RPM, Volume 16, Number 31, July 27 to August 2, 2014

Proverbs 15:20-24

Good Joy

By D. Marion Clark


What do you find joy in? Perhaps the answer to that question reveals who you are. Are you wise or foolish? Do you have it together or are you still missing what life is about? Are you at heart good or bad? What makes for a good time reveals what our minds and heart are made of.


20 A wise son brings joy to his father, but a foolish man despises his mother.

I want to limit myself to two observations of this proverb. The first is the impact children have on their parents. This is not the only proverb to make reference to this. Here are others:

A wise son brings joy to his father,
but a foolish son grief to his mother (10:1).

21 To have a fool for a son brings grief;
there is no joy for the father of a fool….
25 A foolish son brings grief to his father
and bitterness to the one who bore him (17:21,25).

This, children (both young and adult), this matter of parents being wrapped up in the lives of their children is a fact of life. That's the way it is. Yes, there are children who have suffered because Dad and/or Mom were too busy with their own lives, but then such parents are considered self-centered and foolish. It strikes us as unnatural for a parent not to care about his or her child's accomplishments or failures. There are also parents who have an unhealthy attachment to their children's progress in life, parents who basically try to live their own lives through their children, who make unreasonable demands on their children, and so on. But instead of striking us as unnatural, we regard such parents as unhealthy, out-of-balance, going overboard. Striking the right balance in our emotional involvement in our children is the ongoing tension in our lives as parents.

That's the way it is. It's a "parent-child thing." A wise son or daughter is the greatest joy a parent can have; a foolish one — as the proverb says — is grief and bitterness to a parent. Kids, you know when you think, "I'm going to get even with my parents; I'm going to do something that makes them feel bad"? Well, it works. They do feel bad. But the very reason they feel bad is because they love you more than anyone else — more than the honor roll student next door, more than their children's friends. The joy and the grief are so strong because the love is so strong; the love is so strong because, well, because a parent's love is so strong.

The second observation has to do with the curious insight of the second half of the proverb: a foolish man despises his mother. There are, of course, children (adult children included) who resent their mothers, but I'm not sure that the proverb means this. It is not saying that through wisdom one child thinks of a way to bring joy to a parent, but that a foolish child thinks of a way to despise him or her. It is the wisdom itself that makes the parent happy, and the foolishness itself that strikes grief, intentional or not.

The County Sheriff gave a speech impressing the value of the father's role in nurturing sons. For Mother's Day, greeting cards were offered to the male prisoners to send to their mothers. The prisoners eagerly took advantage of the opportunity to send expressions of their love to their mothers. The program was such a success that the prison offered the same opportunity for Father's Day. Few prisoners took part. The point was that poor relations between father and son often lead to the sons growing up bad. But think about it. What were the sons really saying to their mothers? "I love you, Mom, but your values of hard work, of sacrificial love, of being honest and decent are worthless to me. I like to take advantage of you having them, but I reject them." Ask any of those prisoners if that's what they think of their mothers, and you better make sure bars are between you! But that really is the message of their actions. To act the fool is to despise a good mother.

21 Folly delights a man who lacks judgment, but a man of understanding keeps a straight course.

The fool likes folly. He likes it! He is drawn by it. He envies others indulging in it. We are always asking of foolish people, "Why do they do that? Why are those kids taking drugs? Don't they know they are harming their bodies? Why do they drink? Why are they promiscuous? Don't they know they trouble they can get into?" One of my sisters was told me of a girl who, because she was speeding, was in a serious car accident and lost the use of her legs. After weeks of recovery, she has another car fitted for her handicap, and she now drives just as fast as she ever did. Why is she doing that? Because she delights in it.

The principle of the fool is "if it is fun, it is good." That is as deep of a philosophy of life as a fool can get. That's the problem of a fool — he can't get beyond his immediate sensations. "This feels good right now; it must be good." That's the problem of the speeding girl driver. Past experience should have taught her that speed, at least her speeding, will likely lead to disaster. "It feels good," is the best thinking she can do.

