God hates greed.
In this, the first chapter of Proverbs, we find one of what must be hundreds of statements about greed in the Bible: “If a bird sees a trap being set, it knows to stay away. But these people set an ambush for themselves; they are trying to get themselves killed. Such is the fate of all who are greedy for money; it robs them of life.” (vs 17-19)
God hates greed, and I’m convinced that He hates it primarily because of what it does to us, not because of what it causes us to do to others. We usually think that greed causes people to mistreat others, robbing them of life. But in this proverb, God reveals that it is the lives of the greedy that greed destroys.
Many people have commented on this phenomenon:
- “Greed is a bottomless pit which exhausts the person in an endless effort to satisfy the need without ever reaching satisfaction.” —Erich Fromm
- “He who is not contented with what he has would not be contented with what he would like to have.” —Socrates
- “I think one of the most pervasive evils in this world is greed and acquiring money for money’s sake. Once you have six houses and a plane, it’s just about a number. It’s never been anything I understood.” —Kevin Bacon
Recently, I read an interview done with Khaled Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner, where he described a story he’d once written about greed: “That same night, I wrote my first short story. It took me thirty minutes. It was a dark little tale about a man who found a magic cup and learned that if he wept into the cup, his tears turned into pearls. But even though he had always been poor, he was a happy man and rarely shed a tear. So he found ways to make himself sad so that his tears could make him rich. As the pearls piled up, so did his greed grow. The story ended with the man sitting on a mountain of pearls, knife in hand, weeping helplessly into the cup with his beloved wife’s slain body in his arms.”
This is the devastation of greed. It quickly becomes a monster that takes over your life, leaving you unsatisfied and discontent at every turn. I think this is why God hates it so much—it is sort of the antithesis of trust. Instead of depending on God for what we need, we undertake to get it ourselves. And often, the moment we begin to covet what we don’t have—even if we believe we need it or we’re entitled to it—we’re headed down the wrong path. In fact, the proverb says, we’re headed down a path of destruction.
Greed is inherent in the sinful human heart, and it seems we shouldn’t be eager to encourage it, even when it is cherished for a “good” reason. To covet what someone else has—even if that person acquired it in the wrong way—is a dangerous road to travel. Stephen King once wrote, “It didn’t occur to me until later that there’s another truth, very simple: greed in a good cause is still greed.”
Greed is an all-consuming denial of the fact that God cares about your needs and has your best interests at heart. Giving into it will probably destroy your relationships with those around you, but more importantly, it will destroy you. And that’s why God hates it.
God gives what can't be bought.
There are many things that can be bought, but wisdom isn’t one of them: “My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you, turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding—indeed, if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God. For the LORD gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.” (vs 1-6)
If Solomon is right, it is wisdom that protects us from much of the trouble in life. It will save us from the ways of wicked men (vs 12) and wicked women (vs 16). It will prevent a great deal of heartache and sorrow.
If you knew of something that could prevent unnecessary heartache and sorrow, how much do you think some people would be willing to pay for it? If you could sell it as a once-daily pill, do you think there would be a big market for it?
Solomon says that anyone can have wisdom. You don’t have to be rich. You don’t have to live in a developed country. You don’t have to have access to abundant resources. Anyone can have wisdom. It’s totally free, and God wants to give it to all of us.
Wisdom—as with all other things worth having in this life—is the free gift of God. The only requirement for receiving this gift is that we must search for it. We must want it, and if we do, it will be ours. This is how the gifts of God work. They are given to us, just because we asked: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” (Matt 7:7)
Only God can open the door to wisdom. We will never find it without Him. Only He can give us what money can’t buy.
God is a pathmaker.
This chapter contains a famous Bible verse: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will direct your paths.” (vs 5-6) I learned that one as a kid; maybe you did, too. But, is it really true? Can we really trust God to lead us in the way we’re supposed to go? Is this rhetorical? Or literal?
Allow me to briefly share a personal story. In the summer of 2000, I moved to England. I had graduated from college and went to England for a 2-year internship. Not too long ago, I wrote about that on this blog and shared how I didn’t want to go to England. What I’d like to share today is the second part of that story.
While in England, I made a decision to become a missionary. Because I was considered a “student missionary” in my internship position, I met a lot of missionaries who worked all over the world. I decided that I wanted to dedicate my life to God as a missionary—with one caveat. I told God that I would go anywhere in the world He wanted me to go, but I wanted Him to “plant” me there. I didn’t want to do what so many of the missionaries I met had done—go to a place for a six-year term and then leave, just as you’re really getting “settled in.”
Now, for me to tell God that I was willing to go anywhere in the world was a huge thing for me, because I don’t get along well with spiders, snakes, rats, or most other creepy-crawlies. Nevertheless, I was truly willing to go wherever God decided to send me, and during the rest of my time in England, I resolved to listen for His guidance.
After I met my future husband, I shared with him my conviction about becoming a missionary, and I was delighted that he was eager to go on the adventure with me! Together, we prayed for God to lead us to our mission field.
He did. Only, it wasn’t exactly what I had in mind. Through His guidance, it was more than clear that God was leading us right back to Battle Creek, Michigan—the town where I grew up. It’s not an understatement to say that I was pretty mad. Battle Creek?! God, I told you I would go anywhere in the whole world for You, and You’re sending me back to Battle Creek?! But there wasn’t much arguing about it. To David and me, it was clear that this was God’s leading.
So, I kept my promise to God. We packed up our things and moved to Battle Creek. Not knowing what else to do, we made a plan to begin working with the young people in our church. When that didn’t pan out, we branched out with a ministry of our own. Still, I kept wondering why God had called us back to Michigan. There were times when I might have been tempted to think that we had misunderstood His guidance, but I knew we hadn’t. He had been more than clear.
And then, in the fall of 2007, my father was diagnosed with ALS. And that began a long eighteen months of helping my mother care for him as he died. During that time, we wrote a book together about God—an experience that changed my life and one I know would never have happened had I not lived in Battle Creek. After he died, my mom and I wrote a book together about suffering—again, an experience that changed my life and one I know would never have happened had I not lived in Battle Creek.
During the last months of my father’s life, I had several life-changing, paradigm-shifting moments. As a result, I am a completely different person than I was before, and I can never go back again. God is still unfolding to me all the ways that He is using those experiences in working out His plan for my life and ministry, but I have no doubt that when He sent me back to Battle Creek, it was the right thing—even though it took years to understand why.
God sees more than we do. That’s why only He can be trusted as our pathmaker. When things don’t make sense—especially when they don’t make sense!—it really is best to lean on God and not our own understanding. If we acknowledge His will in our lives, He is more than willing, able, and eager to direct our paths!
God is the only way up.
For many years now, scientists have tried to explain that, through the process of natural selection, we are “getting better” as a human species. With time, according to Darwinian theory, we will continue to evolve and become ever more sophisticated, complex, and efficient.
That’s simply not true. On the contrary, geneticists know (and have known for some time) that the human species is not advancing, but degenerating. This degeneration is called entropy, and as an organism, the human race is headed toward extinction. (To see further discussion about genetic entropy, check out this video.)
So, as a species, we began perfect, but after sin entered the world, we began to physically deteriorate. We started at the top, and now we’re moving down. And just as there is physical entropy, I believe there is also spiritual entropy. Only, I believe that once sin entered the world, we deteriorated in the spiritual department much faster than in the physical department. Indeed, in a spiritual sense, the Bible says we are people walking in darkness.
It seems pretty clear to me that Solomon understood this: “The path of the righteous is like the morning sun, shining ever brighter till the full light of day. But the way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know what makes them stumble.” (vs 18-19)
In a physical sense, humanity is headed down, not up. And in a spiritual sense, we’re already down, and without God, we’re going to stay there! There is no possibility that we will ever reason our way out of our deep darkness on our own. In contrast, the path of the righteous—those who trust in God—works its way out of the darkness and into ever-increasing light. It is only with God that things can ever get better and better, brighter and brighter.
The only cure for physical and spiritual entropy is God. We can’t save ourselves physically, and we certainly can’t save ourselves spiritually. If we’re looking for a way out of our predicament, God is the only way up!
God designed sex.
I can almost guarantee you’ll never hear someone get up at church and say, “Our Scripture reading this morning is from Proverbs, chapter five, verses eighteen and nineteen: ‘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 intoxicated with her love.’”
Although this probably will never be used as a Scripture reading because it would have too many people blushing, it comes in the midst of a chapter where Solomon challenges young men to adhere to God’s ideals regarding love and sex. It even seems to be a matter of life and death: “For the lips of the adulterous woman drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil; but in the end she is bitter as gall, sharp as a double-edged sword. Her feet go down to death; her steps lead straight to the grave.” (vs 3-5)
If that seems a little extreme, consider that lust—if not checked—is something that eventually destroys relationships, even lives. Many men (and, increasingly, women) struggle with lust. It can begin rather innocently, even just in the mind (although Jesus specifically warned against that, too, in Matt 5), but if left unchecked, it usually doesn’t end there. It can spill over into behaviors that can destroy marriages, families, and even personal health. Lust carries emotional, relational, and physical consequences.
