RPM, Volume 16, Number 33, August 10 to August 16, 2014

Good Learning

Proverbs 15:30-33

By D. Marion Clark


When I became the principal of a small high school, I thought about the question of what links the different academic classes together? What common discipline is being taught in English, Science, History, and Mathematics? Besides covering very different fields of knowledge, they also require different ways of thinking. One cannot address the significance of a military battle, for example, as one tests the significance of a mathematical theorem. Testing a scientific hypothesis requires different mental processes than gauging the quality of a poem. But what they all do have in common is that to do well in any of them, one must develop the ability to listen and observe well. If one doesn't hear what is being said, then he will fail whatever the subject may be. Conversely, if he does learn to listen and perceive, he will succeed.

The same holds true outside the classroom. Those who succeed, i.e. succeed in living life wisely, are those who have learned to listen well under all manner of instruction — pleasant instruction and that not so pleasing. We will hopefully practice good listening to what these proverbs have to teach us.


30 A cheerful look brings joy to the heart, and good news gives health to the bones.

How is your health? Young people don't think about this too much, but it is a major topic item for us who are moving up in years. There are any number of body parts for us to worry about. The heart and the bones rank right up there at the top. They control much of our eating habits. We take pills and supplements to protect them or strengthen them. We exercise for them. This proverb gives two practices that make a significant difference for them.

The first is a cheerful look. The Hebrew says "the light of the eyes gladden the heart." We speak of the "gleam in the eyes." It is the look that expresses happiness, approval, love, fun. It is the look of approval that the young student hopes for in the teacher as she looks over his essay, or that the child hopes for in his parents' eyes as they read the card he made.

It is loving look a couple in love or long married couple give to one another both alone and in a crowded room that assures each other of secure love. It is the mischievous gleam in a friend's eye who shares a secret with you, her special friend. It is that brightening of the eyes of your friend or loved one, because you just came into sight. Or perhaps it is the look of forgiveness and reconciliation after a period of tension. How wonderful it is to see the light in people's eyes whether they are for you or you just happen to be around. Cheerful looks — bright eyes — have good effects on the heart.

For the bones, good news are very helpful. The Hebrew phrase is "makes bones fat." We may not want to be fat, but we do want strong, healthy bones, which is what the phrase means. What is the "good news"? Like the look, it can be many things. Perhaps it is the long-awaited letter from a loved one; perhaps the good news of being accepted to college, or getting the job offer, or having one's proposal for an idea accepted. It may be the good news that the cancer is gone or that one's favorite team won the championship. Whatever it is, good news has a powerful way of removing stress and making us feel better.

The simple, yet profound principle is that joy is a powerful, if not the most powerful, ingredient to a healthful life. Joyful people tend to live longer and healthier while being productive than gloomy people do. People can be productive without joy. Fear, anger, greed, pride, hatred, jealousy, competitiveness — all these things can motivate people to produce. But there is something about joy that the other motivators lack, which can be detected at the times in a person's life when he becomes reflective.

The joyless person will say something like, "I wish I had taken the time to…" To what? Perhaps to enjoy the pleasure of a cheerful look. Perhaps to enjoy the good news of a new baby or the hometown team victory. No matter what the joyless person achieves, he always feels a sense of loss. He is missing something; he may not even be sure what it is, but something is not quite right.

Now someone may object that the same is true of joyful people. They may be joyful, but because they prize happiness so much they miss out on achieving great things. They are not willing to suffer; not willing to lay aside small pleasures for hard-won accomplishments. Or they stay joyful because they refuse to hear the bad news. They refuse to hear about suffering in the world. They will only listen to good news, only look at the bright eyes.

Such an objection is well taken, but that is not the message of this proverb. The "cheerful look" and the "good news" are not trivial forms of entertainment; they are not devices to blind us and deafen us from sad and bad realities. They are, rather, the nurturing elements that sustain us through the sufferings of this world. The best of men and women who have devoted themselves to working for justice and ministering to the suffering, need the cheerful looks and good news from others to keep them going. The child, in order to become an adult who can persevere through trials, must along the way be nurtured with bright eyes and encouraging words. Just as a healthy plant must have a measure of light and water to be durable and fruitful, so a person needs a measure of cheerful expressions and good news.

The next three proverbs share the common theme of learning.

31 He who listens to a life-giving rebuke will be at home among the wise.
32 He who ignores discipline despises himself, but whoever heeds correction gains understanding.
33 The fear of the LORD teaches a man wisdom, and humility comes before honor.

It is important first to establish what kind of learning. We have talked about this before. Proverbs is concerned not so much with obtaining lots of information as in wise application of knowledge. Even then, the wise application has to do with how one lives one's life in an ethical, godly manner. Consider the introduction of the book:

The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel:
2 for attaining wisdom and discipline;
for understanding words of insight;
3 for acquiring a disciplined and prudent life,
doing what is right and just and fair;
4 for giving prudence to the simple,
knowledge and discretion to the young—
5 let the wise listen and add to their learning,
and let the discerning get guidance—

That this kind of wisdom — how to live a good life — is the goal of proverbs helps explain the type of instruction and the reason why such instruction is resisted. Consider the type of instruction. There are reproof and correction, which are actually the same Hebrew word. There is discipline. The Hebrew word for instruction is also the same word translated in verse 33 for teach. The instruction that is being viewed in these verses involve the uncomfortable element of being corrected. We are not given the image of a teacher imparting information, giving a lecture. Rather, the teacher is in some manner correcting the errors of the student. The teacher is telling the student that he is wrong.

