Monday, March 27, 2017

Proverbs 13:9 --- The Necessity of the Right Goal

Proverbs 13:9 --- The Necessity of the Right Goal
The light of the righteous rejoices,
    but the lamp of the wicked will be put out.
Reading the Proverbs in the light of Christ's death and resurrection transforms our reading of the Proverbs.  Read christologically, Proverbs 13:8 is transformed from a verse that deals with the unlikely situation of kidnapping or enslavement and how that might apply to the literal rich and poor, to a spiritual lesson for the poor in spirit and the way to deal with persecution from an unbelieving world.

The other transformation that often occurs when we read the Proverbs in the light of Christ's resurrection is that we find a remarkable flow to the Proverbs.  Each proverb seems to flow seamlessly into the next.  So, for example, we are not terribly surprised to read about the joy of the righteous in this proverb, for this theme of joy is exactly what we find in Jesus' teaching about the persecuted in the Beatitudes:

"Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you" (Matthew 5:10- 12).

When we read the Old Testament in the light of Christ's death and resurrection, the Old Testament truly becomes Christian Scripture, and that is a good thing!  One of the reasons we shy away from reading the Old Testament is that we doubt its value for us.  But when we read it as our Lord taught us, seeing Christ prefigured in the Old Testament, the Old Testament teaches us wonderful things as we discover truths that were hidden until the coming of Christ, but now are made known to us, his people.  As Colossians 1:25-26 says:

"I [Paul] became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints."

The "word of God" Paul made fully known was the Old Testament.  But for generations, the full meaning of the Old Testament was not fully known.  But now it can be known by us, who are God's saints, i.e., his people who have been set apart for him, for his use, and for his glory.  The Old Testament is now fully known to us, for it has been revealed to us.  How privileged we are to live in this era after Christ's death and resurrection!

So now we come to the proverb for the day, and we see that the human heart always has a goal.  The human heart is likened to a lamp.[1]  A lamp is made to be lit.  The question is whether the lamp will be lit with a worthy goal or an unworthy goal.  Will we live according to our purpose as the Lord's image bearers or will we resist that purpose?

The Heidelberg Catechism nicely summarizes our purpose as his image bearers.  We are to "truly know God . . . love him . . . and live with him in eternal happiness for his praise and glory."[2]  Is this our goal?  Is it our goal to know God, and his Son whom he sent?  Jesus said, "This is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent."  Is it our goal to love him?  Paul wrote, "If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed" (1 Corinthians 16:22).  Is it our goal to live near him?  The psalmist wrote that his presence is our good (Psalm 73:28).  Is it our goal to honor him with our lives in all we say and do?  The apostle wrote, "So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God" (1 Corinthians 10:31).

We will be healthy spiritually only if our aim and goal in life is good!  Jesus taught this when he said:
"Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light, but when it is bad, your body is full of darkness.  Therefore be careful lest the light in you be darkness (Luke 11:34-35).

Are you being careful?  Is your purpose in life to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ?  Or, is your eye --- your purpose --- bad?  You see, Jesus is teaching us that if we are seeking something less than knowing God, loving him, and living with him for his praise and glory, then our lives are full of darkness.  And even if we think we are spiritually okay with a lesser purpose than to glorify our triune God, we are deceiving ourselves, and that deceit makes our darkness greater.

Eventually those who live for lesser things will experience what our proverb teaches us: "the lamp of the wicked will be put out."  It will be put out by God himself.  Therefore, the warning of our passage is to repent and turn from our darkness, and turn to Jesus and his light.  Let us confess our failure to have the right purpose for our lives, and let us humbly come to the Lord to live in a new way for the honor and glory of our triune God.


[1] Waltke (vol. 1, 560) points out that "the light is part of the broken, stereotyped phrase 'the light of the lamp' (Jer. 25:10; cf. Job 18:5-6; Prov. 6:23), it should be interpreted as part of that imagery and not contrasted with the artificial light of a 'lamp.'"
[2] Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 6.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Proverbs 12:28 --- Walking in Eternal Life

Proverbs 12:28 
In the path of righteousness is life,
    and in its pathway there is no death.

