Sermons

The Importance of Friendship – Proverbs 17:17; 18:24

Proverbs 17:17; 18:24

Let me invite you to take your copy of God’s Word and turn with me to two (2) passages of scripture, this morning, in the Book of Proverbs.  The first is Proverbs 17:17, and the second is Proverbs 18:24.  The Book of Proverbs has an awful lot to say to us about the nature and importance of friendships, and I’ll be referring to several other passage along the way but these are the two that I want us to focus our minds on.

 

As you’re finding those two references (Proverbs 17:17; 18:24), let me just say that friendship is, of course, I think, vitally important to everybody who lives.  Somebody who says that they have no interest in friendship is, at best, either kidding themselves; or worse still, a rather poor soul with something deeply wrong.

 

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a friend is “a person joined by intimacy and affection to another.”  That used to be a good definition of friends, but with the advent and proliferation of the internet and social media platforms I’m not sure it’s accurate.

 

Most of the friends that people speak about today are unknown names and faces that populate a Facebook page, an Instagram account, or a Twitter feed.  But so much of that is superficial.  So much of that is built on things that are very ephemeral.  They’re not true friends.  When we think in terms of true friendship, the kind that Solomon talks about, we’re dealing with something far deeper and much better.  As one author put it, “Rich is the individual who has one genuine friend in the whole world.”

 

This morning, I want us to consider what it means to be a genuine friend.  And I want us to use these two verses from Proverbs as our springboard.  Hopefully, you’ve found your spot.  If not, follow along on the screens.

 

“A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity” (Proverbs 17:17).

“A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24).

 

Our Father and our God, we ask now that with our Bibles open before us that we might hear Your voice, that You will teach us, and that in learning we may not simply be those who store up knowledge in our heads but that this may actually transform the way we live our lives.  We ask this for Your glory and for our good.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

 

Today, as always, I want to deal with friendship on three fronts: first of all, to notice a couple of characteristics of true friendship; and then, secondly, to see how those characteristics are ultimately embodied in Jesus; and finally, to ask ourselves how we’re doing being a true friend.

 

Characteristics Of A True Friend

 

Well, then, what are some of the characteristics of true friendship?  I’m only going to mention three.  The list is so much longer, but these are some of the qualities that are repeated over and over in the Book of Proverbs.

 

First of all, a true friend is faithful.  True friends are marked by faithfulness.  Proverbs 17:17 says it: “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.”  In other words, this friendship that exists between these individuals is not based on things that are passing away.  It’s not the kind of friendship that was known by the Prodigal.

 

You remember in Luke chapter 15, where, apparently, when everything was going swell, he had plenty of folks who were around him, and “when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need.  So, he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs” (Luke 15:14-15).  To be fair, the text of Scripture doesn’t explicitly say that he had no friends, but you don’t normally hire yourself out to someone if you have friends that can help.

 

The real question about friendship has to do with faithfulness.  Being prepared to stay with the person through thick and thin, whether they’re successful or unsuccessful, whether they’re still to our liking or not, irrespective of whether they’ve offended us or not.  Friendship establishes faithfulness at all times.  When you’ve made a fool of yourself and a royal mess of things, you need at least one friend to go to who will say, “But you haven’t made a permanent mess of things.  There’s still hope.”

 

Secondly, genuine friendship is marked not only by faithfulness but also by frankness (or honesty).  It’s impossible to enjoy friendship or to establish friendship if dishonesty is part of what’s going on.  And dishonesty, of course, appears in a number of ways.

 

In Proverbs 27:6, we read the “wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.”  Now, doesn’t that seem contradictory?  We’d expect to come across that verse and read that “a friend multiplies kisses and you get wounds from an enemy.”  But the point that Solomon is making is that when you receive a wound from a friend, you can trust it.  But you shouldn’t trust the multiplications of kisses.

 

Now, of course, this is very important to understand in context.  And we don’t want to overstress it one way or another; otherwise, we may become quite skeptical and be afraid of anybody who would show affection to us at all.  But the warning is clear.  And indeed, the challenge is there: Am I the kind of person who is able, because of the well-being of my friend, to wound them, not in a way to discourage them or dispirit them or bring them down – but on the few occasions do I wound because I long for my friend’s best interest?  Do I inflict pain for their progress?  Or do I inflict pain just because I’m bad?

 

Proverbs 28:23 says that “he who rebukes a man will afterward find more favor than he who flatters with his tongue.”  Listen to that again: “He who rebukes a man will afterward find more favor than he who flatters with his tongue.”  Our whole society is put together in such a way that if you go and say nice things to people and butter them up, then that somehow endears you to them, that’s what makes the world go round.  And yet we know, deep down, that isn’t true.  In fact, Proverbs 29:5 says, “The man who flatters his friend spreads a net for his feet.”

 

So, a well-timed, well-spoken, well-placed rebuke may well transform us.  But flattery will only trip us up.  If you reflect upon those friends who’ve been the best of friends to you, I think you will probably find that this truth and this principle is borne out.

 

Now, in this respect, it is very, very important that you choose the right kinds of friends.  That’s why we teach our children that they should be careful in making friendships.  That they shouldn’t just be friends with everyone and anyone.  They should be kind and respectful to everyone, but to establish a relationship which is based on intimacy and affection needs to be done with great care and attention.  Because not everybody who wants to come alongside you, not everyone who wants to get into your space, not everyone who is interested in establishing some kind of interest in you necessarily is motivated by any genuine sense of friendship.

 

There was an English clergyman from the 1600’s named George Swinnock that wrote a book titled The Christian Man’s Calling, and in it he writes: “In the choice of a bosom friend [some respect] ought to be had to his prudence.  Some men, though holy, are indiscreet, and in point of secrets are like sieves – [they] can keep nothing committed to them, but let all run through.  A blab of secrets is a traitor to society, as one that causeth much dissention.  It is good to try him [test him] whom we intend for a bosom friend before we trust him.”

 

That’s rather important.  Because how in the world can you ever share your heart, your life, your mind, your hopes, your dreams, your fears, your aspirations with somebody who’s like a sieve?  Of course, that’s one of the great challenges for anyone who’s in a position of leadership.  Why is it so difficult for someone in pastoral ministry to form really deep and meaningful friendships?  Part of it is right there.

 

The third (and final) characteristic that I want to mention is fairness.  Not simply faithfulness and frankness, but also fairness.  Friendship must always carry with them a sense of what’s appropriate.  Proverbs 26:18-19 says: “A man who is caught lying to his friend and says, ‘I was just joking!’ is like a madman throwing around firebrands, arrows, and death.”  (Doesn’t Proverbs have some good guidance?)  Those of us who talk more than we ought (I’m including myself), sometimes we cannot get ourselves out of an awkward situation or dismiss hurtful words by simply saying “Ah, I was only kidding!” or “Oh, it was just a joke!” or “I didn’t really mean it!”  ’Cause once the word is out, it’s out, whether you meant it or not.

 

So, a fair disposition in friendship will say no to gossiping because gossip separates friends.  Proverbs 16:28 says, “A gossip separates… friends.”  You can take it to the bank.  Proverbs 17:9 has another staggering statement: “He who covers over an offense promotes love, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends.”

 

Do you see what he’s saying?  Solomon isn’t saying that we shouldn’t call sin, sin or call something right that’s really wrong.  He’s expressing the New Testament understanding that love covers over a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8).  “Yes, I know you did that.  Yes, I understand that that was a disaster.  But let’s not dwell on it.  Let’s seek – by God’s enabling – to remember it no more.  After all, isn’t that how God keeps a record: no record at all!  Written clear.  So, you can look me in the eye, and I will tell you, ‘It won’t go any farther.’”  With that kind of friend you can have confidence.  But the person who “repeats the matter separates close friends.”

 

Faithfulness, frankness, and fairness are just a few of the marks of genuine friendship.  That’s the kind of friendship that sticks closer than a brother.

 

Christ As The Truest Friend

 

“Well,” you say, “I’m not sure that I have found that.  I’m not sure that I am that.  Where could we find this embodied?”  Well, the answer is, of course, in the Lord Jesus.  This is where the hymnody of generations past comes in handy.  There’s an old hymn that we don’t sing much anymore called One There Is Above All Others, by Marianne Nunn in which we sing,

 

Earthly friends may fail or leave us,

One day kind, the next day grieve us,

But this Friend will never deceive us,

 

The Bible says He’s the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8).  Never in a mood.  Never letting us down.  Never treating us impulsively.  There’s another, more familiar hymn by Charles Fry called The Lily of the Valley.  In fact, we sang it just a few weeks ago

 

I have found a friend in Jesus-

He’s ev’rything to me,

He’s the fairest of ten thousand to my soul;

The Lily of the Valley- in Him alone I see

All I need to cleanse and make me fully whole.

 

Let me quickly offer you three ways that Jesus embodies the truest of friends.

 

First, is the scope of His friendship.  It was a constant nuisance to the Pharisees.  It was even a concern to His closest disciples.  Because He kept ending up with the strangest individuals.  Stopping under the wrong tree to speak to a little thief named Zacchaeus.  Remember that (Luke 19:1-10)?  “Zacchaeus, come down; we’re going to have lunch at your house this afternoon.”

 

Or how about this encounter from John 4, “Excuse me, ma’am, do you think that I could have a drink of water?”  “I beg your pardon?  Isn’t it kind of strange that you, a Jew, would speak to me, a Samaritan?  That you, a man, would speak to me, a woman?” (especially since I’ve had five husbands; I have a live-in lover; and, honestly, I have a problem with men, but I’m not telling you that.)

 

Who is this kindest of friends?  It’s Jesus.  And the Pharisees said, “You know, the Son of Man has come eating and drinking.  And we like to call Him a winebibber and a glutton, because He is the friend of tax collectors and ‘sinners’” (Matthew 11:19).

 

Second, Jesus’ friendship is the standard.  In fact, in John 15:14, Jesus puts it round the other way; He says, “You are My friends if you do what I command [you].”  In other words, the enjoyment of friendship with Jesus and all of His faithfulness, frankness, and fairness is directly related in the Christian pilgrimage to the issues of obedience.  That’s why disobedience, willful sin, and assurance never go hand in hand in the same Christian experience.  If you and I are flat out disobeying the law of God, if we’re living in disregard for His Word, if we’re playing fast and loose with His commands, if we’re becoming very skillful hearers and yet not doers of the Word, we should not wonder why it is that we feel such a diminished sense of His companionship.  Not that we earn it by obedience, but our obedience is on account of love.  His friendship is our standard; it’s our calling.

 

And finally, there’s a security in His friendship.  Human friendships are passing.  If for no other reason, death will separate us.  Geography may remove us from the intimacy of day-to-day affection.  Time may diminish some.  But it’s never true with Jesus.  If you make friendship with Him the first choice of your youth, if we sustain friendship with Jesus in the maturing years of our lives, if we look forward to His friendship for all of eternity, then no matter what we face, we can rest in Him.  Again, the hymn writers of the past offer us guidance.  James Small wrote these words:

 

I’ve found a friend, O such a friend!

[He] loved me ere I knew Him

He drew me with the cords of love,

And thus He bound me to Him;

And round my heart [so] closely [twined]

[These] ties that naught can sever,

For I am His, and [He] is mine,

Forever and forever.

 

And of course, who could forget Joseph Scriven’s hymn What a Friend We Have In Jesus:

 

What a friend we have in Jesus.

all our sins and griefs to bear!

What a privilege to carry

everything to God in prayer!

 

Challenge To Be A True Friend

 

As we close let me borrow a line from the Kairos Prison Ministry.  There’s a theme we use with the inmates on the inside, and it goes like this.  Make a friend.  Be a friend.  Bring a friend to Jesus.

 

First, there’s make a friend.  It’s easy to wait for someone else to make the first move, to make the first phone call, to send the first note, to offer the first invitation.  The fear of rejection stimulates inaction.  Thankfully, God didn’t wait for us to approach Him, “We love because He first loves us” (1 John 4:19).  If there’s a friendship in your life that’s smoldering like an ember, rekindle it by taking the initiative.  If you know of someone that seems to be looking for a friend or needing a friend; follow Jesus’ example and take the initiative.

 

Second, be a friend.  Although Jesus enjoyed perfect friendship and community in the Godhead – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – nevertheless, He demonstrated His desire for relationship when He became one of us.  He took on Himself the cloak of our humanity, and through His redemptive work on the cross, Jesus made a way for us to become His friend(s).  This is a wonderful motivation for evangelism, yes!  And that leads me to my final point…

 

Finally, bring a friend to Jesus.  Most of us are fairly good at “making friends” and “being friends,” but we’re not generally as good at “bringing our friends to Jesus.”  That’s part of the reason for our 2021 evangelism initiative: Who’s Your ONE?  Sometimes, I wonder if our emphasis on “making friends” and “being friends” is actually our excuse for indefinitely postponing gospel proclamation.

 

Weeks and months (maybe even years) go by, and we’ve made friends, but no disciples.  We still haven’t spoken about our Christian faith and what it means to trust in Jesus.  And just in case you think your pastor must do this all the time, let me disappoint you.  I attend basketball games in high school gyms and church gyms and recreational leagues all over the upstate, and on most occasions, I don’t turn to the person or family sitting next to me or in front/behind me and tell them about Jesus.

 

No, just like them, I’m there hollering at the referees (absent the curse words, mind you), and coaching up my sons on what they need to do or should have done.  After the game I’m either joining the other parents retelling the wonderful shots and stories of the victory, or lamenting the bad calls and poor execution of our team.  I’m not saying that every conversation has to end with an altar call.  But it worries me when we can become “good friends” with non-believers without revealing our Christian identity.

 

When our Christian faith runs deep, Jesus has a way of making an appearance – sooner rather than later.  Our identity in Christ should be such an integral part of our lives that it’s impossible for someone to know us without also understanding how our Christian faith informs our lives.

 

Will you commit yourself?  Will we commit ourselves to being good friends?  To see Mountain Hill as a place that creates friendships that literally last for an eternity?  We can’t all be the bosom buddies of everybody.  That’s an impossibility.  We tyrannize ourselves if we say, “Well, I don’t know him or her as well as I might or may” or whatever.  Don’t worry about that.  But in the sphere of your influence, in the realm of your contact, say, “Lord Jesus, you who are the perfect friend, make me a friend.  Make me a friend.”

