The Deadly Sins of Proverbs 6:16-19: Hate Discord. God Does
In the book of Judges the men of Ephraim provide the church a vivid lesson in the ugly sin of discord. Having loved themselves so much, they could not hate discord and so be like the Lord their God (Proverbs 6:19).
After Jephthah the Gileadite defeated the Ammonites (Judges 11:32), he was approached by an angry battalion of men from Ephraim. They were boiling mad because they had not been invited to fight against the Ammonites. They said to Jephthah, “Why did you cross over to fight against the Ammonites and did not call us to go with you? We will burn your house over you with fire” (Judges 12:1).
A few stinging insults later and an ugly civil war broke out. Jephthah and the men of Ephraim, brethren of Israel, spilled each other’s blood. When all was said and done, forty-two thousand Ephraimites were dead.
Why did this happen? Why did covenant brothers pursue discord instead of peace?
It was not because these men owned swords. It was because proud men were easily provoked when their own sense of self-importance was wounded. Somebody was not honoring them as highly as they honored themselves. Jephthah had gained a great victory, but for the Ephraimites it was not good news because the victory was not their own.
Envy and the other works of the flesh, described in Galatians 5:20, had become a toxic harvest: enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, and divisions. What a crop! Men consumed with their own importance could only consume one another.
The sequence of discord.
Discord among brethren always begins underground. It always begins with sowing. It is first cultivated in our own heart, then sown into our brother’s through his ear, and only then does it become an ugly harvest for all to see.
This dark sequence is portrayed by the apostle John in his third letter: “I have written something to the church, but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge our authority. So if I come, I will bring up what he is doing, talking wicked nonsense against us. And not content with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers, and also stops those who want to and puts them out of the church” (3 John 1:9-10).
The separation of covenant brothers began in the heart of Diotrephes: he liked putting himself first. Discord was then sown into the ears and hearts of others: Diotrephes spoke wicked nonsense. Finally, the harvest of discord appeared: brothers were not welcomed and some were put out.
What must happen to stop the discord? The answer is in Proverbs 22:10 - “Drive out a scoffer, and strife will go out, and quarreling and abuse will cease.” But what if, instead of getting rid of the scoffing man – Diotrephes, the men of Ephraim, you and me – we could just get rid of the scoffing heart? Then man, or men, could be saved and only the sin be driven out. Could this be done? James tells us, yes. Discord among brethren is defeated when “the wisdom from above” saturates our hearts instead of “the wisdom from below” (James 3:13-18).
Demonic wisdom from below, says James, is driven by “bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts,” (James 3:14). Bitter jealousy is an angry lament for self. Your spirit becomes fixated on what you are not getting from other people. Bitter jealousy whispers, “You should be getting that.” You should be getting that recognition, that opportunity, that respect, that admiration. Bitter jealousy is frustrated when self does not have what others have. Someone is being praised. Why am I not being praised? Someone is important. Why am I not important?
Now if bitter jealousy is an angry lament for self, then selfish ambition is the plan to cure it. It is the plan to exalt self. To assert self more forcefully, more visibly, more loudly, more noticeably. Like the men of Ephraim, I become comfortable taking a low view of others, thinking of reasons they do not deserve the honor they are getting. I become willing to weaken or ruin their reputation via slander or gossip or grumbling or finger-pointing. I have lost my God-like opposition to discord and now I have a Satan-like opposition to peace.
What I desperately need is “the wisdom from above.” This wisdom sows peace, not discord (James 3:18). This wisdom is given by the Holy Spirit from the throne of Christ. It is a wisdom which sees the world not as Satan does, a platform for the exaltation of the creature, but rather as a platform for the risen Christ to be revealed as the only exaltation the soul needs.
Wisdom from above allows brethren to look on any situation and say together: this situation does not need more of me, it needs more of Christ. This situation needs my brothers to see that my soul is at rest in Christ; that all I need for my reputation, my honor and my approval I already have in Jesus Christ, crucified and risen for me. I can now sow, not what God hates, but what he loves, peace in the power of Christ.
John Hartley has been pastor of Apple Valley Presbyterian Church since 2010, having previously been a pastor for 10 years in Vermont. He is a Wisconsin native and a graduate of University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee as well as Dallas Theological Seminary. John lives with his wife Jen and their five children.