This verse is sober and sharp, with three steely blades:
First, there are indeed outsiders — people who walk outside of the favor of God and the promise of heaven. You work with them, play with them, sit down to eat with them — for a time. Love will not win for all men.
Second, we walk toward them, not away. Our posture is for the outsider, not against him — whether our “against” tendencies are to ignore, or to shelter ourselves away from sinful contamination, or to craft angry arguments and oppositions. The household of faith is a shelter, not a fortress.
Third, we can be obedient in this work, as in every impossible task of our faith, in wisdom.
The Word of God is an inspired and living and supernaturally empowered gift — profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 2:16).
But being equipped doesn’t mean we always have a script. For living life between the lines — with both insiders and outsiders — we’re going to need to become wise.
But far beyond just knowing what to do and what to say, gaining wisdom is the key to loving ourselves well:
Whoever gets sense loves his own soul (Proverbs 19:8).
It’s also the path to happiness – as wisdom herself speaks in Proverbs 8:
Now, my children, listen to me,
because those who follow my ways are happy.
Listen to my teaching, and you will be wise;
do not ignore it.
Happy are those who listen to me,
watching at my door every day,
waiting at my open doorway.
Those who find me find life,
and the Lord will be pleased with them.
Those who do not find me hurt themselves.
Those who hate me love death (Proverbs 8:32-26, NCV).
So how do we get it — this wisdom that can change so much? Fortunately, as we see in Proverbs 8, it is not a privilege of age or wealth or position or time spent in the faith, but a matter of effort and pursuit: listen, follow, watch, wait, find.
- Study: build, rest on and protect yourself with a foundation of scripture. The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple (Psalm 19:7). The word of the Lord proves true; he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him (Psalm 18:30).
- Pray daily — hourly — for insight. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him (James 1:5).
- Schedule regular godly counsel with someone who’s becoming the person you want to be. Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future. Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand (Proverbs 19:20-21). The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice (Proverbs 12:15).
- Practice what you’ve learned, with as much intentionality as you’d train for a sport or skill. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil (Hebrews 5:14).
Our time to work and play and sit down to eat with outsiders is brief. Let them work and play and sit with someone who is wise and happy and loves herself, and she will always make the best use of the time.