 

Father, we bless You again for the privilege of these moments.  And we thank You for the love that drew the plan of salvation, for the grace that brings it to us, for the great span that You have come across in redeeming us.  Grant, that the scope, the standard and the security of our friendship with Christ may challenge and encourage us, not only in the hours of this day but through life itself.  In Jesus’ name we pray.

Word Play – Proverbs 13:3

Proverbs 13:3 (various texts)

Peter Marshall once said, “The use of the right word, the exact word, is the difference between a pencil with a sharp point and a thick crayon.”  So, if you had to choose the right word, the exact word to describe the last year, what would it be?  How would you summarize what we experienced in 2020?  As you’re thinking about that, let me invite you to take your copy of God’s Word and turn with me to the 13th chapter of the Book of Proverbs.

 

Every year the editors of Merriam-Webster online take up the task of identifying the “Word of the Year.”  Based upon a statistical analysis of queries and searches, the dictionary wordsmiths attempt to index key cultural concerns and societal trends.  And this past year there were concerns and trends aplenty!

 

Because of Joe Biden’s use of the word during one of the debates, thousands of would-be voters scrambled to the dictionary looking up the word “malarkey.”  Then there was the sudden spike of interest in schadenfreude, a borrowed word from the German.  It’s compounded from shaden, meaning “calamity” or “adversity,” and freude meaning “gladness” or “joy.”  When the new NHL franchise in Seattle announced that it had chosen kraken as its team name and mascot, searches for the word skyrocketed 128,000 percent in a single day.  Ultimately, the phrase “release the kraken” took on a life all its own.

 

Of course, the words most frequently looked up last year had to do with COVID-19.  Rarely have words moved from the professional medical field to everyday vocabulary as quickly as the words: coronavirus, asymptomatic, quarantine, epidemiology, herd-immunity, pathogenicity, and immunocompromised.

 

When the World Health Organization officially declared that COVID-19 was a global pandemic, that word, “pandemic,” earned the single largest spike in dictionary traffic, with an increase of nearly 116,000 percent.  The Greek root pan means “all” or “every.”  And demos means “people.”  So, taken together, the word literally means “among all people” or “of everyone everywhere.”  Obviously, we used it to describe a virus that had spread uncontrollably.  And so… in the end, Merriam-Webster’s editors realized that this was the right word, the exact word, to describe the last year.

 

This morning, we’re going to be looking at the power of words.  Proverbs has an awful lot to say about our words, and the focal passage this morning is Proverbs 13:3.  I’ll be referencing many other proverbs along the way; so, if you’re taking notes, you might want to jot them down.  Solomon writes, “He who guards his lips guards his life, but he who speaks rashly will come to ruin” (Proverbs 13:3)

 

Father, we pray now that with our Bibles open before us, You will teach us from Your Word, that You will grant to us correction, that You will train us in the path of righteousness, that You will convict us of that which is displeasing to You, and that You will engender in us a genuine desire to become not only students of Your book but also those who, by Your divine enabling, put into practice what we learn.  Save us from being tasters without benefiting from the nutrition of Your Word.  For we pray in Jesus’ name.  Amen.

 

Words are seldom neutral, are they?  Think about this most recent week.  We employed adverbs, adjectives, verbs, and nouns – the whole deal.  We put them together in a way that had the potential for engendering strife and creating confusion, or we chose to use our words in such a way so as to encourage, to nourish, and to heal.

 

Some of us may have taught our children to sing a song that we grew up singing,

 

O, be careful, little feet, where you go,

O, be careful, little eyes, what you see;

O, be careful, little hands, what you touch,

And be careful, little lips, what you say.

For there’s a Father up above,

And he’s looking down in love.

So be careful, little lips, what you say.

 

We were simply, in verse, affirming the story of Hebrews 4:12-13 that every word that is spoken is heard by God, that nothing misses His gaze, that our lives are exposed before Him.  Thomas Brooks, one of the Puritans, said “We know metals by their tinkling, and men by their talking.”  And when coins were coins, you could flip a coin, have your eyes closed, and you could say, “That is a nickel,” or “That is a dime,” or whatever it is.  Some of you might still possess that capacity.

 

So, let’s consider this from three angles.  That’ll be no surprise to you who are regular attenders.  Why three?  I don’t know.  Perhaps it’s because the Bible seems to have an unusual preoccupation with that number (right?).  In any case, I want to view it from three perspectives: Using words to harm.  Using words to help.  Using words to hide.

 

Using Words to Harm

 

First of all, then, it’s an abuse of language when we use words to harm.  The Bible says that’s a sin we should avoid.  Indeed, it’s one of the distinctive facts of the fallenness of humanity that we don’t need to teach our children how to use words that will be harmful or hurtful.  They hear us and see us and they naturally follow suit.

 

What are the characteristics of words that harm?  Well, there are many, but let me just give you three.

 

First of all, reckless words.  I’m not going to give you every reference in Proverbs; it would be too tedious.  But consider Proverbs 12:18: “Reckless words pierce like a sword.”  That’s an interesting way of putting it Solomon.  It’s the image of somebody unsheathing a sword and moving it around in an unceremonious and unguarded fashion.  In the Wild West it’s the fellow that takes his guns out of his holsters and fires them indiscriminately into the dusty ground underneath the person, who’s forced to jump and run in order to avoid being killed or wounded.

 

Second, are unguarded words.  Solomon speaks of “he who answers before listening,” and he says, “that is [to] his folly and his shame” (Proverbs 18:13)  We know what it is to answer before the question, don’t we?  Doctors do it: “I wanted to tell you how I’m feeling.”  “Let me prescribe for you!”  “No, I’m sorry.  I didn’t…”  Pastors do it; they begin preaching before the person has shared their story.  Husbands do it; we begin answering before our wives have told us what their concern is.  It’s this unguarded talk that begins to volunteer information before the person has even time to listen.  And this unguarded, reckless, unbridled use of the tongue, is what English clergyman Edward Reyner called “the chariot in which the devil rides.”

 

Thirdly, words that are harmful are far too numerous.  Proverbs 10:19 says, “When words are many, sin is not absent.”  It really makes sense, doesn’t it?  Just consider the law of averages.  When we speak and we begin to speak too much, inevitably there will be things that are said that we wished we hadn’t said, things that we would like to take back and can’t, words that we let slip out that we really never intended to use, things that we said about another person that we really should have kept to ourselves.  Many times the problem is simply talking too much.  “When words are many, sin is not absent.”

 

Using too many reckless and unguarded words we can destroy our neighbor, crush the feelings of a friend, set fire to relationships between people – all by simply employing words!  Phenomenal potential for harm.  One wrong word may spoil a person’s character, smear a person’s reputation, or mar the usefulness of someone’s life for a very long time.  A poet once inscribed these words:

 

A careless word may kindle strife,

A cruel word may wreck a life,

A bitter word may hate instill,

A brutal word may smite and kill.

 

Now that’s straightforward.  It’s clear.  It’s unavoidable.  It’s dreadfully painful, because all of us understand it.  And when we use our tongues in a way that’s harmful, a number of things will inevitably follow.  One of them is that we will divide people who should be friends.  Proverbs 16:28: “A perverse man stirs up dissension, and a gossip separates … friends.”

 

We all know people that can be in a room less than two minutes and they’ve got one person set against another person: “Did you hear about this?  Do you know what she said?  I was just talking on the phone to so and so, and she said such and such.  I’m only telling you this because it’s true.  I just have a little prayer request for you, in the corner.”  Yeah, sure!

 

Think about it.  It’s not difficult to estimate how many friendships are broken, how many reputations are ruined, the peace of how many homes destroyed through careless words – words that harm people.

 

Let me offer just two more quick results of harmful words.  Harmful words destroy the praise of God’s people.  Ephesians 5:18 “Be filled with the Spirit,” and Ephesians 4:30 “Do not grieve the … Spirit.”  How do you grieve the Spirit?  In part, by the use of words that harm.

 

It’s impossible to have a vibrant, meaningful, worship service with people who have spent the week harming others with their mouths.  Think about it.  That’s us each Sunday.  This congregation is a group of sinful people that are trying to bring praise and worship to our God and King, or Creator and Sustainer, or Lord and Savior.  That’s why James puts his finger on it, and he says, “With [the tongue] we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God.  From the same mouth come blessing and cursing.  My brothers, these things ought not to be so” (James 3:9-10).

 

Do you want to see the amazing grace of Jesus at work – just come to one of our worship services.  Jesus takes people that have used their words to harm people during the week and turns them to praise Him, and prayerfully, in the process, turns their hearts back to him and their mouths away from harm.

 

Finally – in this section on harmful words – not only do our words divide us and destroy praise, but they diminish the progress of the people of God.  In Jeremiah chapter 7, Jeremiah speaks to the people there, and he says, “You know, you folks think you’re going forward?  I’ve got news for you: you’re going backwards.  And the reason that you’re going backwards,” he says, “is because the plain instruction of God to you, you’ve got your fingers in your ears when it comes to listening, and you’ve got your eyes closed when it comes to seeing, and you’re moving in the wrong direction,” and at the heart of it all, in verse 28, he says, “[T]ruth has perished; it is cut off from their lips” (Jeremiah 7:28).

 

Using words to harm.  They’re reckless, unguarded, and too many.  And they result in division, destroying worship and diminishing our sanctification.

 

Using Words to Help

 

So, let’s turn to the positive side, see if that’s a little better.  How about using words to help?  If the speech of a scoundrel is like a scorching fire, (Proverbs 16:27) then “the mouth of the righteous,” says Solomon, “is like a fountain of life” (Proverbs 10:11).

 

Wonderful picture, isn’t it?  Scorching fire, burning everything in its way.  Fountain of life; people love to come to it and be refreshed.  Or the healing tongue, he says, is like “a tree of life,” (Proverbs 15:4) reminding us that the power of the tongue may be employed to encourage, to affirm, to enrich, to reconcile, to forgive, to unite, to smooth, to bless.

 

The other half of that anonymous poem that I quoted earlier continues with these words:

 

A gracious word may smooth the way;

A joyous word may light the day.

A timely word may lessen stress;

A loving word may heal and bless.

 

Well, what are the characteristics of words that help?  If the words that harm are reckless, unguarded, and too numerous, how about employing words to help?  Well, let me offer a few clues.

 

Number one, they need always to be honest words.  Proverbs 16:13 says, “Kings take pleasure in honest lips; they value a man who speaks the truth.”

 

Secondly, they need to be thought-out words.  Proverbs 15:28 says, “The heart of the righteous weighs its answers, but the mouth of the wicked gushes evil.”  What a great verb: gushes evil.  The difference between thought-out words and the completely unbridled, reckless use of terminology – just someone whose mouth is like the opening up of a fire hydrant on an afternoon, and all of a sudden, it’s everywhere and over everybody.  Somebody said, “Is it possible to get a glass of water?” and the answer was, “Watch this,” and it went everywhere!  Someone says, “I had a question about such and such,” and instead of simply getting a word, they get a dictionary.

 

Third, the words that help will also be few rather than many.  Solomon deals with this quite ironically in chapter 17 when he says, “Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue” (17:28).  We know this from school, many of us, don’t we?  You sit in a chemistry class, you’ve gotta make sure you sit next to the right person – somebody who knows what he’s talking about, an intelligent group.  Don’t sit with the Norris boys.  Learn the art of nodding, and shaking, and the look of deep contemplation of the ramifications of these great theories – and hopefully, volunteer nothing at all.  Because even a fool is thought wise if he stays silent, and you may be taken as discerning if you hold your tongue.

 

Words that help also need to be calm words.  Calming words allow for a fair hearing in a dispute; calming words allow tempers to cool; the calming, soft tongue that will “break a bone” (Proverbs 25:15).  What an interesting statement!  “The soft tongue has the power to break the bone.”

 

You say, “How can a soft tongue break a bone?”  You think about at the beginning of Romans 2: “Do you presume on the riches of His kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?”  It’s God’s kindness in the face of our rebellion, it’s Jesus’ tenderness in the face of our resistance, that may be used to melt our hearts.  It’s Jesus’ soft words in the moment of our sin that lead us to say, “This kind of love is amazing to me!”

 

We’re all confronted by unfairness, unfriendliness, unkindness, and we’re a part of this same mixture.  It takes far more to respond in gentleness than it does to give way to unbridled passion and anger.   You’re driving the car: “Well, if I ever get the chance again, I’ll know what I’ll say next time.  ’Cause I was slow off the mark, but I’ve got it now!  I hope she says it again.  I hope she says it as soon as I get back, because I’m ready for her this time.”  Go ahead and gush.  Go ahead and be reckless.  Go ahead and stir up dissension.  Go ahead and defend your course. “A gentle answer turns away wrath” says Solomon.

 

So helpful words are honest words; they’re thought-out words; they’re few rather than numerous, and they’re calming rather than divisive.

 

Using Words to Hide

 

Finally, just a word about using words to hide.  What I’m referring to here is the temptation to hide behind empty words.  Solomon says, “Mere talk leads only to poverty” (Proverbs 14:23) – financial poverty, relational poverty, spiritual poverty.  He says, “Like a coating of glaze over earthenware are fervent lips with an evil heart” (Proverbs 26:23).  He says, “You can’t do it.  You can’t conceal it.  You’re not going to be able to disguise, before God, the reality of your character by thinking that you can take the earthenware part of your life and simply glaze it over with all the kinds of terminology that make people think that you’re in the know and that you’re on track.”

 

And there’s nothing that creates this more in the realm of hypocrisy than within the framework of a religious environment, and we become adept at hiding the poverty of our own spiritual life behind terminology – words that are a thin disguise.

 

Isn’t it amazing (it is to me) that when God reveals Himself in His searing, unblemished holiness to Isaiah the prophet – the prophet whose whole life is about his lips – when God makes Himself known to Isaiah, he falls on his face, and what does he say?  “I am a man of unclean lips!” (Isaiah 6:5).  In other words, Isaiah is admitting that it’s within the realm of his greatest giftedness where his deepest failure lies.

