Category Archives: Proverbs

Proverbs 19:8-23: What wisdom God gives about marriage

BachelorThe new season of The Bachelor has just started. Richie is looking for love. One man chooses his favourite from 24 hopeful ladies. All romance and fancy dates.

marriedAnd then there’s Married at First Sight. About 4 guys and 4 girls all looking for love. And the experts match them up, and organise the weddings. The only problem is they don’t meet until they walk down the aisle. Which happens in the first episode. And then the rest of the show is about how they learn about each other. And whether it will work or not. And it’s more about how tough it is to live with another selfish person. And some of the relationships continue. And others don’t survive the honeymoon.

The publicity calls it a bold experiment. Although it wouldn’t be much of a show in LOTS of countries. Where arranged marriages happen all the time.

sevenAnd then there’s The Seven Year Switch. The worst of them all. A show about two couples who are having problems in their relationship. And the show SWAPS the couples. Putting temptation in front of them, with another attractive person, who’s also vulnerable, and in a similar position. And we all watch as relationships fall apart.

And all those shows are watched by hundreds of thousands of people. Perhaps it’s because we all want the close connection that’s promised. Or maybe we want to learn some lessons about improving our own marriage. Or maybe we just like watching the struggles so we don’t feel quite so bad about our OWN imperfect relationships.

But there’s ANOTHER couple we’re going to watch this morning. From the pages of Proverbs. And this relationship is A MESS. Things are falling apart. The husband and wife are barely SPEAKING to each other. And when they DO, it’s only to ARGUE. To complain or criticise. It’s a household where the husband looks for excuses not to go home. Because the moment he walks in the door, the nagging starts. She’s never satisfied. No matter what he says or does, it’s not good enough. There’s never any complements, just complaints. It NEVER STOPS. To the point where he daydreams about heading off all on his own to somewhere quiet.

It’s a household where the wife just seems constantly FRUSTRATED. This isn’t the man she married. She married someone who NOTICED her. Who treated her as SPECIAL. Who had ENERGY and AMBITION. Who was HEADED somewhere. But now, when he finally DOES get home, he says nothing. And she might as well be invisible. And he thinks she doesn’t notice the way he looks at their attractive neighbour as she hangs out the washing.

And the husband and wife both have a deep, heavy SADNESS. Because they never imagined life would turn out like this. They look at the wedding photo on the shelf. And the two young, hopeful people grinning back at them seem like strangers.

But there’s HOPE, TOO. Because as Proverbs describes this family. It gives us WISDOM so we can learn how not to be like THEM.

This is week 2 of our series on what God says about marriage. Last week we looked at first principles. At God’s DESIGN, and the very FIRST couple. In some ways, it was a bit theoretical. This week we’re thoroughly PRACTICAL.

Marriage is a good gift from God.

First thing God wants you to know is that marriage is A GOOD GIFT. A gift from God himself. So, Prov 19:14 says Houses and wealth are inherited from parents, but a prudent wife is FROM THE LORD.

Or 18:22. He who finds a wife finds what is GOOD and receives FAVOR from the LORD.

Now, it’s important to notice that Proverbs is written as advice from A FATHER TO HIS SON. So much of its advice describes A WIFE. But it works equally well as advice for a DAUGHTER looking for A HUSBAND.

And the point is THIS. A wise wife, or husband, makes for a better home life than a nice house, new furniture, a home theatre system, or plenty in the bank. And it’s GOD who brings a partner like that along.

  1. Character counts

We can see something of HOW THAT WORKS in Prov 12:4 A wife of noble character is HER HUSBAND’S CROWN, but a disgraceful wife is like decay in his bones.

Notice what really counts? CHARACTER! Physical looks are normally what we notice FIRST. But Proverbs says there are more important qualities to look for in a marriage partner. 11:22

22 Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout is a beautiful woman who shows no DISCRETION.

Beauty is one VERY SMALL PART of the whole package. It might be a beautiful gold ring, but the REST of the pig makes a far greater impression on you than the RING. Same thing with CHARACTER and BEAUTY. Character counts.

So singles, are you LOOKING for CHARACTER? Do you notice discretion, Truthfulness, sense of humour, humility, generosity, faithfulness, loyalty? All those things are more valuable than good looks, or a nice figure. Or when it comes to HUSBANDS, gentleness, humility and patience are more valuable than muscles or money. What do you NOTICE about a girl or a guy? What turns your head? Perhaps more importantly, what KEEPS your interest? How about spending a bit more effort looking for NOBLE CHARACTER!?

Because a wife of noble character is her husband’s CROWN. He VALUES her, and is PROUD of her. But also, she makes her husband BETTER than he was before. Like a crown on his head. (Same with a good HUSBAND for that matter.) A wife of noble character is the mirror that points out embarrassing faults, the sounding board to get ideas right, an encourager, a sharpening stone, a kick in the pants, a shoulder to cry on, a warm comforting pillow to relax against.

And a HUSBAND of noble character is gentle and patient. He values his wife in how he SPEAKS to her, and how he TREATS her. He encourages her when she feels inadequate. He genuinely complements her when she lacks confidence with what she sees in the mirror. He’s a crown for HER head.

But the opposite of that is the DISGRACEFUL wife. Or husband. A wife who’s more concerned with clothes and comfort than character and service. More concerned with HERSELF than her HUSBAND. She’s like decay in the bones. She takes strength and endurance AWAY from him. Her criticism disempowers. Her lack of respect, and her conflicting agenda de-stabilises and distracts him from what he SHOULD be concentrating on.

Then there’s the disgraceful HUSBAND. Like decay in her bones. He’s too proud to apologise, or too pre-occupied to notice, or too impatient to simply listen, or too critical to notice, or too lazy to talk. And his wife shrinks up as he self-confidence plummets. And she freezes up. And withdraws into fantasy and romance. Or into raising her children. And dies inside a little more each year. Marriages like THAT are decay in the bones.

And you can see how character is important in a couple of OTHER areas in this sad household.

A nagging wife

We’ll begin with the WIFE. Life just hasn’t turned out the way she imagined it. And she’s placing much of the blame on her husband. And she lets him know every chance she gets. You meet this wife so often in Proverbs it’s almost a refrain. Again and again verses like 27:15 A quarrelsome wife is like a constant dripping on a rainy day; 16 restraining her is like restraining the wind or grasping oil with the hand.

This woman is simply unstoppable. Nagging and nagging. All the time. She can’t be STOPPED. She can’t be PLEASED. That sort of life just DRAINS the LIFE out of a man. 25:24 offers a better alternative. 24 Better to live on a corner of the roof than share a house with a quarrelsome wife. It’s like living in a constant episode of Keeping up Appearances, that old English comedy with Mrs Hyacinth Bucket. Pronounced BOUQUET. With Richard, her poor hen-pecked husband, who’d rather be ANYWHERE ELSE than where Hyacinth is. Things are SO bad, he’s thinking about moving his things up onto the roof. Anything for a bit of peace and quiet. Or 21:19 It’s better to live in a desert than with a quarrelsome and ill tempered wife It might be dry and difficult to survive in a desert. But at least it’s QUIET!

An adulterous husband

But few problems in marriage are completely ONE-SIDED. Let’s take a look at THE HUSBAND for a moment. Maybe there are REASONS for the wife’s quarrels and nagging. Maybe it’s because his head’s being turned by the woman down the street. Who promises things that are so much easier, and more exciting than what he gets at home.

And Proverbs is LOADED with warnings against the sort of foolishness. Like chapter 2. Be WISE about the attraction of adultery. 2:16.

[Wisdom] will save you also from the adulteress, from the wayward wife with her seductive words, who has left the partner of her youth and ignored the covenant she made before God. For her house leads down to DEATH and her paths to the spirits of the dead. None who go to her return or attain the PATHS OF LIFE.

The LIE of adultery is that it will lead to a FUN, EXCITING, SATISFYING life. Everything your marriage ISN’T. That finally you’ll be treated the way you DESERVE. But it’s just NOT SO. That’s FOOLISHNESS. Life gets FAR MORE DIFFICULT and COMPLICATED when you head down THAT path. And it doesn’t just ruin YOUR life, there’s the kids And the grandparents. Not to mention your CHURCH family. It’s A MESS. The moments of excitement aren’t worth the trail of destruction it leaves behind. That path LEADS TO DEATH.

Marriage needs wisdom

And WISDOM will save you from that. A marriage built on a solid foundation of God’s wisdom is much more valuable than the most expensive house in Bellevue Hill. Prov 15:16-17  Better a little with the fear of the LORD than great wealth with turmoil. 17 Better a meal of vegetables where there is love than a fattened calf with hatred.

And that’s a comparison we see played out in real life. The poor but contented family in the suburbs. They don’t have heaps, but they love each other and share what they’ve got. And they laugh and ENJOY each other. Compared with the rich, bitter family in Double Bay. They’ve got everything they want, but they can’t stand being in the same room as each other. And there’s more TV’s than PEOPLE. And they’re all off watching their own show, living their own lives. Who’s got MORE? Fear of God, and HIS WISDOM, is worth much more in a family than money and stuff.

Or Prov 14:1.The WISE woman BUILDS HER HOUSE, but with her own hands the foolish one tears hers down. The WISE PERSON builds up her own house. She doesn’t TEAR IT DOWN. It seems obvious, but we all fall victim to this one. You fight with your spouse, and you give them the silent treatment. “I’ll show them. I’ll teach them to hurt me/ ignore me/ disappointment me” Whatever it might be. Or you GET EVEN with words. You HURT as YOU’VE been hurt. Or you deliberately DON’T mow the lawn, or take out the bins. Or forget the appointment. To prove a point. To win an argument. To maintain your pride.

But what do you end up doing? Make yourself MISERABLE! You LOSE! And you’ve CAUSED it. You’re tearing down YOUR OWN HOUSE. It’s called biting your nose to spite your face. That’s FOOLISHNESS – you’re destroying the peace of your home by your own hands! But the WISE wife. Or husband. BUILDS their house. So, do and say things that BUILD UP. Have attitudes. Use words. Have the servant heart. That BUILDS your home, rather than tears it down. Only FOOLS do that. Only fools console themselves with the thought, “But I showed her! But I was right!” And they take their aggrieved sense of self-justice all the way to the divorce courts. And misery. And regret. So, what are some specifics for BUILDING your home?

Listen first, speak second

Proverbs says Listen first, speak second. Prov 12:18 Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. Prov 13:3 He who guards his lips guards his life, but he who speaks rashly will come to ruin. Proverbs 17:27 “A man of knowledge uses words with restraint, and a man of understanding is even-tempered”. Proverbs 10:19 “When words are MANY, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise”. Listen first, speak second. You’ve got TWO ears, and ONE mouth for a reason! Ask questions. Reflect back what you’re hearing. Don’t assume you know what your partner is saying or feeling. Put your brain into gear before your mouth. Count to ten before you return fire. Begin your sentences with “I” rather than “You”. It’s much harder to accuse and hurt when you start the sentence with “I”. “I feel taken for granted when you don’t clear the table after dinner.”

Listen first and speak second doesn’t mean that you can’t say anything at all. That can be more frustrating for wives than an argument. But think of words as GIFTS. Proverbs 16:23-24. “A wise man’s heart GUIDES HIS MOUTH, and his lips promote instruction. PLEASANT WORDS ARE A HONEYCOMB, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones” As you’re putting your brain in gear before your mouth. Ask yourself, How can what I’m about to say BUILD UP?

Stop the merry go round

Another way you can BUILD your home is to stop the merry go round. In other words, if you’ve been hurt, let it go. Forgive. Don’t escalate or intensify arguments. Prov 20:3 It is to a man’s HONOR to AVOID STRIFE, but every FOOL is quick to quarrel. Prov 17:13-14 If a man pays back evil for good, evil will never leave his house. 14 Starting a quarrel is like breaching a dam; SO DROP THE MATTER BEFORE A DISPUTE BREAKS OUT. Prov 26:20 Without wood a fire goes out; without gossip a quarrel dies down. Prov 17:9 He who covers over an offense promotes love, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends.

Be willing to lose the argument, or apologise first. It’s not WORTH IT. That’s WISDOM. It takes a bigger man to admit a mistake. It’s LITTLE men who have to keep PROVING THEMSELVES. Proving themselves always RIGHT. Justified in their anger, or their actions. In Christ, you’ve been forgiven a HUGE debt. So let things go. Nothing else compares to that.

Eat at home

Another piece of wisdom for building up your home is to always EAT at home. Now, I’m not saying anything at all here about where you have dinner. Perhaps you’ve heard the expression, from a husband caught looking at a pretty girl, “It doesn’t matter if I look at the MENU, as long as I always EAT AT HOME.” Proverbs wants to say EVEN MORE, “Don’t eat out. In fact, don’t even LOOK AT THE MENU.” I’m talking about where your needs are satisfied. In particular the needs marriage is designed to satisfy. Look to YOUR MARRIAGE ALONE to satisfy those needs. That’s the way of wisdom. Listen to the advice the father gives his son in Prov 5:15-20. And I’ll just give a warning, just in case there’s any of you out there more sensitive than the Bible is / that this verse carries a M15+ rating.  15 Drink water from your own cistern, running water from your own well. 16 Should your springs overflow in the streets, your streams of water in the public squares? 17 Let them be yours alone, never to be shared with strangers. 18 May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth. 19 A loving doe, a graceful deer– may her breasts satisfy you always, may you ever be captivated by her love. 20 Why be captivated, my son, by an adulteress? Why embrace the bosom of another man’s wife ?

Obviously talking about a man. We NOTICE women. It’s almost an instinctive reaction. If you’re following a ute or van with some blokes in it, just watch what they do as they pass a woman walking in the street. Almost ANY woman. As they pass her, all heads in the cabin will automatically turn to the left. Just checking the menu. Men, we’ve got to foster, or recover, the enjoyment we find in our wives. Write lists, or love letters, or poems. Think back to what you loved about your spouse when you first married. Tell her. Enjoy her. That’s God’s wise plan.

