John Wesley once observed a disagreement between two women. One was speaking vehemently and gesturing wildly, while the other stood perfectly still—tranquil and unperturbed. Finally the first woman stamped her foot and shouted, “Speak! so I can have something more to say to you!”
This is so true. The more I study the Proverbs I find that the Lord commends to us silence. That is no less true for the passage we come to this evening. In it we find again the wisdom of silence over against a great amount of words. He who says the least shows himself to be the wisest man.
The verse before us begins with the foolish man—the man who is not afraid to use words. It says, “he who belittles his neighbor lacks sense.”
I. The talker
Some of you may have “he despises his neighbor” and you might have noted the difference between our versions. That would be a good translation and get at the essence of what is here. But our versions are not contradictory. To despise someone is to belittle them. That is to say, if you despise someone you look down on them. And the way you show your contempt for them is by speaking or acting in a way that is demeaning.
This is something that is profuse in our day. It is like an epidemic. Just the other day I was listening to the radio and I heard a perfect example of this. It was a talk show. The lady was supposed to be talking about political issues, but she wasn’t doing that. She instead was simply berating the people who held the views. She wasn’t attacking the issue, she was attacking people. It was so bad I had to turn it off. I usually love listening to talk radio, but I couldn’t stand that.
All the time I hear people say, “Oh, he’s a tree-hugger.” or “She’s a femi-nazi.” That is going overboard. That is going beyond talking about issues. That’s making fun of someone.
Our passage says that if you despise someone—if you belittle them—you “lacks sense.” You are devoid of wisdom. We can put it this way, “If you hate somebody, if you ridicule them, your head is empty. You don’t know anything.”
That’s the same as saying that you are the foolish man. But why are you a fool if you make fun of someone?
I believe it has to do with what I call, the “sin of false superiority.” What I mean by that is that you are making yourself out to be superior, but you aren’t. It’s false superiority.
If you ridicule someone, what are you doing? You are evaluating them. You are saying that they are not on the same level you are. Or you can look at it this way, if you ridicule someone (let’s say you call someone an idiot) you are making yourself out to be better than the other person. That person is not on the same par as you.
So really, you are saying that the person is sub-human. You are superior and they are inferior. Let’s say that you call someone an idiot. What are you doing? Really, you are giving them the value of a plant. And what you are saying is that they are nothing, and they should be exterminated.
I hope that sounds a lot like Hitler and the Nazis, because that’s exactly what it is. Hitler’s basic thesis was, the Arian race is superior, everyone else is inferior. The only difference was that Hitler was consistent with his beliefs. He took the next step and sought to exterminate those who he thought were inferior.
This is exactly the same sort of spirit of the disciples against the Samaritains. Remember Jews despised Samaritans. And there was one point where Jesus was rejected by the Samaritans and the disciples became infuriated. They cried out, “Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven!” (i.e. “Do you want us to exterminate these vermin?”). How did Jesus react? He rebuked them.
Well, in any respect, thank God we are not all consistent! Thank God for his restraining hand too. If he were not there restraining our contempt, the human race would have wiped out long ago. We would have killed each other.
But let’s think about this in another way. Why is it that we make fun of other people? Why do we have the desire to demean them? Because we want to feel superior. Why is it that we want to feel superior? Because we are sinful! This is goes back to the garden. We want “to be like God.” We want to sit in his throne and be the judge and ruler of all.
And that should show you just how dumb you are when you belittle someone. You’re so foolish as to think that you’re God.
Let’s turn to think about the second half of the verse. What do we find here. It says, “A man of understanding remains silent.”
II. The speechless
You’ve all heard the saying, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything.” Well, that is a Biblical truth. The Apostle Paul said, “Let no unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up.” In other words, your mouth should stay shut unless you can say something that is going to be constructive. Really that passage goes one step further than our proverb. It says that our tongue should be used for its original purpose: To build up.
We also have the exhortation “In your anger do not sin.” That is to say, when you become upset, you should control yourself. When you hit your thumb with that hammer, your first reaction is to yell and scream and curse. When that certain someone irritates you, you need to watch you mouth. Don’t sin. Don’t let something slip. Don’t show that you are one who lacks sense.
And think about how hard it is to remain silent, especially when you are anxious or have been provoked. Our first instinct is to fire that sharp comeback. And we don’t want to have that other guy have the upper hand. We don’t want them or anyone else think they are better than us. We want to get back at them. Hatred burns in our breast, and the flames come seeping out. We end up belittling them.
But the wise man is supposed to exercise self control (That is one of the fruit of the Spirit). And perhaps the most significant restraint we can exercise is that of our tongue. We are commanded by Jesus to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. Undergirding our restraint is the understanding that this is a person who God has created in his image and we are to love them. And so we and bridle our anger simply keep our mouths shut. As Charles Spurgeon says, "Unguarded ways are generally unholy ones."
I have kind of hinted at this already, but perhaps I should make it clear. I think the best way to read this passage is that the fool and the wise man are going head to head here. I think the way to understand this passage is to see the wise man as the one who is being belittled. He is undergoing persecution or attack from the man who lacks sense.
Now perhaps you can see even more why we should remain silent. In this scenario we can’t even say anything good. If we did, the person wouldn’t listen to us anyway, “He lacks any and all sense.” We’ve already established that. I think that this is what Jesus means when he says, “Do not cast pearls to pigs.”
An agnostic scientist once asked author Dorothy Sayers to write a letter to his scientific organization setting forth her reasons for believing in the Christian faith. The letter he received back was not at all what the scientist had expected. It read:
“Why do you want a letter from me? Why don’t you take the trouble to find out for yourselves what Christianity is? You take time to learn technical terms about electricity. Why don’t you do as much for theology? Why do you accept mildewed old heresies as the language of the church, when any handbook of church history will tell you where they came from? Why do you balk at the doctrine of the Trinity—God, the Three in One—yet meekly acquiesce when Einstein tells you that E=MC2? I admit you can practice Christianity without knowing much theology, just as you can drive a car without knowing much about internal combustion. But when something breaks down in the car, you humbly go to the man who understands the works; if something goes wrong with religion, you merely throw the works away and tell the theologian he is a liar. Why do you want a letter from me? You will never bother to check on it or find out whether I’m giving you personal opinions or Christian doctrines. Go away and do some work on your own and let me get on with mine.”
Sayers wouldn’t cast pearls to pigs. She wouldn’t give them the satisfaction they wanted because she knew they would simply wouldn’t accept it.
Of course Sayers was a bit more verbal. She remained silent on the issue, but she certainly did take the opportunity to say something! We might not be in that position. We might be required to keep our mouths completely silent; like our Savior.
You remember that he was belittled. Dressed up in a robe. Paraded around for people’s pleasure. “he was despised, and rejected by man…oppressed and afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth. Like a lamb before his shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth.”
Just as it is a mark of a Christian to undergo persecution, it is a mark of a Christians to keep one’s mouth closed in that persecution. Yes, it will mean humiliation. Yes it will mean laying aside your pride. Yes it will mean letting them have their way. But it is the wisest thing to do.
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.