This sermon was preached at Peace Hill Christian Fellowship on August 15th, 2004. There is no audio available for this sermon.
PROVERBS 10:1-5 — KNOWING THE DELIGHTFUL SON
THE STRUCTURE OF THE PASSAGE.
As we begin to look at this new section in Proverbs, we are entering into a whole new way of teaching. We have been looking at speeches on wisdom, hymns praising wisdom, etc. But now the author is going to begin to give us actual “Proverbs”. This is the “feast” of delightful sayings, leading to delightful living.
One difficulty that we encounter, as we being to look at this new section – is that the writing is so different. When we read through a section like chapter 10, we struggle to make connections between the verses – to find a flow of thought. Often, some of the verses seem to have a loose connection with each other, while other verses don’t seem to belong at all. Prov.10:1-5, is a perfect example of this: Vs.1 contrasts the wise and the foolish son, but then Vs.2 seems to change the subject to “Ill-gotten treasures.
Yet these verses are connected. The author uses a type of writing called, “Parallelism”, to lay down statements next to each other in order to compare them and to connect thoughts to one another. As he lays down each statement, they do not necessarily seem to be connected, until he comes to his final statement, which ties the previous ones together. This way of teaching does two things. (1) It presents us not with one idea, but with a cluster of ideas – a multi-faceted point of view. Wisdom is not simplistic. This muti-faceted approach recognizes that there are many sides to an issue, and different ways to look at what is going on with the wise son – different points of view. And (2) As we read through each statement of wisdom, we come to the last statement which ties all these seemingly unconnected ideas together, and we are given that sense of having discovered something – of having found wisdom. In a sense, the writer is showing us how to look at an issue from many points of view and to find wisdom.
Vs.1 – “A wise son brings joy to his father – but a foolish son grief to his mother.” – This first statement opens the topic of wise and foolish sons.
Vs.2 – “Ill-gotten treasures are of no value – but righteousness delivers from death.” – The second statement does not seem to be connected at all to the first. The writer seems to have gone off in a random direction. Does this seem likely, after the carefully crafted way in which the rest of the book has been written?
Vs.3 – “The Lord does not let the righteous go hungry – but he thwarts the craving of the wicked.” – This seems to be loosely connected with Vs.2, taking the contrasting ideas of “Ill-gotten treasure” and God’s care for the righteous a little further. The righteousness of the righteous is going to deliver them from death because the Lord is not going to let them go hungry. In contrast, the reason ill-gotten treasure is worthless is that the Lord thwarts the cravings of wicked men who collect ill-gotten treasure.
Vs.4 – “Lazy hands make a man poor, but diligent hands bring wealth” – Now we seem to have, perhaps, gone off in a different direction again, switching from the idea of God’s provision to a statement of work ethics. Basically, if you’re lazy you’ll be poor.
Vs.5 – “He who gathers crops in summer is a wise son – but he who sleeps during harvest is a disgraceful son.”
What we need to see, here, is how vs.5 has tied all of these ideas together. Now we have a portrait of the wise and foolish sons. The wise son is the son whose Father is delighted with him. He works with his hands – even in the heat of summer – in order to provide for his family. The Lord is pleased with his industry
But the foolish son is lazy. Even in harvest – when he should be gathering the grain – the busiest and most blessed time of year for a farmer – he is sleeping. Instead, he is full of schemes to get money, to get rich quick, to steal ill-gotten treasure. He is a grief to the mother whom, probably, he is supposed to be supporting. And the Lord is against his evil way of life. He is always craving, but never working to provide for his or his family’s needs.
THE DELIGHTFUL SON TREASURES WHAT IS TRULY VALUABLE.
