According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, prudence is defined as “the ability to govern and discipline oneself by the use of reason.” Prudence is also an accounting term. It is a principle that ensures a company is not overvalued by ensuring income and assets are not overstated when reporting the income of the company.
But what does prudent mean scripturally?
The book of Proverbs has a lot to say about prudence. For instance, the prudent are defined as wise and thoughtful, having knowledge and self-control. The Bible juxtaposes prudence with folly and naivety to drive the point home.
Let us take a look at what prudence means in the scriptures by looking at some of the scriptures on the topic.
Prudence leads to spiritual awareness
.The wisdom of the prudent is to thoughtfully consider his way, but the folly of fools is deceiving. (Prov. 14:8)
From the above scripture, we can infer that a prudent person acts with wisdom because he “thoughtfully considers his ways.” Prudence acts as a moral compass and standard, which means a prudent person has discernment and spiritual direction. The last part of the above scripture is a contrast. While the wise person relies on prudence for direction, the fool is deceived in his folly. It is this folly that destroys the fool as Proverbs 1:32 says.
A prudent person is also compared to the naive as described in the scripture below:
The naïve believes every word, but a prudent man carefully considers his steps. Proverbs 14:15
Unlike the prudent man who carefully considers his steps, the naive lacks sound judgment or discernment and is therefore gullible. The contrast between the naive and prudent serves to show how prudence goes hand in hand with spiritual awareness.
Prudence seeks knowledge
Every prudent man works with knowledge, but a fool flaunts folly (Prov. 13:16).
There are two types of people – those who work with knowledge and those who work against knowledge. Prudence will help you to work with knowledge and that will make your work easier and more efficient. Before a prudent person embarks on a task, they take time to accumulate the facts and gather all needed data. They are also open to assimilating knowledge as they continue working to continue expanding their knowledge base.
On the contrary, a fool displays his folly by how he acts. He operates against or without knowledge and his defiance to the truth will always haunt him. A good example is given by the parable of Jesus on the foolish and prudent builders. The foolish builder builds his house on sand and a storm easily sweeps it away. On the contrary, the prudent builder uses the knowledge of construction (gathered from experts) to build a house on a solid foundation. As such, his house stands firm when the storms rage (Matthew 7:24–27).
An even more poignant illustration is given in Luke 14:28-30. In this passage, Jesus posits that a prudent builder will first work on the bill of quantities and other important planning before he commences the building project. The idea, as Jesus explained, is to figure out if you have enough money to complete the building project before you get started. This shows that one doesn’t need to be an expert in everything. However, prudence calls for acquiring the right knowledge before commencing any work. This may come, for example, from consulting experts in the field.
One of the signs of prudence is being slow to speak and quick to hear (James 1:19). The wise man, Solomon, put it this way:
A prudent man conceals knowledge, but the heart of fools proclaims foolishness. (Prov. 12:23)
The prudent do not just talk because they can – they are slow to talk and take time to get knowledge. This is not to mean that prudent people are deceitful – they just know to use their discretion. In the words of scripture, they understand that there is a time to speak and a time to be silent (Ecc. 3:7).
Prudent people have self-control
A prudent man sees the evil and hides himself; but the naïve keep right on going and suffer for it. (Prov. 22:3).
Prudence will make a person have respect for Godly knowledge which will ultimately help him to discern evil. A prudent person will therefore demonstrate self-control on account of the foresight they have. They will recognize a dangerous situation and thereby take precautions not to slip into temptation. As the scripture above notes, the prudent will hide from evil. Hiding from evil takes two forms. The first is described in Psalms 91:1 where the prudent hide in the secret place of the most high. This means being so close and in synch with God, that sin is no longer an issue. Apostle Paul used the metaphor of death to teach how the Christian can die to sin by crucifying the flesh (Gal. 5:24). The second way of hiding from sin is by steering clear of wrong environments and people. For instance, the Bible says to flee sexual immorality(1 Corinthians 6:18). You do this by avoiding going to places where you will be exposed to tempting situations.
On the contrary, “the naïve keep right on going and suffer for it.” This means they do not appreciate the danger of a bad situation and walk right into the trap like a wild animal. And as the scripture says, they end up paying the ultimate price. Jesus gave an example in the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32). The story has two sons – an older son who exercises self-restraint and a younger son who demonstrates impatience and greed by asking for his inheritance from his father. As the story goes, the young son is given his inheritance which he then proceeds to squander in wasteful living. After a short while, his wealth runs out and he ends up so desperate that he starts doing menial jobs just to survive. At some point, he even starts taking care of pigs and survives by eating their food. The story is a perfect contrast between “A prudent man who sees the evil and hides himself and a naïve who keep right on going and suffer for it”
In conclusion, a prudent person is wise and knowledgeable. Whenever he is faced with a compromising situation, he applies knowledge and wisdom to avoid getting in trouble. The prudent are not only spiritually aware but they also exercise self-restraint to avoid falling into sin.