One of my weaknesses is my inability to do more than one thing at a time.  I am not a good multi-tasker.  Therefore, in meditating on and writing about the Proverbs, I rarely look ahead, and if I do, at my age, I quickly forget what lies ahead.  So I am always amazed at how my poor attempt at a Christological interpretation of the Proverbs tends to such a smooth transition from one proverb to the next.  Yesterday, I argued that the Book of Proverbs is far more eschatological than is generally recognized by most of the commentators.  To put it more simply, Proverbs is constantly talking to us about eternal life and eternal death, heaven and hell.  I honestly had no idea that today's proverb would be one of the clearest examples of Solomon's belief in life beyond the grave.

The Israelites' belief in immortality should not surprise us.  Many of her idolatrous neighbors believed in immortality, so are we really to believe that the people of the true God would not also believe in life with the Lord after death?  Egypt, for example, is well known for its belief that the pharaoh upon his clinical death would journey from this life to the next life.  But Israel's belief in the next life is different than Egypt's view which limited eternal life to pharaoh.  In Proverbs the Lord democratizes this eternal life and offers it to all who are willing to walk in wisdom's path of righteousness.
It is true that the understanding of eternal life in the Old Testament was not nearly as clear as what we have in the New Testament.  As 2 Timothy 1:10 says, "Christ Jesus . . . abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel."  Nevertheless, if we say Old Testament believers had no knowledge of eternal life, we turn the witness of the New Testament into a lie!  For the great hall of fame of faith for Old Testament believers, Hebrews 11, clearly tells us Old Testament believers were seeking a heavenly country (see Hebrews 11:14-16).

There is a hiddenness about the Old Testament.  The apostle Paul speaks of this hiddenness when he speaks of "the mystery hidden for ages and generations" (Colossians 1:26).  But this does not mean that New Testament believers should read the Old Testament in this hidden way!  On the contrary, the very next words from Paul's mouth are "but now revealed to his saints!" (v. 26).  We, Christ's people, are now to mine "the riches of the glory of this mystery!" (v. 27).  What was hidden in the Old Testament Scriptures, God has now made "fully known" (v. 25), through his beloved Son, Jesus Christ.

But we really don't have to do much mining of today's proverb to discover the immortality that is taught.  The word "life" in line one is paralleled with "no death," in line two.  Since every person born has also died, with the exception of Enoch (Genesis 5:24) and Elijah (2 Kings 2:1-18), what can it mean that in the pathway of righteousness there is no death, except that those who walk with the Lord will live after they physically die!  Eternal life belongs to those who walk with the Lord.  It was said that "Enoch walked with God, and he was not, for God took him" (Genesis 5:24).  Our verse is saying the same is true for all who walk with God in his path of righteousness, though unlike Enoch, we may have to pass through death before the Lord takes us to himself, barring his soon return.

The Heidelberg Catechism (Q&A 42) is very good on this point.  It asks:
            "Since Christ has died for us, why do we still have to die?"

And it answers:

            "Our death does not pay the debt of our sins.  Rather, it puts an end to our sinning and
            is our entrance into eternal life."

Jesus has transformed the death of his people into a blessing, namely, "our entrance into eternal life."

Finally, to this good news, I would add one word of warning implicit in our proverb.  True believers seek to live righteous lives!  While Christ alone saves us by his sheer, unmerited grace, this does not mean we can live lives that have no interest in walking with Christ.  Here, Colossians 2:6 speak a faithful word to us:

            "Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him."

The second part of this verse, "walk in him," is not optional.  Sadly, many today think it is.  Undoubtedly, we all will struggle with the flesh, our sinful nature, our entire life.  But with that struggle understood, if we have no desire or interest in walking with Jesus in the obedience that flows from faith, then we should be concerned about our souls and cry out to Him for the help of his Spirit.  For the Spirit's work in our hearts, as the Heidelberg Catechism, again, faithfully teaches, is to make us willing to live for Christ:

            "Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life AND makes
            me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him" (Q&A 1).

