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.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Proverbs 17:11 --- Law and Gospel in Proverbs

Proverbs 17:11 
An evil man seeks only rebellion,
    and a cruel messenger will be sent against him.
The Protestant Reformation recovered both the law and the gospel.  The law was once again seen in its severity, requiring perfect obedience, and threatening eternal punishment away from the blessed presence of God, who alone can give us eternal happiness and well-being.  The gospel was recovered in all of its sweetness, showing us the kindness and favor of God on account of Christ, who has met all of the law's demands by his perfect life, death, and resurrection. 
The law shows us our sin; the gospel shows us how we can be saved from our sin.  The law demands a perfect obedience we do not have; the gospel shows us a perfect Savior, through whom we may be justified and accepted.  The law threatens us with eternal damnation; the gospel promises us there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
This law and gospel distinction runs throughout the Scriptures, from Genesis to Revelation.  The bad news in the Bible is very bad, but the good news in the Bible is very good.  The distinction between the law and gospel is not the same as the distinction between the Old and New Testaments, which has to do with the promise and fulfillment of Christ's coming.  No, the law and gospel distinction existed as early as Genesis 3, which already teaches us about the penalty of the law and the gracious provision of the gospel to restore us to God's favor and blessing.
I say all of this because today's proverb gives us law.  This proverb is law because it shows us our sin, and by implication it demands perfect obedience.  This proverb is law because it threatens us with eternal damnation in its second line.  As such, today's proverb is not very cheery, except that once we have seen and experienced the terror of the law, it then becomes easier to see the blessing of the gospel, and our hearts are more inclined to accept the kindness of the Father in the offer of his Son.
Our tendency because of our sin is to try and water down the law's severity.  The first way our sinful hearts try to do this in line one is to reduce the category of "evil" so that it does not include us, but only our neighbor.  We then reduce evil still further to include only few of our neighbors!  Our sinful hearts want to see the "evil man" as someone who could not possibly be us, but only a political tyrant or personal enemy, far removed from who we are. 
Jesus always tends to foil these sorts of attempts to water down the law.  Consider his passing remark to his disciples, who have just asked him to teach them to pray in Luke 11:1.  Jesus says, "If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children . . ." (Luke 11:13).  What!  Did Jesus just matter of factly call his own disciples evil?!  Yes, he did.

John Calvin once said that we Christians are all partly unbelievers till the day we die.  Now, if we are partly unbelievers, that must mean we are sinners till the day we die.  And, if we are sinners, then we are evil, for what is sin?  Well, sin, according to 1 John 3:4, is rebellion or lawlessness.  The apostle John teaches "sin is lawlessness," which means rebellion.  But rebellion against whom?  Rebellion against the great King of the universe; rebellion against God.  And rebellion by the creature against the Creator deserves, as anyone should be able to see, the most severe punishment.  For if there are crimes committed against finite human beings that deserve a terrible punishment human tribunals cannot fully exact, then how much more crimes against the eternal God who gives us life, breath, and all things?
But let us move to the gospel.  Yes, Jesus called his own disciples, evil.  But look what he went on to say:  "If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"  Jesus promises us the new birth!  Jesus promises to give the third member of the eternal trinity to indwell us forever, evil though we still are! 

Yesterday's devotion pointed to our need for a heart transplant, to remove our heart of stone and give us a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26).  But the very next verse teaches us this heart transplant, we so desperately need, comes to us when the Spirit is given to us:  "And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules" (Ezekiel 36:27).

The "cruel messenger" that is sent to evil men like us, who are rebellious, is death.  For the unbeliever, this death means the ultimate penalty of hell, and exclusion from God's blessed presence forever.  But for us who have come to believe in Christ, this cruel messenger has been transformed by Jesus' death.  For in Christ our death "puts an end to our sinning and is our entrance into eternal life!"[1] two very good things!  This is the gospel for those who are still evil, but now want to live a new way because the Spirit has been freely given to us by our Lord.  We are united to Christ as his still sinful, but now washed people! 

We may praise, then, our triune God, using the words of the apostle in Romans 11:22: 
"Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God's kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness."  Let us continue in his kindness by walking in the power of his Spirit, no longer controlled by our sinful nature, and washed continually by the blood of Christ.  Amen.


