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.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Proverbs 15:2 --- Making Much of Christ

Proverbs 15:2
The tongue of the wise commends knowledge,
    but the mouths of fools pour out folly.

During the last week of our Lord's life, John records that some Greeks came to see Jesus.  "Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks.  So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, 'Sir, we wish to see Jesus'" (John 12:20-21).  It seems to me the words of these Greeks are important to keep in mind for all those who seek to speak on behalf of the King.  What people need to hear and see are not our opinions.  What people need to hear and see is not human wisdom.  No, what people need to hear and see is the glory of Jesus Christ, especially in his saving work, which was accomplished on the cross.

The desire of the Greeks to see Jesus is relayed to Jesus, and notice our Lord's response.  "Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus.  And Jesus answered them, 'The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.  Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit'" (John 12:22-24).  A bit later Jesus says, "And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself" (John 12:32).

Our verse today is about commending knowledge, so that people will be attracted to it, and leave their folly.  This word "commends" means to make knowledge seem good, beautiful and glorious, so that people are drawn to it.  This a large part of what Proverbs is trying to do.  It wants people to embrace wisdom, so that they leave their foolishness.  To put it in the language of the preface (chapters 1-9), Solomon's goal is to exalt Woman Wisdom, who stands for the Lord and his worship, so that all will embrace her, leaving Woman Folly behind, who stands for idolatry and sin. 

It is a short jump from Woman Wisdom, to our Lord and our marriage to him.  Jesus is, as Colossians 1:24-2:3 teaches, the mystery, which was hidden in the Old Testament, but is now revealed to us who live after his coming.  In this mystery, Christ, "are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (Colossians 2:3).  Therefore, just as Solomon desired to commend, exalt, adorn, beautify, and make pleasant "knowledge" with words, so now Christ Jesus' servants try to exalt him and lift him up with words, so that people will turn from their idols and turn to Christ.

As you can see, I believe this proverb is directed, first and foremost, to Christian ministers and workers.  Ministers need to learn how to use words for the purpose of exalting Christ and lifting him up.  The first thing ministers of the new covenant must learn is that their goal is to exalt Jesus Christ, crucified and risen.

Good preaching and teaching points us to Christ, and especially to his cross.  John the Baptist is a great example for us.  In John 1:29, we read of John: "The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, 'Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!'"  The very next day, John's message was the same as he exalted Jesus and pointed to Christ's saving work: "The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, 'Behold, the Lamb of God!'" (John 1:35-36).  But on this day, John's preaching drew men to Jesus, for we read, "The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus" (John 1:37).

Probably the main reason John the Baptist could exalt Christ in his preaching was that he himself saw Christ's glory.  In Matthew 3:11, notice the exalted view he has of his Lord:  "I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire."  When ministers try to exalt Christ, it's not like they are trying to lift him to a place that is not already his!  No, our Lord has been exalted to the highest place and he rules over heaven and earth.  That is the reality of life in heaven and life on earth.  But we do not see it because our eyes are beclouded with unbelief and sin, and it is only faith that can see unseen realities. 

John the Baptist saw Christ's glory, and so later he could say of Jesus, "He must increase, but I must decrease" (John 3:30).  Not all of us will be great preachers or evangelists, who lift up Christ our King with beautiful and gracious words.  But it definitely won't happen if we do not see our Lord's glory.  It definitely won't happen if we do not see his infinite worth as our Redeemer who saved us, by dying in our place.  It definitely won't happen if we do not see him as high and lifted up by his death, resurrection and ascension to the Father's right hand. 

Good and beautiful words come from "wise" hearts who make much of Jesus, and little of themselves, and this evaluation of both Christ and ourselves is not a fiction, but the reality that faith sees.  Lord Jesus, you must increase, but I must decrease, for your glory and my blessing.  Amen.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Christ in the Proverbs: Proverbs 14:33

Proverbs 14:33 
Wisdom rests in the heart of a man of understanding,
    but makes itself known in the midst of fools.[1]

This is a tricky proverb to interpret.  The second line has given commentators fits, because it says that wisdom is revealed or made known in the midst of fools, which is difficult to understand.  For Proverbs tells us again and again that fools do not possess the wisdom offered in Proverbs, for it requires the fear of the Lord, something fools are without.

