Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Proverbs 17:4 --- Replacing Covetousness

Proverbs 17:4
An evildoer listens to wicked lips,
    and a liar gives ear to a mischievous tongue.
This proverb is saying something remarkable.  Here is how John Kitchen puts it:  "Proverbs warns about listening to wrong influences.  This proverb, however, takes the matter a step farther --- it's not simply that what I listen to may corrupt me, but that it reveals the corruption already in my heart."[1]  Bruce Waltke says something similar. "The synonymous parallelism of verse 4 underscores the startling truth that the one who listens to lies is himself a liar."[2]
There is an eagerness in the word "listens" in line one.  It means to listen with rapt attention.[3]  The person who pays attention to lies or wickedness expects to gain something from what they hear.  One is reminded of 2 Timothy 4:3-4.  Here the apostle warns the young pastor, Timothy, not about a far off event but about the sad reality that is always present in this evil age, that people prefer lies to the truth as it is found in Christ Jesus:

"For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths."

Note, what drives these folks away from listening to the truth of God's Word.  It is their own passions, that is, the covetousness our last few proverbs have been considering.  Covetous people like lies, because lies give them justification to pursue their idolatrous envy, lust, and greed. 

The context of this passage is Paul's solemn exhortation to Timothy to preach and teach the apostolic word:
"I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching."  (2 Timothy 4:1-2)

But the apostle knows that many people will leave the church because they won't put up with sound, apostolic teaching.  These professing believers will fall away from the faith, and will leave for teaching that allows them to live according to their passions and desires.  And so, he tells Timothy to expect this sort of thing to happen.  This is why he writes in 2 Timothy 4:5, not to give up when people leave, or even if everyone leaves!  Instead, he says, start over from scratch, if necessary, and do the work of an evangelist[4]:  "always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry."

I remember a blow-up in a church I once pastored that happened right before Christmas.  I met with a young man and his father, who were upset with my preaching.  The father said, "I own a business, and in my business the customer is king.  I am a member of your congregation, therefore I am your customer, and you need to change the way you preach."  Soon he and his wife were out the door, seeking a message that better suited their passions.

The world is zealous and eager to follow their lusts, but truth, not so much.  The darkness of the world includes a lack of knowledge and ignorance, but it goes beyond that.  Its darkness is fueled by its desire and love for things other than the Creator, even when that Creator takes to himself our nature and walks among us.  Jesus taught this when he said, "And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.  For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed"  (John 3:19-20).

If we are all sinners and prone by our sinful nature to covetousness, then why does anyone come to the light who has come into the world, even our Lord Jesus Christ?  Why do some come to him, seeking his mercy and forgiveness and the gift of his Spirit?  Why do some have "an honest and good heart," that welcomes him and clings to the gospel word, as it says in the parable of the soils?   "As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience" (Luke 8:15).  The answer is not found in ourselves.  The work done in the hearts of Christ's people is the Spirit of God's work, who takes away our blindness and dishonesty, and replaces our old love for the creature, with a love for our Creator and Redeemer.

"For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them."  (Ephesians 2:8-10)
May the Father graciously continue his workmanship in our hearts, in Christ Jesus, and by the Spirit.  And may all the praise be to our triune God, and all the rejoicing in his unmerited grace be ours, as we walk in the path the Father prepared for us, long before we were formed in our mother's womb.  Amen




[1] Kitchen, Proverbs, 374-75.
[2] Waltke, Proverbs, vol. 2, 41.
[3] Fox, Proverbs, vol. 2, 625;  Murphy, Proverbs WBC, 128.
[4] Christopher Green. Finishing the Race: Reading 2 Timothy Today, 140.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Proverbs 17:2 --- Live as Sons!