By contrast, God designed that sexual intimacy between one man and one woman for life would be like a private, thirst-quenching cistern that would never dry up. Committing ourselves to monogamy (as God intended it) protects marriages, families, and even personal health.
Even in this area of life—which is so often considered nowadays to be “nobody’s business,” as long as the parties involved are consenting adults—submitting to God’s design is what brings true freedom. Drinking water from our own cistern (and nobody else’s) will ensure that our thirst will be satisfied. On the other hand, departing from God’s ideal inevitably leads to heartache, difficulty, and sorrow. Drinking water from the cisterns of others will ensure that our thirst will never be satisfied, and we will continue to be a slave to our thirst.
God designed sex, and He designed it to be an enjoyable, meaningful part of our lives. But it will only be that kind of experience when we pursue it within the boundaries in which it was designed. Pursuing sexual intimacy outside of those boundaries only leads to hardship and tragedy.
God . . . is a hater?
If there is one, overarching theme to the Bible, it must be that God is love. He is like a fierce Momma Bear who will do anything, absolutely anything, to protect His children. (And, you know, we’re all His children.) But because we spend so much time using that word love to describe God, it’s easy to forget that the Bible describes Him as hating things, too. (Notice I said things, not people.)
Now really, for those of you who are parents, does this come as a big shock? If you have children, you know that you have felt (or would feel) intense hatred for anything that would harm or even destroy your child. Who would say they love leukemia? Or car accidents? Or drugs and alcohol? Anything that poses a threat to the wellbeing of my child would go on the list.
And God is no different. Solomon spelled it out in today’s chapter: “There are six things the Lord hates. There are seven things he cannot stand: a proud look, a lying tongue, hands that kill innocent people, a mind that thinks up evil plans, feet that are quick to do evil, a witness who lies, and someone who starts arguments among families.” (vs 16-19)
Why does God hate all these things? Because they pose a threat to our wellbeing and the wellbeing of those around us. Because they separate us from Him. And nothing separates us more than lying.
That’s the thing that struck me most about this list—lying was mentioned twice. Out of all the things the Lord could say He hates, lying is mentioned not once, but twice. But, when you think about it, there’s a good reason why lying is top on the list of God’s abominations. After all, if we’re not willing to deal in reality, how can we expect God to communicate with us? If we can’t ultimately be honest with Him or ourselves, how will He get through to us?
Because God loves us so much, I think He hates anything and everything that harms us. He hates anything and everything that threatens to ultimately destroy our wellbeing. He hates anything and everything that separates us from Him. He will do anything, absolutely anything, to protect us—even telling us right to our face that He hates what we’re doing.
God is not seductive.
It seems rather ironic that Solomon wrote so much about women. Since he ended up with 700 wives and/or concubines, it would seem he either didn’t take his own wise advice . . . or he gained some of his wisdom through unfortunate experience! Either way, I think we can learn something very important about God by comparing Him with the women Solomon has been referencing in the last few chapters of Proverbs:
God is not seductive.
To be seductive means to be alluring or have tempting qualities, to attempt to entice or seduce someone into doing what you want—usually something they shouldn’t be doing.
The woman in this chapter is described thus: “Then out came a woman to meet him, dressed like a prostitute and with crafty intent . . . With persuasive words she led him astray; she seduced him with her smooth talk.” (vs 10, 21) What Solomon is warning against here is buying into something just because it sounds good. As we all know, talk is cheap, and things are not always what they seem.
What sounds so good can end up so bad.
In contrast to this type of person, God is not seductive. He has never wanted us to believe anything just because it sounds good—even just because He said it! Instead, He operates on the basis of demonstration. He doesn’t just make claims; He provides evidence.
Compare the description of the seductive woman to the description of Jesus given in Isaiah: “He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him . . . He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth . . . He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.” (Isa 53:2, 7, 9)
God never operates with a crafty agenda. Instead of dressing to get attention, He purposely downplayed His physical appearance so that the only thing that would draw us to Him was the beauty of truth. Never did He open His mouth in a dishonest or enticing way.
God is not seductive. Everything about Him is transparent. What you see is what you get. He does not line a path to death with slick and smooth words. Instead, what He says and does—although it may sound harsh at times—is designed to put our feet on the path to life.
With God, there is no hidden agenda. The only agenda He has is loving you.
God is not random.
One of the popular sayings in today’s culture is That is so random. The younger generation uses it a lot to describe things that are unexpected or “come out of the blue.” Random is also a word that has been used extensively in discussions regarding the origin of life in the universe. There are many people today who believe our existence is the result of a string of random events occurring over billions of years.
In contrast to that picture is the Bible’s description of where life comes from and how it began. There are pieces of that discussion in today’s chapter from Proverbs: “The LORD brought me [wisdom] forth as the first of his works, before his deeds of old; I was formed long ages ago, at the very beginning, when the world came to be . . . I was there when he set the heavens in place, when he marked out the horizon on the face of the deep, when he established the clouds above and fixed securely the fountains of the deep, when he gave the sea its boundary so the waters would not overstep his command, and when he marked out the foundations of the earth.” (vs 22-23, 27-29)
If this is true, it seems there is nothing “random” about God’s creation. No natural selection or survival of the fittest. No theistic evolution. Only intelligent, wisdom-filled design.
When you gaze out at the world around you, or when you study about the world within you, is this really all that surprising? I mean, I know evolutionists would like us to believe that complex machinery, such as iPhones, is designed, while the more infinitely complex machinery of the human body is not, but does that square with logical thought?
Do we know of anything complex that has ever randomly appeared on the planet? And if we don’t, if—in our own life’s experience—anything that is truly complex has only ever been the result of intelligence, why should we not at least begin with the same assumption regarding our bodies and our world? Why begin with the opposite assumption, which runs contrary to experience and evidence?
There is a popular notion in the evolutionary world that monkeys, given enough time, could randomly reproduce the works of Shakespeare. That sounds like a Herculean task! However, given an infinite amount of monkeys and an infinite amount of time, anything should be possible, right?
Maybe not. I recently came across this article, which explained the statistical probability (or rather, statistical improbability) of such a thing occurring. As the author concludes, “How can I suppose that Shakespeare himself was the result of a random process when it is quite clearly impossible for even a trivial fragment of his work to have arisen by chance?”
I think Solomon would have to agree. When it came to creation, he would have said, “That is so not random.” And neither is God. Everything He does is purposeful, intentional, and meaningful.
My brain is no more the result of randomness than my iPhone, and let me assure you that even if time lasts another 2,000 years, man will never be able to create anything even remotely close to the brain and its technological capabilities.
Using wisdom and great intelligence, God has handcrafted you, me, and the entire world around us. There is simply nothing random about it!
God doesn't drown out the competition.
It’s always interesting to notice patterns in literature, and the Bible is no different. There have already been numerous recurring statements in the first eight chapters of the book of Proverbs, but this chapter contained its own special pattern. Did you notice the invitation that was issued twice?
Whoever is easy to fool, let him turn in here! (vs 4, 16)
The interesting thing is that the same invitation is issued—from two very different sources. The first time, it is “Wisdom” who invites the fools to enter her home. The second time, it is “Folly” who invites the fools to enter her home.
The invitation is the same, but the destinations are very different. Solomon helps us peek “inside” the two houses and discover that the result of entering The House of Wisdom is a longer life (vs 11), while the result of entering The House of Folly is death—even a living death (vs 18).
What I see about God in all of this is that He doesn’t stack the deck in His favor, He doesn’t shut down His opponents, He doesn’t drown out the competition. This is difficult for some people to understand (or maybe just to swallow). I recently had a conversation with a friend of mine who argued that God could have created a universe where there was freedom, but no opportunity to choose evil.
In my mind, that is a serious misunderstanding of the point (and nature) of freedom! God is totally committed to our freedom, but that includes the freedom for us to choose against Him as well as the freedom to choose for Him. Without the opportunity to choose evil, how can there be freedom?
Today’s chapter also confirms that God is committed to giving us the freedom to choose. He doesn’t “hardwire” our minds to think in a particular way or choose a particular course. He allows us to hear the arguments from both “sides”—good and evil, wisdom and folly. What does this mean? That God is not a dictator! For everyone knows that the number one objective on a dictator’s list is to squelch the free media and control information. Dissenting voices are silenced . . . but not in God’s Kingdom.
In God’s Kingdom, in this great war we’re all caught up in, God has not silenced the opposition. He allows Satan the freedom to invite us to folly just as much as He invites us to wisdom. Furthermore, God doesn’t use the deceptive methods of Satan. You’ll notice that Wisdom invites us to come and taste things for ourselves (vs 5), but Folly tempts with misleading propaganda, claiming that her food will be sweet and pleasing (vs 17).
