Bring two groups of people to mind as you prepare to receive this passage: 1) the people you deal with on a regular basis, 2) the people who influence the way you deal with people (those you admire, aspire to be like, emulate–your role models). We know God cares about how we treat people. This passage teaches that God also cares about who we allow to influence the way we treat people. The big idea: don’t emulate those who mistreat others.
A Man of Violence (v.31)
Though “violence” makes us think of physical aggression, in Proverbs it has a broader meaning: general mistreatment and abuse of others. Of course no one thinks they emulate people who mistreat others, but scripture teaches that it is a common temptation.
To better understand ‘men of violence’, let’s sketch a portrait based on the rest of this passage. A man of violence can be:
- Withholding (v.27-28)
Purposefully holding back the good he could do for others.
- Malicious (v.29)
Purposefully hurting others.
- Contentious (v.30)
Regularly quarrelling with others.
- Devious (v.32)
Crooked and untrustworthy.
- Wicked (v.33)
- Scornful (v.34)
Holding others in contempt.
- Foolish (v.35)
Making bad decisions due to lack of understanding.
Why Are We Tempted to Emulate Such People?
Because wicked ways work in a wicked world, for awhile. Consider Psalm 73:2-14:
2But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled,
my steps had nearly slipped.
3For I was envious of the arrogant
when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
4For they have no pangs until death;
their bodies are fat and sleek.
5They are not in trouble as others are;
they are not stricken like the rest of mankind.
6Therefore pride is their necklace;
violence covers them as a garment.
7Their eyes swell out through fatness;
their hearts overflow with follies.
8They scoff and speak with malice;
loftily they threaten oppression.
9They set their mouths against the heavens,
and their tongue struts through the earth.
10Therefore his people turn back to them,
and find no fault in them.
11And they say, “How can God know?
Is there knowledge in the Most High?”
12Behold, these are the wicked;
always at ease, they increase in riches.
13All in vain have I kept my heart clean
and washed my hands in innocence.
14For all the day long I have been stricken
and rebuked every morning.
It could be:
- the cool kid in class
- your successful colleague
- an older family member
- a historical figure
- a hero of pop culture
- a celebrity
- an athlete
- a fictional character
Comparing their lifestyles to our own, we can be tempted to say:
- “That withholding, malicious person is so successful in her career! And here I am trying to be generous and helpful, getting nowhere.”
- “That contentious person’s Facebook feed is full of pictures of exotic vacations. Here I am trying to be peaceable and all I have to post is another picture of my cat.”
- “That devious, wicked person seems to have so much fun and so many friends. Here I am trying to be upright, and I’m alone.”
- “I want what they have, so I’ll choose some of their ways.”
Don’t Choose Any of Their Ways (v.31)
This temptation is subtle. Knowing their character is suspect, we can delude ourselves into believing that we can adopt some of their ways. We can say to ourselves:
- “I know he’s a bully, but I like the way he talks. He’s so funny.”
- “I know this celebrity does a lot of evil things, but I like his lifestyle.”
- “I know she is crooked in the way she deals with people, but I love how she looks and how she caries herself.”
It is essential that we not choose any of their ways. Why? Because such people are “an abomination to the LORD” (v.32). He finds them morally disgusting. That’s why he relates to them in the ways described in verses 33-35.
- His curse is on their house (v.33)
- He is scornful toward them (v.34)
- He promises they will be put to shame (v.35)
My son told me last week that a classmate threw up during recess and it landed all over another classmate’s Pokémon cards. Vomit is so disgusting that it contaminated every one of those cards, and they all had to be thrown away. “Violence” is as repugnant to the Lord as vomit is to us. We cannot pick little bits of behaviors out of such role models. All their behavior is contaminated by their mistreatment of others.
So how are we to respond to all this? We must acknowledge our own failures, and turn toward Jesus. Not one of us can claim to be perfectly clean here. This is why we need Jesus Christ. He is the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:24, 30). In him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom (Colossians 2:2-3). He is the fulfillment and embodiment of this passage. He is perfectly:
The awesome promise of Christianity is that when we trust in him as our Savior and Lord, we are cleansed and forgiven of our sins and failures. Jesus transfers us from:
- Being an abomination to the Lord to being in his confidence (his close, intimate counsel)
- God’s curse to God’s blessing
- God’s scorn to God’s favor
- Disgrace to honor
Romans 8:29 says, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.” As Christians, our destiny is to become like Jesus. Our lives are about becoming who we are in Christ. Therefore when we are tempted to emulate a man of violence, we can remember in our hearts: “That’s not who I am. In Christ, God views me as upright, righteous, humble, and wise. That’s my identity now, and that’s who I am becoming.”
Based on who we are in Jesus Christ, let’s never emulate those who mistreat people. Let’s always emulate our Savior and Lord.
- Read Proverbs 3:27-35 together. What stands out to each person in the group?
- Have you ever been tempted to emulate “a man of violence” as described in this passage? Think back to childhood and adolescence. Consider your current influences. Scan the full spectrum, from people close to you to fictional characters. Share with the group.
- How does the gospel free us from the temptation to emulate those who mistreat people? What scriptures come to mind on this point?
- Brainstorm together practical ways we can protect ourselves from the temptation to envy such people and to choose some of their ways?
- What are some ways we can teach our children the truths we’ve seen in this passage?