Proverbs 17:2 
A servant who deals wisely will rule over a son who acts shamefully
    and will share the inheritance as one of the brothers.
Proverbs 17:1 was about Jewish sons of the kingdom, who acted "shamefully," following their own covetous hearts rather than the Lord.  This verse continues the thought, and warns us that following our sinful desires can cause us to lose our inheritance.  For in Christ, we are now sons, who once were slaves to our own sinful desires.  Therefore, we are to act "wisely," for we now follow the One who is Wisdom incarnate.
As I write, it is the beginning of a new calendar year.  I was challenged recently to memorize Scripture.  The older we get, the harder it seems it is to memorize, so I have given up that practice the last couple decades.  But the great advantage of memorizing Scripture is that we hide the Word in our hearts, and it becomes a part of us.  Memorization also helps us to meditate on God's Word.  So now I am trying to once again work on memorizing the Word, and using spare moments to look at the verses I am trying to memorize.  Here are the verses I am working on to start the year:
"For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised."  (2 Corinthians 5:14-15)

How do we know God our Father loves us?  We know this because his Son died for us.  Think of it!  This almighty, all-knowing, sovereign God, who created this stunningly designed universe, and sustains it at every moment, sent his Son, whom he loves and has always loved, to die for sinners like us who were enslaved to envy, lust, and greed, i.e., people who shamefully love little earthly idols of power, pleasure, and money, rather than the glorious, triune God!  What will free us from this shameful love for the things of earth that are passing away?  It is the love of God.  This glorious Son has set his love upon us!  We now belong to the King who rules over all things!  We who were slaves are now sons of God, and we must learn to live like it.

"The words 'acts wisely' are a translation of a word describing one who is observant and careful in difficult conditions."[1]  Dear friends, we as Christians have "difficult conditions," do we not?  We live as exiles and pilgrims in this world (Hebrews 11:13; 1 Peter 1:1, 2:11).  We have three powerful spiritual enemies that are against our new way of life in Christ.  The first enemy is the devil, who is described as a roaring lion, seeking souls to devour (1 Peter 5:8).  The second enemy is the world, which either seduces us to love the things of earth more than our Lord, or threatens us to move us away from our devotion to Christ.  The third enemy is the world that lives inside us, variously called our flesh, sinful nature, or old man in Scripture.

It is this third enemy that is the most insidious, simply because it is an enemy on the inside.  It is the part of us that responds to the seduction and threats of the other two enemies.  Thus, Proverbs 4:23 instructs us:

            Keep your heart with all vigilance,
                for from it flow the springs of life.

And our Lord warns us that it is this internal enemy of covetousness that can choke our hearts of the life we have in Christ:

"And others are the ones sown among thorns. They are those who hear the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of richesand the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful."  (Mark 3:18-19)

In this spiritual war, let us remember our baptism each day.  We are to make use of the sacraments (baptism and the Lord's Supper) in our lives.  One of the means of grace we tend to ignore to our own harm is our baptism.  Each day we should remember our baptism to remind and assure our hearts that just "as surely as water washes away the dirt from the body, so certainly Christ's blood and Spirit wash away my soul's impurity, in other words, all my sins."[2]  Furthermore, "to be washed with Christ's Spirit means that the Holy Spirit has renewed me and set me apart to be a member of Christ, so that more and more I become dead to sin and increasingly live a holy and blameless life."[3]

Traditionally, baptismal vows in the church involve a renunciation.  Here is an example:
"You have presented yourselves here for baptism.  You must therefore answer sincerely before God and his church the questions which I now put to you. Do you renounce idolatry and all the works of the devil?Answer:  I renounce them. Do you renounce the pride and vanity of this world?Answer:  I renounce them. Do you renounce impurity, strife, covetousness, and all other works of the flesh?Answer:  I renounce them.[4]

Let us use our baptisms each morning we awake to remind and assure ourselves who we are in Christ.  We are sons of God the Father and brothers of Jesus Christ our Lord, who loved us and died for us to free us from all our enemies, the devil, the world, and our own flesh.  We have died with Him.  Therefore, let us live for Him who loved us and suffered in our place.  May His love control us, so that we may act wisely, and not in the shameful desires of this world.  For we are his, and our hope is sure, for all who have the Son have a wonderful inheritance as his brothers.  Amen.

