A Proverb a day, with commentary from H.A. Ironside, a great Bible teacher from the mid-20th Century.
Nothing is more clearly taught in the Scriptures than the need of a separation between the clean and the unclean- between those who love the truth and those who walk contrary to it. Separation from evil is imperative. He who would honor God must bow to this principle, whether it be to separate from evil friends, from ecclesiastical evil, or from evil business practices. The word is plain: “Come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you” (2Co_6:17). The only proper course for a Christian who sincerely desires the Lord’s approval is to walk apart from all that is unholy. He must refuse fellowship to those who by their endorsement are partakers of the sins of others.
In this verse we see a different kind of separation that is condemned by the Scriptures. There is a vast difference between one who in humility and obedience to God separates himself from evil, and another who, through pride and self-importance, separates himself from those who refuse evil, in order to do his own pleasure. This person is the heretic of whom we read in Jud_1:19 : “These be they who separate themselves, sensual, having not the Spirit.” Men of this type are “murmurers, complainers, walking after their own lusts; and their mouth speaketh great swelling words, having men’s persons in admiration because of advantage” (Jud_1:16). It is sad when Christians behave as these false professors.
We often find men who are born of God and unquestionably gifted by Him, but whose nature is unbroken and willful! Men like these go on with their brethren as long as their authority is acknowledged and obeyed. But let there be an unwillingness to follow their advice implicitly, and their pride will tolerate no refusal. Either they must have their way, or they will leave the assembly and begin something more to their own taste. These are the people who separate, not for the Lord’s glory, but for their own pleasure; having so done, they storm and rage against all wisdom, complaining loudly against those who will not accept their orders as supreme.
To separate from apostasy is right and Scriptural. To separate from what is godly causes grievous division in the church. It is the human will setting itself above the authority of the Word and Spirit of God.
Even in difficult situations that make the most cautious, godly person move slowly, it is very wrong to turn my back on the church God has formed. It is a mistake to excommunicate myself because I think another person should be disciplined. When one has a humble spirit, troublesome occasions only furnish opportunities for waiting patiently on God and seeking to exercise the consciences of fellow saints. It is only the headstrong and willful who will take matters into their own hands. If they are unable to override tender consciences, they separate themselves and rage against their brethren. Alexander the coppersmith was evidently this type of man, if, as seems likely, he is the companion of Hymenaeus mentioned in 1Ti_1:20. Having given up the truth, Alexander became the bitter opponent of those who stood for it (2Ti_4:14-15).
See note on Pro_15:14. Nothing is more characteristic of the fool than his contempt for instruction and his lack of desire to understand. He displays to the most casual observer the foolishness in his heart by the trifling words that flow from his mouth. Consider our Lord’s rebuke to the Pharisees who had no delight in understanding (Mat_23:17-19).
Throwing off all control and living selfishly results in shame and reproach. He who would have the confidence of his brethren and be respected by his friends must demonstrate a spirit of obedience. This spirit indicates a self-controlled, thoughtful man who values integrity. However high the rebellious person may carry his head for a time, his behavior will ultimately lead to his disgrace. See Pashur (Jer_20:1-6).
The heart is the well, or fountain, from which our words flow. In our Christian dispensation the Holy Spirit dwells in every believer and forms a more wondrous well-spring of wisdom than the wisest could have in the past age. Our Lord spoke of the believer when He said, “If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water” (Joh_7:37-38). Commentators have searched in vain for the scripture Jesus referred to. Might it be that Pro_18:4 (perhaps with other passages) was in the Lord’s thoughts when He spoke? Jesus verified the general testimony of the Scriptures by using the same figure to picture the truth He was declaring.
The thirsty soul finds in Christ the wisdom of God. Trusting in Him, the believer receives that divine indwelling which causes wisdom, as a flowing brook of living water, to flow from him for the refreshment and joy of other needy ones. See Stephen (Act_6:8; Act_6:10).
How often God, the righteous Judge, insists on impartial justice by those set to represent Him in the tribunals of men! And if He so clearly declares His abhorrence of false and biased decisions in the courts of the world, how very protective He must be concerning the judgments made by His saints! See His word through Moses and the later revelations through Paul (Deu_1:16-17; Deu_16:18-20; 1Co_6:1-7).
