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  • Writer's pictureJonathan Parnell

Wisdom For How You Speak and Listen (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

These are precious words for those who believe. Verse 1 is getting at the propensity of our hearts to grow callous and what that means for how we exhort others. It says as much for the one reproving as it does for the one being reproved.

If You Reprove

In short, for the one reproving, if someone in your life continuously bucks against your loving words of concern, stop saying them. This wisdom is a little counter-intuitive. We tend to think that if someone doesn’t listen to us then we should turn it up louder. Keep it coming, right? Well, Proverbs 29:1 makes us question that approach.

We certainly are called to exhort and reprove our brothers and sisters, but this calling is not a block. It is not geometry. There are a thousand other things going on and if we just revert to the mode of what’s right apart from their ability to hear, we risk them breaking. In fact, we risk them breaking beyond healing. Sometimes the most loving thing to do after we’ve spoken the truth in love is to step back with heads bowed in prayer.

When You’re Reproved

This goes both ways. When you are reproved, don’t default to dismissing it. Don’t stiffen your neck. The more you do that, the easier it becomes to do it again. Your heart gets a little thicker, a little tougher. It becomes a stone, one that is cold and hidden and overgrown with moss. Hear what your brother or sister says. Realize you are obliged to hear it and in fact, it’s dangerous if you don’t.

For Those Who Believe

Now to Verse 11. It speaks about self-control as a barometer of wisdom. Self-control is part of the fruit of the Spirit Paul lists in Galatians 5:22–24, which brings us to a more important truth—a foundational truth—to what’s foolish or wise in Proverbs 29.

I said earlier that these proverbs are precious to those who believe. What I mean is that faith in Jesus is what matters most. We should never divorce biblical exhortations of wisdom from the glorious news about what Jesus has done to save the foolish. God is not impressed by how wise you are. He wants you to bow before his Son. Without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6).

Confucius had a bunch of one-liners, but did he worship I Am? Gandhi had self-control, but did he say Jesus is Lord? Hear reproof humbly. Speak reproof in love. Exercise self-control. And do it all as a Christian, knowing and rejoicing that Jesus Christ died for you when you were ungodly, when you rejected counsel and indulged your sinful impulses. Rejoice that He has filled you with his Holy Spirit and makes you “wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.”

Proverbs 20:1, 11 are precious words for those who believe.


For Reflection

  1. What does Proverbs 29:1 mean for the person who rebukes someone? What about for the person being rebuked?

  2. Where else besides Proverbs 29:11 do we see the virtue of self-control in Scripture?

  3. What is foundational to wise living?

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