Proverbs 23:12

ESV Apply your heart to instruction and your ear to words of knowledge.
NIV Apply your heart to instruction and your ears to words of knowledge.
NASB Apply your heart to discipline, And your ears to words of knowledge.
CSB Apply yourself to discipline and listen to words of knowledge.
NLT Commit yourself to instruction; listen carefully to words of knowledge.
KJV Apply thine heart unto instruction, and thine ears to the words of knowledge.

What does Proverbs 23:12 mean?

The entire book of Proverbs centers around the value of godly wisdom (Proverbs 1:7; 3:1–8). A large section of the book was composed of good advice attributed to Solomon (Proverbs 10:1). After several chapters of these teachings, Solomon introduced thirty wise sayings which he endorsed, but did not necessarily write (Proverbs 22:17–21). While relaying these thirty teachings, he occasionally stops to highlight the importance of those words. This verse is one of those reminders (Proverbs 23:19, 26).

Discipline and close attention are necessary if a person wants to gain godly wisdom (Proverbs 1:1–7). The book of Proverbs uses certain terms to depict levels of instruction. "Learning" is acquiring information. "Knowledge" is learning retained for long-term use. "Wisdom" is the capacity to act correctly based on knowledge. "Understanding" is a developed level of wisdom which should be shared with others.

This means that true wisdom requires intentional choices; a person can "know" what is right, but the heart must apply that knowledge to real-life situations. James exhorts his readers to "be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves" (James 1:22). He explains that whoever reads into God's Word but fails to apply it is like someone who looks into a mirror and immediately forgets what his face looks like (James 1:23–24). He reasons that blessing comes to the person who acts upon what God's Word reveals (James 1:25). Jesus said, "Take care then how you hear" (Luke 8:18)—meaning we ought not merely perceive His Word, but also obey it.
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