Last time I continued my series on the book of Proverbs by discussing various sayings of Solomon found in chapters 12 through 14.  Today, we will continue this series beginning in Proverbs 15:1 which means we are around half way through the Proverbs with this being sermon number 16 in this series.

       Proverbs 15:1: A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.

       As I have noted in past sermons in this series, the Proverbs of Solomon are not necessarily establishing mandates for human behavior but are simply observational.  Solomon appears to have been a keen observer of human behavior and is simply reporting on what he observed.  Proverbs 15:1 is another example of this.

       Solomon is not necessarily teaching here that one should never use harsh words but that if you do you will probably stir up anger.  On the other hand, a gentle response will turn away anger. There are Scriptural examples of both approaches.

       There is the interesting account found in 1 Samuel 25 involving David and a man named Nabal and his wife Abigail.  Scriptures shows that Abigail was a very beautiful and intelligent woman whereas her husband Nabal, while being very rich, was a very crude sort of individual in his dealings with other people.

       As the story goes, Nabal and his men were out in the field sheering sheep and David, with his men, was living in the desert at the time apparently in close proximity to where Nabal and his men were sheering sheep. Scripture shows David and his men were in essence providing protection for Nabal and his men while they were out in the field tending the sheep.  

       As time went on, David and his men needed supplies so David sent some of his men to Nabal to make request of Nabal to provide some needed provisions.  Nabal, being the rude man that he was, became insulting and refused to grant David’s request.  This angered David to the point that he gathered together 400 of his men, swords in hand, to go and destroy Nabal and his men.  Well, one of Nabal’s servants learned of what David was about to do and told Nabal's wife Abigail.  Here is what he told her.

       1 Samuel 25:14-17:  "David sent messengers from the desert to give our master his greetings, but he hurled insults at them.  Yet these men were very good to us. They did not mistreat us, and the whole time we were out in the fields near them nothing was missing. Night and day they were a wall around us all the time we were herding our sheep near them.  Now think it over and see what you can do, because disaster is hanging over our master and his whole household. He is such a wicked man that no one can talk to him."

       Well, Abigail understood the gravity of the situation and acted immediately.  She put together two hundred loaves of bread, two skins of wine, five dressed sheep, five measures of roasted grain, a hundred cakes of raisins and two hundred cakes of pressed figs. She had them loaded on donkeys and had servants begin the journey to where David was.  She followed her servants on a separate donkey.

       When this entourage arrived at where David was, Abigail got off her donkey and bowed down before David with her face to the ground. Here is some of what she said:

       1 Samuel 25:24-25:  "My lord, let the blame be on me alone. Please let your servant speak to you; hear what your servant has to say. May my lord pay no attention to that wicked man Nabal. He is just like his name--his name is Fool, and folly goes with him. But as for me, your servant, I did not see the men my master sent.

       Abigail goes on to speak highly of David and predicts his becoming King over Israel.  She asks him to accept the gifts she brought.  Hear is David’s reply:

       1 Samuel 25: 32- 32:  David said to Abigail, "Praise be to the LORD, the God of Israel, who has sent you today to meet me. May you be blessed for your good judgment and for keeping me from bloodshed this day and from avenging myself with my own hands. Otherwise, as surely as the LORD, the God of Israel, lives, who has kept me from harming you, if you had not come quickly to meet me, not one male belonging to Nabal would have been left alive by daybreak." Then David accepted from her hand what she had brought him and said, "Go home in peace. I have heard your words and granted your request."

       This story clearly demonstrates the validity of Solomon’s proverb.  Nabal used harsh words in responding to David’s request for provisions and David became angry to the point of taking military action against Nabal and his men.  Abigail used gentle and conciliatory words which turned away David’s wrath and prevented a lot of bloodshed.   

       There is an interesting subscript to this story.  When Abigail returned home she found Nabal drunk and when he sobered up she told him about what she had done to prevent his death and the death of his men.  It is recorded that at hearing this, his heart failed him and ten days later he was dead.

       Just think of how much conflict could be avoided if people would embrace the proverb that says, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.   We are all guilty of fulfilling the second part of this proverb.  We have all said harsh words that have led to someone becoming angry or worse.  In the Hebrew the phrase rendered “harsh word” means “words of pain.”   Throughout history harsh words have led to anger that often results in conflict including the conflict of war.  Our goal should be to emulate the first part of this Proverb in using gentle words that turns away wrath.

       On several occasions in the Proverbs, Solomon speaks of using words in such manner as to promote a positive outcome.

       Proverbs 16:21: The wise in heart are called discerning, and pleasant words promote instruction.

        This being said, Solomon is not teaching that one should never use harsh words.  There is a time and place for the use of harsh words.  Sometimes harsh words may be necessary to get a point across or move one to action.  No less a person than Jesus and Apostle Paul used harsh words at times when the situation called for it.  We are all familiar with the virtual tirade of harsh words that Jesus leveled against the religious leaders of His day as recorded in Matthew 23.

