Proverbs Thematic Sermon - Making Peace or Stirring Up Strife (Erik Veerman)

May 12, 2024    Erik Veerman

Before we begin, I wanted to answer a question.

Some of you have asked whether these Proverbs sermons are topical or expository. That’s an excellent question. Typically, a topical sermon uses different passages in the Bible to focus on a particular topic – thus the name. Expository sermons involve preaching through a book of the Bible. The goal is to understand both what the original human author intended and what the Holy Spirit intended as far as how the book fits within the Bible and redemption in Christ. After that, the text can be faithfully applied to us.

When we went through the first 9 chapters of Proverbs, we definitely considered them in a traditional expository way – verse by verse. Starting in chapter 10, we’ve been looking at the themes contained in the rest of the book. I would say, even though we’ve been dealing with topics, our sermons have still been expository. Let me give you four reasons.

1.) We have been staying within the book of Proverbs… and focusing on what King Solomon wrote and compiled for his sons and the people of Israel.

2.) By working through different themes in this second half, we’ve been able to dig deep into the message of the book. Topical sermons often impose meaning into the text, but we’ve been seeking to draw meaning from the text.

3.) Related to that, by the end of our study, we will have read every single verse in the book of Proverbs. That has led to a very thorough understanding of Proverbs, why Solomon wrote it, and how we should understand it today.

4.) And last, we’ve spent a lot of time considering how each passage and theme fits within God’s work of redemption including how they’re fulfilled in Christ.

To be sure, the thematic approach in the last half has been a little unconventional, but I think overall faithful to our expository study. I hope that is helpful

Ok, let’s now consider our verses today.

Please take out the Proverbs insert. Our theme is strife and anger and quarreling versus peace and love.

Reading of selected proverbs:


Strife: Stirring up or putting out

Proverbs 10:12 Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses.

13:10 By insolence comes nothing but strife,

    but with those who take advice is wisdom.

15:1 A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.

15:18 A hot-tempered man stirs up strife,

    but he who is slow to anger quiets contention.

17:14 The beginning of strife is like letting out water,

    so quit before the quarrel breaks out.

17:19 Whoever loves transgression loves strife;

    he who makes his door high seeks destruction.

18:6 A fool's lips walk into a fight, and his mouth invites a beating.

18:18 The lot puts an end to quarrels

    and decides between powerful contenders.

21:14 A gift in secret averts anger, and a concealed bribe, strong wrath.

Proverbs 25:21-23

    21 If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat,

              and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink,

    22 for you will heap burning coals on his head,

              and the LORD will reward you.

    23 The north wind brings forth rain,

              and a backbiting tongue, angry looks.

26:20 For lack of wood the fire goes out,

    and where there is no whisperer, quarreling ceases.

26:21 As charcoal to hot embers and wood to fire,

    so is a quarrelsome man for kindling strife.

29:22 A man of wrath stirs up strife,

    and one given to anger causes much transgression.


Anger: Slow to or quick to

14:17 A man of quick temper acts foolishly, and a man of evil devices is hated.

14:29 Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding,

    but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly.

16:32 Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty,

    and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.

19:11 Good sense makes one slow to anger,

    and it is his glory to overlook an offense.

22:24-25 Make no friendship with a man given to anger,

    nor go with a wrathful man,

    lest you learn his ways and entangle yourself in a snare.

Quarrelling: Living with or driving out

16:7 When a man's ways please the LORD,

    he makes even his enemies to be at peace with him.

17:1 Better is a dry morsel with quiet than a house full of feasting with strife.

18:19 A brother offended is more unyielding than a strong city,

    and quarreling is like the bars of a castle.

19:13 A foolish son is ruin to his father,

    and a wife's quarreling is a continual dripping of rain.

20:3 It is an honor for a man to keep aloof from strife,

    but every fool will be quarreling.

21:9 It is better to live in a corner of the housetop

    than in a house shared with a quarrelsome wife.

21:19 It is better to live in a desert land

    than with a quarrelsome and fretful woman.

22:10 Drive out a scoffer, and strife will go out,

    and quarreling and abuse will cease.

25:24 It is better to live in a corner of the housetop

    than in a house shared with a quarrelsome wife.

26:17 Whoever meddles in a quarrel not his own

    is like one who takes a passing dog by the ears.

27:15-16 A continual dripping on a rainy day

    and a quarrelsome wife are alike;

    to restrain her is to restrain the wind or to grasp oil in one's right hand.



October 8, 1871. It was a particularly devastating day in American history. Two massive fires killed thousands of people and destroyed lands and buildings and homes.

