Old Testament: 2 Samuel 21 & 22
*Poetry: Proverbs 27
New Testament: Acts 21
Today we will discuss a few pieces of wisdom from Proverbs 27. Some sections of the book offer extended advice on one topic, but for this chapter I will just comment on three verses.
“Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy.” (Proverbs 27:6). I think this is a helpful reminder about the nature of wisdom, whether with human friends or our relationship with God. Love sometimes involves the willingness to say someone is wrong, but being told you are wrong can be painful. That means the friend can be taking a risk to offer that truth. And the pain involved for the one hearing the truth may be in proportion to how much pride has built up for them, how much of a false image needs to be removed. But truth is better than a lie, even when truth hurts. (A proverb can’t cover every detail, and this isn’t saying that a friend should seek to harm when giving the truth. Faithfulness and friendship are already assumed in this proverb.) But on the other side of matters an enemy will be quite ready to mislead while seeming friendly, giving deceitful kisses (perhaps only metaphorically) as they guide someone’s conduct and heart astray. Remember that truth is not determined by how we feel when we first hear it, it must be examined.
When I was at Bible college we used to talk about Proverbs 27:14: “If you loudly greet your neighbor early in the morning, he will think of it as a curse.” To me the application for this text involved the frustration of being up early if you were not a morning person, if someone else was and they were not cautious about their conduct. At college we had added issues to watch out for, like people who had stayed up late into the night studying or writing, or talking about theology (or life). But when I looked up this text to see the views of researchers I found reference after reference treating it as about over-the-top flattery or kindness being treated as a sign of hypocrisy to be rejected. I was quite surprised. Maybe I was just too focused on one perspective, or perhaps I am too used to honesty to think in those terms. Still, it never occurred to me from the text to see the meaning that way. But this is a useful illustration of the fact that proverbs are open to interpretation. Dwelling on one, working it over in your mind, or even sharing your thoughts about it with another person, can allow you to gain insight.
“Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” (v. 17) This is another proverb that I have been aware of and considered for many years. It brings to mind a late stage in the process of developing a tool, perhaps a sword. It supposes that we all are hardened, we all have gone through some discipline and experience. But seeking to grow with each other we can hone the edges of what we are meant to be. Some years ago there was a theological journal published out of Michigan called Sharpening Steel which took its name from this verse. I believe the idea of the title was that by people examining scriptures and writing about what they learned from them believers would be able to help each other gain new ideas and new thoughts about how to grow and serve. It is a useful principle for a journal but also for how we operate in our regular lives.
Lord, as I finish this week of writing devotions I ask you to watch over the people who have been reading these words. Help them to find the strength they need. None of them are meant to be acting alone. Please, Lord, help the ones that are trying to go it alone this week to reach out to a brother or a sister in Christ and acknowledge that they need more strength than they have. Don’t let any of us be closed off. I feel that this is not the case right now. Let your Spirit work in the hearts of your people. Let the knowledge of Jesus’s love warm us all. May we reach out to each other. In the name of your son I pray these things. Amen.
- Can you look back on a time when you think you learned something that seemed painful and you later recognized it was true and valuable? Has that changed your behavior?
- What do you speak to other believers about? How often do you find time to talk about what you have valued in the scripture? Or what you find beautiful in the world? Or what you have struggled with?
- Don’t assume that you must be much stronger than those around you to be able to be of any help – iron can sharpen iron, it doesn’t take diamond. Notice that the proverb is meant to work both ways, are you prepared to be strengthened by those around you? For that to happen will there need to be any change in your thinking or your attitudes?