[1] Kitchen, Proverbs, 373.
[2] Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 69.
[3] Ibid., Q&A 70.
[4] The Church of South India: The Book of Common Worship.  Oxford University Press, 1963, 106.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Proverbs 17:1 --- He Is that Holiday at Sea

Proverbs 17:1 
Better is a dry morsel with quiet
    than a house full of feasting [or sacrifices] with strife.
In line two we have "strife."  It is strife among Israelites who were religious, for literally the word "feasting" is sacrifices.  The people described in line two were taking home peace offerings.  The peace offering was the only Old Testament animal sacrifice that the man who brought it could also eat a portion of it along with his family and friends in their house.  But in line two the people at this sacrificial feast, which pointed to peace with God and loving fellowship with him, fight and quarrel with one another.  These folks were "waging war against each other."[1] 
Why do people fight and quarrel with one another?  What causes all of the enmity and malice we have for others even in churches?  Here is the Lord's answer:

"What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God."

The reason for fights and quarrels is given in these three words: "passions" (v. 1, 3), "desire" (v. 2), and "covet" (v. 2).  These three words can be subsumed under the word covetousness.  It is covetousness that causes quarrels, fights, and murderous hatred toward others.  But the covetousness that causes strife with others is also a sign of enmity toward God.  For ultimately covetousness is idolatry and the rule of self (Colossians 3:5).  Coveting brings spiritual death, because it alienates us from the Lord, who alone gives life and light, satisfaction and rest.

Where can we get the "quiet" contentment of line one?  If strife points to the heart problem of coveting/idolatry, then where can peaceful contentment be found?  The answer ironically is the peace offering itself that pointed to the self-offering Jesus Christ made for his people in his great love.  The answer is found in replacing our covetous desires with a desire for the Lord, who loved us and gave himself for us, so that we might live in a right relationship with him. 

James 4:4 identifies the problem as spiritual adultery.  We want and desire everything, except our true Husband and Lord, Jesus Christ.  We do not believe he will provide what we need, though he is the good Shepherd, whom the psalmist spoke of, saying, "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want" (Psalm 23:1).  But we don't believe he will provide what we need.  We don't believe he will satisfy us and give us rest.  No, we believe we cannot be happy apart from the fulfillment of our covetous desires. 

James goes on in verse 5 and says, "Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, 'He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us'?"  We were made for the Lord.  Our Lord is a jealous God in the sense that he will brook no rivals.  We were made to dwell in him, and he in us.  He went to the cross to make peace, so that we might not be at war with him and he with us.  Jesus Christ is our home, and his Spirit dwells in our hearts.  We eat and drink his body and blood by faith.  The seed of his Word is implanted in us.  We are bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh. Therefore, we must replace the yearning for other things with the yearning for him, our Lord and Husband!

Today's proverb is about the contentment that comes from desiring the Lord only, above all rivals, versus the strife internally and externally that comes from desiring other things besides him.  Today's proverb is also closely connected to the divine sovereignty of yesterday's proverb.  For if we really believe the Lord rules over all things, then we can be content with the lot he has given to us at any given time.  If nothing is outside of his control, then we can learn to say with the apostle, "I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content" (Philippians 4:11).  He will provide for us as he sees fit, and we can trust our Father to know what is best for us.

The person in line one is not sinfully covetous at all.  He is quiet because he has a spiritual feast that is better than the feast of line two.  The person in line one has the reality to which the sacrificial feast pointed.  The person in line one is in line with the heart of Jesus in John 4:31-32: "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.'"

C. S. Lewis wrote, "We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea."  Let us grow up, and leave behind such covetous desires for such small objects.  Let us desire and covet Jesus.  He is that infinite joy.  He is that holiday at the sea. 

[1] Waltke, Proverbs, vol. 2, 35.   