Reject the False Treasures of the World: “Ill-gotten treasures are of no value…” This image of worthless, stolen treasures is intended to show us something about the life of the worthless, disgraceful son. He himself does not see what is truly valuable. Instead he runs after trinkets. This idea transfers fairly easily to the NT., where Jesus tells his disciples to not to, “…store up…treasures on earth…but…treasures in heaven” (Matt.6:19-20). The disgraceful son is easily lured by “The cravings of sinful man, the lust of the eyes and the boasting of what he has and does.” (1Jn.2:15-17). These things seem like treasure to him, and he places great value on them – he craves them.
But these treasures are empty – they do not have any true worth. John tells us (1Jn.2:17), that they are passing away – so that even as we have them, even as we boast about what we have accomplished or get what we wanted, we find that we are not satisfied but left empty. These treasures are stolen because they are a misuse – a worship of Created things rather than the Creator. Love for the things of the world in place of the one who made them is a kind of dishonesty. To enjoy and chase after the things of the world without honoring and worshipping the Creator is like stealing those things which God made to point to his goodnness and kindness.
Instead, Choose the Treasure of Great Value: “…but righteousness delivers from death.” The treasure of great value is the righteousness which saves us from death. In Proverbs this righteousness is the wisdom of the Son who chooses to be a joy to his father and to work hard – but also, especially, to keep the Law of Moses and to seek to honor God.
Again, this transfers easily to the NT, where the righteousness that delivers from death is the righteousness of Jesus – which we received when we believed in him. That righteousness covers us like an over-coat. We have been delivered not just from going hungry, but from the judgment of God. Like the wise son, we have become a delight to the Father – objects of his Favor because of Jesus Christ.
We are delightful sons if we treasure, delight in, the gospel of Jesus. Delightful sons worship God’s delightful Son.
THE DELIGHTFUL SON TRUSTS IN THE LORD.
Reject the Lifestyle of Craving: “…he thwarts the craving of the wicked.” Not only does the disgraceful son run after that which is worthless, but he is driven by his cravings. His lifestyle is never to be content. One thing this wisdom passage shows is the difference between the son who does his work and finds contentment in what God provides in contrast to the son who does not do his work, and who is never content. He wants more than what his work would provide – more than those around him have. He sets aside the Lord’s good provision always to chase after more.
Be Filled with God’s provision: “The Lord does not let the righteous go hungry…” The promise here is not one of perpetual riches. The wise son is not promised to live in uninterrupted prosperity, but rather that God will provide for him so that he will not go hungry – the most basic consideration of provision. It is easy in a culture where we can have anything we want, where we are used to wealth – to cease even to think abouit God’s provision and contentment. The delightful son is not caught up in the desire to have and have and have, but is content with what God has provided – which, in a world that bombards us with advertisements intended to feed craving and build desire, is difficult.
But the delightful son trusts in the Lord not only to meet his needs, but trusts God, through his provision, to show him what his needs are and are not. Delightful sons trust God’s Delightful Son.
THE DELIGHTFUL SON RESPONDS TO THE LORD.
The Disgraceful Son is Unresponsive to God’s Grace: “He who sleeps during harvest is a disgraceful son.” To sleep during harvest is the height of unthankfulness. Jews had feasts and celebrations in order to make clear in their mind that God had provided the harvest as a blessing to them, and that he was to be honored as their provider. The disgraceful son, then, by sleeping through harvest – a time when everyone else would have been working – was despising the provision of God.
The disgraceful son, then, does not respond to the provision of God through Christ – does not find it worthwhile to acknowledge or worship God (Rom.1:18-25). God has revealed himself in Scripture – through nature – by His Son. God has sent his Son to earth not only to appear to men, but to teach and instruct them – even to die for them, and then to be raised for them. God has left the witness of his church – his people on earth and, by His Holy Spirit, still speaks compellingly to people. Those who do not believe in the face of such clear revelation are without excuse. It is disgraceful that God should do so much to make himself known to men – that he should do so much to show grace and favor – and that men should reject him.
