International Sunday School LessonStudy Notes
Lesson Text: Proverbs 15:21-33Lesson Title: Teaching Values
As you study the Book of Proverbs you will notice that it is hard to find an all-encompassing theme for any particular portion of the book. Many of these chapters are collections of stand-alone proverbs covering a number of topics. But the verses we are studying today focus on the importance of teaching values. The sound moral values taught in our lesson text boldly contradict the foolish and corrupt values taught by the world.
Had we lived one hundred and twenty years ago we would not have heard the plural noun “values,” meaning the moral beliefs and attitudes of a society. Until then the word “value” was used only as a verb meaning to value or esteem something or as a singular noun, meaning the measure of a thing, for example, the economic value of money, labour or property. The change came in the 1880's when the German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche began to speak of values as moral beliefs and attitudes. Nietzsche used the word “values” consciously, repeatedly and insistently to signify what he took to be the most profound event in history. His “transvaluation [to evaluate by a different standard] of values” was to be the final, ultimate revolution against Christian ethics. Neitzsche believed that with their death would come the death of truth and above all any morality. There would be no good or evil, no virtue or vice but only values that were personal and subjective. Then, at last, Neitzsche believed, humanity would be freed from the prison of virtues and morality.
Whether we admit it or not, we teach values every day in our communication through life and lip. In addition, book stores, libraries, the internet, and other media sources are filled with resources that contain what the world calls “value teaching” material. This material covers topics which include courage, determination, love, faith, respect, friendship, trust, honesty, loyalty and commitment. Admittedly, much of this material is positive and productive for society. In fact, a lot of this material has the Bible as it root source, although the world would quickly deny it.
Although there is a heightened awareness in our society that there is something missing with how we are raising our children, the solutions about how our children learn values is elusive at best. In some cases, parents equate buying things for their children with caring for them. Success seems to be the goal in life without regard for character and truth. America faces a crisis in moral character and the teaching of values. Without a return to the Bible that crisis will only worsen. The Bible has played an integral role in teaching values that formed our nation and our personal lives. It is the only reliable source for teaching values.
“Folly is joy to him that is destitute of wisdom” reveals the startling fact that the foolish man finds pleasure in doing his evil deeds. “Destitute of wisdom” literally means “void of heart or understanding, lacking, in need” (Proverbs 10:23). We live in a culture that makes a joke out of everything! The sins and misfortunes of notable figures and the common man is nothing more than fodder for the late night television comedians. Solomon says a man that has no “wisdom” is in the same shape. His foolishness is “joy to him.” Their sin is their joy.
Illus. Herod Antipas, who murdered John the Baptist and mocked Jesus, is an example of those who are destitute of wisdom. Jesus called this Herod a fox (Luke 13:31-32).
“…But a man of understanding walketh uprightly.” A man who has a biblical understanding of truth will walk in the right path. This statement also implies that the foolish man in the first part of this verse is going the wrong way. Solomon, in this statement joins the psalmist who prays, “O that my ways were directed to keep thy statues!” (Psalm 119:5).
Illus. Joseph of Arimathaea, who was at Jerusalem during Jesus’ trial, is an example of those who have understanding and walk uprightly (John 19:38).
“Without counsel purposes are disappointed: but in the multitude of counselors they are established.” The words “counsel” and “counselors” in this verse does not refer to the secular professional counseling that is offered by the world. The word “counsel” is from a Hebrew word that means “being brought close together for the purpose of secret communication and teaching.” It is instruction that it done in confidence. Solomon is saying that without teachers and parents to take us aside and privately and confidentially giving us instruction from God’s words, the “purposes” of life will be “disappointed” or frustrating and meaningless. This is a critical area where teaching of values has failed. We have bought into the idea that everyone’s opinion and conclusions carry as much weight or authority as the word of God. They don’t! It is still beneficial to “counsel” our children and those we love.
