He who separates himself seeks his own desire,
He quarrels against all sound wisdom.
There is wisdom in separating from the evil patterns of the world so as not to make provision for the lusts of the flesh (Romans 13:14). There is wisdom in pursuing truth and taking the narrow road even when the majority are taking the highway to hell (Matthew 7:13). However, there is not wisdom in rejecting good counsel and the wise advice of others and going off and doing something against God’s will. This is quarrelling against sound wisdom. It is wise to seek out others who love God and keep His commandments, and that association is an encouragement to help us continue to persevere in good works (Hebrews 10:24-25).
2 A fool does not delight in understanding,
But only in revealing his own mind.
Those who are wise listen to the Scripture and to those who speak according to it. Fools do not delight in understanding and being transformed according to the Bible. They are interested only in what their own mind tells them even if it is contrary to God’s Word. They follow the natural sinful bent of their fallen heart, and they boast in their own pseudo-wisdom. Their opinions are unchangeable because of their stubbornness and callousness to the truth. They are eager and ready to share their opinions with no regard for whether they are true or not. If they cared about truth, they would be more interested in seeking understanding, which they are not.
3 When a wicked man comes, contempt also comes,
And with dishonor comes scorn.
People may align themselves with wicked people out of fear or greed, but wickedness does not bring with it any honor but only contempt, dishonor, and scorn. Wickedness is typically recognized as the cheap, shallow, shortcutting method, and it does not carry the respect that those who work hard, maintain honest character, and care for others typically receive even from the world. Ultimately, however, we should be more concerned with what God thinks, for He will judge the living and the dead.
4 The words of a man’s mouth are deep waters;
The fountain of wisdom is a bubbling brook.
What we say is important and powerful. James compares the tongue to a small spark that can start an entire forest on fire or to a small rudder that can steer an entire ship (James 3:4-6). The tongue can do great damage and lead others astray, or it can help others navigate safely through life and into eternity in heaven. Like water continuously and faithfully bubbling through a stream, there is always wisdom to be found from the Lord for those who are humble enough to seek it and receive it. (see also v. 21)
5 To show partiality to the wicked is not good,
Nor to thrust aside the righteous in judgment.
Partiality in judgment is the sign of an unjust judge. The God of the universe is completely impartial, and Christians should reflect His nature by not showing personal favoritism (James 2:1). It is wrong to unjustly accuse the righteous, and it is wrong to fail to impart justice to the wicked.
6 A fool’s lips bring strife,
And his mouth calls for blows.
7 A fool’s mouth is his ruin,
And his lips are the snare of his soul.
8 The words of a whisperer are like dainty morsels,
And they go down into the innermost parts of the body.
The fruit of the lips can either be praise to God and the edification of others, or it can be destructive, insulting, and without thanks toward the Lord. A fool’s speech always brings strife because he enjoys division, destruction, fighting, and taunting God and His people. His speech will prove to be his ruin because it is evidence of a person who has not given control of his heart to the Lord. It proves that his soul is snared by the devil. Some try to stir up strife by slander, gossip, and spreading rumors. It can make one feel really important to be privy to something that is none of his business. Gossiping is not viewed highly in the Bible (Proverbs 20:19, 1 Timothy 5:13, Titus 2:3), for it is a sign of wasted time and effort, it is evidence of a lack of discretion, it is indicative of a condescending attitude, and it is indicative of hearts that would rather analyze others than deal with their own hearts. But it can make a person feel a lot better about himself just by contrasting himself to others who are more dysfunctional. We should not try to evaluate the state of our hearts in light of another person’s failure as if we are rejoicing in their errors, but we should look into the mirror of God’s Word and come away changed ourselves. We need the food of God’s Word, not the morsels of self-deceit.
9 He also who is slack in his work
Is brother to him who destroys.
Some people out of selfishness just enjoy wrecking things, while other people enjoy doing nothing and being lazy. One breaks things, while the other does nothing while they rot and decay. Neither are doing God’s work or laboring honestly, and both are dishonoring God by the course of their lives.
10 The name of the Lord is a strong tower;
The righteous runs into it and is safe.
11 A rich man’s wealth is his strong city,
And like a high wall in his own imagination.
12 Before destruction the heart of man is haughty,
But humility goes before honor.
The righteous puts his boast and confidence in the Lord Who is his strong tower. He rests in God’s protection, while a self-confident man puts his boast in his money. He thinks it will keep him safe, and he is fully confident in his own ability to protect himself, in this life and in the next. But his wealth is no protector, for it can be here one day and gone the next. It is like a high wall only in his imagination. Wealth offers no protection against the wrath of God, and on earth it is prone to being stolen and to rot and decay (Matthew 6:20). But the proud keep boasting in their own strength, possessions, and accomplishments, and they will be brought low by their own eventual destruction. Those who humble themselves now under God’s mighty hand, resting in Him for protection, wisdom, and strength, will be exalted at the proper time (1 Peter 5:6, Galatians 6:9).
13 He who gives an answer before he hears,
It is folly and shame to him.
Cutting a person off when they are sharing something with us is rude, shameful, and lacking wisdom. It communicates that we are not interested in what they have to say and that we don’t care. It says that we like what we have to say more than we like being sure that we understand their needs and predicament. It says that we are too ready to fix them by hammering them with Scripture before mourning with them and being compassionate. It also speaks of an attitude that is not interested in learning and which thinks it knows it all already.
14 The spirit of a man can endure his sickness,
But as for a broken spirit who can bear it?
