Proverbs Thematic Sermon: The Heart, The Way, and the Effect of Righteousness and Wickedness (Er

Apr 7, 2024    Erik Veerman

The Heart, Way, and Effect of Righteousness and Wickedness

We are in the second of three sermons focusing on righteousness and wickedness in Proverbs.

Last week, Easter, we looked at verses about the ultimate end of the righteous and the wicked: For the wicked – condemnation and destruction; for the righteous - life beyond death. To quote Proverbs 14:32, “the righteous finds refuge in death.” And who are counted among the righteous? It is those who have the righteousness of Christ. That righteousness comes by faith in Jesus for what he’s done on the cross, and the eternal promise of life secured for us through the resurrection. That is a great Easter promise.

Today, our focus is on three things related to righteousness and wickedness. First, the heart of the righteous and the wicked. Second, how that works itself out in one’s words and actions. And third, the effect or impact of righteousness and wickedness.

If you will take out the Proverbs insert in your bulletin, you’ll see those three categories.


Reading of selected proverbs:


(1) The heart of evil and righteousness

*11:20 Those of crooked heart are an abomination to the LORD, but those of blameless ways are his delight.

12:26 One who is righteous is a guide to his neighbor, but the way of the wicked leads them astray.

*13:5 The righteous hates falsehood, but the wicked brings shame and disgrace.

12:3 No one is established by wickedness, but the root of the righteous will never be moved.

NEW 16:27 A worthless man plots evil, and his speech is like a scorching fire.

*21:10 The soul of the wicked desires evil; his neighbor finds no mercy in his eyes.

24:8 Whoever plans to do evil will be called a schemer.

29:7 A righteous man knows the rights of the poor; a wicked man does not understand such knowledge.

29:10 Bloodthirsty men hate one who is blameless and seek the life of the upright.

29:24 The partner of a thief hates his own life; he hears the curse, but discloses nothing.

(2) The way of evil and righteousness

10:6 Blessings are on the head of the righteous, but the mouth of the wicked conceals violence.

*11:5 The righteousness of the blameless keeps his way straight, but the wicked falls by his own wickedness.

11:13 Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets, but he who is trustworthy in spirit keeps a thing covered.

*12:6 The words of the wicked lie in wait for blood, but the mouth of the upright delivers them.

12:10 Whoever is righteous has regard for the life of his beast, but the mercy of the wicked is cruel.

14:9 Fools mock at the guilt offering, but the upright enjoy acceptance.

15:8 The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD, but the prayer of the upright is acceptable to him.

15:26 The thoughts of the wicked are an abomination to the LORD, but gracious words are pure.

15:28 The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things.

17:4 An evildoer listens to wicked lips, and a liar gives ear to a mischievous tongue.

*17:11 An evil man seeks only rebellion, and a cruel messenger will be sent against him.

21:3 To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice.

21:27 The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination; how much more when he brings it with evil intent.

21:29 A wicked man puts on a bold face, but the upright gives thought to his ways.

*22:5 Thorns and snares are in the way of the crooked; whoever guards his soul will keep far from them.

28:1 The wicked flee when no one pursues, but the righteous are bold as a lion.

(3) The (temporal) result (impact?) of evil and righteousness

10:3 The LORD does not let the righteous go hungry, but he thwarts the craving of the wicked.

*11:10 When it goes well with the righteous, the city rejoices, and when the wicked perish there are shouts of gladness.

11:11 By the blessing of the upright a city is exalted, but by the mouth of the wicked it is overthrown.

11:17 A man who is kind benefits himself, but a cruel man hurts himself.

*11:30 The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and whoever captures souls is wise.

11:31 If the righteous is repaid on earth, how much more the wicked and the sinner!

12:13 An evil man is ensnared by the transgression of his lips, but the righteous escapes from trouble.

12:21 No ill befalls the righteous, but the wicked are filled with trouble.

*13:17 A wicked messenger falls into trouble, but a faithful envoy brings healing.

13:25 The righteous has enough to satisfy his appetite, but the belly of the wicked suffers want.

14:19 The evil bow down before the good, the wicked at the gates of the righteous.

14:34 Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.

*15:6 In the house of the righteous there is much treasure, but trouble befalls the income of the wicked.

16:31 Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life.

17:13 If anyone returns evil for good, evil will not depart from his house.

18:3 When wickedness comes, contempt comes also, and with dishonor comes disgrace.

25:26 Like a muddied spring or a polluted fountain is a righteous man who gives way before the wicked.

28:10 Whoever misleads the upright into an evil way will fall into his own pit, but the blameless will have a goodly inheritance.

28:12 When the righteous triumph, there is great glory, but when the wicked rise, people hide themselves.

28:17 If one is burdened with the blood of another, he will be a fugitive until death; let no one help him.

28:28 When the wicked rise, people hide themselves, but when they perish, the righteous increase.

