The Virtue of a Cool Spirit

27  Whoever restrains his words has knowledge,
and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.
28  Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise;
when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.

Proverbs 17:27-28

Cool must be one of the most overused words in the English language. We say things like, “That’s cool,” or, “She’s a cool person.” Or, after going on a giant roller coaster, we say, “That’s the coolest ride ever.” The word has a wide range of meaning, and it often has nothing to do with the temperature.

But what does the Bible mean when it says that a person with understanding has a “cool spirit”? This does not mean being likeable, popular, or even socially acceptable, as the word is often used now, but it has everything to do with being self-controlled, humble, and measured. A cool spirit is a mark of a wise person, and a mature Christian should desire to stay cool when the world around them is heating up.

What is a cool spirit?

Proverbs 17:27-28, both quoted at the beginning of this post, go together as a pair, forming a kind of parallelism. The wisdom being communicated here is that we should not be people who are easily provoked. It is not that a wise person never corrects what is wrong or never speaks out about controversial issues, but it is that a person of understanding exercises verbal restraint, stays in control of his or her emotions, and speaks and acts with purpose. It means that you are not easily heated up, saying rash, harsh, or reactionary things.

The Egyptians used the the terms “hot” and “cool” as a way to describe distinct types of people. The cool person was a calm person, not ruled by passion, who spoke thoughtfully. Therefore, this is not someone who is rash (Proverbs 12:18), hot-tempered (Proverbs 15:18), or quick-tempered (Proverbs 14:29). Proverbs 16:32 says, “Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.”[1]

In other words, someone with a cool spirit is someone who is patient, slow to anger, and self-controlled. For the Christian, these are all fruits of the Holy Spirit and evidences of God’s love in our hearts (1 Corinthians 13:4-5; Galatians 5:22-23; Colossians 3:12; 2 Corinthians 6:6; Ephesians 4:2).

Staying Cool When the World Heats Up

It seems now that being a person with a cool spirit is no longer “cool.” What society seems to expect is outrage, rash judgments, and rants against those who disagree with us, whether it has to do with political, religious, or social issues. Remaining calm, prudently taking your time to make judgments (Proverbs 18:17), and staying aloof from conflict (Proverbs 20:3) are viewed as weakness, cowardice, or fear. Yet, the Bible teaches that these are virtues.

As Christians, then, how can we resist this pressure to be hot-spirited instead of cool-spirited? How can we be lovers of truth and justice and cool-spirited at the same time? Injustice should bother us, evil should be resisted, and foolishness must often be confronted. Yet, a person of understanding will remain cool-spirited even when action is required.

This virtue of a cool-spirit has more to do with a disposition of the heart than it does with the circumstances surrounding us. This disposition of the heart comes from the work of grace in our hearts by the power of the Holy Spirit. As you fight to remain cool-spirited, remember that the power comes from God. As a Christian, you are called to be a person of grace, a person who listens, and a person of patience. And you can be this kind of person as you walk by the Spirit!

1. A Person of Grace

To remain cool-spirited, you must remember every minute of every hour that you are saved by grace and not by works. In Galatians 5, Paul teaches us that in Christ we are set free from the yoke of the law, and this freedom should lead us to serving one another. Yet, he warns, “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another” (Galatians 5:14-15). When we go after each other, we are not walking in the freedom Christ won for us. We are not fulling the law of love. Rather, we are walking by the flesh.

Paul goes on, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16). Some of these desires of the flesh that he lists are “enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions” (Galatians 5:19). These are the opposite of the cool-spirit that Proverbs calls us to manifest. In opposition, Paul writes that “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:22-24). We are not to be conceited, provoking one another (Galatians 5:26). A Spirit-led person is one who lives the gospel: a person who has been buried and raised with Christ and now walks according to that same power within him.

The same power that raised Christ from the dead now works in us to win the victory over the sin that remains in our hearts. We do not have to walk around with a hot-spirit the way the rest of the world does. We can be cool-spirited because we are people who have received mercy and now desire to show that same mercy to others. We should be loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, and self-controlled people, and we can be because Christ has broken the power of sin in our lives on the cross!

The call of the Christian is to do the good works we were created for in Christ Jesus: there is no room for boasting or putting ourselves above others when we know that are also sinners saved by his amazing grace. Once a heart has experienced the undeserved mercy of a holy God, a new desire is born to show others that same mercy.

2. A Person Who Listens

Another fruit of the Spirit is that Christians are to be people who listen. James says that Christians have been brought forth by the word of truth by the will of God as a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. He is saying that we have received the power of eternal life, of the resurrection life of Christ, by the will of God. Then he immediately applies that power to our ability to listen and not become angry. He writes, “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:19-20).

There is a meekness and humility that comes into our lives when we are brought to life by the grace of God. We realize that we were dead in our trespasses and sins and then God made us alive together with Christ. This is totally the work of God! How does that change us? We stop thinking that we are the ultimate source of wisdom and righteousness. Rather, we understand that God is the ultimate source of all wisdom and righteousness.

So, if our own understanding is not sufficient, then that means we have a lot to learn from those around us. First, we must listen to God and his word, and, second, we must listen to the brothers and sisters he puts in our lives. This is one of the primary ways he speaks to us. Proverbs teaches us that plans succeed with many advisers (Proverbs 15:22) and that “in an abundance of counselors there is safety” (Proverbs 11:14). We must listen to those around us.

A fool likes to hear his own voice more than he likes to listen to other people. As Proverbs says, “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion” (Proverbs 18:2). To remain cool when things are heating up, simply remember to be slow to speak and quick to listen.

3. A Person of Patience

The third key to remaining cool spirited is to be patient. Patience is listed as a fruit of the Spirit, and is the natural outworking of a person who has the Spirit of God. Patience in this context carries the idea of forbearance towards others and bearing up even when provoked.[2] A patient person is a person who can be attacked, mocked, and provoked, yet still remain calm, reasonable, and gentle towards their opponents.

This kind of patience is rooted in the transformative power of God in a heart, and it comes from the awareness of the patience God shows towards each of us. When we are impatient (reactive, defensive, and hot tempered), we display a hard heart that is still trying to justify itself. We cannot bear up when provoked if we must prove that we are good. Only the heart that truly understands the justifying work of Jesus Christ in his death and resurrection knows that it is only due to God’s unwavering patience that we breathe each breath.

The person who understands this knows that there is nothing left to prove: if we are justified by his grace as a gift, then our worth, identity, and value rest solely in Christ. We will not be surprised to have our sin pointed out to us, to realize we were wrong about something, or even to encounter the sin of another person. We remain cool when we are living as new creations, totally immersed in the gospel message. This naturally bears the fruit of patience, as we daily experience God’s patience toward us.

Stay Cool

Much of our world now is designed to incite our passions, to divide us against others, and to push us towards the fear of something. Social media algorithms are designed to do this, and the news media often works this way. We need to be aware of this, and we need to remember that God desires that we have a cool spirit in the midst of an overheated world.

As a Christian, be strong, be bold to the speak the truth, and be fearless in your service to Christ. But, let us not be brash, arrogant, rude, unteachable, or impatient. Those qualities are not love, and they are beneath the worth of our calling. Do not get caught up in the controversies of this world to the point where you become overheated about all the wrong things. Rather, let us, with a cool spirit, give an unwavering witness to the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ to a lost and dying world.

[1] Bruce K. Waltke, The Book of Proverbs, Chapters 15–31, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2005), 64-65. This paragraph and the prior paragraph echo Waltke’s commentary on these verses.
[2]William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 612.

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