THE INTEGRITY OF WISDOM

“A minister parked his car in a no-parking zone in a large city because he was short of time and couldn’t find a space with a meter. So he put a note under the windshield wiper that read: ‘I have circled the block ten times. If I don’t park here, I’ll miss my appointment. Forgive us our trespasses.

When he returned, he found a citation from a police officer along with this note: ‘I’ve circled this block for ten years. If I don’t give you a ticket, I’ll lose my job. Lead us not into temptation.[i]

What we do reflects who we are. Becoming the right kind of person is critical to finding real satisfaction, meaning and purpose in life. Wisdom helps fashion the kind of person we will become.

In the book of Proverbs, wisdom is depicted as a ‘faithful wife.’ In the New Testament, God’s wisdom is found in the person of Jesus Christ. “It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God- that is our righteousness, holiness and redemption (1 Corinthians 1:30).” In other words Christ is God’s wisdom bringing us into a right relationship with him. The person then who is walking in wisdom is the person who is trusting Christ and living in reverence of Him. This is the person who desires to please and honor God. When we truly walk in the ‘fear of the Lord,’ wisdom makes us a person of integrity. The idea of integrity is that we are integrated, whole and healthy. This inner development of personhood affects our relationships with others and how we see our world.So, what we desire; what motivates our lives is actually a reflection of what is within our heart.

Here in Proverbs nineteen we find a contrast between a person of integrity and the foolish or moral deficient person whose heart causes them to deviate from God’s path. When we stop listening to God’s word of instruction we end up straying from God’s path. “Stop listening to instruction, my son, and you will stray from the words of knowledge (Proverbs 19:27).”

This will then lead to making wrong decisions that bring about painful consequences. These sinful choices lead to devastation in relationships and ultimately an unhappy life. Many of us don’t see the connection between our decisions and actions causing our own suffering. How many people blame God for their own sinful choices? “A person’s own folly leads to their ruin, yet their heart rages against the LORD (Proverbs 19:3).”

In Proverbs we see the constant contrast between the wise and foolish person in relationship to money, their openness or indifference to correction and their willingness to accept responsibility for their own actions.  The wisdom writers uphold certain values that when embraced ultimately leads to a life of integrity. So, what are those values? Here in Proverbs 19, we will examine two powerful values that creates integrity or wholeness within our lives.

THE FIRST VALUE OF WISDOM LEADING TO INTEGRITY IS THE ISSUE OF MOTIVATION.

A wise person recognizes that character is of greater value than material wealth. This is not a negation of wealth but rather the need to understand that we don’t put our trust in what we possess. The aim of our lives is not getting things, but becoming the right kind of a person. The right kind of a person is becoming godly. What does this person look like? This is the individual or group of people who desire to continually know God better and follow his path. It is those whose aim in life is to bring glory and honor to God. “Better the poor whose walk is blameless than a fool whose lips are perverse (Proverbs 19:1).” If this is a contrasting proverb which it is, then we should anticipate that the fool mentioned here is one who is acquiring wealth through deceptive communication. This is certainly reflected in Proverbs 28:6. “Better the poor whose walk is blameless than the rich whose ways are perverse.”

Here in Proverbs 28:6, the contrast is stated more clearly. The point of the proverb is that character is critical in life. Who we are is more important than what we have. The issue is the path we are on. Are we living a godly life or a life that has deviated from God’s path? In 1 John 2:15-17, we are warned against the subtleties or what is being offered to us in order to cause us to deviate from God’s way or path.

Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them.

For everything in the world- the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life-comes not from the Father but from the world.

The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.[ii]

Jewish scholar, Michael Fox explains the seeming injustice of Proverbs 19:1; where someone who is taking advantage of others is prospering, while the person of integrity is suffering loss.

This verse is one of many that recognize that wealth and poverty do not always go to those who most deserve them. This is not a “paradox,” as Murphy (at 28:6) calls it, but rather what he calls a “faith statement,” for it asserts that justice is at work even when invisible. The reasons why an innocent poor man is better than a dishonest rich one are not stated here, but other proverbs give them: The innocent man lives in confidence, the wicked one in anxiety (28:1).   The innocent man is delivered from disaster, and the wicked one takes his place (11:8). The innocent man is remembered after death, while the wicked one sinks into oblivion (10:7). The list goes on and on. All the benefits ascribed to righteousness easily outweigh the benefits of wealth.[iii]

Better to be a poor man and blameless. The issue is not so much rich and power as it is to be blameless rather than perverse or crooked. So, the wisdom writers focus on the inner issues of our hearts. What is it we really want? What is it that is driving our lives?

A. The power of motivation and desire.

“Desire without knowledge is not good- how much more will hasty feet miss the way! (Proverbs 19:2).” On a very simple and straightforward understanding of the text we see that hasty decisions are often the wrong ones. This proverb is challenging us to consider before acting.

