IN REFLECTING ON PROVERBS 27, I shall draw attention to five independent proverbs:
(1) “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses” (Prov. 27:6). This is one of a substantial number of proverbs scattered throughout the book that despise flattery and insist that wise people not only administer rebuke in a kind and thoughtful way, but accept it and learn from it. For instance: “Do not rebuke a mocker or he will hate you; rebuke a wise man and he will love you. Instruct a wise man and he will be wiser still; teach a righteous man and he will add to his learning” (Prov. 9:8-9). “He who listens to a life-giving rebuke will be at home among the wise” (Prov. 15:31). This is a very different world from a culture in which people are simply encouraged to find themselves or express themselves.
(2) A number of proverbs, one of them in this chapter, value loyalty: “Do not forsake your friend and the friend of your father” (Prov. 27:10). That sort of value is social; it transcends the “me first” mentality of individualism run amuck, and thus comports well with the New Testament emphasis on the corporate wholeness of the church.
(3) “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another” (Prov. 27:17)—which again is impossible where rabid individualism holds sway. Pastors and scholars know their thinking is sharper if they take time for honest interaction with their peers.
(4) “Death and Destruction are never satisfied, and neither are the eyes of man” (Prov. 27:20). Few sentences sum up so briefly and so evocatively the bottomless acquisitiveness of fallen human beings, the lust for things and power, the drive for possession, control, and novelty. A moment’s reflection, and Death and Destruction become not only the standard of what it means never to be satisfied, but also what characterizes “the eyes of man.”
(5) “The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold, but man is tested by the praise he receives” (Prov. 27:21). This could simply mean that after a person has gone through the crucibles of affliction, the approval rating, as it were, is assigned by the valuation of his or her peers at the other end. But it is more likely that praise itself is in some respects the ultimate test of character. You can tell as much about people (and maybe more) by how they respond to praise as you can by how they respond to adversity. Ask football heroes, movie stars, and people in church too rapidly promoted. Perhaps this is the ultimate crucible. It does not destroy us; it exposes what is there, and very often it is not much.