“…In the multitude of counselors they are established.” The word “counselors” in this verse is from a different Hebrew word which means “to share direct to the point information.” This contradicts a popular counseling technique today which defines the counselor’s role as one of neutral observation, someone who simply listens and reflects back what the other person is saying, without making any judgments or offering truth. Solomon is saying that it is beneficial to have a “multitude” or “abundance” of people and resources around you to do more than listen to you. We need wise teachers and parents to teach biblical truth. The results will be “they are established.” That means “they will be able to stand.” Our children and families will never be able to stand in this corrupt world without the input of wise teachers and role models in their lives. It is horribly frightening to think of the people who are influencing our children!
“A man hath joy by the answer of his mouth: and a word spoken in due season, how good is it!” The good counsel of verse 22 will result in “joy” or “gladness.” Compare this to the foolish man of verse 21 who gets his gladness from his foolish and sinful ways. There are few things in life that bring greater joy than to receive the right “answer” to life problems. It’s a joy to know that the truth of God’s Word will never lead us astray. “A word spoken in due season, how good is it” is a reminder that good counsel from those around us at the proper time in our lives is such a blessing. It takes wisdom to say the right thing at the right time and in the right manner.
Illus. In the early days of the Dallas Cowboys football team, things didn’t go very well. They lost numerous games and people blamed Coach Tom Landry. His critics accused him of not having enough enthusiasm and not pumping his players up with “stirring words” before the game. On one particular game day, the sportswriters were stunned when the Cowboys came roaring out of the locker room and running across the field to the sidelines. When the reporters asked Coach Landry what he said in pre-game to produce so much enthusiasm, Landry replied, “I told them the first eleven guys from the offense and defense that made it to the side lines got to start!”A word “spoken in due season” does have benefits!
Teaching values means we must communicate truth with our “mouth.” That’s the meaning of “word spoken in due season.” It is “good” or “pleasant and beneficial.” The family blessings of the Old Testament hinged on a word being spoken. Abraham spoke a blessing to Isaac. Isaac spoke it to his son Jacob. Jacob spoke it to each of his twelve sons and to two of his grandchildren. Esau was so excited when he was called in to receive his blessing because, after years of waiting, he would finally hear the blessing. My point is, in the Bible, a blessing is not a blessing unless it is spoken. Don’t expect your children, your friends, your students in Sunday School class or anyone else to just accidently develop values. They must be taught!
“The way of life is above to the wise…” means the wise man chooses the path of life that takes him “above” or upward toward the Lord. Choosing the “way of life” that leads upward toward the Lord may be difficult and challenging at times but it also has its benefits. “That he may depart from hell beneath” means the upward life preserves from destruction. “Hell” is the Hebrew word sheol, meaning “underworld, grave, or pit.” Solomon, in spite of all his sinfulness and often times sensual living had enough wisdom to understand this truth.
Evolution teaches that we are all on an upward path. The Bible refutes that theory and so does human history. All men are lost in sin and totally unable to save themselves (Ephesians 2:5). Those who live without the truth of God’s Word find themselves ever on a downward spiral that eventually leads to eternal destruction. The Bible says, “…evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse” (2 Timothy 3:13). People aren’t getting better they are getting worse. The only cure for that is salvation through Jesus Christ (Luke 19:10).
“The LORD will destroy the house of the proud: but he will establish the border of the widow.” Jehovah will “destroy” or literally “tear down” the dwelling place of those who exalt themselves against Him. The proud, self-confident man, with his household, family and possessions shall one day be brought down (Proverbs 16:18). Nebuchadnezzar prided himself in the splendor of his palace and magnificence of his royal city. But he was driven from it to dwell among the beasts; and years later after his death, his family was also rooted out of the world, and great Babylon was brought down (Daniel 4). Let us never be vain and proud of anything, unless we wish to lose it! God hates pride (Proverbs 6:17).
