“Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire;
he breaks out against all sound judgment” (Proverbs 18:1 ESV)
Solomon continues his fatherly discourse to his children by adding another warning: do not isolate yourself from others. Throughout Proverbs, we have seen the father’s concern that his children not only walk in wisdom individually, but also contribute to the betterment of their communities. For example, his children were admonished to help their neighbors (3:27-29); they were told that the city rejoices in the well-being of the righteous (11:10-11); and they were taught that their diligence will yield positions of authority in society (12:24). In addition to these and other teachings about Solomon’s sons’ interaction with the community, the character qualities described in Proverbs can only be tested in a corporate context: humility, service, teachability, and fair treatment of others. None of the marks of the wise son can be realized if such a one chooses to isolate himself from others.
The isolationist is in a dangerous place. He seeks his own desire, not the benefit of others. He doesn’t listen to sound judgment. He “takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion” (v2). The picture here not only defines one who is a loner, but also one who is anti-social despite remaining interactive with others. Such a person may allow what seems like a dialogue at times, but in the end, he only hears a monologue because he only hears what he wants to hear: himself.
Solomon’s warning against such rugged individualism could not be more pertinent for our time. Generations removed and miles away from Proverbs’ original writing, our culture is perhaps the greatest victim of individualistic thinking in the history of the world. Modern, western society prizes the “do it yourself” way of thinking; we are told not to care what other people think, to keep our opinions to ourselves (especially if they are grounded in absolute truth), and to do whatever it takes to reach our goals, even if it means stepping on others along the way. No wonder marketers are so successful at reaching the biggest idols in our lives: ourselves.
More tragic than the individualism of society is the way this worldly philosophy has infiltrated the church. The church’s capitulation to rugged individualism is perhaps one of the greatest blemished on her today. Professing Christians isolate themselves from the regular fellowship without giving much thought to their actions (or inactions). The church is often seen as an optional blessing, but certainly not a necessity.
The Word of God corrects this problem. Solomon’s warning against isolationism is only one of myriads of biblical teachings about the need for us to not be alone, all of which culminates in the New Testament’s teaching on the church. Two are better than one (Ecclesiastes 4:9), iron sharpens iron (Proverbs 27:17), all are one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28), the church is to be unified (John 17), forsake not the assembly (Hebrews 10:25) – the Bible is replete with calls to a corporate not individualistic way of life for the one who would walk in wisdom and follow the Lord. What should we do with our tendency to isolate ourselves? Run from it! Where shall we go?
The name of the Lord is a strong tower;
the righteous man runs into it and is safe. (Proverbs 18:10)
Run from isolation and run to the Lord. Get away from yourself and seek him. There, you will not only find the safety of his presence, but the fellowship of many others who have found their identity in him.