Word to the Wise (Part 19) – Proverbs 24:1-2

Proverbs 24:1–2 Be not envious of evil men, nor desire to be with them, for their hearts devise violence, and their lips talk of trouble.

If there were no bad guys, we’d have no heroes. Every enduring story has a villain, and in the end, they lose. Sometimes it happens at the last possible moment and against incredible odds, but it happens. It has to. That’s the rule. It’s also predictable.

The entertainment complex caught on to this and has begun selling exceptions to the rule. Several books and films in recent decades have been produced where the evil side wins. If I were making a movie, I might be tempted do the same thing. Different surprises. Different sells. Different wins elections.

Here’s the problem. We also run the risk of changing the definition of a hero. Its possible to find ourselves in a place where truly evil men are envied. When bad guys win they’re able to keep doing the stuff that makes them bad in the first place. Sometimes that stuff leads to huge payoffs. And those payoffs are what foolish people envy.

The first is independence. Evil men are free. They are not accountable. People who are controlled dream of the day when they can do whatever they want, whenever they want, for as long as they want, with whomever they want.

“It has been said that politics is the second oldest profession. I have learned that it bears a striking resemblance to the first.” – Ronald Reagan

The second is wealth. An opulent lifestyle can be obtained by promoting the leading edge of transgression. Evil men can create a decadent lifestyle for themselves. They can use wealth to purchase any noble ambition that would actually need to be earned by someone else.

“A fool and his money are soon elected” – Will Rogers

The third is impunity. When someone appears to be able to transgress with impunity, it elicits a deep temptation to participate. In the end this is a terrible trap because you align yourself with individuals who systematically cultivate the immoral.

“You must have a cigarette. A cigarette is the perfect type of a perfect pleasure. It is exquisite, and it leaves one unsatisfied. What more can one want?” – Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

You can only envy an evil person when you deliberately reject the call to love your neighbor.

You can only envy an evil person when you lease out your conscience to pragmatism.

You can only envy an evil person when you are so foolish that they’ve blinded you to their true nature.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9)

Every week at our church we have something transitional in the order of service. It’s a short exhortation that helps us transition from our occupation with the secular, and focus our thoughts on the sacred. Various elders and aspiring leaders are given the opportunity to present these, and I’ve included one below.

By Ryan Hodson

When we are wronged, hurt, or sinned against, our flesh likes to hold a grudge. Scripture tells us that love keeps no record of wrongs, but if we’re honest, we often keep records. We hide them deep in our hearts. We say things like, “I forgive, but I can’t forget.”

According to our Lord Jesus, his followers don’t so this. They are not grudge-holders, but peace-makers. If we cast aside pride to make peace there will be blessing, and we will be called sons of God. You see, when you and I make peace with those who have wronged us, we take after our heavenly father, the ultimate peacemaker. God gave mankind abundant blessings in the garden, but his kindness was repaid with evil. We have declared ourselves God, spitting in the loving face of our Creator. God’s response was not a grudge. In fact, he gave even more of himself, sending his precious only son, Jesus Christ, to reconcile us back to himself by being brutally murdered and nailed to a cross, the righteous for the unrighteous.

Instead of keeping a list of wrongs, God blotted out our sins with the blood of his son. We make peace with others because God first made peace with us. Our sins are infinitely worse than anything we could suffer a the hands of another person.

So as we sing praises to our great peacemaker and hear from his word this morning, let us ask him for grace to see the cross with fresh eyes, so that we might be peacemakers and live lives worthy of the gospel.

 

Saturday Reading List: The Virgin Birth

Below are two interesting articles by Al Mohler on the virgin birth. Both are excellent for deepening your understanding of the doctrine and having some tools to defend it.

Can a Christian deny the virgin birth?

Must Christians believe the virgin birth?

This last article is from a magazine in the UK that interviewed church leaders about the importance of the virgin birth. It’s a sad reminder of what happens when you abandon the Bible in favor of tradition, or even worse, sentimentality. I think the most disturbing response in the whole piece came from James Delingpole, “Me, I care more about hymns having the right tunes, and the Prayer Book being 1662.”

Charles Spurgeon on Pagan Evangelism

Charles Spurgeon

From a sermon on 1 Timothy 3:16

It is a most noteworthy fact in the history of our faith, that Jesus is still preached among the nations, and the church labors to make Him known everywhere. What other religion spends so much energy in seeking converts?

