Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Wealth that Matters --- Proverbs 11:24

Proverbs 11:24
One gives freely, yet grows all the richer;
    another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want.

Verses 23-27 form a unit.  Verses 24-26 are about generosity and its opposite.  These middle verses on generosity are framed by verses 23 and 27, which are quite similar in form and content:
            23 The desire of the righteous ends only in good,
                the expectation of the wicked in wrath.
            27 Whoever diligently seeks good seeks favor,
                but evil comes to him who searches for it.
This frame is important, because it will keep us from misinterpreting the verses in the middle that deal with money and possessions, which we, because of our sinful nature, are prone to interpret in a less than heavenly and unspiritual manner.

Coming, then, to verse 24, I am in agreement with Derek Kidner when he says, "This verse emphasizes the paradox that you must sometimes lose to gain.  It is drawn from the business world, not necessarily from farming . . . and its application is left quite open.  But almsgiving is an obvious example (Psalm 112:9; 2 Corinthians 9:6-9), and, more deeply, the giving of oneself (John 12:24-25)."

The paradox in our proverb is that, logically, giving something away should make us grow poorer, and similarly, holding on to what we have, should help us retain our wealth.  The problem with this calculus, however, is that it does not take into account the sovereignty of the Lord over all things!  This earthly way of doing math might work in a virtual world without the sovereign Lord, but in the real world in which we exist, the Lord is providentially in control of all things.  Therefore, he ensures that both sides of the paradox are true: "One gives freely, yet grows all the richer; another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want."

What the literary frame helps us to guard against is the ungodly idea that we should give to the Lord and others in order to get material wealth.  Such a notion is sinful and heinous, and it contradicts the literary frame of our text, which teaches us that the desire of the righteous is the Lord himself, whose kingdom his people seek.

The righteous, those who belong to the Lord through the new birth, are not motivated by material wealth.  Rather, they are motivated by being rich toward God.  The Spirit of God has poured out the love of God into our hearts, and we live to please our heavenly Father and his Son, our Lord, and to bless others, whom we long to see prosper spiritually especially, but also materially so that their basic needs are met.

Wealth has the power of becoming a rival to the kingship of Jesus in our lives.  This is why we as believers should never hoard our wealth, but rather use it to advance Christ's kingdom.  The only way to break the power of money and possessions in our lives is through giving it away, because we love the triune God and live in him.  If we do not give our  wealth away for the kingdom of God and the blessing of others, we are in danger of being poor toward God, which Jesus warned about in Luke 12:20-21:  "But God said to him, 'Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?'  So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God."

Notice, what the grace and love of God did in the hearts of the early Christians in Asia.  Notice, how they saw giving as a great blessing and privilege, because they understood the idea of being rich toward God:
"We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part" (2 Corinthians 8:1-2).

These believers were generous, because they loved the Lord, and had given themselves first to the Lord.  And, if you give yourself to the Lord in view of his grace, salvation, and mercy to you (Romans 12:1), then your money will follow, not begrudgingly, but as an opportunity to show your love for Him.  Thus, we read:
"For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints— and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us" (2 Corinthians 8:3-5).

Are you rich toward God?  May the Lord give you the kind of wealth that alone truly matters.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

A Grotesque but Profound Picture

Proverbs 11:22
Like a gold ring in a pig's snout
    is a beautiful woman without discretion.
This proverb is one of the most memorable and shocking proverbs in the entire book.  It is also one of the most profound.  It is memorable and shocking because of its bold comparison.  It is profound because of what the comparison portrays about our fallen human nature.

Let's begin by looking at the comparisons.  There are two:
1.      A gold ring is compared to a beautiful woman;
2.      A pig's snout is compared to a woman without discretion.
The first comparison compares the outer person.  A woman's physical, outer beauty is compared to a gold ring.  Nothing shocking about that.

The second comparison, however, compares the woman's inner nature with a pig's snout.  That is a bit unflattering and shocking, especially when we consider what pigs are like and what they do with their noses.

I grew up in large population areas, far removed from the country and farms.  So I haven't had much firsthand experience with pigs.  But one of the beauties of the internet, at least for my narrow purpose in this instance, is the ability to watch pigs online and learn about them.  I learned pigs love to get dirty.  They use their snouts to root in search for food.  They love to bury their noses in the ground almost to the point of covering their eyes, and they seem to do this incessantly.  Besides this rooting instinct, pigs also love to wallow in the mud to keep themselves cool and protect themselves from bug bites, and they do not seem to care if the mud in which they wallow is filled with swill and feces.  Furthermore, and this comes firsthand from my wife who grew up on a farm, mother pigs are not exactly motherly.  They tend to lay their large bodies on their little ones, either crippling them or killing them.

So, comparing a woman to a pig is not flattering, but it is memorable and shocking.  But why is this comparison also profound?  What does it teach us?