Besides the disastrous direct consequences of folly — disease, injury, and death, to name a few — the fool misses out on the real joys of life. Like what? Meaningful relationships that involve real love, trust, and joy; the joy of success as in a fruitful career, attaining high goals, making a positive contribution to others are some. They also miss out on the simple joys — games, jokes, and parties minus the dirt, suggestiveness, and outright meanness of folly's counterparts. Thirdly, they miss out on developing fully their talents and creativity. Bill Cosby made this point years ago criticizing modern comedy that depends on profanity and vulgar sex to get laughs. It takes less talent, less creativity to be dirty and get cheap laughs. Real quality, which gives satisfying, ongoing joy, requires greater effort and more discipline. It requires staying focused and keeping "a straight course." The wise person knows this. Stay the course.

22 Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.

This is a proverb that has fallen on hard times. Our society ingrains in our children the notion to follow "your own heart." You know what's best for you. We admire the decisive person, the person who doesn't rely on other people's opinions. The irony, of course, is that most successful leaders (success defined in getting ahead) get where they are by following popular opinion and being guided by opinion polls.

The lesson of the proverb is that the best decision maker is the best listener. A decisive person is a good leader if he is a good listener. A good listener even benefits from bad advisers, because he is able to recognize the bad advice and act opposite it. Indeed, sometimes we don't know the right direction to turn until we hear someone advocate the wrong direction.

The main advantage, of course, with many advisers is that they give a fuller picture of what all must be considered. For example, you may discuss with a friend the possibility of starting a business. That friend, who believes in your abilities, may encourage you to go ahead. But then, you ask someone with experience in that business, and he will give you issues to think about you never considered. You go to your mother, who is able to say, "Remember how you…" and that gives you further insight. The more advisers you seek out, the more insight you will receive as to what you need to think about.

Plans that come out of group strategy are more likely to succeed than those made by a single person. It is true that there can be too much advice and debate, but more often than not, the plans work precisely because they have already been tested within a group. This is why, by the way, it is important for the "advisers" to have diverse perspectives. If the many advisers all think the same way, their advice can be very dangerous, because they may reinforce bad plans. The best plans come forth after different advisers have been able to say, "Look at it from this perspective."

23 A man finds joy in giving an apt reply— and how good is a timely word!

Can you think of anything more delightful than to brighten the face of someone else because you said just the right thing she or he needed to hear? Have you ever gotten a card or letter or email from someone thanking you for your note that came at just the right time? Or maybe at just the right time you stopped some harm from happening because you brought someone to his senses when he was angry. Maybe you were the adviser that caught the defect in the plan that would have meant disaster.

You feel great! You feel great because you made the difference for good. Gossip that could have destroyed good relationships died because you said the right word. Someone filled with despair found hope because you spoke the needed word. Maybe you quoted or read scripture. Maybe you spoke with profound wisdom you didn't know you had. Maybe you communicated love just when it was needed. And if felt wonderful!

That's the joy the fool misses because his folly feels too good to let go of. And in his folly he is most likely saying the wrong word at the wrong time, hurting instead of healing, driving people to despair instead of hope, and simply missing all the opportunities to do good. He thinks the apt word is a stupid joke to make, that the timely word is a smart remark to put someone in his place. That's how he get his big laugh; that's how he misses time and again the deep, satisfying joy of speaking words of blessing. What great blessing of joy it is to speak such words.

24 The path of life leads upward for the wise to keep him from going down to the grave.

I think we understand the basic message. The contrast between life and the grave (literally, Sheol) is not physical, but spiritual and quality of life. Everybody wants to move up. According to the proverb, upward progression requires wisdom. The path of life requires wisdom to recognize the path and to stay on it.

Many people never recognize the path. They confuse it for the path of worldly success or the fun of folly. That is why it is so difficult to turn them around. They think they are fine. Turn around? Why, they pity those on the right path. This is the plight of fools. They think they have got life figured out and they scoff at those who are keeping the straight course. Others concede that they are not following the right path, but they are too weak, too susceptible to the fun of folly to stay the course. They know they are sinking but can't help themselves. Both groups of people still commit the same sin — they reject the path of life. Those who do not see the path, the Bible holds accountable for refusing to see; those who fail to follow it, the Bible holds accountable for getting the help needed. The wise follow the upward path, not because they are smarter and stronger than the others, but because they rely on the Spirit of God to give them wisdom and strength.