It’s up to us which house we will live in, which path we will take. But it’s only because of God that we have that choice in the first place. When He says He’s committed to freedom, He really means it. And for that reason, He never drowns out His competition.
God makes us rich.
Right off the bat, there will be some who are uncomfortable with the title of this blog. On the other hand, there will be some who wholeheartedly agree—and even believe (as Jews in the first century did) that monetary wealth is a direct sign of God’s favor. But wherever you fall on the spectrum, verse 22 from today’s chapter must have caught your eye: “The blessing of the LORD brings wealth, without painful toil for it.”
This weekend, Americans went crazy buying lottery tickets for a chance to win the largest Mega Millions jackpot in history—$640 million. It’s hard for me to even imagine that much money or what I’d do with it if I suddenly had it in the bank.
Is that the kind of wealth Solomon is talking about? Does the blessing of the Lord bring monetary wealth? Always? Ever? It is interesting to see where Christians land on the issue of God and wealth. Some act like poverty is an indicator of spiritual purity. I recently read a comment from a Christian pastor that said the main call of God’s Kingdom was to “sell all you have and give it to the poor.” I had to ask myself, was that really the main point of Jesus’s life and ministry? To get us to reject everything material and live under a bridge? On the other hand, many Christians today act like riches are a barometer of God’s blessing. (Or haven’t you heard of the so-called “prosperity gospel”?)
I wonder if either approach really gets at the heart of the truth regarding God and wealth, though. I mean, Jesus once told a rich young man to sell all he had and give it to the poor (Mk 10). But, if that was the thrust of God’s Kingdom, why didn’t He agree with the men who complained that expensive perfume should have been sold and the money given to the poor (Matt 26)? Or why didn’t He also tell Zaccheus (when Zaccheus announced that he would give half of his possessions to the poor) that giving all of his possessions to the poor was what was required (Lk 19)? 1 Timothy 6:10 says that “the love of money is the root of all evil.” I think some Christians today have subtly dropped the “love of” part of that text, preferring to declare instead that “money is the root of all evil.” On the other hand, we shouldn’t be too quick to dismiss the perils of wealth. I doubt Jesus would have said that it is difficult for rich people to enter God’s Kingdom (Matt 19) if it wasn’t true.
To me, the issue when it comes to God and wealth is where your heart is. Jesus said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matt 6:19-21)
God wants us to have the things that money can’t buy, the kind of wealth that can’t be acquired through painful toil. This is why I believe it’s so dangerous to put our trust in money itself. For money and material wealth can never bring us the riches God truly wants to give—the riches I believe Solomon is talking about in Proverbs 10:22. “The blessing of the Lord brings wealth, without painful toil for it.” That may sometimes mean monetary wealth, but I think it always means spiritual wealth. For whatever form God’s blessings may take, they always come with peace, comfort, and confidence.
If I am monetarily poor and I trust in God, then I am rich! If I am monetarily rich and I trust in God, then I am rich! If I am monetarily poor and I don’t trust in God, then I am poor! If I am monetarily rich and I don’t trust in God, then I am poor! In God’s eyes, wealth and poverty are not a description of our bank account, but a description of our relationship with Him.
God wants us to be rich—truly rich! Are you?
God cures cancer.
While statistics vary widely from place to place, it is generally estimated that more than seven million people around the world die each year from cancer. In 2010, nearly two billion dollars was spent on cancer research in the United States alone. I wonder how many times God has heard the prayer that a cure for cancer be found.
Do you know what cancer is, when it all comes right down to it? Cancer cells are cells that have stopped functioning properly. Instead of participating in the normal give-and-take processes of the body, cancer cells stop giving. They continue to take, but they no longer give. They become hoarders in the body, hogging resources, sucking the life right out of the body.
Ironically, the more the cells feed off their host, the more they endanger the life of the host, and if they are not ultimately stopped, they kill the host—along with themselves. This is a life law: that which does not open itself in giving eventually self-destructs.
Did you catch that in today’s chapter? “One person gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty.” (vs 24) It is in giving that we receive. It is in hoarding that we lose even what we have. This is the cancer mentality. In hoarding what they have, cancer cells eventually lose their own “lives”. Jesus said it works the same way for us: “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” (Matt 16:25)
God is the cure for cancer. Yes, He can, does, and will heal physical cancer, but more importantly, He cures spiritual cancer. Only He can take the cancerous heart and make it healthy again.
God plants people.
One of my favorite television programs to watch is Judge Judy. She’s a no-nonsense judge who doesn’t hold back what she’s thinking from the litigants who come into her courtroom. One of the things she says often is, “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to have a good memory.”
Of course, what she means is that if you are honest, you’ll never have to worry about what you’ve said in the past. You’ll never have to try to keep all your lies straight in your mind. You’ll never have to worry about falling into a trap of your own making. If you simply tell the truth in life, your life will be much simpler.
I think that has a connection to today’s chapter. Solomon said, “No one can be established through wickedness, but the righteous cannot be uprooted.” (vs 3) If security, peace, and simplicity are what you’re after, may I suggest you walk in the path of the righteous? If you don’t, you’ll always be looking over your shoulder, wondering if you’re going to get caught at whatever game it is you’re playing.
If you choose a life of wickedness and deceit, you definitely might get ahead in life—for a while, that is. You may reach high and lofty places using crooked methods, but they will be very slippery places. When you decide to base your life on wicked ways, you’re building for yourself a house of cards that will, in time, blow over.
You might have seen the 2002 film Catch Me If You Can, which was the true story of Frank Abagnale, Jr., who—all before his 19th birthday—successfully defrauded banks of millions of dollars while pretending to be a Pan Am pilot, a doctor, and a lawyer. Successfully, that is, until he was eventually caught and thrown in jail. His deceit may have led to temporary wealth and prosperity, but it could never have lasted.
In contrast, the righteous may not have much (although some do), but whatever they do have is secure. Or, perhaps it’s more accurate to say that they are secure. They cannot be uprooted. Their trust is not in their money, nor did they employ devious means to gain what they have; thus, if they lose it all (like Job), they are not destroyed. Though it may not be easy, they are able to stand no matter what.
They are like the wise man Jesus talked about, the man who built his house on the rock: “The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.” (Matt 7:25) By contrast, the wicked build their house on sand: “The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” (Matt 7:27)
God doesn’t plant trees. God plants people. When we turn our lives over to Him, He gives us peace, confidence, and security—irrespective of what we own, how much is in our bank account, or whether we even have a job. When the storms of life rage all around us, we cannot be blown over. Oh, we may twist and sway in the winds. It might even feel violent at times, but the better we know God, the deeper our roots extend. Knowing Him is what brings lasting peace and security.
God takes words seriously.
You can’t get very far into the Bible without realizing that words are to be taken seriously. In fact, imagine having the kind of word-power God has: the Bible begins by explaining that whatever God spoke suddenly appeared! “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” (Gen 1:3)
Wow, what if our words carried that sort of power! But, wait a minute. Perhaps they do: “Those who guard their lips preserve their lives,
but those who speak rashly will come to ruin.” (vs 3) I found that verse incredible! Our words—and our words alone—have the power to preserve us or ruin us.
If that’s true, we should be much more careful about what we say.
All the while, modern technology is ever making it easier and easier to “speak rashly.” Think about what it was like a hundred years ago, when communication was pretty much relegated to handwritten letters. Not only did it take time to actually write the letters, but the mail was slow, and it took a while for the letter to arrive and then receive a reply. Outside of face-to-face conversations, there was little opportunity for rash communication.
Then, the invention of the telephone expanded the opportunity for more rash conversation beyond the boundaries of face-to-face communication. It probably wasn’t too long after the phone was invented that receivers began being slammed down in the heat of anger or frustration.
Next, the advent of computers, email, smartphones, Facebook, and Twitter (where you must distill your thought into 140 characters or less!) now make it possible for us to “spout off” about anything before we even have the chance to think twice. Thus, I would wager that far more words are spoken rashly than sensibly.
Why is that a problem? Because our words are important. We may not be able to say “let there be light” and suddenly see where we’re going, but our words really matter. What we say not only influences others, but it reflexively influences us, too. Our expression deepens our impression, meaning that the things we say serve to cement those ideas in our minds. Having a thought is one thing, but speaking that thought out loud takes it from the realm of the abstract into the realm of the concrete.
Make no mistake about it: our words have consequences.
May we always think before we speak. May our words always be measured in the same way our God measures His words. And may we always take our words (both to ourselves and others) as seriously as God does, speaking every word in love, seeking always to uplift and never to tear down.
That’s what God does.
God knows your heart.
