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Fools Rush in...

I have enjoyed using the app Five Psalms as part of my daily Bible reading. The app systematically goes through the whole book of Psalms in a month or so, including the climb up the mountain that is Psalm 119!

A bonus add-on feature is a chapter of the Book of Proverbs each day. I seem to remember reading that the evangelist Billy Graham followed this daily reading scheme — but without the app!

There is great value in having our imaginations shaped by these evocative words of wisdom.

One of the things that has struck me about the Book of Proverbs is that it presents in bite-sizes chunks “freeze-dried” narratives that describe the way that humans tick.

Following on from last week’s blog, I was interested to read the following:

“Fools find no pleasure in understanding but delight in airing their own opinions.” (Proverbs 18:2)

This seems to be a variation on the words: “I never let the facts get in the way of a good opinion!”

It is perhaps the delight in airing what is in the heart of such a person that is most chilling. It is a case of “Closed mind, open mouth.” (Derek Kidner)

Wisdom, by contrast, delights in seeking understanding. It is wise to be clear about what we pass on in our words. I have great respect for those who take time to check the facts before they comment on them or pass them on.

In a world of readily available social media outlets it is easy to retweet, post. or share something that we have seen.

In the olden days of writing letters, people were advised to write a letter, sleep on it, then if they felt the same in the morning, post it. The end result is that many letters were revised or never sent at all.

The wise are like the master carpenter who instructs apprentices: “measure the wood twice, cut once.”

Of course, some people do not measure at all. Witness the growing tendency of politicians to speak over the words of journalists and their opponents. They are, in the words of Timothy Keller: “Somebody who habitually interrupts.”

It is clear that some people never really hear any other voice than their own. Even when they do hear another person’s words they tend to hear them through the filter of their own opinions and prejudices.

The Book of Proverbs has something to say about that too:

“To answer before listening — that is folly and shame.” (Proverbs 18:13)

Preachers must beware of using a memory database of pre-sets slogans, policy statements and definitions that are used to cover every eventuality. These are designed to close down a conversation, score the points and win the argument, but instead often misfire because they don’t fit the situation.

The Book of Proverbs does give advice about how to appear to be wise:

“Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent, and discerning if they hold their tongues.” (Proverbs 17:28)

It provoked the paraphrase by Abraham Lincoln: “It is better to keep your mouth shut and let them think you are fool that to open your mouth and remove all doubt.”

The idea of keeping silent is that of “holding the tongue”. This is learning to control our words so that they are clear and intentional.

“The wise do not react rashly out of heated passions, but speak and act deliberately in full control of their emotions, aiming to restore the erring to friendship, not to defend themselves.” (Bruce Waltke)

Amen to that.

Words are not to be used as self-justifying weapons but as tools of understanding, reconciliation and restoration.

Preachers take note: words should not be used to slam every door in the face of those who differ from us. Rather, words should be used to keep the door ajar, to leave a space for understanding.

Photo by Callum Hill on Unsplash

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