A single rebuke does more for a person of understanding than a hundred lashes on the back of a fool (Proverbs 17:10, NLT).
This proverb doesn’t pull any punches does it? It is blunt, direct, and to the point. The person who is wise and understanding will respond to a single rebuke, while the fool may not even resound when given severely disciplined.
One of the many themes weaved throughout the book of Proverbs is that wisdom shows itself in being willing to accept correction, discipline, and rebuke. Now clearly there is a difference between being able to be corrected, disciplined, and rebuked and being a welcome mat that everyone feels free to wipe their feet on. That is not what is being talked about here. This is about being able to admit when you are wrong and to learn from your mistakes.
Implied in this proverb is that wisdom requires humility. It is hard to admit we are wrong when we are prideful. It is also hard to admit you are wrong or to take criticism when you are driven by fear. Pride responds to correction by going on the offensive. Fear responds to correction by going on the defensive. When we are humble, we are willing to listen, to learn, and to grow. Real humility keeps you from thinking so highly of yourself that you can’t be wrong, and keeps you from thinking so low of yourself that you can’t learn from your mistakes and grow from them. Humility is not about thinking less of yourself, it’s about thinking of yourself less and thinking more about the needs of others.
A second thing implied in this proverb I that wisdom requires discernment. When we receive correction or criticism we need to have the discernment to recognize where we are wrong or where we made mistakes. We especially need discernment to see this when the person giving the criticism is not someone we like, respect, or is giving it out of a spirit of pride or fear instead of one of love and encouragement. (Again, this too is hard without humility). We also need discernment to be able to see what we really do need to address from what we can just let go. It is one thing to listen to a person’s criticism, it is another to decide what you need to do in light of it. Learning that lesson has been huge for me. I can take the time to listen, really listen, to a person’s correction or criticism so that I am sure I understand their concerns; and then at a later time take the time to prayerfully think through them and discern what God may have said through that person that needs dealt with and what was just a difference of opinion or blowing off steam.
Wise people can be wrong, make mistakes, and screw up just like “fool” can. But when it is brought to their attention, they will be thankful for the correction and learn from their mistakes and grow.