This saying is linked with verse 1 by the repetition of ‘good’ (tob) and the metaphor of walking. The two lines work independently and as a pair; ‘zeal’ or ‘desire needs the guidance of knowledge or it will walk in a way that is not good.”[iv]

Yet more is being stated here in this text as the second part of the verse is communicating to us.

The idea of hasty feet ‘missing the way’ means that we are deviating from God’s path, which is what sin is. The Hebrew word translated for ‘missing the way’ is hatta, and it is the most common word for sin. When the apostle Paul was describing sin in the book of Romans he simply stated: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).”

It is the idea of falling short of what brings glory to God. So, to sin is to miss the path or deviate from the path of God. Paul Koptak concludes his remarks on this text with this instruction. “By implication, the proverb holds out patience and caution as knowledgeable companions of desire.”[v]

So the problem is not with desire per se, but with the unhealthy, or sinful desires that are not for our own good and the good of others; and therefore do not bring honor to God. Most of us don’t see sin as primarily against God. We make most of our life about ourselves, when in reality the focal point of our lives ought to be God. The greatest longing of our lives ought to be for Him. We see that so fervently expressed in poetry. King David’s desire for God. “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God? (Psalm 42:1-2)”

So the issue is not repression of desire, but rather an understanding of what is good to desire and the right time to fulfill that desire rather than having no restraints on desire or seeking to fulfill desires in an unhealthy manner. So often what we do is try to fulfill the longings in our soul with aspects of life that never fully fulfill us. “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”[vi]

B. One of the key factors in motivation is relationships.

We are designed by God to relate to our world around us socially. There is a deep capacity to love and then to be loved, accepted and respected by others. How many recognize that doing things with those we like makes the experience far more enjoyable and meaningful? We now have shared experiences that gives layers to our relationship. We gain encouragement, solace and support in times of difficulties. Friendship is a critical component of life. So, how does character come into play in our relationships? How does wealth or the lack of it influence and impact relationships? Here as we continue reading the chapter, we see the contrast of the social conditions of people. Those who have wealth can leverage relationships while those who lack physical resources often find themselves isolated.

Wealth attracts many friends, but even the closest friend of the poor person deserts them.

Many curry the favor with a ruler, and everyone is the friend of one who gives gifts.

The poor are shunned by all their relatives- how much more do their friends avoid them! Though the poor pursue them with pleading, they are nowhere to be found.[vii]

Here we see the costs of relationships. “The poor, after all, have problems and may need help or even generous gifts to survive, whereas the wealthy at least give the appearance of being able to help.”[viii]

David Hubbard shares this insight: “…wealth encourages friendships, not so much because of the rich person’s largess [generosity] but because the rich make no material demands on their friends.”[ix]

The contrast is the poor who because of their needs often make demands. Sometimes the demands are not so much spoken though that may happen, but their circumstances can bring guilt to those who have so much more, and what many who are rich with this world’s goods do is simply to avoid the poor. Yet we are reminded by the biblical texts the need to help those who are less fortunate than ourselves. “Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will reward them for what they have done (Proverbs 19:17).”

Why is our generosity to the poor seen as lending to God? God is deeply interested in the wellbeing of all people and when we invest in others, particularly the needy; we are acting on His behalf. The idea of lending to the Lord here is not so much that God is now indebted to us to repay what we have given, but He considers how we have treated others and one of the greatest rewards is the kind of person we become. We are rewarded by becoming like God, who is generous. We become a healthier and a better person.

Many of these proverbs are more a reflection on how people behave, not how they should behave; we find in the book of James, which is wisdom literature, challenges geared toward us regarding our attitudes and actions on behalf of the poor and needy. We should take the initiative in helping the widows and orphans in their needs. “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world (James 1:27.” James also challenges us not to show partiality based on social status.

My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism.

Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in.

If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, ‘Here’s a good seat for you, ‘but say to the poor man, ‘You stand over there’ or sit on the floor by my feet,

have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges of evil thoughts?[x]        

Godly character, not social status should be the aim of our lives.     

THE SECOND VALUE OF WISDOM THAT LEADS TO INTEGRITY IS THE ABILITY TO RECEIVE INSTRUCTION.

The issue is one of teachability. Are our hearts open to be guided and even corrected? This is the person who loves not just to gather information, but one who is seeking to apply the truth to their lives. It is the application of truth that results in developing and growing into the person God envisions for us to become.

A. Here we see the nature and benefits of wisdom while also the warning against the perils of folly.

“The one who gets wisdom loves life; the one who cherishes understanding will soon prosper (Proverbs 19:8).” The Hebrew word for wisdom here can also be translated heart or sense. It’s the idea that a person who acquires heart or sense or, as is translated here, wisdom is loving themselves. They are taking care of their own soul and the result is life- the life that Jesus promised when he said that He had come to give us life and have it more abundantly (cf. John 10:10). The idea of prospering here is finding the good.

“Listen to advice and accept discipline, and at the end you will be counted among the wise (Proverbs 19:20).”

