Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Proverbs 12:28 --- Walking in Eternal Life

Proverbs 12:28 
In the path of righteousness is life,
    and in its pathway there is no death.

One of my weaknesses is my inability to do more than one thing at a time.  I am not a good multi-tasker.  Therefore, in meditating on and writing about the Proverbs, I rarely look ahead, and if I do, at my age, I quickly forget what lies ahead.  So I am always amazed at how my poor attempt at a Christological interpretation of the Proverbs tends to such a smooth transition from one proverb to the next.  Yesterday, I argued that the Book of Proverbs is far more eschatological than is generally recognized by most of the commentators.  To put it more simply, Proverbs is constantly talking to us about eternal life and eternal death, heaven and hell.  I honestly had no idea that today's proverb would be one of the clearest examples of Solomon's belief in life beyond the grave.

The Israelites' belief in immortality should not surprise us.  Many of her idolatrous neighbors believed in immortality, so are we really to believe that the people of the true God would not also believe in life with the Lord after death?  Egypt, for example, is well known for its belief that the pharaoh upon his clinical death would journey from this life to the next life.  But Israel's belief in the next life is different than Egypt's view which limited eternal life to pharaoh.  In Proverbs the Lord democratizes this eternal life and offers it to all who are willing to walk in wisdom's path of righteousness.
                                                                                                              
It is true that the understanding of eternal life in the Old Testament was not nearly as clear as what we have in the New Testament.  As 2 Timothy 1:10 says, "Christ Jesus . . . abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel."  Nevertheless, if we say Old Testament believers had no knowledge of eternal life, we turn the witness of the New Testament into a lie!  For the great hall of fame of faith for Old Testament believers, Hebrews 11, clearly tells us Old Testament believers were seeking a heavenly country (see Hebrews 11:14-16).

There is a hiddenness about the Old Testament.  The apostle Paul speaks of this hiddenness when he speaks of "the mystery hidden for ages and generations" (Colossians 1:26).  But this does not mean that New Testament believers should read the Old Testament in this hidden way!  On the contrary, the very next words from Paul's mouth are "but now revealed to his saints!" (v. 26).  We, Christ's people, are now to mine "the riches of the glory of this mystery!" (v. 27).  What was hidden in the Old Testament Scriptures, God has now made "fully known" (v. 25), through his beloved Son, Jesus Christ.

But we really don't have to do much mining of today's proverb to discover the immortality that is taught.  The word "life" in line one is paralleled with "no death," in line two.  Since every person born has also died, with the exception of Enoch (Genesis 5:24) and Elijah (2 Kings 2:1-18), what can it mean that in the pathway of righteousness there is no death, except that those who walk with the Lord will live after they physically die!  Eternal life belongs to those who walk with the Lord.  It was said that "Enoch walked with God, and he was not, for God took him" (Genesis 5:24).  Our verse is saying the same is true for all who walk with God in his path of righteousness, though unlike Enoch, we may have to pass through death before the Lord takes us to himself, barring his soon return.

The Heidelberg Catechism (Q&A 42) is very good on this point.  It asks:
                                                                                                                        
            "Since Christ has died for us, why do we still have to die?"

And it answers:

            "Our death does not pay the debt of our sins.  Rather, it puts an end to our sinning and
            is our entrance into eternal life."

Jesus has transformed the death of his people into a blessing, namely, "our entrance into eternal life."

Finally, to this good news, I would add one word of warning implicit in our proverb.  True believers seek to live righteous lives!  While Christ alone saves us by his sheer, unmerited grace, this does not mean we can live lives that have no interest in walking with Christ.  Here, Colossians 2:6 speak a faithful word to us:

            "Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him."

The second part of this verse, "walk in him," is not optional.  Sadly, many today think it is.  Undoubtedly, we all will struggle with the flesh, our sinful nature, our entire life.  But with that struggle understood, if we have no desire or interest in walking with Jesus in the obedience that flows from faith, then we should be concerned about our souls and cry out to Him for the help of his Spirit.  For the Spirit's work in our hearts, as the Heidelberg Catechism, again, faithfully teaches, is to make us willing to live for Christ:

            "Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life AND makes
            me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him" (Q&A 1).