[1] Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 42.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Proverbs 17:10 --- Pharaohs and Centurions, Swords and Needles

Proverbs 17:10 
A rebuke goes deeper into a man of understanding
    than a hundred blows into a fool.
Today's proverb is a janus verse that looks back to the previous verse, but looks forward to introduce a new section (verses 10-15).  Janus was the Roman god of transitions, with two faces, one looking backwards and one looking forward.  Proverbs 17:10 qualifies yesterday's verse, teaching us that covering and forgiving sin does not mean overlooking sin as trivial, nor does it negate the need to rebuke sin when necessary.
Today's verse teaches us the importance of teachability.  A man of understanding will repent through just a word from the Lord.  Think of David, who repents at the Lord's rebuke, "You are the man!" (2 Samuel 12:7).  Or, even more, think of Peter, who needs just a look from his Lord (Luke 22:60-62) to mourn his sin.  On the other end of the spectrum is Pharaoh, whose heart was so hard that not even the blows of ten awful plagues could move him from his foolish and sinful resolution, "Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice?" (Exodus 5:2).
Why do some people repent at just a mere word, while others refuse to repent even when given "a hundred blows?"  Consider the story of the centurion in Matthew 8:

When he [Jesus] had entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to him, appealing to him, “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly.” And he said to him, “I will come and heal him.” But the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” 10 When Jesus heard this, he marveled and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith.

Why was one word from Jesus enough for this centurion?  "Only say the word," the centurion says to the Lord.  The centurion believed Jesus was Lord.  The centurion was commended by Jesus for his faith.  The centurion viewed himself as "a man under authority."  Is that how you and I view ourselves as believers in Jesus Christ?  Or are we more like Pharaoh, "Who is the Lord that I should obey his voice?"

In line one of our proverb we see the attitude of faith.  It is the attitude of the righteous, who see themselves as belonging to Christ Jesus their Lord.  "I am not my own, but belong --- body and soul, in life and in death --- to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ."[1]  As those who are baptized into Christ, we have put on Christ, and we live no longer for ourselves, but for him who loved us and gave himself for us (Galatians 3:27; 2 Corinthians 5:14-15).  The attitude of faith is to revere the words of the Father and the Son.  The rule of the Father for his children is to listen to the Son:  "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him" (Matthew 17:5).

In line two, we see the attitude of unbelief:  "Who is the Lord that I should obey his voice?"  The fool is absolutely wedded to following his desires.  No amount of words, no amount of blows, no amount of suffering from his own sinful foolishness will dissuade him from his basic mindset: to live the way he thinks is best.  The fool is so "thoroughly enamored of his own poor judgment"[2] that he will not bow to the Lord and his will.  Proverbs 3:5 says, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding," but the fool will have none of it.  Fools refuse in their unbelief to see themselves as a "man or woman under authority."

We live in a sad world, where all around us we see sinners who say, "Who is the Lord that I should obey his voice?"  Every false religion in the world says exactly that to Jesus Christ the resurrected king.  The Buddhists, the Muslims, the Hindus and every other world religion says in effect, "Who is Jesus that I should obey his voice?"  Even large chunks of the professing Christian church say the same.  Who is Jesus that we should obey what he says about the beginning of life, the definition of marriage, the sinfulness of homosexual practice, or even the gender of the human race as male and female?  But in the end, they will all find out that there is no escaping the Word and will of God.  Jesus crucified, is now Jesus the resurrected Lord, and every soul must answer to him as Judge.

You can take a sword and swing it over and over against a granite rock and you will only ruin your sword.  But you can take a small needle and it penetrates deeply into human flesh.  What we need is a heart transplant that will remove our heart of stone and give us a heart of flesh.  Thankfully, the Lord has given us a promise that is available freely to the hand of faith:  "And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26). 

Ask the Lord to give you a new heart.  Ask the Lord to remove your heart of stony unbelief that says, "Who is the Lord that I should obey his voice?"   Ask the Lord to give you a heart of faith that truly believes Jesus is Lord, and you are a person under his authority. 

