. . . at least until his mother whipped around red-faced and glaring at him with clenched fists. She leaned into the shopping cart inches from the child’s face and whispered viciously, “If you touch one more thing, I’ll break every @#*& finger on your hand!”
Before I could shake off the shock, she had paid for her few items, ripped the youngster from the cart and stormed out. I stood there wondered, “If she talks like that to children (hers, I assume) in public, what is their life like at home?!”
Sadly, most of us have probably heard someone say something like “I’ll smack some sense into you” or “beat the devil out of you”, as if that would help. But Proverbs 19:25 tells us, “Strike a scoffer and the naive may become shrewd, but rebuke a person of understanding and they will gain knowledge.” This short verse contrasts two different means of trying to effect change (physical abuse vs. verbal correction) and two different results. Let’s look at the latter first.
Certainly those who have been beaten (physically or otherwise) learn how to be shrewd. They learn to obey their abusers . . . when they’re looking. They learn to distrust and avoid others in positions of power, whether their trust has been broken by those people or not. And they learn to beat down others who could potentially hurt them before the other person gets the upper hand. But the person of understanding actually learns the lesson, takes it to heart and uses it to make appropriate changes.
The difference between the two means is just as stark: beating their body vs. teaching their spirit. Contrary to the abusers’ mindset, positive change never comes through beatings (not to be confused with self-controlled corporal discipline administered out of love and concern for the child). But godly verbal corrections sinks into a wise person.
Why does the lesser means gain the greater result? And how should this apply to the average reader who probably doesn’t beat others? Again, let’s look at the latter question first.
As works-oriented human beings, we tend to beat on ourselves to try to effect change in our own hearts. We might not lash ourselves like Martin Luther did as a guilt-ridden monk, but we do punish ourselves by trying to confess every single sin to God and agonize down to the depth of our souls, as if our self-deprecation will soften God’s heart where Jesus’ sacrifice could not. We make bargains with God (our idea, not His) to do miserable “good” deeds to make up for our rebellions. And, yes, some do beat themselves, cut themselves and even kill themselves to try to change (or end) who they are. But we are powerless to change our own nature (Jeremiah 13:23, John 3:6-7 Romans 8:4, etc.)
So why are words more power than beatings? They aren’t necessarily. As I’ve already implied, others’ words can be as destructive as physical beatings. But God’s Word is powerful in the person who receives what He has to say – encouragement or rebuke, promise or command, pleasant or difficult. The person of understanding knows to listen and even love God’s rebukes because they know the God who loves them and works all things for their good, even through rebukes.
So the next time you’re tempted to beat yourself up, turn to God’s Word. He’ll be much more effective in addressing the real heart issues and bringing real change because He’ll always couple His discipline with His grace and His power to restore the repentant (Romans 2:4). And the next time you’re tempted to beat up on someone else (physically or otherwise), remember how He brought about real change in you: by the Truths of His Word, the power of His Spirit, the fellowship of His people, and the work of trust and obedience in your life.
Talk to your soul about your God as David did in Psalm 103. And talk with others about your Savior and King. Genesis 1 and John 1 teach us that, from the very beginning, He brought Life by His Word.
He still does.