In contrast to the proud, the Lord “will establish the border of the widow.” “Border” is a reference to “landmarks.” God is emphasizing His special love and care for the widow (Jeremiah 22:3). Proud and powerful people in Israel often stole land from widows who were vulnerable and unknowledgeable about property lines and landmarks. God is promising to take care of the weak and vulnerable. God will step in. It may seem at times that He is not aware or that He does not care. But He does.
“The thoughts of the wicked are an abomination to the LORD: but the words of the pure are pleasant words.” This proverb is contrasting God’s estimation of the “thoughts of the wicked” and the “words of the pure.” Solomon has already told us that the way of the wicked is detestable to God; and here he tells us that even his “thoughts” or, “the evil he plans to do” is an “abomination.” “Abomination” means “disgustable.” God knows what evil men are thinking before they ever speak them (Psalm 139:2; Matthew 12:25; Luke 6:8).
“But the words of the pure are pleasant words” literally means “the word spoken by those cleansed by the Lord are soothing and comforting. How do we become “pure” or “clean?” The psalmist said, “Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to thy word” (Psalm 119:9). The word “pure” also carries with it a ceremonial emphasis. By that Solomon is saying that the words of a man who speaks from the purity of a saved heart is the same as an acceptable offering being offered to the Lord.
“He that is greedy of gain troubleth his own house; but he that hateth gifts shall live.” This is such a needful value and truth in our generation. Greed seems to have a monopoly on our culture. Whether it is greed by violence, a feeling you are entitled, greed expressed through gambling, or just wanting something for nothing, our society needs to understand that it always results in “trouble.” “Troubleth” means “disturbs.” When a man attempts to gain a profit unjustly or by methods outside of biblical boundaries he also harms himself and his “house” (Proverbs 28:20).
This is the second time “house” has been mentioned in our lesson text. It is also mentioned in reference to the “house of the proud” in verse 25. While the Lord will destroy the house of the proud the greedy man will destroy his own house. “But he that hateth gifts shall live” means “the nongreedy person who “hateth gifts” will continue to “live.” “Gifts” here refers to “bribes.” A man living by the truth of God’s word refuses to allow the world to bribe him with dishonest gain in order to advance in this world.
Illus. The prophet Jeremiah gives us several illustrations of this proverbs (Jeremiah 17:11; 22:13-19)
Illus. Achan (Joshua 6:16-19; 7:1-26)
“The heart of the righteous studieth to answer: but the mouth of the wicked poureth out evil things” reveals the truth that the “righteous” and the “wicked” verbally respond in different ways and with different words. The “heart” speaks of the “mind, will, emotions, etc., which all are a part of what comes out of the “mouth.” The “righteous studieth to answer.” That means those who are saved “ponders, meditates, studies, thinks about” the answer or conclusion they give about a matter before speaking it openly. On the other hand, “the wicked poureth out evil things.” “Poureth out” means “gush, let it flow.” Their conclusions just spew out without rhyme or reason (Proverbs 15:2). Hasty words cheat the mind, betray the heart, and ruin lives.
It is a sin to think we always have to have a quick answer. Sometimes as parents we feel like we should have the answer immediately. There is nothing wrong with taking time to pray, seek counsel (verse 22), and waiting upon the Lord before we rush to a conclusion. In matters of great consequence we should use patience and wisdom before we answer. Nehemiah prayed to the Lord in the presence of the king of Persia before he answered his question (Nehemiah 2:1-4).
“The LORD is far from the wicked: but he heareth the prayer of the righteous.” “Far” means “at a distance, remote.” The “wicked” who is “pouring out evil things” (verse 28) does not have the compassionate ear of the Lord. However, “he heareth the prayer of the righteous” (Psalm 145:18; James 5:16). This is a statement of fact. Knowing the Lord hears our prayers is a source of encouragement and confidence. Be sure to thank Him for hearing your prayer even when you don’t feel like He has.