In this chapter, there were two very interesting verses about the heart: “Each heart knows its own bitterness, and no one else can share its joy . . . Even in laughter the heart may ache, and rejoicing may end in grief.” (vs 10, 13)
In a chapter filled with many proverbs that sound similar to what we’ve already read in the previous 13 chapters, I found myself going back again and again to the ones about the heart. What they seemed to be saying to me was that nobody really knows me, nobody can truly understand what I’m feeling or going through.
Is that true? Do only I know the depth of my own bitterness? Can nobody else really know what my most joyous joys feel like? Even worse (as verse 13 suggests), do I participate in the cover-up of who I am? Do I sometimes laugh when my heart hurts? Do I keep a smile on my face when I really feel like crying?
Of course I do. I bet you have too. For me, that was one of the unsettling things about the story of Job (having just recently read it again for this blog). Job had no problem crying when he hurt, shouting when he was mad, and just generally wearing his torn-open heart on his sleeve. And for Christians, who are so used to “dressing up” our bodies (and our faces!) to go to church each week, that can be more than a little unnerving.
I mean, when was the last time you went to church and sang a song of lament? Or have you really felt like singing unfettered praise the last 52 weeks in a row? Why doesn’t someone write a praise song with lyrics like, God, I’m tired, stressed out, and really frustrated with life. I don’t even want to be here right now.
Maybe we have a problem with honesty before God. And other people.
Not to worry. For, if these proverbs are correct (and I believe they are), it may be true that there is not another human being on the planet who understands every nuance of your heart, but there is Someone Not Of This World who does: “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” (1 Sam 16:7)
No one else may know your heart, but God does. God knows the ins and outs of the bitterness. He knows the heights and depths of the joy. He hears the ache behind the laughter. Before the rejoicing ends in grief, He has tasted the sorrow.
You are never, never, never alone in this world. Though all other men or women may abandon you, there is still One who knows the truth about you, inside and out. There is still One who sees you and hears you and loves you. He knows your heart even better than you do, and it is safe in His hands.
God is no softie.
My daughter is now just over seven months old, and the biggest parenting challenge I’ve had thus far has been sleep training. Using the word challenge, however, may be a bit misleading, because I have a feeling that—compared to many children—Caroline has never been anything remotely approaching a “challenge.” Still, it’s been our one little “rough” patch.
The difficult part of this sleep training comes when Caroline just doesn’t want to go down for her nap (which doesn’t happen often) or has become so tired that she is having trouble falling asleep (which is usually the case when she’s fussing at bedtime). In order to help her learn to go to sleep on her own, we decided to adopt the “Ferber method” of sleep training, which includes allowing your child to cry for very short intervals of time and not picking them up, but reassuring them that they are okay and safe.
This method has worked brilliantly for Caroline, and she rarely has any trouble going to sleep these days. I’m glad for that, because it was difficult for me to let her cry and not pick her up, even if it was only for a minute or two. Still, I persevered with sleep training because, even though difficult for me, I know it was kind for her. Helping her learn to go to sleep without problem has helped to make her a well-rested, contented baby. And that’s not only good for Momma, but it’s great for her!
Although this is a very mild example, sometimes parents have to make tough decisions to help their children. I think of parents who must take a very hard line with children who are addicted to drugs or alcohol. Sometimes they have to cut all ties with their kids in order to help them “wake up” and realize that they’re in trouble. Sometimes they have to do things that look very harsh in order to be truly kind. And today’s chapter made it clear that God is willing to be included in that category: “Stern discipline awaits anyone who leaves the path; the one who hates correction will die.” (vs 10)
This immediately made me think of one of my favorite New Testament passages from The Message Bible: “You didn’t think, did you, that just by pointing your finger at others you would distract God from seeing all your misdoings and from coming down on you hard? Or did you think that because he’s such a nice God, he’d let you off the hook? Better think this one through from the beginning. God is kind, but he’s not soft. In kindness he takes us firmly by the hand and leads us into a radical life-change.” (Rom 2:3-4)
God is kind, but He’s not soft. Sometimes the kind thing is not the “nice” thing. Love is always kind, but it may not always be nice. Often, especially as God is dealing with a world mired in sin and rebellion, what is loving looks pretty harsh. It is worth remembering that, from God’s perspective, what He’s doing here is all one big intervention. He issues a lot of bottom lines, ultimatums, and threats.
But He does that for one reason and one reason only—so we will wake up, turn around, and get help. So we will hit our “bottom” and let Him pick us up. We have sometimes looked at these stern disciplinary measures employed by God (as recorded in Old Testament history) and accused Him of being vengeful, exacting, and severe. And that’s also what the heroin addict says of the parents who are threatening to kick him out of the house if he doesn’t get help. But we understand that the parents are simply willing to do whatever it takes to help their son stop destroying himself.
That’s also what God is up against. The end of verse 10 says “the one who hates correction will die.” For God, this is a matter of life and death. If His discipline is stern, if His correction is harsh, it is only because He’s desperate to bring us back to the path. When self-destruction is imminent, God won’t hesitate to host an intervention.
God is kind, but He’s not soft. It is out of kindness that He does what’s hard.
God is the way.
There seems to be a recurring theme in this chapter—that our human judgment is often skewed. Verse 2 says that “a person’s ways seem pure to them, but motives are weighed by the LORD.” Later, we are warned that pride, while it may make us feel confident, “goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.” (vs 18)
And then, right toward the end of the chapter, well, Solomon just came right out and said it: “There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death.” (vs 25) That’s a sobering thought—that we could be merrily whistling our way down The Yellow Brick Road, thinking that we’ll end up in the Emerald City, when all the while, a different destination awaits us.
This immediately brought to mind a shocking experience I had recently.
Have you ever heard of the Maitreya? In the New Age religion, he is called the “World Teacher” and apparently has many disciples, known as the “Masters of Wisdom.” His followers expect him to emerge on the world scene sometime in the near future in order to put struggling humanity back on the right path.
Here is how one of Maitreya’s disciples describes his priorities: “To help humanity in its task of global transformation, Maitreya the World Teacher has formulated certain priorities. They cover the essential needs of every man, woman and child: an adequate supply of food; housing for all; health care and education as universal rights. Other top priorities include the restoration of the environment and the establishment of peace. The key to achieving these goals is a more equitable sharing of the world’s food and resources. According to Maitreya: ‘Without sharing there can be no justice; without justice there can be no peace; without peace, there can be no future.’” (http://share-international.org/maitreya/Ma_prior.htm)
As I began to research Maitreya, I realized that many of his “messages” sounded like things I could imagine Jesus saying. Justice and peace are matters important to Christians. Caring about the needs of others and sharing what we have with the poor are qualities that certainly fit in the Kingdom of God! I had to admit that whoever this Maitreya was and whoever was receiving his “messages,” they certainly sounded good and right.
And it was ’round about that time that I discovered another message from Maitreya, one apparently designed to help us become the kind of people who would enact his policies of justice in the world:
A Prayer for the New Age
I am the creator of the universe.
I am the father and mother of the universe.
Everything comes from me.
Everything shall return to me.
Mind, spirit and body are my temples,
for the self to realize in them
My supreme being and becoming.
“A Prayer for the New Age . . . is a great mantra or affirmation with an invocative effect. Using this prayer will enable one to recognize that man and God are one, that there is no separation . . . By affirming that ‘I am the Creator of the Universe,’ I can come into consciousness (eventually) that I am God, the true reality.” (http://www.shareintl.org/archives/M_teachings/Mt_prayer-newage.htm)
It is no exaggeration to say that I was totally floored. I couldn’t believe all that I had read—that the same person who desired to call all humanity into symbiotic, loving relationship also desired them to believe that they had created the universe, that everything had come from them and would return to them.
Right then and there, I knew that I would not be one of Maitreya’s devotees. There is nothing wrong with justice and peace, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with caring and sharing, but there is something wrong with I am the creator of the universe becoming my personal mantra. I may be confused about a lot of things, but I am not confused about that. Much of what Maitreya proposes may sound good and right, but if it is somehow based on the idea that human beings are gods, then it is a way that leads to death.
There is only one way of assurance in this world—God. He is the way, and He is the only way to life, justice, peace, and love. Anything else may sound good, but if it is not rooted in the God who is revealed in Scripture, it just might lead to a very bad place. Our only security is in fixing our eyes on God and putting our energies into knowing Him more and more.
The more we come to know Him, the more clearly we will discern the way.
God desperately wants us to have peace.
Especially in America, we spend much of our lives in the pursuit of getting. We work at getting an education, getting a job, getting job security, getting a house, getting a car, getting love, getting a retirement plan—getting, getting, getting. And in Proverbs, I believe Solomon’s main point is, In all your getting, get wisdom. In all your getting, get the things that are important. In all your getting, don’t pass over the permanent for the perishable.
