Character Matters

Text: Proverbs 14:1-35

Consequences to Character

(Proverbs 14:1-5)

Remember Proverbs 9:1? The home is the woman's domain. A wise woman is constructive. A foolish woman is destructive, and she'll have no one to blame but herself. For a young man looking for a potential wife, he needs to find a woman who has the ability to make things better. A woman who tears down everything around her won't make a good wife.

Those with integrity (uprightness) follow this path because of their fear of the Lord. Those who follow devious (crooked) paths have no respect for God and will not be ruled by what God says.

What a foolish person says becomes his own punishment. He doesn’t consider the effect of his words and, thus, leads to self-harm (Psalms 64:8). What a wise person says protects him from harm. Proverbs 13:3 made a similar point.

Ever grumble about chores: how awful it is to wash the dishes or clean your home? Of course, if you didn't have any dishes or a home, then you would never have to do those chores! Having oxen means having to clean up after them constantly. You could grumble about it, or you could realize that having oxen means you are able to accomplish a whole lot more and, thus, will prosper. It is all a matter of how you look at it.

A person who refuses to lie is someone you can trust as a witness, but don’t trust a person who is willing to tell lies (Proverbs 12:17). You’ll never know when he is telling the truth or giving another lie. This is a person who could be bribed or forced into changing his testimony.

A Lack of Wisdom

(Proverbs 14:6-9)

A scoffer is a person who doesn't believe anyone or anything easily. He would rather make fun of others. But when a scoffer tries to seek wisdom he can't seem to find it, but that is because he rejects everything he finds. In contrast, a person who is able to reason is easily able to find the facts he needs.

It is useless to try to learn anything from a fool since he has learned nothing and, therefore, has nothing to give. Hang around foolish people long enough and you’ll also pick up the habit of not seeing the truth (Proverbs 13:20; I Corinthians 15:33). A wise person is careful about who he has as friends.

Because of wisdom, the prudent person seeks to understand the direction he is going. A prudent person thinks ahead, so he needs to understand his options in order to make good choices. He anticipates the consequences of his decisions. However, fools are involved in lies, including lying to themselves. They think they understand the consequences of their choices without any consideration. Notice that "the prudent" is singular, while "fools" is in the plural. There are few prudent people and many fools in this world.

Fools mock the idea of something being a sin (Proverbs 13:19). They don’t see that “sin” means that something is intrinsically harmful in the action (Deuteronomy 10:12-13). The Hebrew word ‘asham can mean either guilt or a guilt-offering. If it is “guilt,” then fools mock the idea of feeling guilty for doing sin. If it is “guilt-offering,” then fools mock at the idea of making amends for sinning. In contrast, the upright have respect for each other and avoid sin or are willing to make restitution for their sins.

For Discussion:

  1. Give examples from the gospels of people asking questions of Jesus, but leaving without having learned anything.

Things are not as they might seem

(Proverbs 14:10-13)

Feelings are personal. Other people can’t really understand what you are feeling or why, whether it is bitterness or joy. Anyone, but yourself, is a stranger to your own heart. Only God truly understands our hearts (Psalms 139:23).

Notice that the wicked have a house, but the righteous only have a tent. Despite the advantages a wicked person might seem to have, his end is destruction. But even with disadvantages, a righteous man prospers. The apparent advantage or permanence of wickedness is an illusion.

Some choices seem good but when examined, they lead to death. This is an application of Proverbs 14:8. We desperately need to develop prudence, to see the consequences of our decisions.

The emotions that a person displays may not be a true reflection of what a person is feeling. A person may be hiding his pain under laughter, but later the sorrow comes back to the surface. And even in true joy, sorrow will eventually come (Ecclesiastes 7:2-3). This is related to Proverbs 14:10 but brings out another insight. We can’t assume that the emotions a person currently shows will remain.

For Discussion:

  1. Romans 12:15 and Proverbs 14:10 seem to conflict. Explain how they are compatible ideas.

Consequences of the heart

(Proverbs 14:14-19)

You receive the results of your character. The unfaithful man will be satiated (have his fill of) what results from his faithless ways. The good man will find satisfaction in his ways. “Satisfied” in the second half is implied, but notice that we have both negative and positive feelings depending on a person’s heart.

The inexperienced tend to believe everything they are told. The prudent man is cautious because experience tells him that people lie and things may not be as they appear (see Proverbs 14:10-13). Notice the use of “steps” instead of “way.” A prudent man considers every decision and not just the overall direction of his life.

Any direction is not the same. A wise person, in his caution, avoids evil (I Thessalonians 5:22). A fool, because of his arrogance, is careless and does not avoid evil. But pride is not the only problem, anger can make a person blind to dangers and overconfident in his actions. To be quick to be angry is to act like a fool. But there are other people who don’t act in anger but still choose to do evil. A misdeed because someone was angered might lead to some sympathy, but the person who deliberately chooses evil is hated.

The inexperienced gain foolishness. It isn’t earned, it is inherited because of who they are. In contrast, the prudent wears a crown of knowledge. It is rewarded to them, again, because of who they are.

