Wisdom takes flight in relationships. It begins with the fear of the Lord (Prov. 1:7), gains momentum through seeking and finding (Prov. 2:1-8), and accelerates when we resist easy money and easy sex (Prov. 2:12-19). In order to gain altitude, however, wisdom must be lived out humbly in relationships with real people. Let me give an example.
I recently received some sharp criticism of my leadership in a particular area. The critic was a friend who wanted to help, but he overstated his position with unexpected severity. I was hurt and offended. I wanted to protect myself. I had lost my security – someone’s good will – and had to muster my self-respect. To prevent a total loss, I prepared a masterful retaliatory strike.
Without realizing it, I had come to a crossroads with two paths before me: Would I choose the way of wisdom or the decline to folly? In other words, did I believe all this stuff I was writing about wisdom, the fear of the Lord, and openness to change? Would I live the truth out in my words and thoughts? Would I despise instruction or humbly receive correction?
We all face the same choice every day. Whenever other people are involved, our decisions demonstrate either humble wisdom or self-reliant folly. Will we fear the Lord, breeding true humility, thinking of others more than ourselves? Or will we turn inward and love ourselves most of all?
C.S. Lewis wrote that humility doesn’t mean thinking less of yourself; it means thinking of yourself less. In other words, both “I’m awesome” and “I’m a terrible person” are proud statements. The humble person chooses simply not to focus on himself, positively or negatively. The humble person puts others first, loving them at least as much as he loves himself. Such a person models Jesus’ life-giving death.
In this section of Proverbs, Solomon prohibits a number of proud and self-protective behaviors (Prov. 3:27-30) and catalogues God’s opinions of people who engage in them (Prov. 3:32-35). Like the previous section, this passage has a center (Prov. 3:31), which this time exposes the heart of our selfish behavior.