Verse 22 forms an inclusio with verse 16.  Two women, one righteous and one wicked, form the bookends that shelve this small group of proverbs.  Remember what we said about the gracious woman in verse 16: "Because the bodies of women are more receptive than men's, women become a better picture of discipleship."  If verse 16 is showing us a picture of discipleship, verse 22 is showing us a picture of anti-discipleship.  Verse 22 is really showing us a picture of the whole fallen human race.  Though we were created for intimate union with our Lord and Husband, to bear for him the fruit of righteousness, with the goal of obtaining glory from him, we now are just the opposite.  Having been estranged and divorced from our Lord and Husband, we root with our noses in the earthly pursuit of wicked things (or good things we turn into idols), and thus, we mar his image, and bring dishonor to ourselves, both now and for eternity.

This picture ought to grieve us.  It ought to give us a better understanding of just how grievous our fall has been.  Look at that pig with his nose buried in the ground, rooting for satisfaction from this world.  That is you and me in our fallen nature.  Look at how incessant is the pig's instinct to pursue the things of this earth only, with no thought of looking toward heaven and the Lord.  That is you and me in our rebellious nature.

We were created to be the Lord's bride.  We were created for intimacy and closest communion with him.  We were created to have the seed of his word abiding and bearing fruit in us.  We were created to reflect his image, but we have marred that image and caked it with the dirt and grime and feces of our selfishness and sin.  We have loved created things more than our Creator and Redeemer, and so our heart, our affections, our understanding, and our will, are all in pursuit of the wrong goals. 

And the pursuit of wrong goals is not a small thing.  The picture is grotesque and unfitting.  As grotesque as a pig rooting all day and every day, with his snout buried in the ground. As unfitting as a pig with a beautiful ring in its snout.  Such is the grotesque and unfitting fallen nature in man, who was made for union and communion with his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, but has traded that beauty for the filth and mud of living for lesser things.

If by grace you have been united to your Lord and Husband, Jesus Christ, then no longer offer your body to the service of sin and selfishness, but rather, offer your body to him in love for his service:
"Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present      yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness." (Romans 6:13) 

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Proverbs 11:20: Morality Apart from the Lord?

Proverbs 11:20 
Those of crooked heart are an abomination to the Lord,
    but those of blameless ways are his delight.

This verse warns us of a mistake we are prone to make, especially in a secular culture that denies the Lord.  The mistake I speak of is the mistaken notion that it is possible to live moral lives apart from the Lord.  We are greatly mistaken if we think morality has nothing to do with the Lord.  We are greatly mistaken if we think that we can live moral lives, but care nothing about pleasing or displeasing the Lord.

Eric Lane rightly says, "Morality is not just keeping the rules or adopting the best policy, but pleasing or displeasing God."  Lane goes on to say of the Lord, "He is interested in motive, particularly in our attitude to himself.  It may be 'the best policy' to be honest and even kind, but in that case it is done out of self-love not love for God or even for the other person (1 Corinthians 13:3).  I may gain in the short term but my heart is not right with God and I shall ultimately face his, 'I never knew you.  Away from me, you evil-doers' (Matthew 7:23)."[1]

Love longs for the approval of the one beloved.  But who is it that we are to love supremely?  Jesus tells us in his summary of the Old Testament, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind" (Matthew 22:37).  How can we claim to be his if we have no love for him?  And if we love the Lord, his approval, "his delight," and not his disgust, is what we long for.

Love longs for the approval of the one beloved.  But who is our beloved?  Is it not Jesus Christ, who is the Father's beloved Son?  No wonder the apostle Paul penned these sobering words, "If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed" (1 Corinthians 16:22).  Learning to please our beloved Lord, our Husband, is learning to conform our ways and our affections to his.  We are to love what Jesus loves and hate what Jesus hates. 

At this point we must cry out for the light and oil of God's Word and Spirit!  We see our need.  We see how far we have fallen short.  We need the light of God's Word to show us what pleases our Lord.  But we also need the oil of his Spirit, to heal our souls and breathe new life, understanding, and affections in them.

Light comes to us from our proverb when we consider the meaning of the phrase, "crooked heart."  What is a crooked heart?  This description is of the crooked heart is helpful:
"Whatever is crooked bends away from what is straight.  Thus whenever the Bible speaks about crooked things, it presupposes a straight standard, a standard grounded in the character of God himself: 'Good and upright is the Lord' (Psalm 25:8).  Since the Lord is upright, his people must be upright."[2]
Kitchen describes those with a crooked heart by saying, "At their basic core, they are twisted and turned away from God."[3]  But the crooked heart is not just a description of the criminals in our society, but rather the description of all of our hearts apart from the oil and breath of the Spirit, who can change our hearts.  Thus, Peter says in his Pentecost sermon, and so he addresses us as well, "Save yourselves from this crooked generation" (Acts 2:40).

