Saturday, June 25, 2016

Poverbs 21:17: The Pleasure Paradox

Proverbs 21:17
Whoever loves pleasure will be a poor man;
    he who loves wine and oil will not be rich.

The kind of wickedness envisioned in this verse is sadly relevant for today.  2 Timothy 3 teaches us what it will be like in the last days, the time between Christ's first and second comings.  One of the vices it lists is this: people will be "lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God" (3:4).

The word "pleasure" in line one of our proverb is the same Hebrew word translated as "joy" just two verses earlier in verse 15:  "When justice is done it is a joy to the righteous."  As John Kitchen says, "The two verses help form a theology of pleasure."[1]  Verse 15 teaches that pleasure/joy is a by-product of the pursuit of the Lord and his righteousness.  Verse 17 teaches that the pursuit of pleasure/joy directly is self-defeating and brings spiritual poverty.  Sandwiched between the two verses is verse 16, warning us "that more than pleasure is at stake."[2]  Which theology of pleasure we opt for carries eternal consequences.

The competing theologies of pleasure form the pleasure paradox.  The direct pursuit of pleasure is self-defeating and brings spiritual poverty.  But the pursuit of righteousness or right conduct brings the spiritual by-product of joy.  The pursuit of pleasure is idolatry and it will lead to spiritual emptiness.  But the pursuit of the Lord and his kingdom brings pleasure and joy, which the direct pursuit of pleasure can never bring.  Jesus taught this paradox in the Beatitudes, when he said, "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied" (Matthew 5:6). 

I often hear people in our prosperous culture talk about how good life is.  It doesn't get better than this, they say.  One of our modern heretic's most famous slogans is about living "your best life now."[3]  But these sentiments are hard to square with Jesus' words from John 12:25: "Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life."  I rarely hear people say, I hate my life in this world.  What would make anyone hate their life in this world?

At the heart of our proverb is what a person loves.  In fact, in Hebrew there is a chiasm that is hard to duplicate in English that might be rendered rather clumsily like this:

                Will be poor a man whoever pleasure loves;
                loves wine and oil he will not be rich.

The pattern is ABBA, with the A elements contrasting the poor and rich man, and the B elements in the center of the chiasm emphasizing the word "loves."  Thus, love is at the middle of the proverb and is central.  Love is the key to what we are and become.  What we love determines what we pursue.  If we love the Father, we will, as Jesus taught, "seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness" (Matthew 6:33).  But if we love an alternative kingdom --- a different view of what constitutes the good life --- then we will pursue that kind of life.

Who, then, would say they hate their life in this world?  The answer is someone who loves the Lord and his righteousness.  The answer is a person who is longing for his kingdom to come.  The answer is someone who sees the beauty and glory of the triune God of love, who is blessed (joyous) forever.  The answer is a person who sees that this world is a place where his Father and his Lord are dishonored; a place where death has entered because of sin; a place that is filled not with the self-giving love that comes from the triune God, but rather the self-grasping desires and passions that James says causes conflict and enmity between persons, families, communities, and nations (James 4:1-5).

Our Lord is not a kill-joy.  But he is a jealous God.  He is our Husband, and he calls us to have no other gods before him.  We must forsake false husbands/gods in order to love the true God.  Pleasure/joy is one of those false gods we must forsake because we love Christ our heavenly husband.  Will we lack joy and pleasure if we forsake pleasure and joy as our god?  No, actually in forsaking pleasure/joy and serving and loving the Lord, our joy will be great and our hearts satisfied.  This is the pleasure paradox, and how relevant it is for our hearts to learn in a world that hungers for pleasure, but not for the Lord, his righteousness, and his kingdom!

[1] Kitchen, Proverbs, 475.
[2] Kidner, Proverbs, 136.
[3] Joel Osteen

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Proverbs 21:9: The Foundation of Human Community

Proverbs 21:9
It is better to live in a corner of the housetop
    than in a house shared with a quarrelsome wife.

There are a series of these better-than proverbs sprinkled throughout Proverbs, some of which deal with the quarrelsome wife.  I have to admit I find them humorous.  It's almost as though this form of the better-than proverb took on a stereotyped formula, with each new version trying to top the next in where it would be better to live than with a contentious wife!

The section of Proverbs we are in runs from 20:29 to 21:29, with 20:29-21:3 the introduction, and 21:4-29 the main body.  The section has three sub-units: verses 4-8, 10-18, and 20-29.  Strangely, two of these better-than proverbs, dealing with a quarrelsome wife, divide the sub-units.  It seems odd at first that these two proverbs, which seemingly have no connection to this section as a whole, would be chosen as an "organizing principle."[1]  But I have a thought on why these two verses are a brilliant piece of divine wisdom perfect for this section, which is telling us about the anti-social behavior of the wicked.