You may be familiar with the first fire, the Great Chicago Fire. It was started in a barn allegedly by a group of men who where gambling and knocked over a lantern. The fire quickly got out of control. The dry conditions spread the fire and the winds blew toward the heart of Chicago. There was no stopping the blaze. In the end, it destroyed over 17,000 buildings and 300 people died.

Far worse, however, was a second fire that started that same day - October 8, 1871. This one was a forest fire that started in Peshtigo, Wisconsin. Railroad workers had started a brush fire to clear land. But given the dry conditions and wind, it turned into an inferno. The fire burned 1.2 million acres and over 1200 people died. It is still the deadliest fire in US history.

Every year, fires destroy lives and livelihoods. The larger a fire, the more difficult it is to contain. In fact, the resources required increase exponentially. In certain conditions, temperatures can reach up to 2000 degrees Fahrenheit in an out-of-control fire. That’s only 1/5 the temperature on the sun’s surface. But if a fire is contained early, the resources needed to stop it are greatly reduced.

Isn’t that what happens between people? A little tiff turns into a spat which leads to a dispute and then to a fight. The fire of conflict escalates and escalates, until there’s seemingly no turning back. It becomes all-consuming. Anger and hate may then turn violent. Multiple people and groups may be pulled into the fight, and it can all lead to a devastating forest fire of strife and anger. But if the conflict can be put out early, then peace will win often the day.

Solomon recognizes the propensity of the human heart to fight. He knows that every single person and every single community by nature is prone to anger and hate, which can lead to bitter disputes that destroy relationships and people.

Look down at Proverbs 26:21. It’s on the left hand side. “As charcoal to hot embers and wood to fire, so is a quarrelsome man for kindling strife.” Anger is stirred up by a quarrelsome man, which is like kindling to the fire of strife.

Sadly, Solomon experienced some of this. We read earlier how later in his life, several adversaries opposed him. That was a result of Solomon’s own sin. And that conflict continued and escalated even after Solomon’s death. It led to the divided kingdom.

Every people and every generation has or will experiences this. It’s part of our fallen human condition.

Ok, as we look at these proverbs, there are three general categories. Those align with the three groupings of proverbs - strife, anger, and quarreling. And within each, there’s a contrast between escalation and de-escalation. In other words, how our words and actions can either make things worse – escalate. Or how our words and actions can calm things down – deescalate.

Before we consider how we make things worse or calm things down, let me define the three terms that Proverbs uses.

Let’s begin with anger because that’s often where conflict arises. Anger is when you have deep feelings of displeasure. You know that, already, but there’s a funny thing in the Hebrew – the word for anger is the same word for nose. You know, your nose. We think of anger more associated with our ears. My ears are red. I’m angry. Well, the Israelites associated anger with their noses. When your nose was red, you were angry - like a bull in a bull fight. Its nose is steaming because it’s angry. In the Hebrew, if someone has a long nose, they do not get angry easily. The phrase “slow to anger” literally translated means long nose. Do you have a short nose or a long nose? The bottom line is that anger is a strong emotion against something.

And that leads to strife and quarreling. Those two words are used interchangeably. In fact, there are four different underlying words in the Hebrew. The basic meaning is contention or hostility – and its often verbal contention meaning debating and arguing forcefully. It’s when voices are raised with intense disagreement. In Genesis 13, an argument arose between Abraham and Lot’s herdsmen. They were quarreling, it says, because they were trying to share the same land for their livestock, but they couldn’t get along. Tensions were high.

Typically, when one of the underlying words is used as a noun, it is translated strife. When used as an adjective to describe someone, it is translated quarrelsome. Someone is quarrelsome if they are prone to cause strife. And typically, if the underlying word is used as a participle, it is translated quarreling.

Let’s go back now to the main two questions which proverbs asks:

Are you stirring up strife because you are angry or you are quarrelsome? Or are you seeking peace and calming the flames of strife? Are you trying to put the fire out?

1. Stirring up strife

The first question – are you stirring the pot of strife?

There are a lot of patterns and repeated phrases in these proverbs. Rather than give you specific verses, I’ll just highlight the repeated phrases. Now, as you hear these, your temptation may  be to think about other people. “Oh, I know someone who has a backbiting tongue.” Instead, try to think about your own heart and words and actions.

As I mentioned, one of the obvious things that stirs up strife is anger. You know, someone with a “hot temper” or “quick tempter” or “hasty temper.” Those phrases are all used here. Another phrase is someone “given to anger.” Sometimes we describe this kind of person as having a short fuse. Like a firecracker when you light the fuse, and it explodes really fast. If you have a short tempter, like that, I suspect you often find yourself in conflict. That’s one way strife is stirred up.

