This sermon was preached at Peace Hill Christian Fellowship on October 2nd, 2011. Due to technical difficulties, there is no audio for this sermon.
Proverbs 28:1-2,7 — A DISCERNING CONSCIENCE
1 The wicked flee though no one pursues, but the righteous are as bold as a lion.
2 When a country is rebellious, it has many rulers, but a ruler with discernment and knowledge maintains order.
7 A discerning son heeds instruction, but a companion of gluttons disgraces his father.
The Problem with Conscience.
Compelling Picture of a Healthy Conscience: 1 The wicked flee though no one pursues, but the righteous are as bold as a lion. This simple verse describes the experience of a healthy conscience in general terms. When we have done wrong and are conscious of our wrongdoing, we feel guilty and troubled or reactive and angry. We are prone to take innocent statements as accusations, to be on edge. However, when we have a free conscience we are able to be bold in our actions and words. Conscience is simply the awareness of guilt or innocence. Our conscience is a gift to help us to love right and hate wrong, to make right judgments.
The Problem of Conscience: But while describing the conscience is easy, it is also apparent that having an innocent or clear conscience is not as easy. Conscience – the internal voice that speaks to us of right and wrong – that accuses or justifies – is often confused and distorted.
First, most situations are more complex than whether we have done right or wrong. In most situations where we are in the right, we have contributed to the situation in our own sinful ways. Even as we discipline our children, we are aware of our own failings as parents. In our marriages, where there are disagreements and sin, we are (or should be) aware of our own sinful contributions, attitudes, words and actions.
Secondly, our consciences are often distorted by the many voices and demands of others. Most/ All? adults have the running commentary of their parents in their heads (all that we don’t listen to as children, we cannot escape as adults). Whether we listen to these many voices or reject them all, they profoundly affect us. One may be angry or disengaged because they are always rejecting and pushing away these voices – another may be ridden with guilt or fear.
Prejudices and assumptions from our upbringing, our culture and peers can either excuse us when we have done wrong or accuse us when we are innocent. Consequently, there are times when we experience guilt when we should not and times when we do not experience guilt when we should. We are sometimes bold when we have been wicked, and fearful even when we have been innocent.
Moving Towards a Discerning Conscience. Proverbs recognizes that verse 1, while it represents a healthy conscience, is often not what we experience. Vs. 2&7 give us a way to discern (to make a good judgment) and to address the voices of our conscience so that we can move towards a more healthy way of listening and responding to our consciences.
Recognize and Order the Many Voices: 2 When a country is rebellious, it has many rulers, but a ruler with discernment and knowledge maintains order. Here is a picture of a country in disarray – with many factions – many rulers, all with different agendas and understandings. This is a picture of a conscience dealing with many voices.
The way to move towards a discerning conscience begins with the recognition that there are many voices that put pressure on our consciences – both to accuse and excuse. If we are going to move towards discernment, we must…
1) come to a knowledge of these voices and how they affect us. Whose displeasure or anger are we reacting to? Who are we trying to please?
2) discern – or make good judgments about – how and when and whether to listen to these voices. What are the expectations of this person (who may not even be living any longer), producing in me? Anger, boldness, fear, honesty, hope?
In other words, we need to bring order to our consciences – to understand the influences on our consciences so that we can make good judgments.
Confess Your Broken Conscience: 7 A discerning son heeds instruction, but a companion of gluttons disgraces his father. Jewish boys were taught the Scriptures by their fathers at home. Verse 7 contrasts a Jewish son who receives instruction and is a delight to his father to a Jewish son who disgraces his father by hanging out with gluttons and following his appetites. The message of Proverbs is clear – Be the son who heeds instruction and the father will be pleased with you.
But the truth is that, while the rebellious son is aware of his rebellion, the dutiful sons and daughters are generally the ones with the more broken and disturbed consciences because they are dutiful. Dutiful people are more aware of their failures, the contributions of their sin to bad situations and relationships – they are more aware of where we have failed morally. Proverbs 28 can tell us to heed instruction – but the demand of the Law only makes the dutiful feel more guilty. We are not able, by our own efforts to come to a clear conscience.