Paul Koptak points out that the Hebrew word for discipline is musar and it “carries a double meaning of instruction and correction.”[xi] “Stop listening to instruction, my son, and you will stray from the words of knowledge (Proverbs 19:27).” Here the idea of listening to the godly or wise counsel is the vehicle that helps us become wise and mature in our relationships with God and others. Bruce Waltke relates that “it shapes character and quells waywardness.”[xii]           

“A person’s wisdom yields patience; it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense (Proverbs 19:11).” This is in contrast to those who are impatient and offended. In some of the following Proverbs we see both in the public and private spheres how this is played out. “Whoever keeps commandments keeps their life, but whoever shows contempt for their ways will die (Proverbs 19:16).” We find examples in this chapter of those who deviate or go astray from the path of wisdom in their words and actions. These activities are coming from a ‘lack of heart, sense or what is described as wisdom. 

A false witness will not go unpunished, and whoever pours out lies will not go free.

A false witness will not go unpunished, and whoever pours out lies will perish.[xiii]

We hear a repetition of this text about those who commit perjury in legal situations, and those who lie will certainly be entrapped by their words. There is a consequence to such actions.

Jesus is challenging his contemporaries about the language of evil. This is simply communicating lies and Satan is the father of lies. Jesus tells us that when we know the truth and walk in that truth we experience freedom. What happens when we rebel against the truth? It causes pain and heartache in the lives of those that are in relationship with us. “A foolish child is a father’s ruin, and a quarrelsome wife is like the constant dripping of a leaky roof. Houses and wealth are inherited from parents, but a prudent wife is from the LORD (Proverbs 19:13-14).”

Here we see the connection between the foolish child and the quarrelsome wife and their destructive behavior in their relationships. We could expand the context of gender here and say that if one of the marital partners is a quarrelsome person they are like a leaky roof. This is not just annoying but destructive as anyone knows if they don’t address water damage in a building, eventually it will destroy the building. So too is continual conflict in relationships. The other example used is the foolish child, but this is not just limited to little children, but can also speak to adult children of an older parents. “Whoever robs their father and drives out their mother is a child who brings shame and disgrace (Proverbs 19:26.

If the subject comes in v 26a (as translated above), the verse means that a son who misappropriates the property of his elderly parents and drives them out of the ancestral home is shameful and disgraceful. The latter understanding is supported by Prov 28:24: “He who robs his father and mother and says, ‘No wrong was done!’—he is a companion to a vandal.”[xiv]

B. Having warned against neglect or showing contempt for the poor, there is a warning that one’s poverty must not come from a lack of diligence.

Laziness brings on deep sleep, and the shiftless go hungry. A sluggard buries his hand in the dish; he will not even bring it back to his mouth (Proverbs 19:15, 24)!”

Here we have a sarcastic remark about those who starve in the face of opportunity. These two proverbs are warnings against laziness and causes poverty. So poverty may come from no fault of the person on the one hand, but it may be the result of bad character.

Let’s summarize the ideas that have been brought to us through these Proverbs. Character is the most important thing in life. Regardless of our outward circumstances and situations, to be a person of integrity, to honor God and others gives life to our soul. Who we are will affect how we treat others. A wise person is motivated to know and obey God’s word, to listen to the wise counsel of others, to resist making hasty decisions and to recognize that all our plans can only move forward if they are in God’s purpose for our lives and others. “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the LORD’S purpose that prevails (Proverbs 19:21).” This should not cause despair and resignation but rather a humility and a dependency on God to recognize that ultimately we must commit our way to Him, for He ultimately will determine what happens. “Commit to the LORD whatever you do, and he will establish your plans (Proverbs 16:3).”

So, what kind of a person do you desire to become? That inner drive and motivation shapes the kinds of decisions we make, which in turn leads us to become the kind of person we are. God desires to make us whole, a person of integrity; but that only happens when we completely put our trust in Him and walk in His ways! How many people desire to be whole and healthy; not just physically but spiritually and morally? If we come to Jesus, who is the one who is our wisdom, we will experience the benefits of wisdom- life.

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[i] Michael Green, ed.  Illustrations for Biblical Preaching, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1989), 224.

[ii] 1 John 2:15-17 New International Version of the Bible, 2011.

[iii] M. V. Fox, Proverbs 10–31: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, Vol. 18B, (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2009), 647–648.

[iv] Paul Koptak, Proverbs, The NIV Application Commentary, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003), 467.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] C. S. Lewis, The Quotable Lewis, Wayne Martindale and Jerry Root, editors, (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1990) as quoted from C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, 120.

[vii] Proverbs 19:4, 6-7.

[viii] Tremper Longman III, Proverbs, Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006), 365.

[ix] David A. Hubbard, Proverbs, The Communicator’s Commentary, 15A, (Dallas, TX: Word Books, Publishers, 1989), 295.

[x] James 2:1-4.

[xi] Paul Koptak, Proverbs, 471.

[xii] Bruce Waltke, The Book of Proverbs: Chapters 15-31, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2005), 114.

[xiii] Proverbs 19:5, 9.

[xiv] M. V. Fox, Proverbs 10–31, 661.

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