“Better a dry crust eaten in peace than a house filled with feasting–and conflict.”
Proverbs 17:1 (NLT)
Last week I played the “Would you rather…” game with a group of elementary kids at our church’s music camp. In this game we answered questions like: “Would you rather be an athlete in the Summer Olympics or the Winter Olympics?” and “Would you rather eat broccoli-flavored ice cream or meat-flavored cookies?” So, in the spirit of that game and the theme of this week’s verse, my question for us is:
Would you rather have poverty with peace or prosperity with strife?
It’s interesting that Solomon correlates prosperity with strife and poverty with peace since it is possible to be rich and still have peace. But, in this particular verse, Solomon is encouraging his son, and us, to remember what is important in life: peace is more important than prosperity if having, or pursuing, riches causes strife in our households.
In our American culture, materialism is emphasized and things are often sought after regardless of what it takes to get them. People climb the proverbial work ladder and max out their credit cards to keep up with the Joneses. More often than not, managing so many things at once brings nothing but strife and misery to a person and ultimately to a household.
In Proverbs 17:1, Solomon tells us that peace is often more attainable when there is not so much to manage, and he explains that peace is always the better choice. He repeats this idea in Proverbs 15:17: “Better a small serving of vegetables with love than a fattened calf with hatred” (NIV). In both Proverbs 17:1 and 15:17, food is used to symbolize poverty and prosperity. Dry crust is simply a piece of bread with nothing on it (no butter like we enjoy today) and no wine to go with it as the people in Bible times would have enjoyed – remember Jesus and the disciples dipping their bread in wine? The fattened calf was used both for eating and for sacrifice. And meat was a luxury over vegetables, similar to today’s standards (just price it in any store). We can extend these food symbols to any material item: cars, homes, trips, electronics, furniture, etc.
Where do you fit into this scenario? Do you have peace or strife? Is your strife self-inflicted because of your “prosperity” or your pursuit of it? What would it take for you to find peace? I believe Paul gives us the best counsel when it comes to choosing peace over plenty:
“I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:11-13, NIV).
So, follow Paul’s advice and choose to be content. Choose peace over plenty.