Humility Learning (Proverbs 15:31-33)
Topic: Proverbs Passage: Proverbs 15:31–33
(One Truth: Walk in Truth)
April 24th, 2016
I. Self-Defense vs. Defensiveness
Think for a minute about the difference between self-defense and defensiveness?
Self-defense is the physical act of protecting yourself from physical danger. Defensiveness is a psychological act, an attitude through which you attempt to protect yourself from perceived emotional danger. What do they have in common? Both are attempts to protect oneself from perceived threats.
But when it comes to truly protecting yourself from emotional danger, to guarding your well-being according what is true there's something ironic about defensiveness, isn't there? Oftentimes, what we are protecting ourselves from is exactly what we need to hear. Whether we become defensive because a parent has warned us about the character of certain friends or a love interest, or we become defensive because a friend attempts to correct us on an important piece of information we got wrong, we often fail to accept the truth because of what we think it might cost us, because of an injury we might sustain.
This morning, I’d like to consider the dangers of defensiveness, but more so the blessings of its opposite attitude: teachableness. If you haven't already, turn over to Proverbs 15:31-33.
II. The Passage: "He Who Listens" (15:31-33)
As continue this teaching series on humility, let's consider what these verses tell us about what it looks when we live on a steady diet of God's humble pie. This is what we are told...
The ear that listens to life-giving reproof will dwell among the wise.  Whoever ignores instruction despises himself, but he who listens to reproof gains intelligence.  The fear of the LORD is instruction in wisdom, and humility comes before honor.
Notice right away the two phrases that stand in contrast in verses 31 and 32: “life-giving” and “despises himself”. Pretty counter-intuitive, right? In so many cases, when we think about someone else reproving us, someone telling us we're wrong or going the wrong way, we think in terms of being despised. And so we protect our life by dismissing or pushing back or running away. But God tells us through these verses that I am despising my own life, I am rejecting life when I reject reproof.
Instead, the man or woman, the boy or girl who seeks life, who is open to reproof, will actually seek out and spend time with wise people. Not all reproof is wise or godly reproof. Some people 'reprove' because they are scared or mad or jealous. We can graciously accept all reproof. But we must still sort out, using God's word, what is wisdom and what is foolishness.
This kind of teachableness is a common theme throughout the book of Proverbs. And when it comes to the opposite of this attitude, Proverbs does not use the term ‘defensiveness’. Instead, it uses the term ‘foolishness’. The fool is a common character in this book. And what we often find in Proverbs is that the fool is a man or woman marked by an unwillingness to listen to correction and wisdom.
Verse 33 reminds us of how we arrived at this passage this morning. Humility is the prerequisite for honor, or we could say, an honorable life. As this grouping of verse indicates, there is a connection between humility and teachableness. If depending on God is humility reaching, and praising God is humility deflecting, then teachableness is humility deflecting.
How would you describe your own attitude when it comes to accepting correction, from anyone in any situation (even a boss you don't like, even a neighbor who acts like a know-it-all, even a younger sibling or that overbearing co-worker)? Do you consider yourself to be a teachable person? Are you open to correction and rebuke?
III. Learning Lessons on Humility Learning
Let's do this: let's look at some of the other lessons God want us to learn about teachableness from the book of Proverbs. I found what I would call six more aspects of humility learning. What is teachableness? Well...
1. Teachableness is the Pot in Which Wisdom Grows (19:20)
This is the counsel we're given in Proverbs 19:20...
Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future.
Is it your desire to be wise? Do you understand the value of wisdom? In Proverbs 3, Solomon writes:
Blessed is the one who finds wisdom, and the one who gets understanding,  for the gain from her is better than gain from silver and her profit better than gold.  She is more precious than jewels, and nothing you desire can compare with her.  Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honor.  Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace.  She is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her; those who hold her fast are called blessed. (Proverbs 3:13-18)
Here's a basic definition of wisdom: wisdom is ‘skill in truly living well’. It doesn’t matter how many books you read, or how much you meditate. The path to living skillfully in this life is found by cultivating teachableness. If you are teachable, then you’ve opened the sail and are ready to let the wind take you where God wants you to go. It's not too late. Start now!
You may be listening to this message. You may even be taking notes. But you may not really be teachable. You will never be wise if you are not teachable. But there's more. What is teachableness? We also learn...
2. Teachableness is the Hand, Open and Empty (10:8; 12:15)
Two verses from Proverbs express this idea...
The wise of heart will receive commands, but a babbling fool will come to ruin. (10:8) The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man is listens to advice. (12:15)
Our default setting is thinking we know best, and we are more than willing to give our so-called knowledge away, like the “babbling fool” mentioned in this verse. Teachableness begins with a recognition that our hands are empty when it comes to truth and wisdom. Humility helps us recognize our constant poverty when it comes to wisdom and understanding.
As we talked about before, the humble and needy man or woman is eager to receive, from anyone, at any time. But let's keep going. What is teachableness? Well, we also discover...
3. Teachableness is the Fork When We Hunger for Truth (12:1)
Listen to this pull-no-punches statement in Proverbs 12:1...
Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid (not name calling...”stupid” = lacks common sense).
If you want to be teachable, you need to be hungry for the truth. Like the lawyer who is zealous to get at the truth in order to free his client, we need to realize that the truth is what will set us free. And when you recognize what God says about the liberating power of the truth, you will be looking for truth.
