At the end of 2014 and at the beginning of 2015 we have been spending some time in Proverbs 2 &3. My “preaching burden” at this time relates to the need for God given wisdom as we need to face this year in His strength and wisdom. We all too easily tend to judge by conventional wisdom - by appearances and eloquence and we tend to go with popular opinion, without critical thinking. We rarely stop and relate what happens around us to the Word of God and to the God of the Word.
This has been the case in recent weeks when the French satirical magazine “Charlie Hebdo” was attacked by Islamists. The killing was cruel, and it has been justly condemned, and we suppose the perpetrators have received their just punishment. However, there can be no doubt that this magazine is highly provocative, making its living by often mocking religious institutions. Clearly, many people feel provoked, and even the latest issue following the killing has provoked Muslims in Niger ( a former French colony) to burn down a church. Many people have seen this brutal killing spree as an attack on free speech, but very few people have spoken about the responsibility that ought to be associated with free speech.
Is unrestrained speech a good thing?
The book of Proverbs thinks not. It has many wise sayings and insights into this matter. It reminds us that words have incredible power. They go deep. Proverbs 18:4 says “ the words of a man’s mouth are deep waters”. Proverbs 12:18 says that “rash words are like sword thrusts”.
The book of Proverbs advises us to restrain our words. Proverbs 17:27,28 says that “whoever restrains his words has knowledge… even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise…”. Proverbs 29:20 says: “Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him.” In Ecclesiastes 3: 7, the preacher says that ”there is a time to keep silence, and a time to speak.” In his letter to the Ephesians the apostle Paul gives us a very important principle with respect to our use of words. He says: “Speak the truth in love“. It has been well said that “love without truth is hypocrisy “ , and “truth without love is brutality”. The biblical and balanced ways is always, “speaking the truth in love”. (Eph. 4:15)
The book of Proverbs is a great example of truth spoken in love . The first 9 chapters are about a father (Solomon) speaking to his son whom he loves and for whom he cares deeply. Observe the frequent repetition … my son … my son…!  We have seen him urging his son to embrace his father and his mother’ s wisdom (1:8), a wisdom which is based on Prov. 1:7, the key text (or controlling principle) in Proverbs: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.”
We take note that the opposite of wisdom is folly or foolishness. Foolishness is what we struggle with as a result of our fallen-ness, our inclination to sinfulness. Foolishness is that which needs correction and wisdom, particularly in children and young people for “ folly is bound up in the heart of a child…” (Prov. 22:15) , although every adult person is also implied here.
So, this dad has a lot to say to his son. We have already covered a lot of ground in this regard. And now in vv. 21-35 there are 7 further words that provide us with more timeless principles of wisdom for living. Each of them start in this way, “Do not…” i.e. don’t get trapped in this destructive way of thinking or behaviour . Along with this warning comes a positive instruction. Let us pay careful attention to these as we continue to build and consolidate our understanding of biblical wisdom this year .
1.  My son, do not lose sight of these— keep sound wisdom and discretion, and they will be life for your soul and adornment for your neck.  Then you will walk on your way securely, and your foot will not stumble.  If you lie down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet. Here Solomon says to his son: Don’t let go of the wisdom of God, it will keep you from danger and it will make you calm and peaceful! This is a governing principle ! He says to his son , “ hold on to the wisdom from God that you have received from mom and I ( cf. 1:8) which we ourselves have received from God. Don’t let it go ! It will be life to your soul and it will adorn you. Holding on to this wisdom will give you wisdom as you walk along life’s highways, as the LORD directs your footsteps , saying “This is the way, walk in it.” (Isa. 30:21). Solomon reminds his son that with this wisdom he will be able to walk securely. He will be able to avoid traps and snares along the way. Charles Bridges says : “ The habitual eyeing of the word keeps the feet in a slippery path.
According to Psalm 73 David went through a very difficult patch. He nearly slipped spiritually when he took his eyes off God and had them on the world as he envied the wicked who seemed to have no troubles. This was until he saw their future through God’s eyes : “But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task, UNTIL I went into the sanctuary of God ; then I discerned their end.” (Ps 73: 16,17). Entering into God’s presence with God’s wisdom in view changed everything for David. And so Solomon is able to say to his son , “When you embrace this wisdom , and when you are able to see things for what they truly are, you will be able to lie down at night and be able to sleep well because you have walked according to God’s wisdom. "He gives his beloved sleep." (Ps. 127:2). Don’t let go of the wisdom (the Word) of God. Meditate on it, and let its truths sink deep into your heart and mind. It will keep you from danger and it will make you calm and peaceful in 2015!
