The Wise and the Fool

A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man holds quietly back.
— Proverbs 29:11

Most of my life I would have been characterized as the fool in Proverbs. Some people are naturally more quiet and reserved. That is not me by any stretch of the imagination. I have been known to give full vent to my anger on a number of occasions. I can be harsh. I can be mean. And I can destroy with my words. My tongue has been my downfall and is still a constant struggle. I would imagine that many probably see themselves in this passage.

Often when we talk about controlling the tongue it comes across as a flippant imperative. Just stop it. Just learn how to not be angry and stop having outbursts. It sounds so simple, right? Anyone who has struggled with anger and their words will know that this is impossible. You spend the morning memorizing verses about the heart and anger only to have to apologize to a friend later in the day because of a harsh word spoken. But there is something more going on in this proverb than simply learning how to not be angry. In fact, the writer assumes that anger is going to be felt. The real challenge is in our response.

It’s not that the wise man has somehow learned how to feel less angry, as if wisdom means numbness to all emotion. Rather, the wise man “quietly holds back.” Wisdom is embodied here as self-control. But what the writer is getting at is that the fool and the wise feel the same indignation, yet one has learned the way of holding back. We are emotional beings and we get angry. God knows that and he has given us these emotions. Wisdom is not a character trait. It is a product of the fruit of the Spirit.

So how do we learn to be like the wise man who “quietly holds back” when he is angry?

First, there is a time to speak and a time to be quiet. Notice how the fool is one who gives “full vent to his spirit”. I don’t think he is saying that wisdom implies never speaking. It’s about discerning the right time to speak. There are occasions that require a clear, decisive voice and others that do not. To learn wisdom is to learn how to discern these moments.

Second, and most importantly, it means clinging to the only wise One. Not only is he the perfect example of what it means to quietly hold back when appropriate, he is wisdom. We aren’t wise and self-controlled because we learn techniques for dealing with anger or handling our emotions. No, we are wise because Jesus is our righteousness, Jesus is our hope, and Jesus is our wisdom. We can hold back from giving into every impulse and feeling because Jesus held back perfectly on our behalf. Even more than that, when we fail and behave like the fool we have a perfect advocate before the Father. Our seemingly righteous acts of wisdom are like filthy rags before him. We never do it perfectly, but Jesus did. What glorious hope for us!

So if you are like me, struggling through this life failing in living the way of the wise more often than you want, take heart, dear Christian. Jesus is wisdom. Jesus did it perfectly so you could be cleansed from every full vent of anger done yesterday, today, and in the future. Trust in him and lean hard into him, the truly wise Savior.