The Book of Proverbs sees a wife as a gift of God.  Proverbs 18:22 tells us about this wonderful gift:

                He who finds a wife finds a good thing
                   and obtains favor from the Lord.

Mothers, along with fathers, are viewed as teachers of their children.  In fact, the book's main body after the introduction, includes the mother's teaching alongside the father:

                Hear, my son, your father's instruction,
                    and forsake not your mother's teaching. (Proverbs 1:8)

But the better-than proverbs often recognize the imperfect situation we are now in after the fall.  The better-than proverbs sometimes describe "two less than perfect conditions.  The sage weighs their relative worth and declares one preferable---although neither is entirely satisfactory."[2]  And so, in our verse, the "two less than perfect conditions" compared are a spacious house with a quarrelsome wife, or the corner of a roof without a quarrelsome wife.  Solomon advises it is better for the husband to take a chance on nature's storm on the roof than with the wife's storm in the house![3]  Again, it is hard to miss the humor, but in seeing the humor we don't want to miss the serious message.

The first message is this.  While a good wife is a good gift, not every wife is righteous and good.  The relationship between husband and wife, after the fall, is more difficult because of sin.  Men are prone to selfishness and lust, rather than self-giving love.  The tendency for men to objectify women, after the fall, is strong, and this tendency must be fought and put to death in the believing man's heart.  Self-emptying love must be cultivated, rather than self-grasping lust.  

Women tend to a slightly different problem after the fall.  It is expressed in Genesis 3:16: 

                Your desire shall be for your husband,
                   and he shall rule over you.

The word desire in this verse is the same word used in the words the Lord spoke to Cain just a bit later:

                "sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it" (Genesis 4:7b).

The idea, then, in 3:16 is that after the fall, the wife's tendency is to rule over her husband, just as sin wanted to rule the heart of Cain.  The wife's fallen tendency is to want to control her husband.  But just as in the case of the man, so in the case of the woman, she must fight this tendency and put it to death.  She must learn, like godly women always have, the precious jewel that is the true beauty and glory of a woman:

"but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious" (1 Peter 3:4).

In a marriage, just as it is the case in all human communities, selfishness destroys relationships.  While love builds up, selfishness tears down.  And this, I think, is why this seemingly unrelated proverb fits perfectly into this section which deals with the anti-social aspects of wickedness.  Marriage is the primordial sacrament that is meant to teach us what life is really all about!

First, marriage in its physical union of mutual indwelling is a sign that points to the mutual indwelling of the trinity.  The Father indwells the Son and Spirit.  The Son indwells the Father and Spirit.  The Spirit indwells the Father and the Son.  And this mutual indwelling is not impersonal, but self-giving in its love.  The Father makes room for the Son and Spirit.  The Son makes room for the Father and Spirit.  The Spirit makes room for the Father and Son.  And all of this is pictured in marriage, which is foundational for human society.  And so, we see how the mutual love and indwelling of the trinity is to be pictured in the sexual union and everyday relations between a husband and wife.  The trinity is the model for the most basic model of community --- marriage --- from which all of us come forth.  Thus, the trinity is the model for all human community.

But there is also a hierarchy among the equal members of the trinity.  Each person in the trinity is fully God.  The Father is fully God.  The Son is fully God.  The Spirit is fully God.  There are not three gods, but one God.  But within this unity there is diversity.  And within this unity there is hierarchy.  From eternity the Son has always done the Father's will, delighting in it.  So too the Father and Son send the Spirit.  This order is seen especially in 1 Corinthians 15:24-28, where we read that even the Son, who is fully divine and equal with the Father, willingly subjects himself to the Father.

Therefore, the picture of the quarrelsome woman, is a picture that shows us how humanity fights against the way things really are.  We live in a world where everything is modeled after the triune God.  And from that model we learn that two things are especially important for us to live rightly in God's world with our God and others: self-giving love and humility, for it is selfishness and pride that destroy relationships and fail to reflect the image of the triune God.

[1] Waltke, Proverbs, vol. 2, 169.
[2] Schwab, Proverbs, 535.
[3] Van Leeuwen, Proverbs, 193,

Monday, June 13, 2016

Christ in the Proverbs: Proverbs 21:7

Proverbs 21:7
The violence of the wicked will sweep them away,
    because they refuse to do what is just.

Verse seven continues to teach us about "the wicked."  It is helpful to learn about the wicked, so that we might be warned and kept from following their path.  The wicked, as the Lord defines them in his Word, are people who live only for this life.  Psalm 17:14 puts it like this, "they are men of the world whose portion is in this life."  Sadly, secular society thinks there is nothing wrong with teaching children there is no God, that life somehow began by blind chance, and that all that exists is matter.  If there is no creator, then ultimately we answer to no one, and we may live however we please.  But such a godless and short-sighted worldview creates people who live just for this world, and will inevitably do whatever it takes to get what they desire through get-rich quick plans (v. 5), lying (v. 6), and violence, as in the present verse.

