Saturday, April 23, 2016

Christ in the Proverbs: Proverbs 19:22

Proverbs 19:22
What is desired in a man is steadfast love,
    and a poor man is better than a liar.

One of the things I love about Proverbs is that proverbs are wonderful in terms of meditation.  The parallelism of the individual proverbs lends itself to meditation.  Meditation is not the mind-emptying, pantheistic nonsense of eastern religions, which repeats a mantra over and over in order to empty the mind and become one with the universe/god.  Rather meditation from a biblical standpoint is thinking about and considering the Word of God.  This meditation involves the comparison of one concept or image to another.  And biblical meditation's end result is a thoughtful consideration of my own ways in comparison with the Lord's ways, leading to change, i.e., repentance toward God our Father and faith which unites us to Jesus Christ his Son.  In this sense of union with God, pantheistic meditation and biblical meditation have the same goal.  But in reality the god of pantheism is creation confused as the Creator, whereas Christianity is about union with the true, triune God.

Proverbs 19:22 illustrates how fruitful the comparison of the two parallel lines can be.  A quick, superficial reading of this proverbs yields a little insight.  But a comparison of the two lines, brings forth a rich feast of insight.

We begin with the first line, which tells us the preeminent virtue in a man is love.  The apostle Paul taught this clearly in 1 Corinthians 12-14, teaching us the excellent way of love that exceeds even faith and hope!  "So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love" (1 Corinthians 13:13).  Self-giving love is the greatest human virtue because it points most clearly to what the triune God is like, who has always lived in the self-giving love that has characterized the Father, Son and Spirit from all eternity.  On the eve of our Lord's death, Jesus clarified in words what this love is and demonstrated it the next day in the ultimate way: "This is my body, which is given for you" (Luke 22:19).

What is desired in God's image bearers, then, is love, for this reflects who God is and what he is like.  But how does the second line of this proverb relate to this first line.  In fact, the second line looks not only unrelated to the first line, but also prosaic and so obvious as to hardly bear stating:  "and a poor man is better than a liar."  Well, of course, a poor man is better than a liar!

But if we start to think about it, poor people are more tempted to lie, not because their hearts are worse than the rich, but because poor people have to live by their wits to get the money they need to get by.  There is a greater temptation for the poor to tell people what they want to hear in order to gain what they desire, than the rich who can simply buy it!  In other words, dishonesty in order to satisfy greed or the lust for wealth and possessions, is a unique temptation for the poor in the sense that honesty for them often means remaining poor, unlike the rich whose lies will not result in poverty.

But what does greed (line two), which is often the motivation for lying, have to do with love (line one)?  Well these present the two basic ways human beings can live.  We can follow our Lord and live in self-giving love or we can follow the father of lies and live in lust and greed.  1 John 2:15-17 sets out these two fundamental options:

"Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the  Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the  eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.""

The people of this world live lives of lust/desire.  The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life are the motivation for an unbelieving world.  These are people whom the psalmist describes as "men of the world, whose portion is in this life" (Psalm 17:14).  But our Lord teaches us a better way, a more excellent way.  "This is my body, which is given for you."  Here is the more excellent way of self-giving love that imitates our Savior.  Self-giving love or self-grasping lust: these are the only two ways of life.  One ends in death.  The other ends in life.  In losing our lives in self-giving love to our God and others, true life is found.

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