Monday, September 11, 2017

Proverbs 15:29 --- Distance from God

Proverbs 15:29 
The Lord is far from the wicked,
    but he hears the prayer of the righteous.

The problem of the fallen human heart is that it wants nothing to do with the heavenly Father.  The parable of the prodigal son perfectly illustrates our rebellious heart's desire to distance ourselves from God.  In Luke 15 we read about the prodigal son's desire to live far away from his father:
"And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them.  Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he hadand took a journey into a far country . . . ."

But, sadly, the religious older brother also had this same desire to distance himself from the father.  When the younger brother repents and returns to live near the father, instead of being happy for his younger brother, the older brother is angry with the father:

"But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he   answered his father, 'Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends.  But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!'"

The key words in the older brother's speech are these:  "that I might celebrate with my friends."  He doesn't want to celebrate with his father, but apart from his father, and that is the nature of our sin and rebellion.  We want to live far away from God.

The father's words to the older brother show us true life.  True life is found in living in the delight of the heavenly Father's presence:

"And he said to him, 'Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.  It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.'"

In the parable of the prodigal, of course, the father stands for God.  The two sons stand for lost, rebellious humanity.  The younger son resembles the sinners in Israel who were repenting and coming back to the heavenly Father by coming to his Son, Jesus Christ.  The older son resembled the Jewish religious leaders who were outwardly religious, but whose hearts were far from God (cf.  Matthew 15:8-9; Mark 7:6-7;  Luke 16:14).

The distance between the Lord and sinful, rebellious humanity is not geographical.  No, the distance has to do with intimacy, favor, and delight.  When our proverb today says that "the Lord is far from the wicked," this is because the wicked want it so.  Humanity in its rebellion does not want to live in the delight of God's intimate favor.  They prefer God's gifts, created things, to God himself.

The problem for man in his rebellion, however, is that he can never truly escape from God his Maker.  This is because God is omnipresent.  As Psalm 139 says:

            Where shall I go from your Spirit?
                Or where shall I flee from your presence?
            If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
                If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!

Or, as the apostle Paul put it, "In him we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28).  Augustine once said of God, he is closer to us than we are to ourselves:

"When you wish to do something evil, you retire from the public into your house where no enemy may see you; from those places of your house which are open and visible to the eyes of men you remove yourself into your room; even in your room you fear some witness from another quarter; you retire into your heart, there you meditate: he is more inward than your heart.  Wherever, therefore, you shall have fled, there is he."[1]

The truth is, there is no way to distance ourselves from God.  God will either be present with his blessing or present with his displeasure; present with his favor or present with his wrath; present with us in intimacy or present with us in alienation.  God the Father gives to us what we want, and if what we want is distance, distance is what we shall receive.

The only answer for the wicked is repentance.  Augustine agrees and tells us that the answer for sinners is repentance and faith in God's Son, through whom we can return to our Father, for whom we were made:

"No Matter where you flee, he is there.  You would flee from yourself, would you?  Will you not follow yourself wherever you flee?  But since there is one even more deeply inward than yourself, there is no place where you may flee from an angered God except to a God who is pacified.  There is absolutely no place for you to flee to.  Do you want to flee from him?  Rather flee to him."[2]

God was pacified through the death of his Son.  It is his cross that gives us peace with God.  Jesus is theRighteous One, who has enabled his people to move from the category of the wicked to the righteous.  We pray in his name, because he is the One to whom the Father always listens (cf. John 9:31).  Through his cross, sinners like us are enabled to have our prayers heard and answered by the Father in accordance with his will.  His Father is now our Father, and true delight is found in learning to live life in the triune presence.  But for the wicked who refuse to repent and prefer to live far away from God, they will receive the only distance an omnipresent God can give them --- the distance of alienation and wrath.



[1] Quoted in Herman Bavinck, The Doctrine of God.
[2] Quoted in Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, vol. 2, 170.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Proverbs 15:27 --- Covetousness

Proverbs 15:27
Whoever is greedy for unjust gain troubles his own household,
    but he who hates bribes will live.

