Here we are in the middle of Proverbs, surrounded by an ocean of heavenly wisdom. Each drop of this living water is connected to the rest: leading to the next, feeding upon the former, supported by the whole. What a deluge of ideas: so many, so fast, so huge. God’s thoughts are far higher than ours. He would have us feel our inadequacy, his vastly higher understanding of life, his unsearchable wisdom, so that we may be led to call upon him for help. He never turns aside the believing plea for wisdom (James 1:5). Are not these lines his answer to Solomon’s prayer? We are living in a prayer and its glorious answer when we hold this book close to our hearts. This should encourage us, especially since grace has been so cheapened today. If the purveyors of dangerous views of sonship were correct, all of this would be unnecessary. Do not guard your tongue, curse: hey, show you are really free in Christ! Do not worry about following God’s precepts so closely; all sincere men will make it into heaven. Purity? Sorrow over sin? Moral strictness? Let go and let God. You are a son. Do not trouble yourselves with anything but grace, grace, and more grace. Yet, God’s grace is connected to his wisdom. We cannot enjoy his grace or our sonship unless by his Spirit we walk wise in all the ways of his commandments (Rom. 8:1-4; Eph. 5:8-11). To turn from the law of wisdom and expect God to bless anyway is to demand that he perform miracles in our life to preserve us from the consequences of our foolishness. He does not work that way. When he takes us as his children, he restores the image of his wisdom in us, his Son in us.
Solid Foundations (vv. 1-7)
These verses show us the way to build a wise and enduring house, which is a metaphor for “life.” Hearkening back to 9:1, a godly wife is the very soul of a holy and wise family (v. 1). What a joy is that wife who by her example, words, and spirit spreads the aroma of Christ and the gospel to each family member, and through the family to the church! This is Christ’s own life in our midst. Though Solomon will give her fuller description and value later, let it be sufficient here to note that she makes up for her husband’s deficiencies and is an encouragement to him. She is tender and constant in her affection and counsel to her children. Without her, a godly home is impossible. The foolish woman pulls down the house by her discontent, worldliness, and selfishness. Many a good man’s efforts in his home have been ruined by such a wife’s stubbornness, temper, and demanding spirit. Since a wife makes home and life either a beautiful palace or a heap of ruins, few choices are as critical as a man’s choice of a wife. She will either bring him much happiness or be a constant thorn, even a plague to his heart. Let every woman who professes Christ well consider whether she is building a house in which he finds a ready welcome and diffuses his saving influence there or whether she is pulling it down. The women of our age have been taught to hate this model and seek their happiness outside the home. Daily we behold the misery and destruction when women seek a place outside of God’s established, revealed order. Turning from this wreck, let us submit to him, bow before his wisdom, and enjoy his blessing upon our lives.
To this Solomon adds the necessity of sincere, heart religion (v. 2). Many will profess religion and kiss Jesus, like Judas, but the proof of our faith is its power to transform our lives. Words, slogans, and “grace, grace” are not the same thing as a heart that truly fears the Lord. More than any other attribute, Scripture uses “fear the Lord” as the essence of true religion. To fear the Lord is to hold him in such high reverence that, as Calvin said, “even if there were no hell it would dread offending him.” It is to adore his majesty, reverence his every word, love him for his mercy and covenant, and to “receive and rest upon Christ alone for salvation.” When this holy fear takes root in us, it leads to uprightness: always, though not perfectly, for there is much in us that still offends the Holy Spirit and grieves our own heart. Yet, truly loving God, part of this fear is repentance and constant looking to the Lord Jesus for our cleansing and righteousness. This quickens us to “walk in all the ways of God’s commandments,” not out of slavish fear but out of a sense of the wonders of God’s love and mercy to us. As our Savior said, “If you love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:12). For those who fear the Lord, uprightness is a way of life, unlike the man who hates the Lord, who is perverse or crooked in his ways. There is no stability, no peace, no constancy in us unless we walk according to the eternal rule of happiness: the word of God (Ps. 119:1; John 13:17). A solid foundation, therefore, aims above all to please him who purchased us by his blood and dwells with us by his Spirit (1 John 3:22).
