Posted tagged ‘Proverbs’

“Honey” and “Wisdom”

August 20, 2008

13My son, eat honey, for it is good, and the drippings of the honeycomb are sweet to your taste.
14
Know that wisdom is such to your soul; if you find it, there will be a future,
and your hope will not be cut off. (Prov. 24.13, 14)

Long before modern science discovered its extraordinary beneficial properties, the ancients knew that honey is good, and good for you: “soundness to the soul and health to the body,” as Solomon said in another place (Prov. 16.24).  And likewise here: “My son, eat honey, for it is good, and the drippings of the honeycomb are sweet to your taste” (Prov. 24.13).  It sounds almost like an infomercial from the National Honey Board.

In fact, this is an ad of sorts-not for “honey,” however, which brings pleasure and health to the body, but for “wisdom,” which brings vitality to the soul.   Here in these two words-“honeyand “wisdom“-Solomon paints a picture of biblical wellness.  God made us a unity of material and immaterial, body and soul (Gen. 2.7; Jas. 2.26).  Because we belong to Him, we should certainly care for both the body and the soul. But we should certainly care more for the soul. By all means, “eat honey,” Solomon says-join the Y, watch what you eat, jog-but “Know that wisdom is such to your soul” (v. 14).  What shall it profit to gain the body of Adonis, and never know God?

Honey” and “wisdom” highlight the most critical distinction in human life-one that God presses on our minds and hearts in a hundred different ways.  The “body” and the “soul;the “temporal” and the eternal;” the “flesh” and the “spirit;” the “present evil age” and the “age to come;” “earth” and “heaven;” the “now” and the “not yet;” the “kingdom of this world” and the “kingdom of God;” “time” and “eternity.”  We could go on.  And perhaps we should, because as sinners in a fallen world, we need constant reminders that “the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Cor. 4.18).  Those are the words of Paul, but Solomon spoke them a thousand years before.  If “you find it [wisdom], there will be a future, and your hope will not be cut off.” Honey, like a workout at the gym, “is of some value,” but “godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (1 Tim.  4.8).

But only “if you find it,” Solomon says.  Today if you want honey, you can “find it” in Safeway or Family Thrift (near the jelly and peanut butter, I think).  But “finding” honey in Solomon’s day required a real search.  The Psalmist spoke of honey from a rock (Ps.  81.16), Jonathan found it in a tree (1 Sam. 14.27), and Samson in the carcass of a lion (Jdg. 14.8)!  The benefits of finding honey, however, far outweigh the diligence (and maybe danger) required to get it.  Godly wisdom won’t come without effort either-but, oh, the pleasures of knowing God!

You are loved.

Your Pastor,

Richard Wells

Everybody Loves Robin Hood

August 15, 2008

He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous are both alike an abomination to the Lord. (Prov. 17.15)

The key that unlocks this proverb is that little phrase-“both alike”-a phrase which calls our attention to a discrepancy. That is, a discrepancy in the way we think about injustice. Or rather, a discrepancy in the way we think about two different forms of injustice. One form of injustice we can spot easily; the other not so much. And yet before the eyes of holy God, they are “both alike an abomination.”

Everybody knows that a person “who condemns the righteous” deserves to be blamed. Many of our laws are designed in fact to protect the innocent from unjust accusation. Think of the Fifth Amendment provision, for example, that no person “shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” Nobody flinches at the thought of punishing that form of injustice. Remember Nathan the Prophet, confronting King David over Bathsheba and Uriah? He told in a parable of a rich man who stole a poor man’s lamb (condemning the righteous), then he turned the parable on David himself-“You are the Man!” (2 Sam. 12.1-7). King David or not, we almost want to cheer!

But the other form of injustice is much harder to deal with-not least because the “one who justifies the wicked” can hide behind a mask of apparent mercy. Remember Joab the Commander, rebuking King David over Absalom? When the young man died in his rebellion against the King, David grieved. We understand his grief; Absalom was his son. But Joab saw the danger of loving “those who hate you,” making of high treason only a tragic fate (2 Sam. 19.1-8). We see the same sort of thing every day. The enabler who gives liquor to an alcoholic; a parent reluctant to discipline; a too-lenient judge; city leaders who refuse to enforce laws against illegal immigration; a denomination that blesses sexual perversion and calls it holy; churches that neglect discipline; politicians who refuse to call sin by it right name for fear of the polls. All the thousand ways in public and private life we justify the wicked and call it love.

