Saturday, May 21, 2016

Christ in the Proverbs: Proverbs 20:17

Proverbs 20:17
Bread gained by deceit is sweet to a man,
    but afterward his mouth will be full of gravel.

"Bread gained by deceit," in context with the previous proverb, is probably a reference to money or material possessions.  Thus, deceitful bread refers to possessions gained by fraud.  But bread can also be used to refer to sex as well.  It is hard to miss the allusion of Woman Folly in 20:17.  Deceitful bread in our text is quite similar to stolen water and secret bread in 9:17:

13 The woman Folly is loud;
    she is seductive and knows nothing.
16 “Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!”
    And to him who lacks sense she says,
17 Stolen water is sweet,
    and bread eaten in secret is pleasant.”
18 But he does not know that the dead are there,
    that her guests are in the depths of Sheol. (Proverbs 9:13, 16-18)

Our proverb warns us that what looks like a sweet deal is actually a bad deal.  Sin, by its nature, is deceptive.  While it may taste good in the act, the problem is the after taste, which is poisonous.  Just as Woman Folly's house is actually a place of death (9:18), so the sin that tastes sweet at first is actually a poison that kills its victims unless they see the truth and repent.

The word "afterward" in line two, is often translated in other verses as the word end (e. g., Proverbs 5:11, 14:12-13, 16:25, 20:21, 23:32, and many others).  Proverbs, and this is true of the whole Bible, wants us to see that we must learn to judge things by their end, as God's Word shows us that end.  As Kidner says, "nothing can be judged by its first stages."[1]  "The delicious ends as the disgusting; the soothing as the murderous."[2]

Of course, the word end has two meanings, and both of these should be used in determining a wise course through life.  End can refer to our purpose in life.  "What is man's chief end/purpose?"  The Westminster Shorter Catechism answers, "Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever." If our end is to glorify God, how foolish we are to ignore and despise his instruction.

But end also can refer to our final destiny, which is either heaven or hell.  If all things are going to be united in Christ (Ephesians 1:10), then it is the height of folly to live in ways that belie that truth here on earth.  If Christ is the prize or goal of the Christian's upward calling, then we are foolish not to seek that end (Philippians 3:12-14).  Like an athlete who focuses all his attention on winning the race, he trains with the end in mind (1 Corinthians 9:24-27; 2 Timothy 2:5).

One other illustration of the importance of living in accordance with our end is found in 2 Peter 1.  There we are urged to not to be "nearsighted" (v. 9).  A person who is nearsighted cannot see things far away.  All he can see is what is close to him.  Spiritually, this is our exact problem!

Proverbs is a book that urges us to pursue character, which is wisdom embodied.  Our Lord Jesus Christ embodied the Father's wisdom perfectly.  But this is the goal and end for all of God's adopted children, who have through faith in God's Son have been born into the family as well.  2 Peter 1 urges us to pursue a new character that fits the family likeness.  To do so is to see the end:

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. 10 Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.11 For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.



[1] Kidner, Proverbs, 66.
[2] Ibid.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Christ in the Proverbs: Proverbs 19:28-29

Proverbs 19:28-29
28 A worthless witness mocks at justice, 
and the mouth of the wicked devours iniquity.
29 Condemnation is ready for scoffers, 
and beating for the backs of fools.

In verse 28, we learn what scoffers are like, and in verse 29 we see the judgment, which the Lord will bring upon them.

The scoffer or mocker has no concern for the truth.  Language is something the scoffer uses to bring about the political or judicial or personal ends he wants.  In his eyes, language is not about truth, but about power.  He uses words/lies to get what he wants.  The scoffer has no fear of God and no respect for man (Luke 18:2).  His lack of reverence for the Lord, leads to his lack of respect for God's image bearers.  Thus, even under oath he will lie because he does not revere God's name.

If the scoffer's modus operandi is to lie, this is because his inward being loves iniquity.  Just as a person loves a good meal, the scoffer loves his lusts, and he uses lies in the pursuit of his greed.  His heart feasts on the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life (1 John 2:15-17), not on Christ and the love of God, and this leads to his lack of desire to hallow God's name.

But verse 29 teaches that the Lord will judge scoffers.  Those who mock justice, will one day receive justice from the Lord.  And if they refuse to repent in this life of their wickedness, then the justice they receive will be eternal and infinite, since they have sinned against an eternal and infinite God.  Repentance means a man judges and condemns himself, so that he won't incur God's condemnation and judgment.  Hell is the conscious, everlasting torment that sinners deserve for their sins against their Maker for living a life that did not reverence God, nor love their fellow men, especially those of the household of faith (Matthew 25:31-46).

