Proverbs 10:10-16; Money, Morality, and the Mouth (series on Proverbs 10)

Sermon Audio

Sermon: People of God, Lady Wisdom teaches us that how we use our bodies determine our future. She also teaches us that our actions and words affect much more than ourselves; it affects our community. It changes people for the good or the bad. This is precisely why as image-bearers of the Triune God our words are so important. Will we develop a culture of immaturity or maturity? This is determined largely by how we use our words. But as we mentioned last week, the wise one never needs to be afraid when he is walking obediently. The fool, on the other hand, thinks more highly of his wisdom and opinion than he does others.[1] The agenda and goal of Lady Wisdom is to bring our bodies into conformity to Jesus Christ, who is the wisdom made flesh.

Our passage this morning provides a chronology of evil and good. The righteous grow up in wisdom, while the fool grows up into evil schemes. They become artists of evil. They design everything with the intention of causing harm. Their words start fires around them. Even their very bodily gestures and movements communicate evil. We see this in verses 10: “Whoever winks the eye causes trouble, but a babbling fool will come to ruin.” He is a trouble-maker and everyone around him knows it. Fathers and mothers keep their kids away from him. The neighborhood knows that if they see a police car driving by, he is probably going to his house. What does he do? He winks his eye. He is not being cute or playful. Proverbs 6 speaks of this individual: “A worthless person, a wicked man, goes about with crooked speech, 13 winks with his eyes, signals with his feet, points with his finger, 14 with perverted heart devises evil, continually sowing discord…” He is a son of Belial; a son of evil. His father is the father of all lies. His uncle Screwtape is very proud of him. Literally, he is “compressing the eye.” That is, he is meditating upon his next evil scheme. He is a restless schemer.[2] When he gets home at night he indulges in evil. He doesn’t greet his wife or children; he rushes to his room to plot the next thing. He gives his approval to every societal and cultural evil. You would expect to see some contrast in verse 10 as we have seen earlier, but the writer simply compares the activity of the first line to the second. The author says that “Devious gestures are grievous, but not as ruinous as foolish talk. Both are to be avoided.”[3] The babbling fool; the one who lives to communicate foolishness; he will fall flat on his face; he will come to ruin. There is a corresponding backlash.[4] It boomerangs back to him; his end is destruction. Every evil word they have uttered will come back to them. In verse 11 we are back to the antithetical lines: “The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life, but the mouth of the wicked conceals violence.” In some third world countries you can see what a dried parched land is. You need a desert-like context to see the nature of this passage.

The dependence of life on water is experienced existentially all over the earth, especially in the ancient Near East, where it is in short supply. Flowing well water is particularly precious, and people gather around it. The open, benevolent speech of the righteous is just as necessary for a community, offering everyone abundant life—temporal, intellectual, moral, and spiritual.[5]

There are four things that are said to be a fountain of life in Proverbs: “…the teaching of the wise (13:14); revering Yahweh (14:27); wisdom (16:22); and the mouth of a righteous person.”  Words bring life or death. St John says: “Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” “The heart is the core of what you are and who you are. Our words will reveal what is really there in our hearts in the long-run.”[6] If you want to live life manufacturing an impression of who you are, eventually you will be found out. St. James says: “The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell.” Is it that bad? Are the consequences of our words that earth shattering? They absolutely are. Our speech needs to be brought under the Lordship of Christ. Our speech needs to be like fresh clean water bringing life wherever it travels.

“Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses.” This verse offers a sort of corrective so prevalent in American churches today. When someone offends you the tendency is to turn away from that person and shun him. Of course, what is remarkable is that when these offenses take place at home mom and dad quickly come to the rescue and make peace. The Church is God’s family; Yahweh’s bride. This is precisely why God’s revelation provides for us a way to reconcile ourselves to one another. If someone offends you with a word you return it with good. The good happens in two ways: First, the good that you do may be to follow the principle laid out in Matthew 18. You go to the person and confront him about his offense. When you do this you are doing a good for the Church. Secondly, another way in which love covers the offense is by continuing to love. We meet people in the church in all sorts of maturity levels. We cannot expect the same level of discourse from an infant Christian than a mature Christian. The Church is full of people in different phases of their walk. We need to continue to build up one another. On the other hand, the fool is always looking for trouble. Remember it is in his nature to be a troublemaker. If you have shalom/peace, the unrighteous will sow discord and chaos. Hatred provokes conflict rather than resolving them. Be aware of those who are always stirring up conflict for conflict’s sake. What does love do? Love deals responsibly with sin. Love doesn’t ignore, tolerate, or excuse sin; rather it seeks to deal with it the proper way so that the damage is limited.