True holiness looks with equal disfavor on those who assault the good and on those who wink at evil. But it is much easier to wink-for if you rise up to help the innocent, you’re a hero; but if you rise up to call sin by its right name, you’re intolerant, bigoted, homophobic, anti-choice, peevish, or something else equally obnoxious. Everybody loves Robin Hood. Whistleblowers get fired. It’s an unpleasant prospect, but God says it Himself-in an unholy world, somebody has to be Joab. You are loved.

Your Pastor,

Richard Wells

Bailing Water from the Titanic

August 9, 2008

22 “The blessing of the Lord makes rich and he adds no sorrow with it. 23 Doing wrong is like a joke to a fool, but wisdom is pleasure to a man of understanding. 24What the wicked dreads will come upon him, but the desire of the righteous will be granted.” (Prov. 10. 22-24).

Can you tell what these three proverbs have in common?

The first proverb (v. 22) tells us that the best things in life come from God.   “The blessing of the Lord”, Solomon says, makes us “rich” –-rich in ways that have nothing to do with investment portfolios or money in the bank.  As in that beautiful Psalm 33, where David likens God’s gift of peace among brothers to “the precious oil on the head” and “the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion.” And because they come from God, the best things in life are guilt–free:  “He adds no sorrow with it.” Paul reminded Timothy that “those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction” (1Tim. 6.9).  We see it every day–the feverish efforts to get wealth, the contention and competition in using it, the fear of losing it, the guilt of abusing it.  And so it is with all that counts as desirable in this world.  But “the blessing of the Lord” makes us rich without regret.

The second proverb tells us that the best things in life are also the best things for life.  An old song asked the question “how can it be wrong when it feels so right?” Solomon answers the question by simply observing how foolish human beings can be: “Doing wrong is like a joke [or a ‘delight’, or a ‘laughing matter’] to a fool. ” For proof, look no further than your own television set, where sacred things wind up on Comedy Central and fools make light of their own destruction.  But “to a man of understanding,” wisdom brings a different kind of delight–not the cheap, crude delights of a culture amusing itself to death (as Neil Postman said in his book), but the deep satisfying pleasure of growing in grace, discovering step-by-step, moment-by-moment, more-and-more, that the “Law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul” (Ps. 19.7). The best things in life are also the best things for life.

The third proverb tells us that the best things in life are lasting.  Here is an extraordinary piece of wisdom.  All the intense, ambitious, obsessive human striving after things and power and pleasure and prestige–all of it amounts to nothing more than bailing water from the Titanic.  The best that the world can hope for is to delay the inevitable:  “What the wicked dreads will come upon him” (v. 24a).  Everything we learn to fear in this world–loss of health, wealth, loss of youth, significance, will come upon us.  But those of us who know and love the Lord need never dread the loss of these things, because we look for things that are eternal.  Things like love, and joy, and peace, and patience, and kindness, and goodness, and faithfulness, and gentleness, and self-control (see Gal. 5.22).   The best things in life God will give us in spades–for “the desire of the righteous will be granted.”

These three proverbs tell us what the best things in life really are.  In these days, my beloved people–in this culture and in our own congregation–there is nothing we need to hear more clearly.  You are dearly loved.

Your Pastor,

Richard Wells

Lignum Vitae Crux Christi

August 2, 2008

Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honor.  Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace.  She is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her; those who hold her fast are called blessed. (Prov. 3.16-18)

On April 2, 1513, Juan Ponce de León, companion to Christopher Columbus and former Spanish Governor of Puerto Rico, landed on the east coast of a beautiful land he called “flowery,” or in Spanish, “La Florida.” He had hoped to find gold–as he had in Puerto Rico–and legend has it that he had also hoped to find the fabled “Fountain of Youth.” He never found either one.  And somewhere in Cuba, sometime in July, 1521, he died of a wound he received in an ambush.

In many ways, the sad story of Ponce de León is the story of mankind.  A quest for riches. Longing for immortality.  And death at the end of everything.

The story itself is as old as the world.  Created in the image of God, with every need for happiness met, Adam and Eve said “no” to God’s way of life, and chose their own way.  In doing so, they exchanged the riches of God for the ashes of sin. God Himself “drove out the man, and at the east of the Garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life” (Gen. 3.24).  What an unspeakable loss.  But it is our loss as well as theirs.  Their sin is our sin; their fall our fall; their ruin our ruin–for “sin came into the world through one man and death through sin” (Rom. 5.12).  The “way to the tree of life” is barred to us all as it was to Adam and Eve.

