Better is a poor person who walks in with integrity
than one who is crooked in speech and is a fool.
We know what it is to compare two things. For instance, I can compare an apple to an orange. I see the difference. One is red (typically), and the other, well, orange. The skin is very different, so much so that one makes me itch and the other doesn’t. Of course, there are other comparisons. Due to my allergy to apples (the skin, primarily), I must know the difference. One bothers me physically, but the other does not at all.
Solomon makes a comparison in this verse before us today. The comparison is between the person who walks with integrity and the one who doesn’t. It compares the wise person (implied) and the fool. It compares the one who uses his speech with integrity and the fool who doesn’t. The question: Which one is to be desired? Of course, most professing Christians will immediately say: “the first one!”. That’s good. Yet, upon closer examination, it seems apparent that they prefer the fool’s way rather than the wise way. A few observations:
First, Solomon says it is better to walk with integrity. The term itself is related to the use of speech, but it doesn’t have to end there. What does it mean to walk with integrity? According to one dictionary, it is “the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness.” That is, the wise person strives to live a morally ethical life. He is conscious that the world is a dangerous place and that an enemy seeks to destroy his reputation. He knows his frame and knows that he is a creature of dust, prone to every sin imaginable. As a result, he erects boundaries and establishes checkpoints in his life to guard his heart and actions from any effort of the Evil One to ruin him. An illustration may help. I am a pastor. As a result, I have to interact with members of the opposite sex in various circumstances as I seek to fulfill my pastoral duties. That means I sometimes have to counsel ladies. Yet, because I understand the human heart, I refuse to counsel them alone, always having a third party (typically my wife or an elder) with me. Some may consider this to be “old fashioned.” No. It is prudent. There are many circumstances in this life where a Christian who desires to walk with integrity must avoid appearances of evil and not give room to the Evil One.
Second, Solomon says it is better to frame your life with integrity. The term he uses (walk) is a term of enduring practice. It is a consistent effort to walk according to moral uprightness daily. It is an understanding that it is not something we do once, and it is over. It is a daily occurrence, something to relive and repeat daily.
Third, Solomon implies the source of that moral uprightness. No, we do not get it from the world. Our moral frame should be fashioned according to the Word of God. For instance, we know an enemy is roaming about seeking whom he may devour. We are told to put on the whole armor of God because we are in a war against the world, the flesh, and the devil. The source of that which is moral and frames our ethics is the Word of God that teaches us that we, on our own, are no match for the Evil One. Yet, greater is he that lives in me than he that lives in the world. Therefore, we must use the means God has given, keeping ourselves from unnecessary situations in which the Evil One may find occasion to do us harm. We root our ethics, therefore, in the Scriptures and not in the wisdom of this age.
Fourth, Solomon compares the wise person to the fool. A fool doesn’t prepare for battle. A fool says silly things like, “I could never sin that way.” A fool pretends they are not at war with the world, the flesh, and the devil. A fool uses crooked speech that proves his true heart as a fool. A fool makes boastful statements about how they would never do “such and such.” They don’t qualify it. They merely state it. Peter was like that. He would often say things before speaking. In one case, he proudly stated that he would never deny Christ — but he did. A fool thinks too highly of himself and his heart. He is not humble at all. His lips defy his professed wisdom and leave him as he is: a fool.
Apple or orange? Wise or the fool? Examine your life. Evaluate your actions and circumstances. Are you walking with integrity, or are you skirting dangerous issues, thinking somehow (or even saying it out loud) that you are not susceptible to the efforts of the Evil One? How you answer those questions will tell you if you are wise or a fool.