Are you willing from now on to live for him?  If you are, praise the Lord!  But if you are not willing to live for him, then cry out to Jesus Christ to send his Spirit into your heart to do his gracious work of making you willing.  Then you too can have a true, not false, assurance that eternal life is yours.


                       



                                  



                                                                                                                            
                                                                                                        




Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Proverbs 12:26 --- The Most Precious Thing in the World

Proverbs 12:26    
The righteous chooses his friends carefully,
   but the way of the wicked leads them astray.

C. S. Lewis astutely observed, "Friendship can be a school of virtue, but also a school of vice."[1]  This is one reason why "the righteous chooses his friends carefully."  As the apostle Paul warned us, "Do not be deceived: 'Bad company ruins good morals'" (1 Corinthians 15:33).
                        
A British monk named Aelred wrote a book on friendship in the twelfth century.  Aelred divides friendship into three classes.  First, carnal friendship, which "is based on the shared pursuit of pleasure."[2]  This shared pursuit could be anything from chasing a little white ball to chasing women, or I suppose, men.  Second, Aelred teaches there is worldly friendship.  This kind of friendship "is based on mutual advantage."[3]  Examples here might be, the mutually advantageous relationship between a golfer and his caddy, to keep the golf imagery alive, or a man and his mistress, to keep the sexual imagery alive.  Third, Aelred points to spiritual friendship.  This is based on "a mutual commitment to follow Jesus Christ."[4]

C. S. Lewis is right when he says that friendship starts when people find and share a common interest or passion.  "It [friendship] is found when we discover those travelling the same road as us, and decide to walk together."[5]  While there is nothing necessarily wrong with carnal or worldly friendship, especially when it relates to golf (my own biases may be showing through!) rather than prurient interests, the deepest friendship is spiritual friendship.  As Vaughan Roberts writes:

"Christians have the ultimate common passion and shared goal, which encompasses the whole of life.  We have been called, as brothers and sisters, to belong to Christ's family, as we travel along the way of the cross throughout our lives, with our eyes fixed on the destination of the new creation to come, which Christ will introduce when he returns."[6]

The righteous want their deepest and most intimate friends to be those who share a common faith with us.  While it is fine to have friends with whom we share a love for stamp collecting or passing our classes together in school, as believers our deepest friendships will be with other believers.  For with such people we are on the same path, under the same cross, following the same Lord we trust and love, to the same glorious destination.  These are our true brothers and sisters, for as Jesus taught us, "whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother" (Mark 3:35).  Among these, our brothers and sisters in Christ, will come our deepest friendships.

Jesus is our model for choosing friends carefully.  While he was certainly the friend of all sinners, nevertheless, he sought a deeper friendship with the disciples who followed him on earth, a still deeper friendship with the twelve, and the deepest of friendship with the three: Peter, James, and John.  

And so, "the righteous chooses his friends carefully" based on a common faith, a common walk, a common love, and a common goal.  But, sadly, no such consideration is in the heart and mind of the wicked.  The wicked person's way is the antithesis of the righteous.  The wicked has no fear of the Lord.  His faith is in himself.  The wicked do not walk in the way of the Lord, but follow the path of their own understanding (Proverbs 3:5).  The wicked have no love for the Lord, and this lack of love is the very thing that sends them to a different destination than the righteous.  For as the Spirit warns us, "If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed" (1 Corinthians 16:22).

Let us choose our friends carefully in the Lord.  Let us try to imitate our Lord in befriending all sinners who cross our path.  But, most of all, let us cultivate the friendship of all friendships, our friendship with our heavenly Father and his Son, Jesus Christ.  This is the friendship which is the most precious thing in all of this world.  We could ask for no greater gift than this, and yet it is a gift freely given, because God so loved the world that he gave us his only Son, who gave himself freely for us, offering his body on the cross.  Let us cherish such a friendship, which was made with such a price.