The translators of this verse have added the word "unjust" in response to the parallelism of the word "bribes."  While this makes sense, it is unnecessary.  To be "greedy for gain" is covetousness, and covetousness is the real problem of our hearts.  For covetousness is idolatry:

"Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, andcovetousness, which is idolatry."  (Colossians 3:5)

This week I watched a documentary on Phillip Seymour Hoffman, who was probably the greatest American character actor in our generation.  Hoffman died at the age of 46 in 2014 from a heroin and prescription pill overdose.  In an interview just a year before his death, Hoffman said, "I would definitely say pleasure is not happiness, because I think I kill pleasure.  I take too much coffee and you're miserable.  And, I do that to pleasure often.  There is no pleasure I haven't made myself sick on."

Our Lord's answer to Hoffman's observation can be found in the fourth beatitude:

            Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
                for they shall be satisfied.  (Matthew 5:6)

The Lord never designed the things of this world to give us ultimate satisfaction.  No, the heart can only be satisfied when it hungers and thirsts for righteousness and God's kingdom (Matthew 6:33).  Ultimately, it is the Lord himself who must be our satisfaction, for our hearts were made for him.

Covetousness can include any earthly thing that people desire.  It doesn't just involve money or things, but it also involves sex, as the tenth commandment teaches:

            You shall not covet your neighbor's house.
            You shall not covet your neighbor's wife,
                or his manservant or maidservant,
                his ox or donkey,
                or anything that belongs to your neighbor.[1]

Covetousness is a danger to our souls because it is idolatry.   Covetousness deranges "a man's scale of values, threatens his home and his own soul, and dethrones his God."[2]

The covetous person, who is greedy for gain, troubles his own soul and his own family.  In today's proverb, "troubles his own household" is parallel to "will live."  To truly live, in Proverbs and the Old Testament, is defined as living in fellowship with God.  This is the vital thing that was lost in the garden: life lived in union and communion with the triune God.  The problem with fallen man is that once he departs from God, his hunger and thirst is still there, but now all that he can try to satisfy it with is the creature, not the Creator for whom he was made.  To live covetously for the things of this earth given the infinite, God-shaped nature of our souls is only going to make us sick, to put it in Hoffman's terms. 

But more is at stake than just making us sick.  The problem of covetousness, to be greedy for gain, is a matter of eternal life and death.  This is because idolatry is abominable to the Lord.  To love something in creation more than the Creator, whom we are commanded to love with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength, is hateful rebellion against the triune God for whom we are made.

And, because we live in families, covetousness endangers others in our families, whom we love.  This danger of troubling our own families usually proceeds from the parents to the children, but the danger can go the other direction as well, from children to parents.  How many parents in their love for their children begin to countenance their children's sin and end up dishonoring their Lord?  Our Lord Jesus put it like this:

            "Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me,
            and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me."
            (Matthew 10:37).

It is the tenth commandment, "You shall not covet," that begins to expose our hearts as wicked and sinful.  This seems to be what Paul experienced in Romans 7:7-12.  The command not to covet shows us how far our hearts have fallen from desiring and loving the Lord with all of our heart.  Q&A 113 of the Heidelberg Catechism shows us our problem:

            Q.  What is God's will for you in the tenth commandment?

            A.  That not even the slightest thought or desire contrary to any one of God's
                  commandments should ever arise in my heart.  Rather, with all my heart I should
                   always hate sin and take pleasure in whatever is right.     

The law condemns us and shows our sin.  What do we do?  There is only one good answer.  Q&A 115 of the catechism gives it to us:

Q.  No one in this life can obey the Ten Commandments perfectly: why then               does God  want them preached so pointedly? 
A.  First, so that the longer we live the more we may come to know our                      sinfulness and the more eagerly look to Christ for forgiveness of sins                    and righteousness.
     Second, so that, while praying to God for the grace of the Holy Spirit we may        never stop striving to be renewed more and more after God's image, until            after this life we reach our goal: perfection.

Why can today's proverb be so confident that whoever is covetous and greedy for gain will bring trouble upon himself and his family?  Aren't their exceptions?  The only exceptions are those who "look to Christ for forgiveness of sins and righteousness," and strive "to be renewed more and more after God's image."  But for those who do not repent, trouble is certain for the greedy both here and in the age to come.  For the sovereign Lord is the hidden agent in today's proverb, "who works all things according to the counsel of his will" (Ephesians 1:11).


