proverbs-15

Exodus 39, Proverbs 15, Psalm 87

Today’s readings are Exodus 39, Proverbs 15, and Psalm 87.

This devotional is about Proverbs 15:4.

The words that come out of our mouths are clear, direct expressions of what is in our heart. Jesus said so (Matt 12:34) and my experience shows that it is true. What you say reflects what you think about, how you look at the world, where your trust is, what you value, and what you desire.

But words have more power than merely revealing what is inside of us. In fact, the right words can change a person’s heart. Proverbs 15:4a says, “The soothing tongue is a tree of life.” The “tongue” in this verse, of course, is a literary way of describing someone’s words. Those words are described as “soothing.” Who needs to be soothed? An angry person, a heartbroken person, and anyone else who is troubled. Soothing words to a troubled heart are described here in Proverbs 15:4 as “a tree of life.” This is another figure of speech that harkens back to Genesis 2-3, where the Bible tells us there was a “tree of life” in the Gard of Eden that would give eternal life to anyone who ate its fruit. When Solomon said here in Proverbs 15:4, “The soothing tongue is a tree of life” he is telling us that words can be life-giving to someone who is troubled. The right words have the power to turn the thinking (repentance), feeling, or decision making of someone who is angry or someone who is hurting or anyone else who is troubled.

In contest, the other half of Proverbs 15b says, “but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit.” The word “perverse” describes words that are twisted morally. Solomon is describing speech that is sinful--critical, angry, unthankful, inappropriate, or twisted in some other way. This kind of talk “crushes the spirit,” indicating its affect on someone’s internal meaning-maker--the way they think and feel about the world. When are troubled and receive criticism or bad advice, it hurts us both in the sense that it causes us pain and points us in a bad direction.

This Proverb gives us an opportunity to think about the power of words to change a person’s life. First of all, your own words to yourself about God or yourself can either bring life or crush your spirit. This is one of many reasons why we need to read God’s word daily and apply it ourselves.

A second application of this Proverb has to do with how we speak to others who are troubled. The right words can be life-giving to troubled heart that trusts God but is hurting. Job found that with his friends and you’ve probably experienced it yourself. When you see others hurting, do you think about what you might say that can bring life into their troubled situation or at least point them to God, the source of life?

Finally, where do we go when we are hurting? Do we go to God’s word? Do we seek prayer, advice, or comfort from people who love God? Do we turn within where our self-talk can be self-defeating? Do we turn to unwise people who will encourage us to seek revenge or who will say things that make us even more discouraged?

Words reflect who we are on the inside but they also have the power to change us on the inside, too. Respect the power of words and learn to use them in a way that gives life to yourself and others.

Proverbs 15:18-33

Today’s reading is Proverbs 15:18-33.

“It’s for your own good” is a phrase that people say when they are about to say something you won’t like. Oftentimes, they’re not really saying for your good but as justification for the verbal punishment they are about to let you have.

Every one of us hates criticism. It hurts to receive and often feels unfair. Yet the Bible says that wisdom comes through hearing critical feedback and changing your life accordingly. Verse 31, which we read today says, “Whoever heeds life-giving correction will be at home among the wise.” If you receive criticism--even harsh, punishing criticism--and learn something from it, you will become a wiser person.

By contrast, verse 32 says, “Those who disregard discipline despise themselves....” We do ourselves no favors--and lots of harm, really--when we hit back at our critics and refuse to receive anything they say. The path of wisdom is found through correction; wise is the man who listens carefully to any criticism and tries to learn and get better from it.

Is that who you are? Ask God for the grace to grow through the negative encounters we have with others in our lives.

Proverbs 15:1-17

Today we’re reading Proverbs 15:1-17.

According to one security expert, over 70% of shoplifters do not plan to steal something when they walk into a store. They choose to steal, instead, when they see an opportunity to conceal an item without being seen and leave with it undetected. Secrecy creates a feeling of security which exposes people to the temptation to steal.

The creation of security cameras has helped reduce the amount of theft in retail stores. Cameras that record everything, of course, can help identify a thief after he has stolen. But cameras that are visible to customers and signs that warn of the existence of cameras are more effective in reducing theft altogether than they are in bringing thieves to justice. Awareness that someone may be watching reduces temptation to steal because it increases one’s chance of being caught.

Long before any kind of camera was invented, God warned his people that he is watching us at all times. As we read today in Proverbs 15:3, “The eyes of the Lord are everywhere, keeping watch on the wicked and the good.” According to this verse, God sees every act of disobedience ever committed by anyone whether that person is seen by another person or not. God observes everything you do and knows everything you’ve ever done even if you are certain your sin will not be detected and that you will not get caught.

Someday we each have to answer to God for our lives on this earth. The Bible warns repeatedly of a day in the future when everyone will give account to God for our lives on this earth. Given that God sees everything and forgets or misinterprets nothing, the day of our judgment should be a fearful thing to us. But this is why Christ came! He took the judgment of God for our sins on himself so that we might escape God’s wrath on the day of judgment. If you are in Christ, you can be confident that God will declare you “not guilty” on the day of judgment because of the perfect atonement of Christ.

But what about this life? If you sin and no other human being sees it, won’t you get away with it--at least until the final day of judgment arrives? You might; however notice Proverbs 15:10 which we also read today: “Stern discipline awaits anyone who leaves the path; the one who hates correction will die.” God has a way of exposing sin even when we think it is undetected and can be covered up. This exposure is designed to “discipline” us, to provide us with “correction.” In other words, God is less interested in punishing us when we sin and more interested in preventing us from straying too far from his will if we are in Christ. Sin usually takes us further than we want to go. It has a deeply deceptive power that draws us in by offering us pleasure and trapping us before we realize how far we’ve strayed and try to escape. One aspect of God’s love for his children, then, is not to allow us to stray as far as we would go or could go but, in his loving providence, bringing discipline into our lives to return us to the path of obedience. You may get away with sin by concealing it in the sense that no human being holds you accountable, but God has his ways of correcting our disobedience and nothing escapes his notice.

There is another aspect of God’s watchfulness in Proverbs 15:3 that we should note. The verse says that the Lord is “keeping watch on... the good.” Your service to the Lord, your obedience to his commands is not wasted if nobody sees it. God sees it and he promises to reward every good that is done in his name. This is the positive aspect of God’s all-knowing, all-seeing nature.

Let the truth of God’s watchful eyes be in your mind and heart always. Let his attention to your steps help you to choose not to sin when you feel like you can keep your sin hidden. Let his careful observation comfort you that the things you do that are good for his name will be rewarded in eternity, even if they are unseen in this life.