Proverbs 18:17

“He that is first in his own cause seemeth just;
but his neighbour cometh and searcheth him”

~ Proverbs 18:17

Though it should not be surprising, sometimes I am struck by how simple and profound Scripture is. Though Solomon refers to the “dark sayings” (Proverbs 1:6) of the wise, Scripture often speaks in very practical common man sort of terms. Consider many of the parables of Jesus; how He spoke of sowing seed, wheat in the field, trees, bread, etc. These plain words transcend culture and time. In modern day America, we have no problem understanding sowing seed even though it was spoken about in the first century by a Jew in Israel.

I am not saying that everyone understands all the spiritual import of such words, but the pictures used are very accessible because they speak to the common human experience. So, the Bible is not some dark, enigmatic ancient writing, though it is not without deep passages (2 Peter 3:16). It is ever fresh and relevant and sufficiently clear. Perhaps some other time it would be good to consider the perspicuity of Scripture, however let us now return to the text before us.

Our text is likewise plain and relevant. It obviously applies to proper forms of due process, e.g. governmental and legal proceedings, judicious proceedings within a church (Matthew 18; 1 Corinthians 6), etc. The verse refers to being careful to hear both sides of an argument. When a man first states his own case and that is all that is on the table, he seems to be right. This is generally true for a number of reasons. A couple of reasons for this are that one side of the story is not usually the whole story and additional information can throw new light on the situation, also a person will typically plead their own case with much pathos and paint themselves in a good light (this is not necessarily with a deliberate intention to deceive).

We must remember that this text is not just good advice from a smart and experienced fellow—this is the inspired Word of God. Scripture is to be applied neither arbitrarily nor unilaterally. Particularly for a Christian in some position of authority, we are to seek justice whether in a civil deliberation on a small or large scale, or within a church body, or within a corporation, or wherever else, and part of seeking such justice means taking all steps to ensure that as much as possible the whole matter is disclosed. To do otherwise is to be a shameful fool: “He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him” (Proverbs 18:13). This was the folly and shame of Potiphar when Joseph was accused before him. “And it came to pass, when his master heard the words of his wife, which she spake unto him, saying, After this manner did thy servant to me; that his wrath was kindled” (Genesis 39:19). He acted on the words of his wife without any other input and did a terrible injustice to Joseph.

The second part of the verse takes the concept further—“but his neighbour cometh and searcheth him.” The neighbor here could be one named in the suit, but that does not have to be the case. He may just be an objective participant or peer. The neighbor’s role is that he “searcheth” the first man’s claims. This word comes from the Hebrew chaquar, which primarily signifies to penetrate, to search, to search out, to examine. This word is used to speak of mining in the earth (Job 28:1-3), searching and exploring a land (Judges 18:2), tasting and trying drink (Proverbs 23:20). William Wilson said of this word, “The general import seems to be, to examine with pains, care, and accuracy, in order to make a full and clear discovery, or a complete, exact calculation” (Old Testament Word Studies, p. 373). The usage of the word here seems clear, when a man states his case, the matter is to be examined thoroughly and discovered, and the claimant is to be subject to cross-examination. If we go back to the example of Joseph, this is exactly what did not take place—the matter was not fully discovered and the accuser was not cross-examined.

A consistent application of this verse would likely curtail many frivolous charges that are put forth today. If a person knew their claim would be judiciously examined and they themselves would be subject to a serious cross-examination, they would be much less likely to make false charges or ones they cannot substantiate. In biblical language, such an accuser is called a false witness. The Lord gave this process for uncovering and dealing with a false witness (Deuteronomy 19:16-19).

Despite the problems of our country’s legal system, this principle is still effective when followed. Additionally, being faithful to this principle in the church would curb many of the problems that are so scandalous before the world and bring a reproach upon the gospel. Unfortunately, in this matter it is often true that “the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light” (Luke 16:8).

There are many applications of this passage but space and time will not now permit delving further into its riches. At least one application would be how we should respond when someone does not “take our word for it.” In other words, we should not be offended when someone wants to hear all sides and not just take action based on our report. In this circumstance, they are being more biblical than we if we are offended that the other side is inquired of.

Proverbs 27:17

“Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man
sharpeneth the countenance of his friend.”

