"Heed instruction and be wise, and do not neglect it"
The great danger in life is that you would be wise in one area of your life or with one decision and then lay wisdom down and not use it in other areas of life. Some people are the best versions of themselves at work but a horrible version of themselves at home. In one world they are selfless and think about the greater good. In the other world they are all about themselves and incredibly impulsive. Don’t let this be you. Solomon is telling us that we need to become wise in all the areas of our life: Dig for the Triple-Win in each arena of life, not just one or two. Some people employ wisdom for a period of time and then think they don't need it. Some wander away from wisdom as they become fascinated with the new. Solomon wants to remind young and old alike that we need to keep digging for the wise action, the wise choice, and the wise direction.
All of us have a default setting that is foolishness. In theological terms it is called Original Sin and our sin nature. What this means is that we are oriented toward selfishness. Adam and Eve as originally created were oriented toward God. Their first impulse was to please God and expand His glory. This was their natural impulse and allowed them to enjoy the wonders of the Garden for as long as they were there. They also were oriented toward others and ministering, serving, and giving. Their own personal interests were in the background. What the Devil did was to tempt Adam and Eve to put themselves first and think about what they wanted and believe that somehow God was holding out on them by restricting this one tree and its fruit. When they sinned, something changed in them. They spiritually died as God said would happen. They became oriented to self first which resulted in alienation from God and others.
All of this to say that we are now naturally oriented toward neglecting wisdom. We feel the most drawn to the fool’s solution. We will drift to neglecting wisdom. Solomon screams at us: Don't do it!
The word heed is the word sama which means to hear, listen to, obey. Life is giving us instruction; we just have to be willing to pay attention to it. Solomon is letting us know that too many people go to sleep about further learning – after their early years. “I am an adult, I don’t need to learn.” Develop a constant delight in learning and your life will unfold in many delightful ways. Close your heart to learning as an adult and life will close down and become routine and unsatisfying.
The word instruction is the word musar in the Hebrew, and it connotes that you have received information, knowledge, and step-by-step instructions about how to do something. There is another idea that is also a part of this word that is often overlooked. This is the idea of feedback. Solomon is also saying to the adult: Don’t neglect the feedback that you are receiving. As we go about our lives, we receive feedback (instruction) from a lot of sources. Don’t neglect that information: if you didn’t make the sale; if your spouse is becoming cold toward to you; if your bank account is getting smaller; if your career options are increasing in one direction but shrinking in another direction; if you are not as close to God as you were. These are all feedback.
Too often we establish a way that we want to live life and then blame others for how they are reacting to us. We need to be open to feedback (instruction) about how we are coming across; about what we are doing; about who we are associating with; about our manner, dress, and tone. Life is giving us feedback but we must be willing to listen. This is why Solomon is saying: Heed instruction (feedback) and be wise.
I am interested in how this works in so many areas and how the feedback changes. The clothing that I wore ten years ago now blocks some people from hearing my teaching because they have a different reaction to those colors and patterns than I do. I must receive that feedback and discern a wise course of action.
The very same patterns of behavior and routine become boring, predictable, and potentially suffocating to a relationship at a certain point; and I must discern that feedback and interact with my spouse, my friends, and my colleagues in order to receive that instruction and see if there are new patterns of behavior that would breathe life into those relationships.
The word translated neglect in this passage is the Hebrew word para. It means to set free, to avoid, to let be naked, to allow something to go without restraint. Solomon is telling us that we are receiving instruction about life all the time. Don’t let this valuable commodity wander through your life without your capturing it. Do not neglect feedback.
I interact with people all the time who have the chance to learn how to have a better marriage or grow in their knowledge of God or learn a new skill at work or learn a new hobby; but they are more interested in movies, TV programs, or the latest inane thing their friends are saying. If you have the chance to grow and to become better, take it. And then once you have gained this information, do not neglect it.
Don’t become that person who says to me at church one day: “I used to be really into God but I have gotten away from it.” Or “We used to have a great marriage but we just kind of drifted into other things and have grown apart.” “We used to be the fun family but somehow that just faded away.”
The instruction that God sends and you receive from friends will not always be kind, but it will be helpful if you are ready to receive it and pay attention to it.