Opposite Proverbs and The Nature of Wisdom

One thing that we have to realize when we study the book of Proverbs, and wisdom literature in general, is that wisdom is situational.  Applying a wisdom saying in one circumstance might be wise in one circumstance but foolish in another circumstance.  It is too bad that many fail to realize this when they read, preach or teach the Proverbs.  They take every wisdom saying as being universally applicable to every situation.  What they fail to realize is the nature of wisdom.  Wisdom is seeing how things relate in a given circumstance, perceiving the consequences, and acting in a way that will bring blessing instead of curse.  My former professor used to say that wisdom is the art of living well.

To illustrate the point that wisdom is situational and that wisdom sayings must be carefully applied, here are some common wisdom sayings which contradict if taken as universally applicable in every situation.  The wise person will know that they don’t contradict.  Rather, each has an appropriate situation where the saying is true.  You are wise if you know when to apply the following opposite proverbs:

Prov. 26:4  Answer not a fool according to his folly,
lest you be like him yourself.
5  Answer a fool according to his folly,
lest he be wise in his own eyes.

Modern Day Proverbs:

Look before you leap.
BUT
He who hesitates is lost.

Birds of a feather flock together.
BUT
Opposites attract.

You’re never too old to learn.
BUT
You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.

Don’t change horses in midstream.
BUT
Variety is the spice of life.

Doubt is the beginning, not the end, of wisdom.
BUT
Faith will move mountains.

Too many cooks spoil the broth.
BUT
Two heads are better than one.

The pen is mightier than the sword.
BUT
Actions speak louder than words.

Don’t cross the bridge till you come to it.
BUT
Forewarned is forearmed.

Silence is golden.
BUT
The squeky wheel gets the grease.

Clothes make the man.
BUT
Never judge a book by its cover.

The best things come in small packages.
BUT
The bigger, the better.

If you lie down with dogs, you’ll get up with fleas.
BUT
If you can’t beat’em join’em.

A miss is as good as a mile.
BUT
Something is better than nothing.

Blood is thicker than water.
BUT
Many kinfolk, few friends.

Practice makes perfect.
BUT
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.

A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.
BUT
A man’s reach should exceed his grasp.

There’s safety in numbers.
BUT
Better be alone than in bad company.

If at first you don’t succeed, try try again.
BUT
Don’t beat a dead horse.

Wise men think alike.
BUT
Fools seldom differ.

The best things in life are free.
BUT
There’s no such thing as a free lunch.

Slow and steady wins the race.
BUT
Time waits for no man.

Look before you leap.
BUT
Strike while the iron is hot.

Do it well, or not at all.
BUT
Half a loaf is better than none.

Great starts make great finishes.
BUT
It ain’t over ’till it’s over.

Hold fast to the words of your ancestors.
BUT
Wise men make proverbs and fools repeat them.

For a great article on how to better understand Biblical wisdom read this short article by Dr. Bryan D. Estelle entitled, “Christ, the Consummation of Wisdom.”

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5 thoughts on “Opposite Proverbs and The Nature of Wisdom

  1. Very thought provoking! I appreciated the quote from your professor that wisdom is “the art of living well.” Furthermore your collection of modern north American contradicting proverbs is a wonderful illustration of the grayness of wisdom. Thanks.

  2. Yeah well things are easier when they’re more concrete. Make a law out of it then we know when to apply it (ALWAYS). Or in another piece of wisdom, “complete abstinence is easier than perfect moderation”–Shmaugustine.

    Anyway I am writing to let you know I’m linking your blog!

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