“The light of the eyes rejoiceth the heart…” obviously speaks of being able to see. In this context it refers to the ability to see the wonderful works of the Lord through His creative work and His written word. The psalmist said, “The entrance of thy words giveth light…” (Psalm 119:130). Jews considered the eye to be the entrance to the mind and soul. To be illuminated to God’s truth “rejoiceth the heart.” It makes us glad!
“A good report maketh the bones fat.” In biblical times, to be “fat” was to be healthy. “Bones” refer to our physical bodies. Solomon’s point is that a “good report” makes a person feel healthy and strong all over. This “good report” is based on counsel that establishes (verse 22), words spoken in due season (verse 23), pleasant words of the pure (verse 26), answers well thought out (verse 28) and prayers that are heard (verse 29). Reports that are missing these ingredients do not produce the kind of results that cause us to be strong and healthy. Could this be why the world is so weak and sad? What is there about the evening news that would make anyone feel good? What economic report or empty political speech could possibly result in strength and hope? But God’s Word, that “good report” results in strength and spiritual health.
“The ear that heareth the reproof of life abideth among the wise.” Having an “ear that heareth” means that you have a teachable spirit and attitude. Behavior can only change as a result of listening. You can make a child sit down. You can make a child come to Sunday School and church. But you can’t make them listen! It is only the “wise” who have ear that will obey the corrective and instructive word of God. Pray that the Lord will give you a teachable spirit.
“He that refuseth instruction despiseth his own soul…” are sobering words. “Refuseth” means “ignores, lets it go.” “Instruction” refers to “discipline.” An individual who ignores God’s discipline and correction of his life “despises” or rejects his own desire and purpose as a human being. These are tough words. To think that a man is such an enemy to himself that he will not allow himself to be taught wisdom is a staggering thought. Job 11:12 says, “For vain man would be wise, though man be born like a wild ass's colt” (Job 11:12).
“…But he that heareth reproof getteth understanding.” “Reproof” is “correction.” Someone willing to be corrected by the word of God will receive “understanding.” The Gospel message begins with reproof (John 16:8). We are all sinners (Romans 3:23). Some men never get beyond that. They reject the fact that there is not some good in them, something they can bring to the table of salvation to be credited to their account. The social gospel that is so popular today is void of any reproof. Therefore, there is no biblical salvation.
This proverbs reminds us of Paul’s words to Timothy when he said, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
This proverb compares two synonymous phrases to say that the fear of the Lord is, in essence, humility. Just as the fear of the Lord teaches wisdom, it also assures honor. “The fear of the LORD is the instruction of wisdom; and before honour is humility.” “Fear” is “a reverential awe of God.” A healthy fear of God is the foundation necessary to create a humility in God’s presence.
“And before honour is humility” means before we can know the “honour” or the glory of being righteous before God, we must humble ourselves before Him. The honors of this world are shallow and short-lived. Sometimes men push themselves into high positions but they can as quickly and easily be removed. But think of a young man in the Bible named David, who thought himself quite unworthy to be a king. Yet, because of his humility and fear of the Lord, God exalted him to the throne of Israel.
What values are being taught in today’s lesson? The value of understanding is taught in verse 21. Knowing the scriptures is a rare but necessary thing in this life. The value of wise people around you is taught in verse 22. Don’t neglect, ignore, or overlook those God has placed in and around your life. The value of carefully selected words is emphasized in verses 23 and 26. And what about wisdom in verse 24; trust in the Lord in verse 25; honesty in verse 27; righteousness in verses 28-29; a teachable attitude in verse 31-32 and humility in verse 33.
Our lesson text today reminds us that God despises a number of things about people who refuse to live their lives based on His Word. And God is very clear in revealing how life will end for those who live by their own values and standards. But for those of us who know Him, He promises joy, establishment, protection, and a life that is far above that of the wicked.
God has drawn a clear line when it comes to His values and standards. When we submit ourselves to God's righteousness, He is pleased by our commitment to live for Him. We can express that commitment in our acts of worship and by the way we think and conduct our lives. And remember, the way we worship, think, and conduct our lives is teaching values.
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