We save ourselves when we come in repentance and faith to Jesus Christ.  Jesus is the one to whom the Father said at his baptism, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased."  Baptized into Christ by the Spirit, we too are beloved, and are well pleasing to the Father.  Jesus is the one to whom the Father said at his transfiguration that prefigured his present glory, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him." 

Are you listening to him?  Are you learning from him?  Are you learning what pleases and displeases your Husband, your Lord?  Are you crying out to him for a greater measure of light from his Word, and life from his Spirit?  If we are united to Christ, and are bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh, then surely his pleasure and displeasure will be our highest concern.



[1] Lane, Proverbs, 102.
[2] Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, 183.
[3] Kitchen, Proverbs, 251.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

New Hymn Based on Matthew 3:1-17

Repent the Kingdom Is at Hand

Suggested tune: WALTHAM (  Meter: LM.  Based on Matthew 3:1-17.  Words: William Weber, 2016.

v. 1
Repent, the kingdom is at hand,
so judge yourself that you may stand.
The King of glory came to earth,
and all surpassing is His worth.

v. 2
Repent, confessing all your sins,
how dark our souls when we see Him.
He is the light, the righteous One,
loved by the Father is the Son.

v. 3
Repent, for Jesus Christ is King,
and He is Lord of everything.
Wake from your sleep and come to Him,
for He can save you from your sin.

v. 4
Repent of pride, which self exalts,
how long will you His reign assault?
Our Lord, You rule at God's right hand,
Yours is the honor to command.

v. 5
Repent, for heaven's opened wide,
the Spirit's given to His bride.
In Christ the Father is well pleased,
His cross the wrath of God appeased.

v. 6
Repent, and live for Christ each day,
abide in Him and do not stray.
For Jesus is the righteous root,
so stay in Him to bear Him fruit.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Proverbs 11:12 --- Getting Rid of Malice

Proverbs 11:12
Whoever belittles his neighbor lacks sense,
    but a man of understanding remains silent.

We saw in Proverbs 11:11 that the gospel is a verbal blessing.  It tell us the good news about what the Father has done for sinners in Christ.  "God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16).  Therefore, the desire of the Christian is to bless others, not to curse them; to love our neighbors, not despise them; to speak the gospel to them, which will save them from perishing.

Proverbs 11:12, then, appropriately follows from the previous verse.  For line one of verse 12 tells us how foolish and heartless it is to despise our neighbor and express this malice in speech.  The Hebrew verb behind the English verb "belittles," is a word that means despise.  But it also describes "an expressed and vocalized contempt."[1]  It is difficult to capture both these notions in one word.  "Belittles" is the ESV's attempt, but I am not sure it captures the malice of the Hebrew word.  When we insult and slander another person, it comes from a heart that despises the other person.  The foolish person verbally abuses his neighbor, but the Christian who desires others to believe the gospel which blesses, refuses to speak maliciously about others.  Thus, the Spirit commands us to bless, and not curse: "Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them" (Romans 12:14).

Where does this contempt for others come from?  And, how do we get rid of this contempt for others lodged in our hearts?

Contempt comes from pride.  Pride is the primordial sin of the human race.  Pride is lifting ourselves to the place that belongs to God alone, by determining for ourselves good and evil (Genesis 3:5).  Pride is making ourselves equal with God.  Pride is leaning on our own understanding and our own feelings to determine what is right and wrong, wise and foolish (cf. Proverbs 3:5).  When we view ourselves as wiser than God and superior to him in determining right and wrong, naturally we will look down on others.  How could we not look down on others, and even God himself, from the morally superior place we have given ourselves?!  Thus, sadly, pride even leads us to look down on God and despise him.

Derek Kidner wrote this remarkable line in commenting on this verse:  "The most misleading way to feel wise is to feel superior."[2]  But, of course, every member of the human race feels superior because of the pride that has brought about the self-enthronement of our understanding, emotions, and will --- in other words the enthronement of our hearts above the triune God's words and wisdom.  Jesus said, "Man lives on every word that comes from the mouth of God" (Matthew 4:4), but we say, "No, I live by what my heart tells me is best."

How do we get rid of contempt for others?  The fundamental step is to dethrone ourselves and acknowledge Jesus as our Lord.  We have to get off his throne, and let God's anointed King command us by his words.  Contempt for others comes from looking down at them.  Therefore, we must repent of the pride that has arrogantly lifted our understanding above the omniscient and only wise God!

Pride blinds us to who God is, who we are, and who our neighbor is.  The only antidote to such ignorance is the revealed Word of God.  When we see who the Lord is, then we see who we are.  When we see his holiness, then we see our sinfulness.  When we see him high and lifted up in his glory, the great I AM who alone has life, power, and blessing, then we see ourselves as creatures who depend on him every millisecond of the day, dependent on his unmerited favor for life and blessing.  When we see that he alone has wisdom, then we repent of our desire to be wise apart from him and for usurping his throne.  And, when we see that he is indescribably good to the point of taking the judgment his fallen and rebellious image bearers deserve, then we confess our misplaced trust in ourselves and idols, and begin to trust him.

