Proverbs is like texting – short, abrupt, and symbolic. On first reading, you might be inclined to say, “Duh!” or “What??” Yet, meanings of a good many Proverbs can be embedded in words that seem common knowledge just like texting uses abbreviations for hidden phrases (OMG – my least favorite). Without context or background, or depending on your private perspective, this brevity of words can be misinterpreted or misdirected. Then again…verbosity in this paragraph illustrates how simplicity in speech can become compounded confusion.
Take one of my favorite Proverbs, 25:11 for example. “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.” It looks like a Christmas table decoration in my mind’s eye. I take this Scripture to mean what a feast of encouragement or acceptance we can offer others with thoughtful words. But maybe the glitter refers to a warning given at the right time. Contrast that thought with Proverbs 27:18, “Like a madman who throws firebrands, arrows, and death, is the man who deceives his neighbor, and says, ‘I was only joking!’” I visualize how a neighbor can impale and burn someone close without expecting the negative reaction to come. Can there be any mistaking the neighbor’s intent or are we to seriously consider the flimsy excuse?
So, though meaning can be extracted from abbreviated, allegorical representations or vignettes of morality, there is something to be said for the painstakingly lengthy letter that the Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians defending his ministry, proving his sincerity, and reasserting his authority. He could have said something like, “Dudes, listen up! This is the real deal; I’m bleeding here. I gave you everything and it’s your turn.” (Oh, don’t forget, Paul, to punctuate the sentence with a smiley face.)
But like texting and sometimes the Proverbs, simple statements can lack certain tenderness and empathy that soften a correction or state a nonnegotiable. Paul wrote 12 chapters to describe the various difficulties he faced in serving Christ on behalf of the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 6:3-10). He repeatedly outlined his faithfulness and begged the church to remember his affections for them (verses 11-13). Paul also expounded on the flaky accusations of false apostles contrasted to his own sacrificial giving (verses 14-18). His writing was laden with strong emotion, and He was not afraid to quote Scripture or speak with the authority of God to point the Corinthians back to the truth of the Gospel. Do you suppose the Corinthians received Paul’s message as caring, genuine, and aimed at restoring a right relationship?
There can be no mistaking this, I think, when you consider the depth with which Paul plunged in proving his love and God’s love evidenced in his writing. No memo would do. No texting. Not even a proverb. He wanted no mistakes in interpretation. There is something to be said for the art of persuasion versus the witty one-liners we struggle to accept as meaningful.
FWIW (for what it’s worth), Janet