RPM, Volume 15, Number 29, July 14 to July 20, 2013

Proverbs 16:25-30

By D. Marion Clark


We have had proverbs about sweet-talking. Now they turn to bad breath.


25 There is a way that seems right to a man,
but its end is the way to death.

With apologies to Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley, let me read (not sing!) a famous song that this proverb sets itself against.

My Way

And now, the end is near;
And so I face the final curtain.
My friend, I'll say it clear,
I'll state my case, of which I'm certain.

I've lived a life that's full.
I've traveled each and ev'ry highway;
But more, much more than this,
I did it my way.

Regrets, I've had a few;
But then again, too few to mention.
I did what I had to do
And saw it through without exemption.

I planned each charted course;
Each careful step along the byway,
But more, much more than this,
I did it my way.

Yes, there were times, I'm sure you knew
When I bit off more than I could chew.
But through it all, when there was doubt,
I ate it up and spit it out.
I faced it all and I stood tall;
And did it my way.

I've loved, I've laughed and cried.
I've had my fill; my share of losing.
And now, as tears subside,
I find it all so amusing.

To think I did all that;
And may I say - not in a shy way,
"No, oh no not me,
I did it my way".

For what is a man, what has he got?
If not himself, then he has naught.
To say the things he truly feels;
And not the words of one who kneels.
The record shows I took the blows -
And did it my way!

This song could be the anthem of modern man. Is there anything more important, more glorious than going through life our way? Is there anything more terrible than not living by the expectations of other people? According to our proverb, we might want to consider how important death is. In this case, it means spiritual, or utter death, not merely the passing of mortal life. Imagine a student pilot refusing to listen to his instructor, telling him, "I've got to fly my way." As he dives to the ground, do you think he comforts himself by saying, "At least I did it my way"? When the author of the song faces the final curtain and states his case of which he is certain, do you think he really will be so certain as he stands before God the Judge?

Often there is a way that seems right but ends in trouble and even death. All the more reason we need to go beyond what seems right and look to better guidance. For the scripture writers that means going to God's Law or Word. Psalm 119:105 sums it up well: Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. Sometimes God's Word may not be specific enough for a decision we must make. In such a case, Proverbs would have us seek counsel: Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed (15:22).

The point is this. We've got to take into account that we are creatures of the Fall. We live in a fallen world and are ourselves "bent," as we would be described in C. S. Lewis' world of Malacandra. What seems right may very well be the course that leads to death, because the world itself is out of kilter and sets up illusions for us as to what is important, as our song demonstrates. Furthermore, our hearts are tainted with corruption so that, in contrast to what our culture teaches us is the one thing we can trust — viz., the heart — is what we must be most careful to examine to see if it is trustworthy. And then there is Satan and his forces who are clever and seek through subtle means to lead us astray.

26 A worker's appetite works for him;
his mouth urges him on.

Our appetite motivates us to produce. At its basic meaning, hunger will drive even the laziest of persons to work to satisfy his hunger pain. How can you get a stubborn mule to walk? Hold an apple in front of him. It is a basic principle that success is predicated on hunger. It has become a sports cliché. Who will be the winner depends on who wants to win the most, who is the hungriest.

If appetite is a powerful motivator to work, then the control of one's appetite is important. The degree of the appetite and the direction of the appetite must be considered. An appetite for food is essential for getting the proper nutrients for our bodies. A person with a poor appetite is likely to be malnourished. However, too strong of an appetite can lead to overeating with the health problems it brings. Likewise, a poor appetite for what makes a comfortable and secure life can lead to poor work habits, leaving individuals and their families in poor conditions. But too great an appetite for wealth and luxury can lead to out-of-whack work practices and the breakup of relationships. Too little an appetite and too much of one each brings their share of troubles, whatever the appetite is for. That is the point of Proverbs 30:7-9:
7 Two things I ask of you;
deny them not to me before I die:
8 Remove far from me falsehood and lying;
give me neither poverty nor riches;
feed me with the food that is needful for me,
9 lest I be full and deny you
and say, "Who is the LORD?"
or lest I be poor and steal
and profane the name of my God.