Are you willing from now on to live for him?  If you are, praise the Lord!  But if you are not willing to live for him, then cry out to Jesus Christ to send his Spirit into your heart to do his gracious work of making you willing.  Then you too can have a true, not false, assurance that eternal life is yours.




Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Proverbs 12:26 --- The Most Precious Thing in the World

Proverbs 12:26    
The righteous chooses his friends carefully,
   but the way of the wicked leads them astray.

C. S. Lewis astutely observed, "Friendship can be a school of virtue, but also a school of vice."[1]  This is one reason why "the righteous chooses his friends carefully."  As the apostle Paul warned us, "Do not be deceived: 'Bad company ruins good morals'" (1 Corinthians 15:33).
A British monk named Aelred wrote a book on friendship in the twelfth century.  Aelred divides friendship into three classes.  First, carnal friendship, which "is based on the shared pursuit of pleasure."[2]  This shared pursuit could be anything from chasing a little white ball to chasing women, or I suppose, men.  Second, Aelred teaches there is worldly friendship.  This kind of friendship "is based on mutual advantage."[3]  Examples here might be, the mutually advantageous relationship between a golfer and his caddy, to keep the golf imagery alive, or a man and his mistress, to keep the sexual imagery alive.  Third, Aelred points to spiritual friendship.  This is based on "a mutual commitment to follow Jesus Christ."[4]

C. S. Lewis is right when he says that friendship starts when people find and share a common interest or passion.  "It [friendship] is found when we discover those travelling the same road as us, and decide to walk together."[5]  While there is nothing necessarily wrong with carnal or worldly friendship, especially when it relates to golf (my own biases may be showing through!) rather than prurient interests, the deepest friendship is spiritual friendship.  As Vaughan Roberts writes:

"Christians have the ultimate common passion and shared goal, which encompasses the whole of life.  We have been called, as brothers and sisters, to belong to Christ's family, as we travel along the way of the cross throughout our lives, with our eyes fixed on the destination of the new creation to come, which Christ will introduce when he returns."[6]

The righteous want their deepest and most intimate friends to be those who share a common faith with us.  While it is fine to have friends with whom we share a love for stamp collecting or passing our classes together in school, as believers our deepest friendships will be with other believers.  For with such people we are on the same path, under the same cross, following the same Lord we trust and love, to the same glorious destination.  These are our true brothers and sisters, for as Jesus taught us, "whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother" (Mark 3:35).  Among these, our brothers and sisters in Christ, will come our deepest friendships.

Jesus is our model for choosing friends carefully.  While he was certainly the friend of all sinners, nevertheless, he sought a deeper friendship with the disciples who followed him on earth, a still deeper friendship with the twelve, and the deepest of friendship with the three: Peter, James, and John.  

And so, "the righteous chooses his friends carefully" based on a common faith, a common walk, a common love, and a common goal.  But, sadly, no such consideration is in the heart and mind of the wicked.  The wicked person's way is the antithesis of the righteous.  The wicked has no fear of the Lord.  His faith is in himself.  The wicked do not walk in the way of the Lord, but follow the path of their own understanding (Proverbs 3:5).  The wicked have no love for the Lord, and this lack of love is the very thing that sends them to a different destination than the righteous.  For as the Spirit warns us, "If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed" (1 Corinthians 16:22).

Let us choose our friends carefully in the Lord.  Let us try to imitate our Lord in befriending all sinners who cross our path.  But, most of all, let us cultivate the friendship of all friendships, our friendship with our heavenly Father and his Son, Jesus Christ.  This is the friendship which is the most precious thing in all of this world.  We could ask for no greater gift than this, and yet it is a gift freely given, because God so loved the world that he gave us his only Son, who gave himself freely for us, offering his body on the cross.  Let us cherish such a friendship, which was made with such a price.


[1] Quoted by Vaughan Roberts in True Friendship: Walking Shoulder to Shoulder, 39.
[2] Ibid., 20.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid., 21.

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