When we take this low place before our Creator and Redeemer, then we no longer look down with contempt on our fellow, fallen image bearers.  Instead, filled with the understanding God's Word alone can give, our hearts go out in pity and prayer for our neighbors.  For we too are cut from the same sinful quarry, and the same stained cloth as every person on the planet.  And though we are different than others because we are Christians, we are Christians only because we have received the undeserved grace of God in Christ.  And, surely, it is insanity to boast about something we have not earned, but rather have received and continue to receive every day of our lives! (1 Corinthians 4:7).

Pride leads to contempt of others, including God himself.  Humility before God leads to love for others, including God himself.  It also brings us delight:

            'Tis the gift to be simple,
            'tis the gift to be free,
            'tis the gift to come down
            where we ought to be,
            and when we find ourselves in the place just right,
            'twill be in the valley of love and delight.[3]




[1] Kitchen, Proverbs, 246.
[2] Kidner, Proverbs, 86.
[3] From the song, Simple Gifts.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Direction from Our City --- Proverbs 11:10

Proverbs 11:10
When it goes well with the righteous, the city rejoices,
    and when the wicked perish there are shouts of gladness.

Both lines of this proverb have as their theme, joy.  There is joy in the city when it goes well with the righteous, and there is joy in the city when the wicked perish. 

When the announcements came in America that Nazi Germany, and then Japan, were defeated, there was great joy in the streets of the cities.  Pictures of the joy in the streets of New York and other American cities on the front pages of the newspapers throughout the country became iconic.  The joy was based, at least in part, on the fact that righteousness had prevailed and wickedness was defeated. 

Though the end of World War II provides an illustration of this proverb, the city in Proverbs 11:10 is not just any city.  The city in our proverb is Jerusalem.  Solomon is our author, and as Gary Brady writes, "For Solomon 'the city' was, no doubt, Jerusalem."[1] 

Jerusalem experienced this joy on one occasion when the Baal-worshiping queen, Athalia, was put to death.  In Athalia's purge of the royal family (David's descendents), she missed a little infant in her murderous rage, named Joash.  After six years of her wicked reign as queen, this little boy, Joash, was anointed as king in the temple by the priest, Jehoiada, surrounded by a temple guard.  Athalia and her devoted followers were put to death, the people of Jerusalem resolved to follow the Lord and his anointed king, and the temple built to Baal in the city was torn down.  The result was both joy and peace:  "So all the people of the land rejoiced, and the city was quiet after Athaliah had been put to death with the sword at the king's house" (2 Kings 11:20).

But if "the city" in this proverb is not just any city, one must ask the further question, is the city earthly Jerusalem?  One must keep in mind that the earthly city of Jerusalem was only a type or shadow of the true and lasting city that always rejoices with the salvation of the righteous and the judgment of the wicked.  This true Jerusalem is the heavenly city that Hebrews 11 describes, which all of God's faithful people have longed for:
"For he [Abraham] was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God." (11:10)
"But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city." (11:16)

In this city, the Jerusalem above, God's will is perfectly done.  Its citizens rejoice in both God's salvation and judgment (Revelation 19:1-2).  In fact, our God never saves apart from his judgment.  These two things always go together.  Think of all of God's salvific acts, and you will find that they are all works of both judgment and salvation.  So, for example, righteous Noah and his family are saved, but a wicked world is judged.  Israel is saved through the Red Sea, but Pharaoh and his army drown.  The enemy nations around Israel oppress them, but God raises a judge to defeat them, and Israel is saved. 

But the greatest act of God's salvation came about when Jesus set his face to go to Jerusalem (Luke 9:51) to die in the city that "kills the prophets" (Luke 13:34).  There in Jerusalem, the city of the great king puts to death its rightful king, outside of its gates.  There at the cross, in an act of unimaginable love, the Creator takes the judgment his creatures deserve, and by that judgment we are saved.

By putting the Son of God to death, "Jerusalem proves to be the place which epitomizes the 'world' in its hostile response to God's truth and light."[2]  The cross definitively teaches us that the city the people of God must look for, just like Abraham and the Old Testament believers, is the heavenly Jerusalem (cf. Hebrews 12:22), whose designer and builder is God.  It is that city which gives us our ethical direction, and is our true home.  Therefore, let us not look to this present evil age for direction or for illusive utopian cities in a world that has rejected God and his Son.  Instead let us go outside the city with our crucified Lord, and with all the people of God, seek the city that is to come:
"So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured.  For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come" (Hebrews 13:12-14).


