In Proverbs 13:13 we read, “Whoever despises the word brings destruction on himself, but he who reveres the commandment will be rewarded.” What we have here are two contrasting outcomes that revolve around a single idea—a thesis and antithesis—a positive and a negative—which is a pattern that we find all throughout the proverbs. So here, the single idea—the point of focus—is one’s regard for God’s Word. In this verse, word and commandment are used in parallel here, and they are both ways of referring to God’s Word—the Scriptures—the special revelation of God’s will spoken through his prophets.
Thus, we find this proverb giving us a picture of two different outcomes when it comes to how we regard God’s Word. The first outcome is a negative one: “Whoever despises the word brings destruction on himself…” The picture here is of one who has nothing but contempt and hatred for the word of God. He can’t stand to hear it and he certainly has no desire to obey it. Why? Because the natural man cannot accept the things of God, as St. Paul tells us. They are foolishness to him. God’s Word comes to the natural man as an outside word—indicating that he is a creature who is under his Creator’s authority. And this is something that the natural man will simply not tolerate. He believes that if he can somehow despise, and mock, and silence God’s word—that he can bring it to nothing. Then he will be free. Free to be his own god—accountable to no one but himself—able to direct his own path—and bring his own reality into existence out of his depraved and perverted imagination. But, as this proverb warns, his optimism is short-lived and his future destruction is certain. The picture that is suggested here is that of a man who pledges himself to pay a debt that he cannot afford. He gets in too deep. That’s what happens to all who despise God’s Word—on the day their debts are called in they find themselves to be without the means satisfy the debt they owe—their committed rebellion against God’s will is what ultimately brings about their self-destruction.
But, as we’ve noted, there are two outcomes described here. And so, while the one who despises God’s word brings destruction on himself, the flip side of this is that “he who reveres the commandment will be rewarded.” That word revere is the Hebrew verb that means to fear—it’s a callback to one of the main themes that runs throughout the entire book of Proverbs that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” So one of the ways in which we fear the Lord rightly is to submit to his Word. To acknowledge that, when he speaks to us, he speaks as a Creator to his creatures. God has every right to command us, instruct us, and define us. That’s the idea here. The one who rightly acknowledges God’s authority through submitting to his Word will be rewarded. Now notice that this does not say, will earn, or will merit, or will deserve a reward. This is not works-righteousness. In fact, the word reward comes from the same root as the word shalom. Shalom is a word that is used throughout the Hebrew Scriptures to describe a state of total peace, health, and contentment. Shalom is having everything that you need and lacking nothing. And so we see that the man who submits to God’s authority over his life will eventually find that he is completely and entirely cared for—a at peace—made whole.
And this is exactly what Christ promises to give us in our reading from John this morning. When Christ says “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word…” he is speaking as God’s Wisdom incarnate. He is identifying himself as the fulfillment of the Scriptures—as the definitive expression of God’s Word that we are to fear, and love, and trust above all things. And what does he promise to those who hear and keep his word? Shalom—peace. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.” And so, in Christ, we find the key for understanding this proverb—and all the proverbs—rightly. Christ is the Word of God that comes to us as the ultimate expression of God’s will—and Christ is the ultimate bringer of shalom—Christ brings us the reward of peace with God by giving us his own righteousness. Christ gives us shalom—because he sheds his blood in order to pay the debt we incurred by despising God’s Word. So keep Christ’s Word by believing it. Receive his peace as your reward. Be made whole through his Word of shalom.