[1] Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 1.
[2] Ironside, Proverbs, 213.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Proverbs 17:8 --- Calculating Wisely

Proverbs 17:8 
A bribe is like a magic stone in the eyes of the one who gives it;
    wherever he turns he prospers.
As we have seen again and again in Proverbs, wisdom is living in the light of the end, when we will either enjoy a blessed or cursed future, depending on our relationship to the triune God.  Sadly, most people live as though this world is all there is.  Most people prepare for retirement the way God's Word calls us to prepare for eternity.  Very few live with the biblical understanding that preparing for the life to come is the way to truly live here on earth.  And so, most people live pretend lives, denying the one absolute certainty of life in a fallen world, namely, death is coming and after that the judgment of God (Hebrews 9:27).  Most people further pretend their lives can be eternally significant and satisfying apart from the only eternal God by gaining the temporary things of this world that are as ephemeral as a soap bubble, which is here one moment and gone the next. 
To be foolish is to fail to calculate our lives in the light of our Creator, who alone is eternal and our judge.  In today's proverb, this foolishness is once again on display as we see foolish men using bribes to get their way, but failing to bring God's displeasure and judgment into their calculations. 
Today's proverb looks at bribes from the point of view of "the eyes of the one who gives it."  This foolish man thinks he has been quite wise and crafty through his use of a bribe.  The bribe appears to give him prosperity.  But the One whom he did not factor into his calculations sees all things, and the man's act has brought judgment upon himself.  He has actually made a horribly bad deal for himself when the big picture is taken into account --- the picture that includes the One to whom we must all give account (Hebrews 4:13).
Line one speaks of a "magic stone."  We have a saying in English that is similar when we say that something works like a charm.  Literally, the Hebrew says a "stone of favor."  A bribe is used to influence or buy the favor of someone.  So a stone of favor, a bribe, works like magic with people who love money and power.  As we often say, "money talks."

But as Christians, money is not our god.  Bribery is clearly prohibited in Scripture (Exodus 23:8).  Bribery goes against the character of our God, whose image we are to reflect (Deuteronomy 10:17).  Bribery cannot be justified by saying, "Well, that's just the way the world works."  That may be true, but we don't belong to the world.  We have been called out of the world to follow Christ Jesus.  When our Lord said of himself, "The Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head (Matthew 8:20)," he was not claiming to be homeless.  He himself had a home in Capernaum and he was welcomed into the homes of his family and disciples.  Instead, he was teaching us that the world system, which has rejected the Father and the Son has no place for him, nor his ways.  Therefore, we, his followers, cannot go along with the bribery of the world, which justifies such unjust practices that breed poverty, as merely the price of doing business.

It appears that when the apostle Paul was unjustly imprisoned in Acts, the Roman governor, Felix, was looking for a bribe to secure his release.  Instead, what Felix received was a presentation of the gospel, with a particular emphasis on righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come:
"After some days Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish, and he sent for Paul and heard him speak about faith in Christ Jesus.  And as he reasoned about righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment, Felix was alarmed and said, 'Go away for the present. When I get an opportunity I will summon you.'  At the same time he hoped that money would be given him by Paul. So he sent for him often and conversed with him."  (Acts 24:24-26)

The good news of today's proverb is that God's people have a true "stone of favor" in Jesus Christ, our Lord.  He is the stone the world rejected, but is for us who believe, the stone who gives us favor with the Father and indescribable spiritual wealth and blessing.  The apostle Peter described it like this in 1 Peter 2:4-8:

             "As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and                       precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a                   holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it                 stands in Scripture:

                 'Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone,
                    a cornerstone chosen and precious,
                 and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.'

             So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe,

                 'The stone that the builders rejected
                    has become the cornerstone,'


                 'A stone of stumbling,
                   and a rock of offense.'

            They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do."

Have you calculated wisely?  Have you calculated in light of the end?  Do you possess the true "Stone of favor," who gives himself without cost (except to himself) to those who receive him by faith?



Thursday, January 25, 2018

Proverbs 17:7 --- Come, Lord Jesus

Proverbs 17:7 
Fine speech is not becoming to a fool;
    still less is false speech to a prince.
Today's proverb reminds me of Martin Luther's response to the great renaissance scholar Erasmus concerning Erasmus' recently published book:
"They [your arguments] have been refuted already so often by me, and beaten down and completely pulverized in Philip Melanchthon's Commonplaces . . . . Compared with it, your book struck me as so cheap and paltry that I felt profoundly sorry for you, defiling as you were your very elegant and ingenious style with such trash, and quite disgusted at the utterly unworthy matter that was being conveyed in such rich ornaments of eloquence, like refuse or ordure [excrement] being carried in gold and silver vases."[1]
In line one of our proverb, fools have nothing spiritually edifying or God glorifying to say.  Not only that, what they do say can be harmful and even fatal to the souls of others, for fools are fools precisely because they have believed lies about God and his world.  And so, if such a godless fool happens to be gifted with rhetorical skill, it simply is incongruous for such beautiful style to be married to such cancerous content.  This is the point of line one.