[1] Brady, Proverbs, 293.
[2] P. W. L. Walker in the New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, 591.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Proverbs 11:9 --- Knowledge that Leads to Life

Proverbs 11:9 
With his mouth the godless man would destroy his neighbor,
    but by knowledge the righteous are delivered.

This verse is not about slander.  I agree with Derek Kidner that the godless man is not slandering his neighbor, but rather undermining his faith in the Lord.  Kidner refers to an older commentator (Moffatt) and says, "Moffatt takes his [the godless man's] talk to be slanderous, but the second line suggests that it is, rather, subversive, undermining true values.  The best defense is knowledge . . . so that you bypass his distortions."[1]

"The 'godless' or 'profane' person is one who goes through life ignoring God."[2]  Listening, then, to the godless man and imbibing his godless worldview is dangerous to the soul, because it can lead us away from the salvation that comes from knowing the Father and the Son (John 17:3).  Jay Adams recognizes the danger when he says, "You cannot go East and West at the same time without injury to yourself.  You must choose: will you receive God's counsel or someone else's?"[3]

Knowledge is our safeguard against apostasy.  Knowledge or wisdom delivers the righteous from the false teaching and worldview of the godless man (see Proverbs 2:10-16).  The godless man may be a friend or co-worker or pastor or an unbelieving world, mass media, or college curriculum.  But the danger to the soul, wherever it comes from, is real because we live in a spiritual battleground.  The church lives in enemy territory as an outpost or embassy of the kingdom of God.  We seek the salvation and blessing of the world, but nevertheless, we must be on guard, for two kingdoms vie for our souls, the kingdom of darkness and the kingdom of light:
"He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins" (Colossians 1:13-14).

But, sadly, we live in a time when knowledge of the truth and of our triune God are at all-time lows.  The very knowledge our proverb tells us can deliver from the destruction of apostasy, is itself attacked, even in the church.  Knowledge of the Bible and the truth are downplayed in many circles, even though the knowledge of the Scriptures can bring us to salvation and union with Jesus Christ:

"But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ  Jesus" (2 Timothy 3:14-15). 

Charles Quarles is a professor of New Testament and Biblical Studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.  For several years, he has given a brief test to incoming students at an evangelical Christian college designed to measure their understanding of the Christian faith.  Over a thousand students have taken the test, and 90% of the students claim to be Christians.  The results are astonishing and sad[4]:

  • ·         78% believe that all people are basically good.
  • ·         65% cannot identify a simple definition of new birth in a multiple-choice question.
  • ·         54% think that faith in Jesus is unnecessary for salvation.
  • ·         54% affirm that Jesus forgives believers but deny that he transforms them.
  • ·         42% believe that people go to heaven because of their personal morality rather than because of Jesus' sacrificial death.
  • ·         32% do not know that Christianity affirms the deity of Jesus Christ.
  • ·         25% do not know that Christianity claims that Jesus literally rose from the dead.

Our proverb today teaches us the need of knowledge that saves us from spiritual destruction or apostasy.  This knowledge is a knowledge of the truth of the Scriptures, which leads to a knowledge of the Father and the Son, which is eternal life: "And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent" (John 17:3).  This knowledge alone can save us and transfer us out of the domain of darkness and into the kingdom of the Father's beloved Son, in whom we have forgiveness (see Colossians 1:13-14). 

The Scriptures inform us.  They give us knowledge.  They teach us about our God, ourselves, our world, and our faith.  Most importantly, they lead us to know the Father and the Son, which is eternal life.


[1] Kidner, Proverbs, 86.
[2] Van Leeuewen, 118.
[3] Adams. Proverbs, 83.
[4] Charles L. Quarles, A Theology of Matthew: Jesus Revealed as Deliverer, King, and Incarnate Creator, 1-2.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Proverbs 11:6 --- Repenting of our Self-enthronement

Proverbs 11:6
The righteousness of the upright delivers them,
    but the treacherous are taken captive by their lust.

Since there are only two basic orientations in the human heart, crookedness/wickedness or integrity/righteousness (v. 3 and 5), this means there are only two ways of living.  We either live as desire-oriented people or as Word-oriented people.[1]  That is, we live either by what we think/feel is best or we live by what the Lord says in his Word.  We can either be the kind of people the Old Testament book of Judges describes: "In those days there was no king in Israel, and everyone did what was right in his own eyes," or we can live as those who have a King.  The New Testament has revealed that this King is Jesus Christ (the title Christ means anointed one or king), and if we belong to him, then we are to obey all he has commanded us (Matthew 28:20).

Righteousness and lust are contrasted in this proverb.  One helpful way of remembering the meaning of righteousness is that righteousness is about having right relationships.  Right relationships begin first with our relationship to our Creator.  We were made to live in fellowship with the triune God.  But this is only possible if we return to this God, whom we have rebelled against.

