Thursday, July 1, 2010

Build or Destroy


Through the blessing of the upright a city is exalted, but by the mouth of the wicked it is destroyed. Proverbs 11:11

Some personalities are so dynamic people are irresistibly drawn to them. Salesmen sell cars, politicians draw votes, and preachers win converts often on the power of their persona. Most of us may not possess such irresistible drawing power, but we all do have a level of influence that may far exceed even our own perception. Proverbs 11:11 address that issue.

The effect of our character, our personal power, builds or destroys communities. "Through the blessing of the upright a city is exalted." The blessing of the upright is likely the power of their pure character mediated through their speech. Verses 9 through 14 all address the effect of speech. The righteous bless with their speech while the wicked destroy with theirs.

The blessing of righteous speech is to exalt a city. To exalt means "build up." A city is built up by the construction of houses for people to live in and, in ancient times, by protective walls around the city. In such an environment people can thrive in security and safety.

The speech of the wise man does the same thing for a city. With his speech the wise man teaches firm principles of honorable living, like honesty, kindness and hard work. More than just talking about principles, his life models them. The wise man encourages people within his charge to live up to higher standards, and he expresses appreciation for them when they do. His is also able to offer an appropriate rebuke when necessary, but always with a view toward building a life, not discouraging one. After years of exposure to the speech and life of the wise man, the city, be it a business office, church or home, is taught and enabled to live better because of him.

But the mouth of the wicked destroys. While verses 9 through 14 address speech, most of it is about the speech of the wicked man. He derides his neighbor and betrays a confidence. Years of his influence destroys relationship and people (v.9).

The speech of the wicked man has the following affect on people. One, he debases them, usually in front of other people. He may minimize their accomplishments in a subtle way by simply saying, "Oh wow," with a mocking grin or more overtly by comparing their success with others who have done more. "Well, I know people who have done even better and at a younger age." He gossips about others, reducing the esteem other people have for them (v.9). The affect is to leave the person feeling less than what he should for his accomplishment, and creating embarrassment for him by doing it in front of others.

Secondly, the wicked man discourages others with his speech. Consistent debasement through putdowns, mockery and belittling comments kills initiative in the victim’s heart. Fear crowds out incentive to try; failure confirms the expectation of the wicked man. Children raised in such an environment may reason it is worthless to ever attempt anything worthwhile in life, or they may spend their life in vain pursuit of trying ever harder to achieve an accomplishment that will win the wicked man’s approval, all so they can feel worthwhile.

Finally, as a result of the debasement and discouragement, the wicked man destroys those who fall under his influence. People feel ashamed and unworthy of doing well. They give up worthy aspirations, become embittered and angry, and can become wicked themselves, destroying the people they influence just as they were destroyed.

Having a forceful personality helps in selling cars, drawing votes, and winning converts. But such dynamic charisma is really not needed to effect much good. The quiet, consistent voice of a righteous man who teaches wisdom, expresses appreciation, encourages good work, and gives positive recognition for accomplishment is building a city. He is exalting the staff in his office, the members of his church, and the children and spouse in his family. The foundation of his city is firm, the walls are strong, and the inhabitants of his dwelling are free and secure to live, love, even fail, because they know they have room to try again. Any city is blessed by such a man.

Warren Baldwin