As with most of the proverbs, contrast is the tool by which life responses are evaluated. Pride enters, destruction is close on its heels. Haughtiness results in a fall; humility results in an increase in one's life. Pride or haughtiness are set out as "wrong" paths for a Christian's life. Wisdom and insight are presented as better than all the wealth we could accumulate. Trust in God and listening to wise instruction outweighs doing things our own way. God commends the wise, because they have come to the place of doing more than appreciating good teaching - they embrace it, putting it into application and then seeing the results of its application born out in the reputation they form. Two paths may lead to the same destination - but only one is right. Contrasts are set forth in order to get us to evaluate our choices.
Get wisdom—it’s worth more than money; choose insight over income every time. The road of right living bypasses evil; watch your step and save your life. First pride, then the crash—the bigger the ego, the harder the fall. It pays to take life seriously; things work out when you trust in God. A wise person gets known for insight; gracious words add to one’s reputation. (Proverbs 16:16-18, 20-21 MSG)
Pride comes through in so many of these contrasts, does it not? Wherever there is this inordinate amount of "self-esteem" or conceit, things are surely not going to turn out well. Delight or some form of elation over some action we have performed, a possession we come to own, or a relationship we enter into can turn from simple pleasure to a moment of "prideful" display quicker than we can bat an eye. How do we guard against allowing pride to taint what God intends as good things within our lives?
I think it may just come from this idea of listening to instruction and learning to trust in God. When we first begin to listen with the intention of applying instruction, we are learning to pay attention to things so as to "heed" the instruction. We want to "catch" what is being taught - not just make good notes we can keep in a journal we will allow to gather dust over time. When we are attuned to hear, we can be led. When we are obeying his leading, we are prospering. When we learn from him, our lives are secure. When we rely on his ability, our ability seems way too limited and untrustworthy. When we are good students of the precepts he teaches, our lives become strong and flourishing. All action is based in trust, all trust is reinforced by action.
Sometimes we just need a little discretion in our actions - a little caution before we act. This is especially true with any action involving speech. Really, God is trying to teach us to make responsible decisions - by learning to separate one choice from another. This is the purpose of the contrasts - to help us see one choice and its outcome versus another choice and its consequence. Not every thought needs to be spoken; not every action needs to have a counteraction. We have to learn the caution we should exhibit in both our speech and action. The contrast of wise words and those of a fool involves the "flavor" of the words and the "effect" they lend to the relationship. Kind words are like honey, bringing energy to the relationship. Just the opposite is true of unkind words - they diminish the energy within the relationship.
An empty stomach is a powerful motivator, isn't it? I wonder if we'd say the same thing about an empty spirit? Does it motivate us to become students at the feet of Jesus, eager to embrace what he teaches and in taking it in, find nourishment for our souls and delight for our spirit? God's comparisons set forth in the proverbs show us we might take a gamble on the outcome of our pursuits if we are unclear about what it is we are pursuing. The most important question we can ask is not "what" we are pursuing, but "who" we are pursuing. If our eyes are inwardly directed, we are likely pursuing things which will tickle our fancies. If our eyes are outwardly directed, we are likely to pursue things which will please others around us, but may totally leave us feeling unfulfilled. If our eyes are upwardly directed, we now enter a different plane of action - we move from self-direction or other-direction to divine-direction.
To gain wisdom, apply knowledge. To grow strong, exercise your knowledge. To impact your actions, understand where they are based. Contrasts set forth in order to help guide our steps and to keep us safe. All a contrast does is to show us the differences between one thing and another - one action over another; one bit of "heard" knowledge over one bit of "applied" knowledge. Opposites are presented because they speak the loudest. Just sayin!