The Delightful Son Responds to Grace with Grace: “He who gathers crops in summer is a wise son.” This is an opposite picture from that of the disgraceful son. The disgraceful son sleeps during harvest while everyone is working – the wise son works in the heat of the summer, when many would be taking a break. The picture here is not one of drudgery, but one of joy and careful preparation – delighting in the provision of God. The delightful son does not take the provision of God for granted, but works. He shows responsibility and care for what God has provided. He tends his crops so that they will grow to maturity.
From a NT point of view, the delightful son responds to God’s provision of grace in order to bring about a harvest of righteousness. He tends the grace God has shown him. The wise son takes up the grace and favor he has been shown through the gospel and offers it to others as well. The delightful son sees conviction of sin as a gift and uses that grace to work out repentance. The delightful son takes the graces God is producing in him/her and responds to that grace by tending those graces and turning them into action: turning joy into worship, love into charity, peace into confidence, kindness into an opportunity to do good to others, using patience and gentleness to bring about reconciliation, etc. Delightful Sons imitate God’s Delightful Son.
This sermon was preached at Peace Hill Christian Fellowship on August 22nd, 2004. There is no audio available for this sermon.
PROVERBS 10:6-11 — BECOMING PEOPLE OF INTEGRITY
The Structure of Proverbs
6 Blessings crown the head of the righteous, but violence overwhelms the mouth of the wicked.
7 The memory of the righteous will be a blessing, |but the name of the wicked will rot.
8 The wise in heart accept commands, |but a chattering fool comes to ruin.
9 The man of integrity walks securely, but he who takes crooked paths will be found out.
10 He who winks maliciously causes grief, and a chattering fool comes to ruin.
11 The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life, but violence overwhelms the mouth of the wicked.
This structure is very common in Scripture, it is called a “Chiasm”, because it is shaped like a Greek “Chi”, or “X”. To understand what the author is talking about here – the focus of his wisdom, we need not only to see that he has written these verses as a “Chiasm”, but we also need to recognize how Chiasms work. The central verse of the Chiasm is the main emphasis or point. So when we look at these verses, we should recognize that verse 9 is the central idea in this section of wisdom, and that this is a passage about being a person of integrity. We should also notice, as we look at this passage, that each of these verses is a contrast between the person of integrity and the person whose ways are crooked, or twisted, or deceitful.
WHO IS THE PERSON OF INTEGRITY?
Someone Whose Life is a Blessing to Others: “The memory of the righteous will be a blessing but the name of the wicked will rot.” A person of integrity is someone who does what is right and is a blessing to those around him/her. Integrity is measured over the whole of a person’s life, so that, a person of integrity is remembered as someone who persevered in doing right and blessing other over the course of their life.
In our culture, the idea of “good deeds” has replaced the idea of integrity – as though a person through occasional good deeds could be considered to have integrity. Many a man of evil character has eased his conscience with the notion that an occasional good deed could justify his soul and earn him a spot in heaven. But a life of integrity is not measured in terms of individual good deeds, rather it is measured over the whole course of one’s life. The memory of the righteous, after their death, is a blessing because their character is seen as an example of godliness for us to follow – of perseverance and faithfulness in doing what was right and in being a blessing to others.
In contrast, when the wicked die, their good deeds are forgotten. The the memory of their evil way of life over the course of their life, causes their name to be remembered as something rotten and evil. They are remembered for what characterized their lives – wickedness and selfishness.
Someone Who is Responsive to Correction: “The wise in heart accept commands, but a chattering fool comes to ruin.” A person of integrity is also someone who is willing to be corrected. This has been seen already in the last chapter – “Rebuke a wise man and he will love you. Instruct a wise man and he will be wiser still; teach a righteous man and he will add to his learning.” (Prov.9:8-9). The wise in heart accept commands because they are seeking to please God in all they do. They are willing to be corrected because they recognize the sinful, fallen nature of their heart – their tendency to self-blindness. So a man of integrity wants to know the truth and is willing, even glad, to be corrected in order to please the Lord.
