Saturday, March 24, 2018

Proverbs 17:21 --- Infinite Joy and Satisfaction

Proverbs 17:21 
He who sires a fool gets himself sorrow,
    and the father of a fool has no joy.
           
"I bow my knees before the Father, from whom all fatherhood in heaven and on earth is named" (Ephesians 3:14-15).  God the Father is the archetypal Father, from whom the idea of fatherhood stems.  To belong to the triune family is the greatest happiness for human beings.  Thus, the apostle goes on to speak of the other persons of the trinity: "that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God" (Ephesians 3:16-19).
                     
The fool is the person who rejects this incredible calling to dwell in the triune family and be filled with all the fullness of God.  Instead he chooses to follow after his own sinful passions, which ravage the soul, not satisfy it (1 Peter 2:11).  Even though "the sum of everything that is desirable or excellent is found in infinite measure in God himself . .  . [and] whatever excellence there is in the universe, whatever is desirable, must ultimately have come from him,"[1] the fool refuses to bow his knees to the Father.
                                    
Jesus masterfully paints the story of the human race as foolish sons in Luke 15, who have given up the delight of the Father's family to venture into a country where true fatherhood, true family, and true satisfaction are not to be found.  The prodigal's soul is desolated in the far country.  The nadir of his journey away from the father comes when "he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything."  There is no good, no love, no true satisfaction, to be found apart from God's Fatherhood and the triune family.  Finally, the prodigal comes to his senses: "But when he came to himself, he said, 'How many of my father's hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger!  I will arise and go to my father'" (Luke 15:17-18). 
                  
The fool is a fool because he says no to God in order to follow what he thinks is best (cf. Proverbs 9:10; Psalms 14:1).  The Word of God is not his rule, for he does not live by every word that comes from the mouth of God (Matthew 4:4).  The fool has replaced the Father's word with his own word.  He has become, as the tempter said, "like God" (Genesis 3:5), but like God to his own demise and destruction.  The world teaches us to follow our heart, but to follow our heart --- our own understanding, our sinful passions, the sovereign self --- is the height of folly.  It is to follow the very sin that drove the first couple from the garden away from the presence of the blessed God, who has the fullness of joy in himself.

Our proverb today speaks of a father's sorrow and lack of joy in his foolish son.  But human fathers are types of the archetypal Father, who is grieved over the human race, which has foolishly rebelled against him.  Therefore, the heavenly Father in his great love initiated a rescue mission, so that the foolish human race might return to him to find genuine satisfaction.
                  
Did you notice the phrase that in the father's house there is "more than enough bread" (Luke 15:17)?  Everything we eat has first died.  Whether it be animals slaughtered or fruit, vegetables, and grain, which are plucked, uprooted or crushed --- everything we eat dies.  In the food chain, it is also true that the greater eats the lesser.  But our heavenly Father turns the food chain on its head to give us infinite food.[2]

What does he do?  He sends his eternal and infinite Son --- the greater, to die for us ---the lesser, so that we might eat his flesh and drink his blood for infinite satisfaction. The One who is greater comes, not to eat us as we might expect, but dies so that we might eat Him!  The infinite One dies for us, so that we might find infinite satisfaction!

But how do we eat the infinite?  We eat by faith.  We must "arise and go to [our] Father" (Luke 15:18).  This involves repentance and faith.  As Jesus taught us, there is joy in the Father's heaven when sinners repent and return to him through the Son (Luke 15:7, 10). 

What happened when the prodigal repented and believed?  There was eating, and there was joy:  "And the son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.'  But the father said to his servants, 'Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat andcelebrate.  For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.' And they began to celebrate" (Luke 15:21-25).

We have looked at the heavenly Father, from whom all fatherhood is named.  Looking at the archetype helps us as fathers and mothers to see what is best for us and our children.  We long for them to know Jesus Christ, in whom alone, we and our children will find full satisfaction and joy.  In the triune family we will find the joy and satisfaction our hearts long for.



                                            














[1] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, 219.
[2] Christopher West.  Fill These Hearts: God, Sex, and the Universal Longing, 116-118.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Proverbs 17:19 --- Are You Willing?

Proverbs 17:19 
Whoever loves transgression loves strife;
    he who makes his door high seeks destruction.
           