If any of you were foolish enough to wish to become Jews, you would not be welcomed among the Jewish fraternity. No Israelite ever attempts to proselyte us to his opinions. It would be a novelty indeed to hear of Jewish missionaries sent out to convert the heathen from their superstitions, or to recover Christians from their errors. No; the Jew does not want us, he prefers to keep his heritage for himself and his heirs. How far different is it with the followers of Jesus, whose very watchword is “preach the gospel to every creature!” In the case of all other religions, the preaching to the Gentiles is absent.

I am not aware of any Muslim society for the conversion of the world to the prophet. I never saw in the streets of London a Buddhist, come from far, to convert the crowds of London to their doctrines; nor have I ever seen a Buddhist thrusting himself into the midst of peril to win the savage to his creed. Can any other faith than the Christian show me a man traversing alone the center of Africa, like Living- stone, or dwelling alone with Bushmen, as Moffat has done? The fact is that the spirit of false creeds is rather monopoly than extension; but as for the religion of Christ, it is expansive as the arch of heaven!

If I could, I would have all men saved. If it were possible, I would have every one of you partakers of Christ Jesus this very morning; and we would cheerfully lay down our lives if we could extend the kingdom of Jesus Christ to the utmost bounds of the earth. What is it that keeps up this incessant preaching of Christ? Nothing but the real force of our faith! O you heathens, if your religions are true, why do you not promulgate them? Gods of the heathen, if you are gods, why do you not command your worshippers to convert the nations to your allegiance? But, no, they confess the worthlessness of their system, in that these systems are not preached among the Gentiles, and have no vitality to secure their spread. When these religions do attempt to spread themselves, which is rare enough, how do they do it? Mohammed put a scimitar into the hand of each one of his followers, and said, “That is the strength of Islamism: use that sharp argument upon the nations.” But Christ refused all carnal weapons, and chose the simple preaching of the Word. What other faith can dare to depend upon preaching—upon one man’s testimony to other men about truth precious to himself? Surely this goes to show that the things which we believe are powerful, and worthy to be considered with attentive respect.

Word to the Wise (Part 18) – Proverbs 23:29-35

18th Century Drinking Party in England by Hogarth

18th Century Drinking Party in England by Hogarth

Proverbs 23:29-35 Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has strife? Who has complaining? Who has wounds without cause? Who has redness of eyes? Those who tarry long over wine; those who go to try mixed wine. Do not look at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup and goes down smoothly. In the end it bites like a serpent and stings like an adder. Your eyes will see strange things, and your heart utter perverse things. You will be like one who lies down in the midst of the sea, like one who lies on the top of a mast. “They struck me,” you will say, “but I was not hurt; they beat me, but I did not feel it. When shall I awake? I must have another drink.”

This is the longest of the thirty wise sayings. It starts with questions. Each is something we’re trying to avoid. If you can identify a source of woe, strife, complaining, wounds, and sickness, then it would wise to avoid it. This is precisely what Solomon aims to do in this section.

Each of the seven verses instructs the simple regarding the potential dangers of alcohol, and by extension, any substance that has the potential to intoxicate. Solomon’s son must realize that living the low life starts with a drive to unwind.

You can’t “tarry long” over something if it’s just part of a meal. It has to become the meal. The word in the original language (aw-khar’) is translated elsewhere – delay. It carries with it the idea that leaving earlier was an option, but the subject chose to linger. In this case he says yes to the invitation for a second round, which often becomes a third.

Consuming enough wine, or seeking out the mixed wine (wine mixed with spices or honey to enhance the flavor) will only bring disaster. To clarify, there is a difference between wine and mixed wine. The first is the common drink, where indulgence can lead to dissipation. The second is different, and linked to a specific purpose. The only other use of the word is in Isaiah 65:11 “But you who forsake the LORD, who forget my holy mountain, who set a table for Fortune and fill cups of mixed wine for Destiny”. Its primary use was in connection to demonic fortune telling and divination.

So both excess and ecstasy are in view here. In one case an otherwise good thing is abused, in the other an inherently bad thing is indulged. In both cases the results are not what the person was hoping for when the party started.

The sparkling smoothness that makes the heart glad (Psalm 104:15) can also warp the mind if taken in excess. Interestingly enough, Solomon does not appear to have struggled with this particular vice. Even at the height of his experimentation he was able to remain sober, or at least sober minded (Ecclesiastes 2:3), likely because as a king he had been warned that intoxication leads to foolish decisions (Proverbs 31:4).

Despite having the best that money can buy, wine receives mixed reviews from Solomon. In general the wisdom literature attaches warnings (20:1). Wine was common, and served as both a metaphor and a staple of everyday life. It was a safe alternative to water (1 Timothy 5:23), an essential at every celebration (John 2:1-11), an element of sacrificial worship (Numbers 28:7), and even a painkiller administered at the end of life (Proverbs 31:6).