Looking at the menu might be a temptation for men, but it’s just as relevant to a woman. And, at the risk of stereotyping, women’s temptation is to check out the menu of another man who might meet their EMOTIONAL needs more than their husband. Someone at work, or the gym, who notices them, who seems to listen. Who understands them, who pays them attention. But it’s YOUR HUSBAND who’s meant to provide those needs. Don’t make do with him NOT meeting them. TELL him, invite him BACK. Encourage him. Be creative. Meet him half-way. It might be an uncomfortable conversation, but it will be WORTH IT. REJOICE in the husband or wife of your youth. That’s God’s counsel.

Pray

And if you’re a wife caught up in the same spiral of nagging and criticism, try PRAYING for your husband. And not just that he’ll do what YOU want. But that God will be working in him to make him like Jesus. And pray for YOURSELF. Have a good look in the mirror. And ask yourself what’s BEHIND the nagging. What unbiblical goal have you set for your marriage that’s not being achieved? Is it having high-achieving careers? And your husband just doesn’t have the ambition? Or is it having the perfect house? And he can’t keep it the way you’d like? Or he can’t satisfy your emotional need for affection? Or gifts? Or quality time? Or that the kids achieve what you never could? All of those things are GOOD. And they might be PART of what a marriage together can build. But they’re not GOD’S priority. What GOD wants is for you both to be growing more like Jesus. Whether you get any of those other things or NOT!

And HUSBAND with the wandering eye. Pray for your wife. List before God the things your thankful for. And pray WITH your wife. INITIATE that. You’re the one God’s appointed to LEAD. If you’re not in the habit of that, it’s not easy to do. Because to pray is to let go of PRIDE. And men don’t like to admit we’re not in control. But she’ll LOVE you for it. And as you listen to her pray, you might be surprised by the things that are on her heart. And you’ll come to KNOW her better. And love her MORE.

God as the foundation

And finally, perhaps most OBVIOUSLY, build your house with GOD as the foundation. As the central beam that bears the load of the whole house. The central space that every other room joins. Prov 19: 21 Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails. 19:23 The fear of the LORD leads to life: Then one rests content, untouched by trouble. Fearing God, honouring him. Putting him first. In EVERY aspect of your marriage. He MADE you. He DESIGED marriage. It’s HIS wisdom that leads to LIFE. TRUE life. Maximum life. A contented, peaceful, rich life. And don’t we all want our homes and marriages to be like THAT? For God’s honour and glory.

Proverbs 15: Wise at home

The_Simpson__s_Family_by_SimpsonixThere’s something about dysfunctional families that makes for great television. Whether it’s the hilarious families of THE SIMPSONS, or MODERN FAMILY or EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND. Or the drama and tragedy of THE SOPRANOS or REVENGE.

Perhaps we like to watch OTHER families, so we don’t feel as bad about our OWN family.

But there’s ANOTHER family we’re going to listen in on this morning. From the pages of Proverbs. And it’s A MESS. Things are falling apart.

Where the husband and wife are barely SPEAKING to each other. And when they DO it’s only to ARGUE. To complain or criticise.

It’s a household where the husband looks for excuses not to go home. Because the moment he walks in the door, the nagging starts. She’s never satisfied. No matter what he says or does, it’s not good enough. There’s never any complements, just complaints.

It NEVER STOPS. To the point where he’s starting to notice, more and more, the friendly secretary at work.

It’s a household where the wife just seems constantly FRUSTRATED. This isn’t the man she married. She married someone who NOTICED her. Who treated her as SPECIAL. Who had ENERGY and AMBITION. Who was HEADED somewhere.

But now, when he finally DOES get home, he’d rather just sit in a chair and watch TV. And won’t give much more than a GRUNT.

And he thinks she doesn’t notice his head turn as the blonde from down the street walks past.

And then there’s the KIDS. They used to be so cute. But now they’re running riot. Throwing tantrums until they get what they want. And always fighting with each other. Absolutely undisciplined. And the parents don’t know WHAT to do.

And the husband and wife both have a deep, heavy SADNESS. A profound lonely DISAPPOINTMENT. Because they never imagined life would turn out like this. They look at the wedding photo on the shelf, and the two young, hopeful people grinning back at them seem like strangers.

And as we watch this dysfunctional family, it’s not much a COMEDY. It’s more of a TRAGEDY. Because the reality is, perhaps it’s a little bit close to the bone. Perhaps there are times when looking at THIS family is a little like looking in the mirror.

But there’s HOPE, TOO. Because as Proverbs describes this family. It gives us WISDOM so we can learn how not to be like THEM.

Marriage is good

Proverbs begins by saying that MARRIAGE IS GOOD. 18:22

22 He who finds a wife finds what is GOOD and receives FAVOR from the LORD.

Man and woman joining together for life as partners is GOOD. It’s God’s DESIGN. There’s partnership and friendship and enjoyment and fulfilment. It’s the perfect foundation for a stable society, and for raising well-adjusted kids.

Which means, if you’re SINGLE. It’s a good thing to want to get married.

And Proverbs has some wisdom about the sorts of qualities you should go looking for in a marriage partner.

Physical looks are normally what we notice FIRST about someone. But Proverbs says there’s more important qualities to look for in a marriage partner. 11:22

22 Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout is a beautiful woman who shows no DISCRETION.

Physical beauty is one VERY SMALL PART of the whole package. Far more important is DISCRETION. Which is about making good choices. About being careful in words or actions.

In the long run, that’s going to be much more important for building a strong marriage. 12:4 Character MATTERS.

4 A wife of NOBLE CHARACTER is her husband’s crown, but a disgraceful wife is like DECAY IN HIS BONES.

A godly wife makes her husband BETTER than he was before. Like a crown on his head. Same with a good HUSBAND for that matter. A wife of noble character is the mirror that points out his faults, the sounding board to get his ideas right, an encourager, a sharpening stone, a kick in the pants, a shoulder to cry on, a warm comforting pillow to relax against.

A wife, or husband, of noble character just makes the other person BETTER. Like that memorable line from the movie Jerry Maguire, “You COMPLETE me.” That’s a wife of noble character. Her husband’s crown.

14:1 sums up the effect of all those characteristics.

The WISE woman BUILDS HER HOUSE, but with her own hands the foolish one tears hers down.

It’s WISDOM you want to go looking for. Not just physical attraction. That’s the way to build a life together that’s SOLID.

And, of course, wisdom BEGINS with FEARING GOD. 9:10

10 “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom,

When you’re getting to know someone, the MOST IMPORTANT question to ask is whether they FEAR GOD. Are they CHRISTIAN? Because nothing matters MORE than THAT. It should be an instant deal-breaker. “Not a Christian? Then there’s No future!”

If you’re single, remember you have to live with PERSONALITY and CHARACTER long after LOOKS fade. So choose WISELY. Choose WISDOM.

Marriage might be a good thing, but in this sad house in Israel, something gone very wrong.

A Nagging Wife

We’ll start with the wife. Life just hasn’t turned out the way she imagined it. And she’s placing much of the blame on her husband. And she lets him know every chance she gets.

You meet this wife so often in Proverbs it’s almost a refrain. Again and again verses like 27:15

15 A quarrelsome wife is like a constant dripping on a rainy day; 16 restraining her is like restraining the wind or grasping oil with the hand.

Nagging and nagging. All the time. She can’t be STOPPED. She can’t be PLEASED. That sort of life just DRAINS the LIFE out of a man. 25:24 offers a better alternative.

24 Better to live on a corner of the roof than share a house with a quarrelsome wife.

Things are SO bad, he’s thinking about moving his things up onto the roof. Anything for a bit of peace and quiet.

Or 21:19

It’s better to live in a desert than with a quarrelsome and ill tempered wife

It might be dry and difficult to survive in a desert. But at least it’s QUIET!

An Adulterous Husband

But few problems in marriage are completely ONE-SIDED. Let’s take a look at THE HUSBAND for a moment. Maybe there are REASONS for the wife’s quarrels and nagging.

Maybe it’s because his head’s being turned by the woman down the street. Who promises things that are so much easier, and more exciting than what he gets at home.

And Proverbs is LOADED with warnings against the sort of foolishness. Like chapter 2. Be WISE about the attraction of adultery. 2:16

[Wisdom] will save you also from the adulteress, from the wayward wife with her seductive words, who has left the partner of her youth and ignored the covenant she made before God. For her house leads down to DEATH and her paths to the spirits of the dead. None who go to her return or attain the PATHS OF LIFE.

The LIE of adultery is that it will lead to a FUN, EXCITING, SATISFYING life. Everything your marriage ISN’T. That finally you’ll be treated the way you DESERVE.

But it’s just NOT SO. That’s FOOLISHNESS. Life gets FAR MORE DIFFICULT and COMPLICATED when you head down THAT path.

And it doesn’t just ruin YOUR life, there’s the kids And the grandparents. Not to mention your CHURCH family. It’s A MESS. The moments of excitement aren’t worth the trail of destruction it leaves behind. That path LEADS TO DEATH.

But while we’re thinking about the KIDS in this Israelite house, let’s peek into THEIR room.

Undisicplined kids

Because they’re OUT OF CONTROL. They do what they want. And the parents are DESPAIRING. 17:25

25 A foolish son brings GRIEF to his father and BITTERNESS to the one who bore him.

And it must have been fairly COMMON, because Proverbs has plenty to say about how WISE parents treats his kids. Like teaching that discipline is SO IMPORTANT, it’s a matter of life and death. 19:18

DISCIPLINE your son, for in that there is HOPE. Do not be a willing party to his DEATH. (Prov 19:18)

There’s only a certain number of years when you get some input into your kids. When they’ll accept discipline. At SOME point they stand on their own. And you just have to stand by and HOPE and PRAY that their SELF-discipline follows YOUR discipline.

So PAY ATTENTION to them. MAKE AN EFFORT. DISCIPLINE while you can. You get ONE CHANCE. Ignoring your kids’ behaviour – letting THEM choose how they act – isn’t LOVE, it’s IRRESPONSIBLE.

So here’s some advice for parents like that. 29:15

The rod of correction imparts wisdom, but a child left to himself disgraces his mother.

Or 23:12-13

Do not with-hold discipline from a child; if you punish him with the rod, he will not DIE. Punish him with the rod, and SAVE HIS SOUL from death.

Short-term pain leads to LONG-TERM GAIN. (Benefits for the future last much longer than a whack that stops hurting after 30 seconds)

Mind you, physical punishment doesn’t mean angry, bullying abuse. Proverbs isn’t teaching taking out your frustration on your kids. It’s not about YOUR BAD DAY, it’s about YOUR KIDS. It’s about SAVING them, not DESTROYING them.

Physical discipline is meant to be applied LOVINGLY. And CAREFULLY. Which is the other half to the famous proverb you’ve probably heard: 13:24:

He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who LOVES him is careful to discipline him.

Someone at Home Group this week was saying that one piece of advice he’s passed on to his children is never to discipline their kids when they’re ANGRY. Cool down, give it time. So the punishment comes from LOVE rather than anger. Good advice!

You see, what’s needed in this house in ancient Israel is PARENTS WHO CARE ENOUGH TO CONFRONT. Who set BOUNDARIES. And who STICK to them. Who are CONSISTENT. Even when they’re tired.

Who set CONSEQUENCES. And who FOLLOW THROUGH. No matter WHAT time of the day or night it is. No matter HOW many times they’ve done it before.

And when it comes to the effect on the children. There’s some good advice for THEM to listen to AS WELL. 23:22

22 LISTEN to your father, who gave you LIFE, and do not despise your mother when she is old. 23 Buy the truth and do not sell it; get wisdom, discipline and understanding. 24 The father of a righteous man has great JOY; he who has a wise son DELIGHTS in him.

Kids, don’t think that just because you’re parents aren’t COOL that they’re WRONG. They KNOW stuff. They’ve BEEN there. They’ve LEARNED from their mistakes. And you IGNORE their advice at your PERIL. 30:17

17 “The eye that mocks a father, that scorns obedience to a mother, will be pecked out by the ravens of the valley, will be eaten by the vultures.

That’s brutally honest!

Your House

So what about YOU? If we took a tour of YOUR house, would we find some of these same problems?

The temptation, I guess, in the car on the way home, is to point the finger. To say, “See, I TOLD you that’s what you do wrong!” And because of that, you’ll excuse your own behaviour. And things will keep spiralling out of control.

But that’s a mistake. The Bible’s position is CLEAR. You’re a SINNER. And you MARRIED a sinner. And that’s exactly the way God PLANNED it. And his PURPOSE in your marriage is that you work at serving your spouse so they can grow more like Jesus.

That’s the big picture.

Which means, don’t be SURPRISED when your partner disappoints you. When they HURT you, or don’t measure up. They LOVE you, but it doesn’t mean they’re PERFECT.

When they hurt you. Forgive them. Let them know, gently and lovingly, FOR THEIR BENEFIT, and FOR GOD’S GLORY, how they can grow. And move on.

The WISE way to treat Proverb’s advice is to pay attention to your OWN responsibilities. If you’re a husband, STOP LOOKING AT OTHER WOMEN. Seriously – it’s not that complicated! Jesus says (Matthew 5:29) GOUGE OUT YOUR EYE if it causes you to sin. Take drastic measures. Don’t watch TV or use the computer on your own late at night. Request a transfer to a different section at work. Catch a later train, or walk along a different street.

That’s the NEGATIVE. On the POSITIVE, work hard to rekindle the romance with the WIFE OF YOUR YOUTH. Proverbs chapter 5. It’s a bit “R” rated. And if you’re more polite than the Bible is, I apologise in advance. But let’s read from verse 15.

15-19: Drink water from your own cistern, running water from your own well. Should your springs overflow in the streets, your streams of water in the public squares? Let them be yours alone, never to be shared with strangers. May your fountain be blessed, and MAY YOU REJOICE IN THE WIFE OF YOUR YOUTH. A loving doe, a graceful deer – may her breasts satisfy you always, may you ever be captivated by her love.