Ultimately the wicked are forced to give respect to the righteous (Psalms 49:14; Isaiah 60:14; Acts 16:38-39). It is due to the simple fact that wickedness is self-destructive and brings the evil person low, while righteousness tends to benefit the good and raises them up (Proverbs 14:1).

How people treat the rich and poor

(Proverbs 14:20-24)

People tend to make judgments based on a person’s economic status. This is a statement of fact, not that it is right or fair, but people tend to be nice to rich people and rude to poor people, even those they know. Likely, behind it is the hope that a rich person will give some of his wealth, whereas a poor person has nothing to give. This is what happened to Job (Job 6:21-23; 19:13; 30:10).

Despite the tendency, it is a sin to despise your neighbor – a much stronger statement than earlier mentioned in Proverbs 11:12 (James 2:5-6). True joy comes to those who are kind to the poor (Psalms 41:1; 112:5,9).

Those who plot evil will go astray from righteousness (Mark 7:21-23; James 1:14-15). Those who plan good have kindness and truth come to them.

When you work there is gain. Talking about working only leads to poverty. We’ve frequently talked about the power that words hold (Proverbs 11:9,11; 12:18,25; etc.) but words without action is empty (Ecclesiastes 5:3; James 2:14-17; II Thessalonians 3:10-12). Proverbs 12:24 was a similar statement.

The glory that comes to the wise is the wealth that they naturally gain. All fools have to display is their own foolishness. The placement of this proverb is important. Out of the context, you might conclude that all wealthy people are wise. But the point is that because wise people know to work hard and focus on goodness, there are natural consequences that reflect back on their diligence.

Notice the chiasm: Proverbs 14:20 talks about hatred of the poor, while in contrast Proverbs 14:24 talks about the glory of the wise. Proverbs 14:21 talks about being gracious to the poor, while Proverbs 14:23 warns that mere talk will lead to poverty. Thus, Proverbs 14:22 becomes the pivotal verse and key to the chiasm.

For discussion:

  1. What does asking a rhetorical question, as in Proverbs 14:22, do for the reader?
  2. How does Proverbs 14:22 fit into the flow of surrounding verses?
  3. Is all gain from labor monetary (Proverbs 14:23)?

Saving lives through righteousness

(Proverbs 14:25-27)

If you are called upon to testify in a trial of someone you know, there is a temptation to tell a lie, so the person doesn’t end up in jail, or if it is a really serious crime, put to death. But the focus is on the criminal and the victims are being ignored. If someone has done wrong, then the truth needs to be told so that there are no more victims. And if the person on trial is innocent, then the truth will help free him. Lies never result in good and can endanger the lives of others.

In the fear of the Lord is both confidence and safety for those who follow God. Thus, the fear of the Lord becomes a source of life and a way to avoid deadly sins (see Proverbs 13:14). This is one of the running themes in Proverbs (Proverbs 9:10; 8:35-36).

You can’t rule without followers

(Proverbs 14:28-32)

What gives honor to a king is how many people follow him. You can’t rule when you have no followers or not enough to carry out the needs of the kingdom. What follows is a list of reasons why a king may lack followers.

When you don't know much about a situation it is easy to get mad. Many people get mad about a government’s decision, but they have no idea why those decisions were made. Thus, when you feel anger coming on, stop yourself and ask yourself why the person is behaving as he is doing. Try to understand it from their point of view, even if you don't agree. If you understand a person's motivation, then you have the keys to possibly changing them. But if you get angry you will never gain an understanding. People who are quick to get mad end up acting foolishly.

Calmness is another source of a healthy life. Being passionate about things may seem admirable, but it consumes a lot of energy and will eventually lead to ill health. The same Hebrew word for passion can also be translated as jealousy or envy.

Being mean to the poor is the same as mocking God because God is kind to the less fortunate. He created the rich and the poor alike (Job 31:13-15). By the way, it is not always the rich who oppress the poor. The person who mistreats the poor puts himself at odds with God.

The behavior of a wicked person causes his undoing. The behavior of the righteous gives him a place of safety when he dies. This is one of the subtle passages in the Old Testament that shows an understanding of life after death and a reward for living righteously. It should be noted that “his death” could refer back to the wicked in the first line. Regardless, the wicked’s behavior causes insecurity while righteousness brings about security.

The impact of character

(Proverbs 14:33-35)

Wisdom rests quietly in the heart of a man of understanding, but the foolishness in the heart of a fool is on public display (Proverbs 12:23; 13:16). The wording in the second line is vague enough to cause disagreement in the translation. What is made known from the heart of fools is left as an implication and what you think it refers to can change how you would interpret the line.

Wisdom rests in the heart of one who has understanding,
But in the hearts of fools it is made known.

Most likely “it” refers to the absence of wisdom.

Righteousness gives glory to a nation. Sin in society disgraces a nation. This is like Proverbs 11:11 and Proverbs 13:6 but on a larger scale.

Though just a servant, a wise servant is favored by the king while a servant who embarrasses the king will face the king’s wrath (Psalms 101:4-8; Matthew 24:45-51).

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