“Anyone Regarding Reproof Is Shrewd”
“DO BRING your heart to discipline and your ear to the sayings of knowledge,” states Proverbs 23:12. In this use, “discipline,” or moral training, includes both self-discipline and reproof we receive from others. Such discipline calls for knowledge of what correction is needed and of how to administer it. Hence, “the sayings of knowledge” from a reliable source are essential to discipline.
The Bible book of Proverbs is an excellent source of wise sayings. The proverbs recorded in it are “for one to know wisdom and discipline, . . . to receive the discipline that gives insight, righteousness and judgment and uprightness.” (Proverbs 1:1-3) We are wise to ‘bring our ear’ to them. Proverbs chapter 15 gives sound guidance on managing anger, using the tongue, and dispensing knowledge. Let us consider some verses from that chapter.
What “Turns Away Rage”?
Describing how spoken words affect anger or rage, King Solomon of ancient Israel states: “An answer, when mild, turns away rage, but a word causing pain makes anger to come up.” (Proverbs 15:1) “Anger” is a term used to describe a strong emotion or reaction of displeasure. “Rage” is defined as “a feeling of extremely strong anger that is very difficult to control.” How can this proverb help us to deal with another person’s anger as well as manage our own?
Harsh words that cause pain can make an unpleasant situation worse. On the other hand, a mild reply often has a calming effect. Yet, giving a mild answer to an angry person is not always easy. It helps, though, if we try to understand what has made him angry. “The insight of a man certainly slows down his anger,” says the Bible, “and it is beauty on his part to pass over transgression.” (Proverbs 19:11) Could it be that an individual is angry because he is insecure or wants attention? The real reason may have nothing to do with what we might have said or done. When we encounter an angry response in the Christian ministry, does this not often happen because the householder is misinformed about our beliefs or blinded by some misconception? Should we take it personally and reply harshly? Even when the cause of someone’s anger is not readily discernible, responding with words causing pain would indicate a lack of self-discipline on our part. Such a response should be avoided.
The advice to give a mild reply is also priceless when it comes to managing our own anger. We can apply such counsel by learning to express our emotions in ways that are not offensive to the hearer. When dealing with family members, instead of speaking harshly or engaging in derogatory name-calling, we can endeavor to express our feelings calmly. Verbal aggression generally provokes retaliation. Gently telling a person our feelings is less accusatory and may move him to make amends.
“The Tongue of Wise Ones Does Good”
Self-discipline affects our manner of speech as well as what we say. “The tongue of wise ones does good with knowledge,” says Solomon, “but the mouth of the stupid ones bubbles forth with foolishness.” (Proverbs 15:2) When we develop a desire to help others and we talk to them about God’s purpose and his wonderful provisions, are we not ‘doing good with knowledge’? A stupid person fails to do this because he lacks knowledge.
Before giving further guidance on the use of the tongue, Solomon presents a thought-provoking contrast. “The eyes of Jehovah are in every place, keeping watch upon the bad ones and the good ones.” (Proverbs 15:3) We can rejoice in this because we are assured: “As regards Jehovah, his eyes are roving about through all the earth to show his strength in behalf of those whose heart is complete toward him.” (2 Chronicles 16:9) God knows if we are doing what is good. He also takes note of those practicing what is bad and holds them accountable.
Solomon further stresses the value of a gentle tongue, saying: “The calmness of the tongue is a tree of life, but distortion in it means a breaking down in the spirit.” (Proverbs 15:4) The expression “tree of life” suggests healing and nourishing properties. (Revelation 22:2) A wise person’s calm speech refreshes the spirit of those hearing it. It appeals to their good qualities. On the contrary, a deceitful or perverse tongue causes the hearers’ spirit to be crushed.
Receiving Discipline and “Scattering Knowledge”
“Anyone foolish disrespects the discipline of his father,” continues the wise king, “but anyone regarding reproof is shrewd.” (Proverbs 15:5) How could anyone ‘regard reproof’ unless it is first given? Does this scripture not imply that corrective discipline must be administered when needed? In a family, it is the responsibility of the parents
Presenting yet another contrast, Solomon says: “The lips of the wise ones keep scattering knowledge about, but the heart of the stupid ones is not like that.” (Proverbs 15:7) Dispensing knowledge is like scattering seed. In ancient times, a farmer did not sow all his seed in one spot. Rather, he scattered a few seeds at a time over the entire field. So it is with dispensing knowledge. For instance, when we meet someone in the ministry, it would not be wise to pour out all we know about the Bible at one time. Instead, the wise individual is disciplined in speech. He ‘scatters’ knowledge as he gradually highlights just one Bible truth at a time and builds on it, taking into consideration the response of his hearer. Our Exemplar, Jesus Christ, did this when talking to a Samaritan woman.