Make a conscious decision to FOCUS ON YOUR WIFE. If the passion’s waning, if her nagging’s driving you CRAZY. Remember back to what you first appreciated about her. Make lists. Have a date night. Go to some of the same places you went when you were going out. DO loving things for her, even if you don’t FEEL loving. Write her letters about what you appreciate and are thankful for.

I know one husband who calls his wife, “the bride”. That’s rejoicing in the wife of his youth.

It’s obviously not going to be the way it was when you first met. But in lots of ways it should be BETTER.

And if you’re a wife caught up in the same spiral of nagging and criticism, try PRAYING for your husband. And not just that he’ll do what YOU want. But that God will be working in him to make him like Jesus.

And pray for YOURSELF. Have a good look in the mirror. And ask yourself what’s BEHIND the nagging. What unbiblical goal have you set for your marriage that’s not being achieved?

Is it having high-achieving careers? And your husband just doesn’t have the ambition?

Or is it having the perfect house? And he can’t keep it the way you’d like?

Or he can’t satisfy your emotional need for affection? Or gifts? Or quality time?

Or that the kids achieve what you never could?

All of those things are GOOD. And they might be PART of what a marriage together can build. But they’re not GOD’S priority. What GOD wants is for you both to be growing more like Jesus. Whether you get any of those other things or NOT!

So pray for God’s purposes to be achieved. And pray that you’d desire the things HE desires.

And stop NAGGING. Because it’s not working. And it never did. And it never will. It’s time to try the way of wisdom instead.

If there’s problems, then it’s not going to be EASY. Perhaps it’s going to take some serious swallowing of PRIDE. Humble pie. Some apologising. Some mending fences. Some re-shaping ways of relating.

But let me ask you, Men, “Is she WORTH it?” Women? Is HE worth it? Worth the hard work it’s going to need?

Proverbs doesn’t deal with EVERY problem in a family. But it does have something to say to the husband who’s cheating on his wife. And to the wife who’s criticising her husband. And it does have something to say to parents who don’t love their kids enough to consistently discipline them.

And that is, stop being FOOLISH. And start putting things back together. One step at a time.

It will really set you apart from the families out there who DON’T know Jesus. Who don’t know God’s wisdom. And who just give up. Because it all seems too hard.

In fact, if you’re a Christian family there’s meant to be something DIFFERENT about you. Something distinctly Christ-like about your family life. And the Apostle Paul talks about it in Colossians chapter 3. A family model that reflects the best of what we see in Proverbs.

The chapter begins by DEFINING OUR IDENTITY. We’ve been RAISED with Christ. Which means we should set our hearts and minds on things above. On God’s priorities. Not EARTHLY ones. We’re NEW PEOPLE. And we should put to death the OLD patterns of behaving. The selfishness and idolatry. The lying and anger.

And instead (v12) clothe ourselves with compassion and kindness and humility and gentleness and patience.

Wouldn’t family life be TRANSFORMED if there was a bit more of THAT sort of clothing in evidence!?

And here’s ANOTHER crucial characteristic for family life. V13. BEAR with one another. Be patient. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. Every day, there’ll be something to forgive. And something you’ll need to ASK forgiveness for.

And, v14, over it all, put on LOVE that binds it all together. Other-person centred, self-sacrificial LOVE. As a conscious decision of obedience. Day after day. Year after year. From wives and husbands and children.

Verse 18, wives that means SUBMITTING to your husbands. Allowing them to LEAD. Even when you want YOUR way instead. Because that’s fitting in the LORD. You CHOOSE to let go of nagging, and to OFFER your submission. Because you choose to obey JESUS.

And, v19, husbands LOVE your wives and don’t be HARSH with them. Be GENTLE and PATIENT. Forgive. Work hard on CHERISHING them. Even when you FEEL ignored and taken for granted. Lead them and serve them like Jesus serves HIS bride, the church. Pray FOR them, and WITH them, that they’ll grow more like Jesus.

And there’s a word for children TOO. V20. Kids, you’ve got a responsibility. To obey your parents. Choose to OFFER it because you want to please THE LORD. Even when you feel like they’re wrong, or too conservative, or don’t understand.

And v21, fathers, when you DISCIPLINE your kids, don’t make them BITTER. Tell them you love them, and you’re proud of them. Don’t set the standard so high, they can never achieve it. Praise often, criticise rarely.

BE there. LISTEN when they talk to you. Turn off the TV. Don’t just give them QUALITY time, give them TIME.

Wouldn’t it be GREAT if, all around Ashfield, there were houses like THAT? Families that were DIFFERENT? Where EVERYONE was seeking first to PLEASE THE LORD. Where there was wisdom. And discipline and humility and forgiveness. And LOVE.

And where Jesus was followed? And where people NOTICED.

May God bring that about in our families!

Proverbs 12:13-13:3: Wise Words

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Words are POWERFUL. They can move us and affect us DEEPLY. They can change our lives in profound ways. “Will you marry me?” “I’m proud of you” You’re ugly! We’re pregnant. You got the job. I’ve met someone else. You’ll never amount to anything. Many of us can remember words spoken to us DECADES AGO.

Words are powerful. And not just PERSONALLY. WORDS are bound up in THE VERY NATURE OF CREATION. (God’s woven WORDS into the fabric of his world.) God FOUNDED THE UNIVERSE with words. POWERFUL words. Genesis 1. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. God SAID, Let there be LIGHT. And THERE WAS. And God SAID, Let the waters be SEPARATED… And it WAS. And God SAID… And there was. And God SAID… And there was. God’s words CREATE things.

And when God made humans. He made them in HIS IMAGE. And he made them to SPEAK, because HE speaks.

His CHARACTER is to communicate with words. He doesn’t leave us as ignorant creatures. He TELLS us what he’s like, and how he wants us to live. In Exodus 20, he gives the people his law. “And God SPOKE all these WORDS. I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt. Out of the land of slavery.”

And then he tells us how to LIVE as his people. He gives Ten commandments. And when Moses writes them down on the stone tablets in Exodus 34, it says he writes down the words of the covenant, THE TEN WORDS. Words that summarise how we LIVE in God’s world.

And when our sin and wickedness spoils God’s world. When we again and again IGNORE God’s words. And choose OUR way instead of his. God, in his goodness and mercy and grace and covenant faithfulness, promises a day when he’ll WRITE his law ON OUR HEARTS. Jeremiah 31:33. A time when he’ll TATTOO his words of instruction into our NATURES. So we’ll be NEW PEOPLE, who’ll LOVE to LISTEN. And God will do it by sending A RESCUER. A RESTORER. A MESSENGER.

And listen to how the prophet Isaiah describes him. Ch 49. Isaiah speaks with the voice of God’s coming servant. Listen to me, you islands; hear this, you distant nations: Before I was born the LORD called me; from my birth he has made mention of my name. 2 HE MADE MY MOUTH LIKE A SHARPENED SWORD, in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me into a polished arrow and concealed me in his quiver. 3 He said to me, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will display my splendor.”

God promises to send HIS SERVANT. Who’ll have a message to speak. And his words will be POWERFUL. Like a sharpened sword. He’ll speak from his mouth words that SAVE, and JUDGE. Words that HEAL. And words that WOUND.

And six centuries later, Jesus steps out of eternity into history. God’s one and only, eternal Son. And as John thinks about how to describe him, he decides on… THE WORD. Because words ARE POWERFUL. John Ch 1.

1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and THE WORD WAS GOD… 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 IN HIM WAS LIFE, and that life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness

14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. WE HAVE SEEN HIS GLORY, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

God speaks HIS WORD. And we have SEEN HIS GLORY. And we find LIFE in him.

This world BEGINS with a WORD. It’s REDEEMED with a WORD. And in Revelation 19, we see that it will FINISH with a word. The same apostle, John, receives a vision about the future. When Jesus, the Word become flesh, returns to judge. In awesome power and righteous justice.

11 I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war.   12 His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. 13 He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and HIS NAME IS THE WORD OF GOD. 14 The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. 15 OUT OF HIS MOUTH COMES A SHARP SWORD WITH WHICH TO STRIKE DOWN THE NATIONS. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.

Words are POWERFUL. And God’s DEFINITIVE, ULTIMATE Word, Jesus, is speaking. And WILL speak. And we need to LISTEN. We need to bow before him. And conform our lives to THAT WORD. Is that something YOU’VE done? You NEED to. Jesus DESERVES it. That’s the WISEST thing I can say today about WORDS. Even before we GET to Proverbs.

So what’s this all got to do with Proverbs? Words are powerful in God’s world. And since Proverbs observes the way the world works, it’s no surprise we see words described as powerful in Proverbs. 18:21 The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.

Words can HARM, or DO GOOD. In ALL sorts of ways. A FIST hurts one person at a time, but words can reach THOUSANDS.

So…

So, before we look at some of those ways, let’s think about the implications of this first truth. If words are so POWERFUL, then,

One, THINK before you speak. Put your BRAIN in gear before your MOUTH. 13:3

3 He who guards his lips guards his life, but he who speaks rashly will come to ruin.

Or 12:18 18 RECKLESS words pierce like a sword,

Words can DO such DAMAGE or such GOOD. So use them CAREFULLY.

Second implication. LISTEN before you speak. 18:13 13 He who answers before listening– that is his folly and his shame.

Obvious really. How can you know how to speak into someone’s life if you don’t KNOW anything ABOUT them.

Third implication. When you DO speak. Say LESS. Less is MORE. The more words you say, the more chance you’ll say something you’ll regret. 10:19 When words are MANY, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.

Often the people who SAY the most, have the LEAST TO SAY. They just love the sound of their own voice. Whereas, 17:27

27 A man of knowledge uses words with RESTRAINT, and a man of understanding is even-tempered. And 28 Even A FOOL is thought wise if he keeps SILENT, and discerning if he holds his tongue.

Good advice! If you’re listening to a conversation and you don’t understand ANYTHING. Just keep nodding your head intelligently, and people will THINK you’re keeping up. If you try to contribute before you’re ready, you’ll just show your ignorance. Words are POWERFUL, so think first, listen first, speak LESS.

Powerful to tear down

Proverbs has plenty to say about the DESTRUCTIVE power of words. Which speaks against our Australian culture. Because our sense of humour is to make fun of people. To criticise. It’s how we show our affection. Mates TEASE each other. And we don’t like anyone who gets too big for their boots – too proud. We want everyone to be at the same level. We’re quick to cut down the tall poppy. And as Christians we need to be very CAREFUL of that culture. And we can learn a lot from listening to Proverbs.

Here’s a whole lot of personalities we find in most Aussie workplaces. DANGEROUS people. Whose words can TEAR DOWN. People you need to be CAREFUL of.

Most workplaces have one. The MOCKER. Always making fun of people. Highlighting the mistakes and weaknesses. Never noticing the positives. 29:8 Mockers STIR UP a city, but wise men turn away anger.

And it’s rarely HARMLESS fun. Often there’s a NASTY EDGE to it. 21:24 The PROUD AND ARROGANT man–“Mocker ” is his name; he behaves with overweening pride. Always thinking himself better than those around him. And making sure everyone KNOWS it.

And it affects everyone around him. 22:10 Drive out the mocker, and out goes strife; quarrels and insults are ended.

People tend to take on that same behaviour. It’s contagious. Everyone starts teasing each other. But REMOVE the mocker, and the whole mood changes. It’s LIGHTER. People begin to smile again.

Then there’s THE LIAR. 25:18 Like a club or a sword or a sharp arrow is the man who gives false testimony against his neighbor.

Little white lies aren’t harmless! They’re as violent and damaging as a punch in the face. To be LIED ABOUT / HURTS.

Then there’s the back-stabber and criticiser. 16:27 A scoundrel PLOTS EVIL, and his speech is like a scorching fire. His plan to climb the corporate ladder is to drag others down. And his words DESTROY REPUTATIONS and CAREERS.

Then there’s THE GOSSIP. 16:28 A perverse man STIRS UP DISSENSION, and a gossip separates close friends. A juicy rumour can ruin friendships. And the gossip is there to fill the gap.

Then there’s THE FLATTERER. He’s always got an agenda. Even if he’s talking about someone else, it’s always about HIM. 26:28 a flattering mouth works RUIN. Or 29:5 Whoever flatters his neighbor is SPREADING A NET FOR HIS FEET

Flattery LOOKS nice and safe, But it’s a TRAP. The flatterer seems like he’s complementing YOU, but he’s always got an agenda. His words are really about HIM, not YOU.

Now, I’ve said every WORKPLACE has people like this, but the tragedy is that CHURCHES have people like this TOO. In Ephesians 4, Paul talks about putting off the OLD NATURE. And as he gets SPECIFIC, much of what he says is about WORDS.

25 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and SPEAK TRUTHFULLY to his neighbor

29 Do not let any UNWHOLESOME TALK come out of your mouths, but only what is HELPFUL for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.

31 Get rid of all BITTERNESS, rage and anger, brawling and SLANDER, along with every form of MALICE.

Into Ch 5. v4 Nor should there be OBSCENITY, FOOLISH TALK OR COARSE JOKING, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.

There’s no place for those sorts of words at church. But the sad reality is that MOST of us have been HURT by the words of people AT CHURCH. Sometimes thoughtless, sometimes sinful. But it shouldn’t BE like this. When we DO hurt with words, we need to be quick to apologise. And quick to forgive. Right in the middle of those verses we read. V26 Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold.

Holding on to hurt can POISON you. Can poison A CHURCH. Fix up the problem. Whether you’re the one who’s BEEN HURT, or the one who’s DONE the hurting. We need to be very careful with our words. Because words are POWERFUL to TEAR DOWN.

Powerful to build up

But that doesn’t mean we should be afraid to talk. Because our words are also powerful to BUILD UP. And Proverbs has much to say about THESE words, TOO. 3:1

My son, do not forget my teaching, but keep my commands in your heart, 2 for they will PROLONG YOUR LIFE MANY YEARS AND BRING YOU PROSPERITY. 16:24 Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.

