A student recently asked this question of Proverbs 9:7-8:
“I’m doing the Proverbs challenge, but I’m confused about something in Chapter 9.
Verses 7-8 say, “If you correct someone who makes fun of wisdom, you will be insulted. If you correct an evil person, you will get hurt. Do not correct those who make fun of wisdom, or they will hate you. But correct the wise, and they will love you.”
Why shouldn’t we correct these people? Aren’t those the people we need to help the most?”
I thought that it could be helpful to post the response and wanted to encourage ya’ll to continue in the Proverbs Challenge that we’re doing through the month of October and to ask questions when you run into something that throws you off a bit. Hope you’re enjoying the month and hope to see ya’ll soon.
So glad that you are reading through the Proverbs with us and asking questions. Community is such a great thing when approaching the Scriptures.
The first thing that I would tell you to do when you come to a passage that you don’t really get is to read it in a few different translations (TNIV, ESV, The Message, and NRSV are the 4 that I use most frequently). In this passage, for instance, it looks like you read from NCV, which I don’t really know anything about, but I’ll list the other translations below and you can see if they help you to get a different perspective on it.
TNIV – 7 Whoever corrects a mocker invites insults;
whoever rebukes the wicked incurs abuse.
8 Do not rebuke mockers or they will hate you;
rebuke the wise and they will love you.
MESSAGE – If you reason with an arrogant cynic, you’ll get slapped in the face;
confront bad behavior and get a kick in the shins.
So don’t waste your time on a scoffer;
all you’ll get for your pains is abuse.
But if you correct those who care about life,
that’s different—they’ll love you for it!
ESV – 7Whoever corrects a scoffer gets himself abuse,
and he who reproves a wicked man incurs injury.
8(A) Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you;
(B) reprove a wise man, and he will love you.
NRSV – Whoever corrects a scoffer wins abuse; whoever rebukes the wicked gets hurt.
A scoffer who is rebuked will only hate you; the wise, when rebuked, will love you.
In response to your actual questions [“Why shouldn’t we correct these people? Aren’t those the people we need to help the most?”] I think that the passage itself is getting into why we should not bother with correcting the “mockers and scoffers” or “those who make fun of wisdom” … it is because those people have no interest in wise living and so not only will our attempts at correcting their behavior be futile, but we will be inviting their abuse on us to see no fruit in return.
This is not a passage about decent, thoughtful, conscientious Christians who have strayed off the straight and narrow in a certain area of their lives. it is a passage about the villains of the world … about those people who have no interest in “good or bad” “right or wrong”
To the second question I would say that, while those may be the people who need the most help, we are not likely to be the force of change in their lives and God seems to know this and, in the proverb, warn us against trying to take on the responsibility for changing them. That is God’s work and in those extreme cases, the most effective ways for us to help them would be to simply love them well without forcing our own standards into their lives, and to pray for them.
I hope that some of that is helpful. Scripture can be tough to sift through a lot of the time, but the approach of reading and asking questions when you get confused is the way to do it. Glad you’re pursuing Truth and Wisdom!