The ubiquity of wine and its mention in Scripture requires commentary. So to answer the questions that might arise, Solomon concludes that wise men perceive danger. You don’t handle deadly snakes, so why flirt with intoxication? Both can strike. Both can poison. Both can kill.

Wine has the power to distort reality and allow all manner of nonsense to escape your mouth. You’ll find yourself in a stupor that leaves you incapable of assessing your true condition. You’ll stumble from one disaster to another. You’ll double down on the very thing that put you in the spiral to begin with.

Caution is key.

Reckless behavior with respect to alcohol puts a fool on the rocks.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8)

Every week at our church we have something transitional in the order of service. It’s a short exhortation that helps us transition from our occupation with the secular, and focus our thoughts on the sacred. Various elders and aspiring leaders are given the opportunity to present these, and I’ve included one below.

By Blake La Grange

King Solomon says that every man’s heart is full of evil and madness. In fact, the heart is what inclines people, by nature, to be deceitful and wicked. The heart of the human problem, is the problem of the human heart.

The heart is what reveals our true spiritual condition. If you govern your heart, you govern your life. If you neglect your heart, you neglect your life. You’re not right with God unless your heart is right with God. And in order for us to be right with God, Jesus’ mandate is for our heart to be pure.

How do we make our heart pure? It doesn’t mean that we turn over a new leaf, or create new habits; it means that God must regenerate and purify us by giving us a new heart.

Jesus tells us that the impurity of our heart is the cause of our spiritual blindness. He says in Matthew 5:8, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” There is a profound connection between hearts and eyes. A man who has the stains of sin on his soul cannot see God. But those who are purified in heart are purified in vision…“they shall see God.”

If our filthy hearts were revealed, the stench would rise as high as the heavens. And yet God in His mercy, chose to give us Christ’s perfect heart, in order that we would be washed in His Word, bathed in His blood, and cleansed of all unrighteousness. Let us then come to the throne of grace with confidence, knowing that our stains have been washed clean, and boldly approach Him clothed in the righteousness of Christ.

 

Word to the Wise (Part 17) – Proverbs 23:26-28

Proverbs 23:26-28 My son, give me your heart, and let your eyes observe my ways. For a prostitute is a deep pit; an adulteress is a narrow well. She lies in wait like a robber and increases the traitors among mankind.

This subject is always and rarely addressed today. Always in the sense that we living in a pervasively hyper sexualized culture, and rarely in the sense that few know how to engage the subject biblically.

Thankfully, there are a few notable exceptions who are speaking up; For example, “The Ugly American” or this helpful book review on the economics of sex by Tim Challies, or this interview with John MacArthur as it relates directly to men in ministry.

But take note, the wisdom literature of the Bible is determined to address it. The subject features prominently in several of our inspired texts. Why?

God wants to capture the mind of young men before someone else does.

Solomon’s focus is women who are off limits, and he recommends observing his own behavior in this area. When it came to collecting wives and concubines he was a runaway success and colossal failure at the same time. However, note it well, there is no evidence Solomon ever took a prostitute or the wife of another man. The same cannot be said of his father. At least in this respect he was worthy of imitation.

In Proverbs a prostitute was a sex worker. She had distinctive clothing (7:10), companions (29:3), territory (a street or temple), and even a market price (6:26). She was less threatening because her snare was in the open. The foreigner (translated adulteress) however uses smooth words.

Once seduced, foolish victims awake to inescapable consequences. Her premeditated immorality leads to an increase of treacherous men ensnared by sexual immorality.

The take away is that sexual purity requires avoidance of temptation, and awareness of seduction.

The ball and the horsemen

George J. W. Goodman (aka “Adam Smith”) was a writer who knew how to explain the economy in ways common folks could understand. He wrote the following in The Money Game as a way of depicting the temptation let the good times roll:

“We know at some moment the black horsemen will come shattering through the terrace doors wreaking vengeance and scattering the survivors. Those who leave early are saved, but the ball is so splendid no one wants to leave while there is still time. So everybody keeps asking — what time is it? But none of the clocks have hands.”

That oft quoted metaphor transcends anything the author originally intended. When I heard it I had a fleeting recollection of housing in 2005-2006, commodities in 2010, but almost as quickly as those thoughts came, they faded.

What lingered was the unsettling reality that the whole world is the ball. It’s more splendid for some than for other, but everyone is here and trapped until death finds them. You can’t leave. The apocalyptic horsemen are coming. And the only escape is to be covered by someone more powerful than they.