Proverbs 20 Hear counsel, receive instruction, and accept correction, that you may be wise in the time to come. (AMP)
Please help to interpret the above. Whom should one hear, receive from, and accept?
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According to the book of Proverbs, our parents are to be our primary source of counsel and discipline, at least during our formative years.
Solomon's book of wisdom did not originate this concept. Centuries before he assembled his (and others') proverbs, one of the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20 said,
"Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the LORD your God gives you" (v.12 NASB Updated).
Wisdom Starts at Home
In Proverbs the words father and mother appear in at least 12 verses, not counting the verses in which the pronouns he and she are used instead of father and mother. For example,
"Hear, my son, your father's instruction,
And do not forsake your mother's teaching" (1:8).
"My son, observe the commandment of your father,
And do not forsake the teaching of your mother" (6:20).
"Listen to your father who begot you,
And do not despise your mother when she is old" (23:22).
Not only do we need wisdom in our early, formative years, but we need it throughout our lives. Acquiring wisdom at an earlier time in life keeps us from regret later in life. Here is an alternate version of Proverbs 19:20:
"Listen to counsel and
That you may be wise
in your latter days" (NASB Updated, margin; my emphasis).
Wise people live not only for today but for tomorrow as well. Developing good habits in their youth, such as listening to their parents' counsel and accepting their discipline, pays rich dividends later in life. On the other hand, foolish people live only for today. Developing bad habits when they are young, such as rejecting their parents' counsel and living an undisciplined life, leads only to a life of regret and misery.
The writer of another book of wisdom (and quite likely Solomon, the writer of many of the proverbs in the Book of Proverbs) said,
"Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near when you will say, "I have no delight in them" (Ecclesiastes 12:1 NAS).
Accepting wise counsel and loving discipline from our parents when we are young will inspire us later in life as we look back with fondness, reminiscing about the days of our youth. By the same token, however, rejecting the wise counsel and loving discipline of our parents will cause us to regret the foolish decisions we made when we were young.
We cannot escape the biblical law of sowing and reaping, which is really at the heart of choosing a life of wisdom over a life of folly:
"Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary" (Galatians 6:7-9 NAS).
Wisdom in the Big, Wide World
Our parents are not the only people from whom we can gain instruction and discipline. A wise Christian listen to words of wisdom, regardless of their source. The source could be a teacher or professor, a cop, a supervisor, a master plumber, a church elder, a pastor or minister or priest, and the list could go on and on. Instruction can come from any direction, at any time, at any place. Proverbs tells us,
"Does not wisdom call,
And understanding lift up her
On top of the heights beside the way,
Where the paths meet, she
takes her stand;
Beside the gates, at the
opening to the city,
At the entrance of the doors,
she cries out:
'To you, O men, I call, And my voice is to the sons of men. O naïve ones, understand prudence. And, O fools, understand wisdom Listen, for I will speak noble things; And the opening of my lips will reveal right things. For my mouth will utter truth; And wickedness is an Abomination to my lips . . ..'" (8:1-7 NASB Updated).
From a street sign that says "Yield" or "Dangerous Curve Ahead; Reduce Speed" or "Merging Traffic," to the words of a judge before whom you stand for failing to reduce your speed(!), words of wisdom surround us. They may not be the Truth, with a capital T, but they are true in a practical sense, and the better part of wisdom is knowing when to heed them.
In conclusion, wisdom utters truth, and truth can be found virtually anywhere, and from some pretty unlikely sources! Parents, neighbors, spouses, children, seniors, teachers, friends, and even strangers can be used by God to teach us valuable lessons, provided we have the ears to hear. In the words of James, our Lord's brother:
"But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger . . ." (1:19b NASB Updated).
A straightforward interpretation of this proverb has more to do with who we should be rather than who we should listen to. All throughout the book, and especially the beginning, the writer urges the reader to choose wisdom instead of foolishness. This maxim is in that vein. It is saying that we should be the kind of people who will listen to counsel, instruction, and correction, because those people will become wise (for having done so).
This aphorism isn't attempting to tell us where we should get advice. Rather it is saying that if we want to be wise, we need to be willing to take it. Far too often, we are not even willing to listen to correction, instruction, or counsel.