He who is often reproved, yet stiffens his neck,
will suddenly be broken beyond healing.
Who in your life is a pain in the neck? Don’t answer that! The issue before us in this proverb is not family members, friends, or neighbors whom we might regard as a pain. The issue before us in this proverb is the pain that we sometimes inflict upon ourselves. It is the pain that we experience due to our own stubbornness. It is the pain that we experience when we are stiff-necked and stubborn, even in the face of godly reproof. The consequence of this is quite serious. In the end it could be brokenness beyond healing.
All of us have our pet peeves; those little things about which we remain steadfastly insistent. Sometimes these are of little consequence. My mother, for example, believed that the only proper way to make a bed in the morning was to strip it to bare mattress and reverse the top and bottom sheets, so that they would wear evenly. The advent of fitted-sheets presented to her something of a metaphysical crisis, I think. At any rate, stubbornness about such things as this does not matter much.
There is, however, a stiff-neckedness that can be spiritually, even eternally harmful. Some weeks ago Pastor Goligher spoke of a stubborn refusal to believe in Jesus. Akin to that is an intransigent refusal to obey God. Such stubbornness reflects a hard heart that in the end will be broken to a degree beyond healing.
This proverb is a clarion call to humility, self-reflection, teachableness, confession, and repentance. The writer of Proverbs asks us to do some soul-searching. Where in our lives are we truly standing upon conviction, and where in our lives are we just being stubborn? Where in our lives have we resisted the reproof of godly friends and even the promptings of the Holy Spirit? The writer of Hebrews puts it quite succinctly: "Today if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion."
What, then, is the remedy for a stiff neck? We find one answer to that also in the book of Hebrews. "For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart" (hebrews 4:12). Think of the Bible as God’s Aspercreme. Apply it to the particular spot in your life where you are stiff, that is to say, stubborn. Rub it in. Do not merely be a hearer of it, but a doer of it as well. Look for ways to embrace the reproof of God’s Word and to live it out. Ask the Holy Spirit to soften that which is hard in you. And consider Jesus, the One who never compromised on conviction, but who was utterly open to doing the will of his Heavenly Father no matter what the cost.
The consequence of this looking to Jesus and this application of the Word of God to your life will be a relief from brokenness and a genuine healing.