If we find ourselves weakened in faith and languishing in love and zeal for our Lord, here are three areas to consider. First, are we guarding our tongue or speaking with pride (v. 3)? The fool’s mouth is constantly beating him up, for he speaks mostly of himself: his wants, accomplishments, even his hardships, all to draw attention to himself. His mouth, like his heart, is self-enfolded. Wise lips are self-effacing and self-forgetting, God-promoting and Christ-honoring. They will preserve us. How we must labor in prayer and watchfulness to guard our tongues (Ps. 141:3). There is no truer barometer of the condition of our hearts (Matt. 12:34). And do not pride and its consequences hinder us from being about our Father’s business? The Lord calls us to work diligently in our callings, for he has specifically placed us there to serve him (v. 4). It is a false and dangerous economy to say, “Well, this work wears me out and puts me to no end of personal expense. It is better if I do nothing, or live off the government.” The barn is certainly cleaner if there are no oxen, goats, or sheep, but without this trouble, there is also no profit. Thus, we are taught that it is necessary to expend ourselves if we are to have what we need and be happy in our work. It is one of God’s riches gifts to be able to rejoice in one’s work (Eccl. 5:19). Let us not worry about the heat of the sun, the sinking sands of time, or the other excuses we make to avoid diligence in serving God, but rather understand that our time, circumstances, and strength are from the Lord. Our contentment and stability lie in using them to their full potential. Last, we must be truth-tellers (v. 5). Like Jesus, who was constantly lied against yet remained immovable and faithful (1 Tim. 6:13), we must realize that our lives, being living sacrifices and purchased by the blood of the everlasting covenant, are nothing but an oath of faithfulness lived out to the Lord. Let us give a faithful witness: to his mercy and goodness, even to our own sinfulness and need of our Savior’s cleansing. Truthful about God and ourselves, we shall avoid the lies that bring so much weakness to men, high and low. A self-deceived heart and lying lips go hand in hand. Crooked words must hide the true state of the heart. This is to ruin the house of our lives and lose ourselves in our lies.
Here is a vital part of life that is virtually lost upon us. Arrogance, as well as laziness and lies, prevent us arriving at knowledge of the truth (v. 6). Remember that all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are deposited in Christ our Mediator (Col. 3:3); we must draw from him light in our darkness. Yet, a man who rejects and ridicules God’s truth, though he may seek wisdom, will never arrive at it. He is at war with God, and God shares the “secret of his covenant” only with those who come before him meekly (Ps. 25:14). The scorner is certain he knows best: about everything – himself, what he should be doing with his life, how he should talk, who his friends should be. God’s response to this is to shut him off from wisdom. He may be very gifted, educated, and respected, but unless he becomes a student in God’s school, this is all for nothing except to make hell hotter for him. But if we truly come before the Lord to be taught by him, we have understood the truth about the universe. Knowledge will come easy to us. We shall have to work, read, and meditate, to be sure, but these times will be profitable. Given by grace the key to understanding – that we are sinners in need of mercy; that God’s word is absolutely true and reliable; that all the learning of man is so much darkness without his light (Ps. 36:9) – we shall be able to understand. This pertains not simply to what are commonly called the facts taught in the schools, but to more practical issues such as friendships, finances, theology, and the movements of men and nations. Having the mind of Christ and his own word abiding in us (1 Cor. 2:16; Col. 3:16), his own light and wisdom in us by his word and Spirit, we are able to understand the truth about life.