29:2 When the righteous increase, the people rejoice, but when the wicked rule, the people groan.

29:6 An evil man is ensnared in his transgression, but a righteous man sings and rejoices.

29:16 When the wicked increase, transgression increases, but the righteous will look upon their downfall.



Sandy Hook Elementary, Columbine High, the Harvest Music Festival, Robb Elementary, The Covenant School in Nashville. Each of those share a similar history: tragedy at the hands of evil, innocent victims, families devastated, communities broken.

For me, two of them struck close to home – Sandy Hook is less than 10 miles from my childhood home, and, as many of you know, the Covenant School in Nashville is a ministry of a sister church in our denomination. It’s been just over a year since that shooting and my heart is still heavy.

Sadly, we could spend hours listing such horrible evil crimes - events here in our nation and all over the world - most recently the deadly shooting in a Moscow theater - 139 people died. As we say, it’s all too common. But it’s not new. From the very beginning, the history of mankind has been marred by such tragic events at the hands of evil and wicked men.

We lament with the Psalmist in Psalm 13, “How long, O Lord? …how long shall my enemy be exalted over me?”

We rightly ask, what can be done? Is there anything that will curb these wicked acts? Can we put an end to the bloodshed?

As you know, various solutions have been proposed. Maybe we need more police? Or maybe stricter gun laws? Or the right kind of education? Or maybe we can just all come together and agree to peace? That’s what my generation thought, Gen X. We thought we could all hold hands and sing “We are the world, we are the children… There’s a time when the world must come together as one.” Some of you will remember that. But our idealism merely led to disillusionment.

What is it, then? What can stop the violence? Can anything? Or is all lost?

Well, Proverbs gives us the answer.

In fact, it doesn’t just give us the answer. Proverbs brings us to the source of the problem. The thing is, you can’t really solve a problem unless you can get to the root cause.

And what is the root cause of all the evil and wickedness in the world? It is the heart.

I know it’s an overused trope, but I’m going to say it anyway. “The heart of the matter is the matter of the heart.” It’s true! The evil acts of men come from hearts of hate and wickedness and jealously and revenge. Yes, the devil and his army are part of the problem, but they are merely animating and directing hearts bent on evil and wickedness.

·      The heart of the wicked is describes as a “crooked heart.” That’s right there in the first verse in our list, Proverbs 11:20.

·      He’s bloodthirsty, chapter 29 verse 10. “Bloodthirsty men hate one who is upright.”

·      Or look at 21:10. “The soul of the wicked desires evil; his neighbor finds no mercy in his eyes.”

This is way beyond anger that comes in the moment. We’re going to consider the proverbs on anger in a few weeks. No, this is premeditated evil. Hearts that “plan” and “plot” evil. Those are two of the descriptors of the wicked in these verses.

Think of the news stories that followed the heartbreaking events that I mentioned. They are all so similar. Most often the perpetrator doesn’t survive. And later when his home is raided, what do they find but painstaking plans. The one perpetrating the crime spent hours plotting and planning… acquiring whatever information or weapons were needed. It’s sad to consider the depth of evil in the hearts of men.

In Matthew chapter 15, Jesus spoke about such evil and what defiles a person. He said “for out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person.”

You see, the way and the words of wickedness come out of hearts bent on evil things. This is what we see in the middle section of verses. His words “lie in wait for blood,” it says. He wants to slander and falsely accuse you in order to bring you down. Here’s another one: “The mouth of the wicked pours out evil things.” 15:28 in the middle section. And he seeks “rebellion.” “Thorns and snares” are his way.

He also desires to learn from others in their evil ways. Proverbs 17:4 captures that. “An evildoer listens to wicked lips, and a liar gives ear to a mischievous tongue.”

All of it springs from his evil heart and all of it has a devastating effect. That’s what the last section of verses reveals – The impact of wickedness. There are two groups of people impacted by wickedness.

The first, and I think the obvious ones, are the victims and the community. It’s tragic. The ongoing grief and pain endure for a lifetime. Many of the psalms capture the lament when the righteous are oppressed and the wicked prosper. But here’s something surprising: these verses in Proverbs don’t spend much time on the impact of evil to others. To be sure, they allude to the impact on others. For example, “a city is overthrown by the mouth of the wicked” and “people hide themselves when the wicked rise.” But that’s about it.

Rather, the overwhelming near-term effect of wickedness, as described here, is on the wicked themselves. That’s the second group impacted.

The reason it’s surprising is that we think Proverbs should highlight the destructiveness of wickedness. It should show how evil is like a tornado tearing through a community. And that of course is true! Plenty of Scripture reveals the destructive path of the wicked. But not so much here.

But I want you to think about Solomon’s audience and his purpose. He is writing first, to his sons, and then second to the covenant community of Israel.

His goal is twofold.