But the problem begins to clear if we see that the wisdom in view in this proverb is personified wisdom.  Personified wisdom appears throughout the prologue (chapters 1-9) as Woman Wisdom.  And, what does Woman Wisdom do?  She calls out to everyone to come to her and receive her message.  But what is the response to Woman Wisdom?  Do all flock to her?  Do all heed her call?  No, actually the majority prefer a marriage to Woman Folly.  Most prefer to be married to their idols, rather than to be married to the Lord.  The sad history of the Lord's own people proves that not all of Israel was Israel, and in most of its history only a remnant of the nation ever faithfully followed the Lord.

So, then, line one is teaching us about "the man of understanding" who has received Wisdom, and line two is telling us that Wisdom has been revealed or made known to fools, but for the most part, Wisdom's call has been rejected. 

When we remember that Lady Wisdom foreshadowed Christ, the proverb takes on added meaning for us as new covenant believers.  We are married to our Lord Jesus Christ.  We have received and welcomed him into our hearts.  But just as most rejected Wisdom's call, so most rejected Jesus when he came into the world:  "He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him" (John 1:11).  Nevertheless, some did receive God's Son, for the next verse says, "But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God" (John 1:12).

The discerning person, "the man of understanding," in line one of today's proverb, is the person who has welcomed and received Jesus into his or her heart.  The idea of this word "rests" in line one is that Wisdom "feels free to abide and remain.  Wisdom is at home . . . . and makes its influence felt there."[2]  Waltke says the word rests"means to be settled peacefully in a particular place, with overtones of finality, and/or victory, salvation."[3]  It is a heart that is conquered and ruled.[4] 

Surely, then, we must ask the question, Is Christ welcome in our hearts?  Has he conquered our hearts?  Is he ruling our lives?  Waltke contrasts lines one and two when he writes, "To come to rest and to rule in someone's heart [line one] are quite different from simply to 'make oneself manifest' to a group of people [line two].[5] 

Which group describes you?  Many who go to church are still described by line two.  Christ has been revealed to you.  Week after week Jesus reveals himself to you in Word and sacrament.  But has he conquered your heart?  Is he ruling your heart?  Are you resting and abiding in him by faith continually?

These are not easy questions to answer, even for genuine believers.  For believers fall short of God's glory.  We want to abide in him continually, but we have times when sin flares up in our lives.  That besetting sin besets us again.  We want to be ruled by Christ's Word, but we somehow stray from it.  We love the Word, but yet we get away from it.  "Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it.  Prone to leave the God I love."[6]

Two things will help us.  First, don't give up.  Christians, you and I, are real sinners, not fake ones.  This is why we keep sinning.  But don't give up.  Keep repenting when you fall.  We live by the cross.  Keep pleading for a greater measure of the Spirit.  If you leave the Word, return to it, and learn to live in it.  Meditate on it.  Don't give up, but keep pursuing a closer walk with Christ.  Mourn over your sin, but remember: "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast" (Ephesians 2:8-9).  Our struggle with sin ought to teach us humility, so that we give up boasting.

Second, be zealous to bless others.  Be zealous to do good.  Set your heart to follow Christ each evening before you enter your bed, and set your heart to follow Him each morning before you leave your bed.  But also ask the Lord to lead you in the good works he has prepared for you in advance.  And, maybe some of those good works will be what our proverb implies, that the man of understanding will imitate his Lord in calling people to come to Christ.  Maybe some of those good works will be to people whom the Lord has prepared their hearts to hear a word about Christ.  For if our good works are prepared in advance by our Father, why should we not believe that some foolish hearts have also been prepared by him in advance!  "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them" (Ephesians 2:10).



[1] I have followed the ESV's alternative translation of line two, which removes the word even.
[2] Kitchen, Proverbs, 321.
[3] Waltke, Proverbs, vol. 1, 611.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.
[6] From the hymn, Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing.

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