Freedom must begin with our confession of what is true about our consciences – where we have excused our sin… where we are driven by guilt and shame.
Receive the Gift of the Dutiful Son: Therefore, God sent his Son, Jesus, to become the dutiful son in our place. The one whom God delighted in, his only Son, took on himself the disgrace of our clouded and broken consciences on the cross. In Christ Jesus, we have become the dutiful children that the Father delights in. This means two things for us…
1. It means that because of the exchange/ sacrifice of Jesus, we can now admit and confess where we have failed, as fathers and mothers, as sons and daughters, as friends and neighbors. We can confess where we have failed to love and obey God. We can confess the worst charges against our consciences and find grace and forgiveness – and even the delight and love and patience of the Father.
2. It means that we have a new relationship with the Father through Jesus. In this new relationship we become listeners to the one voice of Jesus, who is calling us to be thankful for our new standing and to love the Father by receiving his instruction with a free conscience.
So How Do We Listen to the One Voice of Jesus? Of course we go to Scripture – but this is the problem for most of us – that we interpret Scripture through the filters of the voices/ influences of others. How do we begin to overcome this?
Two things: First, as we increasingly clear away the debris of the many voices – that is, as we recognize their influence over us – we will begin to hear the one voice more clearly. Look at those places where the Scriptures seem flat to you – un-living – that is one clue that that particular Scripture is probably chained by the many voices. Allow God to challenge what you think you already know. Allow the Holy Spirit to bring the instruction of Scripture to life.
Second, the voice of Jesus should always point you to the Gospel. The Holy Spirit may lead us to conviction of sin, but the Holy Spirit (the voice of Jesus) always leads us to the cross, to forgiveness and towards a restored life and relationship with God. Where our sin only condemns us without pointing us to the cross, we are under the influence of the many voices.
This sermon was preached at Peace Hill Christian Fellowship on October 9th, 2011. To listen to the audio for this sermon just click on this link – Prov 28B.
Proverbs 28: 3&8 — THE CALL TO CARE FOR THE POOR
Very early on in the book of Acts, the church began to care for the poor. It seems that the Apostles saw this care as part of the calling of the church – and the poor as those who were more open to the Gospel. The issues of justice and care for the poor have always been important to God – throughout the OT – in the Law – then through the Prophets – and also here in wisdom literature.
This morning we want to look at a couple of verses that deal with the plight of the poor and we want to talk about what our calling and responsibility is towards the poor.
The Church Cannot Ignore the Fact that The Poor are Oppressed.
OT Context: 2 pictures Oppression happens…
The Oppressive Tyrant 3 A ruler who oppresses the poor is like a driving rain that leaves no crops. This is a familiar picture of a ruler or a government whose goals of wealth and power, and accompanying corruption, create great wealth for the few and great poverty for the rest. This type of political situation has existed throughout the history of the world.
The Loan Shark 8 Whoever increases wealth by taking interest or profit from the poor amasses it for another, who will be kind to the poor. Verse 8 is a more personal picture of oppression – the local money lender, or even a neighbor who takes advantage of the poor by charging interest and keeping them in debt. In many poor neighborhoods in the city people are forced to take out predatory loans which are designed with such high interest rates that the people stay in debt in a never ending cycle.
Becoming Aware of Oppression: These two verses in Proverbs 28 make us aware of the fact that oppression can be either institutional (a government, a bank), or personal (a neighbor or even family). People take advantage of those who do not have the resources to take care of themselves. In the years we have lived in the county, I have seen the sick and elderly taken advantage of – not by strangers but by brothers and sisters. I have seen contractors demand more money in the midst of a job and walk out on the the sick and elderly leaving live wires sticking out of walls. I have seen a ministry to the homeless run out of the county by county government for the sake of property values. These things often happen quietly and under the radar. The temptation for the church is that we can go on doing Bible studies and social events and insulate ourselves from all of these things. But God calls us to be aware and involved.
The Church is Called to Be Discerning Towards the Poor.
Who are the poor? This is a complex question.
~ Working Poor – incomes below and around the poverty line – families who are just making ends meet and families who are in the process of losing homes and getting deeper in debt.