 

Jesus warns that we will give an account for these things.  And Paul says to Timothy, “I want you to be an example to the believers first of all in speech” (1 Timothy 4:12).  Not in preaching.  In speech!  Jesus said the same thing to the Pharisees.  He said, “You’re a bunch of talkers.  You love it when people say, ‘Oh, have you seen them doing their alms?  Oh, have you seen them attending the services?  Oh, have you listened to their prayers at the corner of the street?’”  He says, “If you live in such a way so as to hide behind the multitude of your words, enjoy your reward, because there will never be a reward on the day of judgment” (Matthew 6:1-2, paraphrased).

 

And if all of that is not demanding enough, listen to what Jesus said about our words, “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak…”  And then He lays it down hard and heavy, “for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:26-27).  What does He mean by that?  Simply this: that you know a metal by its tinkle, you know a man by his talk, and our words and our works achieve nothing for us before the gate of heaven but…  BUT our words and our works are the evidence that our profession of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is true and not fake.

 

Let me conclude with a story that I believe drives home the wisdom of words.  I don’t recall when I first heard the story.  I believe it was in seminary, but whenever it was it’s stuck with me through the years and I’ve often imagined how it might have played out.

 

In Corrie ten Boom’s book The Hiding Place, she tells the story of her father’s remarkable wisdom.  When Corrie was a little girl, preadolescent, she was traveling with her father on the train to Amsterdam from their home in Haarlem, in the Netherlands.  Her father was a watchmaker, and he traveled once a week for repair parts, for new watches that he sold in his story, and to get the accurate time from a special clock in Amsterdam so that he could be assured all of his clocks and watches in Haarlem were accurate.  He carried with him a large, heavy briefcase with spare parts and tools.  Corrie had read the word “sex” some time before, and could not imagine what it meant.  So she asked her father on the train.

 

“Father, what is sex?”

 

She writes, “He turned to look at me, as he always did when answering a question, but to my surprise he said nothing.  At last he stood up, lifted his traveling case from the rack over our heads, and set it on the floor.”

 

“Will you carry it off the train, Corrie?” he said.

 

“It’s too heavy,” I said.

 

“Yes,” he said.  “And it would be a pretty poor father who would ask his little girl to carry such a load.  It’s the same way, Corrie, with knowledge.  Some knowledge is too heavy for children.  When you’re older and stronger you can bear it.  For now, you must trust me to carry it for you.”

 

I stand in awe of that kind of wisdom.  It’s almost as though the answer came from another world.  Then I think of the kind of man he must have been.  A faithful man.  A man of the Word.  A man of prayer.  A man of obedience.  A wise man.  His wisdom and articulate speech were an outgrowth of his close walk with the Lord.  That’s how it is with wise speech.

The Blessings of Wisdom – Proverbs 8:1-36

Proverbs 8:1-36

Let me invite you to take your copy of God’s Word and turn with me to Proverbs 8.  As always, I want to encourage you to bring your Bibles with you (if possible).  I was reading an article this week on the spiritual discipline of Bible reading, and the author included this quote, “If you don’t need your Bible at church, then the Bible says you don’t need that church.” 

 

Now, don’t overthink that too much.  Yes, you can certainly come to MHCC without your Bible.  Nobody is going to ask you to leave if you don’t bring your Bible.  And, to be fair, the Bible doesn’t actually say that – at least not explicitly.  However; the clear teaching of the Bible is that IT is the inspired and inerrant Word of God, and we should be giving our ear to His Word.  If MHCC isn’t reading, preaching and teaching from the Bible, and you aren’t being encouraged and even challenged to go back to the pages of Scripture, then perhaps you should consider attending a different church (amen?).  So, I hope you’ll bring your Bibles each week; because that’s where we look for our direction, and that’s what I use in my preaching.

 

Now, before I read Proverbs 8 (and I’m going to read the entire chapter), I want to take just a moment and remind us of a few academic points.  First, remember that Proverbs is considered wisdom literature.  In other words, you don’t read it (or listen to it) like you do the gospel accounts of Jesus’ life, or the narratives we find in Genesis.  Also, it’s not a prophetic book like Jeremiah or Isaiah or Ezekiel.  It’s not apocalyptic literature like Daniel or Revelation.  So just remember, what you’re about to hear isn’t like those other kinds of writings and you might need to use a different set of ears when listening.

 

Second, although it’s wisdom literature and most of the Book of Proverbs is set out in pithy sayings and maxims, what you’re going to hear and see today is most likely a poetic way of sharing that wisdom.  Proverbs 8 – like Proverbs 31, which contains the virtuous woman verses that we’re all familiar with around Mother’s Day – almost stands on its own.  This chapter and Proverbs 31 read very differently than the rest of the Book.  So not only is Proverbs different from most of the rest of the Bible, but Proverbs 8 is different from almost every other chapter in the Book.

 

Finally, let’s talk about gender.  And I’m specifically talking about gender as it relates to language.  Proverbs 8 is not about biological gender, although the wisdom gained from the Book of Proverbs should help inform a Christian position on biological gender.

 

(And just to be clear – regardless of what our society says – the Bible says there are two and only two biological sexes, male and female, and they’re determined at conception.)

 

But that’s a sermon for another day.  Many of you remember studying other languages.  Maybe some of you can actually speak other languages (French, Italian, Spanish, etc.).  You might recall that in some of those other languages there were grammatical genders.  Meaning, that words were partly defined by their gender.

 

For example, Parker is taking Spanish this semester.  The Spanish word for “guitar” is la guitarra, and it’s feminine.  The Spanish word for “car” is el coche, and it’s masculine.  Besides our English pronouns (he/she/him/her, etc.), most of the words in our language don’t operate like this.  The reason this is important to know (before I read the text) is because the Hebrew word for “wisdom” is chokmoth, and it’s grammatically feminine.  So, in Hebrew, it would have been natural to speak of “wisdom” in female terms, and that’s exactly what you’re going to see and hear.

 

If you were in the Navy or you know a car fanatic (like myself), then you’ve probably heard them referring to boats and ships and cars as if they were girls.  “Isn’t she a beauty?  Look at her lines.  She cuts through the waves with such grace.”  That’s what Solomon is doing in chapter 8 with wisdom.

 

So, with those gentle academic reminders out of the way, follow along with me as I read Proverbs 8:1-36.

 

1 Does not wisdom call?

Does not understanding raise her voice?

2 On the heights beside the way,

at the crossroads she takes her stand;

3 beside the gates in front of the town,

at the entrance of the portals she cries aloud:

4 “To you, O men, I call,

 and my cry is to the children of man.

5 O simple ones, learn prudence;

O fools, learn sense.

6 Hear, for I will speak noble things,

and from my lips will come what is right,

7 for my mouth will utter truth;

wickedness is an abomination to my lips.

8 All the words of my mouth are righteous;

there is nothing twisted or crooked in them.

9 They are all straight to him who understands,

and right to those who find knowledge.

10 Take my instruction instead of silver,

 and knowledge rather than choice gold,

11 for wisdom is better than jewels,

and all that you may desire cannot compare with her.

 

12 “I, wisdom, dwell with prudence,

and I find knowledge and discretion.

13 The fear of the Lord is hatred of evil.

Pride and arrogance and the way of evil

and perverted speech I hate.

14 I have counsel and sound wisdom;

 I have insight; I have strength.

15 By me kings reign,

and rulers decree what is just;

16 by me princes’ rule,

and nobles, all who govern justly.

17 I love those who love me,

and those who seek me diligently find me.

18 Riches and honor are with me,

enduring wealth and righteousness.

19 My fruit is better than gold, even fine gold,

and my yield than choice silver.

20 I walk in the way of righteousness,

in the paths of justice,

21 granting an inheritance to those who love me,

and filling their treasuries.

 

22 “The Lord possessed me at the beginning of His work,

the first of His acts of old.

23 Ages ago I was set up,

at the first, before the beginning of the earth.

24 When there were no depths I was brought forth,

when there were no springs abounding with water.

25 Before the mountains had been shaped,

before the hills, I was brought forth,

26 before He had made the earth with its fields,

or the first of the dust of the world.

27 When He established the heavens, I was there;

when He drew a circle on the face of the deep,

28 when He made firm the skies above,

when He established the fountains of the deep,

29 when He assigned to the sea its limit,

so that the waters might not transgress His command,

when He marked out the foundations of the earth,

30 then I was beside Him, like a master workman,

and I was daily His delight,

rejoicing before Him always,

31 rejoicing in His inhabited world

and delighting in the children of man.

 

32 “And now, O sons, listen to me:

blessed are those who keep my ways.

33 Hear instruction and be wise,

and do not neglect it.

34 Blessed is the one who listens to me,

watching daily at my gates,

waiting beside my doors.

35 For whoever finds me finds life

and obtains favor from the Lord,

36 but he who fails to find me injures himself;

all who hate me love death.”

 

Wisdom and Creation

 

I want to start in the heart of this chapter with verses 22-31.  I want to do that for a few reasons.  First, this is the climax of the poem.  Second, in order for us to consider what “wisdom” has to say to us, we need know her credentials.  Third, I want to clarify the imagery that we’re introduced to in this section.

 

There’s no denying that as you heard me read this section, and even now, for those of you that are looking at it, your mind was taken back to Genesis 1.  Wisdom was with God before the world began.  In fact, wisdom was something that God used when He created time and space and the world and humans.  Again, remember that this is poetic expression and it shouldn’t be taken literally.  However, notice that wisdom is described in verses 30-31 as “delighting” and “rejoicing” in the presence of God.  The image we get is a playful and peaceful satisfaction – a perfect relationship – between wisdom and God.

 

Now the temptation is going to be for us to run to an interpretation and application of this section as a picture of the pre-incarnate Christ.  In fact, that’s exactly what Arias did in the 4th century when he (and others) argued against the deity of Jesus.  But I want to caution against that, and here’s why.  There’s language in these verses that speak about wisdom’s being “brought forth” or “created.”  And we know that Jesus, as the second person of the Trinity, has always eternally existed with the Holy Spirit in the Godhead.

 

The apostle Paul, in Colossians 2:3, presents Jesus as God’s wisdom and he teaches that Jesus participated with the Father in creation (Colossians 1:15-17; John 1:3; Revelation 3:14), so we shouldn’t be surprised that these verses point us in that direction.  But they aren’t specifically describing Jesus.

 

Why does all of this matter.  What’s the point?  Well, as we’ve been looking at Proverbs and trying to gain more wisdom and apply it in our day-to-day living there’s a principle, here, that we need to appreciate.  If God used wisdom in the act of creation, then surely, we need His wisdom for the problems we face.  And since God’s wisdom has been around since creation, I believe we ought to give a little more consideration to her, and to the pages of Scripture where she’s found.

 

Wisdom and Righteousness

 

Next, I want us to consider verses 12-21.  It’s a natural continuation of the blessings of wisdom.  When you have wisdom, you get so many more things added on.  It’s like Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 6.  You remember.  He’s encouraging us not to be anxious about what we should eat or drink or wear, and He uses the birds and the flowers as His illustration.  And then He says this, “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33).  The things that will be added are the food and clothes and drink and everyday stuff that we concern ourselves with.

 

That’s exactly what Solomon is saying here.  Notice who dwells with wisdom and who comes along with her: prudence, knowledge, and discretion (vs. 12), counsel, sound wisdom, insight, and strength (vs. 14).  And if that wasn’t enough, riches and honor, enduring wealth and righteousness tag along in verse 18.  If you’re counting, that’s eleven (11) virtues that you obtain when you gain wisdom.

 

Now, part of our society’s problem is that we want the riches and the wealth and the clothes and food and the material trappings of the “here and now,” of this present existence, but we don’t want to pursue God’s kingdom and His righteousness.  A few weeks ago, we learned about lists in the Bible?  One of the things we learned is that lists often have a progression.  Well, if you consider verse 12 to be the beginning of the list, then wisdom is at the top and riches, honor and wealth are at the bottom.  Rather than start with that which is the most important, we start by pursuing those on the bottom in the hopes that they’ll give us wisdom.

 

In reality, the only inheritance that will last forever is that which is obtained by pursuing God’s wisdom.  Most people talk about and desire to go to heaven when they die, but they aren’t interested in pursuing the One that is assured of getting them there.  Verses 35-36 remind us, “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.”  Divine wisdom is not mere words spoken by great teachers; rather, God’s wisdom is a Person.  And it’s a right relationship with this Person that secures our entry to heaven.

 

Wisdom and Today

 

Like you, as I read the Bible each day I’m asking the Lord to show me what’s right and true and even real.  That’s one of the reasons I’ve taken us to the Book of Proverbs – to help us recalibrate our truth meter, to be reminded of the realities of life.  In the opening verses of chapter 8 wisdom calls out to anyone that will listen.  She’s easily accessible.  She’s on the heights calling out (vs. 2).  She’s at the crossroads (vs. 2).  She’s beside the gates in front of town and at the entrance (vs. 3).  As the chapter concludes, we’re told (vs. 34), “Blessed is the one who listens to me, watching daily at my gates, waiting beside my doors.”  The point is clear.  Wisdom isn’t limited to religious matters.  It will touch every aspect of our lives, individually and corporately.  And the question we should be asking ourselves is: have we accepted wisdom’s invitation?

 

As we close, I want to offer four tips for discerning truth in these days that we’re living in.

 

First, trust the people you know to be reliable; pastors, friends, and family, over anonymous online conspiracy theorists hiding behind screens.  One of the disadvantages of the internet is that it often pulls us everywhere but where we are.  It gives us the illusion that we’re experts in things we can’t sufficiently grasp.  Given the choice between listening to the opinion of a local homeless advocate in Landrum or Greenville or some opinionated Twitterer who lives thousands of miles away and has never worked with the homeless, let’s go with the former.  At a time when we can be in the business of every place and every problem, however far removed or complicated they may be, local is good wisdom.