In the same manner, the direction of the appetite is significant. An appetite for financial security produces one pattern of behavior, an appetite for a happy family produces another. An appetite for a comfortable life produces certain behavior, while an appetite for serving God's kingdom yet another. For which are you hungrier — a pleasant, comfortable life or a productive, meaningful life? These things are not necessarily opposed to each other, but the appetite for one over the other will determine how you live.

Likewise, your appetite for God will affect how well you know and serve him. Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good (Psalm 34:8). If you find the taste of the Lord good, then your appetite will spur you on to know him better. How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! (Psalm 119:103). If that is your experience with God's Word, then your appetite for his Word will lead you to read and study it. Try as much as you will to worship and serve God out of duty, you will never do a good job. An individual is spurred on by his appetite.

We now come to a set of proverbs about bad persons. First, let's consider the labels given to such individuals. One is a "worthless man" (v. 27). The root of the adjective is just what the word says, worthless. It is used for garments that are worn out and no longer useable. The worthless man is good for nothing except to do evil. The "dishonest man" (v. 28) is also translated as "perverse" in other translations. He is a person who distorts the truth. Then there is the "man of violence" (v. 29), who, as the adjective makes clear, seeks to harm others. This is a bad group to hang around with! Consider what they are up to.

27 A worthless man plots evil,
and his speech is like a scorching fire.

Literally, the worthless man digs up evil. Like an archeologist diligently digging for precious artifacts, he labors to come up with something evil to do. Talk about bad breath, his is like scorching fire. He uses speech for wicked ends, to do harm.

28 A dishonest man spreads strife,
and a whisperer separates close friends.

The dishonest, or perverse, man is not merely one trying to protect himself. We often lie with the motive to protect ourselves from trouble. This person is trying to cause conflict between others, even close friends. Such a person spreads gossip, "suggests" concerns about the motives and characters of others, like the villain Iago who leads Othello into jealous rage against his devoted wife Desdemona.

29 A man of violence entices his neighbor
and leads him in a way that is not good.

The man of violence is enticing his neighbor into a trap where he can then commit his act of violence. Cain led Abel into a field to kill him. Joab took Abner aside in a private area and then slew him. The way that is not good is a way that is harmful for the person being enticed. As just noted, he may be attacked by the enticer, or the enticer is leading him into a place where the victim causes his own harm, such as when one person entices another to do something foolish on a dare or with a promise. "Come on, let's race. We're not going to get in trouble. Are you chicken?" "Do you want to try something that makes you feel good?"

30 Whoever winks his eyes plans dishonest things;
he who purses his lips brings evil to pass.

Certainly nothing is new under the sun. Here we have an ancient proverb teaching us how to spot deceit. I have been listening to a tape by a modern expert on the same subject, and he mentions facial signals as well. Winking one's eye does not necessarily mean dishonesty, nor does pursing the lips mean one must be evil. The proverb is simply warning us to watch out for deception and foul play. Pay attention to the signals that indicate we are being conned or lured into a trap. It is the same type of advice parents give their children:

"Watch out for the stranger who offers you candy and a ride in his car."
"Don't trust someone who claims to be your friend but won't look you in the face."

It is not a safe world, and one must be street-smart to handle the many attempts to con and harm us.


How is your appetite? What are you hungry for? The answer to that question determines how well you will follow all the other proverbs. Let's say your appetite is primarily for personal gain in this life — how to be as successful as you can. That certainly affects how you perceive what is the right way to follow.

You are a business person. You have an opportunity to close a lucrative deal. You just need to offer a "gift" to the individual who makes it happen, or perhaps you need to fudge a little bit on the truth. What's the right way? Bend the rules a little and you are on the road to success. Keep squeaky clean and you stay in your rut.

You are a student. You must pass your course to graduate. You are right on the borderline between passing and failing and the difference lies in the paper you must write. What does it hurt this one time "getting help" online or from a "friend"? So it is not your work. This one time bend the rules to get by a meaningless course to get a very meaningful degree. Doesn't that seem the right way?

