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Where Understanding and Discretion Leads

Proverbs 2:11 says, "Discretion will watch over you, understanding will guard you" (English Standard Version). I love the way that Scripture does this at times. We call them anthropomorphisms. It is what we call it when something that does not have human characteristics is used to illustrate a point. Cartoons are a great example of this in a physical sense. One of my favorites is the old Disney adaptation of Robin Hood, where all the characters are animals. The animals that are used to depict the various characters tell the audience something about the character. For example, the royals, John and Richard, are lions. The lion is the king of the jungle, and in the case of the movie, they are the rulers of England. Proverbs illustrates another type of anthropomorphism. Here, two metaphysical concepts (philosophical concepts beyond the physical world) are given physical attributes. Understanding is described as having eyes to watch over you, and discretion is described as a guard.


Going A Little Deeper


As the passage continues, the writer of Proverbs uses the initial description of understanding and discretion to show their importance. Understanding and discretion are concepts that closely relate to protection. When we have understanding and discretion, we will be protected from all manner of craziness. Proverbs 2:12-15 lists some of the more critical things that understanding and discretion protect us from. Things like "The way of evil," "Men of perverted speech," and "Men whose paths are crooked." It is essential here to understand something about the point of the book of Proverbs. It is not saying that those who have perfect understanding and discernment will never run into problems. The life of our Lord should demonstrate this clearly. He was perfect in every way, without sin, and yet evil men attacked him constantly. Proverbs teaches us that when we gain understanding and practice discretion, we can avoid falling into many evils. It tells us that understanding and discretion protect us from becoming the person who walks the path of the wicked.


The Company We Keep


A recurring aspect of understanding and wisdom in Proverbs is being watchful of who we hang out with. Paul states the idea clearly in his letter to the churches in Corinth. He writes, "Do not be deceived: "Bad company ruins good morals" (1 Cor 15:33). Proverbs states it by saying that understanding keeps one from the way or path of those who rejoice in doing evil. To put it another way, if we thought about things and were doing what we were supposed to be doing, that is, gaining understanding and practicing discretion, then we would not end up on the path of the wicked. The thing about the path of the wicked, the crooked paths, is that they are hard to get off of. It is hard to give up a bad habit or to get rid of something you enjoy, even if you know it is harmful. This is especially true when we talk about a person.


Gaining Understanding


Even without all of this, it would be clear that understanding and discretion are important. It is hard to accomplish anything if we do not have some level of understanding. We would be unable to talk to people if we did not understand the language. Discretion tells us that it would not be a good idea to say certain things to certain people. Proverbs tells us that we need to have the right kind of understanding. It does no good to understand English if you are in a place where everyone speaks Cantonese. Paul is again helpful. He writes, "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect" (Romans 12:2). Later in one of his letters to Timothy he writes, "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work" (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Simply put, we gain understanding and discretion through the faithful study of scripture.


Seek The Lord


The key verses in the Book of Proverbs tell us that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and understanding. If we have a right fear of the Lord, then we will also have a desire to understand what he has for us. We will want to do his will. If we are Christians, this proper fear and willingness to obey him must come from a place of gratitude. Using the scripture language, we love him because he first loved us. Because he has saved us from our sins, we seek to obey all that he has commanded. Notice how everything comes back to the gospel. Every aspect of our lives revolves around what Christ has done. His finished work on the cross sets free unworthy sinners. To quote the old hymn, "Nothing in my hands I bring, Simply to thy cross I cling" (Rock of Ages). Seek the Lord. Seek his understanding. Seek to renew your mind through regular study and exposure to scripture so that you will be able to test and discern what is good.


Soli Deo Gloria

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