[1] Taken from Q&A 92 of the Heidelberg Catechism in Ecumenical Creeds and Reformed Confessions.  CRC Publications, 1988,
[2] Kidner, Proverbs, 110.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Living by Faith in a World that Does Not Fear --- Proverbs 15:25

Proverbs 15:25
The Lord tears down the house of the proud
    but maintains the widow's boundaries.
The Hebrew word for proverb, mashal, can be translated as a proverb or a parable.  For example, in Psalm 49:4 mashal is translated as proverb, and in Psalm 78:2 mashal is translated as parable.  Matthew 13:34-35 sees Jesus as fulfilling Psalm 78, and very likely, Psalm 49 as well, when Jesus spoke to the people in parables/proverbs (mashal):

 "All these things Jesus said to the crowds in parables; indeed, he said nothing to them without a parable. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet:                 
'I will open my mouth in parables;                
I will utter what has been hidden since the foundation of the world.

Jesus opened his mouth in parables/proverbs and he revealed what had been "hidden" until his coming.  Part of what we are doing, then, as Christian interpreters of the Old Testament, is revealing what was once hidden, but has now been revealed with the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The verbal form of mashal means to compare.[1]  And, almost always a proverb involves a comparison, just as parables also involve comparisons.  The main difference between a parable and the individual proverbs is that a parable involves comparisons within a story and proverbs are comparisons between the lines of a sentence. 

Jesus' parables are allegories.  In his parables, each main character/object stands for something else.  So, for example, in the parable of the sower, the seed stands for the Word of God or gospel, the different soils stand for different kinds of heart, and the ultimate sower of the Word is our Lord, doing his work through people.

Given all of this above, at times the individual proverbs can almost be considered mini-parables.  Today's proverb will serve as an illustration of how this might work.

On a literal level, the main comparison in our proverb is between "the proud" and the "widow," and between the Lord's attitude and action toward the proud and the widow.  He "tears down the house" of the proud, but "maintains" the "boundaries" of the widow.

On the literal level, these comparisons teach us good lessons.  They teach us the Lord's attitude toward pride. They also teach us what pride is, and about its opposite of trust.  They teach us that we should care for widows, who have no family to help them, especially those who are in Israel, or in our context, the church.

But what if we let our minds move from earth to spiritual realities, for isn't this what our Lord taught us to do, for example, in the Lord's Prayer and Lord's Supper?  In his prayer, we are taught, "Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven."  And, in his Supper, we move from bread and wine to Christ's body and blood.

In today's proverb, or mini-parable, I take the widow as standing for the believer, poor in spirit, whose help and protector in an unjust world is the Lord.  I take the proud as standing for unbelievers, who have no fear of the Lord and who unjustly oppose his people.  I take this proverb/mini-parable as teaching us basically the same truths as the parable Jesus once spoke in Luke 18:1-8:

"And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’” And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

Jesus tells us that in this parable, the widow stands for "his elect" people (v. 6), who are hated, insulted, and persecuted on earth by the wicked, who do not fear God (v. 2-3).  But the Lord will give justice to his people (v. 7).  Sometimes the justice comes in this life, but it will definitely come when the Son of Man comes again (v. 8).

Two lessons, then, from both this proverb and parable:  we learn about pride and its opposite, faith. 

"The juxtaposition of the proud man with the widow shows us what pride is --- self-reliance, trusting in achievements and possessions, acquisitiveness, always looking for more . . . .  This attitude --- to self, to material things, to others who are there to be used and exploited pitilessly, and to God himself, for whom such have no need or place --- is abhorrent to God, who shows what he thinks by tearing them down, and . . . not only themselves but theirs, since house includes family."[2]

If pride, characterized by the unjust judge, is to have no fear of the Lord, nor regard for his elect people, then faith is the opposite.  Faith is to trust and depend, not on ourselves, but on the Lord.  Faith is to behold reality.  Faith is to see things as they truly are: to see the glory of our triune God and our poor and needy position before him as creatures who depend on him for life, breath, and existence; as sinners who depend on his grace, mercy, and the cross for salvation; and, as his elect people who are in need of his strength to live for him in a world that has no fear of God.