Our words can ENCOURAGE and GUIDE. They can THANK and CORRECT and TRAIN and FORGIVE and HEAL. They can REBUKE and RESTORE. Wise words make life BETTER. They BUILD UP.

Listen

And so the WISE person LISTENS to wise words. That’s the FIRST piece of advice. LISTEN.

The first 9 chapters of Proverbs are the advice of a FATHER to his SON. And again and again he says, “LISTEN.”

1:8 LISTEN, my son

3:1 My son, do not forget my teaching

4:1 LISTEN, my sons, to a father’s instruction

5:1 My son, PAY ATTENTION to my wisdom. And so on

Wisdom teaches discipline and insight. It leads to doing what’s just and right and fair. So LISTEN. And wise words will BUILD YOU UP.

Which is easy when you’re GUIDED or PRAISED. But not so much when it’s CORRECTION or REBUKE. No one LIKES to have faults, or mistakes identified. But if you DON’T listen, you’ll NEVER improve. So WISDOM learns from rebukes. 13:18 He who ignores discipline comes to poverty and shame, but whoever heeds correction is honored.

Only THE FOOL thinks he knows better. 12:15 The way of a fool seems right to him, but A WISE MAN LISTENS TO ADVICE.

It might hurt at the time, but it’s worth it in the long run. Short term PAIN for long term GAIN. Look PAST the hurt. And look for the TRUTH in the correction. Treat it like a mirror showing up your flaws.

And when the criticism comes from a FRIEND, you can trust that they want your best. So LISTEN to them. 27:6 Wounds from a friend can be TRUSTED, but an enemy multiplies kisses.

That’s a great verse to remember as you LISTEN to wise advice.

And Ch 2 describes what listening looks like PRACTICALLY. A son listening to his father. And it’s more than just hearing the words. It’s ACTIVE. It’s VALUING them, storing them up. Processing them. Working out their relevance in your situation. That’s the way to grow wiser. COMMIT yourself to pursuing wisdom. Proverbs 2

1 My son, if you ACCEPT my words and STORE UP my commands within you, 2 turning your ear to wisdom and APPLYING YOUR HEART to understanding, 3 and if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, 4 and if you LOOK for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, 5 THEN you will understand the fear of the LORD. 6 For the LORD gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.

Is that how it’s working in YOUR family? Are you putting as much energy into GIVING words of wisdom to your kids? Are your conversations with your kids WORTH them listening to? Are they helping them grow in their love of God?

It’s one of the ways God’s designed for people to RECEIVE his wisdom. Parents telling their kids. ORDINARY means.

It’s ONE way. God ALSO speaks through ONE Christian sharing with ANOTHER. Through sermons. Through home groups, and youth groups. Husbands and wives. Through Sunday School, and one-to-one partnerships. And through families teaching and praying together. Over coffee or a meal, or in a playground, or walking the dog. Many words in many different situations.

And it’s GOD’S wisdom when our words to each other are focussed on HIS WORD. On the Bible. That’s what Paul encourages the young Timothy. 2 Timothy 3.

16 All SCRIPTURE is God-breathed and is useful for TEACHING, REBUKING, CORRECTING AND TRAINING IN RIGHTEOUSNESS, 17 so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. 4:1 In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: 2 Preach THE WORD; be prepared in season and out of season; CORRECT, REBUKE AND ENCOURAGE-with great patience and CAREFUL INSTRUCTION.

God’s Word is the source of life and wisdom. So it’s words FROM SCRIPTURE that will build people up.

And Scripture also has some advice for how we can do that WELL.

Ephesians 4:15 says that we’re to speak the TRUTH/ in LOVE. We don’t just blurt out something in an unfeeling way, just because it’s TRUE. We’re to think carefully about how a correction will be received BEST. How to say it LOVINGLY.

Phillippa mentioned a great checklist to run through in your mind before you speak. Is it true? Is it Kind? Is it Necessary? We read Eph 4:29 earlier. It’s got the same sorts of categories.

29 Do not let any UNWHOLESOME talk come out of your mouths, but ONLY what is HELPFUL for building others up according to their needs, that it may BENEFIT those who listen.

Is it TRUE? Is it KIND? Is it NECESSARY?

One way to speak IN LOVE/ is TO GET THE TIMING RIGHT. You won’t be heard if you speak at the wrong time. No matter HOW wise your advice. Proverbs 27:14 If a man LOUDLY blesses his neighbor EARLY IN THE MORNING, it will be taken as a curse.

Choose the right moment. And it will be RECEIVED better.

And be SENSITIVE. 25:20 Like one who takes away a garment on a cold day, or like vinegar poured on soda, is one who sings songs to a heavy heart.

Consider the mood of the person. “Cheer up” or “Snap out of it” Might seem like good advice to a depressed person, but all it’s likely to do is make things WORSE. True, but not loving.

And be wise about the SITUATION you get involved in. 26:17 Like one who seizes a dog by the ears is a passer-by who meddles in a quarrel not his own.

Don’t meddle in an argument. Often it only makes things WORSE. They’ll agree, alright. They’ll BOTH get angry at you!

And if you’re always asking yourself the question, Is it LOVING? Then your motivation will always be about what’s best for the OTHER PERSON. 28:23 He who REBUKES a man will in the end GAIN MORE FAVOR than he who has a flattering tongue.

Flattery is self-serving. But ENCOURAGEMENT, even if there’s REBUKE, is other person-serving. And they’ll APPRECIATE it, over time.

So CHECK YOUR MOTIVATIONS. What’s your GOAL in bringing up a topic? Do you rebuke someone to make yourself look better, or FEEL better? Or for the benefit of the other person? Are you a mocker who makes fun of people? Are you a boaster or flatterer? Do you name drop? Do you talk up your achievements? Do you flatter others for your own agenda? Do you find yourself switching off listening because you’re thinking about the next thing YOU can say. Or are you genuinely interested in what someone says, so you can BUILD THEM UP when you DO speak?

Words are POWERFUL.

Another application of this is that if there’s something encouraging to say, SAY IT. Sometimes we THINK it, but feel too awkward to SAY it. We’re quick to CRITICISE, but slow to ENCOURAGE. But words can have a HUGE impact.

Don’t be like the old man, when his wife asked if he still loved her, replied, “I told you I loved you when I married you. If anything changes, I’ll let you know.” SPEAK your words that build up. Don’t leave them unsaid. They go to WASTE stuck in your head. They build up NO ONE. Put them to WORK.

And may all your words be for the building up of others. Do YOUR PART. So we might ALL grow more like Jesus. Ephesians 4:15-16

15 Instead, SPEAKING THE TRUTH IN LOVE, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, AS EACH PART DOES ITS WORK.

 

Proverbs 22: Wise at Work

WORK. Many of us both LOVE it and HATE it.https://i0.wp.com/careerpivot.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/People-at-Work.jpg

Sometimes we LOVE it. Like when you reach a significant milestone. You’ve built something that works well. Something you can be PROUD OF. Something USEFUL. And you feel a sense of achievement.

And people APPRECIATE it. Whether that’s your boss, or your customer. And that’s SATISFYING.

There’s the joy of teamwork, and being part of something BIGGER THAN YOURSELF. There’s the fulfilment of seeing plans coming together. The pleasure of friendship and mutual respect. Of learning, and growth, and being mentally stimulated.

That’s ONE side of work.

But there’s also those Monday mornings when we just want to stay in bed. Those seasons when work DRAINS us. Physically and emotionally and mentally. Perhaps it’s PHYSICAL. At the end of the day you’re EXHAUSTED. Your feet are swollen, your back throbs, and your head aches.

Or there’s the drudgery and boredom of doing the same task again and again. Or the FRUSTRATION and pointlessness of it all. So much EFFORT, and so little changes. You struggle to see what DIFFERENCE your work makes. No one appreciates it. No one notices. And the money you earn doesn’t seem to be worth the HASSLE.

Or maybe it’s CONSTANT PRESSURE. Pressure to perform or produce results. Pressure from supervisors and bosses. Or just from clients or customers. And you feel like you’re just falling apart.

And then, on top of all this, many Christians have the nagging suspicion their work isn’t really serving God’s kingdom. That their CHURCH life is following Jesus. But they’re not really sure how Monday to Friday 9 to 5 fits in with God’s plans. And they feel vaguely guilty they’re not working in full-time ministry – that’s where the REAL Christian action happens.

Which is all quite depressing. Because the reality is most of us spend the majority of our waking hours WORKING.

The good news is the Bible has a lot to SAY about work. In all its various forms. About how we can work WELL. And WISELY. And how our WORK fits into God’s plans for building his kingdom.

God created us to work

So before we get to Proverbs. Let’s think a little about what the Bible teaches about WORK.

The FIRST point to make is that God CREATED us to WORK. Genesis 1:26, God says, “Let us make mankind in our image, and let them RULE over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock over all the earth.”

And then God tells them to BE FRUITFUL and increase in number. To fill the earth. And he says to SUBDUE it. And then in Gen 2, God puts the man in the Garden to WORK IT, and TAKE CARE of it.

God gives us work to do in his world. In fact, he CREATED us for work. Part of what it means to be made in his image is TO WORK. To rule. And fill. And subdue. And work and take care. And he declares that world VERY GOOD. WORK is good.

Putting it simply, God made us to make something out of something. That’s what WORK is. Making something out of something.

So, many jobs today are about this sort of CREATION work. Taking something God’s made – raw material – and CHANGING it. Turning coal into electricity, or trees into houses, or clay into dinner plates, or iron ore into cars or washing machines, or seeds and animals into hamburgers and cappuccinos.

But then we get to Genesis 3. The FALL. Where Adam and Eve SINNED. And God’s perfect world changed FOREVER. And God CURSED the ground, and declared that work would now be DIFFICULT AND FRUSTRATING. Not WORTHLESS, or BAD. Just HARD.

And that’s what work is like, isn’t it? For all the joy and satisfaction of work, the reality is computers crash, fan-belts break, weeds grow, investments devalue, markets shrink, children whinge, competitors cheat and lie. And things often don’t turn out like we hope.

And because of the fall, there’s ANOTHER category of work. Work you wouldn’t NEED otherwise. We could call it FALL work. Work that seeks to overturn the fall. Or relieve or reduce its EFFECTS.

This sort of work aims to restore ORDER to the chaos of sin. And bring GOOD out of CURSE. Locksmiths, police, marriage counsellors, dentists and doctors, optometrists, grave diggers, pest exterminators. All these jobs only exist because of the fall.

MANY jobs are a COMBINATION of creation work and fall work.

And there’s a THIRD category of work. And only Christians can do this one. REDEMPTION work. God is setting things right, and restoring all things, through the resurrection of Jesus. Christ lives in us, and by the power of his Spirit, we can work together with God. PRAYING that his kingdom would come. And TELLING PEOPLE about God. His son, his world, and his plans. And THAT’S work we can do whatever OTHER work we’re also involved in.

CREATION work, FALL work, and REDEMPTION work. That’s the big picture.

And God’s will for us – his biblical purpose for humanity – is to WORK at one or more of those categories.

And when we turn to PROVERBS, we get some tools for how to do that WISELY.

Fear of the LORD

And like every area of life, wise work begins with FEARING GOD. 3:7

Do not be wise in your own eyes; FEAR THE LORD and shun evil. 8 This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones. 9 HONOR THE LORD with your WEALTH, with the firstfruits of all your crops; 10 then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine.

In other words, put God first in everything. Do all your work God’s way, and things generally turn out well. 22:4

4 Humility and THE FEAR OF THE LORD bring wealth and honor and life.

And make sure your MOTIVES are to see God’s will done. 16:3

3 Commit to the LORD whatever you do, and your plans will succeed.

Give all your work to God. God’s PURPOSES done God’s WAY according to God’s PRIORITIES. That’s the way to succeed in your work. It’s the FIRST STEP in WISE WORK.

Wealth

And perhaps the EASIEST way to get away from God’s priorities is in how we treat WEALTH.

Some Christians think God is ANTI-wealth. And that any job that’s to do with generating wealth is WRONG. And so they discourage Christians from careers in finance or accounting or the stock market or banking.

But, interestingly, that’s not what Proverbs teaches. Wealth is a gift from God. 10:22

22 The blessing of the LORD brings wealth, and he adds no trouble to it.

So, it’s not money ITSELF that bad. It’s the GREED and SELFISHNESS and IDOLATRY and PRIDE that often goes with it. 1 Tim 6:10 is often misquoted. But it says that the LOVE of money is the root of all kinds of evil. Not money ITSELF.

And so Proverbs has plenty to say about a wise perspective on wealth and money.

First. Wealth might be good. But it’s very easy for sin to go hand-in-hand with wealth. TOO much money can lead to pride and self-sufficiency. 30:8-9

give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. 9 Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’

“Who needs God?” the rich think.

But wisdom knows better. Even if you ARE wealthy. There’s no certainty you’ll STAY that way. 23:4

4 Do not wear yourself out to get rich; have the wisdom to show restraint. 5 Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone, for they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle.

It’s just not WISE to spend your whole life pursuing something that isn’t SECURE! Some people have this life motto: Whoever dies with the most toys wins. But 28:8 gives us the BIG PICTURE.

8 He who increases his wealth by exorbitant interest amasses it for another, who will be kind to the poor.

This Proverb says, Whoever dies with the most toys, STILL DIES.

More important than wealth

Instead, wisdom says there’s more important things in life than wealth. Like respect and integrity. 22:1

A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.

And righteous living. 16:8

8 Better a little with righteousness than much gain with injustice.

And happiness and peacefulness make a better life than fine food and expensive houses. 15:16

16 Better a little with the fear of the LORD than great wealth with turmoil. 17 Better a meal of vegetables where there is love than a fattened calf with hatred.

And that’s such a trap in the materialistic west. How many families are living in million dollar houses, with all the gadgets? A bedroom and a bathroom and a TV for every child. But the kids never leave their rooms. And the family can’t EAT together without ARGUING. They hang expensive curtains over huge windows so the neighbours can’t see their desperately miserable lives.