In the synonymous parallelism of this verse:

            "loves transgression" is parallel with "makes his door high,"
            and "loves strife" is parallel with "seeks destruction." 

To make one's door high seems to be an idiom or image for human arrogance and pride.  When a city or individual built a high gate this was a defensive fortification,[1] and people often took pride in such high gates and walls.  This same word high (gaboah in Hebrew) in today's proverb is closely related to pride and arrogance, and a cognate adjective is translated as "haughty" in Proverbs 16:18.[2]  The word destruction in Proverbs 16:18 and 17:19 are identical:

            Pride goes before destruction,
                and a haughty spirit before a fall.

The question in today's proverbs is to whom this pride and love of transgression directed?  Is it directed against God or man, against the Lord or our neighbor?  I am always amazed that our first instinct is to interpret proverbs like this horizontally, as referring to strife with man, rather than strife with God, as so many commentators do, with a few happy exceptions.  I think to do so is to mistake the main purpose of the Word of God generally, and the Proverbs specifically. 

The Bible, before anything else, is about man's relationship with God.  It deals, first and foremost, with "him to whom we must give account" (Hebrews 4:13).  Undoubtedly, this pride and wrongly directed love will affect our relationship with our neighbors.  We are called to love God, his people, and our neighbors.  But love for God must always be the priority, for only him are we to love with all our inner being.  As Jesus taught us, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind" (Matthew 22:37). 

The apostle teaches in 1 John 5:1-3 that we cannot love our fellow believers truly or rightly apart from loving our triune God truly or rightly!  By implication, this means we cannot love any human being rightly apart from loving God with all our heart.  "Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him" (1 John 5:1).  From this basic orientation, the Spirit teaches, "By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments."  Do you see how intertwined the love of God is with the love of the children of God, his people, but also with those who are not yet his people?

But in today's proverb, we are taught that instead of loving the Lord with all their heart, the unregenerate heart loves transgression most of all.  The unregenerate heart --- the heart not born from above by the Spirit --- loves not to obey God's commandments but to transgress them!  The unbelieving heart is proud, and won't submit to the sovereign, almighty Lord.  Instead, the unregenerate heart rebels against this good and loving God.

And what is the result of this rebellion, according to our proverb?  What will be the reward for loving transgression?  What will be the gain from proudly fighting against God by making fortifications to fend off Christ Jesus from entering the heart?  The "reward" is strife in this life and destruction in the next.  Man cannot succeed in his rebellion against the Lord.  Too powerful and too sovereign is God's King, Jesus Christ, for man to win this war he foolishly wages against his Creator and Sustainer.

And so Jesus teaches us to surrender to his lordship, tells us the terms of surrender to him, and gives us an illustration of what must happen. 

Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them,26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. . . . Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32 And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. 33 So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.  (Luke 14:25-27, 31-33)

America, in World War II asked for an unconditional surrender from its enemies.  Jesus asks for the same thing from us.  Instead of loving transgression, we must love him above all else (v. 26).  Our love for him must exceed our love for our own family, and even the love we have for ourselves (v. 26).  Our devotion to him means to live in Christ's dying and rising, resisting his enemies and ours, the world, the flesh, and the devil (v. 27). 

Just as it was unreasonable for Japan to continue to fight an opponent with the power of nuclear weapons, so it is even more unreasonable for creatures dependent on the Lord for their next breath to rebel against him.  Proverbs 17:19 is warning us to come to our senses before it is too late.  All that men will gain in their rebellion against the sovereign and holy Lord is strife in this life and destruction in the next.  Come to Jesus.  Surrender your life to him before it is too late.  He is the King at the Father's right hand who is coming again.  Sue for peace.  Meet his terms through the power of the Spirit he will pour out to you, if you are willing.  Are you willing?












                                                                                                                                   






[1] Steinmann, Proverbs, 377-78.
[2] Whybray, Proverbs, 260.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Proverbs 17:18 --- How Much to Him We Owe!

Proverbs 17:18 
One who lacks sense gives a pledge
    and puts up security in the presence of his neighbor.

The Book of Proverbs is against the idea of surety!  Surety was to put up security for a neighbor who was taking out a loan.  The danger in becoming surety for your neighbor is that if he is unable to pay the debt, then you are responsible for it.  This could bankrupt you and your family.  Therefore, Proverbs consistently warns against becoming surety for your neighbor.
           
