Only a Word Should Be Sufficient
“A WORD to the wise is sufficient.” So goes the proverbial saying. A wise person is one who listens to advice or correction with an open mind, holding no prejudices. He weighs what he hears and adjusts his thinking. He acts on the basis of principles and facts, or truth. An individual who uses tactics such as pressure or threats is not successful with a wise person.
The Bible expresses the idea in slightly different words. It says: “A rebuke works deeper in one having understanding than striking a stupid one a hundred times.”—Prov. 17:10.
If a person who has understanding makes a mistake and it is called to his attention, he immediately sees the damage his mistake can or does cause and, particularly, the strain that it can put on his relationship with God. He does not put on a show of indignation or anger, or brush aside the rebuker, trying to make himself appear right in the matter. The understanding person is immediately affected in his conscience by a rebuke. Thereafter no more needs to be done, for his conscience will move him to make efforts toward getting the matter straightened out if possible. He will also seek forgiveness from the person wronged and from God.
David, anointed to be king of ancient Israel, demonstrated, in many instances, that he was a man of understanding. When he was being hunted down by his bitter enemy, the reigning King Saul, David twice had the king in his power. But David refrained from killing Saul, leaving the matter in God’s hands. (1 Sam. 24:2-7; 26:5-11) On another occasion David showed understanding. Nabal, a man of very harsh and bad practices, had seriously wronged David. As David was on the way to avenge himself on Nabal, he was met by Nabal’s wife Abigail. She called his attention to the fact that he was in great danger of bringing bloodguilt on himself by taking the matter into his own hands and killing all the men of Nabal’s household. ‘Wait upon God to execute justice,’ she pleaded. David responded, expressing appreciation to God and to Abigail for saving him from disaster as a result of his own wrong thinking. (1 Sam. 25:20-35) Again, David showed understanding when he treated with kindness Mephibosheth the son of his friend Jonathan, though Mephibosheth was a grandson of his enemy Saul.—2 Sam. 9:1-7.
Later, a time came when David had to be rebuked. He had sinned gravely against God and against his fellowman in the adulterous affair with Bath-sheba. When God sent the prophet Nathan, who by an illustration brought David’s guilt home to him, David immediately responded: “I have sinned against Jehovah.” (2 Sam. 12:13) The fifty-first and thirty-second psalms reveal how deeply David was affected by Nathan’s rebuke. David did not need strokes, only a rebuke to bring him to his senses and to the acknowledgment of his wrong.
THE STUPID PERSON
On the other hand, the stupid person (not a merely ignorant person) is one who has no understanding of his relationship to his fellowman and to God. He may even have knowledge of God’s Word, but no appreciation or balanced reasoning. Words of counsel, even of rebuke, have no effect on him. Appeal to conscience does not move him to acknowledge and rectify his wrong. Even his being beaten with a hundred strokes would not change him. With no regard for God or for other persons, he thinks only of himself. His heart becomes harder and his conscience is seared by his resistance to rebukes and strokes. “The wise one fears and is turning away from badness, but the stupid is becoming furious and self-confident,” says the wise writer of Proverbs.—Prov. 14:16.
Pharaoh of Egypt was one of those stupid persons. The plagues that he suffered only served to make him exhibit the stubbornness of his heart and to solidify his determination, until finally the outcome was his own destruction.—Ex. 11:9, 10; 14:5-9; Ps. 136:15.
The apostle Peter and the traitor Judas provide a good contrast between the understanding man and the stupid one or the fool. Peter had been told by Jesus that he would deny his Lord three times. (Luke 22:31-34) Later, when Jesus was being tried before the high priest, Peter did deny the Lord, but immediately afterward, when he saw Jesus turn with a meaningful look toward him, Peter went outside and wept bitterly. (Luke 22:54-62) Peter, though deeply hurt, profited from what was conveyed to him by a “look.” His deeply heartfelt response to this helped Peter to be a tower of strength to his brothers later on.
But Judas, though he had been with Jesus and the apostles for about two years and had received the instruction and correction of Jesus and had seen his marvelous works, was not moved. His heart was not touched by all the healings that Jesus had performed, and the kindness of Jesus’ training and discipline. To the contrary, he was progressively hardening himself because he was feeding his greedy desire by stealing from the funds that Jesus and the apostles had set aside for their expenses and for aid to the poor. (John 12:6; 13:29) How Judas lacked appreciation! When Jesus, on that last night before his death, said to him: “What you are doing get done more quickly,” Judas did not respond as did Peter at Jesus’ mere glance. (John 13:27) He went on, determined to carry out his wicked scheme. Even when his sin rebounded upon him, he did not go to God in prayer, nor to the apostles, but back to the criminals to whom he had betrayed Jesus. He cringingly tried to give back the 30 pieces of silver, as if that could somehow lessen the heavy guilt that lay upon him. Being rebuffed and rejected by his partners in crime, he went out and hanged himself.
These examples highlight the importance of seeking always to be understanding, having an open mind, listening to appeals, reproofs, even a “word” of rebuke from others who are trying to help. Not only does a failure to be deeply affected and moved by a rebuke strain a person’s relationship with God and his associates, it can also result in the worst possible condition: a hardened heart and an insensibility even to disciplinary “strokes,” or hardships that should bring him to his senses. If strong moves are not taken to correct the condition, it will result in his own complete ruin.