Four pastors were sitting down to lunch. Having just read James 5, in which James urges his readers to confess their sins to one another (v. 16), one suggested that they practice what they had read. They all agreed, and so the first pastor said, “I have been a little dishonest with the church books, labelling personal expenses as ministry expenses.” The second admitted, “In order to deal with the stress of ministry, I have turned to alcohol and, on more than one occasion, have gotten drunk.” The third confessed, “I have been unwise with my finances and so have had to resort to gambling in the hopes of striking it rich.” The fourth pastor dropped his head and said quietly, “I battle with gossip, and right now I can’t wait to get out of here!”
In the ongoing list of things that God specifically hates, we have reached the sin of “feet that make haste to run to evil” (Proverbs 6:18). The description is not of feet that accidentally stumble upon wickedness, but of an eagerness on the part of the sinner to involve himself in things that bring harm and pain to others.
Previously, we saw that God hates “a heart that devises wicked plans.” The heart is the fountain from which the issues of life flow. Sin is devised in the heart, but the feet carry out what the heart devises. Wickedness that is devised in the heart is eagerly acted upon with the feet.
So, what does this look like? It can take on several forms.
On the one hand, there are those who are overtly eager to perform deeds of open, violent wickedness. Solomon speaks of some of these in Proverbs 1:10–19, where he writes of a group of men who lie in wait to ambush and attack passersby in order to rob them. They resort to open violence in their eagerness to run to evil.
We are familiar with such eagerness for open wickedness in the times in which we live. The eagerness with which some pursue open wickedness is frightening. Your mind might immediately go to violent criminals or terrorists. What are suicide bombers if not eager to run to evil?
But, as with each of the sins we have already considered in this list, we would be foolish to too quickly excuse ourselves. If we are guilty of devising wickedness plans in our hearts, we can be sure that our feet are often far too eager to run to evil.
Think for a moment of the opening illustration. It makes for a humorous anecdote, but how often are we tempted to feel as if we just need to spread what we have heard? We may do so in the form of a “prayer request” or out of “genuine concern” for the object of our gossip, but the reality is that we are frequently more eager than we should be to spread rumours. In fact, we are often so eager to do so that we don’t bother to verify the information we have received before we pass it on.
The Bible, on the other hand, urges us to be “slow to speak” (James 1:19). Part of James’s point is that we must not be so eager to spout what we know that we don’t think carefully about whether our speech is true, righteous, necessary or edifying. The microwave society in which we live encourages us to speak without thinking. We are advised on every front to tell what we know before anyone else has opportunity to do so. During the recent Manchester bombing, news of what was happening was live tweeted by ordinary citizens long before it reached formal media outlets. Media sources, wanting to verify information before publishing, were far behind the race. Those who saw no need to verify the information they were passing on were quicker to the draw.
We are trained to think this way: that we must be the first to tell what we know. Have you heard rumblings of the death of a church member? Must you be the first to break the news—even before you have verified that the family wishes the news to be broken? Have you heard tell of a pregnancy that is not (yet) widely known? Must you be the first to tell the good news, even before the rejoicing parents have had opportunity to do so? These may not be examples per se of feet that make haste to do evil, but if we cannot even train ourselves to be “slow to speak” when news is good (or neutral), how can we hope to be “slow to speak” when speech is evil?
Another manifestation of this, which has taken on fresh dimensions in our day, is mob justice. Mob justice has always been a sinful reality, but with the Internet it has risen to new heights. A digital mob, whose digital feet are eager to run to evil, can cause great harm. The furore that erupted over the killing of Cecil the lion had far-reaching negative consequences, not only for the hunter himself, but for just about anyone associated with him. When he was forced to (temporarily) shut down his practice, his employees and clients suffered. The mob was seeking “justice” for Cecil, but I doubt very much that anyone who participated gave any thought to the consequences for others before they picked up their digital pitchforks.
This sin can have a wide array of manifestations, but they all boil down to the same thing: an eagerness to be involved in those activities that bring pain to others—whether in word or deed.
How do we counteract feet that are swift to run to evil? Let me offer four suggestions.
First, fear God. Solomon said it quite plainly: “The fear of the LORD is hatred of evil” (Proverbs 8:13). If you find that you are eager to be involved in evil, you can be sure that you do not fear the Lord as the Bible calls you to. Those who fear the Lord will hate and therefore actively avoid evil; they will not tolerate it or be eager to run to it.
Second, deal swiftly with evil. Solomon warned, “Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed speedily, the heart of the children of man is fully set to do evil” (Ecclesiastes 8:11). Properly speaking, Solomon’s point is the execution of a sentence against evil from an outside source, but the basic principle is the same: If we do not deal swiftly with the evil that our hearts devise, we will soon find our feet tempted to run to it. Don’t tolerate evil thoughts and words and deeds in your life. It just makes it easier to find eager enjoyment in those things. When evil thoughts come into your head, deal swiftly with them and replace them with righteous thoughts. When others speak evil, rebuke them and remove yourself from such talk.
Third, and related to the above, watch your companions. Hear Solomon again: “My son, do not walk in the way with them; hold back your foot from their paths, for their feet run to evil, and they make haste to shed blood” (Proverbs 1:15–16). Solomon’s counsel to his son was to avoid the influence of those whose feet were swift to run to evil. We become like the company we keep, and if we will avoid feet that are swift to run to evil we must avoid those whose feet are swift to run to evil.
Finally, think long and hard before you act or speak. “Ponder the path of your feet; then all your ways will be sure. Do not swerve to the right hand or to the left; turn your foot away from evil” (Proverbs 4:26–27). Our feet often run to evil because we don’t stop to think about where we are going. What will be the ramifications of your words and actions? Will they help people or hurt them? The best way of avoiding evil is to actively ponder your ways and instead do what is good. Instead of hastening in your eagerness to do evil, make your prayer that of the psalmist: “I hold back my feet from every evil way, in order to keep your word” (Psalm 119:101).