Understanding financial concepts has never been my strong suit.  I remember deciding to take Economics 101 in college.  Attending one day of class and reading the first chapter of the textbook, left me befuddled and benighted.  It did not take me long to make the walk to the registrar to drop the class.  Whenever I hear others speaking about finances, I tend to get quiet and withdraw from the conversation.  I try to listen, but I always seem out of my element, like someone in the southern part of the United States trying to deal with a snowstorm.  Southerners do not know how to handle snow, and I am barely able to understand the simplest financial concept.
           
So I was thankful when one of my best friends, and a brother in Christ, offered this excellent explanation of surety with an application to our Lord.  He wrote, "Surety is in some ways the perfect illustration of the Gospel, i.e., someone paying the debt of another.  The fact that it is warned against in practical terms just serves to illustrate what a beautiful gift it is from the Lord."[1]
                    
The Bible is a book about Jesus Christ.  The reason I think surety is given such a big role in Proverbs, is because it points us to what Jesus has done for us.  Proverbs, like all of Scripture, was written to point us to Jesus Christ.  "You search the Scriptures," Jesus said,  "because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life" (John 5:39-40).  Could it be that the reason surety is repeatedly mentioned, is not so much for our financial welfare, but for our spiritual welfare!
                                 
The debt we owe God because of our sins is far greater than we think or imagine.  The Heidelberg Catechism makes this clear through a series of questions and answers:

            Q.  According to God's righteous judgment we deserve punishment both in this world                  and forever after:  how then can we escape this punishment and return to God's favor?

            A.  God requires that his justice be satisfied.  Therefore the claims of his justice must be paid in full, either by ourselves or another.

            Q.  Can we pay this debt ourselves?

            A.  Certainly not.  Actually, we increase our guilt every day.[2]

R. C. Sproul, often said that "Sin is cosmic treason."  In his book, The Holiness of God, Sproul wrote, "If God is Creator of the entire universe, then it must follow that He is the Lord of the whole universe.  No part of the world is outside of His Lordship.  That means that no part of my life must be outside His lordship."[3]  In the parable Jesus told to Peter in Matthew 18, the master forgives the unforgiving servant a ten thousand talent debt, a debt that was simply unpayable, and over a billion dollars in today's currency.[4]  The truth is, our debt of sin against God is beyond our calculation, and far beyond our ability to repay.

Given our dire situation, how thankful we should be that Jesus Christ completely paid the debt we owed through his death on the cross, and through the imputation of his righteous life to everyone who receives him.  In Christ we are clothed with his perfect righteousness (cf. Revelation 7:14).

The final point to make is that the Hebrew word for surety is carried over into the New Testament by the Greek word, arrabon, which is translated as a down payment or guarantee in 2 Corinthians 1:22, 5:5, and Ephesians 1:13-14).  In all three instances, this down payment or guarantee is a reference to the Holy Spirit.

By nature, you and I "lack sense," or more literally, heart.  How do we know that we will continue on with Christ?  How can we be sure we won't fall away from our faith in, and love for Christ Jesus our Lord? 

If we have been born from above by the Spirit, and have received Jesus into our hearts (John 1:12-13), then that means we have been clothed by Christ not only outwardly in his perfect righteousness, but also inwardly.  Remember what our Lord said to his disciples, "And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high" (Luke 24:49).  Jesus Christ promises to give to his disciples the gift that comes "from on high," the Holy Spirit, who comes to dwell in our hearts.  It is the Spirit who gives us a new heart, with a new understanding, new affections, and a new will to do our Lord's will.

Jesus Christ is our surety!  He paid the incalculable debt we owed.  He guarantees us a better covenant (Hebrews 7:22) by clothing us in his righteousness, and clothing us with his Spirit.  Interestingly, the down payment for a loan in the Old Testament was often a garment (cf. Deuteronomy 24:10-13; Proverbs 20:16).  How wonderful of our Savior to clothe us with his righteousness, but also to clothe us with his Spirit, who "makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him."[5]  Apart from this birth from above and gift of the Spirit, we would be enslaved by our sins, and unable to abide in our blessed Lord, who will safely bring us home.  How much to Him we owe!