That was certainly the message right off the bat in today’s chapter: “A dry piece of food with peace and quiet is better than a house full of food with fighting.” (vs 1) This is just another way of saying that what is really important in life are all the things that money can’t buy. You can be the richest person on the face of the Earth, but if your home is not a place of peace and security, if you are not loved when you walk through the door, you are actually a very poor person.
At the end of the day, you can’t hug your bank account.
In the spirit of this message today, I wanted to share with you a portion of a blog I read frequently. It is written by a young man who is currently serving as a student missionary in Chad, Africa. You can imagine what a culture shock it must be to go from a country like America to a country like Chad. But something he wrote recently about the people there made me just a little bit envious:
God is here, God is big, God is strong. These are words that almost always come from Chadians when they are explaining a problem to me, or when I’m explaining one of my problems to them. Many of them trust God for everything. When telling me that they don’t have any food to feed their five children, they often follow up by saying that God will provide work for them to pay for that, and for everything else. I was raised in a country where a “poor person” has a junky car and a small house. These people have nothing, but they are the happiest people I have ever met in my life. Kids are content to sit on the ground and talk to each other. They don’t have to have their cell phones or their gaming devices. Adults spend their free time talking to friends and building relationships. Not watching a meaningless TV show or spending hours on Facebook.
Their simple way of life is difficult and painful here, but in my mind, they are better off without the distractions. I could walk to any home in my village, at any time of the day, and someone would pull out a chair (of sorts) for me and sit down to find out all about me. In the States most of us just don’t have time for that. We’re too focused on our own goals and ambitions. Just some thoughts I have had. Are we too distracted by our own ambition? Maybe so, maybe not, but time is worth so much.
For me, that has really been something to think about. I read that, and I realize that the terms “rich” and “poor” are totally relative—and not just in terms of money either! I could compare myself to a Chadian in a financial sense and maybe feel pretty rich. But, according to this post, if I compare myself to a Chadian in an emotional or relational sense, would I discover that I am really very poor? I’m afraid I just might.
The Bible also indicates that we may not be so adept at recognizing who’s “rich” and who’s “poor.” In Revelation 3, God spoke to the church in Laodicea: “You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.” (Rev 3:17) I wonder if these church members had outreach programs to help the poor, never imagining that, in fact, they were the poor.
God sees and judges things differently than we do—He always has. That’s why He tells us, through Solomon, to make sure that in all of our time spent getting, we don’t miss out on getting the truly important things, the things that can’t be bought in the store, the things that we will look back and wish we had (or be glad we had) when we come to the end of our life on Earth.
All the things we have will come and go. We may be financially rich now and lose it all next year. We may have nothing today and come into a financial windfall next week. Regardless of how many things we have now, they will all be gone at some point, and being secure in what is permanent puts all the perishables into perspective. As the tide of change continues to swirl around us and others in this world, God desperately wants us to have peace.
If you have this peace, then you are as wealthy as a king, and no one can steal your riches. But if you do not have this peace, then you are poor, and no amount of money can lift you out of that poverty. (That’s a lesson Solomon himself found out the hard way.) So, take it from him: in all your getting, make sure you get the things that are important.
God is whatever you need.
When you grow up in the church, you realize (once you’re adult) that you are familiar with many phrases from the Bible that you’ve never actually thought about before. That happened to me today as I read this chapter of Proverbs. Had you heard this verse before? “The name of the LORD is a fortified tower; the righteous run to it and are safe.” (vs 10)
I had not only heard it many times, but it is part of a favorite praise song of mine by Paul Baloche titled Your Name. But as I read it today, I suddenly thought, what does that really mean? God’s name is a strong tower? Why not just say God is a strong tower? Why put the emphasis on His name?
And then I began to think about God’s name. Actually, there are a lot of names for God given in the Bible, but there is only one He gave for Himself: “Moses said to God, ‘Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, “The God of your fathers has sent me to you,” and they ask me, “What is his name?” Then what shall I tell them?’ God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: “I AM has sent me to you.”‘” (Ex 3:13-14)
When God revealed His “name” to Moses, it was I Am. I think it’s no coincidence that God describes Himself in the present tense. This is where He lives—at least in relationship to us. As One who stands above and beyond Time, He can certainly traverse our past and future, but in order to relate to us and be with us, He must enter into our present moment.
God is fully alive and present to us at every moment. And His promise is, “I am” in every moment. I agree with other Bible commentators who suggest that this phrase speaks of God being the “becoming one,” that He is able to be whatever we need Him to be for us.
- If we need comfort, He says, “I am comfort.”
- If we need peace, He says, “I am peace.”
- If we need forgiveness, He says, “I am forgiveness.”
- If we need healing, He says, “I am your healer.”
- If we need discipline, He says, “I am your disciplinarian!”
- Whatever we need, He says, “I am!”
Only God can provide this sort of safety, security, and assurance. (How many other things in life do you know that can adapt themselves to your every need?) Yet it’s amazing how many other things we try to put our trust in instead. In fact, immediately following this verse, Solomon described a common thing people trust besides God: “The wealth of the rich is their fortified city; they imagine it a wall too high to scale.” (vs 11)
Every other “tower” will crumble. Every other “security” will fail. The only strong tower to run to is God (and the key to understanding why is in His name). He knows our every need, and only He is able to provide for our every need. When all our other “strongholds” fail us, God will still be there—steady, strong, consistent. He is and will be whatever you need.
God's purposes prevail.
One of the proverbs in today’s chapter was very encouraging to me—very encouraging because I care about doing the Lord’s will in my life, but sometimes I question whether I really understand what His will is. That’s why I liked this verse: “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails.” (vs 21)
If ever there was a simple, yet accurate, description of the Bible, wouldn’t this be it? For all the generations that have risen up and passed away since the beginning of Time, what is the one thing that has been constant? Through it all, the Lord’s purpose has prevailed. Even when His people were doing the exact opposite of what He wanted, He was still right there, working out His plan.
Think of the life of Joseph. God had given him dreams about being in charge—even over his older brothers. Joseph didn’t know what the dreams meant. His brothers didn’t know what the dreams meant (although they made them mad!). As a result, they sold Joseph into slavery. That certainly wasn’t part of God’s ideal plan, since God never plans evil for us. However, God used what Joseph’s brothers planned for evil and turned it around to fulfill His purpose instead.
I think God does this all the time in our lives. He has a plan for us, and He is working it out. Sometimes, we are attuned to Him and able to “hear” and follow His ideal plan. But when we’re not, He does with us what He did with Joseph’s brothers—takes our mistakes and works them into His plan for good.
In the end, God’s purpose is the most important thing. Here’s what James had to say about it: “Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’” (Jas 4:13-15)
You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Well, that puts it in perspective, doesn’t it?! Enjoy this day that you have with God, and above all, relax. He’s going to let you know what His will is, and even if you get it wrong from time to time, don’t worry. His purposes prevail. He has a wonderful plan for your life, and He is working it out!
God gives pleasure that lasts forever.
Alright, let’s start today’s blog with a pop quiz. It’s been a while since we studied Psalm 16. Do you remember this verse? “You will make known to me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy. In Your right hand, there are _________ _________.” (Ps 16:11) Can you fill in the blank without looking it up?
If you said pleasures forever, you’re correct! I still remember the first time that verse “dawned on me” as an adult. I don’t know about you, but even though I grew up with a very positive picture of God, I still wouldn’t have equated Him with everlasting pleasure! (I mean, pleasure is sinful, right? Something we should try to avoid?) Obviously not!
In fact, that’s one of the lies Satan has sold to us—that sin is somehow pleasurable. We need to “unlearn” this lie! Solomon must have thought so, too: “Food gained by fraud tastes sweet, but one ends up with a mouth full of gravel.” (vs 17) Gravel . . . yuck! Even the thought of having a mouth full of gravel makes me squirm. What a great word picture to describe the insidiousness of sin. Sin may appear to start out pleasurably, but it doesn’t take very long for the luster to wear off, and then we see sin for the ugly thing it truly is.
It may seem like a good idea to use evil to “get ahead,” but it will always come back to bite you in the end. What seems sweet will quickly sour. What seems secure will quickly fall apart. What seems good will quickly turn bad. Everything pleasurable you thought you would gain by using evil methods will disintegrate into pain, suffering, and guilt.
In comparison, God’s ways lead to pleasure that lasts forever. When we commit ourselves to using His methods of love and goodness, the pleasure we find won’t be pleasure that lasts for a moment and is then replaced by bitterness and anxiety. We may look around at those who have “enriched” themselves at the expense of others and think we are “missing out,” but the truth is, what we are building for ourselves is something that can never be torn apart.
What’s more, God’s ways lead not only to pleasure, but to pleasant surprises as well. With Him, what we thought was sour will turn sweet. What we thought was shaky will prove to be secure. What we thought was bad will turn out for the good.