Verse 13 says: “On the lips of him who has understanding, wisdom is found, but a rod is for the back of him who lacks sense.” There is a humorous pairing of body parts in this passage. You probably won’t laugh uncontrollably when you read this, but the writer is making a subtle humorous point here. Here’s a literal translation to make the pairing clearer: “On the lips of the discerning is found wisdom, on the back of a fool, the stick.” The two body parts: lips and back. The two results: wisdom and a stick. You love to hear someone with understanding. You love to hear wise counsel. In our denomination I think of men like Pastor Mickey Schnider, Randy Booth, Douglas Wilson; men who love wisdom and speak wisdom. Wisdom flows from their tongues like a flowing stream of pure water. But have you ever looked at someone’s back and expected it to talk to you? Of course not. That is absurd. The idea appears to be that when the fool speaks it is as if his back were speaking. Nothing comes out of it that is beneficial, discerning or good. What happens to this person? He accumulates so much foolishness that foolishness begets a beating. As Matthew Henry puts it, “Those that foolishly and willfully go on in wicked ways are preparing rods for themselves, the marks of which will be their perpetual disgrace.”[7] Verse 14: “The wise lay up knowledge, but the mouth of a fool brings ruin near.” We saw this already in verse 10, which says that the babbling fool will come to ruin. In verse 14 his status is that of imminent, near ruin. I think if there is something the book of Proverbs makes abundantly clear is the idea of building up and accumulating. The Bible[8] is full of patterns. Many of these patterns are found in Genesis. The most important historical structure is the Dominion pattern. God says to the first human beings created: “Have dominion over all things.”[9] This dominion is seen again and again in the Bible. We need to keep our eyes open to see this dominion pattern as we read the Scriptures. We see this in verse 14. It says: “…the wise lay up knowledge.” Literally, “the wise store up or build up knowledge.” Dominion means building up, storing up. Dominion is a long-term project. Everything we gain and everything we have is for the community. The wealthy Christian does not grow in possession simply for his own satisfaction and pleasure; no, God gives to Him so he may be a blessing to others; so he may bring peace to others. In the same manner, we see this pattern with wisdom. We are called to have dominion over wisdom. The unbeliever uses his intellect and knowledge for selfish gain, but the believer is guided by wisdom. “He stores up knowledge so that he not only has sufficient provisions for himself but a supply for others as well.”[10] He knows that whatever wisdom he has it is for the sake of others. He is always seeking wisdom. He is asking questions. He is growing up. Why do we grow in wisdom? The purpose of wisdom is to pass it on to our children, to those around us. We want true wisdom to be passed on to others. The Spirit gifts his Church in many areas. To some he gives the gift of building things; to others he gives the gift of counseling; to others the gift of singing; to others the gift of administration; and so on. But in exercising all these things separately, when we come together we learn from one another. We do not grow in wisdom in isolation; we grow in wisdom with others. The wise stores up knowledge; the mouth of the fool brings him to imminent destruction.

In verses 15 & 16 we see the application of that in the area of wealth. “A rich man’s wealth is his strong city; the poverty of the poor is their ruin The wage of the righteous leads to life, the gain of the wicked to sin.” If you read a commentary by those who think wealth is not something to be desired by a Christian you will notice quickly that passages like this one are not mentioned. The Bible is always very careful to explain the dangers of possessions, but it is also very careful to explain the benefits of possessions. In fact, the Bible is so careful that “Half of the ten occurrences of wealth in Solomon’s proverb instruct the youth to prize it, and the other half not to trust it.”[11] It is true that the rich may break the first commandment by depending too much on his riches, even to the point of using his riches as an excuse for an immoral lifestyle or for other unbiblical ideas and practices, but Proverbs makes very clear that there is nothing inherently wrong with riches. Rather as verse 16 makes clear wealth is to be accumulated through righteous living. Verse 16 says, “The wage of the righteous leads to life…” For wealth to be “of enduring value it must be acquired by righteousness, not wickedness.”[12] The ascetic lifestyle, which is so desired today in some circles, is simply not biblical. There is no virtue is pursuing poverty. You will not be a spiritual giant because you pursue poverty. On the contrary, says Proverbs. Verse 15 says that the poverty of the poor will be their ruin. This passage is also translated this way: “the destruction of the poor is their poverty,”[13] or more literally “the ruin of the poor is their poverty.”[14] Why does Proverbs make such a statement? Isn’t Lady Wisdom being too harsh with the idea of poverty? Will we not be able to see greater truth if we only abandon our possessions and live in the slums? Aren’t riches a temptation? Of course they are! But anything can be a temptation. The abuse of something is not an argument against its proper use. The text is communicating to us that “the rich man is able to face the future with some degree of confidence but the poor are daily faced with the worry and anxiety of not being able to provide for themselves.”[15] The apostle Paul says that “those who are rich should be ashamed of themselves;” No. He says that those who are rich are not to trust in their riches, but on the God who provides all things for them, and then he says in I Timothy 6 that they are to store up, build treasures for themselves as a good foundation for the future.[16] The Psalmist says: “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of Yahweh our God.”[17]