Friday, January 5, 2018

Proverbs 16:32 --- The Real War

Proverbs 16:32 
Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty,
    and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.
Again and again these "better than" proverbs surprise us by what the Lord values.  In our present day culture we value heroes, primarily athletic heroes with military heroes coming in a somewhat close second.  But our word from God today teaches us that the person who wins the inward war with the world, the flesh, and the devil is greater than the athletic or military hero who has not.
Turn on the news and you will hear nothing about the battle of the heart.  The news will give us reports of wars and rumors of wars, but of this inward war, the world is blissfully unaware.  This is because the world is not fighting this war, for they only too gladly follow their own envy, lust, and greed[1] with self as god, while they do their best to ignore the true, triune God.  No, the world knows nothing of this supreme battle because one has to be enlisted under Christ Jesus' baptismal banner to fight this war --- a war which involves dying and rising daily with him.

In my younger days, I used to be puzzled by 2 Timothy 1:7:  "for God gave us the Spirit[2] not of fear but of power and love and self-control."  What puzzled me was the close connection of the Spirit of God to self-control.  In my uninstructed mind, it made sense for the Spirit to be tied to power and love, but not self-control.  Self-control seemed to me to be just one of many fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).  But Paul understood (maybe from Proverbs) the immense power that it takes to rule one's own spirit, and so he connected self-control closely to the powerful work of the Holy Spirit, who pours the love of God into our hearts (Romans 5:5).

Now, in my older days, I am not surprised by the close connection between the Spirit and self-control.  As Matthew Henry's father, Philip, once wrote in his diary, "So old and no older Alexander was when he conquered the great world; but I have not yet subdued my little world --- myself."[3]  The Word of God is always proved true.  Today's inspired word is correct.  The war within is difficult, for according to our proverb it takes more power to rule ourselves than the military power required to take a city.  The war within is lengthier than a military battle, for it will never end until our bodies are laid in our graves and our spirits are at home with the Lord (Philippians 1:23).  The war within has no respite, for even if one battle is won, another is sure to come.  The war within has higher stakes, for it is a war for something higher, namely, the battle for our souls and our eternal joy or misery in heaven or hell.  The war within is a spiritual battle that requires the Spirit's power.

But there is good news in this war, despite its difficulty, length, incessancy, high stakes and spiritual nature.  First, the war's outcome is not in doubt.  Jesus Christ has died and risen.  He reigns at this very moment over every atom and molecule in the universe.  He rules over the nations.  Nothing is outside of his control. He has defeated the world that put him to death (John 16:33).  One day he will come again to judge the world and his spiritual enemies.  But even now all things must work together for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28), and we can be assured that all that happens to us is not outside of his plan.  Our gracious Father even uses this inward war for our sanctification and the mortification of our pride and lustful passions.

Second, our Lord Jesus Christ is with us by his Spirit.  Whoever heard of a general out on the front lines of a battle?  But such is the tenderness and goodness of our God that he is always with us.  He is Immanuel, God with us (Matthew 1:23).  "And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age" (Matthew 28:20).

Third, there is the high privilege of imitating our Lord along with his presence that sweetens all that may happen to us in our struggle against the world, the flesh, and the devil.  Jesus says this to his people:

"Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light" (Matthew 11:28-30).

Each day is the crossing of a new threshold.  So under our baptismal banner, let us come to our Lord daily, taking up his cross to die with him, so that we might live with him in newness of life.  And he will give us the power, the love, and the self-control we need to walk with him each day.  In the midst of the battle we can find rest and an easy yoke, if we will but stay near to him.