 

Second, as a general rule, trust the older over the newer and the slower over the faster.  For some of you that’s not a big tip, that’s just reality (older and slower).  I was reading an article this week by a guy named Chris Martin titled How Veracity Suffers in the Age of Virality.  He was talking about how so many people today are fixated on something going “viral.”  Just so you aren’t confused – he wasn’t talking about COVID-19.  When something goes “viral” on the internet it takes on a life of its own and grows exponentially more than it otherwise would under normal circumstances.  And one of the comments he made was this, “When it comes to what generates maximum attention and engagement, truth and reality usually take a back seat to the sensational and entertaining.  Truth and reality are often pretty boring, and boring never goes viral.”

 

The test of time is a rigorous test.  It allows reporting to be verified, facts to be checked, sources to be investigated, reasoning and tone to be considered.  Given the choice between a “hot, new take” on a complicated subject and a decades-old book, article, or documentary that’s still cited and celebrated, go with the latter.  Think about it like this; a med student’s health advice will naturally carry less weight than a doctor who’s been practicing for 30 years.  An engaged couple’s marital advice should be taken with bigger grains of salt than a couple that’s been faithfully married for 40 years.

 

Third, trust a group of counselors over following your own heart.  Our digital age tends to isolate us from community.  Proverbs 3:5 says, “Lean not on your own understanding,” but contemporary Western culture says the opposite: “Look within yourself for truth.”  Yet, this bypasses one of the greatest gifts for our wisdom: community.  This is one of the reasons why church occupies such an important place in the life of a believer.  We desperately need the plurality of perspectives and accountability of community to help us through the chaos.  This is not to say communities never make mistakes; it’s just that, as a general rule, truth is easier found together than alone.

 

Last, value holistic wisdom over pure head knowledge.  We know this to be true.  I’m not sharing anything that you don’t already know.  Wisdom isn’t just a matter of having the most data.  Humans are not brains on sticks.  It’s possible a farmer who never finished high school, yet whose hands are in the dirt daily and who works at the mercy of the weather, could have more wisdom than the “expert” with two doctorates.  That’s not to say education is unimportant; it’s just that wisdom is not merely a matter of gaining knowledge.

 

When we’re evaluating who to listen to, then, we should ask: are they wise?  Or are they brilliant but lacking in virtue?  It’s possible a New Testament scholar who wrote several books on the Sermon on the Mount doesn’t live a life resembling it.  A source’s trustworthiness depends in part on factual rigor and avoidance of technical error, yes, but also on demonstrable wisdom across all areas of life.  On any given complex topic, if I have the choice between listening to the wise, faithful, humble Christian in my life or the smart but cocky nominal Christian whose life bears little fruit of the Spirit, I’ll always go with the former.

 

If we’re going to have any hope of finding truth in these days of confusion and fog…  If we hope to recover trust in one another and the institutions that make up our lives, then it must come from God.  If God is wisdom incarnate, then our presence with Him in relationship is the most vital ingredient for our wisdom.  We must orient our whole lives (mind, body, soul) around God, not only knowing about Him but enjoying being with Him, and praying to Him as we seek to discern truth in an increasingly foggy world.

Things God Hates – Proverbs 6:16-19

Proverbs 6:16-19

As always, let me invite you to take your copy of God’s Word and turn with me to Proverbs 6:16-19.  We’re continuing in a sermon series from the Book of Proverbs.  There’s no fancy or catchy title for this series.  We’re just trying to recapture what it means to “fear the LORD,” so that we might attain wisdom and discipline and understanding and discernment for the times we’re living in.

 

In the midst of a world in confusion and chaos – where up is down, and down is up, where right is wrong and wrong is right, where truth is whatever you want it to be and lies are passed off as truth, where male is female and female is male, where good is now evil and evil is now good – those of us in the body of Christ still want to be able to know and do that which is right and just and fair in the eyes of God.  And in order to do that we need to get back to fearing the LORD.

 

Proverbs 1:7 says, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge,” and until we understand who God is and develop a reverential fear of Him, we can’t have true wisdom.  Because, true wisdom comes only from understanding who God is . . . understand that He’s holy, and just, and righteous . . . and also understanding how much God hates sin and fearing His judgment on sin – even in the life of a believer.

 

You know; in a day when many people think that God is little more than a really powerful grandfatherly figure who would never express His disapproval of anything, it’s all too easy for those of us in the church to adopt a view of our Creator that leaves almost no room for divine hatred.  Yet if we want to fear the LORD, if we want to honor God, if we desire wisdom, and knowledge, and understanding, then we’ll certainly want to pay attention whenever Scripture speaks of those things that God hates.

 

I’ve titled today’s sermon: Things God Hates.  Now there’s no doubt that putting God and the word “hates” right next to each other is not the most politically correct thing to do in our day.  Oh, sure, we can talk about God being love, for indeed He is (1 John 4:8, 16).  That’s fine, isn’t it?  You could put that on a T-shirt, or put that on your business card and pop it into your pocket and give it out to people tomorrow morning.  But what about this: “God is a righteous judge, and a God who feels indignation every day” (Psalm 7:11) Or, as the old King James Version puts it, “God is a just judge, and God is angry with the wicked every day.”  How about that for a T-shirt?  How about that for a little card to slip to your waitress at the end of the meal, with a decent tip?

 

You see, the God to whom we’re introduced in the Bible is not a figment of our imaginations.  He’s not a creation of our own design and desire – a kind of “tailor-made God” that fits the twenty-first century – to fit the pluralistic perceptions of our culture, to allow us to absorb and placate every notion that presents itself.  No, God stands above and outside of all of that, calling men and women to account.  And Proverbs 6:16-19 is part of that call.  It’s a stern warning to avoid attitudes and behaviors that are displeasing (indeed loathsome) to God, and instead urges us to live lives that are holy and pleasing unto Him.  Follow along as I read these four verses:

 

16 There are six things that the LORD hates, seven that are an abomination to Him: 17 haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, 18 a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, 19 a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers. (ESV)

 

I want us to consider the serious implications of a passage like this.  I want us to see that the negative message of these verses can actually have a positive impact on our lives, but only if we’ll take them seriously and understand that what God hates should never be found in the life of someone who was bought by the blood of His son, Jesus Christ.

 

We need to grow in our faith and knowledge of the Bible so that we will hate what God hates, and love what God loves.  Too many people that call themselves Christians, today, walk around loving and encouraging and supporting things that God hates, all the while hating things that God loves.  Are you beginning to see how these verses might help us in 2021, as we live in an upside-down world?

 

The first thing I want us to notice is that there’s…

 

A LOATHING

 

Verse 16 contains two words that are really uncomfortable for most of us: “hate” and “abomination.”  Or, your Bible might use the word “detestable.”  As I said earlier, this was just not what we were taught as children, and to compound that problem we don’t teach or preach this idea in adult settings much either.  Think about it; so much of the preaching that we hear today, and quite frankly, the preaching that most of us like are messages that build us up, sermons that soothe our own egos, sermons that tell us we can have our best lives now.  When was the last time you saw a best-selling Christian book titled Hell Is for You (subtitle: If You Don’t Repent)?  By the way, that’s not even a real book.  I just made it up.

 

In order to relieve the tension that we feel when we hear God’s name and the emotion of hate we have to begin by understanding that anger – in and of itself – is not a sin.  If anger was inherently and intrinsically a sin, then that would mean two things, immediately: one, that God is evil, and two, that Jesus was a sinner.  See, we know that it’s a part of the character of God to express His wrath, and we see occasions in the New Testament, particularly in the episode of Jesus cleansing the temple.  He fashioned a whip out of ropes and went in there and turned over the tables of the moneychangers and drove them out, and Christ was angry.

 

We have a phrase to describe that particular type of anger, which is what?  (Righteous indignation.)  Any time God is angry it’s a righteous anger, and any time that Christ was angry it was a manifestation of righteous indignation.  But the problems begin to surface when we realize that most of our anger, most of our hatred, is not grounded in righteousness – even when we’re angry about something that God’s Word tells us He was angry about, rarely do our intentions and motivations about that issue remain pure and holy and righteous.  And so, our own experience with hatred and anger get smuggled back into a text like Proverbs 6:16 and we find it difficult, if not impossible, to hear and believe that God hates anything, or that there are attitudes and behaviors that are an abomination to Him.

 

And the irony of this concept, of wanting to sterilize God from words like abomination or detestable or hate or wrath is that we somehow want to make God more palatable.  But you see, that actually robs our sensible friends from being able to put the gospel together.  Unless we have a dilemma (i.e. sin), then the story of what Jesus has done – His life, death, and resurrection – makes no sense.  It’s precisely because God hates sin that we need to turn to Him by trusting in Jesus Christ.

 

God is love, yes!  But God also has the capacity to hate, and when He expresses that hatred against sinful, wicked people it’s altogether righteous.  Proverbs 6:16 is a reminder that God’s loathing of some things (not all things) arises out of His love for His Own glory and holiness, such that even His hatred of sin is an expression of His love.

 

The second thing for us to consider is there’s…

 

A LIST

 

There are a couple of things to know about lists, as they appear in the Bible.  First, most lists are not exhaustive.  That is to say, just because something is not enumerated or spelled out in a list doesn’t mean that it doesn’t apply or that it’s not included.  For example, what do you suppose is the most famous list in the Bible?  (Ten Commandments, right?)  Does that list of commands from God to His people contain all of His instruction and/or direction to them?  No.

 

Second, and related to the first, is that although most lists in the Bible aren’t exhaustive they at least intend to enumerate some things.  This is kind of obvious but we need to remember that lists were included because there were some things that most definitely needed to be communicated.  So, let’s take our example of the Ten Commandments again.  We’ve already agreed that it doesn’t contain absolutely all of God’s instructions to His people; nevertheless, it does contain at least the minimum requirements for the covenant people of God.  The reason that I mention this is because we sometimes emphasize certain things in a list to the exclusion of others in the same list – as if to suggest that those other things aren’t even in the list.

 

So, lists aren’t necessarily exhaustive, but by their very nature they do contain some things that need to be communicated.

 

The final thing to keep in mind about lists in the Bible is that they frequently, but not always, indicate progression.  Let’s go back to our example of the Ten Commandments.  We know that the list begins with the most significant: “You shall have no other gods before Me” (Exodus 20:2), and it ends with “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s” (Exodus 20:17).  There’s a sense in which the list decreases in significance.  (Also, just a quick mention, did you notice that the last commandment in the list also contains a list?)

 

Let me give you one other list that you’re most likely familiar with: The Fruit of the Spirit.  Many of you learned a song in church when you were children that helped you remember them.  “The fruit of the Spirit is not a coconut.  The fruit of the Spirit is not a coconut.  If you wanna be a coconut, you might as well hear it you can’t be a fruit of the Spirit.  ‘Cause the fruit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”

 

Again, there’s a sense in which the list begins with the most significant fruit and ends with one that’s not as important.  We remember love as a fruit of the Spirit, but we often forget gentleness or goodness or self-control.  Why?  Because there’s a tendency to emphasize some and exclude others, but we need to remember those others are also included in the list.  So, with those three little facts about biblical lists, let’s consider the list of Proverbs 6:17-19.

 

First, we see that God hates “haughty eyes.”  This is a reference to pride.  Pride is what causes us to think more highly of ourselves than we ought.  Paul says, “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned” (Romans 12:3).  The Lord detests pride.  It indicates that we don’t have an accurate understanding of just who we are in relation to Him and to the rest of His creation.  When we place confidence wholly in ourselves and what we can do, then we’re doing exactly the opposite of fearing God, which is what we’re pursuing in this series.

 

Proverbs 6:17 also says that the Lord hates a “lying tongue.”  Think about this.  Jesus, who is God Himself, tells us that He is the “way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).  So, to tell untruths is to manifest opposition to the One who is truth Himself, and to show no regard for the sanctity of His character.  And if that wasn’t enough to curb our tongues, lying also brings great harm to others.  A false witness can destroy the reputation and livelihood of another person made in God’s image, thus the ninth commandment that we should not bear false witness (Exodus 20:16).

 

The third thing that’s listed is “hands that shed innocent blood.”  Now, let me just say this.  Theologically speaking, we all know that no one is without sin.  That is, no one except for Jesus was or is perfect and without guilt.  That’s not what Solomon has in mind here.  This is a reference to killing someone that is innocent – meaning they aren’t guilty, they haven’t committed a crime that warrants death, they are indeed guiltless and innocent.  Obviously, abortion is in view here, but so are the many other senseless mass shootings and senseless killings that are a part of our world.  Folks, I know this is clear but sometimes we need to verbalize it in order for it to make any sense.  We are made in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26–27), and therefore, any assault against that image is an indirect assault against the One in whose image we are made.

 

Fourth on the list is a “heart that devises wicked plans.”  As we often say, “now we’re getting to the heart of the matter.”  This is an explicit reference to sins we commit in our hearts.  Most of us know that we can’t actually carry out the inclinations of our hearts, but that doesn’t mean that we haven’t sinned internally.  Think about this.  The Lord hates wicked hearts so much that He once destroyed all creatures except Noah, his family, and representatives of the animal kingdom because “every intention of the thoughts of [man’s] heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5).  And while we know that God will never destroy all life with a flood again, His hatred for hearts that devise wickedness remains.

 

Proverbs 6:18 also tells us that God hates “feet that make haste to run to evil.”  This verse refers to the fanaticism that many sinners have to act wickedly.  When you were growing up, did you ever know someone that always seemed to be present when something bad was going down?  If there was a fight after school this person was there.  If there was a heated argument this person was in it.  If there was some prank or harmful destruction to property this person was a part of it.  Maybe you were that person; it’s like their face, their car, their voice was evident all the time when something bad was happening.  That’s what’s being described here.  The fanatical left-wing and right-wing groups that are on the rise today . . . feet that make haste to run to evil.

 

Finally, in Proverbs 6:19, we see that God hates a “false witness who breathes out lies.”  Now be honest, there’s a part of you that’s thinking “this is just an extension of the lying tongues mentioned earlier.”  And while that’s partly true, this is likely a reference to someone who tells untruths for the express purpose of taking property or doing harm to others in a legal proceeding.

 

Based on what we learned earlier about lists we can make the following observations rather quickly.