God gives pleasure that lasts forever. If you don’t want all your sweet food to turn to gravel in your mouth, commit yourself to doing things His way!
God treasures a willing listener.
For a long time now, I have believed that the only thing God requires for salvation is a willingness to listen. Why? Because, as Paul said in Philippians 1:6, “He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it.” The good work is God’s, and He will complete it in us in His time—as long as we are willing. He won’t force Himself on us, so we have the ultimate say-so over whether we will allow God to do His good work in our lives.
I think Solomon must have also believed this, for in today’s chapter, he wrote, “Haughty eyes and a proud heart—the unplowed field of the wicked—produce sin.” (vs 4) I had never thought about it that way before, but it makes sense to me. The thing that produces sin is an attitude of pride and haughtiness.
Why would that sort of attitude lead to sin (separation from God)? I imagine it’s because a person who has haughty eyes looks down on everything and everyone they see. They are, in their estimation, better than everyone else and usually feel like they have very little to learn. (Rather, they are usually the ones who think they are there to teach.) A person with a proud heart believes that everything they do is right. They usually wear a coat of armor that deflects all constructive criticism—leaving them impervious to learning.
At the end of the day, what is God able to do with someone who stubbornly holds to this sort of attitude? If, in their thinking, they are already doing everything right, are better than everyone else, and have nothing to learn, where is God supposed to start with them? Make no mistake—He will find a way to get through to them, but ultimately, they are the ones who decide whether or not they will abandon their proud, haughty attitude.
God treasures a willing listener. There will always be more for our finite minds to learn from His infinite one. We will never stop learning. In fact, eternity will simply be an ongoing education! If we want to participate in that, if we don’t want to produce sin, if we don’t want to maintain separation between God and us, there is but one simple thing to do: be willing to listen.
As long as we are willing to listen, there isn’t anything God can’t accomplish in our lives.
God defines "rich" and "poor" differently than we do.
It seems that, time and time again, I run up against things in the Bible regarding the “rich” and the “poor” that just aren’t as clear-cut as our modern thinking tends to be. Take this verse from today’s chapter, for instance: “Rich and poor have this in common: The LORD is the Maker of them all.” (vs 2)
This is, perhaps, no great revelation on its face—that God is the God of us all, regardless of the size of our checkbooks. Or, some might take this to mean that for God to be “the Maker” of the rich and the poor means that He ordains some to be rich and others to be poor. I’m not sure I would make so simple a statement, although there is evidence in Scripture to suggest that idea. Job, for example, was blessed with great wealth. God allowed Satan to take it all away (thereby making Job poor for a time) before subsequently returning it with interest.
Regardless of where the wealth or poverty comes from, however, this verse makes it clear to me that we all stand equal before God. In His eyes, we are all in the same sinking boat, whether we’re in the captain’s suite or the common quarters. No amount of material wealth can buy salvation for the soul, and neither can poverty alone make one righteous. Rich and poor alike stand in need of a Savior.
That brings us to how I believe God views “rich” and “poor”—and that’s in spiritual terms. This is what James puts it in his epistle: “A Christian brother who has few riches of this world should be happy for what he has. He is great in the eyes of God. But a rich man should be happy even if he loses everything.” (Jas 1:9-10) What James is saying is that someone who has little money but has God is rich. And someone who has lost all their wealth but has God is still rich. God sees “rich” and “poor” in terms of the spiritual condition of our hearts. If we have Him, we are rich—no matter if we have money in our pockets or food on the table.
I thought this view of “rich” and “poor” was taken further in verse 7: “The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is slave to the lender.” In his commentary on this verse, Matthew Henry wrote, “It should be our endeavour to keep as much as may be out of debt. Some sell their liberty to gratify their luxury.” That really struck me.
Some sell their liberty to gratify their luxury.
Matthew Henry may have been talking about financial debt here, but I immediately thought of this in terms of spiritual debt. Isn’t this the very problem with sin? That in order to gratify our short-term luxury by giving into the “pleasures” of sin, we end up selling our liberty? Paul addressed this bondage in Romans: “So, since we’re out from under the old tyranny, does that mean we can live any old way we want? Since we’re free in the freedom of God, can we do anything that comes to mind? Hardly. You know well enough from your own experience that there are some acts of so-called freedom that destroy freedom. Offer yourselves to sin, for instance, and it’s your last free act. But offer yourselves to the ways of God and the freedom never quits. All your lives you’ve let sin tell you what to do. But thank God you’ve started listening to a new master, one whose commands set you free to live openly in his freedom!” (Rom 6:15-18)
How would we define someone who trades liberty for short-term self-gratification? I would say poor, regardless of how much money they have in the bank. How would we define someone who embraces liberty at the cost of self-gratification? I would say rich, even if they don’t own a home, drive a car, or own expensive jewelry.
God defines “rich” and “poor” differently than we do. We look on the outside, but the Lord looks on the heart. Yes, the Bible calls upon those with material wealth to help the poor. That same Bible suggests that we not show partiality to someone just because he doesn’t have money. But laying all concerns of money aside, the Bible also says that those who have money and those who don’t stand equal before God.
When God looks at us, He doesn’t see our bank account balance, the money we have in our pocket, or the size of our 401K. He sees the spiritual condition of our hearts. And the good news is, we can have His kind of wealth today, this very moment. With God, it doesn’t take long to become a very rich person! Have we put our faith and trust in Him? This is what determines true wealth and poverty, and I don’t know about you, but I’d rather be truly wealthy and have nothing than to “have it all” and, in my heart, be a beggar.
God goes to the heart of the matter.
There were so many references to the heart in this chapter:
- As a man thinks within his heart, so is he. (vs 7)
- Apply your heart to instruction and your ears to words of knowledge. (vs 12)
- Do not let your heart envy sinners. (vs 17)
- Be wise and set your heart on the right path. (vs 19)
Of course, when the Bible speaks of the heart, it is referring to the seat of thoughts and emotions—our minds. Verse 7 gives that away, for we know we don’t “think” with our hearts, but our minds.
What we are in our hearts, what we think with our minds is very important. Again, as verse 7 indicated, what we think is what we will become. The thoughts we entertain on a regular basis will become our reality. Jesus said this very thing: “What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them . . . The things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what defile a person.” (Matt 15:11, 18-20)
Think thoughts can’t be that powerful? Consider the example of Tom Skultitley, an amateur triathlete who wanted to compete in the Ironman Triathlon in Hawaii, finish in the top ten, and do it all in under ten hours. Of course, he began a grueling training regimen, but the week before the race, he also spent four hours a day visualizing the race and his performance—every detail of the competition. On the day of the race, he finished in 9 hours, 59 minutes, and 37 seconds, and he placed ninth—the highest ranking for any amateur ever in the Ironman Triathlon.
The mind is ultra important. As a man thinks, so he is.
Maybe this is why the Bible places such importance on the mind:
- You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You. (Isa 26:3)
- Be transformed by the renewing of your mind. (Rom 12:2)
- Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus. (Phil 2:5)
- Set your mind on things above. (Col 3:2)
- For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. (Rom 8:5-6)
- God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. (2 Tim 1:7)
Make no mistake about it. In the great war we’re caught up in, the battle is for your heart and mind. The enemy wants to corrupt, defile, and skew your thoughts. That’s why Paul said that every thought we had should be taken captive to Christ (2 Cor 10:5). Only He is able to transform the heart. Only He is able to renew the mind.
All of God’s saving activity goes straight to the heart of the matter. If there are problems in our thinking, God can straighten them out! So may our prayer today be that of David’s in Psalm 51: “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” (Ps 51:10)
God has no enemies.
I love it when Bible verses make me laugh out loud. This one caught my fancy today: “Don’t rejoice when your enemies fall; don’t be happy when they stumble. For the Lord will be displeased with you and will turn his anger away from them.” (vs 17-18) I just had to laugh right out loud. A call to not gloat over your enemies—not because it’s the right thing to do, but so you can keep your enemies in their troubles longer!
I must say, though, that this is a direct example of a recent conversation I’ve been having with some friends of mine. We’ve been discussing the idea of how spiritual development occurs and, more specifically, how we see that development across time in the Bible. For instance, in Exodus 21:23-25, God said, “If there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.” But when Jesus came, He said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person.” (Matt 5:38-39)
How should we understand those two passages? They seem to contradict one another, yet if we are to believe the Bible, God spoke the first one and God spoke the second one. Did He forget about His command to take “eye for eye”? Did He change His mind? Or are these two passages an example of how God furthers our spiritual development?
I would vote for the third option, and I would suggest that today’s passage is actually a middle “step” between the two. First, God asked the Israelites to restrain themselves by only taking an “eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” Until this merciful restraint, they were in the cultural habit of answering a rape, say, with wiping out a whole village of people. Any small act of violence (even accidental) could lead to an all-out war in no time because of the rate of escalation. So, God said, “Only take from your enemies what they took from you. No more, no less.”