[1] Melissa Kruger in The Envy of Eve, p. 24, makes the point that there are three types of coveting.  She writes, "Under the large umbrella of coveting are three specific subsets of coveting: envy, lust and greed.  Envy describes a setting of our affections on that which specifically belongs to another.  Lust describes coveting which is usually sexual in nature.  Greed describes coveting which is primarily focused on the acquisition of money and possessions."
[2] The New Testament in Greek was written without capital letters.  Therefore, along with others, I believe the reference here is to the Holy Spirit, and I have capitalized the word.
[3] Brady, Proverbs, 473-474.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Proverbs 16:30 --- Body and Soul

Proverbs 16:30 
Whoever winks his eyes plans dishonest things;
    he who purses his lips brings evil to pass.
Today's verse concludes this section (v. 25-30) on the wicked, who go their own way and spurn the Word of God (v. 25) to follow after their own desires (v. 26).  Our verse today is connected closely to verse 29, which describes the violent man, who ultimately must get rid of the Lord so that he might pursue his sinful desires.  As Jesus said, "No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money" (Matthew 6:24).
The winking of the eye points to a clandestine signal.  Wickedness operates in secret.  It must hide.  Evil operates in the dark.  Think of the mob boss who orders a murder with a non-verbal signal, and that's the idea of the body language in this verse.  The second line of the proverb also speaks of completing the murderous plan with another non-verbal signal, the pursing of the lips.
Our proverb describes the violent man, who brings his dishonesty and perversity to a climax through violence---the spiritual violence of putting God to death.  Putting God to death is inevitable for the covetous and idolatrous heart, because ultimately it is impossible for the human heart to serve both God and an idol, such as money.  Consider again Proverbs 1:10-19.  In that parable, the apostate son, who consents to the temptation for money and possessions, represents Judas.  Why did Judas betray the Son of God with a secret signal, the pursing of his lips, i.e., a kiss?
Judas' love of money is revealed in John 12:1-8:                                           
"Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table. Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it. Jesus said, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.”

Mary saw the great worth of Jesus.  Her eyes of faith were focused on his glory.  She was thankful for the great miracle Jesus performed for her brother Lazarus.  What a privilege it was for her to fellowship with him at his table.  Mary saw that all things were created to display his glory.  Mary loved Jesus.  But not so Judas. 

Judas was blind to Christ's glory, for his love of money had blinded his eyes.  His inward conflict between the love of God and the love of money was coming to a head.  "Judas' inward affection for money finally won out and stripped him of his willingness to associate with Jesus.  Thirty silver pieces were enough to allow Judas to betray all that he had seen and heard.  Judas witnessed first-hand the feeding of the five thousand, Jesus walking on water, the healing of the blind man, the cleansing of a leper, and coming of the kingdom of God, yet his heart did not believe."[1]  The love for other things choked out his faith in Christ (Luke 8:14).

Soon after this incident Judas would betray the Lord with a kiss.  "The symbol of love instead became the signal of arrest.  His last interaction with Jesus was full of intimacy, but completely lacking in affection."[2]

Brothers and sisters, we need to know the Word in order to see Christ's glory.  Hearing and reading the Word is vital.  "Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ" (Romans 10:17).  But if our interaction with the Word is devoid of affection, we are in spiritual trouble.  Reading and hearing God's Word must come with fervent prayer for the Lord to change our affections by his Spirit.  Seeing the glory of Christ in the Word must transform the affections and desires of our hearts, so that we live for him and love him above all else.

The mention of body parts in today's verse, "eyes" and "lips," ought to remind us that we are to love the Lord with all our soul, but also with all our body.  This section of Proverbs is closely related to Proverbs 6:12-19, where we are given a catalogue of body parts (eyes, feet, fingers, tongues, hands, and hearts) that we misuse, rather than offering them in love to the Lord to live for him.  The Heidelberg Catechism reminds us:
        "I am not my own, but belong---body and soul, in life and in death---to my          faithful Savior Jesus Christ. 
He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and he has set me free from the tyranny of the devil.  He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven: in fact, all things must work together for my salvation.  
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."[3]

And so may it be with all who read these words.