 

  1. It’s not an exhaustive list. There are other attitudes and behaviors that God hates that aren’t mentioned.  There’s no mention of idolatry (Deuteronomy 7:25), or homosexuality (Leviticus 18:22ff), or even divorce (Malachi 2:16).
  2. Despite the fact that it’s not an exhaustive list, we shouldn’t be distracted from the fact that the list does contain some specifics. So, although our minds might be drawn to some of those “big ticket” sins, we can’t overlook the fact that prideful eyes and lying tongues is specifically listed here as being hated by God.
  3. There’s a progression. In this case it’s not a progression from the most significant to something lesser, rather it’s a progression from the top to bottom: eyes, tongue, hands, heart, and feet.
  4. We’re also introduced to a Hebrew literary device where the writer would often conclude a list by demonstrating that these things can all combine and thus bring special emphasis (abomination) to the last item – in this case “one who sows discord among brothers.” Look back at verse 16, “There are six things that the LORD hates, seven that are an abomination to Him.”  God hates these six attitudes and behaviors – to be sure.  But the one thing He absolutely abhors is when they come together and manifest themselves in a person.

 

People that sow discord are all around us.  They’re in the political arena, and they’re in the market place.  They’re in academics, and they’re in athletics.  They’re in our communities, and even in our churches.  Shoot, you might even find one where you’re sitting.  That’s the list!  Do you see any of that in your life?  It’s here whether we admit it or not!

 

That brings us to the last consideration…

 

A LESSON

 

Most of us would like to think that those attitudes and behaviors aren’t us, but I think it’s clear that all of us are guilty of at least one of the sins in those verses.  Think about that for a moment.  All of us have done things that the Lord absolutely hates.  Sounds, looks, and feels a little different when we think about it like that.  Perhaps if we would remember that there are some actions that God detests, then we’d do them less frequently.  Let’s take care to know what the Lord hates so that we might be encouraged not to sin against Him.

 

Finally, if you’re here today or listening online and you’ve never confessed your sin and accepted the gift of God’s grace through Jesus Christ, today is the day.  He shed His blood to redeem you from the influence of these things.  Would you confess your sin, commit to turn from your old way of living, and receive God’s gift of grace by faith.

Fatherly Advice – Proverbs 4:20-27

Proverbs 4:20-27

Well, let me invite you to take your copy of God’s Word and turn with me to Proverbs 4.  We’re continuing our study in the Book of Proverbs.  As you know, we’re living in a world filled with confusion, controversy, and chaos, and so in order to combat that, in order to go against the grain (as it were) we’re seeking wisdom, understanding, and discernment by turning to the eternal truths of the Bible.

 

I do hope that you’ll bring your Bibles each week.  I know that we typically provide the main scripture passages on our visual displays each week, and for some of you that’s actually easier to read than your personal Bible (that’s why we do it).  But let me encourage you, if you’re able, to always have a copy of God’s Word with you (even if it’s on your phone or iPad).  I have found, in my own study and sitting under the teaching of others, that from time to time another passage is mentioned or referred to and it’s not published in the materials provided or posted on the displays, and yet I want to see what it says.

 

Also, for those of you that have undertaken the task or challenge to read through the Bible this year, making notes in the margin will be a pleasant reminder when you come across those pages in the days/months/years to come.

 

Now, it may seem odd that I would title today’s sermon Fatherly Advice, especially when one considers that Father’s Day is still five months away.  You might also be tempted to think this is a sermon only for teenagers and young couples with children.  Some of you might even find it a little difficult or uncomfortable to listen to a sermon titled Fatherly Advice when, in some cases, your pastor is young enough to be your son or perhaps even your grandson (and that’s not meant as a cheap shot, but simply stating the truth).

 

So, for those of you that might have been inclined to disengage because you’re no longer a child with a living parent, or perhaps because in reflecting upon your own parenting you know there were opportunities wasted and thus this message is a day late and a dollar short, might I remind you that you’re not giving ear to your pastor’s counsel but rather to that of your Heavenly Father.  In that sense then, Fatherly Advice isn’t an odd sermon title at all.  And that’s precisely the point.

 

Need I remind you that we have a choice – on a daily basis – to take our instruction, our direction, our marching orders (as it were) from the government, from the mainstream media and news analysts, from our family and friends, and even the collective wisdom of the internet, or we can be attentive to God’s words and incline our ears to what He says.  While we can’t necessarily escape the former, I pray that we all begin with the latter.  So, follow along with me in your Bibles or on the screens as I read Proverbs 4:20-27:

 

20 My son, be attentive to my words;

    incline your ear to my sayings.

21 Let them not escape from your sight;

    keep them within your heart.

22 For they are life to those who find them,

    and healing to all their flesh.

23 Keep your heart with all vigilance,

    for from it flow the springs of life.

24 Put away from you crooked speech,

    and put devious talk far from you.

25 Let your eyes look directly forward,

    and your gaze be straight before you.

26 Ponder the path of your feet;

    then all your ways will be sure.

27 Do not swerve to the right or to the left;

    turn your foot away from evil.

 

Interestingly, verses 20-22 read like a typical father-son conversation:

 

Father: Son…

Son: Yes, dad.

F: Pay attention to what I’m saying.

S: Yes, dad.

F: Listen closely to my words.

S: Yes, dad (slightly exasperated).

F: Don’t let them out of your sight.

S: Ok, dad.

F: Keep them within your heart.

S: I think I’m getting the point, dad.  You have something you want me to pay attention to.

F: Exactly!  Now are you listening?

S: Yes, I’m listening.  You’ve asked me four times.

F: Yes, but I remember one time I asked you ten times and you still weren’t listening.

 

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it.

 

Solomon is desperate to get his son to listen to reason.  And maybe it’s because Solomon saw very little wisdom in his own family.  You recall his family dynamics, right.  His brother, Amnon raped his sister Tamar.  Then his other brother, Absalom, killed Amnon for raping his sister.  And lest you think Absalom a hero for fighting for justice, don’t forget that he tried to depose and kill his own father (King David).

 

Oh, Solomon knew the need for wisdom.  His world was out of control just like ours.  Do you feel the same sense of urgency in your own life to pay attention, to incline your ear to godly counsel?  Maybe you’re sitting there thinking, “Well, you know, Solomon isn’t one to talk.  He committed idolatry, married foreign women, and ultimately turned away from God.  Give me a better teacher, give me a better leader, give me someone worth listening to and I’ll listen.”

 

Perhaps a gentle reminder that Jesus often concluded His teaching by saying, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Matthew 11:15; 13:9, 43; Mark 4:9; Luke 8:8; 14:35).  You can’t get any better than the Son of God, more perfect than the Messiah, and yet He knew that although everyone had ears to hear, they didn’t always listen.

 

Proverbs 4:20-27 has four pretty simple and yet profound things to say to those of us that have ears to hear, to those of us that find ourselves swimming around in an ocean of Facebook posts and Twitter feeds, and the first is this…

 

Guard Your Heart

 

Look at verse 23, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.”  The reality of who you are and what you are is your heart.  In our normal, everyday conversation we speak of the heart in predominately two ways: as that physical organ that pumps blood through our bodies, or as that secret place where our emotions are kept.  Those are the two ways that we most often refer to the heart, but not so for the Jews.

 

The heart covered a much larger range of meaning in the Hebrew context.  Yes, it’s linked to emotions like grief, anger, fear, joy, and peace, but it’s also the source of the will and the seat of a person’s conscience.  So, in that sense, the Hebrew concept of “the heart” actually referred to the whole person.  The real you.

 

More important than your mind and certainly more significant than our physical bodies, the heart is where our genuine belief resides.  Paul puts it this way, “For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved” (Romans 10:10).  The justification, the “being-made-right-in-God’s-eyes” part of our salvation takes place in the heart.

 

God, speaking through the prophet Ezekiel said this, “I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you.  And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26).  God doesn’t say He’s going to remove our minds or our souls.  It’s that old, stony, cold heart that has to be removed, and replaced with a new, soft, warm heart.  A heart that desires the things of God.

 

What is it that David said in Psalm 51:10, “Create in me a clean  heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.”  And why does he say that?  Because, like Jeremiah, David knew that “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick…” (Jeremiah 17:9).  Christian author and pastor, Max Lucado, said this, “The heart of the human problem is the problem of the human heart.”

 

Jesus highlighted the significance of guarding your heart when he said this, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him.  For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.  All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person” (Mark 7:21-22).

 

Again, we cannot think that these verses are only meant for our children and grandchildren.  As children of God, our Heavenly Father is pleading with us to guard our hearts.  Think of your relationship with the Lord as you would your real, physical heart.

 

There are many diseases and disorders that doctors have identified over the years that affect our hearts.  The same is true with our spiritual hearts.  Atherosclerosis is a hardening of the arteries due to accumulated cholesterol plaques and scarring in the artery walls.  Hardening of our spiritual hearts occurs when we’re presented with God’s truth, and we refuse to acknowledge or accept it.  We have to be on the lookout for any rebellious attitude toward God and His Word, and pray for greater obedience.

 

Heart murmurs are those abnormal flow patterns due to faulty heart valves.  The heart valves act as doors to prevent the backward flow of blood into the heart.  Spiritual heart murmurs occur when our heart valves fail to prevent backflow and we engage in complaining, gossip, disputes, and contention.  We have to guard against a complaining spirit and cultivate a spirit of gratitude and trust.

 

Then there’s the heart condition that most of us are familiar with and that’s congestive heart failure.  My father-in-law died as a result of complications from this, and many of you have faced it as well.  It’s, ultimately, an inability of the heart to successfully pump blood through the body.  And there are all sorts of things that can contribute to this: high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, previous heart attacks, and so on.  Spiritual equivalents are things like anger, giving in to temptation, and pride.  Ephesians 4:31–32 says “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.  Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”

 

So, let’s guard our hearts, because from them flow the springs of life.

 

Watch Your Mouth

 

Look at verse 24, “Put away from you crooked speech, and put devious talk far from you.”  One of the pastors that I listen to from time to time is a Scottish fellow by the name of Alistair Begg.  Some of you may be familiar with him.  In addition to pastoring Parkside Church in Cleveland, OH, he also has a teaching ministry known as Truth for Life.  Talk about having a ministry that’s perfectly named for the season we’re living in…

 

I was listening to one of his podcasts the other day and he was talking about coming to the U.S. and overhearing mothers getting onto their children in the grocery store by saying, “Watch your mouth.”  He says, “I always thought that was a ridiculous thing to say.  I mean, ‘hold your tongue’ – at least you have a chance to do that.  Watch your mouth?  How are you not going to get in more trouble when you can’t even accomplish the thing your mum is asking?”

 

I have to admit (for me) this was the most disappointing characteristic of our former President.  He had very little control over his mouth.  In fact, I believe his inflammatory rhetoric will ultimately be remembered by historians, and it will overshadow all of the accomplishments of his presidency.  Now I know that some people applauded his direct approach to calling a spade a spade, and there’s certainly a time and place for doing so.  But his persistent inability to hold his tongue or guard his mouth proved the truth of Proverbs 15:1, 4, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.  A gentle tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit.”

 

And just in case you’re sitting there feeling a little uncomfortable that your pastor is speaking about the former President from the pulpit and this bumps up against your sensibilities of church and state relations, let me offer this comment.  The reason I’m offering my personal commentary on former President Donald Trump is to provide a living illustration that these verses aren’t meant solely for our children and grandchildren.  Adults should heed Solomon’s instructions too.

 

The psalmist said, “Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips” (Psalm 141:3)!  Proverbs 21:23 says, “Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble.”  Psalm 37:30-31 says, “The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom, and his tongue speaks justice.  The law of his God is in his heart; his steps do not slip.”

 

Now, to be fair, deceptive talk and crooked speech can sound good.  That’s one of the reasons the biblical authors warned against false prophets, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ (2 Corinthians 11:13).  Simply watching our mouths isn’t a foolproof way of knowing whether someone is walking in righteousness with the Lord, but it can be a good indicator of where their heart resides.

 

Jesus said this in Luke’s gospel, “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45).  Someone once said, “Being a ‘fruit inspector’ doesn’t mean we consider ourselves to be without sin; but it does mean that we’re realistic about whom we trust and whom we allow to exert influence over us.”  So, whether you think of it as “watching your mouth” or “holding your tongue,” we need to be careful with our speech.

 

Fix Your Gaze

 

Verse 25 says, “Let your eyes look directly forward, and your gaze be straight before you.”  If the mouth can so easily become an outlet for sin, the eyes can become an inlet.

 

Our generation and society have become so saturated with visual stimuli that it’s almost impossible to fix your gaze.  Television, movies, and the internet have removed that final layer of naiveté and innocence that former generations benefited from.  The late Rev. Dr. Billy Graham said, “It’s not the first look, for a young man, at a girl’s legs that poses the problem.  It’s the second look; that prolonged gaze.”  This is a point of discussion in many a small group meeting.  And folks, we’re not simply referring to sexually explicit things though that’s certainly in view here.

 

Many of you know that one of my weaknesses is automobiles – and they don’t even have to be new.  I like fiddling with spanners (that’s a British term for wrenches) and getting my hands dirty.  I cannot tell you how tempting it is for me not to spend hours on websites like CarGurus or Cars.com just perusing the market.  One of my favorite television shows is called Wheeler Dealers.

 

Riding with me to Greenville is like riding with a squirrel.  I could probably give you the complete inventory of Kevin Whitaker Chevrolet and George Coleman Ford in Travelers Rest, right now.  I’ve confessed from this pulpit my penchant for driving too fast.  If you want to see me drive slowly, then just put me on Laurens Road.  There’s not enough distance between car lots for me to gain any speed.

 

Shoot, even riding around in the country doesn’t stop me from craning my neck to look into old sheds and barns in the hopes of spotting something rare.  And I know I’m not the only one in here that has this problem (Larry Stokes, Jr.).  Just the other night, at one of Parker’s and Garrett’s basketball games, I walked over to speak with the Stokes Family and Larry, Jr. was on his phone looking at cars.

 

Enough about that.  If Eve had kept looking straight ahead, she would’ve looked at God’s commands and not at the forbidden tree.  If Lot’s wife had kept looking straight ahead, she would’ve gone down in the Bible as a person of mercy instead of a pillar of salt.  If David, as a young man up on top of his roof, had kept his eyes straight ahead rather than sustaining his gaze on Bathsheba, he wouldn’t have ended up in his bedroom with her in his arms.