It seems many today don’t care about the truth, maybe because they are skeptical that actually knowing, really knowing the truth about the big questions, about things that really matter, that such knowing is even possible. Or maybe they are sedated by an addiction to the pleasures and distractions of this world. Maybe they are simply servants of the new 'tolerance' and therefore, will not accept any truth that might upset or offend anyone else.
Brothers and sisters, friends, love the truth. Desire it. As Jesus said, “the truth shall set you free” (John 8:32). If you desire it and seek it, teachableness will be essential. But we also learn in Proverbs that...
4. Teachableness is a Door to Our Place of Change (17:10)
Here's what we read in Proverbs 17:10...
A rebuke goes deeper into one who has understanding than a hundred blows into a fool.
Teachableness means taking the truth to heart. When you are teachable, a correction, a rebuke, a word of advice is not begrudgingly heard. Teachableness opens the door to the vault of your heart and makes real change possible.
Some who might consider themselves teachable might conform to what someone else has said, for all the wrong reasons, and in a superficial way...but they do not really change on the inside, because humility is not there.
Someone with a proud or hard heart might learn something. But it is like the fool learning while he suffers some kind of punishment for his foolishness. A man or woman might serve a prison term, but whether or not the experience changed them is a question only time will tell. A person might have learned to be compliant. But that isn't the same as humility. One man changes and looks only for an opportunity to be released. The other man looks at his release as an opportunity to change.
Ask God to help you be more teachable, because it is the teachable man or woman who experiences genuine heart change; maybe not always right away, but it’s the result. But there's more. We also learn that...
5. Teachableness is the Brace that Helps Us to Heal (29:1)
Later on in the book, in Proverbs 29:1 we read...
He who is often reproved, yet stiffens his neck, will suddenly be broken beyond healing.
Apart from God's grace, we have a serious injury. Like a broken arm without a cast, the more we continue to use it, in spite of a doctor’s instructions to the contrary, the worse it will get, until one day when it will be ruined for good. Like that broken arm, when people continue to go against God’s way in spite of correction, eventually they will become, in some sense, “beyond healing”.
But for all of us, there is another basic principle here: the more you fail to receive correction, the harder it becomes to receive it well. Teachableness is like that cast that keeps us in check and helps to become like Christ through God’s Spirit. It checks our tendencies to sinful self-sufficiency.
But there's one more important aspect of humility learning in Proverbs, one more principle that brings us right back around to where we began in chapter 15. What is teachableness? It is critical to affirm that...
6. Teachableness is a clean blackboard in God’s classroom (15:33; 16:9)
Listen again to Proverbs 15, and a verse from the following chapter as well...
The fear of the Lord is instruction in wisdom… (15:33) The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps. (16:9)
Do you remember how we've defined humility in this series? This is our working definition:
Humility is an inner condition, springing from a true recognition of my proper position.
Teachableness ultimately starts with the humility that springs from a clear, from an accurate view of God. And when we see God in His proper position, we can clearly see our proper position, both personally and as human beings universally.
And when that happens, we find that teachableness flows from a desire to serve God, from a desire for His help, from marveling at His wisdom, and from a realization that He alone is in control. He is sovereign over our lives. And if we are in Jesus by grace through faith, then we know that the Lord establishes our steps.
What does that mean? One thing it means is that God has a reason for every circumstance you encounter. Our life is not simply a tangled mess of random events and meaningless coincidences. Life is God’s classroom. If you know that, if you believe that, then are you looking to learn God’s lessons? What have you learned today? What did you learn last week, not only from a book or an article or a podcast, but from a hard situation, or from a hard mistake, or from a hard word of reproof?
IV. The Most Important 'Teachable Moment'
What is the enemy of teachableness? It is unrepentance. The more we deny we are sinners, the longer we go without swallowing the bitter pill of our own rebellion against God, without acknowledging our rabid me-centeredness in this God-centered universe, the stronger our sinful sense of self-sufficiency will grow.
And when that sinful self-sufficiency grows stronger, every lesson God wants to teach us can be seen as a threat to me being in control.
Of course, lots of things feed this, including fear. Fear of seeming inept. Fear of being ridiculed. Fear of being judged as inferior. Fear of being helpless and having no one to help you. Fear of change. Fear of relying on others. Fear of needing others.
These are powerful forces, aren't they: self-sufficiency, stubborness, pride, fear, unrepentance? All of us know how they can infect us and rule us.
I know of only one thing stronger than these forces, only one thing that can quiet their influence: the Good News of Jesus Christ. The gospel. Only the gospel can simultaneously convict us of sin's awfulness and our deep, deep guilt, AND THEN, pardon us and calm our fears with God's unconditional, eternal love. Only the gospel can reassure us that repentance will bring forgiveness instead of condemnation.
Therefore, we can say with certainty that the most important 'teachable moment' you will ever have is when you hear the gospel of grace and God's call to humble yourself in faith.
The cross where Jesus died is also where He purchased a new heart for you and me; a heart that is humble in light of knowing a great, great God; in light of belonging to a loving Father.
If this morning, you have gotten even a tiny taste of how important and how good it is to be teachable, then please know that the teachableness that matters most flows from the humility only Jesus makes possible. Has he softened your heart with His love? He wants to this morning. May God reveal our humility through our teachableness, and may we be open to the lesson He wants to teach us, at anytime, in any way, from any person...for His glory!