Therefore, we must flee from the foolish man (v. 7). He tells us to follow our feelings, the lost, wandering herd of fallen humanity, the opinions of experts. It is never safe to disobey a direct command from God. The young have great need to take this command deeply into their hearts and ask the Lord for the strength to obey it. Fools will corrupt you, mislead you, and ruin the house of your life. You cannot learn from them, convert them, or help them. True, God converts fools; everyone ever converted was. But God converts fools. He does so through the witness of his word shared by one who is very careful not to be influenced by the contact. Do you think the danger not so great? We hear increasingly of ostensibly Christian leaders and once Christian denominations speaking of the work of God in other religions, even that they shall be finally saved despite their unbelief. What else is this but the fruit of disobeying a command from God so simple that none can claim ignorance? “Go from the presence of a foolish man.”
How will you know him? His lips. If he does not speak God’s truth, professing allegiance to it and desiring to be governed by it, he is a fool. Stay not near to him, lest his leprosy rub off on you. We may, depending on God’s providence and the responsibilities of our particular seasons of life, call him to repentance, share with him the way to escape his blindness, and urge him to forsake his foolishness. We cannot stay in his presence – fellowship, close friendship – without contracting some of his foolishness. This command is not simply for the young. Jesus told his apostles – and they were adult men – to leave the home or city that would not hear the words of truth, even wiping the dust from their feet (Matt. 10:14). Our association, cooperation, and fellowship with men is inseparable from whether or not they are wise men or fools, humble learners of sacred truth or scorners committed to their own thoughts and ways. We are a holy community, God’s own dwelling, and the truth God has given his church is too precious to be paraded before scorners, liars, and fools. Our only safe house is with the godly.
The Inner Chambers of the Heart (vv. 8-15)
Solomon continues in these verses the contrast between the two contradictory blueprints for building a house: wisdom or foolishness. He also takes us inside both houses so that we may witness the very different kinds of rooms or heart these blueprints produce. There is understanding in the heart of the wise man (v. 8). He knows who he is, what has delivered him from himself, and how he must walk in order to enjoy fellowship with God. This understanding includes Jeremiah’s declaration: “O Lord, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps” (10:23). Must we not seek from the Lord a clear awareness of how weak we are, that we need his strength constantly, that without him, we can do nothing (John 15:4)? This is the understanding of the wise man: that I will go astray unless the Lord restrains me, sin unless he preserves me, and bring misery to myself unless my Lord and Savior walks with me at every step and brings me finally to his eternal kingdom. Our first impulse must not be self, image, and strength but God, humility, and weakness. Not so the fool, for the walls of his house and the chambers of his heart are many deceptions: like copies of famous works of art, exercise equipment never used, a library for show not study. How horrible to live a lie, yet this is the fool’s inmost heart: the appearance of virtue, a kiss for Jesus but not a throne in the heart, fair words hiding mischief, resolutions of improvement but no sincere, heartfelt turning to the Lord.
The fool also mocks sin, an idea that may also mean to speak boastfully (v. 9). He may not do so outwardly, especially if he would keep up appearances among the truly righteous. He may even be the loudest in declaiming against sin and defending public virtue. Alas, there is always a little of this mockery even in the righteous. We see it in the disciples before the resurrection. They could not understand the expensive perfume being wasted on Jesus; love, devotion, a breaking heart they could not grasp. Peter also spoke arrogantly when the Lord warned him of his coming denials and sifting by the devil. How careful we must be neither to make light of sin nor of righteousness, which we do by belittling those whose scruples are perhaps a little more consistent than ours, whose words and lives a little more restrained by the holiness of God. How terrible is that mockery that ignores the warnings of Scripture and refuses to heed our Savior’s call to cast ourselves upon his strength. All we need to be motivated to seek the favor promised here to the righteous is to consider our Savior’s attitude toward sin. There was no mockery at Calvary, only anguish and terror of heart at the wages of sin, divine justice exacting the last penny of the cost of our redemption. Heaven mocks not sin. It shouts when a sinner turns from his folly and pursues the paths of holiness. Hell itself, where one would think sin reigns supreme, considers sin no laughing matter. Sin does not rule there, but justice without the slightest hope of mercy, terror without a hint of reprieve, misery without a drop of consolation. A wise man never cracks a smile at sin when confronted with it by others. He never smirks at his own foul spots. When he finds in his heart the cravings of the old man’s septic fountain, he cries out to God for mercy and seeks all the more to be found in Christ. God’s righteousness in Christ, not the pleasures of sin for a season, is all his desire.