 

So, says Solomon: Guard your heart…  Watch your mouth…  Fix your gaze…  Where?  Hebrews 12:2 says, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith…”  Never mind the person sitting next to you.  Be thankful for them, but don’t get hung up on where they’re going or what they’re doing.  The pleasures of this world and the seductions of temptation do not lie on the narrow road.  So, if we keep our eyes straight we don’t meet them.  It’s on the bypass to the left and the right that we encounter them and always on a backward track.

 

Keep Your Feet

 

Look at verses 26-27, “Ponder the path of your feet; then all your ways will be sure.  Do not swerve to the right or to the left; turn your foot away from evil.”  We can tell a great deal about a person based on the way they walk, where they walk, and with whom they walk.  And the Bible has so much to say about where we plant our feet.

 

As we face 2021 and the societal changes and cultural challenges, the temptations and opportunities that it brings, unless Christ comes to reign in our hearts and we’ve tried to watch our mouths in vain – unless Christ comes into the driver’s seat of our lives and takes over control helping us to fix our gaze – unless Christ comes to rule over our lives, then by the same token we’ll find it so difficult to keep our feet.

 

Remember Joseph, in contrast to David?  David is up on his roof and he sees Bathsheba and falls into sin.  Joseph is in the home of Potiphar, and Potiphar’s wife advances on him as a young man, handsome and good looking.  A fine young guy, and what did he do?  He kept his feet.  Don’t misunderstand me.  He didn’t stay put.  That’s not the emphasis of verses 26-27.  That’s not what verses 26-27 are saying.  No, he ran out of the house.  He fled sin and evil.  He didn’t allow that experience to move him to the left or the right.  He kept his feet.

 

Jesus said, “Whoever follows Me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).  And John, having heard that statement, clarified it in his first epistle to the Church when he wrote these words, “If we say we have fellowship with Him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.  But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, His Son, cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:6-7).

 

Dear friends, each of you wrote down the name of someone that you know (or are pretty sure) doesn’t have a relationship with Jesus.  And just outside those doors is an experiment, an opportunity, a challenge, a dare (if you like) that you and I would you commit and pray and seek to share with our friends and family and the entire world that Jesus makes all the difference?  When they listen to our words and look at our lives would it all ring true, because we guard our hearts, because we watch our mouths, because we fix our gaze, and because we keep our feet.

In God We Trust – Proverbs 3:5-8

Proverbs 3:5-8

Let me invite you to take your copy of God’s Word and turn with me to Proverbs 3.  “In God We Trust”.  Words that grace our American currency.  They were adopted by the U.S. Congress in 1956, supplanting E pluribus unum, which had been in use since 1776.  In fact, those words constitute the official motto of our country.  Did you know that?  It’s clear that the majority of the people in our nation today don’t know it either.  And if they do, they certainly aren’t demonstrating it.

 

The church is struggling with this idea too.  Of course, I’m not referring to you and me – just all of those other Christians and churchgoers.  You and me, we’re rock solid.  Right?  Or are we?

 

We wonder if God really hears our prayers.  In the morning, we sleep in rather than read His Word.  Suffering tempts us to become suspicious of His governance.  Unanswered prayer makes us unsure of His care.  Chronic pain makes us skeptical whether He really is with us in time of need.

And this distrust comes upon us subtly, rarely introducing itself properly.  We start to sleep in a little more, pray a little less, and schedule fewer times of fellowship with believers.  We get lost in our schedules and scroll through our lives in order to quiet that still, small voice that beckons, “Come back to me.”  We know we’ve strayed.  We know, ultimately, that God has done nothing to merit distrust.  We sing, “Jesus, Jesus, precious Jesus, Oh, for grace to trust you more.”

 

But what are we trusting?  And more importantly, WHO are we trusting?  For those of you that grew up in church, today’s verses are probably among a few that you memorized as a child in Vacation Bible School or Sunday School or some other form of church catechesis.

 

Proverbs 3:5-6 says, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6, NASB).  And today, in order to round out the pericope (that’s a seminary word that refers to a group of verses that form a unit) we’re going to also include verses 7-8, “Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and turn away from evil.  It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones” (ESV).

 

There are really two simple parts to this passage – our part and God’s part.  Our part is trusting.  God’s part is guiding.  And today, I want us to see what trusting God looks like, because clearly we’ve forgotten.  When you and I trust God…

 

We Are Confident In God’s Care

 

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart” (Proverbs 3:5a).

 

The word “trust” in Hebrew is bawtach.  And normally you would expect me to give you the more precise and technical meaning of the original language (be it Greek or Hebrew), but guess what?  That is the precise meaning of the Hebrew (“to trust”).  Now, I will tell you that this idea of “trust” is pictured for us, is illustrated for us, is described for us in Psalm 22:9 as a baby resting peacefully in the mother’s embrace.  It’s also illustrated for us in Jeremiah 12:5 as a place so comforting that a person goes to sleep.

 

Think about it this way.  Every night when you go to bed, you lie down on your mattress, stretch out, put your full weight down on your bed and you never give a second thought to what you just did.  You don’t put one foot on the floor and gingerly hold on to the frame and ease into bed; you just lie down.  That same experience, that same feeling, that same trust that you have for something as simple as your bed is what you ought to have with God.  I’m putting my full weight on God.  I’m resting completely in God.  I’m releasing all my tensions – physically and mentally – and just stretching out on God.

 

Also notice that it’s not enough to simply trust God; we’re told to trust God with “all your heart.”  We’ve got to put our whole heart into trusting God.  Someone once said that “a half-hearted trust is the same as a whole-hearted doubt.”  There’s no such thing as half-hearted trust.  You either trust God or you don’t.

 

We all know that marriage is more than the emotion of love and just loving someone.  Part of the “more” is trust.  If a marriage is going to hold together we have to love (yes), we have to communicate (yes), and we have to trust.  If a husband or wife doesn’t totally trust their spouse, then the marriage is in for some rough sailing

 

I read a story one time about Adam and Eve.  You remember them.  They got along fine, except Eve began to get suspicious about Adam, because sometimes he would be out late at night and she would ask him where he had been.

 

She said, “Adam, I don’t feel good about your being out so late when I don’t know where you’re going.  Are you going out with other women?”

 

Adam said, “Eve, are you crazy?  There aren’t any other women in the world for me to go out with.  You’re the only one God made for me.”

 

Well, she wasn’t satisfied with that answer, but they went to sleep anyway.  Then, in the middle of the night, Adam woke up to find Eve poking him in the chest.  He said, “Eve, what are you doing?”

 

She said, “I am counting your ribs!”

 

There’s a reason why God demands total trust, and that’s because He deserves nothing less.  Think about this.  God’s character makes it impossible for Him to fool us, because He cannot lie.  His wisdom makes it impossible for Him to fail us, because He cannot make a mistake.  Therefore, trust God totally.

 

In the second line of verse 5 we’re told, “and do not lean on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5b).

 

The word there for “lean” is the Hebrew word shaan, which literally means “to support yourself by leaning on something or someone.”  In other words, we shouldn’t be guided just by what we think or what we feel we ought to do.  But also notice that this verse doesn’t say that we’re without understanding.  It doesn’t mean that we put our minds in neutral.  It doesn’t mean that we don’t use common sense.  What it means is that we don’t simply use our own reasoning, our own intelligence, or our own thoughts, as the sole guiding principle.

 

You know, we’ve all learned this lesson in life – sometimes the right thing isn’t always the reasonable thing.  Sometimes the right thing may not be what everybody else thinks.  Again, let me caution us here.  We have to keep this in proper perspective.  We have to be balanced in our appropriation of this verse, but imagine what the Bible would look like if everyone leaned upon their own understanding.

 

It didn’t make sense for Abraham (called of God) to go out in faith without a map to an unknown destination.  That didn’t make sense, and yet God brought a nation out of Abraham’s faith.

 

It didn’t make sense when God told Moses to take the children of Israel across the Red Sea – water in front of them, Pharaoh’s chariots closing in behind them.  God said, “Go forward.”  And although it didn’t make sense, Moses and the children of Israel stepped into the waters and the sea parted and they crossed on dry ground.

 

It didn’t make sense when God called a young shepherd by the name of David to take a few stones and fight the giant of Gath – a guy by the name of Goliath.  That made no sense, but a great victory was won.  Why?  Because the Bible tells us in Isaiah 55:8 “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, declares the LORD.”

 

It didn’t make sense for Gideon to reduce his army of 30,000 men down to 300 in order to fight the Midianites, but it was God’s way.  And when he obeyed, God gave him a great victory.

 

It didn’t make sense when the angle of the Lord said to Mary, “You will bear the Messiah, you will conceive by way of the Holy Spirit and bring the Savior into the world.”  That made no sense.  But Mary responded, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).  And the world was forever changed.

 

It didn’t make sense when Jesus walked by the Sea of Galilee and saw Peter, James and John mending their nets and said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19).  It didn’t make sense to leave their vocation – the only thing they ever knew to make a living.  It didn’t make sense to leave their nets, their families, their livelihood and follow this stranger.  Yet, they were compelled by the call of God; and these men changed the world, even though it didn’t make sense.

 

On and on we could go.  When we trust God, we’re confident in His care for us and over our lives.  Second, when we trust God…

 

We Are Committed to God’s Purpose

 

Notice the beginning of verse 6, “In all your ways acknowledge Him” (Proverbs 3:6a).

 

Did you get the emphasis of that verse?  We’re reminded – even commanded – to acknowledge and recognize the Lord in all our ways.  That means, in our financial lives, in our social lives (including social media), in our recreational lives (even on the golf course), in our vocational lives, in our marital lives, in everything we do or that we’re a part of, we’re called to acknowledge God.

 

The word “acknowledge,” in Hebrew comes from the root word yada.  It literally means to “know.”  Simply put, in every part of our life we’re to be looking for God.  What does He want?  What does He desire?  Always keep God in mind.  It’s more than just reading your Bible and it’s more than just praying.  It’s seeking to be so closely associated with Christ Jesus that we think God’s thoughts, we speak God’s words, we work God’s way, we read articles and news and books with God’s perspective, we look at life through God’s eyes.

 

Now I know that it’s easy for me to stand up here and explain what this text should mean for our lives.  It’s something altogether different for me to live it.  But can you imagine how it would change our families?  Change our marriages?  Change the way we approach our jobs or retirement?  Change the way we handle money?  And change the way we speak to people?

 

There’s a lot of conversation among Christians about knowing God’s purpose for our lives and knowing God’s plans for us.  And I’ve discovered that it’s not so much a matter of agonizing over what God’s specific purpose for my life is at any given moment in time, as much as it is obeying His general purposes which are already outlined.

 

For example, Micah 6:8 says, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

 

Matthew 28:19-20, Jesus’ commission to His disciples, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.  And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

 

Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

 

The Apostle Paul pretty much summarizes it all when he said this, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).

 

If we’ll just commit to doing those things that God’s Word has already clearly told us to do, and stop agonizing and hesitating and creating excuses, then He’ll lead us.  When we trust God, we’re committed to His purpose.  Finally, when we trust God…

 

We Are Controlled By God’s Will

 

If we’ll do our part, then God will do His part and this is His part, “and He will make straight your paths” (Proverbs 3:6b).  Even though this is a promise, it’s a conditional promise.  You won’t find your life being controlled by God’s will unless you’re confident in His care and committed to His purpose.

 

Solomon is obviously talking about guidance and direction here.  It’s what Isaiah said, “And the LORD will continually guide you” (Isaiah 58:11, NASB).  It’s what Solomon’s father, David, once wrote, and I am sure taught Solomon when he said this in Psalm 32:8, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with My eye upon you.”

 

But it’s more than just guidance.  The word, “direct” or the phrase “make straight” is a word that literally means “free from obstacles, smooth, and flat.”  Pastor and Bible teacher, James Merritt, says this, “When God is leading, and you are following, mountains will melt, valleys will be filled, crooked places will be straightened, rough places will be smoothed, doors will be opened and walls will fall down.  When you let God get out in front, He will clear every obstacle that gets in your way to get you to where He wants you to go.”

 

Think about that phrase for a moment: “He shall direct your paths.”  You can live your life on one of three levels.

 

  • Level 1 is this: I do what I want to do. Frankly, that’s where most of the world lives today.  That’s America in 2021.  I do what I want to do.

 

  • Level 2 is this: I think I do what I ought to do. That tends to be where a lot of Christians and “conscientious citizens” live today.  They’re not quite certain, but they hope they’re doing what God wants.

 

  • Level 3 – the highest level is this: I do what God leads me to do. That’s where God wants us to live – going where He leads, doing what He’s commanded, speaking His truth (not “my truth”).

 

But that still raises a question.  How does God do it?  How does He direct our paths?  How does God reveal His will?  First of all, He does it through His Word.  Never forget that God’s direction will never contradict His instruction.  And I know that what I’m about to say is not going to be received well by everyone, but the primary way that God directs us is through His Word – the Bible.  It’s not through dreams, and visions, and supernatural revelations.  I’m not saying those means aren’t used by God in some contexts, but the primary means that God uses for directing our paths and giving us His will is His inspired Word.

 

Second, God speaks to us in the recesses of our hearts through prayer.  I really believe that God uses prayer as a means of speaking into our lives.  Most of you will recall the story of Eli and Samuel; where God calls Eli’s name in the middle of the night.  Eli thinks it’s Samuel, so he goes to see Samuel only to find out that Samuel wasn’t calling.  This happens three times and on the third occasion Samuel tells Eli to listen for the voice again, but this time he should respond.

 

Many of you have had those kinds of experiences.  It wasn’t necessarily an audible voice, but the conviction in your heart and the thinking in your head at that precise moment was clear enough that it could’ve been an audible voice.  Right?  The problem with God speaking to us in prayer isn’t so much that He doesn’t speak, but that we don’t do what He’s asking – call that friend and apologize and ask forgiveness (nope), use that gift or that money or that talent for someone other than yourself (thanks, but no thanks).  He speaks; we just don’t follow through.  And here’s the catch.  We’ve talked ourselves out of responding to the call and will of God so many times that when it comes to moments when we really need/want to hear from Him we complain that He’s silent.  Well, what do we expect when we’ve hardened our hearts.