Perhaps the teacher is nice and gently points out the error; perhaps she gives what the English word indicates — a rebuke. Whatever the case, she is telling the student, "You are wrong and you need to change." That kind of instruction people have trouble receiving. Most of us don't like being corrected, certainly not rebuked, and we don't like being disciplined. Learning is one thing; being corrected is another.

Again, what makes the correction difficult is what is being corrected. This is not the case of a keyboard instructor correcting a student as to which finger should hit a particular letter. What are being corrected are values — the right way to live. The student is being told that he is lazy and needs to be more disciplined in his habits; he is being told to correct his tongue; he is being corrected in the way he spends money and uses his time. He is being rebuked for his anger and for lying. Every correction is a statement that something is wrong with him, and not simply wrong but bad. Dogs can handle well being told, "Bad dog!" Most of us have trouble being told, "Bad person!"

Besides hurting our feelings, such instruction is hard to receive because of the humble position we must assume. Verse 33 picks up on this: humility comes before honor. Good learning requires humility, and it is a humbling experience to accept any form of correction, but especially a rebuke. Not only are we acknowledging that we are wrong, but we are having to acknowledge that the person giving the rebuke is right.

But however difficult receiving correction may be, doing it well is essential to gaining wisdom.

31 He who listens to a life-giving rebuke will be at home among the wise….
32 whoever heeds correction gains understanding….
33 The fear of the LORD teaches a man wisdom….

It is essential because all of us wrong, some of us more than others, but all of us in some way throughout our lives. All of us have our blind spots; none of us reach a stage in which living right becomes automatic. The reason for this is that we all remain sinners. Remember, proverbs is not addressing how wise we are in figuring out algebra problems; it is addressing how wise we are in living right, and none of us have that down pat. Correction is always needed in some area of our lives, and we must be able and willing to listen when we receive it no matter by whom it comes or in what form.

Even a fool can be right sometimes, and the wicked can point out or bring out things about us that we need to change. Can we listen? Can we push our pride aside and examine ourselves in light of the correction? How well have you been doing that as we study the proverbs? When the proverb speaks of what the fool and the wicked do or don't do, have you been able to humble yourselves enough and see how those harsh words might apply to you? It is easy to think of others who need to hear these words; it requires the great power of listening to hear them for yourselves.

Now, if listening well gains wisdom for oneself, refusing to listen brings harm. The phrase in verse 32 — he who ignores discipline despises himself — is the Hebrew form of the expression, "you are only hurting yourself." Germane to the term for "despise" is the concept of rejection. Thus, to ignore discipline and correction is to reject needed help. It is to reject what could make a real difference in our lives. We might think we are looking out for our best interests when we ignore correction. "I don't need anybody telling me what's best for me. I can trust my own heart." In reality we are rejecting what is needed for our interests.


As we look back over these proverbs, here is the first practical application I want to give you. Indeed, I am exhorting you as your minister to do this. Do not let this day go by without putting into practice verse 30. You must either give a cheerful look so as to brighten someone else, and/or give some good news. Maybe you are to do it for someone in this sanctuary. Maybe it is for someone waiting at home or wherever you might go today. Maybe you need to get on the phone or send an email or write a card. Whatever the news might be and for whomever, do it today. We all need good news and bright eyes; we also all need to share good news and bright eyes.

The next thing I want you to do is to consider how good a listener you are. Are you listening? I want you to consider how well you listen to what God wants you to hear? We who follow the Lord, who treasure his Word can be poor listeners. Jesus' disciples who loved him and were more committed to him than we are could not hear him preach the gospel. They could not hear him speak of the redemption he would procure on the cross; they could not hear him speak of his resurrection; and they could not hear him after his resurrection tell them to share the good news with the Gentiles. They could only hear what they had predisposed themselves to hear. Learn from their bad example to hear the full counsel of God, not just what they thought was relevant to their situation. Remember this. Essential to good learning is listening to everything God has to say to us, not just what we think we need to hear.

Then to those who have yet to receive the gospel. That term literally means "good news," and yet most people choose to reject it. Dozens of reasons are given, but the Bible gives one as source for them all — pride. Being a good listener to what God has to say requires humility more than anything else. The fear of the Lord of verse 33 could be rephrased "humility before the Lord." "What do I have to be afraid of," is the all too common response. "If I've got to be afraid of him, then he is not a God I want to worship." And so they reject God whom they do not know and his gospel that they do not know, all because they refuse to do what they must — humble themselves to listen. Humble themselves to hear that they are sinners, that, yes, they deserve condemnation, that they are helpless to help themselves, that no, they are not wise nor good enough to be accepted by God, that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.

Sometimes even good news is difficult to hear. The good news of the gospel can be difficult to hear because our confession of our helplessness is too hard to make or the promises of the free gift is too incredulous to believe. But, to borrow a phrase from Jesus, let him who has ears hear; may we all hear the rebuke, the discipline, the good news that come from God and live.

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