The word translated "sweep" in line one, pictures a net that catches fish.  It is the same word that's used in Habakkuk 1:15 to picture catching fish with a dragnet.  Just as the previous proverb spoke of "a snare of death," this proverb speaks of getting caught in a net.  Allen Ross describes it this way:  "It is the 'violence' of the wicked that destroys them---it 'drags them away,' probably to more sin, but ultimately to their punishment."[1]

Our verse shows us a pattern.  The pattern begins with self-will.  The person refuses "to do what is just," or what is right.  This leads to the slavery of sin.  The person gets caught in the net or snare of sin.  Finally, the threefold pattern culminates in eternal death, as the violent man is dragged or swept away to punishment.  Self-will motivated by lust and greed brings about slavery to sin and ultimately eternal death --- this is the pattern.

But surely this verse applies only to violent criminals, right?  Literally, this may be the case, but there are reasons to think this verse has an application to all fallen sinners, unless we repent.  First, this pattern of self-will, slavery, and then eternal death is shared by the entire, fallen human race.  Second, can we really be sure that our lust and greed do not involve violence?  Recently, I watched two documentaries, one on sex-trafficking and the other on the drug trade.  What becomes clear is that our lust or demand for pornography and drugs leads not only to the individual's enslavement, but also to various forms of violence.  The evil one weaves a web that takes our self-willed lusts and makes our greed for money, sex, and pleasure an important part of the web of violence.[2] 

God is not mocked.  What we reap we sow.  There is a steep price we pay individually and socially for our self-will motivated by our lust for money and sex and pleasure.  When a culture refuses to do what is right, refusing to restrain anti-social lust and greed, the results are increasing addiction/enslavement, chaos, and ultimately judgment.  The same is true for the individual who refuses to put to death the sinful nature, but lives for the lusts of the flesh.  The same results can be expected: enslavement, and ultimately, judgment.  Lust and greed are inherently destructive and anti-social.  They are the opposite of love, which alone builds up and edifies. 

As the cross of Jesus Christ teaches, all sin has a violent aspect to it.  The cross showed us the violent nature of our sin.  Fallen man violently took away the life of God's Son when he came to earth.  Our sin put him on the cross.  Sin is anti-social and the opposite of love.  Sin destroys individuals, families and communities, precisely because sin hates the triune God of love with a murderous rage, the God who is himself a relational community of love.

O how we should seek to escape the net of self-will that drags us away to the slavery of increasing greed, lust, and eternal condemnation!  How much better it is to be caught by our Lord's gospel net, which frees us from condemnation and pours out the love of the Father into our hearts by the Spirit!  Our Father, give us receptive, submissive hearts that love you and your will.

[1] Ross, Proverbs, 1051.
[2] Think of the violent effects of sexual lust in the break-up of families or the millions of abortions performed around the world.  Surely, such effects are a form of violence against spouses, children, and babies in the womb.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Christ in the Proverbs: Proverbs 20:22

Proverbs 20:22
Do not say, “I will repay evil”;    
    wait for the Lord, and he will deliver you.

Though our heavenly Father has just told us about a shameful and apostate son, his book is intended for his true sons, who belong to his only begotten Son.  So it is not surprising that the next three proverbs, which are all Jahweh proverbs, mention the name of the Lord and teach us how to trust him as we walk this earth before receiving our inheritance.  Like God's true Son, Jesus, the Father's children will endure suffering in this life until they receive their inheritance.

Part of that suffering involves mistreatment from others because we belong to him.  If God's beloved Son endured mistreatment, then so will the Father's adopted sons.  As believers, we bear the name of Jesus.  We have been baptized into his name.  Our task on earth is to represent him.  But we represent him in a world that has rejected him, and among sinners with fallen natures.  In this hostile environment, we need to learn how to walk in a way that represents our Father and Lord well.

This is not easy, but our proverb is teaching us a fundamental lesson.  We are the sheep of his pasture.  We are to never say, "I will repay evil" (for sheep by nature are defenseless).  We are not to take revenge or even say that we will take revenge.  Rather, we are to remember that the Lord alone is judge.  We are not.  We are to cultivate a trusting spirit that remembers that this life is not the end.  There is an end, and at that time our Father will set things straight, if he chooses not to in this life. 

Charles Bridges writes, "Revenge rises, only because we have no faith."  Notice how Jesus endured mistreatment from sinners by trusting in his Father:

"When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.

The goal is not to win here on earth.  This goes completely against our culture, which is obsessed with winning.  No, the goal is to represent our heavenly Father and our Lord Jesus Christ well in this dark world until we reach our inheritance.  We win by suffering well, not by reviling, nor by  threatening, but by waiting on the Lord.  We wait and ask our Father to pour into our hearts the peace and joy and love of Christ, which is far better than a vengeful spirit.

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).

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