Next comes this middle “step.” God suggested through Solomon that His people were not to gloat over their enemies when some tragedy befell them. When they saw someone get “what they deserved,” they were not to feel happy about it. Why? Because that would not please God, and He might start being kind to the enemy! So, it seems God was moving them to better behavior by appealing to a selfish motive.
Once they were accustomed to the “better” behavior, God could say through Jesus, “Do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.” (Matt 5:39-42) Do you see what God did here? He encouraged the “better” behavior by removing the selfish motive and revealing that the one who does not retaliate is the one who has the power.
In effect, God said that if someone takes something from you, give them more. If anyone slaps you, turn the other cheek. (You’re not a victim of assault if you have offered your cheek.) If someone sues you for your shirt, give them both your shirt and your coat. (You’re not a victim of theft if you are happy to hand the items over.) If someone forces you to go a certain distance, go double the distance. (You’re not a victim of kidnapping if you are willing to go.)
In short, Jesus is telling us that we never have to be a victim of anything or anyone. We can live as our heavenly Father does—as though we have no enemies. And if someone chooses to use force and “exert their power” over us, we don’t have to let them have power and control over us. Using their evil deed as an opportunity, we can treat them with kindness, and in so doing, we never have to spend one moment as their victim. That’s exactly what God does: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Matt 5:43-45)
God has no enemies, or at least He lives like He has no enemies. People may hate Him, but He doesn’t hate them, and He treats them with the same kindness, care, and concern as He does those who love Him. And as we stick with Him, He is more than able to help us develop spiritually into the kind of person He is. Sometimes I don’t know quite how He does it—there is so much in my filthy little heart that needs changing!—but I know He does. No matter where we are on the continuum—at the point of “eye for eye” revenge, at the point of not gloating over our enemies for a selfish reason, or at the point of rethinking that whole “eye for eye” thing—God meets us where we are and helps us along in our understanding.
God doesn’t live His life in bondage to His enemies, and with His help, we don’t have to live in bondage to ours!
God is involved in a cover-up.
This chapter begins in a very intriguing way: “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter.” (vs 2) To conceal a matter . . . hmmmm, perhaps like the meaning of this proverb? Whatever could this mean? It has been my habit to praise God for His commitment to self-revelation. Why would Solomon say that God not only conceals things, but that it is His glory to do so?
Well, I immediately thought about our planet, the universe, and even our own bodies—how so many things that we can observe and experience are still complete mysteries to us. In fact, I once heard a scientist say that we seem to be in one of the best places in the universe to observe, study, and discover things about the universe. So, I thought that perhaps the glory of God in concealing certain matters might be that it encourages us to seek meaning and understanding, which is a good use of our reason.
But then I thought about this verse from 1 Peter: “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” (1 Pet 4:8) If God is love, and love covers over a multitude of sins, then might God be involved in a cover-up of our sin? Would it be His glory to conceal our sinfulness?
I suppose the answer to that might lie in what the purpose of such a “cover-up” would be. For instance, there are quite a few Christian folks who hold to the belief that because of what Jesus did at the cross, we can put on His robe of righteousness (which covers up all our filthy sinfulness) and get into heaven. This implies that God doesn’t really want or need to change anything in our hearts; we just have to make sure we “look right” on the outside. On the other end of the spectrum are some of the glowing descriptions of Old Testament “heroes” of faith in Hebrews 11. Whenever I read that chapter, I think, does God have amnesia? These people weren’t as faithful and loyal as it sounds!
When it comes to sin, God is certainly interested in changing us. Paul said, “I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” (Phil 1:6) If God is covering anything up in our lives, it’s not for the purpose of leaving us sinful for the rest of eternity! He is passionate about restoring the damage sin has done in our hearts and minds.
On the other hand, as God does His work of restoration in us, it is not His purpose or intention to expose us, to air our “dirty laundry” for all to see, or to humiliate us over our bad choices. Love is always interested in protecting and healing and saving. God loves us, and He doesn’t want us to be embarrassed or humiliated. Wherever and whenever possible, His love will smooth over and cover up our failures, mistakes, and shortcomings.
God is into self-revelation, but when it comes to revealing the often-awful truth about us, God’s glory is to conceal a matter. He doesn’t dwell on what we’ve been, but what we can be. He doesn’t focus on our outward appearance, but on our heart. We can trust Him with our secrets, with the darkest parts of ourselves.
There is no safer and more protected place to be than in the hands of our wonderful and gracious God!
God contradicts Himself . . .
. . . or does He? That’s what you might have thought if you read the chapter for today. How could you miss this? “Don’t answer the foolish arguments of fools, or you will become as foolish as they are.” (vs 4) And on its heels: “Be sure to answer the foolish arguments of fools, or they will become wise in their own estimation.” (vs 5)
If ever there was an example of a contradiction in the Bible, this has to be it. Not to mention they are consecutive verses! So, what’s the deal? Why would Solomon make a declarative statement in verse 4 only to reverse it in his very next breath?
There may be other opinions about this, but I contend that this is not an example of a contradiction, but an example of how the Bible is designed to work. Many people think that the Bible was dictated word-for-word by God and that each and every word in it must be taken literally all the time. If that’s the case, then it would seem to me you’ve got a big problem with Proverbs 26:4-5.
However, another available option is to view the Bible as a record of God’s actions throughout human history, and one of the things we can discover is that different circumstances call for different measures. For instance, as discussed on this blog a couple of days ago, a command such as Eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth could be a good thing (a merciful restraint) at one time, but at another time, it might be a bad thing (regression into evil). It all depends on the circumstances.
It seems to me that is what Solomon is trying to say here as well. You will likely come across many fools in your life! Sometimes, it will be best to keep your mouth shut and not say anything. Engaging with them in discourse will likely leave you looking like a fool. At other times, it may be prudent to say a few well-placed words to counter their foolishness. And part of wisdom is knowing which situation is which.
In the Old Testament, God dealt with people in a great variety of ways—according to the situation He was confronting. Even Jesus appeared to treat different people in different ways—saying to one sinful woman “I do not condemn you,” but at another time, calling a crowd of sinful men a bunch of lying snakes. The common denominator for God in all these situations was love. God does whatever is loving in any given situation, and He also does what is wise in any given situation.
If God ever appears to “contradict” Himself, it’s because no two people and no two situations are the same. And as we grow in our relationship with Him, we will also learn that dealing with people in love doesn’t always mean treating them the same way. Sometimes it will be best to talk back to that fool; sometimes it won’t. God will help us discern what is best in each situation.
God practices true love.
A few months ago during a Bible study, a friend of mine said something that has been nagging at me ever since: We don’t often know what love is. He said that in the context of discussing how to be loving toward people, and he suggested that there might be many times when we wouldn’t immediately recognize what would be the “loving” course of action in a given situation.
I tend to agree with him. We know a lot about being nice, but is love always nice? It’s an important question, and one we might do well to think about more often. For example, Jesus was always loving, but was He always nice? Before you’re too quick to answer, remember that it was Jesus who turned tables over in the temple and drove out the thieves with a whip, called people lying snakes, and turned away people who were hungry and looking for food.
Before we’re quick to always equate niceness with love, we ought to ask whether giving money to a drug addict because it’s nice to help them not go through withdrawal is really the loving thing to do. We ought to ask whether allowing a child to get away with a crime because we want to be nice and not see them arrested is really the loving thing to do. I’m not saying that love is never nice, but I think we should always be a little cautious of nice for nice’s sake.
It seems Solomon would agree: “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.” (vs 6) Doesn’t this just set you back on your heels a little bit? Wounds from a friend? What sort of friend would inflict pain on you? Wouldn’t we be more apt to say that a person who wounds you is your enemy? Not in this case. In this case, it is the enemy who supplies many kisses.
I don’t want to be misunderstood. I’m not saying that anytime someone hurts us in some way, we are to automatically consider them a friend to be trusted! We must, in wisdom, consider all the particulars of the situation. But what Solomon is saying here is, don’t be fooled by niceness. It is not always love.
When it comes to God, we must apply this same wisdom. I have many friends who look at some of the actions ascribed to God in the Old Testament and just can’t seem to square them with Jesus because they aren’t nice. And, in some cases, they may be correct. God may have been “blamed” for some things that He didn’t actually do.
But I think it’s very dangerous to begin judging God’s actions based on whether they look nice or not. True love is not always nice. True love is not always easy. Often, true love is tough and harsh and difficult. That’s because true love always seeks the best good of the beloved, even when it’s costly.
Because of the testimony of Jesus, we know that God always practices true love. When He spoke forgiveness to the woman caught in adultery, that was true love. And when He cried out in anger and frustration at the Pharisees, warning them that they were headed for eternal destruction, that was true love.