 

Third, God will direct our paths through godly counsel.  Proverbs 11:14 says, “Where there is no guidance the people fall, but in abundance of counselors there is victory” (Proverbs 11:14).  One of the reasons why God puts godly, wise people in your path is to help you find God’s will and God’s direction for your life.

 

Dan Towner was attending a church meeting in Brockton, MA in the mid-1880’s and overheard a fellow say, “I’m not quite sure – but I’m going to trust, and I’m going to obey.”  Dan wrote down that sentence, and sent it, with the story about the young man, to a Presbyterian minister named John H. Sammis.  John took those words and that story and composed a hymn that many of us know today as Trust and Obey.

 

The first verse of that hymn goes like this: When we walk with the Lord | in the light of His Word | what a glory He sheds on our way | While we do His good will | He abides with us still | and with all who will trust and obey.

 

As we close this morning, would you allow me to challenge us (all) to truly trust in the Lord.  We may not like the direction things are headed.  I get it.  We might have some valid concerns and fears about tomorrow.  I get it.  I do.  But the world is watching.  Now is the time for Christians and churches to demonstrate unwavering trust in the Lord our God.

What Happened to Fearing the Lord – Proverbs 1:7

Proverbs 1:7

Let me invite you to take your copy of God’s Word and turn with me to Proverbs 1.  And as you’re finding your place, let me pose this scenario to you.  Suppose God actually spoke to you in an audible voice, and you knew what you were experiencing was real (you weren’t going crazy), and God told you that you could ask of Him anything that your heart desired and He would give it to you.  What would you ask for?

 

During this time of chaos, perhaps you would ask for national and international peace.  If you’re thinking religiously, perhaps you’d ask that God would cause revival to break out and for people to turn to Him in faithful obedience.  Certainly, there are some folks that would ask for riches.  I noticed a news story the other night about the two national lotteries: Mega Millions (est. 600M) and Powerball (est. 470M).  Riches and wealth have always been a desire of mankind.  What would you ask for?

 

Well, such a proposition was placed before a man named Solomon.  Solomon was one of King David’s sons.  His mother was Bathsheba, the woman with whom David had his horrible adulterous affair.  He was about the age of 20 when his father died and left him to be king.  He felt totally inadequate; incapable of leading and governing God’s people.  And so, one night, God appears to Solomon in a dream and makes this amazing offer.  God says, “Ask of me anything.  Whatever you want, just ask and it will be yours.”

 

And Solomon says, “I’m a young man and I don’t know when to come in or when to go out.  I don’t have the slightest clue about how to be a king.  I’m ill-prepared for the task that lies ahead of me.  Therefore, O God, just as you gave wisdom to my father David, give wisdom, understanding and discernment that I might be able to fulfill this responsibility before You.”

 

And God was pleased with Solomon’s request.  God said, “Because you did not ask for wealth, or long life, or pleasure I will give you all of these things.  But most of all, I will give you My wisdom, and as a result, no one will arise like you after you.”  And it was true.  God – by divine revelation – gave Solomon so much wisdom and understanding that people from all over the known world came to him for guidance and counsel, to know the difference between right and wrong, good and evil.  Put simply; Solomon was giving the people God’s wisdom.

 

You know, in light of this past week’s events I thought about all of the various things that we (God’s people) might need to hear this morning.  Should I preach another sermon on how Christians should interact with government: when is it right to revolt, when is it right to defy the law of the land vs. submitting ourselves to the governing authorities?

 

Or perhaps what we need is another sermon about hope?  Should I, once again, remind us not to put our hope in horses and chariots, in government and men, but in Christ Jesus?  Or maybe just the opposite.  Maybe we need to be reminded of God’s judgment.  Maybe a good scolding from the Bible is what we need?  Maybe we need to be reminded that the Book of Revelation says that blood will flow as high as a horse’s bridle.  Symbolic language, of course, but nevertheless, a reminder that things will indeed get worse before the Lord Jesus returns.

 

As I prayed about that…  As I wrestled to come to grips with the state of our nation…  As I poured over God’s Word in search of something to share with you today, I came away with this: we need God’s wisdom.  We need God’s discernment.  We need His understanding.  We need a supernatural and divine ability to know God’s will for our lives and, as important, His power to obey it in each and every situation we find ourselves in.

 

And all of that starts with something that we find in Proverbs 1:7.

Solomon, writing to his sons and all future generations of God’s people, said this, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; but fools despise wisdom and instruction.”

 

What do you think of when you think of a “God-fearing person?”  Someone cringing in a corner?  Someone who never smiles?  Someone who never laughs?  What comes to your mind?  Someone that walks around with a massive family Bible, talking in a lot of Thee’s and Thou’s, looking like an advanced agent for the undertaker?

 

In previous generations, we used to call someone a “God-fearing man,” or a “God-fearing woman.”  And it was meant to be a compliment and a mark of high praise.  To say that someone was a God-fearing individual meant they were a godly person.  To be God-fearing was synonymous with having a singular devotion to God.  It represented the very best that you could say about someone.

 

But such language isn’t used today.  In fact, to call someone a God-fearing person today is almost like calling them legalistic, or pharisaical, or out-of-balance, or in need of some grace.  Maybe we’d say that needed some counseling or they were “over the top.”  Today, the fear of God is seen as a negative rather than a positive.  And I wonder if the question we should be asking ourselves today isn’t: how much worse can our country get, or when will COVID-19 be over, or will the vaccine work, or should we wear masks, or any of the other questions that seem to us to be significant.  Perhaps the question we should be asking is: whatever happened to the fear of the Lord?

 

And if you’re sitting there thinking, “Well, I’m not sure I know what that means?  I’m not sure I know what the ‘fear of the Lord’ is?” then let’s begin there.

 

Nature of Fearing God

 

Although the concept or the idea or the nature of fearing of the Lord sounds negative, it’s actually one of the most positive characteristics of God that you could possess.  It’s one of the greatest things that could happen to you in your spiritual journey than to have this nature within you.  John Murray, the great Scottish theologian, says “the fear of the Lord is the soul of godliness and the mark of true piety.”

 

The word “fear” is a Hebrew word (yirah) that means to be full of

reverence toward God.  The idea isn’t the dread of God, that you’re paralyzed and cannot function, and it also doesn’t mean that you have polite and nice manners in church.  The fear of God indicates that you stand in awe of God, that there’s a trembling within your soul, that you take God very seriously.  In fact, you take God more seriously than anything or anyone in your life.  You have a respect.  You have reverence, and there’s a state of wonder in your heart towards God – an astonishment, an amazement towards God.  More specifically, the fear of the Lord is a worshipping heart in which God seems very big and very great and we seem very small in comparison to Him.

 

The fear of the Lord means to recognize God for who He is and to respond appropriately.  In our hearts and minds, it means putting God in His rightful place over our lives.  It’s finding one’s self adrift in God’s grandeur, and greatness, and glory, so much that it causes us to honor Him and to trust Him and to obey Him and to worship Him.  To have the fear of the Lord brings sobriety and seriousness of mind in relationship to the world.  Contrary to our initial thoughts about the fear of the Lord, it isn’t the absence of joy, rather the fear of the Lord is what produces true and lasting joy.

 

The fear of the Lord is standing in awe of God, it’s kneeling in adoration before God, it’s bowing in humility before God, it’s being overwhelmed with His infinite perfections.

 

We’ve all experienced something of the nature of what I’m describing.  Maybe you’ve visited the Grand Canyon and seen that vast expanse stretching out in front of you, with the Colorado River below.  Perhaps you’ve been to Niagara Falls and stood there feeling the roar and rumble beneath your feet, or the spray and mist of the water as it tumbles over the edge.  Some of you have had the opportunity to tour the Alps, or the Rockies, or the Andes, or the Himalaya’s and drink in those tremendous views.  And even if you’ve never been to any of those places, you’ve stood outside on a clear, dark night and gazed up into the night sky and been in awe of God’s creation.

 

In small measure, that’s something of the nature of God.  He’s high and lifted up.  He’s awesome.  He’s infinitely more powerful and transcendent than are we.  And when we come to know God through Jesus Christ there’s something of that truth that comes to reside in our hearts and minds.

 

Just think about the various encounters of God that we have in the pages of Scripture.  You have Moses on Mt. Sinai with the flames and lightening and thunder.  In Isaiah 6 we see the Prophet Isaiah as he received a heavenly vision of God in His throne room, and the train of His robe filled the temple.  Isaiah saw and heard the seraphim singing, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory” (Isaiah 6:3).  And the foundations of the temple shook and Isaiah trembled.

 

We have Peter, James, and John on the Mt. of Transfiguration and when they see what they saw and heard the voice of God they fell on their faces and were terrified.  Then you have John on the island of Patmos.  He’s having a worship experience like he’s never had before and he hears the Lord Jesus speaking to him, and when he turns around to see who’s speaking to him he falls at Jesus’ feet as though he was dead.

 

Whenever people encountered the living God in all of His glory and majesty they were overcome with wonder and reverence and awe

and bowed down and trembled.  Are you a god-fearing person?

 

Necessity of Fearing God

 

Back in Proverbs 1:7 we read, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge…”  We can rightfully draw from this that this knowledge refers to spiritual truth.  Solomon is not referring to mathematics or gardening, or athletics or the knowledge of science.  He’s talking about the knowledge of the kingdom of God.  He’s talking about the knowledge of God, Himself.  Today, it would include the knowledge of God’s truth as recorded in the Bible and how to apply that in our lives.

 

So many of us, myself included, are wondering who we can trust.  Where can we turn to get the truth.  What Solomon is describing here is true knowledge, real knowledge, the highest knowledge there is.  And notice that Solomon says that the fear of the Lord is the “beginning” of knowledge.  In other words, until you fear the Lord there’s no true knowledge in your life.  In fact, without the fear of the Lord you don’t even know God, much less have knowledge of His kingdom.

 

See that word “beginning”…  It means the starting place.  It means the first and controlling principle.  It means the chief thing, the foundational thing, the fundamental thing.  Fearing God is the very beginning principle of true knowledge and it’s the first step into the knowledge of God.  And it ought not ever end.  The Apostle Paul said that we should “work out our salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12).  And Ecclesiastes 12:13 – this other wisdom literature that we rarely study – says, “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is man’s all” (NKJV).  Another translation of that very same verse puts it this way, “Everything you were taught can be put into a few words: Respect and obey God!  This is what life is all about” (CEV)

 

Fearing the Lord, having reverential awe for God that produces lowliness of mind and humility of soul is at the beginning of our Christian journey, it’s in the middle, and it’s at the end.

 

Watch this progression.  You don’t have to turn there, but follow my argument.  After the introduction of the Holy Spirit in the opening pages of Acts, we’re introduced to the early church.  And in Acts 2:42-43 this is what we read: “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.  And awe [fear] came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles.”

 

Maybe you’re like me, maybe you want to see a spiritual revival take

place in this community and in your family and in your own life.  Maybe you’ve heard other Christians talking about signs and wonders and miracles and you’ve been tempted to think, “Man, I’d like that to happen here.  If God would miraculously heal Bill Canata then I’m sure so-in-so would come to accept Jesus as Lord and Savior.”  And perhaps that would be the case.  We pray that would be the case.

 

But listen to me church.  Whether signs and wonders and miracles of

that magnitude ever happens on this mountain, or in this church, or in your life I don’t know.  But this I can tell you with absolute confidence, if you’ll take just a minute every day and look in the mirror and take inventory of your own life, you’ll discover that God has already done everything that’s needed to keep us in a state of perpetual awe – when He saved our sorry souls.

 

When we reflect upon the truth of the Gospel, that God did indeed become incarnate in the person of Jesus and lived among us, and was obedient to the Father unto death for us, and that through the power of the Holy Spirit He was resurrected to life eternal, and that by accepting His substitutionary death in our place (by faith) we’ve gone from being dead in our sin and trespasses to alive in Christ, we’ve gone from being an enemy of God to a child of God, we’ve gone from being destined to spend eternity as an object of God’s eternal wrath in hell to being an object of His delight in heaven.

 

You and I, dear friends, if we’ve truly trusted in Christ have received the only real miracle that we need to keep us in awe of the Lord Almighty.

 

And when you leave Acts 2 and get over to Acts 5 you have the story

of Ananias and Sapphira – this husband and wife couple that sold some land and kept some of the proceeds for themselves and gave the rest to the church, but actually told the church they gave it all.  In Acts 5:5 we read that Ananias lied to the apostles and to the Holy Spirit, and he dropped dead and great fear came upon those that heard it.  Of course, as the story continues, his wife, Sapphira comes in and she also lies about the transaction and she, too, dies on the spot.  And Acts 5:11 says, “And great fear came upon the whole church and upon

all who heard of these things.”

 

And just so that I don’t end this little progression on such a negative note, over in Acts 9 we get a concluding summation of the missionary work that the apostles had accomplished following Pentecost.  And Acts 9:31 says, “So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up.  And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.”  Do you and I want to see more people coming to know and love Jesus the way that we do?  Do we desire to see friends and family and strangers that are headed for an eternity separated from God actual spend eternity with God?  Do we have any desire to see real and lasting change in our nation, then we need to recapture the fear of the Lord?  Do you see the necessity of fearing God for 2021?

 

Neglect of Fearing God

 

You may be saying, “Pastor, this is too heavy.  I came to church today to be uplifted.  Instead, you’re increasing my anxiety.”  Well, let’s consider the alternative.  After all, in a group of this size there’s a real possibility that there’s at least one person that’s thinking that.  There’s at least one person that would prefer to just leave things as they are.  So, look at the last line of Proverbs 1:7 and notice that there are only two options: fear the Lord or foolishness.  “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; but fools despise wisdom and instruction.”

 

And don’t be misled; this isn’t speaking about someone who doesn’t have the capacity and capability to understand.  No, to the contrary.  A fool is someone that understands the truth that’s set before them, but instead chooses to reject it and go their own way.