See Pro_26:20-22. The fool is ever ready for strife, and his mouth utters hasty and bitter words on the slightest pretext. His contentious lips call for severe rebuke and will be his own destruction, unless he is brought to repentance. He delights in slander and scandal, rolling evil tales as delicious morsels in his mouth, and fills his heart with what is unholy and perverse. He readily listens to the gossiper and as readily imitates his ways. Korah, Dathan, and Abiram were of this spirit (Numbers 16).
The spendthrift wastes his possessions, the lazy person wastes his time. Both come to poverty, as did the prodigal of Luke 15. The disobedient son of Mat_21:30 was clearly on the same road.
The name of Jehovah stands for the Lord Himself. To run into it, as into a strong tower, is to confide in Him in the time of trouble. This is the blessed privilege of every true saint. “Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep [i.e., garrison] your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Php_4:6-7). All that perplexes and oppresses the human spirit can be poured into God’s ear. Then the soul can leave all burdens with Him and can confide in His love. Thus the heart will be at peace, protected as in a garrisoned tower, however the enemy may rage. See a lovely picture of this in the tower of Thebez (Jdg_9:50-57).
The fortress of the man who trusts God contrasts sharply with the fortress of the man who trusts in his wealth. He does not know the name of the Lord, and in his conceit he thinks that he is forever secure. However his riches soon vanish away and leave him desolate and forsaken. How often did the Savior, when on earth, have to rebuke those who trusted in uncertain riches! See especially Luk_6:24 and Mar_10:24.
See note on Pro_16:18. It is needful that creatures so given to pride be reminded of its dire result again and again. It is a sure precursor of destruction. Humility, on the other hand, is the forerunner of honor. God delights to exalt the lowly.
The Hindu word for humility is said to be “the dust”; for it is a proverb among them that “you can walk on the dust forever and it never answers back.” Humility is self-forgetfulness-the spirit of meekness that is of great price in the sight of God. Weigh well His word to Barak (Jer_45:5). Notice how the first clause of the Pro_18:12 is exemplified in Uzziah (2Ch_26:16), and the latter in his son Jotham (2Ch_27:6).
An unwise person makes rash judgments, founded on one-sided evidence or formed by jumping to conclusions. He is ashamed when the case is thoroughly investigated, and he is found to have spoken without proper proof. Such judgments have not been uncommon, even among Christians who may well learn from this verse. But it is perhaps the young man who is especially vulnerable to this snare, particularly if he is too full of self-confidence. See David’s erroneous judgment as to Ziba and Mephibosheth (2Sa_16:1-4; 2Sa_19:24-30).
When Jehoshaphat put the singers in the forefront of the army Judah was victorious (2 Chronicles 20). When the spirit of praise fills the soul, one is enabled to rise above the infirmities of the body and the trials of the way. But let the joy be lost and the spirit be broken and defeat is certain. The saint can rejoice in the Lord, whatever his circumstances, if his line of communication with God is unbroken and his conscience is free. Joy in the Lord will make a victor of the feeblest. See Nehemiah’s word to the returned remnant (Neh_8:10).
The wise and prudent man seeks for knowledge, therefore he gets it. He does not haphazardly seek an accumulation of varied lore. Rather daily and earnestly he searches for absolute truth, as revealed in the Word of God. That search results in the enlightenment of the man of godly integrity. See Ezra (Ezra 7-10).
Contrast this verse with Pro_25:14. We may consider this verse from two standpoints: the natural and the spiritual. From the natural view, its meaning is plain. A man, by bestowing favors on subordinates, easily works his way into the presence of their master. This is a common procedure on the part of those who desire audiences where they are themselves unwanted. We need not dwell on it.
If, however, we think of gift in the spiritual realm it brings before us an important lesson. In the Epistles, the word gift refers to that which the ascended Christ bestows on His servants for the edifying of His mystical body (Eph_4:8-12). A gifted man does not need to force himself forward. His gift will open doors for him as truly as in the case of a material gift for a natural man. In other words, the man who has had a ministry committed to him by the Lord Himself need never be a groveling slave to the methods of the present age. Let him go on quietly in faithfulness, and the Master he serves will bring him to the front in due time if He would have him there at all. Self-assertiveness is the last thing that should be found in a servant of Christ. Humble obedience to his Lord, coupled with the loving desire to serve in His name and for His sake, should distinguish the gifted man above all else. See the prophet Amos (Amo_7:14-15).
