“The Shrewd One Considers His Steps”
A SHREWD person is practical and clever, sound in judgment and sharp in perception, judicious and prudent, discerning and wise. He is neither devious nor manipulative. “Everyone shrewd will act with knowledge,” states Proverbs 13:16. Yes, shrewdness, or prudence, is a desirable trait.
How can we display shrewdness in our day-to-day life? How is this quality made evident by the choices we make, the way we treat others, and the way we respond to various situations? What rewards do the prudent reap? What calamities do they avoid? King Solomon of ancient Israel gives practical answers to these questions, as we read at Proverbs 14:12-25.a
Choose Your Course Wisely
Making wise choices and being successful in life certainly require the ability to distinguish what is right from what is wrong. However, the Bible warns: “There exists a way that is upright before a man, but the ways of death are the end of it afterward.” (Proverbs 14:12) Hence, we must learn to differentiate what is truly right from what appears to be right. The expression “the ways of death” indicates that there are many such deceptive paths. Consider some areas that we should be aware of and avoid.
The rich and famous of the world are generally viewed as respectable people to be admired. Their social and financial success may make it seem that their way of doing things is right. What, though, about the means that many of such individuals use to gain wealth or fame? Are their ways always upright and moral? Then there are some individuals who display admirable zeal for their religious beliefs. But does their sincerity really prove that their beliefs are right?—Romans 10:2, 3.
A way may also appear upright because of self-deception. To base our decisions on what we personally feel is right is to depend upon the heart, a treacherous guide. (Jeremiah 17:9) An unenlightened and untrained conscience can lead us into thinking that the wrong way is the right way. What, then, will help us to choose a proper course?
Diligent personal study of the deeper truths of God’s Word is a must if we are to acquire “perceptive powers trained to distinguish both right and wrong.” Moreover, we must train these powers “through use” in applying Bible principles. (Hebrews 5:14) We must be careful not to allow a way that merely seems to be right to cause us to veer off ‘the cramped road leading into life.’—Matthew 7:13, 14.
When “the Heart May Be in Pain”
Can we be happy when we are not at peace inside? Does laughter and merriment alleviate deep-rooted pain? Is it shrewd to drown feelings of depression in alcohol, to abuse drugs, or to try to eliminate those feelings by adopting a promiscuous lifestyle? The answer is no. “In laughter the heart may be in pain,” says the wise king.—Proverbs 14:13a.
Laughter may mask the pain, but it fails to remove it. “For everything there is an appointed time,” states the Bible. Indeed, there is “a time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to wail and a time to skip about.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1, 4) When depression persists, we must take steps to overcome it, seeking “skillful direction” when necessary. (Proverbs 24:6)b Laughter and amusement are of some value, but their relative worth is small. Warning against improper forms of amusement and excesses in entertainment, Solomon says: “Grief is what rejoicing ends up in.”—Proverbs 14:13b.
The Faithless and the Good—Satisfied How?
“The one faithless at heart will be satisfied with the results of his own ways,” continues the king of Israel, “but the good man with the results of his dealings.” (Proverbs 14:14) How do the faithless and the good get satisfied with the results of their dealings?
A faithless person is not concerned about rendering an account to God. Therefore, doing what is right in Jehovah’s eyes is of no consequence to a man without faith. (1 Peter 4:3-5) Such a person is satisfied with the results of his materialistic lifestyle. (Psalm 144:11-15a) The good person, on the other hand, has spiritual interests at heart. In all his dealings, he adheres to God’s righteous standards. Such an individual is satisfied with the results because Jehovah is his God and he derives incomparable joy from serving the Most High.—Psalm 144:15b.
Do Not ‘Put Faith in Every Word’
Contrasting the ways of the inexperienced with those of the prudent, Solomon says: “Anyone inexperienced puts faith in every word, but the shrewd one considers his steps.” (Proverbs 14:15) The shrewd one is not gullible. Rather than believing everything he hears or letting others do his thinking for him, he considers his steps wisely. Gathering all available facts, he acts with knowledge.
Take, for example, the question, “Is there a God?” The inexperienced one is inclined to go along with what is popular or with what prominent people believe. The shrewd one, on the other hand, takes time to examine the facts. He reflects on such scriptures as Romans 1:20 and Hebrews 3:4. In spiritual matters, a prudent person does not just accept the word of religious leaders. He ‘tests the inspired expressions to see whether they originate with God.’—1 John 4:1.
How wise it is to heed the advice not to ‘put faith in every word’! Those entrusted with the responsibility to counsel others in the Christian congregation must especially take this to heart. The counselor must have the complete picture of what has transpired. He must listen well and gather facts from all sides so that his counsel is not unsound or one-sided.—Proverbs 18:13; 29:20.
“The Man of Thinking Abilities Is Hated”
Pointing to yet another difference between the wise and the foolish, the king of Israel says: “The wise one fears and is turning away from badness, but the stupid is becoming furious and self-confident. He that is quick to anger will commit foolishness, but the man of thinking abilities is hated.”—Proverbs 14:16, 17.