 

You’ve heard me refer to Dwight Moody many times.  He was a great American evangelist of the mid-late 1800’s, and he was preaching in London on one occasion and his text was Acts 4:12, where Peter is preaching to the religious leaders of Jerusalem after Pentecost and he gives us this famous biblical text, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”  D.L. Moody was preaching the exclusivity of the Christian faith – that one is saved only by and through the completed work of Jesus Christ.

 

And there was a man standing in the back of the room that thought he was the biggest fool he’d ever heard speak.  To proclaim such a message to this educated and elite group of English people was foolish.  So, the man took out a piece of paper and he wrote down one word: FOOL.  He folded it up and raised his hand.  An usher came over to him and the man said, “I have an urgent message for Mr. Moody.”  Not knowing what the message said, the usher rushed up to the pulpit and put the note on Mr. Moody’s Bible.

 

Mr. Moody is preaching was great passion and zeal, and he stops and opens this message and there’s the word: FOOL.  The man in the back of the room is standing there was a big smile on his face and raises his hand to wave at Mr. Moody.  Dwight Moody said, “A very unusual thing has just happened.  Many times, I receive a letter from someone that forgot to sign it.  This person has signed their name but forgot to write the letter.”

 

The Bible doesn’t have anything good to say about someone that doesn’t fear God.  Psalm 14:1 says, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’”  If you’re here this morning and you’re still wondering about the events of this week…  If you’re looking for someone to blame…  If you want to know what’s wrong with America, and indeed the entire world, let me give you at least a partial answer: we no longer fear the Lord.

 

Noteworthiness of Fearing God

 

Now, in the final minutes that we have together, let me real quickly showcase just how important this idea of fearing the Lord is.  We’ve already seen Proverbs 1:7.

 

Proverbs 2:5 says, “…then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.”

 

Proverbs 3:7 says, “Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.”

 

Proverbs 8:13 says, “The fear of the Lord is hatred of evil.  Pride and arrogance and the way of evil and perverted speech I hate.”

 

Chapter 9:10 says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.”

 

Proverbs 10:27 says, “The fear of the Lord prolongs life, but the years of the wicked will be short.”  Be careful not to read this as an absolute promise, but a general principle.

 

Proverbs 14:2, “Whoever walks in uprightness fears the Lord, but he who is devious in his ways despises Him.”

 

Just a few verses later in 14:26-27 we read, “In the fear of the Lord one has strong confidence, and his children will have a refuge.  The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life, that one may turn away from the snares of death.”

 

Proverbs 15:16 says, “Better is a little with the fear of the Lord than great treasure and trouble with it.”

 

The last verse of that chapter 15:33 says, “The fear of the Lord is instruction in wisdom, and humility comes before honor.”

 

Proverbs 16:6 says, “By steadfast love and faithfulness iniquity is atoned for, and by the fear of the Lord one turns away from evil.”

 

Proverbs 19:23, “The fear of the Lord leads to life, and whoever has it rests satisfied; he will not be visited by harm.”

 

Proverbs 22:4, “The reward for humility and fear of the Lord is riches and honor and life.”

 

Proverbs 23:17, “Let not your heart envy sinners, but continue in the fear of the Lord all the day.”

 

Proverbs 24:21, “My son, fear the Lord and the king, and do not join with those who do otherwise,”

Finally, Proverbs 31:30, at the conclusion of a passage that we associate with Mother’s Day and the description of a godly woman we read, “Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.”

 

We’ve seen the nature of fearing the Lord, the necessity of fearing the Lord, the neglect of fearing the Lord, and the extreme noteworthiness of fearing the Lord.  So, there’s really just one question that remains: do you fear the Lord?  Do you want to grow in your fear of the Lord?  If you’d pray this morning and ask God for a deeper and richer and more fulfilling fear of Him, He’s looking for someone like you to put

His hand upon in a mighty and special way.

 

For those of you that might be here today and you’ve never trusted Jesus as the Lord of your life.  You’ve never accepted the free gift of God’s grace in Christ as the atonement for your sin, then it pains me to say this but the Bible says you’re a fool.  For God sent His only Son into the world to go to the cross and die for your sin, and I would simply call you, beg you, plead with you to do that today.  You may never again be at the crossroad of this moment of personal conversion.

Own the Vision – Proverbs 29:18

Proverbs 29:18; 1 Peter 1:23-2:3; James 1:18, 21; James 6:63

As most of you know, one of my greatest passions is history.  When I was young I was more likely to be seen reading non-fiction than fiction.  Some of you have told me that you’ve learned bits and pieces of U.S. history and world history from my sermons that you didn’t even get in school.  One aspect of history that I particularly enjoy is examining historical figures to see if reality matches our perception.

 

Often, I find myself attempting to vindicate a particular historical figure who’s been given unfair treatment in history.  These days I find myself doing the same with Bible passages.  There are a number of passages in the Bible that we use improperly.  That is to say, the verse or verses seem to say one thing and we’re tempted to assuming that the meaning we’ve always held is the correct one, but upon closer examination the real meaning is completely different.

 

Today I want us to consider one such verse.  So let me invite you to take your copy of God’s Word and turn with me to Proverbs 29:18.  We’re also going to be looking at three (3) passages in the New Testament, so you might want to be ready to flip over there later.

 

While you’re finding your place let me take just a moment and give you a very quick overview of the Book of Proverbs.  It’s in a section of the Bible that scholars often refer to as wisdom literature.  The wisdom books are Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Job.  It’s also in a section that’s referred to as “the writings.”  That’s how the Hebrew scriptures are divided: the law, the prophets, and the writings.

 

It also has a very different kind of organization.  There’s very little continuity from chapter-to-chapter and verse-to-verse.  You’ll see a verse about money right next to a verse about sexual purity, then over to a verse about work and productivity, followed by a verse that speaks about educating and raising children.  Now I suppose you could make an argument that those kinds of pairings could go together naturally, but it’s a little bit of a stretch.

 

The verses also tend to be shorter and pithy – just imagine a father and son(s) on a camping trip, or mothers and their daughters having a beach weekend, or a grandparent sharing life and life’s lessons with a grandchild.  Many people generally attribute it to King Solomon, although there are other names and persons mentioned in the texts.

 

So, with that little bit of background let’s look at Proverbs 29:18.  I’m going to read it to you from the King James Version, which is the one that’s most often quoted.  “Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.”  It’s a verse that many Christians claim to provide a biblical basis for the importance of vision in leadership.  For example, consider this brief sampling:

 

“My imagination influences my aspirations.  In other words, your dreams determine your destiny.  To accomplish anything, you must first have a mission, a goal, a hope, a vision.  After all, without a vision the people perish.” – Rick Warren

 

“All memorable achievements were brought about by leaders who had vision.  God uses visions to excite leaders because excited leaders get the most out of followers.  Active followers accomplish much, and Christ’s Body keeps getting bigger thanks to prevailing local churches.  That’s why Proverbs 29:18 clearly states, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.”  Let a leader grasp a godly vision, and then watch God work.” – Ken Godevenos

 

“Proverbs 29:18 says, “Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained.”  They can’t focus, can’t reach their goal, can’t follow their dream.  An older translation says, “Without vision, the people perish.”  I’ve seen it with my own eyes – without vision, people lose the vitality that makes them feel alive.” – Bill Hybels

 

In the workbook section of Transitioning, which is a text book for leading a church from a “program-driven” to purpose-driven model, Dan Southerland examines vision in the light of Proverbs 29:18, suggesting that we should interpret this verse in the present tense to read “Where there is no visioning…” the people perish.

 

One pastor, quoting this passage, writes, “Without a planned destination, no one knows where to go.  In churches, that leads to people doing ministry without a purpose.  Programs drive these churches because no one has determined where the church is going.  A vision statement paints a picture of the ideal future of your ministry and focuses prayer, energy, and resources.”

 

What’s the vision these church leaders are referring to?  Well one person defines vision as a picture of what God wants to do.  “Vision is a picture of what God will do in His church if we get out of His way and turn Him loose to do so.”  Bill Hybels says that “vision is a picture of the future that produces passion.”  According to these men, vision is an integral part of church leadership.  And it is, but is that what this verse is saying?

 

It’s true; a leader who doesn’t cast and follow vision, leads his church towards destruction.  But is that what we’re supposed to take away from this passage?  The words “the people perish” is often interpreted by proponents of church growth to mean that churches without clear vision will lose members and be unable to grow and flourish.  But is that conclusion supported by this verse?

 

It’s interesting to note that all of these men have quoted the King James Version’s rendering of Proverbs 29:18, which is why I read it.  But it’s a little strange too.  You see, I doubt that many (if any) of these guys would ever preach from the King James Version.  And I’m quite certain they wouldn’t recommend it for study or devotional reading.  So why would they quote from this old translation?  Well, let’s hear the first part of this verse from a few other translations:

 

NIV – Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint…

NLT – When people do not accept divine guidance, they run wild…

CEV – Without guidance from God law and order disappear…

NKJV – Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint…

HCSB – Without revelation people run wild…

ESV – Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint…

AMP – Where there is no vision [no redemptive revelation of God], the people perish…

 

Clearly, the meaning of these translations is vastly different than the meaning of the King James’ rendering.  And it really comes down to two words.  The Hebrew word that’s causing most of the trouble is chazon, which refers specifically to a “prophetic vision.”  Now this isn’t vision in the sense of “a picture of the future that produces passion,” but rather divine revelation, God’s words.  Furthermore, “perish” doesn’t mean “die.”  It means “to cast off restraint.”

 

So, the meaning of the verse is clear.  Where there is no prophetic vision or revelation from God the people cast off restraint, no longer faithfully interpreting God’s Word and His Laws.

 

I also want you to note that none of the authors I mentioned earlier completed the verse.  The King James renders the rest of the verse as follows: “but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.”  The ESV says “but blessed is he who keeps the law.”  The word “but” contrasts something from the first clause and the second.  Obviously, what’s being contrasted is those who cast off restraint when there’s no revelation from God with those who keep the Law of God regardless.

 

In the time that remains, I want to use this passage as a springboard and offer three other texts that speak of the importance of keeping God’s Word and not casting off restraint and running wild in these chaotic times.

 

Spiritual Milk

 

1 Peter 1:23-2:3, “[S]ince you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding Word of God; for

 ‘All flesh is like grass

    and all its glory like the flower of grass.

The grass withers,

    and the flower falls,

but the Word of the Lord remains forever.’

 And this Word is the good news that was preached to you.  So, put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander.  Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation – if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.”

  1. The miracle of new-birth, or regeneration, or salvation is facilitated by the Word of God.  Now I want to be careful here.  I’m splitting a theological hair.  I’m making an important distinction here.  Listen to me closely.  The Bible is really clear that our being born again, our being made right in the eyes of God, our becoming a child of God is by grace through faith.  So, here’s the distinction I’m making: we are NOT saved by reading or even “knowing” the Bible, however our salvation, our being born again does indeed grow by and through the reading and studying and obeying of the Word of God.
  2. Our experience of that miracle, our experience of being born again is described here as “tasting that the Lord is good.”  Before we were born again, before we became children of the King, the Lord did NOT taste good.  He tasted bad.  The Word was boring.  His cross was foolishness (1 Corinthians 1:18).  Heaven was unreal.  Nothing about this faith was satisfying or real, but NOW, having been born again, we’ve tasted.  There are taste buds on the tongues of our souls, as it were, and God and His Word are delicious.  The Psalmist says that God’s Word is “sweeter than honey, even honey dripping from the comb” (Psalm 19:10, NLT).
  3. Nevertheless, notwithstanding all that I’ve just shared with you, we have to be told to desire this spiritual food.  In other words, “eating” this spiritual meal is not automatic.  Peter wouldn’t tell us to do this if it was automatic.  Our desires rise and fall.  They’re passionate one day and lukewarm the next.
  4. Desire the Word of God so that you may grow up in your salvation.  That means that the evidence of your new birth will be shown by your ongoing “feeding” on the Word of God, which works in you all the kinds of things that keep you on the narrow road of eternal life.

So, what we need to ask ourselves this morning is this: if we’re not pursuing a daily strategy of “feeding” on the Word of God, then what’s our alternative strategy for growing in our faith and salvation? If it’s not the Bible, if it’s not God’s own Word, then what is it that we’re looking to in order to grow in our faith?  Otherwise we might cast off restraint, our souls might become cold to the things of God.

 

Save Your Souls

 

James 1:18, 21, “Of His own will [God’s] He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures…  Therefore, put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.”

 

It’s interesting, Peter and James are essentially saying the same thing.  They’re not quoting one another (we know that because the language is so different), nevertheless they’re saying the same thing.

 

One, God brought us forth unto salvation by the Word.  Peter says, “you have been born again…through the living and abiding Word of God,” and James says, “Of His own will He brought us forth by the Word of truth…”

 

Second, Peter says “long for the pure spiritual milk,” and James says “receive with meekness the implanted Word…”  It’s already in you.  You’ve been born again by it, now go on embracing it, receiving it, meditating on it, praying over it, “eating” it, savoring it.

 

Third, Peter says, “that by it you may grow up into salvation,” and James says, “which is able to save your souls.”

 

This is really serious.  Both Peter and James say that the Christian life begins with the new birth, which is brought about by the Word.  Both of them stress that in order to make it home to eternal salvation we need to be receiving the Word meekly and drinking in the Word daily, because by it we grow up into our salvation.  God’s Word keeps us in a vital, happy fellowship with Jesus and brings us safely home. Isn’t that exactly what Proverbs 29:18 says, “Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint; but happy is he who keeps the law”?

 

Spirit and Life

 

John 6:63, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all.  The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.”

 

There it is.  The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.  To which, Peter responds (v. 68), “Lord, to whom then shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.”  Real and genuine followers of Jesus realize that God’s way of getting them home is preserving them and keeping them in fellowship with Christ by saying, “My words are your life.”

 

So, here, at the beginning of another year, oh how I pray that the Holy Spirit of God would work in our hearts so that we would hear this message – not as a burden but as life.  Would we treasure and cherish God’s Word as one of our most significant possessions?  Would we spend time reading God’s Word – not as an obligation, not because we get a cosmic star on our reading chart if we do – but because in doing so we grow in our salvation.  May we truly taste and see that the Lord is good.