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 (http://www.opc.org/hymn.html?hymn_id=179).  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.

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