Thank God for his Son who walked the path of life even as it led to his death, for by his death the path of life is revealed, and we are enabled to walk it. Wisdom is knowing that it is by God's wisdom alone and the Son's keeping the straight course along that wisdom that we are given our own measure of wisdom for life.

Thank God for the joy he possessed in his wise and obedient Son, the Son in whom he was and is well pleased. Thank Jesus Christ, the Son, who delighted in doing the will of his Father, who for the joy set before him endured the cross on our behalf that we might have joy everlasting. Because of his redeeming work, God the Father now takes joy — it is essential to believe this — in us. Is that not an amazing thought?

I want to leave you with one other reflection. The world often looks upon Christians as joyless, not joyful, people. It is easy to see why. We reject the fun of folly which actually makes for a lot pleasant experience for us humans. Then we harp about sin. But as understandable their perspective, we know that the real contrast in not between those who have joy and those who put it off. It is really between shallow, even bad joy and good, everlasting joy. Thirty years ago, after I had made a visible profession of faith, my English high school teacher gave the class an assignment — to write and read in class a satirical essay. Here is what I read on the subject of joy.

I'd like to take this chance to thank a friend of mine who set me straight one day on how foolish this Christianity bit really is. Yes, I see now what he meant about my not knowing what I was missing. Do not worry though, my friend. Now I see the light. I realize now it was all in my head, a crutch for something on which to lean.

How silly I must have been to have those foolish little talks with God. I wasn't really happy; I didn't really get a feeling of security and contentment when I made those ridiculous little prayers. It was all in my mind.

No more though. My eyes have finally been opened. I'm too intelligent to believe in such a silly myth. I can see the dangers which I so narrowly avoided.

To think, I actually placed all my faith into something which wasn't real. I put my trust in something I couldn't see, and we all know if something can't be seen then it's not real. It must have been a psychological imbalance which gave the hope of a beautiful life by turning it over to some god. It must have been some mental disturbance which made me think I was happy, which made me in love with the world. Well, I know better now.

I see the dangers which were waiting to trap me. I know better than to trust something I can't see. I know better than to believe I have friends to whom I can trust anything with. It was this psychological problem which forced me to show my feelings to others and for the first time in my life (and the last) to tell them I love them. Of course, we know only too well what the disastrous results of doing that could be. Fortunately, I stopped before I had the chance of getting caught.

Now I am free though. I have broken the chains which bound me a slave to a god. Now I can really enjoy life. I'm going to do all those things everyone told me was so good. I'm going to go out and get drunk. Yes sir, I'm going to drink until I don't know what's happening. Because the way I've heard it, the more fun I have depends on the less control I have of myself, and if that's what they say, then it must be right. I'm really looking forward to those parties. It will be fun joining those contests to see who can throw up the fastest. For it's common knowledge that the sicker one gets, the more fun one must have had, even if one cannot remember what one did. That's what I've heard, and, of course, it must be right.

Of course, I need to learn to be real dirty, but then I don't need to worry much about that. I have plenty of friends to help me with that. It won't take long to learn all these cute little filthy jokes. Who knows, I'll probably learn to make them up myself and share them with my friends too. We can have contests to see who can be the grossest. Isn't that what fun is? Isn't it fun to talk about the girls we know and strip them of their dignity? It must be. There sure are a lot of laughs from it.

You know what will also be fun doing? Getting with a nice group of friends and picking one out that isn't there, and then just cutting him down. It's a great art to pick out someone's fault and rip them up. Now that's fun!

In other words, I'm going to be an individual. This life will become the only important thing to me. I'm too intelligent to believe in another world of complete happiness and eternity. To think, I actually believed I was going to one. What a laugh.

So now I make my plea to you so-called Christians. Get out before it's too late. You can't really believe you have a god inside you. It's not logical. You're not really happy; you just think you are. You've tot to depend on yourself. Putting your trust and love in others will only get you hurt, for, as everyone knows, we can only trust ourselves. We are all we got.
Subscribe to RPM
RPM subscribers receive an email notification each time a new issue is published. Notifications include the title, author, and description of each article in the issue, as well as links directly to the articles. Like RPM itself, subscriptions are free. Click here to subscribe.