In contrast, a chattering fool is one who does not listen, but speaks only to justify himself. The chattering fool believes that they can talk their way out of correction, but do not realize that their chattering, their self-excusing, and their unwillingness to be corrected, is leading them to ruin. The chattering fool falls into many harmful sins and consequences, and risks losing his soul.
Someone Whose Speech is Life-Giving: “The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life, but violence overwhelms the mouth of the wicked.” A person of integrity is a person whose speech is wholesome. He/she speaks well of people – graciously, not recounting wrongs or stirring up discontent or anger. Righteous speech is wise, directing the minds and hearts of others to God, creating peace, not conflict.
But a wicked person’s speech is malicious and violent. The speech of the wicked man tears people down, accuses, rejects truth and spreads malice and hatred. The speech of the wicked is not limited to what they say – “he who winks maliciously causes grief” – in other words, the wicked are malicious not only in outright statements, but through what they suggest and insinuate. The whole focus of their attitude is to spread harm, to accuse and to make trouble. The suggestion here is that this violence overwhelms the mouth of the wicked – that it is the natural outflow. As Jesus said, “From the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.” (Matt.12:34).
HOW CAN WE BECOME PEOPLE OF INTEGRITY?
Only the Gospel Can Make Us People of Integrity: One thing that becomes clear, as we look at these verses, is that integrity cannot just be put on over top of who we are. We cannot cover up bad character with good deeds – we cannot suddenly change from people who defend ourselves from correction to those who receive it, and we cannot change the overflow of our hearts without changing our hearts.
The answer is in vs.6 – “Blessings crown the head of the righteous…”. Both blessing and righteousness are not things that we can superimpose over top of our lives as they are – Blessing and righteousness both come from God. God is the one who blesses the lives of human beings – and God is the one who alone can give righteousness to human beings. God has offered us both his blessing of favor and peace and his righteousness through the work of Jesus Christ. We must come to the Cross, confessing that we are not people of integrity, and asking God to give us true integrity through the work of Jesus.
Christ Crowns Our Heads with Righteousness: I cannot be truly righteous until God sees me as righteous. Until I know that God is pleased with me, I am always fearful, always questioning whether God has rejected me – so that even when I seem to do well, I am never satisfied, never at rest because I do not believe that God is satisfied with me.
But when I come to God through Christ, righteousness is given to me as a crown – a symbol of royalty and blessing and great achievement (like the Olympic crown for the winner). In Christ my righteousness is a glorious thing. I am no longer fearful of God, hoping to get past judgment, or hoping that I am not noticed by God – but I am looking forward to my glorious righteousness that will be revealed when Christ returns – because he has given me his righteousness. Only with this righteousness of Christ can I ever have true righteousness with integrity.
Christ Crowns Our Heads with Grace: It has often been said that, in Christ, sin in us is ruined – we can never go back to it and be content in it. In Christ a desire comes alive in us to please God and to be free of sin that was not there before. Commands to live a holy life change from being impossible and implausible to being something that we desire and long for.
In Christ we are crowned with grace both to come to the cross for forgiveness in our sins, and for grace to live new lives. Only with this desire and this forgiveness can we truly know what it is to be people of integrity.
Christ Crowns Our Heads with the Gospel: In Christ, our speech becomes new – we have a new message – a new song. The gospel changes our speech of accusation into speech which pardons and forgives. When the gospel fills our mouths we want to talk about forgiveness of sins, the new life that Christ alone can give us and peace with God. This speech is a fountain of life to those who are willing to hear it. The gospel is the only true speech that speaks the truth about both who we are and who God is – it is speech of integrity.
This sermon was preached at Peace Hill Christian Fellowship on September 12th, 2004. There is no audio available for this sermon.
PROVERBS 10:11-22 — CHRIST THE FORTIFIED CITY
GRACE IS THE FORTIFIED CITY IN WHICH WE LIVE.
The Image of Wealth and the Fortified City: Without spending too much time on the structure of Proverbs, we want to take a moment to see that verses 11-21 are another “Chiasm” (see handout), and that Chiasms are intended to focus our attention on the central verses around which they are structured.