[1] Steinmann, Proverbs, 51.
[2] Lane, Proverbs, 153.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Proverbs 15:19 --- Spiritual Labor

Proverbs 15:19
The way of a sluggard is like a hedge of thorns,
    but the path of the upright is a level highway.

The contrast between the "sluggard" and the "upright" is quite instructive.  The contrast we would expect is between the sluggard and the diligent.  But the contrast of the sluggard with the upright gives us insight into the real problem of lazy people, which is found in the heart.  There is a basic dishonesty in the heart of the sluggard, and a love of pleasure rather than a love of God.

2 Timothy 3:1-5 gives us one of the many vice lists in the New Testament.  When we encounter these vice lists, our tendency is to read them quickly and pass by them fast to get to something more pleasant.  But they are helpful for us because they help us to recognize the weeds and "thorns" in our lives that need to be put to death by the Spirit of God.  These lists can help us to be honest about our spiritual condition, and cause us to cry out to our Lord for the Spirit's work in our hearts.

I will give you the entire vice list from 2 Timothy 3, which tells us about the hearts of men in the "last days" between Christ's first and second coming.  Notice, especially, "the lover of pleasure, rather than the lover of God," which is the essential problem of the lazy:

"But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy,heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of Godhaving the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people."

One of the remarkable things about this passage is that it is describing people in the visible church of Jesus Christ!  Verse five identifies these people as people who profess the name of Christ, but do not live in his "power," and this is why we must exercise caution and not make such people our spiritual confidantes (cf. 1 Corinthians 5:9-11).

Honesty is maybe the root virtue of Christian discipleship.  I base this on what Jesus taught us in the parable of the sower.  Here he gives us the parable's meaning:

"Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. 12 The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. 13 And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away.14 And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. 15 As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heartand bear fruit with patience."

While it is true we are saved solely by grace alone, grace bears fruit in our lives.  Fruit is borne with patience and spiritual work on our behalf.  The spiritually lazy prefer an antinomianism or lawlessness, which allows them to live however they please.  But if we are truly the Lord's, then we have been "bought with a price," and "so [we are to] "glorify God in" our bodies (1 Corinthians 6:20).

This spiritual labor, which flows from grace and the Spirit's work in the heart, will manifest itself in four ways in the lives of Christ's disciples:

1.      We will labor in God's Word. We cannot abide in Christ if we do not abide in his Word (John 15:5-8).  The field that is indispensable for the believer to work is the Bible.  The believer hears and "holds it fast in an honest and good heart."  But you cannot hold fast what you do not know.

2.      We will labor to know the triune God.  In Matthew 5:14-30, Jesus gives us a parable about our work as his disciples, and the last judgment.  Two of the disciples are commended for their work.  But one of his disciples is described by Jesus as a "wicked and slothful servant."  His basic problem was that he did not know God, and so he was unprepared to meet his Judge.  He mischaracterized Jesus as a "hard man," not knowing the grace and love of Christ.  But he also erred in living his life in a lawless, antinomian way, unconcerned with the judgment to come.  True disciples labor to know the Father, through the Son, and by the Spirit.

3.      We will labor to put to death the deeds of the flesh, those thorns and weeds that oppose and dishonor our Lord.  By daily prayer, we must live as those who are united to Christ in his death and resurrection.  This means we must offer ourselves to the Lord each day, dying and rising with him as we live out our baptism.

4.      We will labor to catch men for Christ, laboring in the church and world to make disciples.  One day, many of us will be deeply saddened that we spent so much of our income on ourselves, and so little on missions and evangelism.  We must all be doing our part, whatever that may be, to spread the name of Jesus throughout our families, communities, and world.  This is the work our Lord has given us to do.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Proverbs 15:14 --- Spiritual Zoanthropy

Proverbs 15:14 
The heart of him who has understanding seeks knowledge,
    but the mouths of fools feed on folly.
One of the first things I try to do with each proverb is identify the comparisons in the parallel lines.  In this verse we have three:

            1)  the heart of is compared to the mouths of;
            2)  him who has understanding is compared to fools;
            3)  seeks knowledge is compared to feed on folly.

