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.

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