Words fascinate me. I play with them both in my mind and on paper. I enjoy learning of a specific word’s origin, of its potential functions in sentence structures, and of its many forms. At baby and bridal showers, I tend to do well with word games. I like to play with rhyme, and I work hard to make words flow coherently and smoothly into sentences, sentences into paragraphs, and paragraphs into full-length articles. In more ways than one, it can be said of me that I am a wordy person.
This week I began pondering common proverbs that begin with the word Don’t. It won’t surprise you to learn that I made a list of over 60 such admonitions. These included “Don’t count your chickens before they hatch,” “Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater,” “Don’t make a mountain out of a molehill,” “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket,” “Don’t spend all your money in one place,” and “Don’t bite off more than you can chew.” Used in proper context, all of these proverbs have some merit and almost without exception, each one is intended to provide protection against some potentially negative occurrence.
Some people believe the Bible to be primarily a long list of commands beginning with the word Don’t. That seems to me a negative approach to take toward the Good Book. I strongly suspect that among all the words printed upon its sacred pages, the word Do outnumbers the word Don’t. Besides, the word Don’t is not always negative. My minister asserts that every time God says to His people, “Don’t,” He is trying to protect them. What He is actually saying is, “Don’t hurt yourself by doing that.” We can all agree that avoiding causing hurt to oneself is a positive thing.
Can you think of any offense that does not hurt the offender as much as it hurts the offended? Does not the thief lose as much in the whole sordid transaction as the victim loses? The act will cost the thief dearly in terms of self-respect and freedom from guilt. He will never look at a police officer or patrol car without feeling apprehensive. His enjoyment of the items he stole will not be as great as it would have been if he had acquired them through honest means. His act of thievery will rob him of contentment, peace and restful sleep all his life.
The murderer who takes the life of another person in a fit of blind rage or out of retaliation kills his own chances of living a whole and rich life. The adulterer betrays not only his spouse, but also himself. The cheater, likewise, swindles himself. The person who lies, who practices deceit, who is lazy, arrogant, selfish, or greedy, or who places his own interests above the interests of others probably hurts no one more than he hurts himself. In many cases, the price the offender pays is greater than the price paid by the one he offended.
As you read and meditate upon God’s Word, try looking at all of the commands beginning with the word Don’t as cautions intended to protect you, not necessarily someone else, from harm. Yes, of course God cares about the person who is wronged, but He cares equally about the person who causes the wrong. He does not want either of them to be hurt.
When you work to bring about what is best for others, you will ultimately bring about what is best for you. Choosing to live your life by any other formula will result in your violating this silly-sounding but practical piece of conventional wisdom: Don’t cut off your nose to spite your face.