·      First, he desires to direct his readers toward wisdom and righteousness – the blessings and benefits that come from a life dedicated to God’s ways.

·      His second goal is to warn them about the path of foolishness and wickedness. The path is laden with pitfalls and sorrow and self-inflicted pain and misery. All of it leads to an unfortunate end.

With that goal in mind, of course, Proverbs is going to focus on the self-inflicted effects of evil. Solomon is issuing a warning. Think about it this way. If you confront someone bent on evil and you say, “your actions are going to bring trouble and hurt to the community.” That will only serve to affirm them in their wickedness… because trouble and evil are their intent.

Instead, the main warning here is the self-inflicted effect of evil on the wicked.

It’s kind of overwhelming… Let me read some of these proverbs: “an evil man is ensnared by the transgression of his lips.” “the wicked are filled with trouble.” They “fall into trouble” and “suffer want.” “If anyone returns evil for good, evil will not depart his house.” He will be hated with contempt and will be dishonored and disgraced. He will “fall into his own pit.” There are a few more similar ones.

I think the movie series that best captures all of this is The Godfather. It portrays the life of the mafia. The same evil that you live by is the evil that you will die by. It’s a life of revenge and deceit. You’re not even safe being a member of the Corleone family. No-one is safe. Your children and wife are just pawns in your wicked game of chess. You’re always looking over your shoulder because you can’t trust anyone. The sad reality of Proverbs 28:1 is true, “The wicked flee when no one pursues.”

All of this is not just a movie. It’s played out in evil regimes like Russia and North Korea. They eat their own. And that kind of evil plays out in the shadows of many cities.

Now, it is easy to talk about an evil on which most people in our culture agree.

But let me bring up an evil which is not in the shadows. In fact, it is very much front and center today. And sadly, this evil is often couched in terms of moral good rather than moral evil.

Given some sensitivities, I want to ask that you allow me a moment to work through this. I’m speaking about the life of the unborn.

·      It’s sensitive because often a mother in crisis is pressured by family or her boyfriend… or she fears the consequences if her pregnancy is found out.

·      It’s sensitive because mothers who have had an abortion, often carry painful guilt. Abortion is not the unforgiveable sin. God in his mercy when we come to him in Christ, forgives and loves us, sinners though we are. And that includes love and forgiveness in Christ for mothers who have had an abortion and fathers who have encouraged or pressured a mother to get an abortion. The Lord will forgive you when you come to him.

·      It’s sensitive because often the spotlight is on the woman in crisis and not the father. But he is the one who bears the greater burden in the actions leading up to an unwanted pregnancy out of wedlock.

·      And finally, it is sensitive because it is polarizing today.

Like a few of you, over the last 15-20 years, I’ve participated in silent marches in downtown Atlanta. They’ve been marches of prayer. Several times, I’ve participated in prayer vigils across the street from a woman’s clinic. Again, like a few of you. We never blocked driveways, never yelled. We’ve always turned the other cheek when yelled at. We carried signs that said “God forgives” and “There is help” and “Jesus loves you.”

There was a child at our Easter Egg hunt this year saved by efforts like that. His mother saw the signs and the friendly waves. Instead of pulling into the clinic parking lot for an abortion, she stopped. One of the counsellors prayed for her and she changed her mind and has been helped by many people as she raises this child.

You see, God made every single human being in his image. Every single person. And as Psalm 139 says, “You formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” Life is sacred.

It is evil to consider a life something that can be discarded as an inconvenience. The industry is wicked, and it’s led by those whose hearts plot and plan this evil and then follow through on their evil ways.

Back to the opening question. Can anything stop the evil in the world? I’m speaking about any of these examples and more. If the problem originates from the heart, is there any hope of affecting any kind of change from evil to good?

The answer is “yes!” Yes there is. But there is only one way to turn a heart of wickedness to a heart of righteousness. And that is by receiving a new heart. It’s by having one’s heart changed. As God revealed to the prophet Ezekiel, as we read earlier, it’s by having our heart of stone turned to a heart of flesh. It is God’s work as he gives us a new heart and gives us his Spirit. Through him, we are changed.

Now, don’t get me wrong, the civil government has a God-ordained responsibility to curb violence and wickedness and there are things that help. There can also be laws that hinder.

Rather, what I am talking about is there’s only one way for the trajectory of one’s life to go from the path of wickedness to the path of righteousness. And that is by receiving a new heart - the heart of Christ. It is being awakened and transformed and enabled to pursue the things of God, the things of righteousness. It is having a new heart of righteousness which will lead to words and ways of righteousness in one’s life, which then leads to the blessings of righteousness. That’s the progression. From a new heart of righteousness to the way of righteousness which leads to the blessings of righteousness. That’s the progression of the sub-categories.