                                                                                                                            
                                                                                                        















[1] Quoted by Vaughan Roberts in True Friendship: Walking Shoulder to Shoulder, 39.
[2] Ibid., 20.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid., 21.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Christ in the Proverbs: Proverbs 12:22---Practicing the Truth

Proverbs 12:22 
Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord,
    but those who act faithfully are his delight.
                      
"A sense of what disgusts God is essential to the fear of God."[1]  So writes Michael V. Fox, and indeed this is true.  It is so helpful for us to learn about the Lord, our Creator --- to learn what he is like.  The goal when we open our Bibles is to get to know the Father and the Son and be conformed to his image.  Verses like this teach us what our heavenly Father and Lord Jesus Christ hate and love, and what we also should hate and love.

For our goal, our purpose, our aim in life is to imitate our Lord.  This is what image bearers are created for!  We were created to represent the Lord on earth.  We were created to show forth the character of the triune God in all we think, feel, will, say, and do.  In the temple of this world (the tabernacle or temple was designed as a microcosm of the universe), men and women are His images placed in the temple!  Only in Israel's temple, first the tabernacle and then Solomon's temple, were no images placed.  In all of the pagan temples, images were placed, so why the difference?  The difference comes because human beings were created to be God's likeness in his temple, not lifeless idols that cannot think, feel, speak, will, or do.  Man, male and female, were to be the triune God's representatives.

But why does the Lord hate "lying lips?"  Why are lies such an abomination to him?  It is because when we lie we imitate the evil one, who Jesus tells us is the "father of lies."  When we lie, we do something reprehensible.  We imitate, not the Lord, but the enemy.  We act treasonously.  We participate in the darkness rather than the light.

But the good news here is that "those who act faithfully," or those who do the truth or practice the truth, are the Lord's "delight."  This word translated as "delight" is the Hebrew word ratzon, which also carries with it the idea of favor, intimacy, and protection.[2]  We see something of the intimacy that those who belong to the truth enjoy, in Proverbs 3:32:

           
            for the devious person is an abomination to the Lord,
                but the upright are in his confidence.

How wonderful it is to be brought into this intimacy and favor with the Father and the Son.  In Christ, God's beloved Son, we can come to know this intimacy and fellowship.  Think of the apostle John, who describes himself throughout his Gospel as the disciple whom Jesus loved, and you get a sense of the favored and intimate relationship the Father wants to have with us his children (John 13:23, 19:26, 20:2, 21:7,21:20).

But this intimacy with the Father comes only through Jesus Christ, who came as the perfect revelation of God (e.g., John 12:44-50, 14:8-10).  Many people lie and claim an intimacy with God, but reject God's Son.  We must reject the claim of such people for it is false.  Those who reject the Son, reject the Father who sent him (John 5:23,15:23; Luke 10:16; 1 John 2:23).  Fellowship with God is only possible through God's beloved Son.  Though the Jewish scribes and Pharisees claimed to have fellowship with God, their rejection of Jesus showed their true, inward colors.  Their rejection of Jesus pointed to their true Father, who was not the Father of our Lord, but the "father of lies," i.e., the devil (John 8:44).

We should also note that this fellowship and intimacy with the Father and Son can only be ours if we acknowledge our sin.  This was also part of the problem with the Jewish leaders who rejected Jesus: they were unwilling to acknowledge their sin.  If we are unwilling to humbly acknowledge our sin and unworthiness before a holy God, then we can never enjoy the intimacy of union and communion with the Father and Son for which we were created.  This truth is stated in 1 John 1, using the same phrase we find in the second line of our proverb, namely, to "act faithfully" or more literally, to "do the truth."  This phraseology is picked up in 1 John 1:6 as practice the truth:

"If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truthBut if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us."