And 12:9 has something to say about that sad pressure to keep up appearances.

9 Better to be a nobody and yet have a servant than pretend to be somebody and have no food.

In other words, people spend all their money on keeping up with the Jones. They have all the LUXURIES. They have the FAME. But they can’t afford the NECESSITIES. That’s RIDICULOUS!

Wealth is GOOD. But there’s LOTS more things that are MORE IMPORTANT.

How to work wisely

And so, with those priorities in place, Proverbs also has plenty of wise business advice about how to make a SUCCESS of your work.

The most consistent theme is that of not being LAZY. 10:4

4 Lazy hands make a man poor, but DILIGENT hands bring WEALTH.

Many of the funniest Proverbs are at the expense of the lazy man, or the SLUGGARD. 26:14

14 As a door turns on its hinges, so a sluggard turns on his bed. 15 The sluggard buries his hand in the dish; he is too lazy to bring it back to his mouth.

So lazy, he won’t even FEED himself.

And he’s got a million excuses why he can’t work. 22:13

13 The sluggard says, “There is a lion outside!” or, “I will be murdered in the streets!”

And that sort of work ethic leads to RUIN and POVERTY. 6:9

9 How long will you lie there, you sluggard? When will you get up from your sleep? 10 A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest– 11 and poverty will come on you like a bandit.

The sluggard will always put off to tomorrow what he can do today. But that leads to poverty. 20:4

4 A sluggard does not plow in season; so at harvest time he looks but finds nothing.

If you don’t PLAN, you won’t EAT. It’s true even in a MODERN culture. Make sure there’s money in the bank. Make sure there’s food in the cupboard. Otherwise you’ll go hungry. Only FOOLS don’t think that far ahead.

He may THINK he knows best. But the sluggard can learn some lessons about work from an unlikely source. The ant. 6:6

6 Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise! 7 It has no commander, no overseer or ruler, 8 yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest.

Hard work, planning and preparation, self-starting initiative. That’s the way to get ahead.

Another wise quality in business is HONESTY. 11:1

The LORD hates dishonest scales, but accurate weights are his delight.

RUTHLESSNESS and GREED will only work for so long. INTEGRITY and TRUTH and FAIRNESS MATTER in business. That’s the way to build a business that LASTS.

That means selling a product by describing it accurately. Recording the hours you work accurately. Writing accurate invoices. Declaring your true income. Delivering the services you SAY you’ll deliver. Not hiding contract conditions in tricky language or fine print for your own interests.

Or here’s one for the accountants. This verse means NO CREATIVE ACCOUNTING. Adjusting the balance sheet and the financial reporting so that it describes the position better than it actually is.

And some more advice about honesty. Don’t talk down the value of something you’re buying just so you can get it at a lower price. Pay a fair price. 20:14

14 “It’s no good, it’s no good!” says the buyer; then off he goes and boasts about his purchase.

Those sorts of great deals have a way of coming back to bite you. 20: 17

Food gained by FRAUD tastes sweet to a man, but he ends up with a MOUTH FULL OF GRAVEL.

If you don’t like being ripped off, don’t do it to others.

God LOVES honesty and integrity.

Another wise quality in business is NOT TO BE GREEDY. It seems NONSENSE in today’s business world, where GREED IS GOOD. Instead, 15:27

27 A greedy man brings TROUBLE to his family,

Or 28:25

25 A greedy man stirs up dissension, but he who trusts in the LORD will prosper.

Instead, wisdom says, “Be generous.” 19:17

17 He who is kind to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will reward him for what he has done.

What a great image that is. God sees a generous act, and he thinks. I’m going to fix up that debt. I’ll repay it.

God LOVES to bless the generous giver. Listen to the peculiar upside down logic of God’s economics. 11:24

24 One man gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty. 25 A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed. 26 People curse the man who hoards grain, but blessing crowns him who is willing to sell.

That’s KINGDOM ECONOMICS. Doesn’t make much BUSINESS sense, and you won’t see it taught in any finance course. But it’s God’s wisdom.

On the other hand, the GREEDY person can make foolish business decisions. Like falling for get rich quick schemes 12:11

11 He who works his land will have abundant food, but he who CHASES FANTASIES lacks judgment.

If it seems too good to be true. It probably is. Here’s a BETTER idea. 13:11

11 Dishonest money dwindles away, but he who gathers money LITTLE BY LITTLE makes it grow.

Better to build wealth slowly and carefully.

They’re the basic attitudes, or character qualities to have: HARD WORK, HONESTY, AND GENEROSITY.

But Proverbs also has some more SPECIFIC advice about wise work. Here’s a couple more wise business strategies

Focus on what you’re GOOD at. That’s the way to build wealth. 22:29

29 Do you see a man SKILLED in his work? He will SERVE BEFORE KINGS; he will not serve before obscure men.

Don’t be a doctor just because they make lots of money. Or an engineer because that’s where the vacancies are. Don’t open a dry cleaner if you know nothing about it. Just because there’s no dry cleaner in your town. Begin with what you’re GOOD at. Or you’ve got A PASSION for. Try to build a business out of THAT. That’s the way to success.

And here’s a REALLY important one to finish with. PLAN FOR THE FUTURE. Make hay while the sun shines. Prepare for tomorrow, TODAY. Just like the ANT. 30:25

24 “Four things on earth are small, yet they are extremely wise: 25 Ants are creatures of little strength, YET THEY STORE UP THEIR FOOD IN THE SUMMER;

That means wise businesses FORECAST. Strategize. Stockpile. Budget for repairs and maintenance. Keep accurate inventories. They spend money on research and development. They have succession plans in place for key personnel.

Listen to this advice for BEST PRACTICE FARMING. 27:23

23 Be sure you KNOW THE CONDITION OF YOUR FLOCKS, give careful attention to your herds; 24 FOR RICHES DO NOT ENDURE FOREVER, and a crown is not secure for all generations.

And notice that part of wise planning is about diversifying your income sources. When ONE part of the business isn’t so profitable, there are OTHERS that make up the shortfall. V25

25 When the HAY is removed and new growth appears and the grass from the hills is gathered in, 26 the LAMBS will provide you with clothing, and the goats with the price of a field. 27 You will have plenty of goats’ milk to feed you and your family

Another part of wise planning is to capitalise sufficiently so the business can WORK properly. Buy the equipment you NEED. You have to SPEND a certain amount of money to MAKE money. 14:4

4 Where there are no oxen, the manger is empty, but from the STRENGTH of an ox comes an abundant harvest.

You may SAVE money by not buying oxen. You won’t have to FEED them. But you won’t PRODUCE ANY CROPS, EITHER.

Our family dentist, Craig, has some pretty fancy equipment. Must have cost THOUSANDS. As well as all the usual stuff, he’s got a microscope connected to a video camera. You can see your teeth in all their gory detail as he works on them. But he’s got a bad back, and the microscope means he can sit upright, looking straight ahead without bending over. It COST a lot. But WITHOUT it, he wouldn’t be ABLE TO WORK. That’s WISE.

Or here’s ANOTHER aspect of wise planning. Identify what your income-generating assets are. And make THEM the priority. 24:27

27 Finish your outdoor work and get your fields ready; after that, build your house.

You might be more COMFORTABLE if you build your house first. But you might run out of money before it’s FINISHED. Better to get your fields sown with grain, while you sleep in a tent. THEN you can worry about building your house, while your field is building your wealth.

 

A WISE business will make sure it spends money on the machinery that MAKES the MONEY before they worry about flashy desks and lounges and coffee makers. They might work from their garage while the business grows before they invest in commercial facilities.

The whole attitude of planning for the future is NATURAL for the Christian. Because that’s what the Christian life is all about. Living in light of Jesus’ return. 2 Peter 3 talks about the day of the Lord, and how THIS world will be stripped bare. Then v11 says

11 Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives 12 as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming.

That’s the ULTIMATE day of audit. Nothing else matters more. So live GODLY lives. FEAR the LORD. Aim to please HIM.

So the very wisest business model in THIS life is USELESS. FOOLISH. If it doesn’t include PLANNING FOR THE LIFE TO COME.

That’s the point of Jesus’ parable of THE RICH FOOL. Luke 13. He had the perfect business model. Successful too. He made so much income, he couldn’t fit it in his warehouses. So he was in the middle of putting together a new business model to take to his investment bank. He’d re-capitalise. Upgrade. Tear down his old warehouses, and build BIGGER ones.

And he daydreamed about not just HOARDING it. He planned to ENJOY what he had TOO. He was thinking ahead.

But for all the planning, Jesus still calls him A FOOL. Because his planning only stretched as far as THIS life. And God tells him his time is over. And all his plans will come to NOTHING. And all his goods will go to ANOTHER. Because he wasn’t RICH TOWARDS GOD.

He didn’t base his priorities and decisions on fearing God. Knowing him. Living HIS way. Bowing to HIS Son, Jesus. That’s the BEGINNING of wisdom.

So whatever your job, whether it’s paid, or unpaid. Whether it’s creation work, or fall work. Live giving THANKS to the God who MADE work. And who BLESSES you through the work of LOTS of people every day. And who allows YOU to bless OTHERS through your work.

And as you DO it. Be involved in REDEMPTION work. Be at work praying and speaking the gospel to people. Directing their attention to the God who MADE them. The Saviour who DIED for them. And who gives them forgiveness and life and purpose and a future.

That’s the planning that REALLY counts. That’s the way to TRULY be wise at work.

 

Proverbs 28: Living wisely in society

https://i2.wp.com/cdn.biblesociety.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/mike-baird-300x284.jpgIs God interested in politics? And does God want Christians to be involved in the political process? They could be interesting questions for morning tea! There are certainly plenty of local, state and federal politicians, from different political parties, who are committed Christians. And who see their role as politicians as living out their Christian faith in obedience to God to build his kingdom. Tony Abbott, the Australian Prime Minister, is well-known for having once trained for the Catholic priesthood. And yesterday, Bill Shorten, the Australian opposition leader, spoke at the Australian Christian Lobby national conference. He declared himself a Christian, who believes in marriage equality.

And then there’s Mike Baird, the NSW premier. He’s a committed Christian. He actually trained at Regent Theological College, Vancouver a number of years ago, and considered going into the Anglican ministry. For him, Jesus is the key to how he understands a politician as a servant to the people. He says, “Really, if you look at the Christian faith, it is THE ESSENCE OF SERVICE. So we have the son laying down his life for all of us, and that’s the model for all of us.” He explained what that LOOKED LIKE in HIS job. ”It guides me to do EVERYTHING I POSSIBLY CAN to look after EVERY SINGLE PERSON in this state. And to do it FAIRLY and JUSTLY.”

Fairness and justice for all. Mike Baird is SPOT ON. Because that’s God’s vision for society as we see it in Proverbs. Remember, 1:3? Proverbs are for doing what’s RIGHT AND JUST AND FAIR. And that’s ESPECIALLY important when it’s the LEADERS of society acting justly. Because then life is good for EVERYONE. Look at 29:4 By justice a king gives a country STABILITY, but one who is greedy for bribes TEARS IT DOWN.

A wise leader

You see, a WISE, just leader brings good for EVERYONE. But a self-serving, greedy leader just de-stabilises society. That’s certainly seems to be a lesson NSW has learned recently. As some shady deals between politicians and businessmen have come to light. There’s STABILITY and GROWTH when the public trusts those in authority. When there’s fairness. When contracts and rewards are awarded on MERIT. When consequences and justice come irrespective of who you know, or the cost of your barrister. There’s stability when people have confidence in the police and in the courts. When they don’t have to take justice into their own hands.

But it’s the OPPOSITE when leaders see their position as an opportunity to make money, rather than the chance to SERVE. Instead, we see it’s good FOR EVERYONE when honest and moral leaders are recognised and promoted. We read 11:10 last week When the righteous prosper, the city REJOICES; when the wicked PERISH, there are shouts of joy. 11 Through the blessing of the upright a city is EXALTED, but by the mouth of the wicked it is DESTROYED.

Just leaders are a blessing. 14:34 makes the same observation on a sweeping scale. Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people. Righteousness is GOOD for nations. As a general rule, it leads to prosperity and benefits and advancements. To HEALTHY SOCIETIES in general.

God loves these sort of benefits. And he’s ACTIVELY INVOLVED to bring them about. Listen to 21:1 The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD; he DIRECTS it like a watercourse WHEREVER HE PLEASES.

GOD’S AT WORK through a society’s leaders. Whether that’s Pharaoh back when Israel were slaves in Egypt, or Cyrus, king of Persia, restoring Israel from exile. Or ISIS in Iraq TODAY. He’s directing leaders where he wants. He’s not just interested in churches and “religious” matters. He’s concerned with ALL OF LIFE. Including POLITICS.

God wants to see GOOD, FAIR RULE. So he gives WISDOM to rulers. Proverbs 8:15-16

15 By wisdom kings reign and rulers make laws that are just; 16 by wisdom princes govern, and all nobles who rule on earth.  

I’m sure it’s an incredibly difficult job running a country. Juggling the demands of so many different voices, at so many different levels, with so many variables. Mike Baird has recently said this about the personal affect the job of being Premier has on him. “I have to be honest that there are days when I wake and feel so overwhelmed about what awaits me that I am gripped not only with fear but a searing sense that I am not up to the job.”

What leaders really need is God’s wisdom. And for those leaders who LISTEN, wisdom gives all sorts of good advice. Proverbs would be a great instruction manual to give to new politicians during their orientation.

Here’s a good piece of wisdom to start with. LISTEN. Surround yourself with advisors. 20:18.

18 Make plans by seeking advice; if you wage war, obtain guidance. And make sure they’re GOOD advisors. 25:4 Remove the dross from the silver, and out comes material for the silversmith; 5 remove the wicked from the king’s presence, and his throne will be established through righteousness. It’s a good image. The way to get precious, pure leadership is to burn off all the wicked influences. Search them out, then ruthlessly remove them. The dodgy advisors, the conflict of interests, the privileged old-boys networks. Whatever their influence. Seems like that’s happening in NSW with ICAC – the independent commission against corruption. Getting rid of all the rotten apples.

