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Eat Your Vegetables

"The Thankful Poor," by Henry Ossawa Tanner, 1894 [Public Domain] "The Thankful Poor," by Henry Ossawa Tanner, 1894 [Public Domain]

Wisdom in having love as the main dish of your life

Proverbs 15:16-17

16 Better is a little with the fear of the Lord,
Than great treasure with trouble.

17 Better is a dinner of herbs where love is,
Than a fatted calf with hatred.


Can you recall a time in your life when you had very little, but you did not mind? Perhaps what comes most readily to your mind is the simple time of your life while you were growing up.

Maybe you grew really poor, as a child on a hardscrabble farm, or in a row house in an industrial city. Somehow, though, you probably still think that that time of your life was simpler, less troubled…somehow better than what you seem to have to deal with in this modern age. 

Life may have been hard, but you had family, hopes and the dreams of being young. This reminds me of the Willie Nelson’s classic “When I was Young, and Grandma Wasn’t Old:”

When I was young and Grandma wasn't old
When she guided me as I watched life unfold
Anything we didn't have we didn't really need to hold
When I was young and Grandma wasn't old

Be it on a farm or in a town, you can remember things like ice cream trucks, Saturday morning cartoons, ladies wearing hats in church, a bicycle with a flag on it–or playing cards in the spokes to make a “flutter-flutter-flutter” motorcycle sound.

Then came your start in life: School, marriage to a beautiful bride or fine young husband, and your first real job. You ate ramen noodles, or beans and rice, and drove a 10-year-old car–but you didn’t mind. Soon, little ones came along and life became tee ball games, dance recitals, and visits to grandparents for Christmas.

Even if you did not experience all of these things, you can feel the acute sense of nostalgia for such times. 

There is a wonderful painting by Henry Ossawa Taylor called, “The Thankful Poor.” It depicts an old man and a young boy giving thanks over a dinner table. The meal contains a meager portion, and yet they pray with obvious gratitude. Taylor was an African-American who painted it in 1894, and it–along with many other of his paintings–depict African-Americans in a dignified manner that is toned in nostalgia, and simple ideals.

Solomon paints a picture of simplicity and dignity with a couplet of proverbs in chapter 15. He is seeking to convey to the young ones of Israel that all that glitters is not gold, and that seeking the love of I AM (Yahweh) brings everlasting riches: 

16 Better is a little with the fear of the Lord,
Than great treasure with trouble.–Proverbs 15:16

Verses 16 and 17 are connected by the words “better is,” or “better than.” This is the Hebrew טוֹב־ (“tob”), and it sets up a sharp contrast in two different ways of living. It is a life of worldly abundance, but spiritual emptiness, verses a life of little, but with spiritual joy. This joy comes from fearing God, and following the path of His righteousness.

This is the path that the Apostle Paul speaks of in His instructions to his own young charge, Timothy:

Now godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.–I Timothy 6:6-7

To embrace the life of the believer is to be prepared to leave the things of this world behind. This does not mean that earthly wealth, or the entertainments of this life are inherently evil or against God–but they can be a hindrance in fully giving your life to Him. 

This may mean that you could be called to serve God on the mission field, in the ministry, or to simply give of your hard-earned talents and treasure to others who have given their lives to serve Him. 

On a more negative side, this can mean that if all should be taken away–be it from disaster or circumstance–if you still retain your faith in your Heavenly Father, you will not be truly impoverished.

This is a radical thought in this modern world in which you live, is it not? All around you people are grasping, earning, working, conniving, and planning their future gains. You are tempted to “keep up with the Joneses,” or keep up a lifestyle that guarantees a caliber of friends and benefits. 

Sure, people may say that they long for the “simple life,” but they seldom seem to truly mean it. On the contrary, if your comfort and ease is threatened in the slightest, you can even get angry, or even panicked at the idea of losing it all. This image also appears in other proverbs:

1 Better is a dry morsel with quietness,
Than a house full of feasting with strife.–Proverbs 17:1

in Chapter 15, Solomon continues with his wisdom:

17 Better is a dinner of herbs where love is,
Than a fatted calf with hatred.–Proverbs 15:17


The “fatted calf” is an easily recognizable biblical image of plenty that you will remember from the parable of the Prodigal Son. Here, the contrast of spiritual wealth and worldly emptiness is captured in a picture of two different meals. One is a dish of herbs, or a salad of simplicity. The other is a banquet feast of folly. 

My wife is a vegetarian and a wonderful cook. Now, I am a true fan of grill and smoker, and am as carnivorous as they come. However, she continually surprises me with her culinary wonders, and though many of the meals feature smaller portions or leafy green grazing, I am somehow always filled. In a way, I am far more satisfied by her loving touch on a simple family meal, than a hot buffet at the local barbecue.

How does this happen? Tim Keller explains what is happening in our hearts:

When love is life’s main dish, it doesn’t matter if the rest of the meal is just a bit of vegetables. And if hatred is the main course, even a fatted calf cannot redeem it.–Tim Keller, “God’s Wisdom for Navigating Life

Is love the “main dish” of your life? This is not a squishy, romance novel, Disney cartoon form of love–this is the love you experience when you are cherishing others and their company.  It is the love you have for your Heavenly Father, and His Son. Love that you have because God, in Christ Jesus, loved you first.

You see, it is not the poverty or lack of things that makes your memories of simpler times of the past so special. There is plenty of misery in poverty. It is love…and more importantly the love of Christ. He who has Christ has everything. Just as Jesus instructs His disciples:

24 Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. 25 For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. 26 For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?–Matthew 16:24-26

These proverbs and passages not only correct the simplistic impulse you have to believe that your prosperity is just due to hard work and God’s reward, they show you that wealth and plenty can even be a hindrance to following Jesus. Your love for the One who has saved you must far outweigh your desire and devotion to the wealth you have here in this life.

Have you pursued the good things in this life, only to come up feeling empty–or fearful of losing it? Are there others that you know who have gained wealth, with all of its toys and blessings–and yet remain unhappy? Pursuing and keeping earthly benefits will strain marriages, put pressure on children, and tempt you to place constraints on what you devote to your Heavenly Father.

Take time in your life to restore any relationships that have been harmed by your pursuit of earthly success. Pause for a few extra minutes at church to spend time conversing with your fellow believers. Make the effort to get to know them, their needs, and how you may pray–and do not be afraid to share your needs with them. Strengthen the bonds of love in Christ, and you will have friends for all eternity.

Invite the least of them into your home to break bread and pray together as equals in the sight of the Lord. Even if it is a salad of simplicity instead of a sumptuous feast, you will be satisfied in your heart–for when you have Jesus, you have everything.  


The Monday—Friday DEEPs are written by Mike Slay and this Saturday Deep is written by Matt Richardson. To subscribe to all the DEEPs click here:

The weekly study guides, which include the Monday–Friday devotionals plus related questions for discussion or meditation, are available for download here:

Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. ESV stands for the English Standard Version. © Copyright 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved. NIV stands for The Holy Bible, New International Version®. © Copyright 1973 by International Bible Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved. KJV stands for the King James Version.

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