                                                                                                                                   






[1] My friend's name is Don Evans, a wonderful man and Christian brother, who I have been privileged to know for almost 50 years.
[2] Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 12-13.
[3] Quoted in Tabletalk magazine, special issue, 30.
[4] See D. A. Carson's explanation of the monetary value of ten thousand talents in The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 8, 406.
[5] Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 1.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Proverbs 17:16 --- Are You Breathing?

Proverbs 17:16 
Why should a fool have money in his hand to buy wisdom
    when he has no sense?

The more literal translation of this verse would be:  Why should a fool have money in his hand to buy wisdom when he has no heart.  Heart is a better translation, of the Hebrew word, lev, because biblically the word heart includes more than sense or intellect.  The heart is made up of intellect or understanding, but also one's affections or desires.  These two elements, understanding and affections, then move to action the third element of our hearts, the will.  The will follows whatever the understanding and affections tell it. 
                   
So the fool in Proverbs is not lacking intelligence.  No, he is lacking heart --- right understanding and desires.  The fool has no heart to fear the Lord.  Proverbs 9:10 says, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom."  If the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, then it is easy to see that our secular universities are good at educating, but not good at producing people with wisdom.  For academic disciplines in our universities have been shaped by atheistic and evolutionary presuppositions, which assume the Lord is non-existent and/or irrelevant.  The first building block of true wisdom has been rejected in our public schools, namely, the fear of the Lord.
                              
The fool in today's proverb comes with "money in his hand to buy wisdom."  Possibly he knows of verses in Proverbs that urge us to come "buy wisdom."  For example, Proverbs 4:4-7 urges us to "get wisdom" four times, but the word "get" is the same Hebrew word, translated as "buy" in today's verse.  The fool in our verse may literally think that wisdom can be bought (cf. Simon in Acts 8)!  But when Proverbs urges us to "buy wisdom" it is speaking metaphorically, not literally.  Waltke writes of the fool: "He cannot interpret figurative language because he has no heart to understand spiritual things."[1]  Waltke also compares the fool to the "grotesque" man who comes with money in hand to buy a prostitute.  But "neither wisdom nor true love can be bought."[2]
                        
In the New Testament we have a surprising example of a man without heart who comes to see Jesus by night:
                      
"Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, 'Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.' Jesus answered him, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born from above he cannot see the kingdom of God.' Nicodemus said to him, 'How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?' Jesus answered, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.  Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.'  Nicodemus said to him, 'How can these things be?' 10 Jesus answered him, 'Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things?'" 
                          
Nicodemus was not only "a ruler of the Jews," but he was also known as "the teacher of Israel."  But despite his education and learning, Nicodemus was in the dark about the kingdom of God, thus the symbolism of coming to Jesus "by night."  Jesus teaches Nicodemus that in order to enter the kingdom of God and see the glory of the King, he needed a new heart, a spiritual transformation, a birth from above by the Spirit.  Nicodemus was so spiritually obtuse, that he, like the fool in Proverbs 17:16, could not interpret Jesus' figurative language because he lacked heart.  "How can a man be born when he is old?" he asks.  In his spiritual poverty, Nicodemus lacked the regenerative work of the Holy Spirit.  He lacked the Spirit to enlighten his darkened understanding and change his corrupt affections, so that he might will to see and find God's wisdom, Jesus Christ.
           
Just as we cannot bring about our first birth, so we cannot bring about our second birth.  Jesus is the giver of the Holy Spirit.  Apart from the Spirit we are unable to see the glory of Jesus Christ and enter his kingdom.  As Paul writes, "Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.  And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual" (1 Corinthians 2:12-13).

Do you have heart?  Do you see the glory of Jesus Christ, the King?  Has your understanding been enlightened and your affections transformed?

When a newborn enters the world and takes their first breath, it is not their last breath.  So it is with the breath of God, the Holy Spirit.  We may not remember exactly when we took our first breath, but we know right now if we are breathing.  Therefore, put into practice the words of the Heidelberg Catechism, which rightly teaches that "God gives his grace and Holy Spirit only to those who pray continually and groan inwardly, asking God for these gifts and thanking him for them."[3]  Seek the Spirit's work today in your heart, and every day, until the day you see your glorious King and enter his kingdom forever.








                                                                                                                                   










[1] Waltke, Proverbs, vol. 2, 56.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 116.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Proverbs 17:13 --- A Description of Our Guilt

Proverbs 17:13
If anyone returns evil for good,
    evil will not depart from his house.
           