Here, the central theme is that of wealth or riches as a fortified city. Verse 15-16 tell us that, “the wealth of the rich is their fortified city”. At first glance, this seems to be teaching materialism, but the next verse expands on the first and clarifies it – “The wages of the righteous bring them life”. Although the comparison may seem a little awkward to us, the writer is saying something like this… Rich people’s security is their wealth – their wealth is like a fortified city for them – a place where they can be safe from the attacks of poverty and hunger. In the same way, the wages or earnings, of those who do what is right – the consequences of their righteous life, gives them the same kind of security. In fact, when a person does what is right – their life becomes like a fortified city. They are protected from the consequences of doing wrong or living foolishly – they are also protected by the favor of God.
Grace is Our Fortified City: From a NT perspective the righteousness that makes our lives like a fortified city is the righteousness of Jesus Christ – given to us by grace. Christ becomes our fortified city…
~ Showing us His love and favor – forgiving our sin and covering us with His righteousness.
~ Sovereignly protecting us from evil.
~ Convicting us of sin and leading us to repentance.
These works of Christ, towards us, become like a wall – a protection, keeping us from sin and harm and judgment. They are the wealth of Christ’s righteousness is at work in us, bringing out of our lives the riches of new life.
LIVE IN THE FORTIFIED CITY WITH WISDOM.
If grace is the protection with which Christ surrounds our lives, and the power at work in our lives (the fortified city), then wisdom is our response to grace – it is our imitation of and cooperation with what God is doing in our lives.
Practice Discernment: “Wisdom is found on the lips of the discerning, but a rod is for the back of him who lacks judgment.” We respond to God’s sovereign protection in keeping us from evil, by using discernment.
Basically, discernment is a matter of judging between good and evil. Occasionally, this is difficult – we talk about needing discernment in a situation where we do not know the right thing to do. But more often, discernment is a matter of recognizing what is good and responding to it, or what is evil and rejecting it. The problem comes not because we are not wise enough to discern – but because we do not exercise discernment.
We want to go out with friends to a place that is not going to be good for us – (or with a person whose influence is not good for us), so we try not to think about the fact that we are putting ourselves in a spiritually dangerous place. We listen to slander about a person that we don’t really like either, so we do not think about whether the attack was true or not. Discernment is usually more a matter of the will – what we want to hear or do – than it is about our ability to understand or know right and wrong. If we are living under the grace of God, thankful that God is protecting us from evil, then we want to use discernment and not to be at cross-purposes with it.
Those who do not practice discernment, “lack judgment”. They put themselves in the way of evil and so work against God’s protection.
Add to Your Wisdom: “Wise men store up knowledge, but the mouth of a fool is near ruin.” Wisdom is also a matter of responding to God’s favor – having been given the righteousness of Jesus – by seeking God in His word. Those who have experienced grace want to know more of grace – want to add to their wisdom. Nothing is more deadening to a marriage than to think that you already know all about your husband or wife – and nothing is more killing to the life of Scripture than to assume that you already know what it says. Nothing is more poison to the life of faith and to love for Christ than to assume that you already know all there is to know.
To love God is to want to know more of God – not just in information, but in experience and in practice. To love God is to love his word – to recognize that Scripture is living and mysterious, and full of wisdom. Those who love God long to hear his voice in the Scriptures – they are his sheep.
Receive Correction: “He who heeds discipline shows the way to life, but whoever ignores correction leads others astray.”
We respond to the conviction of the Spirit by both acknowledging and confessing our sin. To acknowledge is to admit that we have sinned, to confess is to speak out our guilt and need for forgiveness before God. Those who have responded to grace and are secure in forgiveness are free to confess sin without being overwhelmed by condemnation.
The wise man, that man who has received the riches of the grace of Christ, is secure in the protection of God’s grace, and is therefore, teachable – willing to be corrected – able to receive instruction.
