One of the many issues that the young man will have to learn how to deal with over the course of his life is how to deal with interpersonal conflict. I am convinced that one of the reasons why Proverbs is addressed to the young man is because if he sows to the Spirit in his youth, then he will also reap from the Spirit in his old age (see Gal. 6:7-9). Young men face great temptations and young men are establishing patterns of faithfulness that will affect them for the rest of their lives. It is the young man whom Jesus calls to follow after Him for wisdom. Wisdom cries out to the young man in the public square when he is standing there wondering which way to walk (Prov. 1, 7:24-27).
I want to get a couple possible misconceptions out of the way before I get to the point. When applying Scripture, we must be filled with the Spirit of Christ who is the Spirit of wisdom. In other words there is a way to be dumb in the application of Scripture. We don’t simply hold to the doctrine of Scripture alone, but the entirety of Scripture (sola Scriptura and tota Scriptura). We seek to understand things in their context. There are other passages in the Book of Proverbs which balance out those who might take a rash approach to Prov. 25:26. For example, there are many verses which condemn contentiousness and getting into unnecessary fights. Just think of Prov. 26:17: “Whoever meddles in a quarrel not his own is like one who takes a passing dog by the ears.” Many more could be stated. But I digress.
Ashley and I just read Proverbs 25:26 at the dinner table: “Like a muddied spring or a polluted fountain is a righteous man who gives way before the wicked.” This struck me, because this sounds dangerous. Isn’t it better to avoid a conflict? Aren’t we supposed to be peace-makers? Isn’t it better for the unity of the group to live and let live? Isn’t it better to just apologize and move on? These are many of the questions that might come to mind in the context of this passage. These are not bad questions.
I have been trying to get a better understanding from the Hebrew. The first image is of a well that has been trampled in, so it raises up the dirt, and filled the drinking water with silt. The second image is of a fountain that has been purposely fouled. The man is a righteous man who trembles or shakes or quakes before the face of the wicked. To give way is to back down out of fear. But notice the connection between the second clause and the first clause. That man who actively gives way is compared to that well that has been trampled in. He is compared to that spring that has been fouled. The drinking water is good for nothing. The salt has lost its flavour. The light has been put out.
I imagine here a situation with a bully in a high school or a grade school. Another guy has stepped between him the person he is bullying. He realizes too late that the bully has 50 lbs on him and has been going to the gym 3x a week. So he stands down and watches the other guy get kicked around. That young man is like a well that has been trampled in and a spring that has been fouled. He has effectively muddied the waters himself by backing down.
This reminds me of a popular quote from Jordan Peterson: “A harmless man is not a good man. A good man is a very dangerous man who has that under voluntary control.” I would simply edit the end of this quote with words from Galatians 6: “A good man is a very dangerous man who is under the control of the Spirit and not of the flesh.” Someone might contend with the word “dangerous”, but then I should point out that in the Old Testament whenever the Spirit comes upon a man, he goes to war. The principalities and powers in the heavenly places should flee before the church when it is in the armour of God. A dangerous man is someone who does not stand down before wickedness.
Wickedness should be terrified by righteousness. Light should shine in the darkness. Christian men should fear God and not men. Wisdom must come into conflict with folly. Truth should militate against error.
There is a time for everything. There is a time to stand down. But don’t muddy the waters. Don’t trample in the well. Don’t poison the spring. Don’t be that poison spring. Don’t be that muddy well. This is what Christ calls His followers to. He calls you away from that spirit of cowardice that stands down when someone is coming at you to intimidate you on a point of godliness. Sure, Christ was perfect and we are not. But He gives us His Spirit, He forgives us for the times that we have stood down before wickedness, and we have the mind of Christ through union with Him. Christian men are in this struggle together, because all must learn to rely on Christ more and more.
So beg Christ for His Spirit of wisdom, call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, and then take a stand.