The righteous man continues to be righteous no matter what his financial condition and that will bring the Spirit’s blessings on both his life and soul. He still enjoys life and God meets all his needs. But no matter how much the wicked gain, they only use it for sinful ends. They don’t promote life. They live for themselves and pursuing their own desires without regard for others or the good of the community around them.[18]

Productivity is not evil. The question is for what purpose are you being productive? For what purpose are you storing up wealth?

How shall we then live?

Let me offer a few thoughts in how to apply some of this to our own lives. First, let us consider the use of the tongue. This is an area where all of us need to work on a little or a lot. Those of us in positions of leadership are most tempted to use our tongue in a disastrous way, since we are always in front of people. Sometimes people have personalities that are more out-going than others, while others are more laid back. They think a bit longer before they speak and generally the sin of the tongue is not as grave a temptation as it is for us who are more out-going in our personalities. So what is the solution?  The solution is to develop biblical language. I am not talking about theological speech; I am referring to the language of the psalms, the language of the patriarchs, the parables of the gospel, and the moral language of St. Paul. “When we employ the church’s speech, drawn from Scripture, “we learn to live together as a community, to breathe in harmony.”[19] The Church is an alternative society with an alternative language. “The Christian society has its own calendar that sets the rhythms of the community’s life, offices, institutions, laws, architecture, art, and music, its own customs and mores, history and memory.”[20] When someone utters your name 20 years from now, how will they remember your speech? Will you be remembered as someone who uttered words of encouragement, words of wisdom? Or will you be known as someone who loved word boxing? This is a pugilist; one who is always seeking to throw a word punch. How will your children remember you? Proverbs says that how you store up wisdom is laying a foundation; to use Paul’s words, you are building a foundation for the future.

Finally, let us consider this business of wealth. Let’s focus on how the Scriptures deal with a passage. Does wealth bring possible danger? Undoubtedly. But does it bring enormous good? Certainly. In whatever status you may be in a society, whether rich or poor, the Church is here for you. The Church must never be seen as a community for the rich or for the poor. The Church is immeasurably greater than our societal differences precisely because the Church is a different society altogether. The walls of partition are broken down. In Christ and in His Church, the rich bless the poor and the poor bless the rich. The Spirit gives his gifts without regard of class and race. The Institutional Church needs to be a picture to the world of charity, good works, good relationships, and wisdom in all things, so that Jesus Christ will continually purify and glorify His bride. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] Thoughts from Steve Wilkins’ sermon on Proverbs 10.

[2] Richard Clifford, Proverbs’ commentary.

[3] From BIBLEWORKS 7.0

[4] Bruce Waltke, Commentary on Proverbs.

[5] Bruce Waltke, Commentary on Proverbs 10, NICOT.

[6] Professor David McKay.

[7] Commentary on Proverbs found in Bible Works 7.0

[8] The following thoughts come from Mike Bull’s Bible Matrix, pgs. 31 et seq. (And following)

[9] Genesis 1.

[10] Steve Wilkinss.

[11] Bruce Waltke.

[12] Bruce Waltke.

[13] KJV

[14] YLT.

[15] Steve Wilkins. See also Matthew 6.

[16] I Timothy 6:18-19

[17] Psalm 20:7

[18] Steve Wilkins.

[19] Quoted in Peter Leithart’s blog from Robert Louis Wilken.

[20] Ibid.

About Uri Brito

I am the Pastor of Providence Church (CREC) in Pensacola, Fl.
This entry was posted in Proverbs. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Proverbs 10:10-16; Money, Morality, and the Mouth (series on Proverbs 10)

  1. Eric Greene says:

    Hello Uri, these outlines helped me teach through some proverbs.
    Good sermon!
    Eric G.

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