And here’s ANOTHER lesson we could learn from ICAC. Don’t abuse your position with long lunches and pleasure-seeking. The leader has MORE IMPORTANT THINGS to focus on. 31:4

4 “It is not for KINGS… to drink wine, not for RULERS to crave beer, 5 lest they drink and forget what the law decrees, and DEPRIVE ALL THE OPPRESSED OF THEIR RIGHTS. 6 Give beer to those who are perishing, wine to those who are in anguish; 7 let THEM drink and forget their poverty and remember their misery no more.

Get your priorities right. As Spiderman would say, “With great POWER comes great RESPONSIBILITY.” … Responsibilities like speaking up for those who don’t have a voice. 31:8-9

8 “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. 9 Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.”

Something the BEST of politicians do well.

And the interesting observation about wisdom like THIS is that when the leader is focussed on the security and peace of his SUBJECTS. His OWN rule becomes more secure. 29:14 says

14 If a king judges the poor with fairness, his throne will ALWAYS BE SECURE

Or Proverb 20:28 Love and faithfulness keep a king safe; through love his throne is made secure.

Even if it’s not GOD rewarding the leader. At the very least, that sort of rule is POPULAR at an EARTHLY level. And tends to LAST LONGER. People will vote them again.

All sorts of good, wise advice for Christian politicians like Mike Baird. Good advice for ALL politicians, actually.

The wise Christian citizen

But what about for the REST of us? What’s it mean for US to live wisely in society? Well, Proverbs has plenty of advice for US TOO. Firstly, in how we relate to those in authority. 16:12 Obeying the law, and telling them the truth are good places to start. Kings detest WRONGDOING, for a throne is established through righteousness. 13 Kings take pleasure in HONEST LIPS; they value a man who SPEAKS THE TRUTH. GOD commands us to do what’s right, and to tell the truth. But also, just on a HUMAN level, it’s a wise course of action. If you have to appear in court for any reason, it makes a lot more sense not to lie. Things get a whole lot more complicated when you LIE. It makes the authority’s job much easier if you describe things as clearly and truthfully as you can.

And kings love citizens who see the best in a situation. 22:11 He who loves A PURE HEART and whose speech is GRACIOUS will have the king for his friend. If you look for the best in people and situations. If you appreciate what’s good about society. If you show your appreciation for those in charge, you make life so much more enjoyable for them. That’s something Christians could be doing more of. Politicians get plenty of COMPLAINTS. I’m not sure how much thanks, or encouragement they get!

And 24:21 sums up the attitude Christians are to have towards those over them. 21 Fear the LORD and the king, my son, and do not join with the rebellious, 22 for those two will send sudden destruction upon them, and who knows what calamities they can bring? God AND your rulers both have the job of keeping law and order. They can punish you. So it’s WISE to fear THEM BOTH. Heavenly AND earthly authority.

Which is fine when they AGREE. But what about when to obey GOD means to DISOBEY the earthly authority? If it was illegal to own a Bible, or to meet with other Christians? Or if you were commanded to turn over people you knew would be tortured or killed? Or if you were COMMANDED to deny Jesus? How do you go about fearing God AND the king in those situations? They’re questions our brothers and sisters in SOME countries around the world have to answer every day.

1 Peter 2:13 gives us some help, I think. 13 Submit yourselves FOR THE LORD’S SAKE to every authority instituted among men

Can you see both authorities there? The LORD. And HUMAN authority. Submit to the SECOND FOR THE SAKE OF THE FIRST. Your PRIMARY responsibility is to GOD. Then, BECAUSE of that, submit to human authority. Submit to authority AT EVERY LEVEL. Kings, governors, policemen, judges. Even council rangers, parking officers, and volunteer surf club patrols.

And then in v16, we see our PRIMARY authority. 16 Live as FREE MEN, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as SERVANTS OF GOD.

Yes, submit to earthly authority. But remember you have freedom in Christ. Which doesn’t mean you can live ANYWAY YOU LIKE. You’re bound by HIS rule. Your primary responsibility is to live as GOD’S servants. Your primary identity is a citizen of God’s kingdom. SECOND, you’re a citizen of Australia.

And then in v17 he sums up all the Christian’s important relationships 17 Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king.

There’s no problem if the king is JUST. They all work in harmony. But if there’s a CONFLICT, then let these priorities guide you. LOVE the brothers. Support and protect them. Fear God. He will call you to account for your choices. He is your SUPREME Master. And finally, honour the king. As much as you’re able to considering the previous two.

Guiding principles for how the Christian can influence his society for the BETTER.

How to win friends and influence people

And Proverbs has some specific advice about how our wise behaviour in society can have a positive influence on people. Be a good friend. Be faithful and reliable. 20:6 Many a man claims to have unfailing love, but a FAITHFUL man who can find? People APPRECIATE someone who does what he says.

And people APPRECIATE humility. PRIDE annoys people very quickly. And they’re quick to knock them down a bit. 16:18 Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.

And there’s a great metaphor in 25:27 about the proud person. It is not good to eat too much honey, nor is it honorable to seek one’s own honor.

There are some people who are always fishing for compliments. Always talking about their own achievements. Wanting people to recognise them. But that sort of behaviour is like eating too much honey. It’s nice while you’re eating it, but the LONG TERM effects make you SICK. It’s not WISE.

Or here’s ANOTHER clever Proverb about receiving compliments. 27:21 The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold, but man is tested by the praise he receives. Praise TESTS what someone is like. Some people grin like clowns when they’re being complemented. The praise fuels their pride. Others look rather uncomfortable, and want to turn the attention to someone else. They’re humble, and know that compliments only know PART of the picture. HUMILITY LIKE THAT is the way to GROW in godliness

Another characteristic people appreciate is HONESTY. Speak the TRUTH to people. 27:5-6 Better is open rebuke than hidden love. 6 Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.

Or 24:26 An honest answer is like a kiss on the lips.

Like when your tone-deaf friend asks you whether they have a good singing voice, because they want to try out for Australian Idol. A good friend will tell them THE TRUTH. You’re setting them up for humiliation to say they can sing. Wounds from a friend might HURT, but they can be TRUSTED.

Or let’s turn it around. Let’s say you’re on the RECEIVING end of tough love like that. 12:16 has some advice A fool shows his annoyance at once, but a prudent man OVERLOOKS an insult.

Think carefully about the advice. Even if you don’t agree with everything. TOMORROW, you’ll see the truth, and appreciate it.

17:9 adds to this. Don’t respond in anger. 9 He who covers over an offense promotes love, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends. 10 A rebuke impresses a man of discernment

A WISE person takes correction WELL. Look for the TRUTH in a rebuke. Be humble enough to TAKE it. And LEARN from it. That’s the wise way to grow in godliness. Be CAREFUL about starting a quarrel. Count to TEN before you answer. A little patience goes a long way. 15:18 says

18 A hot-tempered man stirs up dissension, but a patient man calms a quarrel.

17:14 gives a great metaphor about starting a fight. 14 Starting a quarrel is like breaching a dam; so drop the matter before a dispute breaks out.

Things RARELY improve when you start an argument. Even if you feel like you’ve been wronged, and you want revenge. 20:22 gives a helpful perspective for the person who trusts God.

22 Do not say, “I’ll pay you back for this wrong!” Wait for the LORD, and he will deliver you.

Romans 12:19 puts it like this 19 Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.

Patience and PEACE are very useful qualities to have in your relationships. To trust that GOD will correct injustices. In his time. Leave it TO HIM. It means you can forgive, and love, and not be jealous, and be content with what you’ve got. All WISE attitudes in society. 14:30

A heart at PEACE gives life to the body, but ENVY rots the bones.

And here’s one FINAL Proverb I’ve found really useful in relationships. 21:17 As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. Two EQUALS can still improve each other. Don’t assume that because you’re less EDUCATED or YOUNGER or not the EXPERT you have nothing to give someone. And vice versa. Be willing to learn from, and be encouraged by, ALL SORTS of people. Go into every interaction with the humility to listen, and be willing to be sharpened. To learn something, or be encouraged. And looking for opportunities to do the same things YOURSELF. That’s the way to make friends and influence people in society for the Lord’s sake.

For the sake of the gospel

And remember, God’s got a PURPOSE for all this wise living in society. It’s not just so that you’ll be popular and respected. It’s that GOD would be popular and respected. That people would see Jesus in you. We saw it in 1 Peter Ch 2. V12

12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, THEY MAY SEE YOUR GOOD DEEDS AND GLORIFY GOD on the day he visits us.

Civil obedience is a witness to the world. If we pay our taxes, and look after our employees, and protect the vulnerable, and don’t speed, and honour our marriages, and are content with what we have, then people will NOTICE. And they’ll respect Christianity – they’ll see that it makes a difference in real life. It’s RELEVANT. And it leads to God being glorified.

Or to flip it around. That sort of life, doesn’t give ammunition for the media to CRITICISE us. You certainly see THAT when Christians fail. The media LOVE to call us hypocrites, and discredit our message. More than any other group or religion.

But it’s got to be more than just ACTIONS. Actions are the BEGINNING. ACTIONS must lay the foundation for WORDS. Over in Ch 3, there’s a whole lot more commands about how to live wisely and justly in society. Like v8

8 Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. 9 Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called

All good advice like we’ve seen in Proverbs. Then it gets to v15. Here’s where WORDS come in. 15 But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to GIVE AN ANSWER TO EVERYONE who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.

The idea is that your ACTIONS EARN YOU THE RIGHT TO SPEAK. People will NOTICE, and then ASK why you’re different. And then you can TELL them. And notice the answer’s to be wise AS WELL. Do it with gentleness and respect. Not pride, or self-righteousness. Do it with good motives. So that Christ might be glorified. Because that’s the way Christians will REALLY make a difference to society. A difference that LASTS. That’s REAL. As the church begins to shine its genuine, true life-giving light into a dark world. And people and families and communities are transformed by the gospel. As their sins are forgiven, and they’re given a new Spirit and a new heart. And desires and characters and relationships begin to change. As God begins to work in THEM. That’s the way to really transform society. May that be our prayer. May that be our LOVE. May that be OUR LIFE.

 

Proverbs 11:1-21: The good life

If you had to choose, would you rather have a good LIFESTYLE? Or a good LIFE?https://i2.wp.com/finsecwomen.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/relaxing-women.jpg

Can you see the difference? A good LIFESTYLE means the best of everything. Great friends and food and family. No worries about health, or bills. All the comforts. House in the best suburb, great job, kids in the best school, membership in the best clubs. Everything would always turn out exactly as you choose.

Or would you choose a GOOD life? Which is about living in a way that’s RIGHT and JUST and FAIR. It’s a life of integrity and goodness and compassion. Where people RESPECT you. Where you’re an influence that makes the world BETTER.

A good LIFESTYLE? Or a GOOD life? … Perhaps you’re thinking, well, can’t I have BOTH?

We’re looking at the book of Proverbs. Which is all about WISDOM. And we saw last week that wisdom was MAKING GOOD LIFE CHOICES. Wisdom is the PRACTICAL APPLICATION of knowledge. And wisdom, according to Proverbs, will lead to a certain QUALITY of life. A GOOD life. Ch 1 v3 says that these proverbs are for “acquiring a disciplined and prudent life, DOING WHAT’S JUST AND RIGHT AND FAIR.” That’s what wise choices will get you!

And the reason is because wisdom BEGINS with FEARING GOD. Who is just and right and fair and good. Proverbs 9:10 says the fear of the LORD is the BEGINNING of wisdom. The foundation for all wise decisions is that God is real. And he has the right to tell us how to live.

You see, this is God’s world. And he’s intimately involved with every part of it. His character is stamped all across it. It reflects his character. He’s faithful and consistent. And he’s designed his world so that it operates CONSISTENTLY. Laws describe it. Gravity always works. The sun always rises. Summer always follows spring. Water always wets. Fire always burns. Seeds plus soil and water and sun will always germinate. And there’s BEAUTY. And GOODNESS. And LOVE. And JOY. And CREATIVITY. And HUMOUR. And RELATIONSHIPS. All those things, because that’s what GOD is like.

A good life reflects God’s character

And GOD is right and just and fair and good. So it makes SENSE that wise decisions in God’s WORLD will fit will imitate will be in harmony with God’s CHARACTER. It makes sense that wise decisions will produce a life that’s right and just and fair and good. So, wisdom does what God LOVES. And flees what he HATES. For example, Proverbs 11:1 says The LORD abhors (hates) dishonest scales, but accurate weights are his delight.

GOD is fair and reliable. And he wants US to be the same. He HATES it when people cheat other people. When they deceive. When they promise more than they deliver. Or give the APPEARANCE that something’s true when it’s NOT. And, down in v12, we see what ELSE God loves. A man who lacks judgment derides (criticises) his neighbor, but a man of understanding holds his tongue. 13 A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy man keeps a secret.

You see, God’s words are RELIABLE. And they BUILD UP. His powerful words achieve exactly what he intends by them. Which are always GOOD THINGS. And he wants us to REFLECT that. For our words to be CONSISTENT and POSITIVE – WHOEVER our audience. He loves it when we follow the advice of my grandma – “If you can’t say something NICE… don’t say ANYTHING AT ALL.” It’s the same lesson we learn in Ephesians 4:29

Do not let any UNWHOLESOME talk come out of your mouths, but ONLY WHAT IS HELPFUL FOR BUILDING OTHERS UP according to their needs, that it may BENEFIT those who listen.

That’s WISDOM. Because it reflects what God himself is like. Or look at what ELSE God hates. Over in Ch 12 v22. The LORD detests lying lips, but he delights in men who are truthful.

God wants more than saying NICE things. He wants us to say TRUTHFUL things. Because God IS truth. There is no falsehood in God. He ALWAYS acts and speaks consistent with his character. Ephesians 4:15 says Speak the truth in love. Truth AND love. Because that’s God’s character.

