Tender & Teachable (Proverbs 10:17)
Topic: One Truth: Walk in Truth Passage: Proverbs 10:17
I. A True Vanity Plate
Last week in the great state of Kentucky a federal judge ruled, in light of free speech protections provided by the First Amendment, that Ben Hart could have the personalized license plate (or 'vanity' plate), he had applied to get three years ago. Hart's 2016 application had been rejected by the Kentucky Department of Transportation on the grounds that it “went against anti-discrimination guidelines”. The message he wanted on his plate? “I-M...”, space, “G-O-D”.
An article from three years ago revealed Hart's motivation for the message:
Hart, who identifies as an atheist, says his personalized plate is his way of spreading a political and philosophical message that faith is susceptible to individualized interpretation. "I can prove I'm God. You can't prove I'm not. Now, how can I prove I'm God? Well, there are six definitions for God in the American Heritage Dictionary, and number five is a very handsome man, and my wife says I'm a very handsome man, and nobody argues with my wife," Hart said.
Okay. Whatever you think of Ben Hart's leanings and logic, his vanity plate is a true vanity plate, isn't it. Remember the definition of the word vanity: excessive pride in or admiration of one's own appearance or achievements. Vanity is an expression of pride, isn't it? And what could be more prideful than to drive around with a license plate that states, “I'm God”?
As 'over the top' as that sounds, every single one of us should sense some personal resonance with that idea. Let's keep that in mind as we dig into God's word together this morning. Let's go back to where we started last week: Proverbs 10. Turn there if you haven't already.
II. The Passage: "Whoever Heeds Instruction" (10:17a)
As we've talked about many times before, including last week, chapter 10 represents the beginning of this collection of proverbs that gives Proverbs its name. Chapters 1-9 contain plenty of wisdom in the form of warnings, encouragements, appeals, etc. But chapter 10 is where we get into the short wisdom sayings, maxims, adages we think of when we think of a proverb. For example, look at the saying we find in 10:17...
Whoever heeds instruction is on the path to life, but he who rejects reproof leads others astray.
Short. Simple. Clear, right? Let me read it again. This time, hear it as God's wisdom specifically selected for you this morning. Ask yourself, “What does God want me to take from this particular proverb? Why this verse this morning?” [read again]
Now, it's important to remember that you cannot understand what any verse means for you unless you first understand what what was meant by the writer.
The first kind of meaning has to do with significance (for you, that is), the second has to do with intention (specifically, the author's intention). So what did Solomon mean when he wrote this proverb? Well, clearly, this proverb is about being... teachable; it's about being someone who is able to receive instruction or correction; someone who is ready to learn... willing to learn. Is that you? Do you think of yourself as a teachable person? Would others describe you as... “teachable”? Someone who receives instruction or correction well?
This is such an important concept in Proverbs. It appears time and time again. Let's take apart verse 17 and use it as a guide to consider some of the other proverbs that, in some way, speak about this same topic of teachableness. First, let's consider...
1. The Person Who is Teachable (v. 17a)
Solomon speaks here of the person who “heeds instruction”. The word “heed” means more than simply 'hear', right? It means to obey. It means to take that “instruction” and be guided by it. But notice the contrast in the second half of the proverb. The person who “heeds” does the opposite of the person who “rejects reproof”. The word “reproof” reminds us that the instruction in the first half of the verse is not regarding how to properly change the oil on your car. It is guidance in wise and righteous living. It is moral instruction for someone going the wrong way.
Two chapters later, 12:1 tells us this about the teachable man or woman:
Whoever loves discipline [or correction] loves knowledge...
I don't think anyone loves being wrong. And I don't think anyone loves others telling them they're wrong. But the teachable person loves the knowledge that correction brings like a person trapped in a dark cave loves the light that finally comes with a working flashlight.
This is why later in chapter 12 we read that “a wise man listens to advice”. [12:15] Several chapters later, in 15:22, we learn that... “Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed”. Thus, the teachable person seeks the company of wise people. The teachable man or woman knows he or she needs help from others people, especially wise people. But I think the teachable man or woman also learn from experiences, especially adversity. We read in 24:16...
...For the righteous falls seven times and rises again, but the wicked stumble in times of calamity. [And as we heard two weeks ago, Proverbs 16:4...]
The LORD has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble.
The teachable person embraces the fact that God is always teaching... even in times of “calamity”; even in “the day of trouble”. It's what helps that individual rise up again and again; to keep going. But all this also forces us to carefully consider...
2. The Person Who is Not Teachable (v. 17b)
We just heard in 10:17 about the person who “rejects reproof”. Of course, it's important to note that before this, in chapters 1-9, we did hear about those who “ignored... counsel” (1:25), those who “despised... reproof” (1:30), and those who “hated discipline” (5:12).
But if someone is off course and needs guidance, if someone is shackled and needs liberation, if someone is sick and needs medicine, if someone is trapped in darkness and needs light, why would they ever reject help? Well, listen again to 12:15, this time to the whole verse...
