Whoever corrects a scoffer gets himself abuse, and he who reproves a wicked man incurs injury.
Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you; reprove a wise man, and he will love you.
Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning. (Proverbs 9:7-9 ESV)
There are many characteristic differences between the fool and the wise man. One of them is his reception of advice. A fool ignores it and a wise man receives it. Advice can come in a variety of ways, sometimes out of kindness and sometimes out of intent to hurt. Perhaps when it comes harshly, we find out if we are more like the wise man or the fool. Harsh words hurt and push us to raise our defenses. Instead of listening for truth in the words, we seek to defend ourselves and redirect the accusations. It is as though we have some fundamental fear of losing our integrity or our “status” in the eyes of others, or even in our own eyes. Somehow the wise man is able to transcend this and hear even harsh words and learn from them.
Another key difference between the two: the wise man fears the Lord, the fool does not. This fear of the Lord is more than a fear of punishment. It is a deep respect and reverence. The more personal this experience, the deeper the reverence. One who was overcome with guilt for a particular sin who finds his sin taken away through sacrifice – not just intellectually, but emotionally and personally – knows something of this personal touch of the Lord. He has felt God’s power at work on his own heart. The Old Testament saint only knew this through the shadowy types of Christ. But we know this through Christ’s death on the cross and the application of that death through the wooing of the Holy Spirit who speaks and awakens our heart to the love of God. This assurance gives us confidence in our relationship with God for we find that it is not contingent upon us but the Lord’s work. When we know this, we can hear words of criticism, even harsh ones. Though it may still hurt, having a confidence that “nothing can separate us from the love of God” allows the wise man to hear the truth within the criticism and grow wiser still. Without this confidence, the fool must do whatever it takes to hold onto his illusion of self-sufficiency.