Part and parcel of practicing the truth, doing the truth, or as our proverb puts it, acting faithfully, is acknowledging Christ's atonement for sin.  If we say we have no sin, we reject Christ's atoning work on our behalf.  Ironically, in order to "act faithfully" the Lord's people must humbly acknowledge themselves as liars and sinners who need the gracious atoning work of Christ, which transfers us into his kingdom and cleanses our hearts daily from sin.  May the Spirit teach us what it means to practice the truth in intimate and delightful fellowship with the Father and the Son.
















[1] Fox, Proverbs, vol. 1, 167.
[2] Waltke, Proverbs, vol. 1, 539.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Proverbs 12:13 --- The Power of Words

Proverbs 12:13
An evil man is ensnared by the transgression of his lips,
    but the righteous escapes from trouble.
                                     
The entire human race has a problem with words.  We misunderstand this proverb if we limit it to a particularly evil man who "is ensnared by the transgression of his lips."  The transgression of our lips is something in which the entire human race is involved.  Hear of your involvement and mine in Romans 3:12-14:

            “Their throat is an open grave;
                they use their tongues to deceive.”
            “The venom of asps is under their lips.”
                “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
                   
There is a story told in our family about me as a little boy, probably when I was about two years of age.  I am the oldest of the children in our family, and when my father was in graduate school, Mom and Dad would often drive home to see the family on the weekends.  My Dad's brothers were notorious for their bad language.  I think it was hard for my father not to join in a bit when he was with them.  Apparently my two year old impressionable ears picked up on their language, because on the way home a car passed us going quite fast, and out of my young mouth came the words, "Look at that son of a bitch go!"  And, that may have been the cleaned up version of what I actually said! 

Sadly, nothing much has changed in the last 2800 years.  Isaiah's words are still true:
"Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a     people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!" (Isaiah 6:5)


Proverbs is clear, as is Jesus, that our words reveal our hearts.  If you want to know what your heart is like it is easy to find out.  Pay attention to your words.  They are a sure indicator of the condition of your heart.  Our Lord taught us this when he said, "For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks" (Matthew 12:34 cf. Proverbs 4:23-24).

Words, according to today's proverb can ensnare us.  Words can trap us.  Words can trap both the speaker and the hearers, as the footnote to the ESV points out.  Here are the two possible translations of the first line, which the ESV gives us:

            An evil man is ensnared by the transgression of his lips,
            or,                                                                               
            In the transgression of the lips, there is an evil snare.

The footnote is merely pointing out what is inherent in the language of every person.  Since our language reveals our hearts, if we could listen carefully to a person's words over the course of time, we would be able to detect the worldview of that person.  If a man is unconverted, his words won't reflect the wisdom that comes from above.  Instead, his words will reflect a worldview James tells us is "earthly, unspiritual, demonic" (James 3:15).  A worldview that gets it wrong about God (theology), man (anthropology), sin (hamartiology), redemption (soteriology), and consummation (eschatology).  Thus, every word that does not come from above is susceptible to ensnaring both the speaker and the hearer with a false theology.

How can we escape this wretched situation?  How can we escape the woeful state Isaiah spoke of when he cried out, "Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips?"

The answer is a new teacher and a new heart.  Our new teacher is our Lord Jesus Christ.  Speaking of himself as the good shepherd, Jesus says, "The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.  When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers" (John 10:3-5).  A new heart comes from this good shepherd, for Jesus also says, "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep (John 10:11).  In laying down his life for us, Jesus is able to cleanse us by his blood, and after his resurrection to send us the promised Spirit. 

Through his forgiveness, teaching, and Spirit, our Lord enables us to speak in a new way.  Born into the Father's family, like all children, we begin to sound like our parents.  In time our words begin to echo our Father's words and his Son's, rather than this present evil age.

