In his commentary on Proverbs, Raymond Ortlund observes that the numerical ladder in biblical poetry (i.e. “six things … seven things”) is a literary device designed to highlight in particular the last of the things listed. The six things in some ways build up to the seventh thing. In this instance, Solomon’s entire list has really been building to this point—the thing that God, in a sense, hates most of all: “one who sows discord among brothers.”
This argument seems compelling, because the verses immediately preceding this list actually highlight the seventh sin: “A worthless person, a wicked man, goes about with crooked speech, winks with his eyes, signals with his feet, points with his finger, with perverted heart devises evil, continually sowing discord; therefore calamity will come upon him suddenly; in a moment he will be broken beyond healing” (Proverbs 6:12–15). He seems, then, to be speaking of one who sows discord, and in the midst of that discussion launches into a segment on seven detestable things, culminating in the sower of discord. Since it is “good and pleasant” when “brothers dwell in unity” (Psalm 133:1), there is something particularly heinous about the one who sows discord among brothers.
I once watched an episode of a television show in which a team of friends was going up against a particular enemy. The big bad had a sidekick, whose previous experience with the small band of heroes gave him a unique opportunity for infiltration. The sidekick advised his boss that, together, the band of heroes had a nasty way of stopping evil plans. Together, master and sidekick concocted a plan by which the sidekick could worm his way into the little group of friends and turn them against each other. The theory was simple: United, they were unstoppable; divided, they could be picked off one member at a time. Predictably, while there was an initial degree of success, the heroes eventually figured out what was happening and united once again to defeat the enemy.
Unchecked discord can be destructive. God, therefore, hates those who deliberately sow discord among brothers.
Note carefully that Solomon speaks of one who “sows” discord. To sow means to plant seed. The sower does not sow haphazardly or accidentally, but carefully plans where and how he will sow in order to reap the maximum reward. He also carefully plans what he will sow in order to reap precisely what he wishes to reap. Similarly, the one who sows discord carefully chooses his circumstances and his victim. And his intention is deliberate: to produce discord. Perhaps he identifies whom he perceives to be the weakest link in a group and targets that person to introduce discord.
What kind of seeds produce a harvest of discord among brothers? There are many, but it may be helpful to highlight just a few.
First, the seed of pride. Pride insists that I am better, and therefore deserve better, than others. My opinion deserves to be heard, and if it is not heard, I will make my discontent known. This attitude is divisive. Considering others better than yourself fosters unity; considering yourself better than others fosters division.
Second, selfishness is a related, and equally divisive, seed. When we demand that our way of doing things be honoured, unity is destroyed. Particularly within the context of a church, we must realise that things are ultimately done for the benefit of the body, not the individual. The body is always more important than the individual. Sulking when things are not done your way only produces division. Rather than insisting that your desires must be honoured, be willing to do things in a way that will guard the unity of the whole.
Third, gossip is a significant destroyer of harmony. Solomon speaks of a “dishonest man” spreading strife and a “whisperer” separating close friends (16:28). The “whisperer” goes about muttering unhelpful and destructive things to those whom he thinks will hear him. He will not honestly speak what is in his heart before all, but only to those whose ears he thinks he has. He will seek out those whom he thinks are likely to hear him without rebuking him, and will bare his divisive heart to them. And he will likely attract to himself those who are likewise whisperers seeking to separate close friends.
Elsewhere, Solomon speaks of the one “who repeats a matter” (rather than covering an offence) separating close friends (17:9). Are you eager to tell the faults of someone to another, or do you strive to cover those faults? This does not speak of trying to cover your own sins, but of lovingly covering the sins of others. Do you feel compelled to share the failures of others with anyone who will hear you, or are you willing to love them enough to cover their faults? Are you eager to guard the integrity of others, or do you want to see their every fault laid bare for the world to see?
As Ortlund notes, the numerical ladder that Solomon employs here suggests that it is this sin, above all others mentioned, that God hates the most. But that may seem strange. Is sowing discord among brothers really worse than, for instance, hands that shed innocent blood? We have become so accustomed to pride and selfishness and gossip and slander that we really do not consider them to be all that bad. We live in such an individualistic society, that we hardly bat an eyelid when friction is evidenced between brothers. Why, then, does God so hate this sin?
God hates discord because it violates the unity for which Jesus prayed in John 17. It damages the oneness of the body of Christ for which Paul prayed in Ephesians 4:1–16. The badge of Christian discipleship, according to John 13:34–35, is Christian love, but discord destroys that badge.
God hates discord and, according to our text, he hates those who sow discord. If we do not want to be counted among those whom God hates, we must do all we can to avoid sowing discord, remembering that every idle word we speak will come under judgement (Matthew 12:34). Rather than sowing discord, we must strive to promote unity.
The Bible offers clear counsel on how to avoid becoming one who sows discord.
First, we are warned to avoid those who are divisive. Paul tells us to “watch out for those who cause divisions” and to “avoid them” (Romans 16:17). He told Titus to “reject” those who were divisive (Titus 3:10)
Second, we are warned to avoid things that tend to division. Paul told Timothy to “avoid … irreverent babble” (1 Timothy 6:20). If a subject or activity is likely to produce division rather than harmony, we would do well to avoid it.
Third, and ultimately, the best way to promote unity is to adopt the mind of Christ. When we do so, we develop an attitude of humility and service toward others (Philippians 2:1–11). With Christ as our focus, we will look to the interests of others rather than our own interests, and we will therefore be protectors, rather than destroyers, of unity.
Brackenhurst Baptist Church
Stuart Chase is a member of Brackenhurst Baptist Church in Alberton, South Africa, where is also privileged to serve as associate pastor.
Stuart also serves as the administrator of Sola 5, whose task is to keep churches informed of happenings within the association.