That is, until and unless we humble ourselves before God, turn from our rebellion and sin, and accept His free gift of life everlasting in Christ.  For Jesus said, “The thief comes” (as he came to the Garden of Eden) “only to steal and kill and destroy.  I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10.10). Our Savior came to restore the happiness that God intended for us in the first place.  As the ancient writers put it, lignum vitae crux Christi–“the cross of Christ is the tree of life.”

Even before Jesus, almost a thousand years before, King Solomon spoke of this abundant life, this Eden restored.  The “fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Prov.1.7), he wrote, and “She [wisdom] is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her” (Prov. 3.18).  In the words of an old hymn: “When we walk with the Lord In the light of His Word, What a glory He sheds our way!”  To know God (in the words of another old hymn) is “a foretaste of glory divine.”  And heaven is yet to come.

Riches far greater than gold.  An abundant and forever fountain of youth.  That’s what it means to walk with God: “Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honor. Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace” (Prov. 3. 16, 17). What a thing it is to be a Christian!  You are dearly, dearly loved.

Your Pastor,

Richard Wells

Haggling in a Flea Market

July 19, 2008

‘Bad, bad,’ say the buyer, but when he goes away, then he boasts.  There is gold and abundance of costly stones, but the lips of knowledge are a precious jewel. (Prov 20.14, 15)

As with so many proverbs, these two at first appear to have little if any connection with each other–but a closer look tells a different story.  Or maybe we should say two different stories.  For these two proverbs describe two different ways of life.  And as we shall see, we cannot be neutral about them; we must choose one or the other.

The first story is set in the Middle Eastern market, where–as we shall see for ourselves in Israel next year–customers expect to haggle over price and sellers expect to haggle back.  Once in the famous Bedouin market in Beersheba, a vendor followed me up and down the rows of tent stalls determined to sell me one of those bejeweled Bedouin knives, haggling as he went, while I kept saying, “la, la, la“–which in Arabic means, “no, no, no.”

For the record, I still have that knife.

In Solomon’s story, of course, the seller is not “selling,” as we say, but the buyer is “buying;” and he drives a hard bargain.  Even though he values the goods, he doesn’t let on.   He treasures them in his heart and trashes them with his lips.  He plays a mind game, pretending that something he really wants is not worth having.  If he is especially skilled, he might almost make the merchant think he is doing him a favor by taking this junk off his hands!  Caveat venditor–let the seller beware!  For when he walks away, the buyer brags about the “deal” he got.

What we think about the buyer in this story says a lot about ourselves.  If we see him merely as a shrewd businessman or a smart shopper, we show how thoroughly we have bought the world’s lie about lying–that somehow it’s not really lying when it’s conventional, expected, and commonplace.  When it’s simply the way that everyday things get done.  But it’s still lying, even when the whole world takes it lightly.

That’s where the second story comes in.  Here we seem to be listening in on someone’s conscience.   Maybe it’s a businessman contemplating a highly lucrative, but slightly shady deal.  Perhaps a young woman tempted to chase her dreams by cheating her way into law school.  Or a retired couple haggling in a flea market.  In the thoughts of the conscience we hear the voice of God: “There is gold and abundance of costly stones, but the lips of knowledge are a precious jewel.”  The Voice says that you will always have opportunities to compromise your integrity for the sake of gain; but you cannot put a price tag on “lips of knowledge.” For Jesus said, “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Mt 12.34), and no treasure can compare to a heart where Jesus reigns, overflowing in a life that honors Him in every detail.  You are loved.

Your Pastor,

Richard Wells

Houses Nearly Dark

July 7, 2008

For the commandment is a lamp and the teaching a light,

and the reproofs of discipline are the way of life. (Prov. 6.23)

What do you do when the lights go out?  At night.  You do what everybody did every night before Thomas Edison.  Our great-grandparents would light a candle and use it to light a lamp.  And then, no matter how deep the darkness outside, the lamp would flood the whole house with light.  People do not “light a lamp and put it under a basket,” Jesus said, “but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house” (Mt. 5.15).