The second line of our proverb is blessedly true.  "The righteous escapes from trouble," from the trap laid by an unbelieving world, and the prince of that world (Ephesians 2:1-2).  Jesus Christ came to rescue us from our sin, from this evil age, and from the domain of darkness (Colossians 1:13).  May we learn to imitate our Lord, who when he was on this earth, learned to listen and speak, morning by morning, from his Father and ours:

            The Lord God has given me
                the tongue of those who are taught,
            that I may know how to sustain with a word
                him who is weary.
            Morning by morning he awakens;
                he awakens my ear
                to hear as those who are taught.
            The Lord God has opened my ear,
               and I was not rebellious;
                I turned not backward. (Isaiah 50:4-5)












Thursday, February 2, 2017

Christ in the Proverbs: Two Leaders, Two Peoples, Two Ways of Life, Two Outcomes

Proverbs 12:12 
Whoever is wicked covets the spoil of evildoers,
    but the root of the righteous bears fruit.

There is an interesting phenomenon that takes place in Solomon's Second Collection (10:1-22:16).  Almost all of the proverbs in chapters 10-15 are antithetical.  Of the 174 proverbs in chapters 10-15 about 150 are antithetical.[1] These antithetical proverbs contrast the righteous and the wicked, pointing to two opposite, antithetical ways of life. 

There is something similar that occurs in the Psalms.  The book of Psalms, which consists of 150 psalms, is divided into five books: 1-41, 42-72, 73-89, 90-106 and 107-150.  Fifty percent of the root words for the wicked (rasha), and the righteous (tsadik), occur in book one of the Psalter.  Why is this?  O. Palmer Robertson has written a wonderful book about the structure and flow of the entire book of Psalms.  Book one of the Psalms (1-41) stresses the spiritual war that has arisen in the world.  Robertson writes, "The Lord God Almighty rules eternally over heaven and earth.  But the 'mystery of iniquity' has arisen to challenge his sovereignty among humanity. . . . The instrument by which . . . redemption will be accomplished is a 'singular saving hero' who in the fullness of time will enter into moral conflict with Satan himself."[2] 

Book one of the Psalms is particularly focused on this spiritual war between the two seeds, a war that began in Genesis 3:15, when the Lord in response to man's sin, declared (speaking to the serpent):

                  I will put enmity between you and the woman,
                      and between your offspring and her offspring;
                  he shall bruise your head,
                      and you shall bruise his heel.

The spiritual war between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman will be won by one man, who was foreshadowed by David, who was God's anointed king or christ.  The One greater than David, who came and won this war by bruising the serpent's head, was the true Christ or Anointed King.  Although the enemy bruised the true King's heel on the cross, this only fulfilled the Father's plan for dealing with man's sin.  The Son's suffering led to glory, resurrection and enthronement at the Father's right hand.
                                                
Although I've digressed slightly, the point is this.  Both the Psalms and Proverbs 10:1-22:16 begin by telling us something fundamental about life: There is a spiritual war in this world.  In this war, there are two leaders, two groups of people, two ways of life, and two outcomes.  Each of us must choose our leader, our people, our way of life, and accept the eventual outcome of our choice.

Proverbs 12:12 gives us maybe the most fundamental difference between the righteous and the wicked.  It tells us about what motivates the wicked, and what motivates the Hero of the righteous, his people.

A more literal rendering of this proverb would read something like this:

                  Whoever is wicked covets the net of evildoers,
                      but the root of the righteous gives.

The wicked covet the "net" that contains all the precious treasure the wicked have gained.  The wicked are motivated by lust for money, pleasure, reputation, power, and the things of this world.  But in the end, the wicked will find their covetousness a net that captures them, like a bird captured by the net of the hunter (Proverbs 1:10-19, esp. 17-19).  Their desire for, and worship of, created things will be the very thing that sends them to hell.  Having chosen to worship created things rather than the Creator, they will be ensnared by their own lusts and perish eternally.

But the righteous forsake covetousness, which the New Testament calls idolatry (Colossians 3:5).  Instead, the righteous imitate their Hero, their Lord, who gave himself for us in self-giving love. 