It’s entirely possible that we need to re-think our definition of love. Just because it’s nice doesn’t mean it’s love. It might just be an enemy multiplying kisses.
God banishes fear.
At the beginning of this chapter was an interesting proverb dealing with fear: “The wicked flee though no one pursues, but the righteous are as bold as a lion.” (vs 1) Those who don’t know God (or choose to go their own way despite knowing Him) live in a perpetual state of fear and anxiety. Those who do know God stand their ground no matter what.
Obviously, we probably don’t fall into either one of these descriptions all the time. Since we’re all works in progress, I believe we vacillate back and forth between fear and faith. I know I do—although I think the “faith” times are starting to outweigh the “fear” times.
“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear.” That’s what John wrote in 1 John 4:18. There is only one source of perfect love in the universe, and that is God. He is the one who casts out fear. The more we know Him, the more at peace we can be, even when we’re staring down life’s problems. The less we know Him, the more we will live and act out of fear, insecure about what may be waiting around every corner.
Even Jesus faced times when He had to choose between fear and faith. On the cross, when it looked like everything was coming to an end, He said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” (Lk 23:46) Based on all the previous evidence from His life, He trusted that His Father would take care of Him.
The more we remember all that God has done in working out His plan in our lives, the more we can be “bold as a lion.” For God is perfect love, and He banishes fear. When we walk with Him, we truly don’t have to be afraid of anything.
God gives us freedom.
I don’t think I’ve yet seen in the Bible a better description of the fate that awaits the wicked than this: “Whoever remains stiff-necked after many rebukes will suddenly be destroyed—without remedy.” (vs 1) This is what Romans 6:23 calls the “wages of sin.” It is destruction that comes as a result of a stubborn insistence to continue in sin, not as a result of something God does to you!
I think this verse is speaking of the ultimate and permanent Death that sin causes (the death from which there is no resurrection), but we see temporal examples of the dangers of this sort of stubbornness in Scripture. For instance, Pharaoh cherished his stubborn heart. Time and time again, he was convicted that he ought to give in to God, but he was proud and would not yield.
Each time Pharaoh rejected the conviction of the Holy Spirit, he rendered his heart just a little harder, just a little more stubborn. He made it that much harder for himself to respond positively the next time. As a result, he ended up chasing the Israelites in his chariot right into the middle of a sea that was standing on end—and the walls of water came crashing down on him, destroying him suddenly.
I still can’t imagine the absolute hardness of heart required for a person to witness a parted Red Sea and not stop immediately in his tracks. But, apparently, that’s where Pharaoh’s stubbornness had left him—used to cavalierly witnessing the miracles of God and completely ignoring them whilst continuing headlong in his own course. It ended up being a deadly one.
And that’s exactly what sin is, too—a deadly course. All along the path of Scripture, there are warnings to turn back, warnings not to go on. God demonstrates time and time again that the stubborn pursuit of sin is nothing but a Dead End, but sadly, there will still be many who decide to take that road.
For those who do, they will appear to come to destruction suddenly, but it will have been the careful work of a lifetime of choices to reject the Holy Spirit. And once they have completely cut themselves off to the wooing influence of God, there is no remedy left for them. There is nothing for God to do but give them up to their choice and let them go.
That God does that, that He subjects Himself to the possibility for that kind of suffering, that He gives us the freedom to choose and then respects our choices, still boggles my mind. He loves us so much that He wants us to be able to freely choose—even when that means that we might choose against Him.
But we don’t have to come to that Dead End! We don’t have to be like Pharaoh. We can take the freedom God gives us and use it to make a choice for Him instead of against Him. And we may start today, by allowing the next rebuke of the Holy Spirit to dissolve our stubbornness (instead of allowing our stubbornness to dissolve His rebuke)!
God wants you to trust Him.
These days—especially with the current class warfare climate in America—there are few television news programs I can watch without hearing something about the rich and the poor, about extreme wealth and extreme poverty. Of course, folks on both sides of the debate tend to throw those words around without much definition, although we make a habit of talking about them in very clear-cut, black-and-white terms.
But the more I encounter what the Bible has to say on the subject, the more I’m puzzled, because the Bible doesn’t tend to be very clear-cut at all (certainly not as much as we are!) about it. Instead of treating the topic of rich and poor like a two-sided pancake, the emerging picture tends to be more like a multi-faceted diamond. Just when you think you’ve nailed something down in regards to rich or poor, a new angle will surface.
Today’s chapter was no exception. I found this fascinating: “Two things I ask of you, LORD; do not refuse me before I die: Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God.” (vs 7-9)
I thought about this for a long time. I was intrigued by the idea that wealth and poverty potentially lead to the same place—temptation to sin. That sort of goes against our collective cultural thought at present, since many of us tend to the view the wealthy (no matter how they got that way) as filthy sinners, while the poor are viewed more as saints. Two questions kept rolling around in my mind: How could both groups be susceptible to the temptation to sin, and How are these groups defined?
The more I thought about the second question, the more confused I became. Let’s face it, poverty and wealth are extremely relative terms! I live in a modest home, own only one car, have no designer clothes or accessories, and am still paying off my student loans from college. Compared to a great many people, I’m poor! (In fact, of all the people defined as “poor” in America, 92% have microwaves, 80% have air conditioning, 75% have one vehicle and 31% have two or more vehicles, and 65% have cable or satellite TV.)
On the other hand, compared to a great many people, I’m rich! In many places around the world, there are a lot of people who don’t have a reliable roof overhead, own a car, have more than the clothes on their back, or even have food in abundance. Compared to those people, I live like a queen! Compared to the Queen of England, I live like a street urchin!
Which is it? Am I rich or poor? I suppose if we tried hard enough, we could find the one richest person (monetarily speaking) on the planet and the one poorest person. Everybody else falls in between. With the exception of those two, there will always be someone who is “richer” than you and someone who is “poorer” than you.
Thus, having sorted out a bit of my confusion (not really!) over how those terms are defined, I turned my attention to the first question. How could both groups be susceptible to the temptation to sin? And here’s the answer that came to me: Both groups, as described by Agur, do not put their trust in God. That is (the) sin.
The rich are tempted to forget all about God and put their trust in their riches. They are tempted to say, “I don’t need anything from God.” On the other hand, the poor are tempted to forget all about God and put their trust in their own inventiveness in meeting their needs. They are tempted to say, “God won’t take care of me. I have to steal to meet my needs—and because I’m a victim, I’m entitled to do it.”
But, rather than putting our trust in anything or anyone else, God wants us to trust Him for daily bread. Asking for daily bread means not complaining about the bread we had yesterday—even if it was a little stale or moldy. And it also means not worrying about the bread we will eat tomorrow. Daily bread is the only kind of bread we can eat! We can’t eat yesterday’s bread, and we can’t eat tomorrow’s bread. All we can do is trust God to give us what we need today.
God wants you to trust Him. Do you consider yourself poor? Great! Trust God to provide for your needs. Do you consider yourself rich? Great! Trust God to provide for your needs. He taught you to pray for daily bread; do so, and He will give it to you!
God is the true beauty-maker.
Beauty, beauty, beauty. We live in a culture obsessed with beauty, and it is getting more obsessed all the time. Author Regina Franklin wrote about that in her book Who Calls Me Beautiful? In 1951, Miss Sweden weighed 151 pounds and was 5′7″. By 1983, Miss Sweden measured in two inches taller at 5′9″, but 45 pounds lighter at 106. Clearly, the standards of “beauty” change from generation to generation!
Things have gotten worse with the advent of photo technologies that allows magazines and marketers to airbrush the smallest “flaw” from their models. Consequently, from a young age, girls (especially) are programmed to strive for a certain “image” if they want to be considered beautiful.
By contrast, the book of Proverbs ends with a stunning picture of the truly beautiful woman: “Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.” (vs 30) This is the conclusion of the matter, as the wise sage has just spent 20 verses outlining the virtuous characteristics of a woman whose “children arise and call her blessed.” (vs 28)
My favorite wise-cracking TV judge, Judy Sheindlin, frequently quips, “Beauty fades. Dumb is forever.” But what the author is saying in Proverbs 31 is that beauty doesn’t have to fade. If it is the kind of beauty that is rooted in God, it will never fade; in fact, it is the only kind of beauty that can last.
I had a personal experience with this phenomenon once. I knew a young man in college who was very physically attractive. I was always looking for opportunities to spend time with him. As chance would have it, we did spend some time together, and the more time I spent with him, the less attractive he became. The more I listened to the things he said and the more I saw how he treated people, the uglier he got.
I have no doubt it also works the other way around. People who would never be considered “beautiful” in a physical sense can become some of the most beautiful people you will ever meet because they “fear the Lord.” God is the true beauty-maker, and when we surrender our lives to Him, His everlasting beauty will grow and develop in us, spilling out and over to anyone we meet. This is the kind of beauty we should be obsessed with!