Belching (Proverbs 15)

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Better out than in!  The famous response to a good long and loud burp. Of course burps and other wind related emissions tend to be signs of a badly troubled digestive system!  So I think we can easily get the point when the NLT colourfully renders Proverbs 15:2 as

The tongue of the wise makes knowledge appealing,
    but the mouth of a fool belches out foolishness.

What is on the inside will eventually come out and if instead of knowledge and gentleness comes foolishness, gossip and rage then that gives us a sense of what has been our diet. You will notice that Solomon picks up on that imagery of diet in verses 14 – 17. Is our priority to feast on joy, companionship and knowledge or do we love the junk food (trash) of gossip and slander?

This of course means that our spiritual diet needs to be governed first of all by the content, feeding richly on God’s Word, seeking to be well taught and secondly on the context. Is the context for where we hear God’s Word one in which there is true love, fellowship, humility and integrity? Sometimes I think we  risk emphasising one at the expense of the other. Yet, if we just focus on the context, seeking to be loving and kind, it will be like picking up the takeaway dish only to discover that whilst there is a beautiful sweet and sour sauce with the odd pepper and pineapple piece floating in it, someone has got there first and removed all the delicious pork or chicken. On the other hand, content without context, doctrines of grace without culture of grace are the equivalent of being thrown hacked up bits of raw, boodied or even frozen meat. It’s simply indigestible.

On a side point, I think this is why Christians attending churches at either end of the spectrum feel unfed. I am from a tradition where when we hear someone say “I am not getting fed” then we are likely to respond by saying “but we serve you each week with good meaty teaching.” However, what they are saying is “I can’t swallow it. Could you maybe cook it in the rich tasty sauce of a fellowship where real love is shown?”

Returning to our main theme, this helps us to see why the chapter can open with these words

“A gentle answer deflects anger,
    but harsh words make tempers flare.[1]

As always, we need to remember that proverbs offer general truth, not promises. Therefore, whilst it is generally true that by being calm, listening and responding gently that we can defuse a situation, it is also the case both that sometimes this will not work and sometimes a tough, straight talking response will shock the other party back into reality.

However, I also want to suggest that this is about the heart response. Remember that Jesus says:

“You have heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment.’[ But I say, if you are even angry with someone,[ you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot,[e] you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell.”[2]

This is one of a number of examples showing how true law observance is about heart attitudes not legalistic external appearances. The point is that the one who speaks gently is likely to reflect a gentle heart. It will reflect their diet of enjoying God’s Word and seeking out wise friendships.  It is not just that they will offer sweet sentiments in response to wrath. Rather, the angry person will recognise by the consistent, long term demeanour of the person responding that they can be trusted because they are compassionate, competent, and faithful.  It is those qualities that will defuse the situation.

Do you want to be a peacemaker? Do you want to be someone who offers encouragement, information and blessing in your words instead of belching out gossip, anger and nonsense? Well, the good news of the Gospel is that you can become one of those happy and wise people.[3] It is Jesus’ obedience on my behalf, his death on the cross taking away my sin and my belching foolishness which means that I can be clothed in his righteousness speaking his words of life and peace.

[1] Proverbs 15:1

[2] Matthew 5:21-22.

[3] Matthew 5: 3-10.

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