An excellent commentary on this proverb is Philippians 2:5-8.  It shows us that our Lord did not grasp after the things of this world.  Rather, he emptied himself in love, first in love for his Father, and then in love for sinners like us.  Instead of living in the idolatry of covetousness, he lived and died in the trust, love, and worship of God, and the blessing of others:
"Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of  men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross."

But where will Jesus' people get a self-giving love like this?  Where will we get a love like this for our heavenly Father, and Jesus our Bridegroom and Lord, and the people we live near every day?  Our proverb answers the question.  Jesus is the source.  Jesus is the root of the righteous, who give his people love and life.  United to him by cords of faith and love, his life and love will flow to us, the way nutrients and sap flow from the root to the plant.  It will happen for those united to Christ "because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us" (Romans 5:5).













                                                        
                                                                                      
                                                                             



[1] Steinmann, Proverbs, 250-251.                               
[2] O. Palmer Robertson, The Flow of the Psalms: Discovering Their Structure and Theology, 53.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Proverbs 12:11 --- A New Way of Seeing

Proverbs 12:11
Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread,
    but he who follows worthless pursuits lacks sense.
                               
Have you ever noticed in the Gospels how literal and dense Jesus' disciples are, particularly when it comes to bread?  Our Lord's mind moves quickly from the symbol of bread to spiritual and heavenly things:

From bread to the Word of God: "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God" (Matthew 4:4).
From bread to teaching: "'How is it that you fail to understand that I did not speak about bread? Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Then they understood that he did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees" (Matthew 16:11-12).

From bread to the will of God: "Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, saying, 'Rabbi, eat.' But he said to them, 'I have food to eat that you do not know about.' So the disciples said to one another, 'Has anyone brought him something to eat?' Jesus said to them, 'My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work'" (John 4:31-34).           

From bread to himself: "Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, 'He gave them bread from heaven to eat.' Jesus then said to them, 'Truly,    truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my      Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world'" (John 6:31-33).

What's remarkable is that the disciples' eyes, and our eyes, are finally opened at a meal that is all about the breaking of bread.  It is this meal that opens our eyes to the sacramental nature of the world the triune God has made, a world designed for men's eyes to move from earth to his glorious Son in heaven, and back again.  The breaking of bread is the breaking of our enslavement to the literal and to this present evil age.  Note the repetition of broke/breaking:

"When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. . . . Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread" (Luke 24:30-31, 35).

I suppose we could look at today's proverb and just look at how to make literal bread and lots of it!  But what worries me is that in so doing, we would just be perpetuating the literalism and denseness Jesus came to cure.  But even our proverb itself is trying to move us from earth to heaven and from the literal to the spiritual, especially in the second comparison. 

The first comparison is between "works his land" and "follows worthless pursuits."  On a literal level, "works his land" means that the farmer must do the hard work of ploughing, planting and harvesting if he wants a good harvest.  Hard work will pay off in "plenty of bread."  But if a person gets distracted with empty things, probably easy money and get-rich-quick schemes, the result will be, not a lack of bread, which is what we would expect, but a lack of sense, or more literally, a lack of heart! 

Do you see what the proverb is doing?  By making the second contrast between "plenty of bread" and "lack of sense/heart" the proverb is trying to help us see beyond the literal to the spiritual!  This proverb is not just advice to the farmer, or even to all of us about working hard at our vocations.  It includes that counsel, but it includes so much more, which Christ's coming ought to help us see.

In the New Testament, the land has been Christified.  The Old Testament concept of living in the land has been transformed to living in Christ.  We are to live in Christ, and we are to "follow" him, not empty and "worthless pursuits."  And our pursuit of our Lord ought to be intense.  It is Christ we are to seek above all things: "If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God" (Colossians 3:1).

What we will find if we pursue Christ, living in him and following him?  We will find Jesus gives us a new way of seeing, a way of seeing that truly satisfies us, a way of seeing that enables us to see his glory and eventuates in the beatific vision.  Jesus will be more than enough for us.  He will be our daily Bread.  He will be the Bread that is enough for us in the wilderness of this world.