The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.
Simply put, the person who is not teachable believes they have nothing to learn. They don't receive instruction or correction because they tell themselves, “I don't need instruction or correction.” But Solomon warns us near the end of the book, in 26:12...
Do you see a man who is wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.
What else do we learn about the person who is unteachable? 18:2...
A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.
Oftentimes, those who “reject reproof” have no problem dishing it out. They'd rather tell than be told. They'd rather enlighten you, than have any light shone into their own lives. Interestingly, the verse just before that is also helpful. Proverbs 18:1 says,
Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment.
If the teachable person draws in others and depend on others, the person who is not teachable keeps people at a distance. Why? In order to do what he or she wants, without interference, without unsolicited advice.
Now to be clear, Proverbs generally sees the unteachable person as driven by pride and selfish ambition. But we know that fear, that insecurities, can also produce an aversion to advice, and a kind of 'emotionally-isolationist' mentality. While Proverbs doesn't speak directly to that fear-based motivation, what it does do is remind us that being unteachable (for whatever reason) is ultimately unhealthy; that it must be addressed. In light of that, consider with me...
3. The Consequences of Being Unteachable (v. 17c)
Remember the last phrase of our main verse, Proverbs 10:17? Solomon wrote...
Whoever heeds instruction is on the path to life, but he who rejects reproof leads others astray.
What exactly does that mean? I think it means that when you're not willing to let other people speak into your life in terms of your lifestyle, then there's a good chance your lifestyle is enabling others, not only in terms of your sin, but also in terms of your contempt for correction; your unwillingness to listen. When you're unteachable, the people around you, in one way or another, will suffer. Notice the parallel contrast in 10:17 with “the path to life”. When we lead astray, we lead toward death!
But there's more. We read in 17:10 that... A rebuke goes deeper into a man of understanding than a hundred blows into a fool.
For the person who is unteachable, it can take profound suffering before he or she is willing to make real and necessary changes in their life. That's scary. But even scarier, if there is no response to constant counsel, or even to intense suffering, consider the consequences... 29:1...
He who is often reproved, yet stiffens his neck, will suddenly be broken beyond healing.
There is a very real danger: that the man or woman who is not willing to listen to others, who is not willing to accept correction, who is always right because they are “wise in [their] own eyes”, will become so hardened to healing words... that true healing will never take place.
III. “The Ultimate Teachability”
But it's critical we remember how God is the key in all this. Listen to Proverbs 22:17-19...
Incline your ear, and hear the words of the wise, and apply your heart to my knowledge,  for it will be pleasant if you keep them within you, if all of them are ready on your lips.  That your trust may be in the LORD, I have made them known to you today, even to you.
Why “incline your ear”? Why be teachable and “hear the words of the wise”? “That your trust may be in the LORD...”. Many verses make it clear that the counsel, the advice, the instruction, the reproof, the discipline being talked about in Proverbs is or is rooted in God's word. Like I mentioned before, this is not instruction or guidance about changing the oil in your car. It isn't even instruction about acquiring biblical information. Being teachable in Proverbs is not about a willingness to learn God's word. It is about being corrected by God's word.
It's one thing to avoid advice or ignore input from someone you know is a fool or a fiend. But if in general, you are a person who is not teachable, then how could you ever be 'ultimately teach-able'? Pastor Tim Keller provides a biblical term for this concept of “ultimate teachability”: the term is... repentance. How could being unteachable lead to being “broken beyond healing”? When hardness of heart keeps us from accepting the life-giving invitation of God. If we don't need correction, then we don't need Christ. And if we don't have Christ, we don't have eternal life; we don't have hope; we don't have peace or pardon; we don't have God.
Ben Hart may now have a Kentucky license plate that says “I'm God”, but the Bible tells us this about the real roots of being unteachable: each one of us is born into this world with that same license plate declaration as our driving impulse. We play God over our own lives. We are ultimately wise in our own eyes. Therefore, every single one of us wrestles with this issue of being teachable. The question then becomes, “What does it look like in me?”
Are you easily irritated or quick to get defensive when others bring advice or correction? Do you find ways to keep potential critics at a distance? Do you tell yourself the real issue is that everyone around you has issues? Or is it more subtle? Do you say, “thank you for letting me know”, but then routinely dismiss the counsel or rationalize the advice away?
Brothers and sisters, it ultimately shouldn't matter who brings the advice, or even how they bring the advice. If we believe in a God of wisdom who is at work to make us like Jesus, then we can be sure that he has people inside and outside the church, that he has experiences inside and outside the church, that he will use to grow us in wisdom. But in humility, and always anchored in His word, are we ready to receive that guidance; to accept that correction? Don't miss this: being teachable has real value. But it's greatest value is that it helps us become like Christ.
And if you don't belong to Christ this morning, please don't harden your hearts to his call. Welcome his intervention. Pray for His light to pierce your darkness. Christ died to give tender and teachable hearts to unteachable sinners like us. There is hope because of God's grace.