One application of this proverb is to remember both the severity of the law and the sweetness of the gospel.  There is a false, heretical message that comes to us under the guise of Christianity, but itt lacks the courage to tell people the truth that the same Lord who is faithful to save is also faithful to judge.  A faithful messenger for the Lord preaches both the law and the gospel. Peter himself told us this in Acts 10:

"And he [the risen Lord Jesus Christ] commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he [Jesus] is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead."

Faithful, apostolic teaching and preaching must include the judgment and wrath to which the broken law of God leads.  Thus, the severity of the law.

But Peter immediately moves from proclaiming judgment to proclaiming the gospel:

"To him [Jesus] all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name."  

The law accuses us and threatens us with God's judgment, but the gospel removes his judgment for all who will judge themselves and turn to Christ in faith.  Thus, the sweetness of the gospel.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Sexual and Liturgical Sins of Evangelical Churches

Now Eli was very old, and he kept hearing all that his sons were doing to all Israel, and how they lay with the women who were serving at the entrance to the tent of meeting. 23 And he said to them, “Why do you do such things? For I hear of your evil dealings from all these people. 24 No, my sons; it is no good report that I hear the people of the Lord spreading abroad. 25 If someone sins against a man, God will mediate for him, but if someone sins against the Lord, who can intercede for him?” (1 Samuel 2:22-25)

The sin here is sexual sin, and Eli says that sexual sins are sins against the Lord! (v. 25). In other words, sexual sins are unique in that they are against the Lord. But how so?

1 Corinthians 6:13 says, "The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body." And verse 18 goes on to says, "Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body."

The human body created as male and female uniquely images God in his tri-unity. The sexual union of the man and woman images the communion of the trinity, even producing a third person when the Lord is present to create. In other words, the human body, especially as male and female, tells us about the mystery of God's loving, triune nature. Therefore, sexual sin is particularly heinous because it is against the Lord, i.e., it distorts the truth of God's tri-unity.

The other sin Eli's sons were involved in were sins of worship: liturgical sins. Specifically, they took away the meat for the offerings. Worship meant eating in the presence of the Lord, but the priests were taking away the meat for the offerings and treating the offerings with contempt by not giving the fat of the offerings to the Lord.

The sexual union, besides picturing God, is also a picture of worship. In fact, one of the older Christian wedding liturgies contained these words in the wedding vows: "With my body I thee worship." For surely Christian worship is primarily about communion with the Lord. And, if this is the case, how absurd it is to not partake of communion weekly! Sadly, in our day, our leaders have taken away the one act that most pictures what worship is, namely, communion. If Eli's sons were guilty of liturgical sins by tampering with the fellowship offerings, aren't Christian leaders today also guilty of the worse sin of removing the very Supper that best pictures and brings about the church's communion with her Lord!

We live in an era, where Christian churches rarely even consider what the Lord commands in worship, which is teaching and a meal, thinking we are free to do whatever we want. And, at the same time, we minimize sexual immorality, which the Bible views as an attack against the triune God himself. May the Lord have mercy on us and the church in our day. And may our leaders once again do what our Lord commands, when he said:
"Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household [the church], to give them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes" (Matthew 24:45-46).

Monday, April 25, 2016

Christ in the Proverbs: Proverbs 19:25

Proverbs 19:25
Strike a scoffer, and the simple will learn prudence;
    reprove a man of understanding, and he will gain knowledge.

In this section of Proverbs that Waltke calls a "catalogue of fools," we run into two kinds of fools in this proverb.  The first is the scoffer.  This is the apostate, incorrigible person, who is unteachable because of his colossal pride:

                “Scoffer” is the name of the arrogant, haughty man
                    who acts with arrogant pride (Proverbs 21:24).

His pride is so large and his narcissism so obstructive that the scoffer cannot see the greatness and glory of the Lord.  Thus, he has no ability to understand himself nor his sin, for human beings only know themselves truly in relation to the triune God.  "In Your light do we see light" (Psalm 36:9).  The scoffer in Proverbs is not only unteachable, the opposite of the wise, but he is also destructive to true community (Proverbs 22:10; 29:8) and hates the Lord and his people (Proverbs 9:7-8; 15:12).  Fill a society with such people and the results will not be good, and even one such person can create many problems in a family or community (Proverbs 22:10).