2.  Do not be afraid of sudden terror or of the ruin of the wicked, when it comes,  for the LORD will be your confidence and will keep your foot from being caught. Don’t be afraid of the scary world newspaper headlines; put your trust in the Lord and do not give way to a spirit of fear ! The recent Paris attacks by militant Islamists upon the satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo , and also upon a Jewish supermarket have rocked the French world and sent tens of thousands of police and soldiers into action. France and Europe are in panic. Terror comes suddenly and unannounced . That is its nature. Solomon counsels his son, “ Do not be afraid, these things will happen”. David writes in Psalm 62:2, “ He (God) only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken.” Jesus did the same thing when the disciples expressed their fear at the prospect of being left alone and exposed to the hatred of the world. He said: “ Take heart – do not fear – I have overcome the world.” (Jn. 16:33). Do not fear Islam or terrorism. Do not fear the future. God is in charge. Those that really must fear are the wicked. (Isa. 57: 20, 21 “ There is no peace for the wicked “ ). The child of God by contrast knows who is in charge - Prov. 14:26 “ In the fear of the Lord one has strong confidence, and his children will have a refuge.”
Do not fear the newspaper headlines more than you fear the Lord in 2015 !
7.  Do not envy a man of violence and do not choose any of his ways, for the devious person is an abomination to the LORD, but the upright are in his confidence.  The LORD's curse is on the house of the wicked, but he blesses the dwelling of the righteous.  Toward the scorners he is scornful, but to the humble he gives favor.  The wise will inherit honor, but fools get disgrace. The last word the father has is this :
3.  Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it. Here is the next word for the father’s son. At the most basic level this would mean , make sure that you do not fail to pay anyone what is due to them. This might include borrowing without returning or payment (Ps.37: 21 “The wicked borrows but does not pay back …” ); the evading of taxes (Rom. 13:7) ; withholding employees money (Jas. 4:4).
On another level it could also mean that worshippers must not withhold their giving from God’s house (Mal. 3:6-10) and not fail to look after their elders who labour in preaching and teaching (1 Timothy 5:17,18).
It would also imply Gal. 6:10 : “ So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.”
Above all we are to remember that we owe a gospel debt to all – “the debt to love one another “ (Rom. 13:8).
Never forget with gratitude the debt you owe to God and never cease to be grateful as you show this as you serve Christ and His people with love, particularly in the context of His church in 2015 .
4.  Do not say to your neighbor, “Go, and come again, tomorrow I will give it”—when you have it with you. Let there be much room for wise spontaneous giving of ourselves and our substances in 2015. We live in a very needy society, and there are many opportunities to practice spontaneous generosity. This does not encourage us to endlessly supplement those who will not work , but it is an invitation to show the love of God to this world .
Charles Bridges has this wise reminder for us: “Delay is an offence against the law of love. Too often the cold repulse —Go, and come again—is a cover for selfishness. There is a secret hope that the matter will be forgotten, dropped, or taken up by some other party … We should cultivate a quick sensibility of the wants and sufferings of others; putting ourselves as much as possible in their place… .
The next word from the father to his son also relates to the neighbor:
5.  Do not plan evil against your neighbor, who dwells trustingly beside you :
There are a number of instances in the Bible when we read of harm being done to neighbours , and it is always frowned upon by God. Examples in Scripture :
(i) Jacob's sons against the unsuspecting Shechemites (Gen.34: 13-29)
(ii) Saul's evil attacks against David (1 Sam. 18:22-26);
(iii) Joab's murder of Abner and Amasa (2 Sam. iii. 27)
(iv) Judah’s betrayal of Christ.
In 2015 let us make it our aim to deal well with our neighbours and in so doing bear a good witness for Christ .
6.  Do not contend with a man for no reason, when he has done you no harm. This is the next point that the father makes to his son. It is very serious when people choose to pick fights when there is no real reason for contention. Contentious people always say they have a good reason for contending with others. They always feel justified in their arguments . What causes people to be contentious? It is pride! Pride comes from a heart that refuses to be merciful. It refuses to overlook small offences. It refuses to forgive others fully and easily. A contentious spirit is from hell, but a gentle and peaceful spirit is from heaven – read James 3:14-18. Biblical wisdom includes knowledge and ability to get along with others. Wise people know how to defer their anger and ignore minor offences (Prov. 19:11). They know that if they are unmerciful in holding men accountable for their small offences, then God Himself will not forgive them their trespasses ( Matt 6:14-15 ; 18:21-35) . In 2015 let us learn from Christ not to argue, and to be quick to forgive and to seek peace with all men. Blessed are the peacemakers! .
What is there to envy in a man of violence ? The truth is that such a person is an abomination to the Lord … the curse of the Lord is on the house of the wicked; but he blesses the dwelling
habitation of the righteous - Charles Bridges says : the curse or blessing of the Lord follows us to our homes. Is your house under the curse or blessing of the Lord? Let godly role models be our inspiration in 2015 !
Build your life and your homes on biblical wisdom, brothers and sisters. This will help you to make good decisions in 2015; it will help you to sleep well; it will give you a compassionate heart for those that are in need ; it will make you mindful of your relationship with your neighbor, and it will make you less afraid or envious of the world around you . Amen !