So far, we’ve only looked at the Proverbs about wickedness… but let’s now look at a few of these Proverbs that describe a heart of righteousness and righteous ways.

In the first section of verses.

·      12:3 “The root of the righteous will never be moved” What a great assurance!

·      13:5 “The righteous hates falsehood”

·      27:9 “He knows the rights of the poor” Why? Because he has a heart of righteousness from God and knows that all are created in his image.

And similar to how evil ways come from a heart of evil, so righteous ways come out of a righteous heart. Here are a few phrases from that middle section.

·      “The righteousness of the blameless keeps his way straight…” He pursues what is good and right and true.

·      And it’s not just his actions but his words: “[the] mouth of the upright delivers them” and [his] “gracious words are pure.” Another proverb says, “the righteous ponders how to answer.” Unlike the wicked, he pursues truth and reveals truth. His words are gracious and loving, clear and thoughtful.

·      And part of what it means to be righteous is to stand up for what is true and good. It says, “the righteous are bold as a lion.” They are willing to stand up for God’s goodness and wisdom. They speak truth in love. They call out hypocrisy and protect those whom the wicked seek to destroy.

Now, I am not saying that when you are given a new heart in Christ that from day one these Proverbs describe you. But, believer in Christ, this path is yours to pursue. As the Psalmist puts is – Psalm 23 “He leads me in the path of righteousness for his name sake.” God will direct and lead you according to his Word and in his Spirit.

And a beautiful thing will happen. The effect of your righteous pursuits in Christ will go far and wide. They will not only be a blessing to your life, but the truth and grace and love coming from the righteous heart given to you will bless those around you.

That is what the proverbs in section three show us!

·      A few of them… like Proverbs 11:10-11 (that’s in the last section) reveal the blessing of the righteous on a city. “When it goes well with the righteous, the city rejoices,” and “By the blessing of the upright a city is exalted”

·      Later it says, “a faithful envoy brings healing.”

·      His or her family is blessed. “In the house of the righteous there is much treasure.” Treasure in the general sense of the word.

·      When the righteous triumph, “there is great glory” …and “the people rejoice.” Do you hear that blessing over and over?

To be sure, there are a few verses that describe the blessings that the righteous receive, but many of these Proverbs describe how the Lord will blesses others through you.

My favorite is Proverbs 11:30. Take a look at it in the last section. Again, 11:30 “The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and whoever captures souls is wise.”

What a beautiful metaphor! Picture a healthy fruit tree thriving in the center of a village. Or even in a barren land. All around can pick and eat its fruit. It provides hope and life and nourishment. Its roots are strong and deep. Its branches and leaves flourish. All year round, it produces fruit.

That second phrase reveals a lot! “whoever captures souls is wise.”  Part of the fruit of his righteousness is a desires to see others have the same heart and life of righteousness that he has. He wants to capture their soul… that God would turn their heart of stone to a heart of flesh. He wants others to have the life-giving nourishment that comes from faith in Christ.

A few years ago, I was visiting a high security prison. The purpose of my trip was to encourage the son of some dear friends. Their son asked me if I’d be willing to meet with a few other inmates… these were guys serving significant time for various crimes. I was glad to do it.

One of the men I met was about my age. He was serving multiple life sentences for murder. He had no option for parole and had already been in prison for over 20 years. We talked for about an hour in a heavily guarded meeting room. He shared his story of being a street drug dealer and all that that entailed as you can imagine. The more he lived that life, the more it spiraled downward. Soon he was participating in premeditated murder. He didn’t share the details, but I got the sense that it wasn’t just one.

His life of crime and murder eventually caught up with him and that’s when he ended up in prison. He hated God, he hated life, and prison only escalated the deep resentment and anger in his heart.

But then God changed his heart. It was a radical transformation. He went from the depths of depravity to believe in and know the grace and forgiveness of God in Christ. God took his evil and hate-filled heart and gave him a heart of joy and peace. Of course, it didn’t change his situation, but God placed him on the path of righteousness. Over time, he grew in his faith. He had a lot of time to read and study the Bible with the help of some training. And do you know what he does now in prison? He’s a pastor. He is truly a tree of life there… and he is capturing souls. He preaches every week. He comes alongside these other men who either need the love of God or who have come to know Jesus as Savior and need guidance.

What a beautiful picture of God changing a man’s heart from a heart of wickedness… to a heart of righteousness. Taking his wicked ways and the tragic effects of his wickedness and turning him to a life of righteousness… with a tremendous impact on others in the name Christ.

You see, this is the ultimate answer to evil. Hearts changed. Evil overcome by the Gospel. Jesus took the sin of our evil hearts, put it to death, and has given us his righteousness – a new heart in him.

May God either give us a new heart … or renew in us the heart of righteousness that he’s already given us in Christ. And may we then pursue the path of righteousness that God has laid before us. That we may honor God and be a tree of life to those around us.