The wise person fears the consequences of following a wrong course. Therefore, he is cautious and appreciates any counsel that helps him to avoid badness. The stupid one does not have such fear. Being self-confident, he arrogantly ignores the counsel of others. Prone to becoming furious, such a person acts foolishly. But how is it that a man of thinking abilities becomes an object of hostility?
The original-language expression translated “thinking abilities” has two meanings. In a positive sense, it can denote discernment or cleverness. (Proverbs 1:4; 2:11; 3:21) Or negatively, the phrase can refer to wicked ideas or malicious thinking.—Psalm 37:7; Proverbs 12:2; 24:8.
If the expression “the man of thinking abilities” refers to a malicious schemer, it is not difficult to see why such a person is hated. However, is it not true that a man of discernment may also be hated by those lacking this quality? For example, those who exercise their mental faculties and choose to be “no part of the world” are hated by the world. (John 15:19) Christian youths who exercise their thinking abilities and stand up to unwholesome peer pressure in order to avoid improper behavior are ridiculed. The fact is that true worshippers are hated by the world, which is lying in the power of Satan the Devil.—1 John 5:19.
“Bad People Will Have to Bow Down”
The prudent, or the shrewd, differ from inexperienced ones in yet another way. “The inexperienced ones will certainly take possession of foolishness, but the shrewd ones will bear knowledge as a headdress.” (Proverbs 14:18) Lacking discernment, the inexperienced ones choose what is foolish. This becomes their lot in life. On the other hand, knowledge adorns the shrewd just as a crown honors a king.
“Bad people will have to bow down before the good ones,” says the wise king, “and the wicked people at the gates of the righteous one.” (Proverbs 14:19) In other words, the good will ultimately triumph over the wicked. Consider the increase in numbers and the superior way of life that God’s people enjoy today. Seeing these blessings bestowed upon Jehovah’s servants will force some opposers to “bow down” to Jehovah’s figurative heavenly woman, represented by the spirit-anointed remnant on earth. At Armageddon at the latest, those opposers will be compelled to acknowledge that the earthly part of God’s organization truly represents the heavenly part.—Isaiah 60:1, 14; Galatians 6:16; Revelation 16:14, 16.
“Showing Favor to the Afflicted Ones”
Making an observation about human nature, Solomon says: “Even to his fellowman one who is of little means is an object of hatred, but many are the friends of the rich person.” (Proverbs 14:20) How true this is of imperfect humans! Being selfishly inclined, they tend to favor the rich over the poor. While the friends of the rich person are many, they are as transitory as his wealth. Should we not then avoid making friends by means of money or flattery?
What if an honest self-examination reveals that we curry the favor of the rich and look down on those of little means? We must realize that showing such favoritism is condemned in the Bible. It states: “The one despising his own fellowman is sinning, but happy is he who is showing favor to the afflicted ones.”—Proverbs 14:21.
We should show consideration to those in difficult circumstances. (James 1:27) How can we do this? By providing “this world’s means for supporting life,” which can include money, food, shelter, clothing, and personal attention. (1 John 3:17) Happy is he who is showing favor to such ones, since “there is more happiness in giving than there is in receiving.”—Acts 20:35.
How Do They Fare?
The principle “whatever a man is sowing, this he will also reap” applies to the shrewd person as well as to the foolish one. (Galatians 6:7) The former does what is good; the latter devises mischief. “Will not those devising mischief go wandering about?” asks the wise king. The answer is yes; they do “go astray.” (An American Translation) “But there are loving-kindness and trueness as regards those devising good.” (Proverbs 14:22) Those who do good enjoy the goodwill of others as well as God’s loving-kindness.
Associating success with hard work and linking failure with much talk and little action, Solomon says: “By every kind of toil there comes to be an advantage, but merely the word of the lips tends to want.” (Proverbs 14:23) This principle certainly applies to our spiritual endeavors. When we work hard in the Christian ministry, we reap the rewards of introducing the lifesaving truth of God’s Word to many others. Faithfully carrying out any theocratic assignment we may receive leads to joy and satisfaction.
“The crown of the wise is their riches; the foolishness of the stupid ones is foolishness,” says Proverbs 14:24. This could mean that the wisdom that the wise strive to attain is their riches, and it crowns, or adorns, them. The stupid, on the other hand, gain merely foolishness. According to one reference work, this proverb could also suggest that “wealth is an ornament to those who use it well . . . [whereas] fools only have their folly.” Whatever the case, the wise one fares better than the foolish one.
“A true witness is delivering souls,” says the king of Israel, “but a deceitful one launches forth mere lies.” (Proverbs 14:25) While this certainly is true in a judicial context, consider its implications for our ministry. Our Kingdom-preaching and disciple-making work involves bearing witness to the truth of God’s Word. That witness delivers righthearted individuals from false religion and saves lives. By paying constant attention to ourselves and to our teaching, we will save both ourselves and those who listen to us. (1 Timothy 4:16) As we continue to do this, let us be alert to display shrewdness in all aspects of life.
a For a discussion of Proverbs 14:1-11, see pages 26-9 of the November 15, 2004, issue of The Watchtower.
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Diligent study of deeper truths is a must if we are to distinguish both right and wrong
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Is a materialistic lifestyle truly satisfying?