       In verse 13 he calls them hypocrites!  In verse 16 blind guides.  In verse 17 blind fools.  In verse 28 He tells them they are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.  In verse 33 He calls them snakes and a brood of vipers.  I am sure this made the religious leaders extremely angry and in part led to the arrest of Jesus just a few days later.

       Apostle Paul had an ongoing battle with the Judaizers over the law and it got to the point where Paul used some pretty harsh words in describing his displeasure with the Judaizers. 

       Galatians 1:6-9: I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel-- which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!

       Galatians 5:11-12: Brothers, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished.  As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!

       Paul is saying that those agitators who are preaching circumcision should not just stop at circumcising the foreskin but they should cut off their whole penis (Ouch). Those are some pretty harsh words.

       The Scriptures demonstrate that there is a time and place where harsh language may be warranted.  However, as a general rule of behavior, it is best in most cases to avoid creating adversarial reactions by using speech that is conciliatory.  Conciliatory speech can go a long way in preventing an angry response.  Proverbs 15:4 reflects upon how the tongue can bring healing or cause heartache.

       Proverbs 15:4: The tongue that brings healing is a tree of life, but a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit.

       Speech that heals is like a life-giving tree, but a perverse tongue breaks the spirit (NET). 

       Speech that is encouraging and uplifting is speech that can bring about a healing response both physically and spiritually.  It is like a life giving tree. When paramedics respond to an accident where people are seriously injured, it is often their words of encouragement that keeps a seriously injured person fighting to stay alive.  The same is true in hospital settings where medical personal who are encouraging can help facilitate a healing response as opposed to situations where medical personal are not encouraging.  Solomon speaks of how words can be healing to both soul and body.

       Proverbs 16:24: Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.

      In Proverbs 15:4 Solomon contrasted healing speech with perverse speech. Perverse and deceitful speech can be devastating.  Look how much fraud is committed by deceitful telephone scams.  We get calls at Milk ‘N Honey occasionally where the caller identifies himself as from the Electric Company and we are told that our electricity is going to be shut off unless we immediately pay a bill we supposedly owe.  The scammer is using deceitful speech in looking for us to give him a credit card number and you know what the outcome of doing that would be.  I will admit I have used some rather harsh words at times in responding to these scammers.

       Another scam going around is where you get a call from someone claiming to be from the IRS and advising you that the IRS is bringing a lawsuit against you for back taxes. You are then asked to pay such back taxes on a credit card.  A similar scam going around is where someone calls and claims to be from a collection agency and claims you owe money and are facing a law suit if you don’t pay up.  Again a credit card payment is requested.

       Unfortunately, these scams continue to proliferate because there are enough people who fall for them only to belatedly discover they have been scammed and now they have to deal with the consequences which certainly can lead to a crushed and broken spirit as Solomon points out.  Deceitful speech is very prevalent. We are and will be hearing a lot of it as the current election campaigns continue.

       Much of the rest of Proverbs 15 deals with issues we have already dealt with in discussing other of Solomon’s proverbs but before we leave Proverbs 15 there is one additional proverb I want to address.

       Proverbs 15:16-17: Better a little with the fear of the LORD than great wealth with turmoil. Better a meal of vegetables where there is love than a fattened calf with hatred.

       Some may read these proverbs and conclude Solomon is against great wealth or having a lavish meal.  That is not what Solomon is saying.  He is not addressing the pros and cons of having wealth or enjoying a sumptuous meal.  Solomon is providing a contrast.  He is making a comparison which is something he often does in the Proverbs.

       Solomon is saying that if having great wealth is going to produce turmoil in your life and separate you from having a proper relationship with God, then it is better not to have the great wealth because what is most important in life is to have a proper relationship with God.  He is not saying a wealthy person can’t have a proper relationship with God.  He is saying that if such wealth gets in the way of having a proper relationship with God, then it is better to have less and focus on having a proper relationship with God.

       Solomon makes the same contrast relative to eating a meal.  If you are going to have lavish meals where there is argument and general conflict being expressed at the meal, this is not a good thing.  Solomon is saying that the person or persons eating a much simpler meal where there is peace and harmony are much better off than the ones eating a meal where there is conflict. Solomon is not addressing types of meals in and of themselves.  As we all know there can be love at a lavish meal and there can be hatred at a meal of only vegetables.  The point Solomon is making is that we should do what needs to be done to embrace love, peace and harmony and avoid hatred and conflict.

Solomon reiterates this principle in several other of his proverbs.

       Proverbs 16:8: Better a little with righteousness than much gain with injustice.

       Proverbs 17:1: Better a dry crust with peace and quiet than a house full of feasting, with strife.

       Righteousness, which is a theological term for simply doing what is right, must always be the focus of what we think say and do.  If having wealth, eating expensive meals or experiencing any type of gain interferes with or reduces the righteousness of our behavior, we need to carefully evaluate what we are doing and eliminate from our life whatever it may be that is producing behavior that is unrighteousness which is a theological term for wrong behavior. 

