Wisdom and Scorn

Scorn is the belief that you’re better than other people. Scoffing is the verbal result of such belief. It is speaking scornfully.

Proverbs has a lot to say about scorn and scoffing. For instance, Proverbs 21:24 says:

“Scoffer” is the name of the arrogant, haughty man who acts with arrogant pride.

The arrogant man has an exaggerated sense of his own importance. The haughty man views others as beneath him. The scoffer puts these two qualities together and acts on them. He thinks highly of himself, lowly of others and lives accordingly.

Proverbs 3:34 and 24:9 say,

Toward the scorners [God] is scornful, but to the humble he gives favor.

The devising of folly is sin, and the scoffer is an abomination to mankind.

In other words, life is lonely for scornful scoffers. They are scorned by God and despised by people. We don’t want to be in this condition. So the question to ask is this: Am I a scornful scoffer?

The Scorn Identity

Here’s a five point test from Proverbs to help you answer this question. Please pray before reading and allow the Holy Spirit to reveal what’s in your heart.

1. How do you respond to those who correct and reprove you? 

To correct is to firmly redirect or restrain. To reprove is to reprimand with a sharp word of judgment.

Whoever corrects a scoffer gets himself abuse, and he who reproves a wicked man incurs injury. Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you; reprove a wise man and he will love you. (Proverbs 9:7-8)

When a parent, older sibling, teacher, boss or friend firmly points out something wrong about you, how do you respond to them? Do you love them or hate them for it? Do you consider their words or strike back with harsher words? Do you try to see where they’re coming from or do you roll your eyes? Do you take their counsel to heart or spread gossip, complaining to others about them?

If you respond to your correctors with abuse and your reprovers with hatred, you may be a scornful scoffer.

2. What do you do with rebuke? 

Rebuke is sharp criticism.

A wise son hears his father’s instruction, but a scoffer does not listen to rebuke. (Proverbs 13:1)

We all receive criticism sometimes. The question here is, what do you do with it? Do you consider it? Or do you dismiss it immediately? Do you hear it or ignore it? Are you like the wise son who hears his father’s instruction or like the scoffer who does not listen to rebuke?

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If you cannot hear rebuke,  you may be a scornful scoffer.

3. How do you feel about reproof and wise people? 

A scoffer does not like to be reproved; he will not go to the wise. (Proverbs 15:12)

How does reproof taste to you? Is it bitter or sweet? Do you like it or dislike it?

How do you relate to wise people? Are you drawn to them? Or do they intimidate you? Think about your friends and confidants. Are they wise or foolish people? Do they fear the Lord? Do they study the Bible? Are they willing to reprove you if you need reproof?

If you avoid wise people and dislike reproof, you may be a scornful scoffer.

4. Do you learn? 

Strike a scoffer, and the simple will learn prudence; reprove a man of understanding, and he will gain knowledge. (Proverbs 19:25)

To strike is to smite, hitting with firm blows. It is a violent word. Here we see that even such violent correction does not teach the scoffer because scoffers just don’t learn. The best case scenario is that a simple (naive) man will see it and learn vicariously.

Have you learned as you’ve lived? Have you changed and grown as you’ve been corrected over the years? Are you more humble than you used to be? Do you fear the Lord more than you used to? When was the last time you were painfully made aware of deficiencies in  yourself that needed to be changed?

If you don’t learn, you may be a scornful scoffer.

5. Are you often involved in strife, quarreling and abuse? 

Strife is angry, bitter disagreements where no resolution is really possible. Quarreling is arguing among people who dislike each other. To abuse someone means to dishonor, shame or humiliate them.

Drive out a scoffer, and strife will go out, and quarreling and abuse will cease. (Proverbs 22:10)

Does it seem like you’re always having trouble with people? Does it seem like you’re often struggling with people who just don’t get it? If so, the common denominator is likely you, and you’re likely a scornful scoffer.

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Hope for Those in the Scorn Spectrum

So how did you do on the test? If you’re like me, you see evidence of scorn and scoffing in your life. Though you’re not ready to label yourself as a scornful scoffer, you acknowledge traces of it in your bloodstream. So what are we who are in “the Scorn Spectrum” to do about it?

Proverbs offers no advice for us. This is because when thinking through the lens of wisdom, as Proverbs does, advice is worthless to the scornful scoffer. The scoffer’s essential dysfunction that he cannot receive advice. So wisdom and instruction are powerless to help the scornful scoffer. We need to look outside the pages of Proverbs. We need to look to Jesus.

Was Jesus scorned? Was Jesus scoffed? Yes. In fact, you could say that he was scorned and scoffed to death. He was abused and hated to the point of crucifixion. He received the full weight of human scorn on the cross. His ears rang with the full chorus of human scoffing. “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed,” (1 Peter 2:24).

The only reason scornful scoffers have hope is because Jesus bore our penalty so we might be forgiven and changed. Thank God for the truth of Romans 5:6-11:

6For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. 11More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

While we were sinners, while we were ungodly, while we were enemies, while we were scornful, while we were scoffing–Christ died for us. Even the most scornful among us can be justified by his blood. Even the loudest scoffer among us can be saved from God’s wrath. Thank God that though faith and allegiance to Jesus we can be reconciled to God and thus freed from our scorn.

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Of course, even once reconciled to God we will continue to be tempted to scorn and scoff. In this fallen world we will encounter overly harsh criticism and foolish correction from sinful parents, bosses and people in general. But as Christians we can follow in Jesus’ footsteps. 

Was Jesus reproved, rebuked and even struck? Yes. He was reprimanded and sharply criticized by wicked people who had no clue what they were talking about. He was even humiliated and publicly beaten, yet he never responded with scorn or scoffing. Hebrews 4:15 is true, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.”

In Christ, we have real hope of real transformation. In Christ we are beginning to love those who reprove us, to hear our father’s instruction and to gain knowledge. Christ is the antidote to scorn. Christ silences scoffing.

Discussion Starters

  1. Work through the Scorn Quiz together, discussing the scriptures and supplemental questions under each point.
  2. Why do you suppose Proverbs so often highlights our response to correction when discussing scorn and scoffing?
  3. Can you think of anyone who embodies the opposites of scorn and scoffing? Anyone who embodies humility and graciousness when criticized?
  4. Read 1 Peter 2:24. How does this verse offer hope to the scornful scoffer?
  5. Read Romans 5:6-11. How does this verse offer hope to the scornful scoffer?
  6. Read Hebrews 4:15. Without naming anyone, are there particular people who tempt you to scorn or scoff? How can this verse strengthen you against such temptation?
  7. Take some time to pray together.

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