See Pro_18:13. It is most unwise to hear only one side of a story and then give judgment on what has been presented. This is particularly true when it is a matter that is troubling the saints of God. Even with the most conscientious there is always the likelihood that only a partial account has been told. Therefore it is wise to hear both parties, and, if possible, to have them meet face to face. Most men can make out a good case for themselves if left alone; it has been natural for fallen man to justify himself since the day that Adam sought to throw the blame of his sin back on God. Therefore, to decide a case on one-sided testimony is almost certain to result in a miscarriage of justice. See Saul and Samuel (1Sa_15:13-14).
See note on Pro_16:33. When argument was in vain and differences seemed irreconcilable, the lot was resorted to as a final settlement. This was in a time when the written Word of God was not completed, nor the Holy Spirit abiding in His children. In this dispensation of grace the completed Word of God, ministered in the power of the Spirit, is given to us for a court of final resort.
Because of her sin Jerusalem was left with none to cast a lot to determine matters of controversy. Justice had been trampled on and could not be found (Mic_2:5). There is a warning for us in Jerusalem’s example, for if our ways are unrighteous, we turn to the Word of God in vain for guidance. “The meek will he guide in judgment; and the meek will he teach his way” (Psa_25:9).
See note on Pro_17:14. No tangles are so hard to straighten out as those between brothers who once were knit heart to heart in true affection. To win back a brother who has been offended is more difficult than to subdue a walled city. Each is likely to view all that the other does with suspicion and mistrust once confidence has been shaken. Entrenched behind the bars of wounded pride and unwilling to view the matter in relation to God, it will be impossible for either party to be overcome by grace and humility. How much easier it is to humble oneself at first than after months or years of strife! There are few quarrels that could not be settled in a very short time, if both parties agree to meet quietly before the Lord to look into their differences. But the opportune hour, once passed by, may not recur for a long season. Remember, when tempted to perpetuate strife, the dishonor that will accrue to the name of the Lord. Be warned by the unbrotherly example of contention between the men of Judah and of Israel with its sad consequences (2Sa_19:41-43).
He who scatters words with his lips will reap an abundant harvest: sinful words will lead to death, righteous words bring life. Words seldom fall idly to the ground. Uttered often in thoughtlessness, they take root and come to fruition most unexpectedly. A chance word, dropped casually to a stranger, may be the means of untold blessing. The soul of the one who uttered it rejoices when later he is told of the blessed result of his words. The man of God should be encouraged to spread the precious gospel of God as he steadily pursues his way through life. He may be assured that “with the increase of his lips shall he be filled” (Pro_18:20).
But if the words are evil, the harvest is just as certain; and it is well known that weeds and noxious plants flourish where nourishing fruits and grains cannot grow. The man of unholy lips will find abundant result from his reckless words and will as surely as the righteous man “eat the fruit thereof” (Pro_18:21).
Contrast the false teachers of 2 Peter 2 with the ambassadors for Christ of 2 Corinthians 5. Both will yet be rewarded according to their sowing.
It is not blind chance that unites congenial partners in the bonds of holy matrimony. A wife (not merely a woman) is a gift from the Lord and is an expression of His loving favor. Therefore a young man must seek the Lord’s guidance before he permits his affections to go out to a young lady. There would be fewer incompatible marriages if couples would allow God’s mind to direct them and not mere whim. Let the young Christian consider well whether the marriage he is contemplating is likely to prove an unequal yoke and a hindrance to spiritual growth, rather than a help. See Boaz and Ruth (Rth_4:9-12). Note the last clause of Pro_19:14.
There is an evil inclination associated with great wealth that, if not guarded against, dries up the milk of human kindness and hardens the heart against the needy. Let those whose temporal riches place them in the position to help the poor, remember that the ear of God hears every unheeded cry of the poverty-stricken. His eye beholds every ungracious action on the part of those who could relieve, but do not offer any help. See the parable of the implacable servant (Mat_18:23-35).
None complain so loudly of the lack of love and friendliness on the part of others as those who themselves show very little of either. He who busies himself to show love will receive it back again. He who is himself a friend will find friends to reciprocate his kindness. But the true Friend, as we saw in Pro_17:17, is always a friend. His heart is unchanged by the unfaithfulness of the objects of his devotion. He is the Friend that sticks closer than a brother. He always demonstrated love and grace in this world where all by nature were estranged from Him.
Let those who complain of lack of love on the part of fellow-saints imitate Christ’s holy example. Be concerned about showing kindness, not about receiving it, and “good measure, pressed down,… shall men give into your bosom” (Luk_6:38). See the good Samaritan (Luk_10:29-37).