Imparting knowledge involves saying something instructive and beneficial. It takes thought to speak words that inform and encourage. Hence, “the heart of the righteous one meditates so as to answer.” (Proverbs 15:28) How vital it is that our words be like a gentle rain that soaks the ground and is beneficial, not like an unwelcome torrent that sweeps away everything in its path!
‘Holy in Conduct’
Scattering knowledge about Jehovah and his purpose and offering him “the fruit of lips” as “a sacrifice of praise” is certainly the course of wisdom. (Hebrews 13:15) However, for such a sacrifice to be acceptable to Jehovah, we must be ‘holy in all our conduct.’ (1 Peter 1:14-16) Using two contrasting proverbs, Solomon forcefully brings this vital truth to our attention. He says: “The sacrifice of the wicked ones is something detestable to Jehovah, but the prayer of the upright ones is a pleasure to him. The way of the wicked one is something detestable to Jehovah, but the one pursuing righteousness he loves.”
How do those leaving the road to life view reproof, and what awaits them? (Matthew 7:13, 14) “Discipline is bad to the one leaving the path; anyone hating reproof will die.” (Proverbs 15:10) Instead of accepting corrective counsel from responsible ones in the Christian congregation and genuinely repenting, some who are following a wrong course choose to leave the path of righteousness. How foolish! According to An American Translation, this proverb says: “Stern discipline awaits the man who leaves the right way; he who hates admonition will die.”
What if someone puts on an appearance of accepting reproof while really hating it? This too is unwise. “Sheol and the place of destruction are in front of Jehovah,” says Israel’s king. “How much more so the hearts of the sons of mankind!” (Proverbs 15:11) Nothing could be figuratively farther away from the living God than Sheol, the place of the dead. Still, it is in front of him. He knows the identity and personality of all who are there and is able to resurrect them. (Psalm 139:8; John 5:28, 29) How easy it is for Jehovah to know what is in the hearts of men! “All things are naked and openly exposed to the eyes of him with whom we have an accounting,” wrote the apostle Paul. (Hebrews 4:13) Pretense can fool humans but not God.
A person rejecting discipline not only hates reproof but also has contempt for those giving it. “The ridiculer does not love the one reproving him,” says Solomon. Bringing in a parallel thought to enlarge upon the idea, he adds: “To the wise ones he will not go.” (Proverbs 15:12) What little hope there is that such a person will make his path straight!
Positive in Outlook
Reference to the word “heart” connects the next three proverbs of Solomon. Describing the effect of our emotions on our countenance, the wise king says: “A joyful heart has a good effect on the countenance, but because of the pain of the heart there is a stricken spirit.”
What can cause pain of heart? “Anxious care in the heart of a man is what will cause it to bow down [with sadness],” states the Bible. (Proverbs 12:25) How can we prevent negative aspects of life from crushing our spirit? Rather than constantly dwelling on circumstances over which we may have very little control, we can reflect on the rich spiritual blessings that Jehovah has bestowed upon us now and on what he will do for us in the future. This will bring us closer to him. Yes, drawing near to “the happy God” is bound to bring joy to our sad heart.
Moreover, the message of the Bible is an excellent source of comfort and delight. The psalmist pronounced happy the man whose “delight is in the law of Jehovah, and in his law he reads in an undertone day and night.” (Psalm 1:1, 2) Even when we experience pain of heart, reading the Bible and pondering over what it says will encourage us. There is also our God-given ministry. We are assured that “those sowing seed with tears will reap even with a joyful cry.”
“The understanding heart is one that searches for knowledge,” says Solomon, “but the mouth of stupid people is one that aspires to foolishness.” (Proverbs 15:14) This proverb brings to our attention a striking contrast between the counsel of a wise person and that of a foolish one. Before giving advice, a person with an understanding heart searches for knowledge. He listens well and gets a sufficient grasp of the facts. He searches the Scriptures to ascertain the laws and principles that apply to the situation. His counsel is solidly based on God’s Word. However, a foolish person does not bother to find out the facts of the situation and blurts out what comes to his mind. When we seek advice, then, it is wise to go to knowledgeable, mature ones rather than to those who may be inclined to tell us what we want to hear. How good it is to have “gifts in men” in the Christian congregation, who ‘search for knowledge’ before giving counsel!
The next proverb states an excellent benefit of having a positive outlook. The king of Israel says: “All the days of the afflicted one are bad; but the one that is good at heart has a feast constantly.” (Proverbs 15:15) Life has its blessings and calamities, joys and tears. If we dwell only on the negative, sorrow will take over our thoughts, and all our days will be gloomy. However, if we allow personal blessings and our God-given hope to dominate our thinking, the affliction-causing aspects of life will fade into the background and we will experience inner joy. A positive outlook makes it possible for us to enjoy “a feast constantly.”
By all means, then, let us have high regard for discipline. May we let it affect not only our emotions, speech, and actions but also our outlook.
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“An answer, when mild, turns away rage”
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It is the parents’ responsibility to provide discipline
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“The lips of the wise ones keep scattering knowledge about”