The examples could go on. In every area of life there are rules that can be bent. Most of us are not thieves and swindlers. We do not plot how to take advantage of others or how to bend the rules. Nevertheless, we continually have decisions to make about the right action to take, most of which we do unconsciously according to our appetite, i.e. our motivation. If our primary motivation is our own success, then we will have developed an unconscious pattern of promoting and protecting our interests through means that we would recognize to be wrong if those interests were not at stake.

Perhaps your appetite is for reputation. The Pharisees had an appetite, they thought for piety, but in reality was an appetite for appearing pious. In other words, their reputation was their appetite. It takes other forms, as when a person speaks of his honor being what he values most.

I don't want to be misunderstood. It is good to have a good reputation. Proverbs 22:1 says, "A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches." Being successful is good. Much of what Proverbs is teaching has to do with how to be successful and how to avoid pitfalls. A person who follows the wisdom of this book should find personal success. The problem comes when our appetites are not right.

Should you try to be your own unique person, doing things the way that God has made you? Sure. Don't try to be who you are not. But you've cross the line when your pride in life is that you did things your way. You ought to have a measure of ambition, of wanting to be successful in whatever you do, but you've gone too far when your desire for success overrides what is just.

Justice matters. Morality and ethics matter. Loving one's neighbor as oneself is what counts. Loving God, desiring God to be glorified is what our catechism so well says, our chief end, the purpose for which we are made. That is what we need to have an appetite for. If we desire to glorify God, knowing and choosing the right way becomes far simpler than what we imagine. It is not nearly as difficult to know the just thing to do when one lacks the appetite for greed and pride. When a person is more concerned about doing what is right than with appearing to be right, he will know and choose the right way.

These bad guys in verses 27-30 believe they are following the right way for themselves. They like the evil they do, and they sincerely believe that their way is good for them. They believe the "good" people are either suckers or hypocrites only pretending to be good but as mischievous as themselves.

Finally, are you on your guard for those who would lead you astray? The reason these last proverbs are given is to warn you about people who do want to take advantage of you. Be wise; don't be gullible. People want your money, and they don't have to muggers who hold you up with a gun to get it. They can call you on the phone and talk you into giving your money to them for a product or service you don't need or that is phony. They spend lots of money on advertisements to create in you an appetite for things you not only need, but make you miserable. As Proverbs 16:29 says, they "entice" you. Why threaten you when they can entice you to give your money away. There are many people out there with bad breath but cover it up with a breath freshener. They have disguised the reality of the bad germs they have. Be on your guard.

Be on your guard even with your friends. Indeed, "friends" are the most likely persons to lead us astray. People like doing bad things with companions. It is more fun to do wrong with others and who better than with friends. We are capable of all kinds of immoral, unethical, and even hurtful activities when we are with friends. Activities that normally would cause us shame become jokes to share when done together.

Be on your guard even for those who dress in robes of moral and religious authority. That certainly is a lesson learn by many Catholics unfortunately, but the reality is that wolves can be dressed in sheep's clothing in every religion, and we have to be smart. We are only fooling ourselves if we think that the sins of the world do not exist in the church. Bad breath can plague a church with gossip, slander, resentment, pride, greed and so on. Bad teaching has ruined many people trusting what was taught, but not discerning between truth and falsehood. And again, often they are not discerning because their appetites for vanity and personal success are being fed.

The truth is we need to be on guard with ourselves for our bad appetites — wanting what we should not want, and disdaining what we should be craving. Thank God that like a good mother, he gives his children what we need and not necessarily what we want. I take comfort in that because my appetite is as bad as anyone's. I like rich food; I like to be prosperous. I like fattening food; I like to be puffed up with pride for my name. I'm not good at reading warning labels and ingredients labels. I just go for taste, which itself is not very discriminatory.

Thank God for the gospel where he saves sinners like me and in which he protects me from my own sins. Thank God that he patiently pushes me back on the right path and off the many harmful paths that look great to me. Thank God that Jesus Christ walked the right path never swerving, never having an appetite to do anything but his Father's will, so that sinners like me, like us, may not have to labor in vain for God's favor, but receive from him freely the bread of life that truly satisfies and the living water that wells up to eternal life.

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