To Ignore Correction is to Live Gracelessly: But to ignore correction – to hide or justify our sin – is to reject the gift of conviction and, to lead others astray. When we justify our sin, we make a lie – we are saying that our sin is not sinful or wrong. When we hide our sin we are also lying, by saying that we have no need for grace. In both instances we end up deceiving others and ourselves. We step out from under the justifying grace of God and the power of grace in our lives is stilled – the forgiveness of sins is rejected. We have stepped outside of the fortified city.
SPEAK THE LANGUAGE OF THE FORTIFIED CITY.
Our Speech Reveals Whether We are In or Out of the City: Because our speech is the overflow of our hearts, our words reveal whether we are acting and living under grace or under our own powers (the flesh) at any given time. Christ has given us grace – but we do not always walk in it ( witness all of the NT letters).
We should not expect gracious speech just to pop out of us – to speak graciously is consciously to affirm what we believe – and we ought to be filled with gracious speech by purposefully seeking opportunities to bless others with words of grace.
In contrast, graceless language – our natural language – is full of violence (which is usually an attempt to appear more powerful than other people and to set ourselves above them) and it is thoughtless, lacking in judgment (unguarded from evil – not concerned with speaking what is good).
How can we be filled with gracious language? What does language filled with grace look like?
~ Vs.12&18 – Speech Reveals The Favor of God in Our Hearts, or the Lack of it: “Hatred stirs up dissension, but love covers over all wrongs… He who conceals his hatred has lying lips, and whoever spreads slander is a fool.”
Gracious speech proceeds from a gracious heart. Those who are forgiven forgive. Those who have received love and mercy give it. When our speech reflects a willingness to let love cover the offenses of others towards us, we show the extent to which we have truly understood the gospel of grace and received it.
But speech that stirs up anger and argument and dissension reveals a hatred of others that is graceless. Gracious speech is peace-making. Slander reveals that in our hearts there is a hidden hatred – a fear and condemnation.
~Vs.20 – Speech Reveals Our Willingness to Receive Correction: “The tongue of the righteous is choice silver, but the heart of the wicked is worth little.” Valuable gracious speech is, ironically, speech that is honest about our sin and need for grace. It is valuable because it does not lead others astray, but shows the path to life – honest confession of our sin and rejoicing in forgiveness and grace. Honest confession of sin and rejoicing in grace is the clearest indicator that we are under grace.
In contrast, the self-justifying speech of those who refuse to be corrected is worthless because it is misleading – a lie that draws others away from grace, and blinds the speaker himself to grace.
~Vs.21 – Speech Reveals Our Discernment or Lack of Judgment: “The lips of the righteous nourish many, but fools die for lack of judgment.” Discerning speech could also be called “prophetic” speech . When we are living and speaking under grace, we are willing to speak about the goodness of God – we are able to call that which is good, “good”, and that which is evil, “evil”. In other words, our speech reflects the discernment of good and evil going on in our heart. Discerning speech feeds and nourishes those around us, both by confirming the goodness of God and by exposing sin. People who hear these words are both built up in their faith and warned of the dangers of sin.
We have been talking a lot – as we have gone through Prov.10 – about receiving the righteousness of Jesus as our own. We have talked about becoming God’s delightful sons. We have talked about having integrity – being crowned with the righteousness of Christ – and we said that such integrity was a matter of having true righteousness. . We have talked about responding to the grace of Christ through cooperative wisdom – so that Christ could surround our lives with his grace like a fortified city.
As I look at these promises and think about my own life, I have to say that it is a challenge to believe. What I see when I look at my life is not the righteousness of Christ’s wisdom but often my own sin and foolishness. I see sin and failure in every aspect of my life: as a father, as a pastor, in my preaching, in purity, in faithfulness, in love for God.
This morning, as we look at this passage, there is a clear division between the righteous – who have the blessing of God – and the wicked – whom God rejects. It is easy to see my life from the perspective of the wicked. It is easier to see my sin and failure than it is to see righteousness in my life – easy to despair.
