advice, giving instruction is actually someone worth listening to. Unfortunately, if we’re honest with ourselves, most of the criticism that we offer to others simply isn’t helpful.
AND, what if we’re not always as right as we think? What about when someone else tries to correct you? According to the proverb, that’s one of the differences between the wise, righteous man and the wicked man. When a wicked person is corrected, that person scoffs. That person attacks. That person hates. At least according to the proverb. Sometimes we’re quick to speak and slow to listen. We push our own perspective, our own ideas informed by our own experiences that we neglect to listen to anyone else who doesn’t see things the way we do. And, in asserting our own wisdom, we become fools. But sometimes it’s just so hard to listen. It’s hard to be corrected. It’s hard to examine yourself and reconsider the way that you see things. On the flip side, sometimes it’s hard to offer constructive criticism. I think that’s true for all of humanity.
Today, in our society we could probably rephrase the proverb to fit our own context in a few different ways. Whereas the proverb states, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom.” Today we might say that the need to be right is the beginning of wisdom. Or even better, winning a position of authority or control is the beginning of wisdom. As long as you’re in control, you get to dictate truth itself, which is why we fight over it. The truth is that wisdom is very scarce in our world. Wisdom is something that we desperately need.
If the “wisdom” that you take-in puffs you up, builds your ego, and makes you self-righteous, that’s not wisdom. That’s foolishness. If the wisdom that you are dishing out just puts people down, alienates others to fill your own need for significance, then you’re not a wise person giving advice, you’re just another scoffer.
During the season of Advent, we’re forced to reconsider what true wisdom really is, where true wisdom really comes from. I’ll give you a hint, it doesn’t come from us. It doesn’t come from your friends or your favorite political party or preferred TV personality. Real wisdom forces you to reckon with the fact that you’re not really wise at all, that you’re not perfect, that you have a long way to go in ever really understanding this world. Real wisdom forces us to approach the world and the people around us in humility—not from a position of control. We come to God as beggars with nothing to offer. And still he claims us as his own children and transforms us out of love for us.
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom. Wisdom begins when you acknowledge that God is God, and that you are not. And the sooner we realize that, the better our lives will be as a part of God’s creation. I don’t mean that we’ll be spared from hardship or given wealth. I mean that no matter what occurs in our lives, we can only truly, rightfully approach it when we fear God. And that’s the wisdom that we are to pass on to others. The better we know our God, the better we can know and appreciate the world that he’s created—the world that we’re a part of—the better we understand our own lives and the lives of the people around us. And that’s what Jesus brings us. He’s wisdom in the flesh, and he came in humility. He is our life. He saves us, and he also teaches us and guides us. He is true wisdom. May God conform our lives to his, that we too might act in humility—in true wisdom—toward others.