The other kind of fools are called "the simple."  This is a person, who is usually young and gullible.  If the scoffer has a mind closed to the Lord, the simple has a mind devoid of the Lord.  Our natural default mode as sinners is foolishness, which increases and deepens the older we get, unless the Lord graciously intervenes in our lives.  But at least with the simple, there is hope of repentance and change, something that rarely happens with the hardened scoffer.

This proverb teaches us that discipline has different effects on different kinds of people.  A scoffer simply will not listen to the Lord.  He is apostate.  He may learn other kinds of knowledge, but in terms of the Lord and true wisdom, he is unteachable:

                A wise son hears his father's instruction,
                    but a scoffer does not listen to rebuke.

So why discipline a scoffer if he won't listen?  The reasons are penal and as a lesson to others.  As the simple see what happens to the scoffer either through the legal process or through the scoffer's own folly, the simple, who are not beyond help, may learn and get on the Lord's path.

Yesterday, I was in church and listened to a man's testimony.  Two deaths had a salutary effect on this man, who as a young person thought of himself as an atheist.  With the encouragement of a Christian and seeing two people he was close to die, this person the Bible describes as simple entered the camp of the wise.

And who are the wise?  The wise are those who listen and learn from the Word of God.  The wise are the followers of the only man who was truly and thoroughly wise, Jesus Christ, whom Psalm 1:1-3 describes in the context of both the simple (implied in verse one) and scoffers (specifically mentioned in verse one):

Blessed is the man
    who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
    nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
    and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree
    planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
    and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.

Jesus Christ is the blessed man, who never walked in the counsel of the wicked, nor stood in the way of sinners, nor sat in the seat of scoffers.  But his delight was in the instruction of his Father, and he always did what pleased him.  Therefore, Jesus is the vine/tree, to whom his people are engrafted by grace.  And as his people, we too love the instruction of our Father, which instructs us and corrects us for our eternal good.



Saturday, April 23, 2016

Christ in the Proverbs: Proverbs 19:22

Proverbs 19:22
What is desired in a man is steadfast love,
    and a poor man is better than a liar.

One of the things I love about Proverbs is that proverbs are wonderful in terms of meditation.  The parallelism of the individual proverbs lends itself to meditation.  Meditation is not the mind-emptying, pantheistic nonsense of eastern religions, which repeats a mantra over and over in order to empty the mind and become one with the universe/god.  Rather meditation from a biblical standpoint is thinking about and considering the Word of God.  This meditation involves the comparison of one concept or image to another.  And biblical meditation's end result is a thoughtful consideration of my own ways in comparison with the Lord's ways, leading to change, i.e., repentance toward God our Father and faith which unites us to Jesus Christ his Son.  In this sense of union with God, pantheistic meditation and biblical meditation have the same goal.  But in reality the god of pantheism is creation confused as the Creator, whereas Christianity is about union with the true, triune God.

Proverbs 19:22 illustrates how fruitful the comparison of the two parallel lines can be.  A quick, superficial reading of this proverbs yields a little insight.  But a comparison of the two lines, brings forth a rich feast of insight.

We begin with the first line, which tells us the preeminent virtue in a man is love.  The apostle Paul taught this clearly in 1 Corinthians 12-14, teaching us the excellent way of love that exceeds even faith and hope!  "So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love" (1 Corinthians 13:13).  Self-giving love is the greatest human virtue because it points most clearly to what the triune God is like, who has always lived in the self-giving love that has characterized the Father, Son and Spirit from all eternity.  On the eve of our Lord's death, Jesus clarified in words what this love is and demonstrated it the next day in the ultimate way: "This is my body, which is given for you" (Luke 22:19).

What is desired in God's image bearers, then, is love, for this reflects who God is and what he is like.  But how does the second line of this proverb relate to this first line.  In fact, the second line looks not only unrelated to the first line, but also prosaic and so obvious as to hardly bear stating:  "and a poor man is better than a liar."  Well, of course, a poor man is better than a liar!

But if we start to think about it, poor people are more tempted to lie, not because their hearts are worse than the rich, but because poor people have to live by their wits to get the money they need to get by.  There is a greater temptation for the poor to tell people what they want to hear in order to gain what they desire, than the rich who can simply buy it!  In other words, dishonesty in order to satisfy greed or the lust for wealth and possessions, is a unique temptation for the poor in the sense that honesty for them often means remaining poor, unlike the rich whose lies will not result in poverty.

But what does greed (line two), which is often the motivation for lying, have to do with love (line one)?  Well these present the two basic ways human beings can live.  We can follow our Lord and live in self-giving love or we can follow the father of lies and live in lust and greed.  1 John 2:15-17 sets out these two fundamental options:

"Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the  Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the  eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.""