When we rebelled against the Lord, what we really did was enthrone ourselves.  Self-enthronement is the fundamental problem of the human heart.  We enthroned ourselves in the garden by choosing to determine good and evil for ourselves, rather than learning it from God's Word (Genesis 3:5).  In essence, we were saying, "I am like God. I am his moral equal. And, if I am his moral equivalent, I can make up my own mind about right and wrong."[2]

In order to be right with God, we must repent of our self-enthronement, and turn to the true King, Jesus Christ, to be led by his words.  Here is how Jesus put it:
"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).

Only when we forsake our lofty pride of self-determination and autonomy, and embrace the lowliness of heart that learns from Jesus our Lord, can we be saved.  Only, then, do we leave the camp of the treacherous and join the camp of the upright.

When our relationship with the Lord is right, then right relationships with others are possible.  We can now begin to relate rightly to our spouses, our children, our friends, our bosses, and society.  But the vertical relationship with God must come first, and this comes only from repentance and faith, dying and rising with Christ each day.

Dying with Christ very much has a bearing on this proverb.  The sad reality is that sin enslaves us.  Notice what our proverb says about the unbeliever: "the treacherous are taken captive by their lust."  Lust is the opposite of love.  On the vertical plane, greed and lust do not submit to the commands of Christ, nor our resurrected King's wisdom.  On the horizontal plane, greed and lust destroy relationships.  And, while lust and greed promise freedom, what they actually deliver is inward slavery and captivity.  As Jesus said, "Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin" (John 8:34).

Christ defined love for us in his death.  Lust is about self-taking, but love is about self-giving.  We give ourselves first to the Lord, and then to others for their blessing.  Right relationships are not possible apart from the love that gives ourselves to the Lord and then to others for their ultimate blessing and good.  Thus, righteousness and love begin with dying and rising with Christ daily.  Romans 12:1 puts it like this:
"I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a   living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship."

Galatians 2:20 puts it this way:
"I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.  And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me."

But how is this sort of life possible?  Is it not too high for us?  Our enslavement to following our own understanding and our sinful passions is not a small thing!  Can we really find freedom and change?

My only answer to this is that we are involved in spiritual warfare with our own sinful nature, what the New Testament calls the flesh.  This old nature, which governs by the old principle of self-enthronement, must die daily, so that the new man, who lives by all that Jesus commands, might rise daily.  This is what it means to live out our baptism in its imagery of dying and rising with Christ. 

What makes this possible, though setbacks of crookedness and fevers of lust may often recur, is the gift of the Holy Spirit.  Our Lord Jesus Christ pours out his Spirit into the hearts of his people.  When we struggle to follow our Lord's words or our own words, the Lord will answer our cry for help by giving us his Spirit (cf. Proverbs 1:20-23, especially v. 23).  Christ's Spirit will work within us the faith and love of Jesus himself, if we will only take up his gentle yoke with a lowly spirit.  In the end, it is as simple as this:  God gives grace to the humble, who confess their sin of self-enthronement.



[1] Jay Adams, Proverbs, 82.
[2] Jonathan Leeman, Political Church: The Local Assembly as Embassy of Christ's Rule, 240.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Proverbs 11:5 --- Our Father's Wise Repetition

Proverbs 11:5
The righteousness of the blameless keeps his way straight,
    but the wicked falls by his own wickedness.

Proverbs 11:5 is quite similar in thought to Proverbs 11:3 and 11:6.  In reading these similar proverbs it is easy to find fault with Proverbs.  Why does our heavenly Father give us such similar proverbs?  Why does our heavenly Father keep repeating the same idea?

If you have children, then you know the answer to these questions.  Wise parents must repeat themselves to emphasize important points.  Wise parental training means repetition and correcting the same errors over and over again.

Our heavenly Father is the Father of fathers.  He is the ultimately wise parent.  Thus, he knows us well.  He knows how slow we are to learn.  He knows how prone we are to forget.  He knows our inability to discern important points.  And, so, Proverbs is going to come back to the same things again and again, and use repetition to reinforce vital lessons. 

Verses 3, 5, and 6 are not identical.  There are nuances in each.  But it seems our Father has placed these three similar proverbs close together, so that our minds might mull over the important point he is making.

Laying out these three proverbs together in order and emphasizing the parallel terms in the first lines and then second lines, helps us to see how similar the three proverbs are:

            v. 3 The integrity of the upright guides them,
            v. 5 The righteousness of the blameless keeps his way straight,
            v. 6 The righteousness of the upright delivers them,

            v. 3 but the crookedness of the treacherous destroys them.   
            v. 5 but by his own wickedness the wicked falls.   
            v. 6 but by their lust the treacherous are taken captive.

The internal principle of the believer and unbeliever is the main contrast of all three proverbs.  The inward orientation of the believer, described as either the upright or the blameless, is integrity or righteousness.  The inward orientation of the unbeliever, described as either the treacherous or the wicked, is crookedness, wickedness, and lust.  The terms underscored with the dotted line describe the opposite outcomes of the opposite inward dispositions.

