This sermon was preached at Peace Hill Christian Fellowship on February 22nd, 2004. There is no audio available for this sermon.
PROVERBS 3:1-10 — OBEDIENCE THAT LEADS TO BLESSING
We begin, here, to look at what will be a common theme through the book of Proverbs – obedience that leads to blessing. The author calls us to formational character which, leads to blessing. This is not some sort of magical process by which we are manipulating God – rather, these calls to obedience and resulting blessing are describing the relationship that God wants to have with his people – a relationship of obedience which leads to blessing
#1 – MEDITATE ON GOD’S WORD.
Let Your Heart be Shaped by The Teaching and Commands of Scripture: “My son do not forget my teaching, but keep my commandments in your heart… The beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord, and the fear of the Lord begins with hearing the Word of the Lord. It is interesting how often the proverbs begin by calling us to “hear”.
We are told, in the NT that faith comes by hearing, and also that the word of God is living and active. As we listen to and meditate on the commandments and teachings of Scripture, they begin to have an effect on us, to change our mind, our understandings, our desires.
Receptivity to God’s Word Will Prolong Life: “… for they will prolong your life many years and bring you prosperity.” Those who hear and keep the commandments and teachings of Scripture are protected from many dangerous and destructive sins. This is basic wisdom 101. God, like a parent, has given us commands, not to control us and make our lives miserable, but to protect our lives because he loves us.
But there is also the idea of blessing. God desires to bless his children. But God, like a good parent, does not reward disobedience and destructive behavior. Rather, when we are receptive and listening to God he rewards us.
#2 – PRACTICE LOVE AND FAITHFULNESS.
Let Your Obedience Be Motivated By Love: “Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck write them on the tablet of your heart.” The wording of vs.3, the idea of binding commandments on one’s neck and writing them on the tablet of one’s heart – would remind a Jewish reader of what was one of the most famous passages of the Law – Deut.6:4-9 – the call to God’s people to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength”, and to “Tie”, these commandments, “…as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.” To, “Write them on the doorframes of your houses…”.
The one thing that the Israelites were never to forget was that their obedience was to be a matter of loving God from the heart. This is what was at the heart of the Jewish Law, and what Jesus taught as the heart of discipleship. Obedience apart from a desire for God – apart from love and faithfulness soon becomes legalism and moralism.
Love for God Will Win You Favor: ”Then you will win favor and a good name in the sight of God and man.” There is a real hatred that people have for moralism and legalism. Everyone seems to recognize the empty, slavish nature of blindly keeping morals – the superior attitude which it engenders and the lack of love that it produces.
But love for God, passion for what is right out of a desire to please God – the compassion for others which it produces, and the character which it produces – is something that people recognize as lovely. It is this passion to please God that people saw in Jesus, and which drew people to him. And obviously it is this love from the heart which God desires from us.
#3 – PRACTICE TRUST.
Let Your Decisions be Guided/ Informed by God’s Word: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding” A clear choice is presented here – whether to trust in ourselves, in our abilities to create a life for ourselves, or to trust in God’s direction and wisdom. Stories abound in the OT: David, after he was anointed king, not trying to force his way to the throne, but waiting and trusting God to keep his promise – Noah, believing and trusting that a flood would come, even though he built the ark over the period of 100 years and waited, Abraham leaving his people and his home to wander in the desert because God had promised to make him the Father of a great nation and bless him.
Jesus called his followers to trust God to provide for their needs rather than chasing after material wealth (Matt.6:19-34). He called his followers to trust by asking for their needs and believing in a Father who gives good gifts (Matt.7:7-11), who delivers from sin and from evil (Matt.5:6 &6:12-13).
God Directs the Lives of Those Who are Trusting Him: “in all your ways acknowledge him and he will direct your paths.” The world is always calling us to make sacrifices for success. The world is always telling us – “sacrifice children for success at work”, “sacrifice worship in order to get more done”, “sacrifice integrity and witness in order to fit in”. There are always promises – that these sacrifices are worthwhile and that children and worship and witness can always be reclaimed later. There is also a threat that, unless these things are sacrificed now, we will not make the grades, the money, the impression that we need to make.
God promises to direct the paths of those who trust him, who refuse to lean on their own understanding and sacrifice what is right.
#4 – PRACTICE HUMILITY.
Be Careful to be Reverent and to Avoid Pride: ”Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and shun evil.” To be wise in your own eyes is to be impressed with yourself. Wisdom is always wary of the sin of a proud heart. The sin of pride is the sin of setting ourselves above others. The effect of pride is the desire to compare ourselves to others – to see the sin of others as greater than our sin – to see our devotion as more genuine than the devotion of others.