 

Or look there in Ch 11 v20. It’s not just WORDS God’s interested in. It’s the HIDDEN things too. 20 The LORD detests men of PERVERSE heart but he delights in those whose ways are BLAMELESS.

A PERVERSE heart deliberately chooses the opposite, or WRONG things. It’s CROOKED. It can’t WAIT to leave the RIGHT path, and head the wrong way. It loves darkness, rather than light. It’s independent and rebellious. GOD HATES that sort of heart, because he HIMSELF is utterly reliable and trustworthy and BLAMELESS. Wisdom REFLECTS God’s character.

Or over into Ch 15. V25 The LORD tears down the proud man’s house but he keeps the widow’s boundaries intact.

God’s character is to look after the poor and the vulnerable. He’s compassionate and merciful. He loves the widow and orphan. He’s AGAINST the man who builds himself up. Who always wants BETTER. So wisdom WON’T be proud. It WILL protect and care for the vulnerable.

Or let me pick ONE MORE. Ch 17 v15. Acquitting the guilty and condemning the innocent– the LORD detests them both.

God is perfectly JUST. He sees a travesty of justice – it makes fun of justice – when the guilty escape punishment. Or when the innocent get punished instead. He HATES it. And wisdom hates the same things. It LONGS to see the guilty brought to justice. And the innocent acquitted. Wisdom chooses what’s just and right and fair because that’s the character of God himself.

A good life and a good lifestyle

But the interesting thing about the teaching of Proverbs is that those choices don’t lead to a low quality of life. (A second best experience.) A poor lifestyle. Proverbs doesn’t make you choose between a good LIFESTYLE and a GOOD life. Again and again it teaches that living God’s GOOD life IS ALSO a good LIFESTYLE. Wisdom recognises that God’s WORLD works BEST when it REFLECTS GOD’S CHARACTER. Let me show you what I mean. In Ch 11 v3. Wisdom observes that 3 The integrity of the upright GUIDES them, but the unfaithful are DESTROYED by their duplicity.

Integrity is about consistency. Honesty. Reliability. Keeping your word. Behaving the same in every situation. Life is SIMPLE when you live like that. There’s nothing to hide. Everything is clear. It’s easy to navigate life when you live like that.

The OPPOSITE of that is DUPLICITY. That’s about being two-faced. Sneaky. Changing the way you act or what you say depending on what suits you. It means people can’t trust you. Because you say one thing TODAY, and something different TOMORROW And that can get very complicated. As you lie to cover up lies. And you end up being DESTROYED by your schemes. That’s not a good lifestyle. That’s EXHAUSTING!

V5 of Ch 11 says a similar thing. The righteousness of the blameless MAKES A STRAIGHT WAY FOR THEM, but the wicked are BROUGHT DOWN by their own wickedness.

Whether that’s God’s ETERNAL judgement. Or the LAW catches up with them and they’re brought to justice. Or even just that all their friends eventually see through their schemes, and don’t want anything to do with them. Or the way you do business. Clients will keep coming back if you’re fair. But if you charge too much, or don’t do a good job, you’ll be out of business soon.

And V18 adds another point about earning your income. 18 The wicked man earns DECEPTIVE wages, but he who sows righteousness reaps a SURE reward.

When you’ve earned money by ripping people off, you’re always looking over your shoulder. Until they catch up with you. And you’re just waiting for someone to rip YOU off. But when you’ve given an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay, there’s a SURE reward at the end. It may not be AS MUCH MONEY. But it’s SECURE. And there’s the reward of knowing you’ve done something USEFUL with your day, and contributed something. Wisdom sees that it’s a much better lifestyle to have a consistent, honest integrity!

Or look at v16. There’s more to a good lifestyle than just money in the bank. 16 A kindhearted woman GAINS RESPECT, but ruthless men gain ONLY wealth.

That’s great, isn’t it? A woman who’s generous may not end up with lots of money. But when she walks down the street, people say hello. they’re grateful. She’s built RESPECT. And people are willing to help her in return.

But a calculating, ruthless man builds his ASSETS, but burns his BRIDGES. No one will do business with him more than ONCE. And they cross the street rather than walk past him. And that’s not a good lifestyle. He’s gained WEALTH, but he’s got no friends to ENJOY it with.

Or verses 10-11 give the BIG PICTURE. This is true on more than just an individual level. 10 When the righteous prosper, the city REJOICES; when the wicked perish, there are shouts of joy. 11 Through THE BLESSING OF THE UPRIGHT a city is exalted, but by the mouth of the wicked it is destroyed.

A city’s politicians and leaders having integrity means life is just and fair for EVERYONE. They focus on SERVING, rather than BEING served. And that means a good lifestyle for the WHOLE CITY. There’s EQUALITY and a true reward for those who deserve it. Rather than just for those who have positions of power or influence.

Or jump over to Ch 29 v25. Here’s a wisdom choice that’s beyond this world. EVERYTHING you trust in will let you down. 25 Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is kept safe.

You can worry about what people think of you. You can adjust your behaviour to gain approval, or conform to expectation, or avoid ridicule or bother. You can fear poverty, or pain, or punishment. You can do EVERYTHING to please the people you LOVE. All because you want a good lifestyle. But it’s IDOLATRY. And it’s a SNARE. A TRAP. Because, eventually, all those things will FAIL. They’ll let you down. All that fear will TRAP you, because you can’t please all the people all the time.

The only SURE foundation is to FEAR GOD. To live pleasing HIM. Because he’s the only utterly reliable, trustworthy One. And when he promises to protect and guide and provide, he’ll DO it.

And not just in THIS LIFE. If you jump back to Ch 12 v28, you can see the ULTIMATE goal of a good life. 28 In the way of righteousness there is LIFE; along that path is IMMORTALITY.

At the very LEAST that’s saying that a life that’s just, right and fair is likely to result in a long, rich life. From a HUMAN level, you’re less likely to make enemies who’ll make life difficult, or endanger your life.

And then there’s the Old Testament idea of God’s blessing being seen in health and wealth and long life. A RICH, peaceful, fulfilled life. AS long as his people obediently keep his covenant.

And then, in the New Testament, we see that idea of IMMORTALITY becoming even clearer. That God’s blessing to his covenant people extends BEYOND this earthly life. And brings ETERNAL, complete, perfect life. The REALITY that the best of THIS life is just the shadow of.

It’s the ULTIMATE good lifestyle, A new heaven and earth. And it comes to those who are RIGHTEOUS. Who God declares belong to HIM. And who LIVE OUT his character in his world.

The One who brings justice (Isa 42:1-7)

But the rest of the Old Testament describes how his people never KEPT the covenant. Never lived out the righteousness God demanded of them. Even though God promised them blessings for obedience. And curses for disobedience. Even though they had the wisdom of Solomon to follow. About how to choose a life that was right and just and fair. Time and again they choose what was foolish and faithless and selfish.

And in the end God’s patience runs out, and Israel is conquered. Both kingdoms, north and south. With Judah carried off to exile in Babylon. Forced to live out the curses of God’s wrath.

And it’s there that God sends them a message through Isaiah. About a servant who really WILL live the life God designed. A life that’s just and right and fair. But MORE than that who’ll have God’s Spirit-power to bring JUSTICE TO EVERYONE. Bring a new life that’s right and fair and good for ALL.Isaiah 42. God introduces him.

“Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put MY SPIRIT ON HIM and HE WILL BRING JUSTICE TO THE NATIONS. 2 He will not SHOUT OR CRY OUT, or raise his voice in the streets. 3 A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. In FAITHFULNESS he will bring forth justice; 4 he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes JUSTICE ON EARTH. In his law the islands will put their hope.”

This Servant would bring a new freedom and life and justice to fragile and broken people. But it wouldn’t be at the end of the sword like every ruler before him. There’d be a GENTLENESS and a COMPASSION. It will be a new sort of rule. A new sort of LIFE.

The One who brings abundant life (Jn 10)

And 7 centuries later Jesus came. God’s promised servant. The just and gentle One. The One to bring the good life God had designed. And, in John 10 he announces himself as a good shepherd who’ll protect and provide for his sheep. The good shepherd who brings the good life. And he LEADS them, and they know his voice, and they FOLLOW him. They listen to his wisdom, and they conform their lives to it. And they find PASTURE. They find a rich, real, satisfying life as they follow him.

But there’s a CHOICE to be made. Because there are OTHER voices. Who promise the good lifestyle. Who promise success or satisfaction or pleasure or comfort. But Proverbs tells us those voices are DECEPTIVE. They’re TRAPS. Those voices are thieves and robbers. Who have their OWN agenda. V10. Jesus says they come only to steal and kill and destroy.

Is that what YOU’VE found? As you’ve chased after the wisdom of THIS WORLD? The wisdom of putting yourself FIRST. Of chasing the promotion, or the approval, or the renovation, or the upgrade? That will only DESTROY you. Instead, wisdom listens to Jesus. v10 Jesus declares, “ I have come that my sheep may have LIFE… And HAVE IT TO THE FULL.” Complete, true, satisfying, ultimate life. The good lifestyle and the good LIFE come as we sheep FOLLOW our Shepherd Jesus.

He lays down his life for us. He dies the death we deserve for our sin, so that we can be reconciled to God. And then he leads us into the life of being God’s children. Being Jesus’ sheep. A life that’s true and just and fair. A life that imitates Jesus. And while he doesn’t promise us material wealth and comfort. In fact, he promises us the OPPOSITE if we truly follow him. He does promise us ABUNDANT LIFE. A TRUE, good lifestyle. Do you BELIEVE that? Will you PUT HIM TO THE TEST?

Francis Chan describes a friend of his, Pat, a rich American businessman. He runs and supports various charities in Ethiopia. Pat has taken seriously the wisdom of living a rich abundant life in FOLLOWING JESUS. He’s turned his back on what THE WORLD says is a good lifestyle. He can see its deception. And spends his time, and money, providing food to the desperately hungry. There is so much need, he can only provide food to the WORST CASES. Those weeks away from death.

And he works to rescue women from prostitution in slums. Chan describes going with him through these slums and seeing women in tiny rooms, with their children running all around, as clients go for a dollar a visit. And he’d try to offer them some dignity, and comfort, and food, and medical care, and cleanliness. And he offered them choices, and the gospel. And community and acceptance. But it was difficult work, with little encouragement.

How could THIS LIFE be a good lifestyle? How could THIS be abundant life? There’s very little rest, or comfort. Francis Chan felt like he couldn’t wait to get away. To get home to his easy life in the West. He knew the THEORY about following the voice of the Shepherd. He’d written a book called Crazy Love, about authentic faith and being wildly in love with God. And how it can lead to a life of radical discipleship. He knew that Jesus called him to take up his cross daily and follow him. But he struggled to see how THIS life, in the slums of Ethiopia, could be the ABUNDANT life Jesus promised. The good LIFESTYLE of Proverbs.

But afterwards at Pat’s home, at the end of an exhausting and difficult day, Chan describes seeing a number of photos in frames on the wall. It was Pat, walking some of these women up the aisle to be married. Over time, Pat had been able to PROVIDE for some of these women, to bring them into loving churches, and see them come to FAITH. He’d helped them learn new ways of earning an income. And seen them find a man who would love them TRULY. They’d been given a Second chance at life. AND eternal life. And then, because he was the closest thing to a father these women had ever known, they’d asked him to walk them down the aisle on their wedding day. And to give them away. To ANOTHER who would love them and care for them like Pat himself had.

And, in the photographs, Chan could see the PRIDE on Pat’s face. And the JOY. The PRIVILEGE of being in that position to be part of God’s plans for RESCUING these women. The JOY of playing a small part in God’s servant Jesus gently pouring out his Spirit of justice on these broken, bruised women. Faithfully healing and restoring them. Freeing them from prison. Chan says that was the FIRST TIME he’d felt a little bit of envy for Pat’s life. As he looked at those photos. As he caught a glimpse of the ABUNDANT LIFE Jesus offers to those who choose WISDOM. Who choose to follow him, who take up their cross, and give up everything for the kingdom. That’s the way to the good life AND the good lifestyle God has designed for you. The life that’s right and just and fair. Will you choose it? Will you trust Jesus? Will you FOLLOW him?

Proverbs 1:1-7: The Beginning Of Wisdom

ProverbsPeople want to know HOW TO MAKE LIFE WORK. How to live a SUCCESSFUL, SATISFYING, RICH LIFE. And they look to TV lifestyle programs. Seminars and workshops. Blogs and websites.

And then there’s BOOKS. Here’s a selection of self-improvement or self-help books from this week’s Amazon’s Top seller list. First, there’s the latest best-seller on FINANCIAL or BUSINESS self-improvement. “Zero to One: Notes on start-ups, or how to build a future.” And there’s LOTS of people interested in THAT. Or what about THIS one? “The way of SERENITY”. If all the financial goal-setting gets too stressful. It’s about using the serenity prayer to change your life. You know, the prayer Alcoholics Anonymous uses in its twelve step program. God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, The courage to change the things I can, And the wisdom to know the difference

And here’s a FINAL one. “The Best ‘Yes’”, with the sub-title “making wise decisions in the midst of endless demands”. Which really sums up where lots of people are at in today’s frantic busyness. They just want to make WISE DECISIONS.

And I reckon that’s a book I might even read… if I didn’t have the book of Proverbs to read INSTEAD. Because that could be the sub-title of Proverbs too. Making wise decisions in the midst of endless demands. And it’s been on the best-seller list for thousands of years.

You see, life is full of decisions to be made. What job to take. What phone to buy. Which electricity provider. Where to holiday. What suburb to live in. Which mortgage to choose. What school to choose for your kids. All sorts of decisions that will make life BETTER.

And people want to make BEST decisions. WISE decisions. And they’re hungry for the sort of advice that will HELP them. Which is why the ANCIENT BOOK OF PROVERBS is a great place to turn to for help on modern living. Have a look at v2 and you’ll see what Proverbs is all about.

(The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel) 2 for attaining WISDOM and DISCIPLINE; for understanding words of INSIGHT; 3 for acquiring a disciplined and PRUDENT life, doing what is RIGHT AND JUST AND FAIR;

There it is, right up front. The aims of this book. And if it’s only HALF as successful as it AIMS to be, it should be A VERY USEFUL BOOK INDEED!

