One prominent relationship in the book of Proverbs is authority. It is easy to identify one authority in the book: parents. The infamous recipient of the book, Rehoboam, was a young man who was supposed to heed the wise counsel of his father and his mother (although he did not). The second and more fundamental authority in the book is God. The foundation for wisdom, says Proverbs, is the fear of the Lord. A third authority frequently mentioned in Proverbs is the king. That the king is presented as an authority is interesting, since it was written by a king to his son, who would also rule as royalty.
Most of the book, however, is written as if Solomon’s son is any other citizen and not the crown prince. this choice to present the book as general wisdom and not royal wisdom was obviously inspired. It is also God’s wisdom accommodating our experience, for although there are instructions given to kings at the end of Proverbs, in the 21st century believers primarily identify with the citizens, not the kings. That arrangement is part of God’s design. Rulers and their agents are to be as few as necessary, while most people pursue occupations and interests apart from the world of politics, royalty, and legislation. However, there are a few accessible position of authority--think of a state trooper or county sheriff’s deputy. God through Proverbs anticipates that citizens will interact with their civic authorities. In those cases, how should believing citizens conduct themselves?
Speak righteous words
According to Proverbs, righteousness is an indispensable attribute when dealing with those in authority. An unrighteous tactic often used against rulers is flattery, but Proverbs warns against it in general. “A lying tongue hateth those that are afflicted by it; and a flattering mouth worketh ruin” (Proverbs 26:28). Flattery is a form of lying, and both are destructive to the one against whom it is weaponized. We have already seen that it is best for a ruler to be established, not overthrown. Since flattery overthrows, citizens should avoid flattering their leaders.
Instead of flattering their leaders, those under authority should speak honestly and focus on pleasing God with their mouth. Proverbs points out that, although we would expect that those in charge only want to hear good things about themselves, what rulers desire in the long term is for their people to speak with purity and righteousness. Proverbs 16:13 says that “righteous lips are the delight of kings; and they love him that speaketh right.” To further distinguish this behavior from flattery, Solomon reminds us that truly righteous speech comes from a pure heart, not a calculating mind. And rulers respond well to righteous, ingenuous words. “He that loveth pureness of heart, for the grace of his lips the king shall be his friend (Proverbs 22:11). It is easy to imagine how a king who hears mostly manipulative and flattering words would be refreshed by speech that is exactly what it seems to be. Regardless of pragmatic benefit, though, God commands his people to speak righteously to authority.
Conduct your business wisely
The ruler’s greatest asset is the people he rules. Soldiers to defend national sovereignty, businesses to strengthen the economy, tax revenue to fund hopefully necessary projects all require a healthy, productive citizen population. Proverbs 14:28 says this first, proclaiming that “in the multitude of people is the king’s honor: but in the want of people is the destruction of the prince.” Only a wicked fool would kill or impoverish his own people. He needs them.
Given that their role is so important, citizens are responsible to contribute to the health of the city, county, state, and nation in which they live. Although leaders can’t acknowledge the contributions of each citizen individually, the general proverb is true that “the king’s favor is toward a wise servant: but his wrath is against him that causeth shame” (Proverbs 14:35). Whether kings or subjects recognize it, each one benefits from the faithfulness of the other.
Keep the peace
It is not difficult to spread discontentment toward rulers. Humans are oriented toward unthankfulness and dissatisfaction. Additionally, while rulers stand responsible before God for their decisions, which decisions affect their people, it is easy for a population to wrongfully assign blame to those in charge. Christian citizens should be skilled not at complaining, but at keeping peace. Knowing how to placate those in authority is helpful, since, as Proverbs 16:14 says, “the wrath of a king is as messengers of death.” “A wise man,” Solomon goes on to say, “will pacify it.” God describes the benefits when a king is appeased this way: “in the light of the king’s countenance is life; and his favor is as a cloud of the latter rain” (Proverbs 16:15). Believers should be motivated by the same desires America’s founding fathers drafted the Constitution: to “insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.”
Rebuke rulers when necessary
It doesn’t need to be said that rulers can be wicked. It is so common for kings to reject God and make decisions to preserve and expand their own power that righteous rulers are the rare exceptions. Therefore, it often becomes necessary for citizens to call out their rulers for their sin.
While of course it is possible to rebuke rulers with an arrogant or insubordinate attitude, Proverbs indicates that God rewards people (and by extension, a nation) who rebukes its leaders when they need it. It is even in the best interests of international relations for a ruler to be held accountable by his people. Proverbs 24:24-25 summarizes all these principles this way: “he that saith unto the wicked, ‘Thou art righteous’; him shall the people curse, nations shall abhor him: But to them that rebuke him shall be delight, and a good blessing shall come upon them.” One Biblical reason to support free speech is so that the truth can be proclaimed as a standard against which the behavior of the civil authorities and officials can be compared. The city, state, or nation where God’s Word is the most unrestricted is the city, state, or nation has the best chance for righteous leadership. It remains for God’s people to speak up.
The above article was written by Jonathan Kyser. He is a pastoral assistant of NorthStone Baptist Church in Pensacola, FL. To offer him your feedback, comment below or email us at email@example.com.
Every Tuesday, SFL publishes relevant Bible-based content. Check back next Tuesday to read the next SFL article.
More Strength for Life...
For Right to Life Sunday 2024, Pastor Johnson explains biblically how the U.S. has become degenerate in such a seemingly short amount of time and what to expect from divine justice.