Sunday, January 18, 2015

Proverbs 3: 21 -35 - “Appropriate Words for the Beginning of the Year : Seven Things to Avoid in 2015 ”

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[1]) speaking to  his son  whom he  loves and for whom  he cares  deeply. Observe the frequent   repetition … my son … my son…!  [2] 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.  [21] My son, do not lose sight of these— keep sound wisdom and discretion,[22] and they will be life for your soul and adornment for your neck. [23] Then you will walk on your way securely, and your foot will not stumble. [24] 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.  1:8which 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.[3] 
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. [25] Do not be afraid of sudden terror or of the ruin of the wicked, when it comes, [26] 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. [31] Do not envy a man of violence and do not choose any of his ways,[32] for the devious person is an  abomination to the LORD, but the upright are in his confidence. [33] The LORD's curse is on the house of the wicked, but he blesses the dwelling of the righteous. [34] Toward the scorners he is scornful, but to the humble he gives favor. [35] The wise will inherit honor, but fools get disgrace. The last word   the father has  is this :

3. [27] 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. [28] 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. [29] 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. [30] 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 !

[1] 1:1;10:1; 25:1 – see also  1 Kings 4:29-34 ; Ch.  30 is attributed to Agur and  Ch. 31 to Lemuel
[2] Prov.  1:8, 10, 15 ; 2:1;  3:1,11,21
[3] Charles Bridges : Proverbs , Banner of Truth , p.  37 

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