Wisdom

Notice first, it’s a book to teach you WISDOM. Which is different from KNOWLEDGE. Lots of books will teach you KNOWLEDGE. (And Proverbs will do some of that TOO). But wisdom is something DIFFERENT.

Knowledge is about FACTS. Information. But WISDOM is about how to USE those facts. Knowledge is THEORETICAL. WISDOM is PRACTICAL. You can KNOW all about different cars. About engine sizes, and sales figures. About colours and features. About loans, and repayment options. But it takes WISDOM to choose the right car. At the right PRICE. At the right TIME. Wisdom is the PRACTICAL USE of knowledge.

And it’s different from INTELLIGENCE as well. You probably all know REALLY SMART PEOPLE who make really DUMB DECISIONS. Having a doctorate in chemistry still means a person can make dumb decisions about buying a lawnmower, or getting on with your neighbour. And the CEO of a company can still get his priorities wrong in how he spends his money, or treats his family. INTELLIGENCE isn’t the same as wisdom.

Proverbs is not going to make you SMARTER. At least not in the sense of your INTELLIGENCE. But if you PAY ATTENTION, it can make you WISER. Which I reckon is BETTER, and MORE USEFUL. Wisdom is about combining knowledge into an EFFECTIVE LIFE STRATEGY. And that’s what the book of Proverbs is going to offer.

Discipline

But that’s not all. It’s also going to help you become DISCIPLINED. (There in v2 as well) Which is about being in CONTROL of yourself and your situation. A disciplined life isn’t at the mercy of random, outside influences. It’s ordered and thoughtful. Life doesn’t rule YOU, you rule LIFE. A PROFESSIONAL ATHLETE has to be DISCIPLINED. He control his diet, and training and sleep and medication and injuries and recoveries. It takes MENTAL TOUGHNESS. It takes SELF CONTROL. To KNOW WHAT’S IMPORTANT, and then make practical decisions – TOUGH decisions – based on those priorities. And Proverbs is a book to teach you DISCIPLINE.

Prudence

But that’s not all. Proverbs promises, v3, to help you gain a disciplined AND PRUDENT life. To be prudent is to be CAREFUL or CAUTIOUS. It’s NOT to be RECKLESS. An IMPULSIVE or HASTY decision is often a mistake. To be prudent means you weigh up options, and you make a CAREFUL decision. Carpenters say, Measure twice, cut once. (You don’t want to cut wood the wrong size – then it’s ruined). That’s PRUDENT. “Look before you leap” is another proverb about being PRUDENT. It’s a VALUABLE quality. Things turn out WELL when you’re PRUDENT. I know I’d want my DOCTOR to be prudent. Or my financial advisor. Or even my MECHANIC. And Proverbs promises to HELP you with that.

Just and right and fair

But that’s not all. Proverbs also has ANOTHER aim. A good life has a MORAL or ETHICAL quality as well. The Amazon best-sellers are all about PURSUING PERSONAL HAPPINESS. Normally at the expense of other people. About selfishly chasing more MONEY than the next guy, or a better JOB, or a better HOUSE. ENJOYMENT is what counts, not what’s RIGHT. But that’s not the goal of Proverbs. Because a GOOD life, a WISE life, isn’t necessarily the RICHEST or MOST SUCCESSFUL, or most POWERFUL. See it there in the second half of v2. Proverbs are for “(acquiring a disciplined and prudent life), DOING WHAT’S RIGHT AND JUST AND FAIR” Living a WISE life isn’t just about doing what WORKS. It’s about doing what’s RIGHT.

I don’t know about YOU, but I’ve had enough of the rich tycoons who’ve got EVERYTHING, but who are horrible people. They make a million dollars before lunch, but no one wants to EAT lunch WITH them. Because they treat everyone like dirt. Proverbs won’t get you THAT sort of life. But it will help you live a life that not only WORKS… but which is also morally RIGHT AND PROPER AND DECENT. And that’s an attractive combination.

For the simple and young

And what’s GREAT about the offer/ is you don’t need to QUALIFY to participate. There’s no entrance requirements. Look at the promise in v4. for giving prudence to the SIMPLE, knowledge and discretion to the YOUNG–

Even the simple and the young qualify. Daniel’s applying for university entrance next year. And Lachlan’s looking for a new graduate job. And, together, they’ve filled in enough forms to fill a truck. All sorts of questions about whether they’re qualified to enter. Whether their marks are good enough, or whether they’ve done the right subjects, or answered the questions carefully enough, or belong to the right professional organisations. But there’s none of that here in Proverbs. Even the SIMPLE qualify. Slow learners can learn. It’s the perfect remedial program.

And the YOUNG don’t miss out EITHER. You might be too young to VOTE, or DRIVE, or GET MARRIED. But you’re not too young to learn to be prudent. Or to gain some skills in wisdom and discretion. You see, all you need is there in v5. How to get the MOST out of this book.

5 let the wise LISTEN and add to their learning, and let THE DISCERNING get guidance–

 

Listen and be discerning

Two attitudes that seem fairly obvious. LISTEN. And be DISCERNING.

First, if you’re going to learn ANYTHING, you’ve got to humbly recognise you DON’T KNOW IT ALL. You’ve got to start with the willingness to LISTEN. The best way to come to Proverbs is to CLOSE YOUR MOUTH, and OPEN YOUR EARS. That’s how you learn.

A PROUD student learns NOTHING. Because he doesn’t think he NEEDS to learn anything. Pride and foolishness go together. So, in THAT sense, the young and the simple are the PERFECT students for Proverbs. Because they’re willing to LEARN.

But that doesn’t mean these lessons will be EASY. It’s the DISCERNING who’ll get guidance. These sayings will take some WORK. Some THOUGHT. Some APPLICATION. Verse 6 says they’re not just Proverbs, but PARABLES. RIDDLES. Their meaning isn’t always OBVIOUS. You’ve got to THINK about them.

You see, Proverbs are like boiled lollies you stick in your mouth, and you SUCK. The longer you THINK about them, the better they get. The sweeter they taste. The more VALUE you get. They’re not like M&M’s. One bite and they’re gone. Listen. Think. Be DISCERNING. DISCRIMINATING. CHOOSE CAREFULLY which PROVERBS/ fit which SITUATION.

Here’s an example to THINK ABOUT. Prov 26:4 Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you will be like him yourself. In other words, if a fool asks you a question, don’t descend to his level by answering it. Just ignore it, or you’ll end up looking as foolish as him.

But then we get to the very next verse. Proverbs 26:5.

5 ANSWER a fool according to his folly, or he will BE WISE IN HIS OWN EYES.

Two Proverbs that give OPPOSITE, CONTRADICTORY advice. Either one’s wrong and one’s right. Or else, they’re BOTH right… depending on the situation. You need to be DISCERNING to know which one to use.

You see, sometimes, you NEED to answer a fool. Follow through his logic. To show him the error, or to point out to other people that his position’s wrong. If you DON’T, he’ll think he’s WISE. And it takes DISCERNMENT to know which Proverb to use in WHICH SITUATION. You see, Proverbs are like a toolbox. All sorts of tools for a range of jobs. And the skill is knowing which tool to use for which situation. A Proverb is more like a TOOL than a RULE.

What you need is DISCERNMENT. You need to think carefully about Proverbs. That’s the way to learn wisdom.

Fear of the Lord

But there’s ONE MORE attitude you need to learn wisdom from Proverbs. And this is the most important of all. It comes FIRST. Before everything else. You can be young and simple. You can be humble and listen. You can even be discerning, but if you don’t have THIS attitude, you’ll always be a fool. Have a look at v7. THE FEAR OF THE LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.

And that’s the Key idea of the book of Proverbs. The FOUNDATION. FEARING GOD. It’s the wisest decision of all. Over in Ch 9 v10, it says it slightly differently. “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.

Wisdom BEGINS with knowing God. But not just KNOWING him, FEARING him. Which is about RESPECT and HONOUR and AWE.

Fearing God isn’t like fearing poisonous snakes though. It’s about RELATIONSHIP, rather than DISTANCE. Of knowing what God wants, and then making sure your life conforms to his requirements. Which means there’s going to be a FAIR BIT of the NORMAL definition of FEAR as well. Of TERROR and DREAD. Because God is a HOLY God, with PERFECT MORAL standards. And he’s a POWERFUL, JUST, RELIABLE God who promises to deliver terrible, ETERNAL punishment on his enemies. Jesus said WISELY, in Lk 12:4 “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. 5 But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, FEAR HIM.

Wisdom BEGINS when you FEAR GOD. It begins when you KNOW YOUR PLACE. YOU are not the centre of the world. GOD is. He’s the KING. And he’s the JUDGE. It’s God’s world. He made it. He made YOU. And everything revolves around HIM. Including YOU. That’s the wisdom of Proverbs. A wise life begins with fearing God, and then LIVING OUT THE IMPLICATIONS OF THAT. And we’ll learn more about what that life LOOKS LIKE over the coming weeks.

Wiser than Solomon

But, for THIS week, there’s one more point to make. And that’s who’s TEACHING these Proverbs. Did you notice? Back in v1? The Proverbs of SOLOMON, son of David, king of Israel. When God made him king of Israel, he offered him ANYTHING HE WANTED. And Solomon said he wanted WISDOM. Here’s how I Kings 4 describes it

29 God gave Solomon wisdom and very great insight, and a breadth of understanding as measureless as the sand on the seashore. 30 Solomon’s wisdom was greater than the wisdom of all the men of the East, and greater than all the wisdom of Egypt. 31 He was wiser than any other man, including Ethan the Ezrahite-wiser than Heman, Calcol and Darda, the sons of Mahol. And his fame spread to all the surrounding nations. 32 He spoke three thousand proverbs and his songs numbered a thousand and five. 33 He described plant life, from the cedar of Lebanon to the hyssop that grows out of walls. He also taught about animals and birds, reptiles and fish. 34 Men of all nations came to listen to Solomon’s wisdom, sent by all the kings of the world, who had heard of his wisdom.

What a man! What a mind! And, in Proverbs, we get to sit at his feet, and learn from him. Which would be PERFECT, if we didn’t keep on reading 1 Kings, and find out that Solomon DIDN’T LIVE OUT HIS OWN ADVICE. He made some TERRIBLE decisions. About women, and foreign policy. And how to raise his children. It’s like taking financial advice from a bankrupt. In the end, Solomon had to say, Do as I SAY, not Do as I DO.And the kings who followed after him just got WORSE. It was all downhill from Solomon.

But God was planning a BETTER king. A WISE king. Who’d teach you how to live a FULL, RICH, GOOD life. A life that was just, and right, and fair. But MORE than that, who’d ACTUALLY LIVE it. Who’d LIVE OUT the fear of the Lord. In Isaiah 11, God promises.

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. 2 The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him– THE SPIRIT OF WISDOM AND OF UNDERSTANDING, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of THE FEAR OF THE LORD– 3 and he will DELIGHT in the fear of the LORD.

And in the fullness of time, exactly as God planned it, Jesus came. Born from the line of Jesse. Great King Solomon’s greatest son. Anointed with God’s Spirit. A Spirit of WISDOM AND UNDERSTANDING. And in Matthew 12 Jesus is teaching wisdom to Israel. But the Pharisees don’t want to humbly listen. They don’t want to learn what’s right and just and fair. They’re FOOLS who DESPISE wisdom and discipline. They want to see a SIGN. A party trick to VALIDATE his CLAIMS.

And in v39, Jesus REBUKES them. He says they don’t realise what they’ve got. Past generations would LOVE to hear wisdom like Jesus offers. They travelled from all over the world to hear SOLOMON. Just like people TODAY, they wanted advice to live WELL. Solomon was the best and brightest. How they’d CONDEMN the Pharisees because they were ignoring wisdom greater than Solomon. V42. Jesus says The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon’s wisdom, and NOW ONE GREATER THAN SOLOMON IS HERE.

One GREATER THAN SOLOMON. And so the application’s CLEAR. LISTEN TO JESUS. Proverbs is going to give us some great advice on how to live WISELY in the world. And it begins with FEARING GOD. Which Solomon UNDERSTOOD.

But now WE know that FEARING GOD begins with KNOWING HIS SON. His chosen KING. The One who’s greater than Solomon. The one who has the Spirit of wisdom and understanding resting on him. You see, living WISELY in the world is all about listening to King Jesus. Conforming your will and your life to the One who knows BEST. Which is easy TO SAY. But sometimes hard to keep DOING. When the REST of the world says true happiness comes by looking after NUMBER ONE. Or seeking PLEASURE. Or greedily filling your shelves with new and shiny things. But Jesus says, Don’t CHASE after those things. Seek FIRST/ God’s kingdom, and his RIGHTEOUSNESS. And he’ll give us all the things we need. And he teaches, “TRUE happiness. REAL LIVING. Comes by serving OTHERS. Not by BEING served. Coming FIRST happens when you put yourself LAST.” The way to TRUE, LASTING riches is to give up everything in this life. And Jesus promises you A HUNDRED TIMES AS MUCH in this life. And ETERNAL life. True freedom comes. Not by abandoning all morality and doing what you feel like. But conforming your life, as a servant, to the Servant King. That’s TRUE wisdom.

No matter what our friends might say, true wisdom always says yes to Jesus. No matter what our family might say, true wisdom always says yes to Jesus. No matter what the ads might say, true wisdom always says yes to Jesus. Even no matter what our own desires might occasionally say, true wisdom always says yes to Jesus.

And no matter how old you are. Or how young you are. Or how intelligent you are; or how SIMPLE. It’s a wisdom that’s available to EVERYONE who humbly LISTENS to King Jesus.

It’s a wisdom that will lead to the sort of life the world is hungry for. That’s SUCCESSFUL and RICH and SATISFYING. And that’s RIGHT and JUST and FAIR.

Listen to King Jesus. That’s the way to true wisdom.