This little beginning exercise, besides helping us to meditate on the proverb by mulling over the comparisons and what they teach us, also helps us to see which comparison is most important.  Most of this devotional will consider the third comparison between seeking knowledge and feeding on folly.

Bruce Waltke stresses the importance of this third comparison when he writes that this proverb "traces the sources of the heart's spiritual joy or trouble."[1]  Duane Garrett adds "that mental and emotional wholeness proceed from submission to sound teaching."[2]  Finally, Michael V. Fox notes that when this proverb is read in conjunction with verses 13 and 15, both of which mention a "cheerful heart," then a cheerful heart must be "redefined as the mind that desires wisdom."[3]  What we seek and feed upon, is vital to a spiritually healthy heart.  And in reality there are only two choices as to what we may feed upon.  We can seek the knowledge of God that comes through his Word and incarnate Word, who gave himself up to death to give us life.  Or, we can feed on the folly that rejects and ignores God's revelation.

The word "feeds" in line two gives us the image of animals grazing.  But instead of feeding on the instruction of the Lord, fools feed on everything but the words of the Lord.  While Psalm one taught us that the blessed man's "delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night," the foolish man has abandoned the Lord's instruction.  Fools have forgotten that man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of God.  Without the Lord's revelation we are left weightless and wandering.  Like astronauts without gravity have no sense of up or down, so fallen mankind having departed from God's Word, is now left without up or down, right or wrong, true or false.  With no basis of measurement beyond ourselves, our minds, emotions, and wills take us in a thousand different directions, and we have no idea why we are mixed up.  As Proverbs 4, puts it, having departed from instruction and wisdom (Proverbs 4:10-11, 13), the fallen human race has no light:

            The way of the wicked is like deep darkness;
                they do not know over what they stumble. (Proverbs 4:19)

Having departed from the knowledge of God that comes from his Word, men have nothing to feed on but folly.  There is no wisdom for people who have rejected the fear of the Lord, for the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and knowledge (Proverbs 1:7; 9:10).  Apart from that foundation, the construction project is a disaster.  Apart from God's truth, everything is based on a lie.  Apart from God's life, everything is in the realm of death.

Nebuchadnezzar was the most powerful man in the world.  But God humbled his pride by giving him zoanthropy, which "is a mental disorder in which one believes oneself to be an animal."  Nebuchadnezzar was "made to eat grass like an ox . . . until [he came to] know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will" (Daniel 4:32).  The sad truth of the fallen human race is that we are all infected with spiritual zoanthropy.  We all live like animals, grazing upon folly, instead of the instruction of God's Word, by which true humanity was meant to live and feed upon.  

We could have eternal life with the Father and the Son, but we are comfy with the lies and vanities of this world.  And here is probably the saddest fact of all: we have fallen, but we don't know it.  We are covered with the shame of our idolatry and sin, but we glory in it.  We live like the unthinking animals of the field who live for their bellies, when we refuse to live for the glory and honor of our Creator.  We live for our pleasures and riches and not for Christ's glory, and we think it normal.  We have the privilege extended to us of union and communion with the triune God through his Word, but humanity is not interested enough to read the Word, let alone "hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them; that by patience and comfort of your holy Word, we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen."[4]

Both the understanding and the foolish have a passion, one for instruction and knowledge of God and the other for folly.  Look at the cattle.  Seems to me they have a passion for eating, for they constantly do it.  That is a passion!  It comes easily for them, because all cattle have to do is eat whatever is in front of them.  But for believers it is a bit different.  We have to be discerning and we can't just gulp down whatever is in front of us.  No, the believer's passion has to be pursued toward a person, namely, Jesus Christ, through whom we know the Father and receive the Spirit.  But to know him, we must know his instruction which we find in his Word.  So let us renew our zeal to know Christ through his Word.  It is the path that leads to clarity, truth, and joy forever, and cures us of spiritual zoanthropy.

[1] Waltke, Proverbs, vol. 1, 625.
[2] Garrett, 153.
[3] Fox, Proverbs, vol. 2, 594.
[4] Book of Common Prayer, Proper 28, the Sunday closest to November 16, 184.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Daily Watching for Life and Joy

Proverbs 15:13
A glad heart makes a cheerful face,
    but by sorrow of heart the spirit is crushed.