Do you remember the invariable issue before Jesus' miraculous meals in the wilderness?  The question always revolved around the word or concept of enough (Matthew 14:15-17; 15:33; Mark 6:37, 8:4; Luke 9:13, John 6:7; cf. John 14:8).  The seven and twelve baskets left over gave us the answer to that question.  Jesus is enough for his people in the wilderness of this world!  He's enough for us individually (seven baskets), and for his church (twelve baskets).  He will meet and satisfy every need we have in his wisdom, goodness, and power. 

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Proverbs 12:9-10 --- Responding to His Condescending Compassion

Proverbs 12:9 --- Images of Pride, Humility, and Grace
Better to be lowly and have a servant
    than to play the great man and lack bread.

One commentator complains of this proverb that it "is almost unintelligible."[1]  There are two comparisons made in our proverb.  The difficulty is with the second.  The first comparison is between "be lowly" and "play the great man."  This comparison is the key to understanding the proverb.  If we can figure out the meaning of this main comparison, then the more difficult comparison between "have a servant" and "lack bread," which must be related to the main comparison, may fall into place.

The first image, "be lowly," pictures a person who has no exalted status or social standing in the community.  He is held in low esteem by others, and may even be despised.  This is very much in line with what we saw in the previous proverb.  In a world that has rejected God's Son, the Son's people cannot expect to be held in high esteem.

Opposite of this first image is the person who is said "to play the great man."  Fox describes this second man as "the smug self-glorifier."[2]  This second image pictures a man who lives for the applause of others to the point that he pretends to be what he is not in order to gain their esteem and approval.  If there is an element of wealth involved, the picture is also of a person who pretends to be wealthier than he really is.  The basic idea is play acting.
                                                     
One is reminded here of the play acting of the Pharisee and the lowly esteemed publican in the temple.  Interestingly, this story of the Pharisee and the tax collector comes on the heels of Jesus' teaching that his elect people will have a difficult time in this world (Luke 18:1-7).  Here is Jesus' teaching of the Pharisee and publican in the temple:
He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14)

                                             
Pride is essentially play acting, pretending to be what we are not.  Human beings have no reason to boast before the Lord or others.  First of all, we are dependent creatures.  Like all of creation, it is the power of God that gives us life and maintains that life.  Dependent creatures ought not to pretend they are great!  As a cabinet member to the president might say, I serve at the behest of the president.  Second, whatever gifts or abilities we have are given to us by the Lord.  The Lord rightly brings us back to sanity when he teaches, "What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?" (1 Corinthians 4:7).

But, finally, playing the great man is particularly offensive in view of our sin.  The truth is that contra the Pharisee above (v. 11), we are all like all other men.  We are all cut from the same sinful cloth.  We are all Adam's seed.  And even believers, who have a new, regenerate nature, still have this old sinful nature that must be put off daily like Lazarus' grave clothes.  In short, pride is play acting and pretending to be great.  Humility is coming to grips with the reality of who we are before God.

Now, we are in a better position to consider the difficult comparison between "have a servant" and "lack bread."  For the sake of space, this must be brief.  My view is that essentially the point being made spiritually in this second comparison is that God gives grace to the humble, but he resists the proud (Proverbs 3:34; James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5).  To the proud, who pretend to be great, they receive not the Bread of life, the Bread of heaven, Jesus Christ.  Their reward for their play acting, the applause of men, is the only reward they will receive.
                 
But for the humble who belong to him, Christ himself serves them in the sense that he, as he did at the Supper (John 13:3-5), rises from the table, takes off his garments, and serves his people by washing their feet.  In his astounding grace, our Lord took off the glory of his divinity, wrapped himself in the clothes of our humanity, and in that humanity he went to the cross to cleanse us of our sin.  And he continues to cleanse us with his blood and give himself as the Bread of life even to this moment, so that we might have strength and life to live in the midst of a world that lightly esteems his people. 

Truly it is better to be lowly and have a Lord like this, who humbles himself to serve us!  All praise be to Him.