~ Non-Working Poor The sick, the elderly, those who are looking but unable to find jobs. But also those who are shrewd, system working cheaters who are supported by the government.
Also those who are, at this point, several generations into the system, who have never known anything else and who live in a culture of helplessness.
Having Discernment About the Poor: The truth is that we make assumptions about who the poor are – what they are like. We tend to generalize – to take one or two examples or stories and decide that we have an understanding of who the poor are. But the truth is that the poor are diverse. The poor are people. The poor are our neighbors – and we, as the church, are called to love our neighbors.
Jesus makes this point in the parable of the Good Samaritan in a unique way by making the acceptable Jewish man the victim, and the despised Samaritan the one with resources to help. We are meant to identify with the victim of oppression – to be the one longing for help.
In short, the parable of the good samaritan is Jesus’ way of saying that we should identify with the victim and the poor – we should see them as being people like us who are in trouble.
The Church is Called to Be Christ to the Poor.
Know Your Neighbor: One point that is implied by Jesus parable of the Good Samaritan, which is absolutely necessary to helping the poor and oppressed, is that until we stop on the road and actually take the time to interact with our neighbor, we will only ever be able to make generalizations about their needs. In part, our calling as the church means that we cannot sit back and stand apart and make generalizations about the poor. We must know people. We must be willing to engage with people – who happen to be poor – who are in oppressive situations. Until we have heard the story of one who is poor we cannot assume we know anything about them.
Think Biblically: The notion that the poor need to show a level of responsibility – somehow to earn what they get before we can help them is not found in Scripture. Benjamin Franklin says, “God helps those who help themselves”, but Jesus told his followers to, “Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you” (Matt.5:42).
American culture and ideals about earning our way and “pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps” have deeply influenced the church – more than scripture. We don’t give to the one who asks because we don’t want to be taken advantage of. Yet in Matthew 5:38-41, Jesus seems to say that we should not worry if we are taken advantage of – Why? Because Jesus wanted his followers to imitate the grace of the Father – who causes rain to fall on the just and unjust, and who is gracious to sinners. The church is called to show the love of God to the undeserving – because we are the undeserving who have been shown the love of God.
How Can We Be Christ to the Poor?
As part of our Biblical thinking, our response to the poor and oppressed should not be one of guilt because of what we have failed to do. Thinking in terms of whether we are doing enough to justify ourselves before God can only produce condemnation and frustration. Rather, if we are going to respond to poor and oppressed people, we must do so out of a motive of showing to others the same undeserved grace that God has shown us.
Work for Justice for the Poor: One thing that we can all do is to confront injustice towards the poor – as our church and other churches tried to do several years ago when a homeless ministry was being forced out of the county. We can also vote for legislation to end practices like predatory lending. We should be aware of the plight of the homeless who often have nowhere to stay. The church needs to be a prophetic voice on behalf of the poor – even if – like the prophets – we are ignored.
Live with the Poor: There are ministries like CHAT in Richmond, where people go and live in community with the poor in order to be part of their lives and to assist those in need. Those who feel that their calling is to be with the poor as Jesus was with the poor, go into this kind of ministry. CHAT is always looking for tutors to help and for financial support.
Visit the Poor: There are ministries like “Meals on Wheels” and “No Greater Love”, who visit the poor in order to provide help and services. There are also informal ways of visiting the poor and oppressed – (going to nursing homes, visiting prisons), through which believers can fulfill the calling of the church to bless and help those in need.
Respond to Those in Need: On the most basic level, for those whose situation in life does not allow them to go out and help the poor in these ways, our calling as followers of Christ is to show compassion and grace and kindness to those in need – perhaps to support ministries to the poor as we are able – to be the hands and feet of Christ.
This sermon was preached at Peace Hill Christian Fellowship on October 16th, 2011. To listen to the audio of this sermon, just click this link – Prov 28C.
Proverbs 28:4-5&9 -10 — LISTENING TO INSTRUCTION
These verses build on the understanding of “conscience” that we saw in vs.1. As we saw when we looked at that verse, the conscience can have “many voices”, that both excuse and justify us – but God calls us to listen to the one voice of the Scripture through the lens of the Gospel.