Physical sickness and pain is difficult, but it can be endured, especially if one has a proper faith in God and an eternal perspective (2 Corinthians 4:17). It is possible to maintain a good attitude and a thankful heart even despite health conditions, albeit very difficult. This verse is not minimizing the challenges of enduring health complications, but it is pointing out that a broken spirit and downcast heart is more damaging. It can take a toll on a person’s physical well-being, and it can make a person shut down and fall apart more quickly and more powerfully than a sickness, disability, or disease. Dealing with physical ailments is one thing, but dealing with the heart attitude and the proper mindset is another altogether. Christians must focus on guarding their hearts and encouraging the hearts of others, particularly in times of distress. Persevering well also means holding tightly to the hope that God cares, that God rewards, and that God is faithful. Hope is the antithesis of despair, even in times of physical sickness. We may not get better, and we may even get worse physically. Our bodies decay day after day, but God renews the inner person each day with mercies anew (2 Corinthians 4:16). With Him as our confidence and strength, we can honor Him in sickness and in health. The joy of the Lord is our strength (Nehemiah 8:10).
15 The mind of the prudent acquires knowledge,
And the ear of the wise seeks knowledge.
Wisdom is vindicated by her deeds, meaning that those who seek out understanding and knowledge prove that they have wisdom already driving that pursuit. Fools don’t bother to seek out ultimate answers, but the wise keep seeking, asking, and knocking as they study the Word and look to the Lord for wisdom. Wise people recognize when they lack wisdom and ask God for it, knowing and believing that He will supply it to them. Fools bask in their folly because they prefer being in perpetual error and sin.
16 A man’s gift makes room for him
And brings him before great men.
People can buy their way into influence and prominence, for people like bribes and gifts. This doesn’t mean that it is always wrong to offer a gift or expression of good will, but it does point out that human nature enjoys receiving things before giving something out in return. It is often money that gets a person a seat at the table of other influencers and people in positions of power. Gifts do hold power in terms of the way the world works.
17 The first to plead his case seems right,
Until another comes and examines him.
A person can seem innocent based upon telling very convincing stories and lies, but upon further examination and some tough questioning, the truth can come out.
18 The cast lot puts an end to strife
And decides between the mighty ones.
One way the Lord spoke in the Old Testament was through the casting of lots through which God’s will would be clearly defined (see also notes on Proverbs 16:33). Now, we have the whole Bible to use for making decisions (Hebrews 1:1-2), and by harmonizing ourselves with what the Bible says, peace can be achieved. The Bible stands in authority over all men, even the mighty ones. God cannot be bought off, and we don’t need to bring a gift to sit at His table. His Word stands in judgment over us all, and Christians must make their decisions and establish their theology based upon the whole counsel of God. We are sanctified in the truth which is the Word of God (John 17:17). It must always have the final say.
19 A brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city,
And contentions are like the bars of a citadel.
We need to be very careful with the relationships that God has given us in life. We are stewards of these family bonds, friendships, and other connections. We need to recognize that each life impacts the next, and we need to avoid sinning against our brother, our neighbor, and our fellow man. When we do err, we need to go to the one we have sinned against and, in true repentance, seek their forgiveness by explaining how sorry we are and that we see that we what we did was wrong. We should do whatever we can to restore the relationship and fix what was lost. By God’s grace, relationships can be restored, wounds can be healed, and contentions can be resolved. God’s grace is needed because sometimes the invisible bars of rejection can be far stronger than the walls of a strong city.
20 With the fruit of a man’s mouth his stomach will be satisfied;
He will be satisfied with the product of his lips.
A wicked person who enjoys creating strife through his words will be pleased with the results of his sinful efforts. A righteous person will rejoice when truth that is spoken leads to encouragement and to life for the hearers. He will find that his hunger for righteousness (Matthew 5:6) results in deep soul satisfaction as he reaps according to what he has sown.
21 Death and life are in the power of the tongue,
And those who love it will eat its fruit.
A small rumor can divide a church, destroy a relationship, or set the world to war. It can also bring the world to peace, restore a relationship, and unite the body of Christ. The words we choose are powerful, and we are responsible for everything we say. We will reap according to how we sow, so we need to make sure our speech sows seeds that point to eternal life and godliness. (see also v. 4)
22 He who finds a wife finds a good thing
And obtains favor from the Lord.
A godly wife is a gift from God in this life (James 1:17), and no amount of money or influence can buy or merit such a gift. It is the grace of God that provides a godly woman for a godly man. The Bible does not tell people that they must get married, but those who do marry a godly spouse have done well. This doesn’t mean that a single person cannot have the favor of God, but it means that marriage is something that pleases God and that He desires to bless. He is pleased when marriage reveals His selfless love, and when children are raised up according to Biblical principles.
23 The poor man utters supplications,
But the rich man answers roughly.
Not every person who is rich is cruel to the poor, but it is not in the nature of fallen man to be generous to the poor. Sure, some people enjoy charitable giving for causes that they care about, for garnering the favor of a deity or their church, or for the honor it brings them. But actually loving the needy with the love of Christ is dependent on first knowing the love of Christ (1 John 4:7-8). This is rare and specific to the Christian (John 13:34-35), and it is a great testimony that opens doors for the gospel (Matthew 5:16). The church should not forget the poor because they need the gospel just as the rich man does. Favoritism is not becoming of the Christian.
24 A man of too many friends comes to ruin,
But there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.
That which is popular is not necessarily right, and those who do whatever they can to get people to like them will find that they have to compromise their heart and soul. Wealth can buy a lot of friends (Proverbs 19:4), but they will be gone as soon as the money dries up. A true friend is a valued relationship because it is not dependent on circumstances but upon real love, care, and concern. A person is rich in terms of friends even to have one such friend who is trustworthy and loyal like a brother (Proverbs 17:17).