[1] Melissa B. Kruger.  The Envy of Eve: Finding Contentment in a Covetous World, 123. 
[2] Ibid.
[3] Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 1.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Proverbs 16:27 --- The Worthlessness of the Wicked

Proverbs 16:27 
A worthless man plots evil,
    and his speech is like a scorching fire.
This verse has to come as a bit of a shock to a generation that has been raised to believe in self-worth!  The Lord has a different view.  The wicked are regularly called "worthless" in the Scriptures, and even when the word is missing, the idea is taught.  For example, in Psalm one the righteous bear fruit unto the Lord, and are likened to the useful grain of the wheat harvest.  But not so the wicked, for they are like the chaff; therefore, they are worthless:

            The wicked are not so,
                but are like chaff that the wind drives away.  (Psalm 1:4)

This word worthless is a compound word made up of the Hebrew word beli, which means, not or without, and the word ya'al, which means useful or beneficial.  Thus, the literal meaning is of no use or without benefit.  Certainly, the wicked are of no use in advancing the Lord's kingdom and in promoting the righteousness and peace of the gospel to their neighbors.  But as one commentator says, the worthless man is not just useless for good, but also malicious and destructive in his thoughts and speech.

There is also a hint of idolatry and the demonic in this phrase a worthless man or literally, a "man of Belial."[1]  At some point in Israel's history Belial became the name for the chief of the demons.  Since Scripture's view is that behind all idols, which are non-entities, there is the work and worship of demons (Deuteronomy 32:17; 1 Corinthians 10:19-21), a worthless man is simply a man who is committed to his idolatry and false religion, and who is antichrist in his view of the world.

Such worthless people (yes, it strikes our modern ears as offensive! but the Lord is the judge of reality, not us) stay busy by plotting evil.  Literally, the word translated "plots" means to dig up.[2]  The worthless man is always digging up evil on others.  He either digs up dirt on others in order to smear their reputation, or he digs holes for them like a trap for them to fall in.  As Michael V. Fox writes, the man of Belial "digs for evil like a miner does ore. . . . The evil that is 'mined' may be a scheme, a slander, or an insult. . . .Digging is a metaphor for eager searching in Job 3:21, and here too it suggests the schemer's eagerness and intensity in contriving his plots."[3]

The plotting takes place in the sinner's heart, affecting his thoughts, emotions, and will.  This results in damage to his own soul.  But the damage to others is done by his words, which are compared to a "scorching fire."  James may have had this verse in view when he wrote:

"So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.  How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell."  (James 3:5-6)

Is it any wonder that the unbeliever's "entire course of life" is "set on fire by hell?"  If you worship demons, for this is what idolatry is according to the Lord (see 1 Corinthians 10:19-21) and you are of the seed, not of the woman, but of the serpent (see Genesis 3:14-15), then the realized eschatology of the Bible (the already and not yet) is already beginning to occur.  All of us are being transformed into the image of the one we worship, be it the Lord or Belial.

Keller makes an excellent point when he writes about James 3:6, saying, "False and unkind words also spread within and 'the tongue . . . sets the whole course of one's life on fire.  By contrast, the word of Jesus' kingdom, the gospel, 'is like a yeast that . . . worked all through the dough' (Matthew 13:33)."[4]  The gospel is the power that slowly but thoroughly transforms us who believe in God's Son, and it has the potential to change our communities, and even the worthless men we have learned about from Proverbs 16:27, for such were we by nature and birth.  Therefore, we thank and praise God for his great salvation mediated to us through his Son!

[1] See Fox's discussion of the phrase in Proverbs, vol. 1, 219-220.
[2] Thomas Thomason Perowne, Proverbs, 117.
[3] Fox, Proverbs, vol. 2, 621-622.
[4] Keller, Proverbs, 177.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Proverbs 16:23 --- What Can Heal Our Words?

Proverbs 16:23 
The heart of the wise makes his speech judicious
    and adds persuasiveness to his lips.
Tim Keller writes, "Our words can heal---but what can heal our words?"[1]  Do you remember Isaiah's encounter with Jesus Christ, in Isaiah 6?  I say his encounter was with our Lord Jesus, because that is whom John tells us Isaiah saw: "Isaiah said these things because he saw his [Jesus'] glory and spoke of him" (John 12:41).

