“When the righteous increase, the people rejoice, but when the wicked rule, the people groan.” (Proverbs 29:2)
One of the most foundational facts of life is that community is essential. We cannot survive – or even exist in the first place – without human interaction. As much as our individualistic society would prefer to deny it, people are always dependent on one another in some way; and because of this, it’s inevitable that the character, priorities, and choices of one person has an effect on someone else.
We tend to think of influence mostly in terms of the public sphere – the entertainment we consume or the officials we elect – and this is fair, on one hand, since there is much to be said about how important it is for people who find themselves in the spotlight to use their power to promote what is good. Verses 12, 14, and 16 of this chapter highlight that there is a sort of infectious nature to both righteousness and wickedness when either is wielded or demonstrated by powerful people: “If a ruler listens to falsehood, all his officials will be wicked…If a king faithfully judges the poor, his throne will be established forever… When the wicked increase, transgression increases, but the righteous will look upon their downfall.”
Especially with advancements like the advent of social media and internet journalism, our idea of leadership or legacy has shifted a bit from what it was in the eras where the concept of a prominent figure was limited to those who held political office, were members of a royal family, were involved in a major scandal, and so on. Now we can hop onto a blog or Twitter from the comfort of our kitchen table and gain a following of several thousand in the time span that people would have never dreamed a couple of centuries ago. But we have neglected to acknowledge the moral responsibility that comes with these abilities, and it doesn’t take a very long look through the news these days in order to realize this.
Even apart from the expansion of what it means to be in the public eye, there is also great responsibility within the private realm of our life. I watched a sermon by Paul Washer on dating and marriage several months ago, and something that really stood out to me is when he said that as a husband and father, his family is his first and greatest ministry. This is coming from a man who is widely recognized all over the world for his teaching and pastoring. And what is remarkable about Proverbs 29, in light of this, is that it implies the consequences of righteousness and wickedness in the public sphere while also emphasizing these same consequences within the confines of the home.
The third verse of chapter 29 begins, “He who loves wisdom makes his father glad…”, and it is echoed by the following verses as well, “A child left to himself brings shame to his mother…Discipline your son, and he will give you rest; he will give delight to your heart” (vs. 15, 17). There is a direct connection between the wisdom (or lack thereof) in one member and the well-being (or lack thereof) in another. Private relationships, especially in husband-wife and parent-child relationships, are knit together by threads of influence and dependency that are frayed and damaged when one member lives a lifestyle that rebels against righteousness as it is determined by God.
You may have heard the phrase “no man is an island.” This is absolutely true in the sense demonstrated within Proverbs 29 as it calls us to remember the link of influence and legacy between human beings. We cannot live as though our actions and character have no bearing on the lives of others – for better or for worse. May we choose righteousness in the power of the Holy Spirit and watch humbly as He uses our life to edify the people He places in our path.