Sunday, September 25, 2016

Proverbs 10:13 --- Wisdom from Above

Proverbs 10:13 --- Wisdom from Above
On the lips of him who has understanding, wisdom is found,
    but a rod is for the back of him who lacks sense.

Wisdom begins with revelation from the Lord.  Wisdom, like revelation, comes from above, not below (see James 3:13-18, which speaks of "wisdom from above").  Satan's temptation to rebellion in the garden involved the substitution of wisdom from below for the wisdom from above (Genesis 3:4-5).  In order to gain understanding about truth and reality, revelation from God is the starting point, not our reason or our own understanding (Proverbs 3:5).  Proverbs way of saying this is that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 1:7, 9:10).  Jesus' way of saying this is that the wise man must build his life on his words or revelation:
"Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man     who built his house on the rock. . . . And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand" (Matthew 7:24, 26 --- notice how Jesus viewed his words as authoritative and revelation from above). 

The person of "understanding" is the person who "can distinguish wrong from right, good from bad, better from best."[1]  He can do this because "he has, though practice in applying God's word, learned to discern God's way in this world (Hebrews 5:14)."[2]

In order to speak wisdom to others, we must listen to the Lord.  The better we listen to Christ, the more wisely we will speak to others.  Only the teachable can teach.  Only those, who like Mary, have sat at Jesus' feet listening and applying the Lord's words to themselves, will prepare themselves to speak wisely to others.

Derek Kidner has entitled this proverb: "God's mouthpiece or God's mule."[3]  This is because the proverb teaches that if we won't be guided by God's Word, then we will have to be guided by the Lord's force.  In this title, Kidner is making an allusion to Psalm 32.  The wise are privileged to have the Lord as their teacher:

            "I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
                I will counsel you with my eye upon you" (v. 8).

But the wicked, because they refuse to listen to the Lord, must be sovereignly guided and dealt with through force --- "a rod is for the back of him who lacks sense":

            "Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding,
               which must be curbed with bit and bridle,
               or it will not stay near you" (v. 9)

No wonder, then, that the sorrows of the wicked are many, for force is far more unpleasant than instruction:

            "Many are the sorrows of the wicked,
             but steadfast love surrounds the one who trusts in the Lord" (v. 10).

The fool, "who lacks sense" earns his punishment by his refusal to listen to the Lord and put his words into practice.  That punishment will come suddenly in final disaster, as our Lord Jesus Christ makes plain:

"And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.   And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it" (Matthew 7:26-27).


If we have eyes to see it, the book of Proverbs is an eschatological book.  It teaches us to live our lives in light of the end by hearing and putting into practice the Lord's wisdom from above.


                          











           



[1] John A. Kitchen, Proverbs, 223.
[2] Ibid., 223-224.
[3] Derek Kidner, Proverbs, 83.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Proverbs 10:11 --- Life-Giving Water in the Wilderness of the World

Proverbs 10:11 --- Life-Giving Water in the Wilderness of the World
The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life,
    but the mouth of the wicked conceals violence.

In Proverbs 10:11 we have a contrast between the words of the righteous and the words of the wicked.  The words of the righteous are a fountain of life.  The words of the wicked conceal violence.  The contrast between a "fountain of life" and "violence" could not be greater.  The words of the righteous bring eternal life.  The words of the wicked bring eternal death.

A fountain is a natural spring that is fed by an underground aquifer, which is supplied by rain from the heavens.  Just as a natural spring or fountain gives life, especially in a dry land, so the words of the righteous give life to a world that has become a barren wilderness because of its rebellion against the Lord.

It is impossible for the wicked, who belong to the evil one, to be a fountain of life to others.  Their words come from below, not from above.  Unbelievers do not know the Wisdom that came from the Father from heaven to earth.  Unbelievers have not received the Son the Father has given.  Unbelievers do not possess the water of the Holy Spirit, whom only the resurrected Jesus gives, nor do they pay attention to the Word of God, which is breathed out from the mouth of God (2 Timothy 3:16-17).  Therefore, the words of unbelievers will never refresh and give eternal life.  The words of the unbelieving world must necessarily conceal violence, because as 1 John 5:19 teaches, "The whole world lies in the power of the evil one."

Think of all of the false religions of the world.  They all conceal violence, because they all will be judged by the Lord, and their adherents cast into hell.  Think of all the Christian ministers who have rejected the apostolic faith.  Their words conceal violence as they move men and women away from the truth that was once delivered from Jesus and his apostles for the salvation of the world (Jude 1:3).  Think of all the secular people in our world that have no concern about their eternal state, and teach others to also have no concern.  Their words conceal violence.

As believers in Christ, we ought to be different.  We ought to speak words of life to others, even as our Lord did while he walked the earth.  This world is a barren wilderness and it needs the life-giving water of eternal life. 

