8A man will be commended according to his wisdom, But he who is of a perverse heart will be despised. 9Better is the one who is slighted [despised] but has a servant, Than he who honors himself but lacks bread.
Paul writes in Romans 8:29 that God has predestined His people to be conformed to the image of His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. The Proverbs assist us in that process, directing us in the way of wisdom and teaching us what it is to imitate our Lord’s character. Today our passage contrasts the man who is commended with the man who is despised.
On the one hand, a man will be commended according to his wisdom. Normally, people commend those who act wisely – those who offer good counsel, who guide their affairs with discretion, who demonstrate competence in their field, who show loyalty to their family and friends. The degree of wisdom the person manifests determines the extent to which he is commended. So Pharaoh exalted Joseph to be second in charge in Egypt; the Queen of Sheba extolled Solomon as the greatest of monarchs; Nebuchadnezzar promoted Daniel to be the chief administrator over all the wise men of Babylon; and even Jesus’ enemies declared, “No man ever spoke like this Man!” (Jn 7:46) A man will be commended according to his wisdom.
On the other hand, he who is of a perverse heart will be despised. Normally, people despise those of a perverse heart – those who seek their own advantage, who boast in their own achievements, who over promise and under deliver, who demonstrate incompetence in their field. The degree of perversity the person manifests determines the extent to which he is despised. So Jacob despised Esau who sold his birthright for a pot of stew; Abigail despised Nabal who foolishly insulted the kindness of David; Jeroboam and the Israelites despised Rehoboam for listening to the counsel of his young friends; and our Lord Jesus despised the deeds of the Nicolatians, a heretical movement in the early church (cf. Rev 2:6; 3:15). He who is of a perverse heart will be despised.
In our day, there are many who complain about this dynamic of being commended or despised. Shouldn’t we just be nice? But Proverbs reminds us that such categories are inescapable. After all, should we commend or despise those who aren’t nice? It is not whether we commend some people but which people we commend; it is not whether we despise some people but which people we despise. Hence, when people argue that we shouldn’t despise anyone, they are trying to deceive us – and, according to Solomon, should be despised.
So what of you? Do you want to be commended? I hope you do. So are you striving for wisdom so that you can earn such commendation? It will not come just because you are who you are. It will only come as you manifest wisdom in your actions. So notice our second Proverb: “Better is the one who is [despised] but has a servant, Than he who honors himself but lacks bread.” Normally, it is the wise man who is commended and the man of perverse heart who is despised. But it is better to be wise and have people despise you than to think lots of yourself when in reality you are a worthless chump.
So are you striving to become a wiser man or woman? Striving to become a better husband, a better wife, a better father, a better mother, a better son, a better daughter, a better neighbor, a better friend? Are you striving to gain more skill in your vocation? Striving to become a better teacher, a better plumber, a better accountant, a better electrician, a better housewife, a better manager, a better officer, a better nurse, a better engineer? Luke tells us that Jesus “grew and became strong in spirit, filled with wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him” (Lk 2:40). Is that true of you? If not, then don’t be surpised if others despise you and lightly esteem you. It’s your own fault.
Reminded that we are to pursue wisdom in order that we may be commended and not despised, let us acknowledge that we often think much of ourselves while lacking substance and skill. And as we confess our sin, let us kneel as we are able. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.