[1] Ellen F, Davis, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs, 84.
[2] Michael V. Fox, Proverbs 10-31, 550.


Proverbs 12:10 
Whoever is righteous has regard for the life of his beast,
    but the mercy of the wicked is cruel.

The previous proverb in the light of the Mystery now revealed (Colossians 1:25-28), showed us our Lord Jesus Christ as the bread that came down from heaven, and our servant, who continues to serve us in our weakness and sin.  Christ is the Bread and the Servant, and how astounding is his condescension!  The eternal Son of God came to earth through the womb of the virgin, becoming man, without relinquishing his deity.  The Son of God came to earth, not to be served, but to serve those who will receive him as their Lord and Savior.  He serves his people by accomplishing their salvation, and he continues to serve us as our daily Bread, and our Immanuel, who is always present with us.

Think of how great this condescension is!  The gap between the self-existent, eternal, almighty, sovereign Creator and Sustainer of all things and us is far greater than the gap that exists between us and domesticated animals.  The word "beast" in our proverb refers to domesticated animals like, horses, sheep, oxen, or donkeys.  If the eternal Son of God has displayed such kind regard for our life and welfare, bridging the great gap between heaven and earth, then should we not bridge the much smaller gap, and be compassionate toward domesticated animals, who help us?  This is the logic of the first line of the verse.

This logic is the theme of imitation.  As God's image bearers, we are to imitate his compassion and kindness, and we do so when we show that compassion to domesticated animals, who especially in former times did so much to serve us.  And, if we are to be compassionate to animals, who are not his image bearers, how much more should we show compassion to men and women who are?!

This afternoon I was watching a sports show about what is known as adventure racing.  In this sport, teams of people are in a race of hundreds of miles across extreme terrains.  This particular show was about the 2014 world championship that was 430 miles across Ecuador.  Early in the race, a dog began to follow the team from Sweden.  At first the team ignored the dog, but the dog was determined to follow them swimming across rivers and following them up and down mountainous terrains, almost all of this taking place with little or no sleep.  The leader of the team felt sorry for the dog who had an injury and had no way to feed himself.  So he started sharing his own sparse supply of food.  The team ended up finishing twelfth, even though they were the favored team, because they had compassion on this dog who would've never been able to fend for himself in a jungle.

What moved me about the story was this quote from the leader, who adopted the dog, brought him back to Sweden, and treated his injuries which were extensive and serious.  He said with tears in his eyes, "This was the best thing I ever did."  I believe he might be right in that statement, because the best thing we do in life is to imitate our Lord Jesus Christ in his condescension and service.

The second line of our proverb, "but the mercy of the wicked is cruel," presents us with an oxymoron.  What could be meant by this oxymoron of cruel mercy?

We referenced the wicked judge in Luke 18 in the previous proverb.  Here is how he is described: "In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man" (Luke 18:2).  This is an accurate assessment of wicked people, and all of us unless we repent.  They do not fear God, with the result that they do not respect men made in his image.  All of us by nature are, as Luther put it, incurvatus in se, i.e., curved in upon ourselves.  Such selfishness precludes mercy. 

But when the wicked do seek to be compassionate and merciful, the attempt often results in a cruel mercy.  As one person put it, "Better to be the righteous person's horse than the wicked person's neighbor."[1]  I think the classic case of cruel mercy is the case made for abortion by abortion advocates.  The case for abortion is sold as compassion for women.  But what a cruel compassion, a cruel mercy!  This sort of mercy takes the life of another person, and leaves the woman with a lifetime of unresolved guilt, until the woman finds Christ and his shed blood, which alone can cleanse the guilty conscience.

May we learn to put on compassion each day, in accordance with the great compassion we have received from our Lord, and continue to receive from him.  Each day may we respond to the mercy we have received, and live by keeping the command of our Lord through his apostle:
"Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has    forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony" (Colossians 3:12-14). 



           



[1] Koptak, Proverbs, 340.

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