~ Proverbs 27:17

“The words of the Preacher” on this occasion have to do primarily with fellowship. Generally, iron in the scripture denotes hardness and solidity. Iron is thought of as strong and unaffected by other materials. Hence, God told the prophet Jeremiah, “For, behold, I have made thee this day a defenced city, and an iron pillar, and brasen walls against the whole land, against the kings of Judah, against the princes thereof, against the priests thereof, and against the people of the land. And they shall fight against thee; but they shall not prevail against thee; for I am with thee, saith the LORD, to deliver thee” (Jeremiah 1:18-19).

However, when the iron file is rubbed on the iron blade, that strong iron blade is shaped and sharpened. And, so it is with man. No man is an island unto himself, independent and unaffected by others. No matter how strong he may seem to be, his fellow man may sharpen him or grind him down to slivers. Now, let us consider our verse to meditate upon and grow thereby.

In the first place, fellowship is necessary for us. Even when man was in a perfect state, with perfect communion with God, God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18). This was uttered before man fell. The man needed a companion, one of his own kind. He needed friendship and fellowship. Solomon observed that “one alone” was a “sore travail” and that “two are better than one” (Ecclesiastes 4:8-9). He goes on to support his claim by giving several evidences from his experience. Man needs fellowship and it is not good to abide alone. We need to be sharpened. The blunt instrument is of little use, and can actually be a hindrance, where a sharp edge is needed.

However, there are two types of fellowship: good and bad. Good fellowship is most profitable to us while bad fellowship is destructive. Realizing that our closest companions will exert a tremendous influence on us, they should be chosen with consummate care. Paul instructed young Timothy to “Flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart” (2 Timothy 2:22). He told Timothy to choose companions that were godly and spiritual, those that were following righteousness, faith, charity, and peace and calling on the Lord with a pure heart. He was to aim high in his choice of close friends.

Our fellowship should challenge and convict us. Our close friends should bring out the best in us. They should be honest with a sincere love of the Lord. In this way, we should sharpen one another. The writer of Hebrews wrote, “And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another” (Hebrews 10:24-25). We are to provoke one another to love and good works.

Our friends should bring us up to a higher and nobler plane. Solomon wrote, “He that walketh with wise men shall be wise” (Proverbs 13:20). David proclaimed, “I am a companion of all them that fear thee, and of them that keep thy precepts” (Psalm 119:63). The new members of the first church “continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship.” They continued “daily with one accord,” and God blessed them greatly (Acts 2:42, 46).

However, we oftentimes err in our choice of friends by aiming far too low. We do not want someone that is going to challenge us and convict us by their life. We just want a good-time buddy that does not expect much from us. This buddy lives to a much lower standard than we believe we should and keeps our thoughts and affections on things below, not above. We will probably justify this friendship by thinking that we will have a good influence on them and help bring them up. In fact, the very opposite is true. They are going to bring us down. Paul wrote, “Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners” (1 Corinthians 15:33).

In reality, this friendship is enjoyable to the flesh. We do things with them that we would not normally do. We easily allow them to coax us into wrong. We feel like that we have some sort of license with them because they have no conscience. Let us be warned, knowing that God brought judgment upon Jehoshaphat causing his enterprise to fail because of his evil association with Ahaziah (2 Chronicles 20:37). Likewise, our bad friendships will bring us to ruin. Solomon warns us “a companion of fools shall be destroyed” (Proverbs 13:20). Let us then heed his wise counsel when he says, “Forsake the foolish, and live; and go in the way of understanding” (Proverbs 9:6).

In the second place, we see the aspect of accountability in good fellowship. That iron blade left to itself will go dull. God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18) before the man fell and had evil sinful desires in his flesh. The man needed accountability.

Without accountability in good fellowship, a man will usually go one of two ways. One way is he will begin “to think of himself more highly than he ought to think” (Romans 12:3). He begins to become his own standard of measure. He will look down on others that do not do every little thing the way he does them. He may even begin to dismiss everyone else as not being orthodox or sound enough. He has no respect to cultural differences that are not violations of Scripture and thinks his way is the only way.

