Rev. Slopsema is pastor of First Protestant Reformed Church of Grand Rapids, Michigan.

The desire accomplished is sweet to the soul: but it is abomination to fools to depart from evil.

Proverbs 13:19

When Jesus was crucified, there were two men crucified with Him. These men were malefactors, or evildoers, who had caused a great deal of injury to others.

One of these men desired to depart from his evil way and be saved. He turned to Jesus, who hung on the cross next to him, asking to be remembered when Jesus entered into His kingdom. Jesus assured him that He would do so. “Today thou shalt be with me in paradise.” How sweet this must have been to the soul of the malefactor. How wise he was to turn from evil to Jesus. He was not wise to wait to the last day of his life, but it was wisdom (that he received from on high) that led him to turn from evil.

The other malefactor continued in his evil and died that day in his sin. He, with the others that day, held Jesus in contempt. No doubt he held the repentant malefactor in the same contempt. How disgusting to grovel in repentance. He would cling to his evil to the last breath. He died that day in the bitterness of sin. What a fool!

These two malefactors illustrate the truth of the proverb that we consider.

The desire accomplished is sweet to the soul: but it is abomination to fools to depart from evil.

A wise desire!

Although the wise are not mentioned in this proverb, they are implied by the mention of fools. This proverb contrasts the wise with fools.

What is wisdom? And what is folly? Wisdom is the ability to reckon with reality so that one comes out ahead. Foolishness is to ignore and even act contrary to reality so that one ends in disaster.

And so we inquire into the great realities of life.

The greatest of all reality is God and His work of salvation in Jesus Christ. God has eternally determined to save out of a fallen human race a people for Himself, a people with whom He will live eternally. He accomplishes this amazing purpose through Jesus Christ—His incarnation, death, resurrection, ascension, and return at the end of history. The way to receive and enjoy this salvation is by faith alone in Jesus Christ. All of history is explained by this great work of God. Many things take place in history and in our lives. None of it takes place by chance. All things are directed by the hand of God. Central to all that God does in history is His work of saving and gathering a people to Himself in Jesus Christ.

In this light we understand wisdom and folly. Wisdom is to reckon with this great reality, so that one believes on Jesus Christ to the salvation of his soul. Foolishness is to ignore this reality, so that one lives without Christ in his own sin and ultimately perishes under God’s wrath.

Mention is made in this proverb of evil. Evil speaks of moral wickedness that is hurtful and destructive.

This brings us to another important reality of life. God’s law is good. It is good in that it reflects the absolute perfections of God. It is good also in that it promotes the welfare of those who keep it. When one keeps the law of God and walks in the goodness of God’s perfections, he finds life and peace with God. He also finds peace and prosperity in marriage, the family, and society. On the other hand, evil, which is the violation of God’s law, brings injury and destruction. It makes a peaceful and harmonious relationship with God impossible. It also destroys marriage, the home, and all society as it brings hurt to those around us.

Wisdom and folly will react differently to this reality.

The wise man will desire to depart from evil. He sees that reality of both good and evil. In response he desires to depart from all evil, that he may walk in obedience to God and enjoy the blessings of God. This is the desire mentioned in the first part of this proverb. The fool, however, finds such a departure from evil to be abominable. His love for evil blinds him to the reality and consequence of evil. To depart from evil is detestable to him. His desire is to walk in evil.

A wonderful accomplishment!

The wise accomplish their desire, which is to depart from evil.

This brings us to another great reality of life. One can depart from evil only in Jesus Christ.

We are naturally depraved. Our depravity finds its origin in the fall of our first parents, Adam and Eve. Their fall left us hopelessly lost in sin. So much is that true that we cannot possibly free ourselves from evil.

Escape from evil is only in Jesus Christ.

This is true because escape from the power of evil requires, first of all, the forgiveness of sins. We must remember that the evil that naturally dominates our lives is part of God’s punishment for sin. God punishes sin with sin. God will release us from sin’s power only through forgiveness. And there is forgiveness only in the cross of Jesus Christ. Jesus went to the cross with the guilt of sin. There He endured the full penalty of sin for all whom the Father had given Him. On that basis God forgives, freely and completely. This forgiveness is found in the way of faith that leads us to confess our sin in godly sorrow and to cling to Jesus’ perfect sacrifice.

Once one is forgiven, deliverance from the power of sin and evil is possible. Also this deliverance comes only in the power of Jesus Christ and by faith in Him. This is a faith that brings us to our knees in prayer. It is a faith that diligently seeks the faithful preaching of the Word and administration of the sacraments. It is a faith that brings us into the fellowship of the saints.

What an important reality!

The wise act in harmony with this reality and are able to depart from evil.

There are those who wisely desire to depart from evil but lack the wisdom to turn to Jesus Christ to accomplish that desire. They seek to depart from the evil in their lives in their own strength. They do not accomplish their desire. The power of evil is greater than they can handle.

The way of wisdom is the way of turning to Jesus Christ and departing from evil. All who turn to Him in true faith will find the power to turn from the evil that so readily fills their lives. No, this does not mean perfection in this life. The works of God’s grace are only begun in this life. We must wait until glory to be free completely from all evil. Then we will walk in the joy of perfect righteousness. Yet, no sin in this life can dominate and control those who turn to Jesus Christ in faith. In Christ we can put evil away from our lives and advance in godly living.

This is what the wise accomplish in Jesus Christ.

And the fool? The fool also accomplishes his desire. His desire is to live in sin. He finds departure from evil to be abominable. And so he pursues the way of sin. The judgment of God is upon him for this. That judgment is that he will have his evil life. And he will grow in evil so that he becomes exceedingly wicked.

A blessed sweetness!

The desire (of the wise) accomplished is sweetness.

That which is sweet is pleasant and satisfying. Think of how pleasant and satisfying sugar is to the tongue.

When the wise accomplish in Jesus Christ their desire to withdraw and escape from sin, that accomplishment is sweet to their soul. This is true because in the accomplishment of their desire they find all the goodness of God’s blessings. They find the blessing of God’s friendship and fellowship. They find the blessing of good marriages and families. They find the blessing of unity in the church. One day they will find the blessing of eternal glory in heaven. All this is sweet to the soul. It is much sweeter than the pleasures of sin that last only for a while.

But with the foolish there will only be bitterness.

The fool desires evil because he considers it will be sweet to his soul. But the judgment of God is that the sweetness of evil soon turns to horrible bitterness. It turns to bitterness in this life as the evil of the fool destroys his marriage, his home, and everything that is worthwhile. And ultimately there is the bitterness of hell.

Will you be wise, or foolish?

You know the great realities of life. They center in God and His Son Jesus Christ. They include the scourge of evil and the blessings of departing from evil in Jesus Christ. What will you do with these realities?

Do not be the fool, who ignores them and perishes in the bitterness of sin.

Be wise to embrace Jesus Christ, that you may find the sweetness of life and eternal joy.