There is a certain sort of individuality in the house of the righteous man (v. 10). The wise man never expects others to understand or sympathize with him completely. Because we are one in Christ and have his life in us, we are able to bear one another’s burdens, but as Paul quickly adds, only to a point, for each man must also bear his own burden (Gal. 6:2,5). Taken together, this means that we ought to make sincere effort to enter into the miseries of others, as well as their joys, for mutual support and praise to God for his goodness. Even so, we are individual souls with private grief and joy. Naomi experienced much of her sorrow alone, as did David, and certainly our Lord. Their hearts were heavy and bitter, not against God but by the load of affliction they carried. We simply cannot think that another heart will feel exactly as ours does when a spouse dies, our children are rebellious, or we lose our possessions in some calamity. Believers will sympathize, cry, and help, but grief and bitterness are individuals roads and take individual, God-appointed courses in our lives. The same is true of joy. Have you ever felt great exaltation over a promise of God only to feel that your explanation to a friend later in the day falls very short of the same rapture you felt? This is the point: God deals with us uniquely by his wisdom. Others are not able fully to enter into our hurts and happiness, but God is. This is the reason he brings them to us: so that casting our cares upon him, we may find him to be our true helper, guide, and friend; so that in seasons of great joy, our praise may not be silent, yes, telling others how bountifully God has dealt with us (Ps. 142:7), but even more guiding our rejoicing hearts to his throne, laying all our happiness at his feet and thanking him for his great goodness to us.
Building a house or life that lasts, honors God, and fulfills the purpose of our redemption by Christ is a serious business (v. 11). It is also, as we have observed repeatedly in our study, no mystery. Men want it to be a mystery. The last thing fools want is a clear sense of cause and effect, of blessing or cursing. They are at heart covenant-breakers, and the thought that blessing comes through righteousness and misery through rebellion against God is hateful to them. No, the prosperous must be oppressing the poor. It must be inequalities in society or government favoritism: anything but my personal choices bearing fruit in my daily experience. We live, however, in God’s world, and his purpose is set. Those who walk with him in obedience will be built, strong and flourishing, for they are joined in a covenant of life to Jesus Christ, the life-giving Vine and Master-Builder of God’s house (John 15:1-8; Matt. 16:18; Heb. 3:1-6). Those who seek other paths will be overthrown. God reigns through his Son to make sure they are. Now, we must believe God’s promise and walk by faith in it, for it often appears otherwise than as Solomon here says. Scripture is filled with instances of the righteous being oppressed and the wicked being the oppressors; the righteous poor but the wicked wealthy. Faith does not only look at its personal circumstances but at the whole work of God throughout history. The history of the city of man is a record of God fulfilling this promise; there have been no survivors of ungodly men and nations. The diary of the righteous has been: God is faithful; God has provided; God has comforted; God has preserved. And if we include heaven in our history, there can be no doubt: righteousness is worth every sifting from God’s hand and persecution for the sake of Christ. Only righteousness – Christ’s as our justification and his grace in us unto holiness of life – has hope of everlasting life and an eternal dwelling in God’s eternal kingdom (1 Tim. 4:8; John 14:1-3).