The people of this world live lives of lust/desire.  The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life are the motivation for an unbelieving world.  These are people whom the psalmist describes as "men of the world, whose portion is in this life" (Psalm 17:14).  But our Lord teaches us a better way, a more excellent way.  "This is my body, which is given for you."  Here is the more excellent way of self-giving love that imitates our Savior.  Self-giving love or self-grasping lust: these are the only two ways of life.  One ends in death.  The other ends in life.  In losing our lives in self-giving love to our God and others, true life is found.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Christ in the Proverbs: Proverbs 19:19

Proverbs 19:19
A man of great wrath will pay the penalty,
for if you deliver him, you will only have to do it again.

The undisciplined boy grows up to be the "man of great wrath," who lives according to his prideful passions and lusts.  His anger is triggered when anyone or anything crosses him.

One of our children used to throw a tantrum that was quite unforgettable.  She would stiffen up her entire body while placing her hands over her ears to indicate she did not want to hear what her parents were telling her.  This proverb teaches us it is unwise to give in to the raging demands of children or adults, for adults have their own ways of throwing tantrums, even if they are not quite as dramatic as young children!

As followers of Christ Jesus, who have been baptized into his name, we need to realize this truth:

"And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires"     (Galatians 5:24).
Galatians 5:24 describes who we are in Christ Jesus.  We have died and risen with him.  But this truth must be lived out daily.  Each day we must put off the old man (the sinful nature or the flesh), which is governed by the passions and desires of the flesh, and put on the new man in likeness to Christ.  This requires that each day we die with Christ through repentance and rise to live with him by faith.

Christ's resurrection power is such that he can change tantrum-throwing children, and self-willed adults, who live according to their passions and lusts, into his own perfect likeness.  "Take my yoke upon you," he says, "and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls" (Matthew 11:29). May he make us like himself as we learn to love and receive his gracious, wise and authoritative Word.

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Friday, April 15, 2016

Christ in the Proverbs: Proverbs 19:17

Proverbs 19:17
Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord,
and he will repay him for his deed.
In the previous proverb we saw the life and death issue of a right response to the Lord's authoritative words. In this proverb we see the importance of a right response to the Lord's people, who belong to him by bonds of faith.
The Lord aligns himself in a remarkably close way with the poor. To give to the poor is to give to the Lord! But who are the poor?
If we look to Jesus to define the poor, as we ought, the answer is that the poor are his disciples. Notice the context of the first of Jesus' beatitudes in Matthew 5 and Luke 6:
" . . . he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying: 'Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven'" (Matthew 5:1-3).
"And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said: 'Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God'" (Luke 6:20).
Jesus defines his disciples as those who recognize they are spiritually poor and bankrupt; as those who know they are entirely dependent on his grace; as those who have nothing to give to him except their sin; as those who acknowledge that God alone is independent and his entire creation depends on him, who alone gives life, existence and sustenance.
In essence, the word "poor," even in the Old Testament was already a synonym for the Lord's people. And it is an appropriate synonym because it expresses so well the inward attitude of Christ and his disciples. For even Jesus as a true man viewed himself in the Psalms as poor and needy. Psalm 40:17 is just one example of this. In this psalm which the New Testament teaches us are the words of Christ spoken prophetically by David (Hebrews 10:5-7), Jesus ends the psalm by saying:
"As for me, I am poor and needy,
but the Lord takes thought for me.
You are my help and my deliverer;
do not delay, O my God!"
Thus, it is no surprise that the Lord Jesus Christ is entwined as one with his people, the poor, and how we treat his people is how we treat him. This is taught over and over in the New Testament. In Matthew 25:31-46 Jesus teaches us that on the day of judgment how we treated his people on earth is how we treated him. And Saul, who became Paul, learned this lesson from Christ in person, when in the midst of his persecution of Christians, Jesus appeared before him and said, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?" (Acts 9:4).
In summary, while it is fine to do good to the physically poor, for they, like all people, bear Christ's image and are an emblem of discipleship, this proverb is getting at a greater truth that has to do with our response to the Lord, who has in these last days come to us in the flesh.
Two points of application leap out of this proverb in the light of his coming:
  • First, this proverb teaches us that our inward attitude should be the same as our Lord's, who as a true man, and the eternal Son of his Father, was poor in spirit (Matthew 11:29). For poverty is an apt symbol of our relation to the Lord in both creation and redemption. 
  • Second, remember that the way we treat Christ's people is the way we treat Christ himself, for we his people are united to him in the closest of ways.

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