How do we become a fountain of life to others in our speech?  How can our words become a source of blessing and eternal life to those around us?

Just as a fountain needs a source, so too we need to be in touch with the source of eternal life and love.  We must be taught by the Father (John 6:45).  We must learn each day from the Word of God as we sit at the feet of Christ our Lord (Luke 10:38-42).  Jesus Christ is the fountain of living waters, who says to his people: "If anyone thirsts, let him come to me, and let him who believes in me drink. As the Scripture has said, 'Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water'" (John 7:37-38).  As we daily die (repentance and consecration --- Romans 12:1) and rise with Christ (faith), we will live in contact with the source --- in union and communion with Christ Jesus and his indwelling Spirit --- and we too can learn to be a life-giving blessing to others through our words.








Sunday, September 11, 2016

Jesus our Treasure

From "Narrative Criticism of the New Testament" by James L. Ressseguie:
"The setting is Mary's anointing of Jesus in Lazarus's house. She pours a costly perfume on Jesus' feet and wipes them with her hair, a symbolic act that prefigures Jesus' preparation for death and burial. Judas, however, misses the symbolism and sees only waste: 'Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?' Since a character's first words in a narrative are usually important, a comparison of Judas's speech with the first words of the other disciples is instructive for our understanding of Judas's characterization:
  • Two of John's disciples: 'Rabbi . . . where are you staying?' (John 1:38)
  • Andrew: 'We have found the Messiah' (John 1:41).
  • Philip: 'We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth' (John 1:45).
  • Nathanael: 'Can anything good come out of Nazareth? . . . You are the Son of God . . . the King of Israel' (John 1:46, 49).
  • Peter: 'We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God' (John 6:69).
  • Thomas: 'Let us also go, that we may die with him' (John 11:16).
The first words of the other disciples are lofty confessions of faith, or a willingness to die with Jesus in Judea (Thomas), or a desire to abide (i.e., stay or remain) with Jesus (the 'two disciples'). By contrast, Judas is indignant that an expensive perfume---worth a year's wages---has been wasted on Jesus rather than lavished on the poor. While other disciples anoint Jesus with extravagant titles and confessions of faith, Judas's response is niggardly. No title or confession of faith flows from his lips, only a complaint that the anointing is a waste."
What do we treasure? Is it the state or Jesus? Is it the poor or Jesus? Is it self or Jesus? Is it family of Jesus? Is it possessions or Jesus? Is it our pleasure or Jesus? Our words are probably a good indicator of what we truly value.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Proverbs 10:8 --- Following Your Heart? Or, Following the Lord and His Commands?

Proverbs 10:8 --- Following Your Heart? Or, Following the Lord and His Commands?
The wise of heart will receive commandments,
    but a babbling fool will come to ruin.

Proverbs 10:6-18 is a section of the Proverbs that deals extensively with the tongue, i.e., our words.  George Schwab points out that in this section, as the righteous and wicked are contrasted, "the impression that builds in the mind of the reader is that of two categories, two manners of living."[1]  Today's proverb and tomorrow's give us a glimpse of what is at the heart of these two ways of living.

This is an antithetical proverb.  It contrasts the wise with the foolish; a heart that receives commands with babbling; and "come to ruin" in the second line has no parallel at all, except for one implied.  It is this imprecision of the contrasts that give the proverbs their depth.  Instead of being frustrated by the imprecision of the parallelism, it is this imprecision that gives room to consider why the Spirit of God gave us the parallelisms he did.  In other words, it should get us thinking and praying about the meaning of this portion of God's Word.

The most important contrast is between the wise heart of a person that receives commandments and a babbling fool.  It appears that the fool is too busy talking to listen.  It is difficult to listen when you are talking!  But the fool's problem goes deeper than a mere failure to be quiet and listen.  There is a pride involved that will not receive God's commandments.  There is a trust in self, rather than a trust in the Lord, that sees no need to be instructed.

One of the main differences between false religion and the true faith is the direction of the heart's gaze.  False religions tend to have an inward focus.  They think it is a good thing to follow your heart, and to find the answers on the inside.  But Christianity is a revealed religion.  The faith and love of Abraham, Jacob, the prophets, and the apostles has been a response to God's revelation of himself.  Hebrews 1 puts it like this:  "Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world" (1:1-2).

Our God is a speaking God.  Just as you can't get to know another person unless they are willing to speak, so we cannot know God unless he speaks.  But he made us in his image, and so we are the only creatures on earth who can understand and form words.  And, this is how the Lord has revealed himself to us. 

But here is the key point this verse is making: man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of God (Matthew 4:4).  There are only two ways to live.  We can look inward and follow our own hearts, sinful desires, and selfish ambitions.  Or we can look outward and live according to the word and commandments of the Lord.