The writer of Proverbs contrasts this attitude of pride with reverent fear of the Lord. Reverence takes us out of the mindset of comparison, and leaves us naked and helpless before a holy God who must either show us mercy or destroy us. To be reverent is to hope in God both for ourselves and for our neighbor.
Reverence Leads to Health? “This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones.” Proverbs recognizes what our technological society is only beginning to suspect – that there is a connection between the spirit and the body. This is not a way to manipulate God in order to get perfect health – nor is it something to be claimed as though God owed us long life – which would be more in keeping with pride than reverence.
Rather God opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble. God’s blessing is on those who live humbly before him
#5 – HONOR GOD WITH YOUR WEALTH.
Acknowledge God as Your Provider: “Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the first fruits of your crops” This is the OT understanding of honoring God – in fact it goes back to Genesis 4, in which Abel offered God, “…fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock”, while Cain brought, “some of the fruits of the soil as an offering” (Gen.4:3-5). From the very beginning we are told that God did not look with favor on Cain’s sacrifice and this led, ultimately, to sin.
God does not need money from us, he does not need animals. Honoring God with our wealth is a concrete act of reverence – of giving God the best of first of what we have worked for and he has blessed us with. It is a recognition that God is our provider – and not an employer, and not our own efforts to be self-made men or women, and not our own shrewdness or luck.
Honor God Through Tithing: One very practical way of honoring God with our wealth is through tithing. This is what supports the church and enables it to function and to care for those in need in the body. The purpose of tithing is not to make the church wealthy, nor is tithing to be seen as a legalistic practice and a burden imposed by the church. The tithe is an act of worship, a gift to equip the church for service and ministry.
Honor God Through Generosity: Parallel to the idea of tithing in the Scriptures, and no less important, is the idea of hospitality and generosity. These are practices that are to be done along with – rather than instead of – tithing. Again, the practices of generosity towards those in need, and of hospitality, especially towards those of the household of faith, are to be concrete acts of worship to God and spiritual disciplines.
God The Provider Blesses Those Who Honor Him: “…then you barns will be filled to overflowing and your vats will brim over with new wine.” Where God is acknowledged as the provider, he provides – for the glory of his own name. This is, in no way, a call to claim wealth. We do not manipulate God so that he will make us rich. God provides our needs as a good father provides, lovingly, for his children.
This sermon was preached at Peace Hill Christian Fellowship on March 7th, 2004. There is no audio available for this sermon.
PROVERBS 3:11-26 — GOD IS TREATING US LIKE SONS
GOD DISCIPLINES US AS SONS.
We are Called to Believe that God is Treating Us as Sons: “My Son, Do not despise the Lord’s discipline and do not resent his rebuke, Because the Lord disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.” This passage is a call to live by faith. It begins with the idea that difficulty (the Lord’s discipline, or training), and conviction of sin (the Lord’s rebuke), are not marks of His disfavor, but rather are evidences of his love. This is a strong statement of faith because our natural understanding leads us to believe that difficulties and conviction of sin are, instead, evidence of God’s rejection or unconcern. Consequently, we become embittered at God in times of difficulties because our fallen minds/hearts believe that God should care for us but does not. We become anxious in times of conviction of sin because our fallen minds/hearts believe that God is angry and is going to judge us.
But look at the redeemed perspective on difficulty and conviction. God is not rejecting us, but instead, treating us like Sons whom he delights in. God is training us, through difficulty, to be people of faith, to be compassionate. God is training us to become wise in times of difficulty and giving us perspective and understanding on life and faith.
God is calling us, through conviction, not with the angry voice of irritation, but with the loving voice of the Father, to abandon foolish, evil, empty ways of life
We Must Not Despise or Resent the Lord’s Discipline: To see conviction as rejection and discipline as unconcern, is to despise and resent – rather than receive – the Lord’s discipline. It is to have the perspective of an orphan rather than the perspective of a much loved child. Do we really want to believe that God has called us and shed his blood for us, only then to turn away from us in irritation and unconcern? Do we even recognize the choice we make to live like orphans when we live in such unbelief?
GOD IS GIVING US WISDOM – THE INHERITANCE OF FAVORED CHILDREN.
Nothing We Desire Can Compare with the Blessing of Wisdom: ”Blessed is the man who finds wisdom, the man who gains understanding , for she is more profitable than silver and yields better returns than gold. She is more precious than rubies; nothing you desire can compare with her.”
The wisdom of conviction, compassion and perspective that God is teaching us is more valuable than the most valuable objects the Proverbist can mention. But for those of us who trade in happiness and contentment, rubies (while interesting) are not the objects of our desire. Instead, here, they become metaphors for the desires of our hearts which we long for.