The movement from line one to line two is from the lesser to the greater.  If it is bad, and it is!, for fools to have eloquent speech by which they deceive others with falsehoods about God and his world, how much worse is it for princes to lie and not be people of the truth. 

The movement from the lesser to the greater means the second line is the main point our heavenly Father is making to us his children, for we are sons and daughters of the great King, Jesus Christ.  Through Jesus we have been adopted into the heavenly Father's family.  Our King Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6).  For us then to believe lies, speak lies, and live out lies, given our privilege and identity, is terribly unbecoming!  We must live out our identity as the Father's children in the royal family of his Son, and this means true speech for us, not false speech; true beliefs, not false beliefs; a good and honest life, not a wicked and dishonest life.

The connection between lying and the covetousness of the previous section is this: coveting always leads to hiding, and to hide we must lie.  The pattern of Eve in the garden (Genesis 3) or Achan in the new land of promise (Joshua 7) or Ananias and Sapphira in the new covenant era (Acts 5) is always the same.  We covet, we take, and we hide, and hiding involves lying.  How vital it is then for us to regularly confess our sins before the Lord, so we can live truthfully and honestly in fellowship with him in his light. As 1 John 1:5-10 says:
"This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness the Lord.  6If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But 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. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us."

The word for fool in today's proverb is used only three times in Proverbs: in today's verse, 17:21, and 30:22.  The godless, harsh and unreasonable Nabal in 1 Samuel 25, fittingly bore the name that is the Hebrew word for fool, nabal.  Waltke writes that "the nabal curses God (Job 2:9-10), insults him (Psalm 74:22) and his servants (Psalm 39:8), and has no regard for his benefits (Deuteronomy 32:6) or judgment (Jeremiah 17:11) because he denies that God exists to uphold a moral order (Psalm 14:1). "[2]

Reverse all that the fool believes and lives for, and this gives us a good idea of what it means to live out our identity in Christ.  Rather than curse God we bless him.  Rather than insulting the Lord and his people, we thank and praise our triune God in love, and his family is now our family.  Rather than disregard God's benefits, we rejoice in Christ and his benefits, which come to us in sheer grace, for we know we deserve only his righteous judgment.  Rather than deny his coming judgment, we rightly fear God and we seek to persuade others to flee the wrath of God (2 Corinthians 5:10-11) we all deserve in our foolishness.  Finally, rather than saying no to God in our hearts by denying his existence and moral order, we say yes to our triune God, and praise him for his beauty and glory, and for his moral order that reflects his beauty and glory. 

Enlighten our minds, O Lord, by your Word; change our affections, Father, in your tender care of us;  strengthen our wills, O Spirit, by pouring the triune love into our hearts, that we might live no longer for ourselves, but for our Lord who died for us and rose to rule us in his wisdom and grace.  Come, Lord Jesus, and make our body and heart your home.  Amen.




[1] Martin Luther's Basic Theological Writings. Timothy F Lull, editor, 174.
[2] Waltke, Proverbs, vol. 2, 47.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

A Reformation Hymn About Sabbath Rest and Worship

I wrote this hymn based on Matthew 11:28-12:8 and the Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 103. It is based on a Reformation understanding of Sabbath and Luther's understanding of worship, to which I adhere and believe to be Scriptural. The meter is unusual: 12 11 12 11. It fits nicely the tune KREMSER which is found online at the Trinity Hymnal website.
We praise You O Christ You're our treasure and longing,
for You are our Lord who has won victory.
You came in Your mercy from heaven to save us,
to save from damnation and sin's misery.

We rest not in works for no works could dare save us,
we rest in salvation that Jesus has won.
The cross was the place where He suffered our judgment,
we rest in the work our Redeemer has done.
Each day we will rest in the Lord through His Spirit,
from ways that are evil and profit us not.
And so we're beginning His Sabbath eternal,
our bodies our spirits our Savior has bought.
How great is our Lord who will teach us and feed us,
for Jesus is present whenever we meet.
He leads us in worship and breathes forth His Spirit,
we kneel in His presence and learn at His feet.

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.

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