The upright or blameless are guided by their integrity or righteousness.  The inward desire of those who belong to the Lord is to honor the Father and do his will, which they learn from his Word.  Having been saved by grace, the Father's children long to live in his favor, and not displease him by their sin.  This internal integrity and righteousness guides them in their walk and leads them eventually to their heavenly home.  If the believer wanders away from the Father and the Son, the inward work of the Spirit who forms an honest and good heart within, leads them back to the Father and the Son.  George Lawson writes:
"[The believer] cannot enjoy pleasure in the way of sin, for it is contrary to the tastes that have been excited, and are still preserved by the Holy Spirit (cf. 1 John 3:9).  When Christ's sheep wander into the paths of sin and error, the eye of the Shepherd is upon them, and his grace shall reclaim them (cf. Psalm 23:3).  But the wicked wander from mountain to hill, till they fall irrevocably into the pit of destruction."[1]

Nathanael, in John 1:43-51, is a good illustration of how a righteous inward orientation will guide and lead a person to Christ and eternal life.  Nathanael was an "Israelite in whom there was no deceit," therefore, it did not take much for Nathanael to recognize and follow Jesus as the long-awaited king of Israel. 

But Caiaphas, and the majority of Israel's leaders, are a good illustration of how an inward orientation of crookedness and wickedness leads to destruction.  Instead of seeking the Lord's honor with a good and honest heart, Israel's leaders worshipped at the shrine of self and the sanctuary of power.  Rather than an inward disposition to glorify God, they sought to glorify themselves, even if it meant putting the Son of God to death! (see Matthew 27:18; John 11:47-50, 12:19, 18:14). As Lawson puts it, "They crucified him with a view to maintain their honor and preserve their nation; but by their perverse conduct both were destroyed."[2]




[1] Lawson, Proverbs, 131.
[2] Ibid., 130.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Christ in the Proverbs: Proverbs 11:4 --- Our Need of the Cross

Proverbs 11:4
Riches do not profit in the day of wrath,
    but righteousness delivers from death.

The contrast in Proverbs 11:4 is between riches and righteousness, and what both can do in the face of the Lord's coming judgment.  Riches will be of no value to save us from the just wrath of the Lord.  Not only can we not take our money with us when we die, ("Shrouds have no pockets"[1]), but our money may testify against us if we have used it selfishly for ourselves, instead of using it to advance the Lord's kingdom and bless others.

It is righteousness, not money or possessions, which is the great treasure to be sought in life, especially in light of the future judgment that is coming.  Raymond Van Leeuwen points to the eschatological orientation of this proverb: "Language and thought from the prophetic tradition of the 'day of the Lord,' when Yahweh judges nations on a cosmic scale are used here."[2]  Van Leeuwen cites a number of Old Testament passages, but Ezekiel 7:19 and Zephanaiah 1:18, in particular, make a point similar to Proverbs 11:4:
"They cast their silver into the streets, and their gold is like an unclean thing. Their silver and gold are not able to deliver them in the day of the wrath of the Lord. . . . For it was the stumbling block of their iniquity."

"Neither their silver nor their gold     shall be able to deliver them     on the day of the wrath of the Lord."

While riches can impress other human beings, it has no such effect on the Lord!  Riches are worthless to save us from the wrath of the Lord, which the crookedness of fallen hearts, i.e., our inward rebellion and dishonesty, deserve.

We saw our need of the new birth in yesterday's devotion, as Proverbs 11:3 described the crookedness of the fallen, unregenerate heart.  This is the kind of heart we are all born with.  Our Lord's apostle taught us this when he wrote:
"And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind" (Ephesians 2:1-3).

The apostle, like our Lord in John 3, goes on to speak of the new birth (see Ephesians 2:4-9).  We need the Lord to be merciful to us and bring about a new birth.  But how can the Lord, who is just, forgive sinners and give them eternal life?  Can the Lord violate his own righteousness to give us his mercy?

It is not a coincidence that our Lord, after speaking to Nicodemus about the new birth in John 3, moves from the new birth to the cross.  For it was at the cross that righteousness and mercy, justice and grace, kissed (see Psalm 85:10).  In order to be merciful to us, the Lord could not let sin go unpunished.  The debt had to be paid.  The triune God could not violate his justice and righteousness in order to be merciful.  He could not give us his righteous life within, i.e., the new birth, by violating his own holy, unchanging nature.  Therefore, Jesus, after speaking to Nicodemus about the new birth, then speaks to Nicodemus about his impending cross:
"And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life" (John 3:14-15).

The sons of Adam have been bitten by the serpent, and their souls are sick and headed for the Lord's wrath and judgment.  But by the cross of Christ we are healed.  When our Lord was lifted on the cross, he was made sin for us, so that in Him, we might become the righteousness of God.  The Judge himself took to himself our human nature, and went in our nature to the cross, to bear the wrath we deserve.  In God's wisdom he found a way to be both righteous and merciful.  In God's wisdom, whoever looks in faith to the Son lifted on the cross, has eternal life. "He made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Corinthians 5:21).