That we may finally come to our heavenly home, we must forsake our own thoughts and ways (v. 12). Every man thinks his way best and his thoughts correct. Here we have a double warning against the fool: this is the path of death and destruction. He may mock at sin and think to laugh his way through life, but there is a warning dirge sounding in his conscience (v. 13). Frivolity and pleasure on the one hand, or philosophy and enlightenment on the other: the results are the same. The full weight of his folly will fall upon him in hell forever. It is certainly true that there is often a little sorrow mixed with our joys in this life – how can we not weep over our sins and those of our land (Matt. 5:4)? Solomon is certainly correcting that common enough thought that we can joke away life’s tragedies. It is not recorded that our Savior laughed, and while too much can be made of this, still, it is unthinkable that those who share in the life of the Man of Sorrows will be untouched by his sufferings (Rom. 8:13; 1 Pet. 4:12-19). But placed here, this line must mean far more. What is more common than for fools to be mockers of religion? They often say: “lighten up don’t take life so seriously.” While the righteous man “sings and rejoices,” the first step of wisdom has taught him to fear the Lord (1:7), to believe ardently and personally that life and its decisions are no laughing matter. Taking God, his word, and eternity seriously, even his joy is tempered by very sober realities: that it is the living God with whom he has to do. Our Savior said: “Woe unto you that laugh now! For ye shall mourn and weep” (Luke 6:25). While joy and happiness were purchased for us by the precious blood of Christ, to give oneself to a life of merriment and constant joking betrays at best an immature faith that needs the serious stimulant of the cross, the majesty of God, and the approaching dawn of eternity to encourage watchfulness and sobriety.
A comedic life among professing believers is certainly evidence of some backsliding (v. 14). If our days begin and end with seeking the Lord and feeding upon his word, and the times in between in diligent labor for our Savior, this is the opposite of the jolly life of pleasure-seekers. It is also a certain inoculation against backsliding. Like a house shows its decline when paint fades, furniture grows shabby, and rot develops on doors and windows, so our lives manifest a far more serious decay when we slide away from those duties and privileges that our Savior has purchased for us. Remember: backsliding always assumes knowledge, past experience of grace, and a point of greater strength from which we have declined. The warning is simple: return to the old paths; stay on them. Do not be filled with those ways and consequences the backslider always reaps. He is sliding toward something: a lack of God’s comfortable, covenanted presence, the joys and guidance of his Lord, and the comfort and strength of the Spirit of God. To lose these is to lose hope, meaning, and peace. The good man who perseveres in the paths of righteousness will also receive the fruit of his ways: a growing understanding and enjoyment of God’s love and covenant, more transforming experience and impression of “Christ in you, the hope of the glory,” and greater power unto godliness. The best way to prevent backsliding is to follow the apostle’s advice: “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12). Stay constant in seeking Christ. Are your devotions not satisfying, more script and habit than passion and true feeding upon Christ? Confess this to the Lord. Call upon him for help. He may be testing you; remain faithful. God often takes us through the wilderness before allowing us to taste of the promised land. Labor to gain clearer views of his love, of our Savior’s sacrifice and intercession, and of the promises of Scripture: by reading his word, praying his promises, confessing your sins, and “asking, seeking, and knocking” until God shows you his covenant more fully and satisfies you with tokens of his grace and salvation. There is no guarantee that a slide away from God will stop; better to exercise yourself unto godliness so that it does not begin.
Many will tell you that there are easier, simpler ways to build the house of godliness, especially those hucksters of easy grace and fun-filled Jesus. The “power of positive thinking” crowd has always been with the church, as have the “let us do evil that good may come” corrupters of grace (Rom. 3:8). The simple believe every word (v. 15). The prudent man knows better. In our war with sin and Satan, we rightly expect blood, sweat, and tears. There will be no discipleship without the cross, no crown of glory without passage through the valley of testing and tears. Look well to your ways. Measure all you hear and read by Scripture (Acts 17:11). Judge men by their fidelity to Scripture, whether or not they relate all to the person and work of our only Mediator, Jesus Christ, whether they promise heaven to you after a life of easy principles or warn you honestly that the kingdom of God lies upon a narrow path. At its finish, after you have suffered a little while and learned the discipline of the cross, God himself will admit you to his everlasting house.