This morning we are looking at the issue of receiving instruction and rejecting instruction. We need to begin with the understanding of God as the one who gives us guidance and instruction. These verses describe and warn against forsaking instruction. But we also want to look, positively, at what it means to be “Listening” to God.
What Happens When We Reject God’s Instruction?
The two descriptive verses (4-5) and the two warning verses (9-10) actually describe a process of (1) Pulling away from God’s instruction so as not to hear what is convicting, and (2) Making the choice to go in a direction of wrongdoing. This is not the same as those who fall and fail to do what is right because of weakness. Those who reject instruction pull away from God in their strength – not because of weakness.
Rejection of God’s Word Leads to Self-Justifying: 4 Those who forsake instruction praise the wicked, but those who heed it resist them.
We have all seen this process in action. The woman who wants to steal from her company begins to accept, agree with and even praise the mindset of sin. She begins to say things like, “The company has plenty of money, they’ll never miss this”, or “My employer is cheap and doesn’t pay me what I am worth, therefore, I am going to help myself to their product without paying for it”. The man who wants to have an affair begins to say, “My wife doesn’t appreciate me” , or, “My wife doesn’t understand me – but the other woman does”.
This is the doorway of sin for all of us. We begin by justifying our actions or words, by seeing good reason for sin. We decide that our actions are understandable, even praiseworthy.
Rejection of God’s Instruction Blinds us to What is Right: 5 Evildoers do not understand what is right, but those who seek the LORD understand it fully.
As those who reject God’s instruction continue to justify themselves, their understanding of what is just deteriorates. The woman who has begun to steal from the company is likely to scoff at anyone who suggests that God is her provider and that she should trust him and be content with her job and possessions. Tell the man who is having an affair that he should lay down his life for his wife as Christ laid down his life – and he will tell you that you don’t really understand.
Willful rejection of God’s word blinds us because it is a rejection of God’s call to righteousness. That call becomes increasingly foreign.
Rejection of God’s Instruction Warps the Way We Pray: 9 If anyone turns a deaf ear to my instruction, even their prayers are detestable.
Initially this verse sounds like God is saying – If you don’t listen to me, I won’t listen to you – as thought God were some petulant child rather than the Almighty God. But the rest of Scripture describes God as compassionate – wanting the unrepentant to turn to him. When God doesn’t listen to prayers, it usually has to do more with what is being prayed.
Verse 9 describes a change in the way we pray when we have rejected God’s instruction. Prayers become detestable: prayers for revenge, prayers in which we justify ourselves to God, prayers to satisfy our evil desires.
Rejection of God’s Instruction Influences The Way We Counsel Others: 10 Whoever leads the upright along an evil path will fall into their own trap, but the blameless will receive a good inheritance.
Those who reject instruction love company. The man who has an affair will counsel others to think about resolving their marital problems in the same way. The woman who is stealing will encourage others to take care of their own needs in dishonest ways.
Receive Instruction By Becoming Listeners.
God is a God of instruction and understanding – desiring to teach us wisdom. We are people who are constantly going astray (like sheep), and who tend to be given to individual patterns of sin which stubbornly persist in our lives. Consequently, we are people who need instruction and yet who tend to wander from instruction and wisdom – which is why there is so much instruction and wisdom in Scripture. How can we actively listen to instruction?
Listen to Your Own Conversation: First, we can recognize where we are straying from instruction by listening to our justifications when we sin. In those stubborn and persistent areas of sin in our lives there is an underlying conversation that we are having with ourselves which is supporting attitudes that lead to our sin. There is some way in which we are telling ourselves that we deserve this or need to speak, to fear, to act, to desire as we do. There is a way in which we are presenting sin to ourselves as the reasonable alternative to holiness. Listen for justifications that are…
~ Fear based – “I have to trust in and provide for myself – because if I don’t no one will”
~ Desire based – “I have to have ‘X’ to be happy” (a reputation, a job, a person, possessions).
~ Rights based – “I deserved ‘X’ from parents, from family, from friends, from God – and didn’t receive it – so now I am angry or bitter.”