       In looking through the rest of chapter 16 of the Proverbs we see a repeat of themes that have been already addressed by other proverbs which we have discussed so I won’t cover the same ground again.  I do, however, want to take a look at one additional proverb in this chapter.

       Proverbs 16:31: Gray hair is a crown of splendor; it is attained by a righteous life.

       There is a lot of gray hair in this congregation.  Has our collective gray hair been attained by living a righteous life?  What is Solomon saying here?  Is gray hair the result of living a righteous life?  Is this what causes gray hair?  I know some gray headed people who are anything but righteous in their behavior.

       There is some evidence that gray hair can be caused by high stress levels.  We have all seen our US Presidents come into office with dark hair and after four or eight years in office leave with gray hair.  We also know that general nutritional levels and heredity play a role as to when one gets gray hair.  My dad was gray in his forties and I began getting gray hair in my forties as is my son Kevin.   

       Solomon is not here addressing the physical, psychological emotional or behavioral dynamics connected with getting gray hair.  The point Solomon is making is that living to old age is often a reflection of having done a lot of right thing in life which has resulted in avoiding the troubles that can lead to an early death.  We all experience troubles, trials and tribulations.  Some are of our own making and others are thrust upon us by events and circumstances beyond our control. However, if we handle the troubles, trials and tribulations of life in a righteous manner, we have a better shot at living a longer life.  It would appear Solomon is addressing the matter of longevity and not gray hair in and of itself.

       Now in moving to chapter 17 of the Proverbs, we again see themes repeated that have been already addressed in previous proverbs.  I will pick out topics that have not been previously addressed for our continuing discussion. 

       Proverbs 17:5; He who mocks the poor shows contempt for their Maker; whoever gloats over disaster will not go unpunished.

      There is a great deal of instruction in Scripture about taking care of the poor and needy.  Solomon writes in Proverbs 22:2 that, “Rich and poor have this in common: The LORD is the Maker of them all.”  Solomon is not saying that God purposely makes some rich and some poor.  Solomon is saying that all peoples, whether rich or poor, are made in the image of God and should be treated accordingly.

       In Job 31 we find Job defending himself before God and part of that defense involves Job acknowledging that both he and those of lesser fortune are made by God and need to have their needs met.

       Job 31: 15-22: Did not he who made me in the womb make them? Did not the same one form us both within our mothers? "If I have denied the desires of the poor or let the eyes of the widow grow weary, if I have kept my bread to myself, not sharing it with the fatherless-- if I have seen anyone perishing for lack of clothing, or a needy man without a garment, and his heart did not bless me for warming him with the fleece from my sheep, if I have raised my hand against the fatherless, knowing that I had influence in court, then let my arm fall from the shoulder, let it be broken off at the joint.

       Job is acknowledging before God that to behave righteously before God is to do whatever is necessary to meet the needs of those in need.  This is a theme that runs throughout the Proverbs.

       Proverbs 14:31; He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.

       Proverbs 14:21:  He who despises his neighbor sins, but blessed is he who is kind to the needy.

       Proverbs 31:8-9: He who despises his neighbor sins, but blessed is he who is kind to the needy.

       In the sheep and goats metaphor in Matthew 25, we find that taking care of the needy is the primary dynamic being considered in determining placement of the righteous versus the wicked.  Jesus makes it clear that how we treat the less fortunate is key to our standing before God. 

       Matthew 25:34-36: "Then the King will say to those on his right, `Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'

       When His listeners questioned Jesus as to when they did these things for him her is what He said.

       Verse 40:  `I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'

       Taking care of the poor, the widow and the disenfranchised is a foundational dynamic of what it means to be a servant of God the Father and of his Son Christ Jesus.  It is a foundational dynamic of what it means to be practicing Kingdom living.  There is a lot of religion in the world. Much of religion is bogged down in bickering over doctrinal issues and attempts to convert people to a particular brand of theology.  Apostle James defines religion in very simple terms.

       James 1:27: Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.     

       It is clear from the Scriptures that to serve God is to serve one another and attend to the needs of others.  From the beginning God saw that we would have the need for a savior to pay the penalty associated with sin. God fulfilled that need in having Christ Jesus go to the cross to die that we might live. In so doing, Jesus served us in meeting our need to have our sins forgiven and the penalty for our sins removed.  Jesus was willing to meet our need by paying the ultimate price.

       Therefore, it is appropriate that we continue to honor what Jesus did for us by regularly reflecting on the manner in which He met our need.  Today we will once again express remembrance and respect for the sacrifice Christ made on behalf of all humanity.  Jesus had His body broken and His blood shed.  By sharing in the eating of the bread and the drinking of the wine, we symbolically participate in Christ’s death and in so doing we acknowledge what God has done for us through His Son.

       By acknowledging how Christ has served us by going to the cross, we acknowledge that it is Christ’s will that we serve one another as well. Jesus said that he did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom.  In John 13 Jesus said, By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."  Loving one another is expressed through serving one another.  Let’s keep these thoughts in mind as we come forward to partake of the bread and wine.