This life, then, is not about possessing wealth and material riches.  This life is about possessing Christ and his righteousness, learning to abide and walk with him as we prepare our souls for the age to come.  Don't be fooled by the deceitfulness of riches.  True riches are found only in Jesus Christ.

[1] A Rabbinic saying cited by Alden, Proverbs, 92.
[2] Van Leeuwen, Proverbs, 117.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Christ in the Proverbs: Proverbs 11:2 --- Defining Humility

Proverbs 11:2
When pride comes, then comes disgrace,
    but with the humble is wisdom.

Man does not get to define humility.  Only God's Word can rightly define humility.  The man who thinks he can define humility apart from the Lord, only shows he is proud, for humility must be defined in the light of who the Lord is, and who man is in relationship to him.

Trying to define man apart from the Lord, is like trying to describe the moon without the sun, an ax without an axman, or a migrating bird without its Creator.  The moon might boast about the glory of its light.  But its boasting is false, for all of its light is derived from the sun.  The ax might boast in its ability to cut down a forest.  But its boasting would be false, for it could do nothing apart from the man who made the ax and swings it.  A migrating bird might boast about its wisdom to migrate to warmer climes each fall.  But its boasting would be false, for it is the Lord who implanted that wise instinct.

In a similar way, image bearers who boast in themselves, are like the moon, forgetting that all glory reflects its Creator and Redeemer.  Image bearers who boast in themselves, are like that ax, forgetting our Maker and Keeper, who is the source of all our strength.  Image bearers who boast in themselves, are like that migrating bird, forgetting that there is only One who gives wisdom, and he is the Lord.

There is a link between this verse and the previous verse about a false balance or false weights used to cheat in selling and buying.  Duane Garrett puts it like this: 

"God delights in 'accurate weights' (weights that are as heavy as they should be and not lightened for purposes of fraud); the arrogant, however, have no dignity at all but only disgrace (literally 'lightness').  Both false weights and arrogant people claim to be 'heavier' than they really are."[1]

Humility is seeing ourselves as we truly are in relationship to the Lord.  Image bearers, like the moon, an ax, and migrating birds, must be defined in relationship to something or someone else.  In the case of human beings, who were created to reflect the triune God and his character, we are defined in relationship to him.  And, since the Lord and his Word define all reality, we must understand humility from what he has revealed to us in his Word.

Jesus Christ is the Lord incarnate, who took to himself our human nature.  One morning, Jesus was teaching a crowd by the Sea of Galilee.  Peter and some of his fellow fishermen washed their nets on the shore, while Jesus preached from one of their boats.  After the sermon, Jesus said to Peter, "Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch."  Peter replied, "Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets."

Peter exhibits a certain amount of reverence for Jesus in his words.  He calls him "Master," and he obeys his word.  Still, however, one can detect a reluctance in his words.  After all, they had just cleaned the nets, were tired from working all night, and Peter's area of expertise was fishing.

But then a miracle that revealed the glory of Jesus occurred: 

"And when they had done this [let down their nets], they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking.  They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink."

Then, we learn Peter's reaction to Jesus:

"But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, 'Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.'"

Notice, Peter's humility.  It came from seeing who Jesus really was.  Before seeing the Lord's glory, Peter called Jesus, "Master."  After seeing Jesus, Peter calls him, "Lord," the same word that is used for Jahweh (I AM) in the Old Testament.  Peter came to see who Jesus really was and the result was humility.  He "fell down at Jesus' knees." 

Humility is a true assessment of ourselves in the light of the Lord's character and glory.  Four other corollaries follow from seeing the character and glory of the Lord:

First, humility will acknowledge our sins and our sinful nature.  Peter saw the Lord's glory, and the result was a confession of his sinful nature:  "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord."

Second, humility will receive the forgiveness Jesus came to bring us through his cross.  We see our Lord's response to Peter's confession of sin, when he says, "Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men."

Third, humility will receive Jesus' kingdom commission to bring fallen sinners into his kingdom.  He says, "from now on you will be catching men."  Jesus' commission is to bear his image, his name, and his saving message in and to a fallen world.

Fourth, humility will seek to live in the presence of Jesus at all times.  The disciples lived in the presence of Jesus.  Verse 11 says, "And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him."  To attempt to bring sinners into God's kingdom requires the presence of Jesus.  No one else has the power to change the heart of sinners or our own, except our Lord.  But in Proverbs 11:2 Solomon spoke better than he knew.  "With the humble is wisdom" --- yes, indeed, for Wisdom incarnate, the Lord himself is with his people.

[1] Duane A. Garrett, New American Commentary: Proverbs, 125.

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