The other way is he will run into sin freely. Having no restraints, he will run to excess. That lack of fellowship and maintenance of a high standard will cause deterioration of his moral principles. He will rationalize and justify a loose lifestyle, with no one to check him. This is one reason why we are such undisciplined eaters. We either have no accountability at all, choosing our food foolishly or else when that accountability is momentarily absent, we cheat and either way we fail.

In conclusion Christian, are your friends propelling you to greater heights in your service to God, or are they hindering you and holding you back? Do they provide accountability and help you to live up to a higher standard? If they are hindering you, you need new friends. If they are a true blessing to you, you should thank God for them, cleave to them, and sharpen one another. God help us to find safety in a multitude of wise counselors!

Proverbs 28:26

He that trusteth in his own heart is a fool:
but whoso walketh wisely, he shall be delivered.

~ Proverbs 28:26

Certainly, a uniquely wise man, like Solomon, is qualified to identify a fool. In the verse before us, he calls such a one as trusts in his own heart, a fool. The Hebrew word batach, here rendered “trusteth,” means “to be reliant, trust, be unsuspecting.” The word implies a great confidence even to the point of blind trust. It seems to have the sense of being careless or thoughtless. The idea is of one who without question follows the tendency of his own heart. Maybe you could say, “He flies by the seat of his pants.” You might also say of one, “He follows his gut instinct.” Either way, he follows his own instincts without deliberation or contemplation of the Word of God. He lives a carefree, spontaneous life. However, this man is a fool. “The prudent man looketh well to his going” (Proverbs 14:15). Let us now consider this great folly.

In the first place, the heart is not a good guide. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). The heart of a saved man, while he continues on this earth, has not been glorified. He still has the flesh with which to contend. We should never look within ourselves for guidance. “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: All these evil things come from within, and defile the man” (Mark 7:21-23).

Only God knows the depth of depravity to which the human heart can descend. The flesh is still sinful and therefore cannot be trusted. Paul said, “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing” (Romans 7:18). The flesh is to be mortified not trusted. The blessed man of God “walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly,” even if that counsel issues from his own heart.

Secondly, our emotions are bound up in our hearts. I fear that far too many Christians live according to their feelings. I had a conversation once with a certain saved woman. We were in disagreement about a subject. I quoted plain scriptures. She responded with, “I understand that, but I feel… Yes, but I feel… Well, I feel… etc.” If we base the interpretation of scripture upon our feelings, we have a very fluid theology that more resembles the shifting sands than the solid rock that Christ claimed wise servants to be building upon.

Christianity does not preclude all emotions, but it is not founded upon our feelings. A saved man that is sick does not feel very good. Does this mean his religion is vain? In the mind of some charismatic heretic, maybe it is, but not according to God’s Word. True religion is based solely upon “Thus saith the Lord,” and not our feelings. Our emotions swell and rescind like the tides, but God’s Word is forever settled in Heaven. How I feel does not change God or His Word in the least. Lazarus did not feel very good laying at the gate, competing with stray dogs for dinner, yet “now he is comforted,” and that rich man that felt so good faring sumptuously every day is “tormented.”

In the last place, we see the man that walks wisely. Our verse says, “But whoso walketh wisely, he shall be delivered.” The fool trusted his own heart and the wise man placed his trust elsewhere. He heeds the admonition found in Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” He forsakes the dubious counsel of his heart for the “sure word of prophecy.” “But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night” (Psalm 1:2). He looks well to his own goings. He considers his path in the light of God’s Word. He declares confidently, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path” (Psalm 119:105). It is not his intelligence, experience, reason, or feelings that he depends on, but rather the infallible “counsel of God.”

The wise man walks “not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (Romans 8:1). In regeneration, we receive the Spirit, the divine principle of life within us. To walk after the Spirit, we must deny the lusts of the flesh. If we are walking satisfying the flesh, we are not walking after the Spirit. “There is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death” (Proverbs 16:25).

The wise man will not trust his flesh to be his guide. Neither will he glory in the flesh if he walks a path that is right. He well ascribes all the glory to God knowing, “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:13). Let us put our full trust in Christ and sing the old song.

‘Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus, Just to take Him at His word;
Just to rest upon His promise, Just to know “Thus saith the Lord.”
Jesus, Jesus, how I trust Him, How I’ve proved Him o’er and o’er!
Jesus, Jesus, precious Jesus! O for grace to trust Him more!

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