A second way that strife is stirred up is through our careless and insensitive words. There are a few different phrases that capture this. For example, “A fools lips walk into a fight” and “a harsh word stirs up anger.” A “scoffer” is another word used that falls in this category. A scoffer is someone who mocks or makes fun of someone of something. A scoffer will obviously stir up strife. Another word is someone who’s  quarrelsome. That’s someone who likes to pick a fight – they may have a backbiting tongue, to use another phrase here… or they are disagreeable or they have to make a negative comment about everything.

It's like a “continual dripping on a rainy day.” By the way, I should comment on the Proverbs about avoiding a quarrelsome wife. Amy said to me, “you know it’s Mother’s Day on Sunday.” I was like, “oops.” Hopefully I am not stirring up strife.

On a serious note, remember, Solomon is writing to his sons – young sons. He wants them to be careful about who they will marry. As beautiful as a woman may be on the outside, if she is quarrelsome, it is better to live on “the corner of a housetop” than with her. Solomon is not targeting women. If he were writing to his daughters, he would have said something similar focused on husbands. Proverbs 17:1 summarizes it well. “Better is a dry morsel with quiet than a house full of feasting with strife.” In other words, it’s better to be poor with little food and have peace in your home, than be a Kardashian! – just saying.

So, number 1, a hot temper and anger stirs up strife. And number 2, being careless and insensitive and quarrelsome also stirs up strife.

Kids, have you ever seen the Pixar movie, Inside Out? It’s about a girl named Riley who moved across the country with her family. And that’s a hard thing. Some of you have moved to a new city. Riley has so many emotions that she was dealing with like sadness and fear and anger.

The interesting thing about the movie is we are taken into the headquarters of Riley’s mind. Each emotion is a character in the movie. Joy and Sadness are trying to guide her, but then they both get swept away and lost in another part of Riley’s mind. And guess who is left in her mind’s headquarters? Anger and Disgust and Fear. And that is a bad combination!

Anger’s is, of course, red. And quite often he blows his top. Literally out of the top of his head comes this stream of anger like a steam engine. Disgust is outspoken and negative. She is opinionated and dramatic and she rolls her eyes a lot in disgust. Everything is unacceptable.

Those emotions, Anger and Disgust, are like the first two descriptions here in Proverbs… And they are not helping Riley. They both stir up conflict. The question is, are Joy and Sadness lost forever? I won’t spoil it. You’ll have to watch the movie. It’s a helpful movie, actually, because one of the things we need to learn is how to identify and control our emotions. Stay tuned for more on that.

Ok, there’s a final category here that stirs up strife - hatred and wrath. Yes, those are related to anger, but you can be angry without hating or being wrathful. This category is about intentional evil and wickedness. The phrases captured here are “evil devices” and “a man of wrath” and someone who “loves transgression.” Intentional evil and vitriol and sin will obviously stir up strife.

In summary, are your words and actions causing and escalating strife? …because you are hot-tempered? Or because you are careless and quarrelsome? Or worse, because you are hateful and vengeful? None of it conforms to the pattern of peace that we are called to pursue.

2. Seeking peace by avoiding

And that brings us to the other side. How are we to put out the fire of strife? How do we calm a hot situation down before it explodes into an uncontrollable fire?

Here’s how you do it: when someone’s anger is rising and things start to get out of control, here’s what you say. You should say, “you just need to calm down.” It works every time, doesn’t it? It is especially effective if you raise your voice and squint your eyes and point your finger.

No, of course that doesn't work.

Rather, “a soft answer turns away wrath.” That’s the most well-known Proverb here. 15:1.

Our words are not neutral. You can say things that hurt and make someone angry, or you can say things that sooth and calm. One way hinders and another helps.

Even if you have to convey difficult things, you can do it with care and sensitivity. Instead of saying “you just need to calm down.” How about “I’m sorry for making things difficult, can we talk through this” or “is there something I can do to help.” or “can we come back in a few minutes and work through this.” Every situation is different. It takes wisdom and advice, as Proverbs 13:10 explains.

The main way that these Proverbs exhort us to calm strife is through love and longsuffering. “Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses.” That’s the first Proverb in the list. We’re to “overlook an offense” as another Proverb says.

Another well-known Proverbs is chapter 25 verses 21-22. It’s there on the left. “If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat, and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink, for you will heap burning coals on his head, and the LORD will reward you.” That is not saying that you should try to “kill him with kindness” so to speak… so that you can get back at him.