If we are able to hear these conversations then we have a way of resisting evil attitudes that lead us into sin.
Listen to Understand Fully What is Right: Secondly, there is a way of listening to the instruction of God’s word that leads us towards a fuller knowledge of God and holiness – and a way of listening that leads us away from wisdom.
In one kind of listening, we hear in order to make sure that we are doing everything right – we listen in order to justify ourselves. We hear the word in the hope that we will be unruffled – fine just as we are. The word confirms that we are fine as we are and never challenges us.
In the other kind of listening, we listen in order to hear the call to holiness. So for instance, we listen to hear the call to purity – or the call to trust in God as our provider – or the call to speak honestly and graciously. We are confronted by the word – convicted of sin and called to positive practice of righteousness (following or discipleship). This way of listening and responding increases our understanding of what is right through repentance and practice.
Receive the Promises of Listeners.
As We Listen We Will Have Power to Resist Evil: As we begin to listen for and hear our own justifying statements regarding our sin – and the justifying statements of others – and as we begin to compare those justifying statements to Scripture, the promise is that we will gradually begin to be more able to resist sin.
This doesn’t happen automatically – it is a process of confronting what we really believe and value and fear and want. Persistent and stubborn patterns of sin don’t just fall away as we understand them. However, as we listen to God’s word, increasingly free of our excuses and justifications – we will begin to learn to say both, “No!” to destructive sin, and “Yes” to godliness.
As We Heed Instruction Our Understanding of Righteousness Will Grow: It is a basic principle of the Christian life that understanding grows with practice. If I hear the word of God calling me to love or to be generous, yet never make a move to show love or to be generous with what I have – I am like the man who looks in the mirror and then goes away and forgets what he looks like (James 1:23-24). Those who heed the instruction of the word of God will come to understand the word more fully – to see the Christian life more clearly.
At the End of Our Path is the Good Inheritance of the Blameless: We listen to instruction, not in order to become blameless (we fall far short of the glory for which we were made because of sin – Rom 3:23), but because we have been set free – and are being set free – from sin. The Father has declared us to be blameless because of the death and resurrection of Jesus. We are not only blameless bur righteous in Jesus Christ. Therefore, a good inheritance awaits us – the inheritance of the resurrection – of immortality and glorious life.
This sermon was preached at Peace Hill Christian Fellowship on November 27th, 2011. To listen to the audio of this sermon, just click on this link – Prov 28F.
Proverbs 28:12-14 — CONFESS – RENOUNCE – TREMBLE
Framework of Proverbs 28-29
28:1 The wicked flee though no one pursues,
but the righteous are as bold as a lion. — (Description of the conscience)
28:12 When the righteous triumph, there is great elation;
but when the wicked rise to power, people go into hiding.
28:28 When the wicked rise to power, people go into hiding;
but when the wicked perish, the righteous thrive.
29:2 When the righteous thrive, the people rejoice;
when the wicked rule, the people groan.
29:16 When the wicked thrive, so does sin,
but the righteous will see their downfall.
The framework of the next verses through to the end of Chapter 29 is set by the above verses. These statements seem to go back and forth, taking us through the up and down nature of governments – the cycle of good rising to power and evil then rising to power. These verses describe a struggle and a cycle which tells us that there will be times of groaning and hiding – but also times of great elation and rejoicing.
What does this mean? If vs.1 continues to control our thought – then these verses taken together become a picture of the ongoing battle of conscience and the nature of the up and down experience of those who struggle to live godly lives. This morning we want to look at the struggle of sin and the call to Confess, Renounce and Tremble.
The Struggle Between Concealing and Confession.
Do Not Conceal Your Sin: ”Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper…” Obviously there are those who are in denial about their sin (defensive back for Detroit Lions). There are some even within the church who blatantly deny that they sin. There are also those who hide their sin.
But there are also ways in which we conceal our sins even as we confess them to God or others. There are ways to talk about and confess our sin that keep us from ever truly being confronted by its reality.