This is the third consecutive proverb I would describe as pure law.  This proverb is law because it shows us our sin, and the punishment sin receives.  But the law always has a positive function: it is intended to drive us to Christ, so that we might find his mercy.  The Lord uses the law for our blessing, if we will let the law bring us to our senses.
               
There is no gospel in this verse.  The righteous are not mentioned.  This is only a description of the sinner and his punishment.  But once the law convicts us of our guilt, we will be able to embrace the gospel to find comfort for our souls.  And, we need that comfort, for we are guilty of the sin we see in today's proverb.
                                                
This proverb unveils the enormity of our sin.  The sin described is egregious.  It is black, evil, vile, devilish.  Brady quotes one of the old divines who writes:
                           
            "To render good for evil is divine,
            good for good is human,
            evil for evil is brutish and
            evil for good is devilish."[1]
                    
Solomon was quite familiar with this sin of returning evil for good.  His father, David, returned evil for good to Uriah, one of his loyal soldiers and "mighty men" (cf. 2 Samuel 23:8-39, especially verse 39), by sleeping with his wife and then putting Uriah to death.  Uriah's loyal service to the king and nation was repaid, not with good, but with evil.  Nabal and his foolish, royal counterpart, Saul, treated David in a similar manner, returning evil to David despite all the good he had done for each of them.

Maybe the worst case of repaying evil for good was Israel's treatment of the Son of God.  Jesus came to Israel announcing the good news of the kingdom of God.  He demonstrated the kingdom's presence by healing everyone who came to him.  As Peter said, he "went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him" (Acts 10:38).  But how did the nation repay him for his good?  They crucified him.  When Pilate, the Roman governor, gave them an opportunity to repent of their evil by offering Barabbas to them instead, they doubled down on their evil and said, "His blood be on us and our children!" (Matthew 27:25).[2]

But how is this sin of returning evil for good ours?  When have we ever repaid evil for good? 

The entire human race has returned evil to our good Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer by rebelling against him.  All we have is a gift of God.  Our next breath, our next moment, our daily sustenance, and our very being is a gift of God.  And yet our race has used our breath, being and gifts, all from God, to rebel against him.  The Spirit speaking through the apostle Paul describes humanity's rebellion like this:
"For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.  (Romans 1:19-21)."

What base ingratitude is ours to return to our Creator evil for good; to use his gifts to rebel against him; and, to give the honor due him to idols!

Today's proverb also speaks of the curse of evil that has come upon the whole "house" of Adam.  The whole human race is under the wrath of God.  Adam's house is cursed with an unwanted guest named "evil" that has come to stay with us and will be with us for all eternity.  The only way this unwanted guest will leave is if Christ Jesus enters our hearts.  But if we refuse God's Son, then evil will "not depart" from us for all eternity.  Only by repentance and faith in the second Adam will we receive mercy.

David Gibson eloquently writes to helps us see the truth about ourselves we prefer not to see:
"To die well means I realize death is not simply something that happens to me; it happens to me because I am a sinner. I realize in a sense I cause my own death. To die well means I realize every time I see a coffin, it preaches to me that the world is broken and fallen and under the curse of death---and I am part of it. It means I realize that I am not owed three score years and ten by God. It is only because of his mercy that I am not consumed today. To die well means realizing that from the day I was born I lived under the sentence of death, and I am amazed that God spared me as long as he did. It means I have been heading for death from the moment I was born."[3]

What is needed, then, is a move from Adam's cursed house to Jesus Christ's blessed house!  Hebrews 3:6 speaks of Jesus' people as being members of his blessed house and family.  "Christ is faithful over God's house as a son. And we are his house, if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope."  Only let us be careful to stop returning evil for good, but let us live out our baptismal covenant to believe in Jesus Christ and to love him above anyone or anything else in all of creation.










                           

                                       





[1] Brady, Proverbs, 490.
[2] In Scripture, Israel functions as the corporate Adam, repeating Adam's sin, and receiving the resultant curse on account of their sin. Israel fails to be the second Adam, and so Jesus comes as the true Adam and true Israel, succeeding where both failed.
[3] David Gibson.  Living Life Backwards: How Ecclesiastes Teaches Us to Live in Light of the End, 109-110.

Share This