"True Christians have two advantages over the men of the world: they are happier now, and safer at last."[1]  Believers have "a glad heart," because we are in Christ.  Union and communion with Christ makes for a healthy soul.  H. A. Ironside put it like this:
"The happy man is the one who has a heart at rest, and who can therefore rejoice at all times.  Such a one is the soul who has found in Christ not only a Savior, but a daily portion."[2]

An important truth taught by today's proverb is this: "We are controlled from the inside out, rather than from the outside in."[3]  The world's philosophy is often just the opposite.  "Put on a happy face," we are told.  "Whistle while you work."  There's a modicum of truth in such superficialities, but nothing that will make up for the absence of the Spirit of Christ within us, for whom we were made!  Our hearts and bodies were made to be filled with the Lord's glory and presence.  "Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?" (1 Corinthians 6:19).  It is hard to see how putting on a glib exterior can make up for the absence of the One for whom we are made.

When Christ our Lord has taken up residence within us through his Spirit, it brings us joy.  We mislead the unbelieving world if we walk around with unhappy faces, "for the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit" (Romans 14:17).  Nevertheless, living in Christ's joy means we must seek him daily.  In Proverbs 8, Christ our Lord addresses us via Woman Wisdom, and says:

            Blessed is the one who listens to me,
                watching daily at my gates,
                waiting beside my doors.
            For whoever finds me finds life
                and obtains favor from the Lord,
            but he who fails to find me injures himself;
                all who hate me love death.  (34-36)

Spiritual laziness hinders our joy when we fail to spend time with our Lord on a daily basis.  Each day we must seek him through his Word and prayer.  Just as we wash and put on clothes each day, so we must wash ourselves in Christ each day through the waters of our baptism, putting off the old man, and putting on the new. 

Our baptism teaches us how to live each day of our lives.  Spending time with our Lord and our Father should be as much a daily ritual as bathing and putting on our clothes.  Isn't it interesting that the New Testament likens baptism to both washing and putting on new clothes:

            Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name. (Acts 22:16)

            For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. (Galatians 3:27)

But who washes just once?  Yes, Jesus teaches us that in Christ we are fully forgiven and are clean.  But he also taught us our need of daily cleansing when he washed our feet (John 13).  Similarly with our clothes.  Putting off our sinful nature, and putting on Christ, is a daily exercise (e.g., Colossians 3:1-17).

The second line of Proverbs 15:13 points to a bitterness of heart that leads to gloom and despair.  We often forget that the Lord is sovereign, not just over our external circumstances, but also over our inward joy or misery.  There is only one Source of joy and blessing in the universe and that is our Lord who is ever blessed.  Paul calls God, "the blessed and only Sovereign" (1 Timothy 6:15).  To be separated from the triune God, who alone possesses the fullness of joy, must mean that, sooner or later, those without the Lord will experience the eternal darkness of gloom and unhappiness, while his own will experience eternal bliss.

There is no doubt that externally, those who are in Christ Jesus, will experience much suffering and tribulation.  Jesus himself taught us, "In the world you will have tribulation" (John 16:33).  And our Lord's apostle, Paul, taught that "through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22).  Externally, life as a believer can be quite difficult, and this can affect our emotions for a season.  Paul himself experienced more persecution and suffering than we will ever face.  But as his own life taught us, there can be a joy in the midst of even trying circumstances.

On one such occasion, we read about Paul and Silas:  "And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison, ordering the jailer to keep them safely.  Having received this order, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks" (Acts 16:23-24).  But the next verse is remarkable.  Did these horrific circumstances cause Paul and Silas to despair?  No, instead we read, "About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them" (v. 25).

Maybe you find an objection to what I am saying, even though you are a believer.  Maybe I am unaware of the despair and gloom with which some believers are afflicted.  Nevertheless, no matter the tribulations the Lord has sent your way, I hope we can give our amen to these closing verses from Psalm 84:

            For a day in your courts is better
                than a thousand elsewhere.
            I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
                than dwell in the tents of wickedness.
            For the Lord God is a sun and shield;
                the Lord bestows favor and honor.
            No good thing does he withhold
                from those who walk uprightly.
            O Lord of hosts,
               blessed is the one who trusts in you!