Again, this is the perspective not of the natural mind but of faith. When God withholds that which we desire, he does not do so in order to frustrate or punish us – but rather God uses these situations to bless us with wisdom. That wisdom is more of a blessing than we can understand. We do not necessarily see all that wisdom (God’s building program/ God’s garden growing in us) is producing and doing in our lives. To take this perspective is, again, to believe in the goodness of God. Wisdom, “…is a tree of life to those who embrace her; those who lay hold of her will be blessed.”
The Blessing of Wisdom Enables Us to Partake in the Divine Nature: “By wisdom the Lord laid the earth’s foundations, by understanding he set the heavens in place; by his knowledge the deeps were divided and the clouds let drop the dew.”
The Proverbist tries to express here, some notion of the blessing of wisdom. What is it that God wants to plant/build within us? Is it not the same wisdom and understanding by which God designed the very good Creation?
This Creation that we wrestle against – these Created things that we so often serve and long for and strive after – God is training us in the wisdom that Created them. God is teaching us to think and to believe and to love and to hope like the mind that made them. God’s will is not that we serve Created things – but that (as vice-regents, the image of God), we would serve the one who made them, who holds all Creation in his hand. That we would live in the Creation, and enjoy it, but not be ruled by it.
GOD IS TRAINING US IN SOUND JUDGMENT AS A FATHER.
“My son preserve sound judgment and discernment, do not let them out of your sight; they will be life for you, an ornament to grace your neck. Then you will go on your way in safety, and your foot will not stumble when you lie down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.”
Sound Judgment Begins with the Recognition that God Love Us as Sons: recognition that God is training us as dearly loved children, to act out of wisdom and not to serve Created things, leads to sound judgment. Sound judgment begins with this perspective that God is a Father who loves us. When we begin to see God as out adversary, we act like orphans and not like sons. When we begin to act like orphans we are in danger of stumbling.
Sound Judgment Will Keep Us from Stumbling: It is this belief that we are orphans – that God does not care for us so that we must care for ourselves that drives bad judgment. When our judgment is clouded by the anxiety and bitterness of the belief that we are orphans, we must make our own way without God. Our judgment comes to be guided by the things we long for but which don’t satisfy: the desire to be popular, lust, revenge, the desire for ease. Our judgment comes to be driven by these things.
But when we act as sons, then our judgment and our decisions are based on a desire to show reverence for the Father who loves us – to please the Father who is training us. Then the beauty of Godly sound judgment becomes an “ornament” which beautifies our character and life. We are kept from stumbling into all kinds of foolish and destructive decisions and patterns of life.
Sound Judgment Will Bring Us Peace: “Have no fear of sudden disaster or of the ruin that overtakes the wicked, for the Lord will be your confidence and will keep your foot from being snared.”
The result for those who do not despise the Lord’s discipline, but who lives as dearly loved sons, is that God becomes our confidence. There is a sense in which this act of faith – believing and acting out of sound judgment – builds on itself in a circular way, producing in us a greater confidence in God and creating in us peace of mind.
We believe and act like sons => God give us wisdom not to serve Created things => We use judgment to show reverence for God => God becomes our confidence => We believe and act like sons…
This sermon was preached at Peace Hill Christian Fellowship on March 22nd, 2004. There is no audio available for this sermon.
Prov.3:27-35 — REFLECTING THE GENEROSITY OF GOD
BE GENEROUS WITH WHAT YOU HAVE.
Reject Selfish Greed: “Do not withhold good from those who deserve it when it is in your power to act. Do not say to your neighbor, ‘Come back later; I’ll give it to you tomorrow’, when you have it with you.” To do, “good”, in Scripture, is to be generous and to care for the needs of others. The Law demanded that the Israelites not turn away the needy, that they leave the gleanings of harvest for the poor. In other words, the people of God were to enjoy the blessings given to them by God, but they were not to be controlled by them.
This was a tremendous problem in the community of Israel where the rich continued to build up their own security and the poor became poorer. Because of this God sent the prophets to confront the rich for not considering and caring for the poor and their neighbor.
In the OT the Law intended that the people of God should care for their neighbor. Jesus blasted the Pharisees for finding ways around the practice of true generosity that enabled them to technically keep the Law – “Woe to you Pharisees because you give a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God…” (Lk.11:42). James the brother of Jesus blasted the rich in the church who did not care for the needs of others…
“Now listen you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. Your wealth has rotted and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence…” (James 5:1-5a)
Bless Your Neighbor Through Generosity: Be generous and live out what is most foundational about the character of God. Look around! God has been generous to us. The account of Creation is full of the abundance of blessing and provision that God gave to man when he created him. Things like beauty and the overwhelming variety and abundance of animals and trees and plants – all of these things reflect the generosity of the God in whose image we were made, and whose character we are to display.
We who claim to be the community of God’s people have the opportunity to bring praise to the character of God and to make our teaching about Jesus beautiful through our generosity. We are not talking about random acts of kindness – but the purposeful development of a generous nature. In a sense, we are to pass on to others the blessings (material in this context) with which God has blessed us.