Only an encounter with Jesus Christ can heal our words.  Isaiah teaches us this.  Isaiah saw the overwhelming glory of the Lord.  In his encounter, two seraphim called out to one another, saying:

            “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
            the whole earth is full of his glory!”

Holiness refers not just to the moral purity of our Lord, but also to the truth that no one is like our God.  The Lord is incomparable.  He is incomparable in all his attributes.  He is the great I AM, who alone is self-existent.  Everything in creation at every moment depends on him for existence.

Seeing Christ high and lifted up in his kingly glory; seeing his incomparable otherness as the holy and mighty Lord; and seeing his moral purity, which is an aspect of his holiness, what effect did it have on Isaiah?

The answer is given in Isaiah 6:5:  "And I said: '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!'"  Keller's question comes to mind again.  "Words can heal---but what can heal our words?"

When we see the glory of Christ the King in his sovereignty, power, and purity, we realize our sinfulness, but also our weakness.  We quickly see that we cannot save ourselves.  Like Isaiah, we see that we are undone---we are destroyed.  We need a salvation we are too weak to provide.

But praise the Lord, we see salvation provided for Isaiah after his confession!  "Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar.  And he touched my mouth and said: 'Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for'" (Isaiah 6:6-7).  The altar was the place of atonement.  Hebrews 13:9-13 teach us that the true altar is the cross of Jesus Christ.  There he died as an atonement for sin to take away our guilt.  Let us recognize our weakness to save ourselves and cry out to him for mercy.  As Bridges says, "Conscious guilt trusts in Divine advocacy."[2]

After his cleansing, Isaiah then hears these words:  "And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, 'Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?' Then I said, 'Here I am! Send me.'"  Now, the one whose lips were unclean is going to speak for the King!  Here is the answer to Keller's thought provoking question: "Words can heal---but what can heal our words?"

Bridges writes, "Conscious weakness needs Divine breath."[3]  We make words through the use of our breath.  But to speak on the Lord's behalf, we need Divine breath---the breath of the Holy Spirit.  In our weakness we need he Spirit, who is the Spirit of wisdom and understanding (Isaiah 11:2).  Just as our Lord was given the Spirit without measure (John 3:34), so he not only takes away our sin and guilt, but also gives us the Spirit to enable us to speak on his behalf!

But let us not think that the gift of the Spirit means that devoted study, meditation, and prayer in the presence of our Lord is unimportant in giving us "judicious" speech that knows what to say, when to say it, and how to say it, in any given situation.  Nor can we forget our weakness before our King.  For our King has told us, "Apart from me you can do nothing" (John 15:5).  But surely that means that with Him, we can do something!

Even our Lord, who had the fullness of the Spirit given to him without measure, in his humanity had to learn from his Father, spending time in the Scriptures, and in prayer.  The word translated as "persuasiveness" is the Hebrew word leqah.  It sometimes means learning and sometimes means persuasiveness.  But even when it means persuasiveness, it does not lose the idea of learning.  It is learning from the Father through his Word that teaches us how to be persuasive.  Consider our Lord, again, as Isaiah speaks of him many centuries before he took to himself our human nature, and became a Servant for us:

            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.

The children of God have wisdom, because they have Christ, who is wisdom incarnate.  Christ Jesus has given us his Spirit, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding.  He has given us the Scriptures that are able to make us wise for salvation (2 Timothy 3:15).   Let us, then, be devoted to the happy task of learning from the Father and the Son each day through the Scriptures.  Let us not be rebellious or turn away from the One our soul loves.  Let us learn, at least in some measure, to speak truly, and maybe at times eloquently and persuasively for him, so that our words might be a fountain of life to others.  And may he receive the glory, for his power is made perfect in weakness.


[1] Keller, 193.
[2] Bridges, Proverbs, 243.
[3] Ibid.

Share This