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By Jeff Smith
Special to The Preview
What makes any church a good church is sometimes a tough process.
Solomon talks about this in his wisdom scriptures. I’ve been plodding through them every morning, coffee cup in hand, and they never cease to amaze.
I am in chapter nine of his Proverbs and this chapter is a crowning point of his ideas on what it means to be wise.
The first six verses of this chapter talk about wise or foolish ideas ruling us as a houseful of people, rather than just one of us. It’s like a feast that others would want to be invited to. So if a bunch of us are not as foolish as we once were, and we all get together, it’s a good thing.
Then, this happens. This is the next step. Brace yourself.
Wisdom says, “He who gives teaching to a man of pride (or arrogant cynic) gets shame for himself; he who says sharp words to a sinner (or wicked person) gets a bad name. Do not say sharp words to a man of pride, or he will have hate for you; make them clear to a wise man, and you will be dear to him. Give teaching to a wise man, and he will become wiser; give training to an upright man, and his learning will be increased. The fear of the Lord is the start of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One gives a wise mind. For by me your days will be increased, and the years of your life will be long. If you are wise, you are wise for yourself; if your heart is full of pride, you only will have the pain of it.” Proverbs 9:7-12.
So, what goes on in this group of wise people? Well, there are some arrogant cynics there. Some are simply wicked. Sharp words are being said, and hatred and slander result. If I read this right, a proud person has just been told that their problems are their own dumb fault. Others are wise, upright and are willing to learn. Their friendships go deeper because, when the issues are clear, they learn from them, even if it hurts. Someone is patting himself on the back for doing something wise. All have been told that they should be so scared of God that they should quit doing the mean, selfish, evil things they often do to get their way. Only then will they start to learn something.
Welcome to church.
This passage describes a process that we all sort of know about already. We may not be this blunt about it, but if we are wise, we see what is going on in our midst and where the actions of some could take us as a group. A well-applied label, used for a little while, tempered with grace, can be a very good thing. Churches gather troubled people under one roof, me being one of them, and inspire them to greatness. It is the most thrilling process in the world. Non-churchgoers ought to go, just to catch the action.
Is this healthy?
It seems painful.
At times, yes.
Does it work for all?
“But I thought we should all just be nice to each other,” someone says. Not if we want to stand for something.