In a recent presentation at my Toastmaster’s Club, the speaker gave an educational speech, instructing us as to what sorts of jokes are appropriate to tell and what ones are not. He opened the floor for discussion and, as is usually the case, I came away having learned a great deal about the topic and about those who commented.
But what struck me the most about the conversation was that there was such a desire on the part of our club members to be careful in what they say to others so as not to offend and cause unnecessary pain. They talked about the importance of avoiding ethnic jokes or telling stories that could make an audience feel uncomfortable and the discourse ended with the presenter making this statement “Remember, when you tell a joke, you are really telling something about yourself.”
In reality, what I was hearing is that there is a need for two distinct character traits for a speaker when it comes to including humor in a presentation: discretion and compassion.
In looking at the warnings that King Lemuel’s Mom gave to him in Proverbs 31:4-9, it appears that she is also, in her wisdom and presumably from her own experience, admonishing her son to possess these two character traits. She is telling him that he must have them in order to be a leader.
Now, isn’t it interesting that King Lemuel’s Mom wanted him to be a leader? She does not begin her instruction by suggesting that he is just an average Joe Shmoe, but rather, she wants him to look at her words from the standpoint that he IS a leader. This is what she says: “It is not for kings, O Lemuel– not for kings to drink wine, not for rulers to crave beer, lest they drink and forget what the law decrees, and deprive all the oppressed of their rights. Give beer to those who are perishing, wine to those who are in anguish; let them drink and forget their poverty and remember their misery no more. Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.”
In these statements, King Lemuel’s Mom is giving us a fine example of her wisdom in action; she is establishing the fact that she has expectations for greatness for her son. She uses what is known in sales as the “assumptive close, “ that is, she is assuming something to be true, thus anticipating that she can influence her son according to those assumptions.
As moms, we have tremendous potential to do this with our children. The wise mother approaches her children as though she truly believes what the Bible teaches about them, that they are chosen by God and precious to Him, a holy priesthood, living stones being built into a spiritual house, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God (1 Peter 2), and that they, themselves,have an anointing from the Holy One (1 John 2:20). If we truly believe God’s word, we have no other means of approach.
King Lemuel’s Mom then continues to tell her son that, as a leader, he needs to avoid using alcohol because it has the potential to prohibit his discernment and that, as a leader, if he is to genuinely lead, he must possess this quality. I continue to be amazed that, even within very conservative groups of Christianity today, including church and homeschooling leaders, alcohol use is not only acceptable but expected. Everyone knows, including King Lemuel’s Mom, that alcohol, even taken in small amounts, has the potential to cloud judgment, thus allowing someone’s discernment to be impaired. Based on the fact that we have already established that she is a wise woman, the only conclusion I can have, according to this passage, is that the standard for leaders is abstinence and those that don’t teach this to their children are not expecting leadership from them.
However, as we continue through these verses, we get to the heart of the matter, the real reason that discernment is so important. You see, discernment is necessary if compassion is our goal. This godly, wise mother made the case for her son that leaders must show compassion and not indifference, they must remember God’s word and apply it to their dealings with everyone, not depriving them of their rights. She recognizes the fact that leaders, when not demonstrating discernment, have the potential to trample over others and she tells her son that his duty as a leader is just the opposite. He is to stand up for the rights of the oppressed and needy and is to speak up for those under his care. He is to be a man of compassion. He is to demonstrate that he embraces what Jesus repeatedly stated “I desire mercy and not sacrifice.” (Matthew 9:13 and 12:7) A godly leader places his mercy and grace to others above all other things, including his other priestly duties.
If we are to be able to instruct our children in discernment and compassion, we must experience it first ourselves. We show mercy when we realize how great a recipient of mercy we have been through what Jesus did for us on the cross. As we live lives of mercy and compassion toward our children, they, in turn, will see it as a priority and will, if they have discernment, show it to others.