[1] Arnot, Proverbs, 323.
[2] Ironside, Proverbs, 180.
[3] Kitchen, Proverbs, 333.

Monday, July 17, 2017

The Blessing of True Worship --- Proverbs 15:8

Proverbs 15:8 
The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord,
    but the prayer of the upright is acceptable to him.

The parallel between "sacrifice" and "prayer" is worth pondering.  Worship at the sanctuary or temple in the Old Testament was costly.  One came to worship with a sacrificial animal as a sacrifice to the Lord.  When David was offered oxen for sacrifices free of charge in 2 Samuel 24:24, his response was, "I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God that cost me nothing."  The literal expense of sacrifice pointed metaphorically to the costly offering of ourselves.

Prayer, on the other hand, recognizes our inability to offer the Lord anything.  Prayer recognizes that all blessings flow from him.  Prayer recognizes our poverty and dependence before him.  Prayer recognizes that our Father is the Giver, and we are merely the recipients of his bounty. The Heidelberg Catechism says that the reason Christians need to pray is "Because prayer is the most important part of the thankfulness God requires of us.  And also because God gives his grace and Holy Spirit only to those who pray continually and groan inwardly, asking God for these gifts and thanking him for them" (Q&A 116).

So, while sacrifice points to the costly offering of ourselves to the Lord, prayer points to our poverty and the petitionary nature of prayer, as well as our thanks upon receiving his blessings.

In our worship, we are to offer to our Lord both prayers and sacrifice.  Romans 12:1 beautifully summarizes both aspects of our worship:

"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."

Our salvation comes to us as a sheer gift of God's grace and mercy.  In order to receive this salvation, we call upon the Lord in repentance and faith, asking for his mercy.  The Lord promises his forgiveness and mercy to all who will confess their sins and turn to him to live in a new way:

            Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper,
                 but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy" (Proverbs 28:13).

The order of Romans 12:1 is vital.  First, is the gift of grace, mercy, and salvation.  Then, comes the offering of ourselves as a living sacrifice.  The usual order of Christian worship services throughout Christian history have followed this pattern.[1]  Early in the service we confess our sins and our need of the Lord, and gradually we move to the offering of ourselves which takes place after the sermon and supper.  In our services, there ought to be a theology of the cross, which is characterized by the humility of petition, confession, and thanksgiving; not a theology of glory, which sings of our own piety, congratulating ourselves that we are not like other sinners (cf. the Pharisee and the tax collector in Luke 8:9-14).  No, we enter into the Lord's presence as humble supplicants and needy children, who are prone to wander.  We come asking the Lord Jesus to instruct us and pour out his Spirit on us, so that we might once again offer our bodies to him as a living sacrifice.

The wicked in our proverb neither pray nor offer themselves as living sacrifices.  The wicked in today's proverb do not intend to leave their idols.  Nor do they seek the Lord's mercy through repentance.  Because the wicked are unwilling to seek the Lord's salvation or offer themselves to the Father, going through the motions of a worship service will do them no good.  Nor will their large offerings to the church or to the poor change their status before the Lord.  The lack of true prayer and sacrifice means that the wicked remain wicked, and an abomination to the Lord. Their empty worship, devoid of heart, becomes just a further provocation of the Lord. 

When we come to church, our desire should be to meet with our Lord Jesus Christ, who promises that he will be present in the midst of those who gather in his name.  We come to meet with him.  We come to hear him speak to us in the written Word and the preached Word.  We respond to his Word to us with petitions, prayers, and thanks that is sometimes accompanied by music.  We also come to receive his life and assurance through the Spirit as he speaks and gives his life to us through the visible signs of his broken body and shed blood.  And, then, in response to his grace, mercy, and salvation, we offer ourselves to him as a spiritual sacrifice.  When we worship this way, we have the assurance that we are "acceptable" in his sight, and what a blessing that is!


[1] The pattern is described as a covenant renewal service, one example of which can be found in Joshua 24.  For a book that thoroughly discusses the covenant renewal service, see Jeffrey J Meyers, The Lord's Service: The Grace of Covenant Renewal Worship.

Share This