Our great-grandparents would have the advantage over us in reading those words of our Lord or in reading this proverb.  For us, light comes with the flick of a switch, and we can light a whole city if we want.  But Jesus and Solomon (and our great-grandparents) lived in a world of overwhelming, enveloping darkness, pushed away only here and there, house by house-by lighting a candle and lighting a lamp.

If ever there was picture of Christian living in the world, this is it.  For Solomon says that “the teaching” is “a light.”  He means the light (like a candle) that lights the lamp.  And by “teaching” he means the truth of God concerning all of our relationships and responsibilities, and every other aspect of life.  He means thinking like a Christian, he means a mind saturated with scriptural truth, he means seeing the world and seeing it whole as God sees it.  This “teaching,” like a candle, is a light shining in the darkness that surrounds us.

The “commandment” then, “is a lamp.” The “teaching” informs us, equips us, arms us with weapons of war “to destroy strongholds” (2 Cor. 10.4), while the “commandment” directs us, guides us, applies the unchanging truth of God in the ever-changing world we face.  Too often, however, we content ourselves with knowing truth-and we can never overestimate the importance of knowing truth-but knowing is not doing.  Years ago in Texas, I counseled a couple about their marriage.  They honored God’s Word and they held marriage in high esteem, but they despised each other.  (Divorce-never!  Homicide-maybe.)  The candle of truth had never lit the lamp of life, so to speak, so there was no light in the house.

As believers, we all (like that couple) know more and better than we do.  We know what Scripture says, for example, about integrity, truth-telling, and promise-keeping, but then a lucrative business “opportunity” invites us to compromise, or something comes along to make a promise seem like a burden (say, a ministry team meeting versus a movie or golf).  In this passage, Solomon mentions sexual sin (6.24-35).  Here too (especially!), it’s one thing to know what God says-in this case, about sex and marriage-but quite another thing to live that truth in the internet age.  So most Christians wind up living in houses nearly dark.  Over in the corner a feeble candle flickers, but the lamp has never been lit.  It’s better than a cave, but not much.

So light a candle, and light a lamp-and flood the darkness of the world with the light of Jesus Christ.  You are loved.

Your Pastor,

Richard Wells

A Culture of Miscreants

June 27, 2008

“If a ruler listens to falsehood, all his officials will be wicked.” (Prov 29.12)

Everything we do affects somebody else, often in ways we couldn’t imagine or wouldn’t intend. In this remarkable little proverb, Solomon paints a picture of unintended consequences. At center stage we see a “ruler,” a person with influence over other people. Naturally we will think of kings and presidents and potentates in palaces; but remember that almost everybody is a “ruler” sometimes, with some people–from managers to moms and dads–so as you look at this picture, see yourself.

The ruler in Solomon’s scenario “listens to falsehood.” Maybe it takes the form of flattery. Or slander. Or empty promises. Or rosy predictions. Or padded reports. Or back-scratching recommendations. Or tattle-tale criticism. The “falsehood” can take as many forms as the genius of Satan can derive. And because the “father of lies” (Jn 8.44) never sleeps, anyone who deals with people (and that’s all of us) will have to deal with “falsehood.” The question is whether he or she (or I) will “listen to falsehood.” Give it credence. Take it to heart.

If he does (if I do), this is what will happen: “all his officials will be wicked.” If a leader listens to falsehood, he will create a culture of miscreants. The inmates, as we say, will run the asylum. Think about it. If a supervisor listens to flattery, for example, he will soon be surrounded by sycophants, people who tell him not what he needs to hear, but what they think he wants to hear, all trying to outdo each other in servile, self-seeking faint praise. Likewise, a parent listens to falsehood by giving in to a toddler’s tantrums (remember, children can lie before they can talk!). When that happens, the little one learns that the world revolves around his ego, and that if he makes enough noise he can get whatever he wants. You can trace these consequences all through human life, from the boardroom to the basement.

This principle even applies to politics. Jeremiah, for example, writes about corruption in high places–prophets who “prophesy falsely” and priests who “rule at their direction”–and then he adds, “My people love it so” (Jer 5.31). Corrupt rulers (who listen to falsehood) create a corrupt culture (the people love it that way). The average Israelite, of course, had little to do with those rulers; but we have a lot to do with ours. Which makes this little proverb all the more sobering–for it tells us that we will become as a people the kind of people we elect. That alone should stir us to pray and work for righteousness this election year. You are loved.

Your Pastor,

Richard Wells