No, this is actually to demonstrate love and not hate. That phrase “to heap burning coals” is an idiom which likely means that your enemy becomes repentant. His conscience has softened. Your words and actions have brought peace.

One phrase that is used several times here is “slow to anger.” Again, having a long nose. That means when you are provoked, to not provoke back. Instead of a short fuse, a long fuse. It means to love even when it is difficult. And it means overlooking offenses.

Look at 16:32 “Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.”   “He who rules his spirit.” Or he who controls his emotions. Instead of blowing your top like the anger character in Inside-Out, having a “cool head” as we sometimes say.

There’s a classic book by Ken Sande titled Peacemaker. It’s great and I would recommend it. In it, he outlines the Biblical case for being a peacemaker and what that looks like. He gives three helpful categories: Peace makers, peace breakers and peace fakers.

·      A peacemaker is someone seeking peace with others through the ways that Proverbs describe as well as other ways. Or you are helping to mediate peace. In other words, you are helping to bring peace in other situations. Proverbs 18:18 captures that. It says, “The lot puts an end to quarrels and decides between powerful contenders.” A lot was a Hebrew way to make a decision. “Casting lots” is like drawing straws today. Both parties agree to abide by where the lot fell. Being a peacemaker may mean you are helping to bring two or more people together and pave a path of peace for them. So, being a peacemaker applies to either your relationships or helping others in theirs.

·      On the contrary, a peace breaker is someone whose words and actions escalate or stir up conflict like the various ways we talked about earlier.

·      The third category is being a peace faker. Meaning you are pretending to be at peace but you are still holding anger on the inside which may erupt. Or you are putting up walls and just ignoring the conflict. Proverbs 17:19 describes that – the second half. “He who makes his door high seeks destruction.” In other words, you are blocking a path to peace. You are turning your back on someone and stonewalling them. It’s not peace but rather a silent kind of strife.

This is all difficult, isn’t it? Some of you know the pain of conflict all too well.

And theory is much easier than practice. It’s easy to talk about being peaceful but in the moment, it is difficult. When you are personally attacked or when your feelings of anger well up within you, it’s hard to even think straight.

So, the question becomes… how do you break through your own sin to be a peacemaker? How do you break through your anger and quarrelsome nature and hate to instead be soft with your words and slow to anger?

Well, you do that by looking to the one who is slow to anger.

The phrase “slow to anger” used in these Proverbs is directed at us. We’re to have a long nose - to be slow to anger. But every other instance in the Old Testament, the phrase “slow to anger” is ascribed to the Lord. Nine other times. And the phrase that is used in almost all of them is this… the Lord our God is “gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” That’s a description of an ultimate peace maker.

God himself said that to Moses when he gave Moses the 10 commandments. It is what Moses spoke to the people in the wilderness as he called them to repent. Repent because the Lord your God is “gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” Ezra includes that very phrase in his prayer as recorded in Nehemiah when the people repented. The prophet Joel called on the people to repent and gave them the same reason…  the Lord your God is “gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” And Jonah prayed this in his prayer… it’s why he didn’t want to go to Ninevah… he didn’t like them and didn’t want them to repent… but he knew, as he prayed that the Lord God was “gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.”

Our ability to be slow to anger comes through the one who is slow to anger. God in his holy anger against sin is fully justified to punish you for your strife and anger and quarreling. But he is also a God who is “gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love…” When you come to him seeking his forgiveness.

And in his mercy and steadfast love, God will satisfy the unquenchable fire of his anger against you. He’ll do that through the cross of Christ. Jesus is the only one who can extinguish the unquenchable anger of God against your sin. And when you come to him by faith, tht peace will be yours…

In Ephesians 2, the apostle Paul said that Christ has brought us peace… he’s made us both one by breaking down the dividing wall of hostility… reconciling us to God through the cross, thereby killing the hostility, he says.

That is the foundation of peace that we have with each other. When you know Christ, each day you are being conformed more and more to his image. That means you can grow in the fruit of his spirit – peace and patience and goodness and kindness and gentleness and self-control. You can be a peacemaker because he is your peacemaker.

·      Because God is slow to anger, you can be slow to anger.

·      Instead of quarreling, you can reconcile with others because he’s reconciled you to him.

·      And in him you can give a soft answer and even love your enemies, because you were once his enemy, and he loved you.

The path to peace is the path of Christ.

May we each have a long nose. May we be slow to anger and loving… because our God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.