The Wise Man and the Fool (Proverbs 29:1, 11)
He who is often reproved, yet stiffens his neck, will suddenly be broken beyond healing. ¹¹A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back. —Proverbs 29:1, 11
There is a huge white birch on the back of my property that is the tallest tree in the entire yard. It stands with two branches raised vertically, its leaves shimmering in the breeze applauding the God of heaven with a language all its own. That is, it did, until one night, in a fierce storm, wind won over will, and the lower arm of the tree broke nearly clean. That arm hangs by a thread waiting for the guys to come with rope and saw and lifts to remove it for firewood to warm someone’s wintry night.
The limb cannot be replaced. The wound cannot heal. But this is not the situation of Proverbs 29:1. This breaking is not that breaking. The broken branch is the natural effect of creation acting and responding as creation is designed. The breaking in this verse is the natural effect of creation, the human will, rebelling against its design.
A person "often reproved," often corrected, often disciplined, often intentionally heading in the wrong direction and rejecting the refining considerations of others sounds a great deal like those whom Paul describes to Timothy, the inhabitants of the world in the last days:
But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. (2 Timothy 3:1-5)
The fact that they are "often reproved" suggests a habit of resistance, a rebellious will, an arrogant, unappeasable spirit that is not compromised by the inability to learn but is crippled by the unwillingness to learn. These are those who, perhaps, when confronted, give vent to rage becoming abusive, slanderous, and lacking self-control. To such a one the word of God offers this invitation mercifully couched in a warning: repent or be broken.
This is the message of the great King Jesus to His people in the early chapters of Revelation, and to all those who dwell upon the earth in the later chapters where the wrath of God is finally poured out on the people of the earth: repent, turn away from your sin and your sinfulness, or experience the effects and consequences of the punitive action of God’s righteousness. To the churches, it is: repent or you will be removed. To the world, it is: repent or be judged.
The message to believer and unbeliever is the same: repent and turn away from selfish, proud self-determination and surrender your heart, your mind, your will, your spirit, and your life to the gracious, loving, wise God or suffer the consequences. The message is the same. The offered grace is the same. The outcome alone is different. A wise man does not rage and vent. A wise man listens and learns. A fool resists, rebels, and is broken.
This leaves us with but one penetrating question: When it comes to the sin and sinfulness God mercifully identifies in our lives, will we be wise, surrendering to His mercy, or will we play the fool, insisting we retain our sin on our own terms?
Christian, is there a sin or a pattern of sinfulness you have accepted as normal that God is calling you to turn from? Accept God’s reproof of sin as an expression of love and mercy. Confess that sin, and find a trusted brother or sister in the Lord to help you learn to live without it.
Are you reading this today having never accepted God’s diagnosis of sin in your life? He offers to set you free from the power of sin and provide you with true freedom in new life. But your experience of this grace hinges on repentance, an act of a God-enabled will to turn away from everything that displeases God and to turn to Him instead.
Repent and live. Rebel and be broken. It is the choice between wisdom and foolishness. No matter who you are, I urge you, I beg you, be wise.
Dale McIntire (D.Min, Bethel Theological Seminary) has pastored Cornerstone Community Church for 28 years and is the author of Catching the Wind: A Guide for Interpreting Ecclesiastes. He is married to the originator of the Fighter Verses concept, Linda Fregeau McIntire, who also authors and co-authors Truth78 resources. They share a like zeal for infusing the next generation with love for God’s Word.