If we follow our own wisdom, then we will be too busy talking to ever listen to the Lord; too proud to ever submit to his commands; and too unbelieving to trust that the Lord knows better than our own heart.  The end result will be "ruin."  But if we are wise in heart and follow the Lord's instruction, then we will be found at our Lord's feet listening (see Luke 10:38-42); we will be humble enough to receive the commands of the Lord we love; and we will trusting enough to know that our heavenly Father is loving, good, and wise and knows what is best for his image bearers.  The end result will not be ruin, but everlasting life!
           





[1] George M. Schwab, Proverbs, 528.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Proverbs 10:4: Tips for Getting Along or Heavenly Wisdom?

Proverbs 10:4 --- Tips to Get Along or Heavenly Wisdom?
A slack hand causes poverty,
    but the hand of the diligent makes rich.

We have just been taught that righteousness is far more valuable than money, and saves from the death that separates us from the blessed God (v. 2), and that those who desire righteousness will be filled, while the desires of the wicked will be thwarted in this age and the age to come (v. 3).  Now, we come upon a proverb that seems so obvious one wonders why it needs to be said, let alone be said by the Lord in his holy Word!  My hunch is that there is more going on in this verse than many think. 

Here is the gist of the comments of one commentator, who apparently doesn't think there is anything going on beyond the literal meaning (I will hide his name to protect the guilty!):
"The generalization here is that the industrious, conscientious worker is eventually recognized by his superior and promoted, while the man who constantly watches the clock and puts forth as little effort as possible will stay in the same job slot forever, if he manages to keep his job."


I believe this commentator, and sadly he is not alone, has missed something obvious.  If verses 2 and 3 have just told us that righteousness is true riches, and is to be the locus of our desire, then the words
"poverty" and "rich" may not bear their literal meaning in this verse!  If Solomon, and ultimately, our heavenly Father, has just told us about true wealth, it is quite unlikely our heavenly Father is now telling us about how to make more dollars!  No, we would be wise, at this point, to look beyond the literal, prosaic meaning of the words.

The word
"slack" has the idea of negligence, "loose, deceitful or slothful."[1]  "It describes not necessarily the person who is completely inactive, but, rather, one who only half-heartedly does his job.  He has a poor work ethic.  He does not care about the quality of his work."[2]  Here, then, is what is going on in this verse.  Proverbs 10:4 is the equivalent of our Lord's words in Matthew 6:33: "Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness."  Don't be half-hearted or deceitful in your relationship with the Father.  Instead, be devoted to your heavenly Father and pursue righteousness.    Don't presume upon the grace of God, but work out your salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12).  In other words, "pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart," as the apostle Paul put it.  "Strive for . . . the holiness without which no one will see the Lord," as the writer to the Hebrews put it (Hebrews 12:14).

The heavenly wisdom of Proverbs should not surprise us.  If we are expecting Proverbs to be a book of little maxims and tips to help us get along in life, we are fundamentally misreading Proverbs.  Proverbs is teaching us about the grace of God that has come to us, and how to live in the light of that grace.  If you don't believe me, believe our Lord's apostle, Peter:

"Concerning this salvation, the prophets
who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, 11 inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. 12 It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look." (1 Peter 1:10-12)

The Old Testament, including Proverbs, was written for the new covenant people of God (1 Peter 1:10, 12)!  "The Spirit of Christ," himself, was "in them," as they wrote.  Jesus was revealing to the Old Testament writers wonderful truths about "the grace that was to be yours," i.e., ours!  If we learn that Proverbs teaches things that sound quite similar to what our Lord Jesus taught, should that really be a surprise to us?  Should we not rather glory in the fact that as Augustine said, "The New is in the Old concealed."  Therefore, seek first, seek wholeheartedly, seek diligently, and not with a slack hand, Christ's righteousness and kingdom, and then you will be rich indeed!

                         

                       


[1] Kitchen, Proverbs, 216.
[2] Ibid.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Proverbs 22:16: This Age and the Age to Come



Proverbs 22:16 --- This Age and the Age to Come
Whoever oppresses the poor to increase his own wealth,
    or gives to the rich, will only come to poverty.

We've come to the end of Solomon's second collection.  This is proverb number 375.  There have been 375 proverbs, which is also the numerical value of Solomon's name.  The letters of the Hebrew alphabet have a numerical value.  It seems quite improbable this is a coincidence.  Solomon has put his name on this collection of Proverbs in a subtle and unique way.

I think he ends with an appropriate proverb, for this proverb is telling us this age is corrupt, but there is going to be a new age.  There is going to be a reversal.  In the age to come, the rich, who rule this world are going to come to poverty, and the poor in spirit are going to be rich. 