The idea of grasping the blessings of God for ourselves – being unwilling to share and trying to build our own security through wealth is condemned by Jesus in the parable of the rich fool (Lk.12:13-21). We see in the final warning of this parable, “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.” – that blessing one’s neighbor is actually a matter of being rich towards God. In fact, this is exactly what Paul instructs Timothy to command God’s people to do…
“Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.” (1Tim.6:17-19).
BE GENEROUS IN YOUR RELATIONSHIPS.
Bless your Neighbor With a Generous Spirit: “Do not plot harm against your neighbor who lives trustfully near you. Do not accuse a man for no reason when he has done you no harm.”
The call to material generosity – if practiced – develops within us a generous attitude or spirit. After all, generosity is a form of love for others. Wisdom calls us to reject the attitude and atmosphere of distrust and hatred and accusation. We are not to live in competition with our neighbor – not to see them as an enemy.
So what does it mean to have a “generous spirit” towards our neighbor? Paul deals with this issue in the church of Corinth. In ICor.13, Paul lays out what it means to live generously towards neighbors and fellow believers. A generous spirit does not hold a grudge, or keep a record of wrongs, or envy what others have, or boast about what we have or do. A generous spirit believes good of our neighbor rather than evil – hopes always for our neighbor rather than becoming cynical. A generous spirit always protects, always trusts, does not take advantage.
To be generous in our hearts towards others is to reflect the nature and character of God who is generous towards us. Have we received the generosity of Jesus Christ who has “blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing”? Have we received redemption, forgiveness and adoption? Is it possible that we should have received such undeserved generosity and then refused to show generosity to our neighbor?
Reject the Attitude Violent Men: “Do not envy a violent man or choose any of his ways, for the Lord detests a perverse man…” The opposite of generosity in relationships is the attitude of violent men, who enjoy practicing power over others. A violent man thrives on enforcing his will and his way – revels in retaliation and revenge – and seeks out trouble. Three are many ways to practicing the attitude of violent men without actually fighting: taking advantage of the weak, manipulation, back stabbing, lawsuits.
God finds the desire to overpower and take advantage of others detestable – it is twisted (the literal meaning of perverse is to have lost one’s way, to have left what is natural and to be warped). Although violent men seem to get everything they want – they are actually distorted and wretched creatures.
BE GENEROUS BECAUSE GOD IS GENEROUS.
Let God take You into His Confidence: “but takes the upright into his confidence.” Immediately this brings to mind the story of Abraham and his generosity to the three travelers. This seems to be a Christophany – an appearance of Christ – and he is referred to as the Lord. Abraham offers the travelers all the best hospitality of his home. After the meal, God promises Abraham and Sarah that they will be with child in the next year – confirming his promises of generosity to Abraham. But then he also takes Abraham into his confidence, giving Abraham the opportunity to intercede on behalf of his neighbor – Sodom. Abraham asks God again and again if he might spare the city for 50 righteous men, 45, 40, 30…10. In fact there are not even 10 righteous in the city, but God, in his generosity, spares Lot and his family before the city is destroyed (Gen.19).
It is because Abraham reflected the character of God’s generosity, through his hospitality, that God took Abraham into his confidence and gave him the privilege of interceding for the very evil city of Sodom and the opportunity to save his nephew Lot.
What are we saying here? That it is through generosity that allows us to take part in ministry to others. It was through Abraham’s offering of generous hospitality that God took him into his confidence, and allowed Abraham to be generous towards the city of Sodom and his nephew Lot. It is through generosity that God enables us to reach out to and intercede for our neighbor.
Let God Be Generous Towards You: “He mocks proud mockers, but gives grace to the humble.” God is generous to those who are willing to receive his generosity. God’s desire is to give us good gifts, to show us his love, to call us his children, to deliver us from sin and show us grace. God does not withhold grace from us – even though we don’t deserve it. God does not say to us, “Come back later, tomorrow, and I will show you grace. God does not plot harm against those who live trustingly under his care. God does not accuse or treat us as our sins deserve (Ps.103) God is rich in mercy towards us (Eph.2).
To receive this generosity and grace, all that is required is that we humble ourselves and confess our sin and receive generosity. Those who mock God’s generosity, who reject forgiveness and look on grace with contempt, God will mock. But to the humble, God is rich in mercy.
Let God Give You Honor: “The wise inherit honor, but fools he holds up to shame.” Why would God include us and take us into his confidence? Why is God so gracious to us? Because we were made for honor – to be the image of God. God wants us to inherit the honor that we were made for. But God will expose those who reject this honor, who reject grace and generosity, who are grasping.
Today, God puts a choice before you. Grace – Generosity – Honor, or Selfishness – Violence and Shame. Receive and imitate the generosity of God.