~ We Conceal Sin by Being Vague: We make inarticulate confessions of sin that never get down to specific actions or their meanings. We pray vague, quick prayers of repentance – or we assume forgiveness and grace without ever confessing sin.
~ We Conceal Sin by Taking on Too Much or Too Little Responsibility: We either confess things we are not responsible for as well as what we are responsible for – or we fail to confess and take responsibility for those things we should. Either way we conceal or cloud the truth. We make repentance more difficult because we try to repent for things which are not our responsibilities or doings.
~ We Speak about Sin as Past Tense: Many of us have, I don’t have that problem anymore Syndrome. We confess sin as though it were no longer an issue for us – and deceive ourselves with the suggestion that we have moved beyond temptation or struggle.
~ We Talk about Sin as an External: We talk about actions mostly, and rarely speak about our intent.
Confess Your Sin to God: “…but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy”. Confession is the clearly articulated assumption of responsibility for our own wrongdoing. Psalm 51 gives us a model of confession…
~ Vs.1-2 Articulating What We have Done – David describes his behavior as “Transgression” – breaking the Law, as “Iniquity” – going his own way and willfully doing what he wanted despite what he knew, and “Sin” – moral rebellion and failure. He is not vague about his culpability – he is very articulate in defining what his actions meant.
~ Vs.3 Describing Our Sin in the Present Tense – David’s sin is before him, presently weighing on him as a burden.
~ Vs.4 Agreeing with Judgment – David declares God’s judgment on his sin to be right.
~ Vs.5 Confessing Our Sin Nature – David sees sin and patterns of sin in his life from earliest childhood. He recognizes his lifelong struggle with sin.
~ Vs.6 Confessing the Source of Our Sin David’s sin is not just external but is what is going on in his heart.
Renounce Sin as Part of Confession: What does it mean to renounce sin? Are we promising not to sin anymore? No – renouncing sin means to recognize the consequences of sin and reject it. Renouncing sin means seeing the effects of sin
~ in our own lives, the ways in which we have deceived and harmed ourselves…
~ in the lives of those around us, the ways in which we have harmed, misled and abandoned others…
~ and in our relationship with a Holy God, the ways in which we have pushed away and refused his work in our lives and harmed his people and creation.
Renunciation means that, with this recognition, we judge the utter sinfulness and destructiveness of our sin. We confess the harm of sin and reject it. We confess to God that we do not want sin. We do this, not to beat ourselves up, but so that our hearts will be turned away from sin that is deceiving, addicting and destroying.
God’s Grace is Given to Those Who Come to Him: Proverbs 28:13 is echoed in the New Testament as well – 1John 1:8-10 – 8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.
The choice is put very clearly here – either we can cover our sins or God can cover them. If we cover our own sins – by concealing them from God and others
– then we deceive ourselves. If we confess our sins to God with honesty and renounce them, he is faithful and just and forgiving.
The Struggle Between Trembling and Becoming Hardened.
Blessed is the one who always trembles before God, but whoever hardens their heart falls into trouble.
Sin Hardens Us: To be hardened means to be insensitive to sin – to be unconcerned with judgment or the call to be holy. The person who is hardened or callous is not careful nor thoughtful about the path they take. They do not take confession or renunciation seriously. They do not sense the dangers or the harm of going their own way.
Why Do We Tremble? Why, In light of the Gospel, is it still necessary for us to tremble?
~ We Should Tremble Because of the Seriousness of Sin: We should understand sin and iniquity as a path that leads to ruin and harm. We need to recognize the fact that sin has a hardening effect on our lives. Sin should make us tremble – and at the same time the grace and mercy of God should make us tremble. Trembling is important. And if we are understanding grace properly, we should tremble with joy because of the great deliverance of God.
~ We Should Tremble at the Greatness of God: We should tremble because we will stand before the Awesome and Almighty God – and we will receive mercy and grace (see Heb.12:18-29). We should tremble, ultimately, because one day we will stand before the Almighty God and we will pass through Judgment because Jesus Christ will speak on our behalf. This is a fearful thing, and none of us can imagine what that experience will be like – yet for those in Christ this fearful experience will be one of wonder and joy – of acquittal and acknowledgement and acceptance and deliverance.