Undoubtedly, this truth is told cryptically and enigmatically in this proverb.  But Solomon also told us in his preface that this is the very nature of a proverb:

            to understand a proverb and a saying,
               the words of the wise and their riddles. (1:6)

The second line of our proverb moves us toward this conclusion, this reversal, when it tells us that those who oppress the poor or give to the rich to gain favors, "will only come to poverty."  Yet experience teaches us that while sometimes such reversals come in this world, it is far from the norm.  Thus, Proverbs itself forces us to look to the age to come and the Lord's judgment, when righteousness will rule and Christ's order will be established forever.

Our Lord's brother in the flesh, James, who became Jesus' devoted servant (James 1:1) after witnessing his resurrection, seems to share this perspective about the corruption of this age, and its reversal.  In James 5:1-6, does he not point to the ultimate judgment of the rich and powerful of this world?  Most certainly he does (I have put in italics and bold font the judgment and reversal he foresees):

"Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days. Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the righteous person. He does not resist you."

But notice that James equates the poor, not with the literal poor who are actually not mentioned in these verses, but with the "righteous person," in verse 6.  And, notice the meekness of the righteous: "He does not resist you."  James has internalized well, his brother's, and now Lord's, teaching:  "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:3).

The question for each of us, whether rich or poor, then, is this:  Whose side are we on?  Which age shall we live for?  With whom, and with what age, will we identify?  The believer is baptized into the name of Jesus Christ and the triune God.  He doesn't belong to this evil age that is passing away.  He belongs to his Lord and his life is to be characterized by the priorities and values of the age to come, for there lies his true home.  Ultimately, this is what Proverbs is all about.  It is about learning to live in this age as children of the age to come.





Monday, August 15, 2016

Proverbs 22:15 --- Training for Eternal Glory


Proverbs 22:15 --- Training for Eternal Glory
Folly is bound up in the heart of a child,
    but the rod of discipline drives it far from him.

The Christian view of the discipline of children flows out of its view of human nature.  While we were created in God's image, that image has been greatly marred by the fall of Adam.  Original sin, or as one commentator calls it, "original folly,"[1] is "bound up" in the heart of children.  Only one child has ever been born with an innocent and unblemished nature, and that was our Lord, who was born of a virgin and conceived by the Spirit.  The rest of us come into the world with a sinful nature that is tied tightly to our hearts, like a stain we can't remove or a scar we cannot restore.  Thus, sin has darkened our understanding, sensualized our affections, and perverted our wills.[2]  All sinners are self-willed and guided by their own understanding (Proverbs 3:5), until the Spirit intervenes and makes us receptive to the revealed Word of God.

What can remove the folly of our self-willed, self-trusting, self-loving, autonomous hearts that are "guided and grounded"[3] from within rather than by the Lord and his Word from without?  The Proverbs' answer is the Lord's powerful working in our hearts (notice the two Yahweh proverbs, verses 12 and 14, and royal proverb, verse 11, that precede our proverb), and the heavenly Father's discipline.  Parents and teachers can imitate the Father's discipline, which comes in the form of words and difficult trials, and they are commanded to use the means at their disposal (instruction and discipline).  But ultimately, only the outpouring of the Spirit through the Son can change our hard hearts.  Ultimately, we need a change of heart that desires to have God as our Father, Christ as our Lord, and God's Word as our final authority.

If we do not choose God as our Father, Christ as our Lord, the Spirit as our enabler, and the Word as our rule, the result will be what we see around this particular proverb.  We will deceived by the words of traitors (v. 12), enslaved to false beliefs and sexual immorality (v. 13), lazy and subject to cravings that never ceases (v. 14), and greedy for wealth that cannot last, rather than the true riches of Christ and his blessings (v. 16).  In the end, our lack of discipline from the Father, and a right response to his discipline will kill us, for our portion will be the misery of hell.

How much better it is, then, to commit ourselves into the hands of our heavenly Father and his Son!  How much better it is to commit ourselves to be trained for the purpose of godliness!  How much better it is to learn from Jesus, who gives us rest, and from the Father who teaches us and disciplines us for our eternal good. 

As I write, we are in the midst of the 2016 Summer Olympics.  How happy these athletes are when they compete, and even more, when they win the prize.  We can be in a better training program and compete for a far better prize!  We can train for eternal glory with Christ in heaven.  Won't you put yourself under the heavenly Father's loving discipline of Word and trial, the Son of God's lavish grace, and the Holy Spirit's sweet fellowship?  You will never regret your decision to go for eternal glory!


                                                    


           


           







[1] Ross and Waltke both attribute this phrase to Whybray.
[2] Lawson, Proverbs, 385-386.
[3] The phrase is borrowed from James Mays, Psalms, 43.

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