But we must come to see this passage, not with the eyes of the natural man, but with the eyes of faith. And from that perspective, it is clear that, again and again, God is calling us to receive and to believe in the gift of his righteousness. Here again, we have an opportunity to see the grace of God, offered in exchange for despair.
CHRIST HAS FREELY OFFERD US THE BLESSING OF HIS UNTROUBLED WEALTH.
God’s Blessing is our Untroubled Wealth: “The blessing of the Lord brings wealth and he adds no trouble to it.” To an OT mind, wealth was the concrete sign that you had the blessing of God. In an economy so tied to farming and its dependence on rain and weather, it was pretty clear to everyone who blessed crops. It was also pretty clear who arranged the circumstances of life. So everyone knew that the blessing of the Lord brought wealth – this was no surprise – and wealth and success came to be a measure of God’s love.
But from a NT perspective, this is the untroubled blessing of God on our lives, so that we can live with untroubled consciences, untroubled minds, in the love of God. This is a further image of grace, like the crown of righteousness offered to us in Christ, or the blessing of God that makes us delightful sons – without question – before God. We are given the love of The Father – without cost.
And, as we saw last week, that blessing is what changes us so that we desire to be wise, “[people] of understanding, [who delight] in wisdom”, who desire to do what is pleasing to God – rather than, “[fools who] find pleasure in evil conduct”.
And yet, we do not seem to live in this kind of untroubled grace. Christ came so that we could have life more abundantly – but we have trouble taking hold of that life. Why? Because we have not taken hold of who we are in Christ.
CHRIST IS OFFERING TO EXCHANGE OUR OLD IDENTITY FOR A NEW IDENTITY.
Seven statements follow that, in the OT context would have separated those who were under the blessing of God from those who were not – but in the context of the NT become the offer of a new identity in Christ in exchange for our old identity of sin and unworthiness. In Christ – if we are willing to see this passage with the eyes of faith – we are being offered a new self in exchange for the old, unloved, wicked self that we have been all of our lives. And we are being called to take up this new identity.
Christ Offers an Identity of Righteousness in Exchange for the Fearful Dread of Punishment: “What the wicked dread will overtake him; what the righteous desire will be granted.” Christ offers us righteousness – we have seen it all through this chapter in four different images. God Himself has declared us good – pure – righteous in Christ Jesus. And he has put a new desire for righteousness in our hearts.
Our flesh still desires sin, but our hearts are changed with a hunger for righteousness. This is what Christ has in mind when he is preaching the Be attitudes – “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall see God.”.
This new identity means that we must now see ourselves as people with changed – new hearts – as new beings with whom God is pleased – with true righteousness.
Christ Offers the Identity of Strength in Trials in Exchange for Fear of being Overwhelmed: “When the storm has swept by, the wicked are gone, but the righteous stand firm forever.” We don’t grasp the fact that we have been through the “Great Storm” – the storm that makes all other storms of life inconsequential. The storm of judgment against our souls. What can any other trial do to us if our soul is secure? The Hebrew believers could allow their persecutors to take away their homes and possessions. They could be tortured and killed, and still have the riches of Christ.
Notice, that at the end of the book of Job, while Elihu is speaking, a storm comes up. Elihu refers to it as the coming of God (Job36:27ff). And when God finally speaks in Ch.38, the storm breaks – and Job finally sees that the storms of his life have been nothing in comparison with being confronted by the storm of God’s presence. After his listens to God speak to him – after he goes through that hurricane – the other trials and storms of his life seem small in comparison. We have been kept through that storm by Christ, and there is no other trial coming that can separate us now from the love of God (Rom.8:35).
Christ Offers Us the Identity of Eternal Life in Exchange for Making Our Own Identity in This World: “The fear of the Lord adds length to life, but the years of the wicked are cut short.” In Christ we have exchanged the life of this world for the life of the next. This world will be judged by God. This world is cursed. This world can never satisfy the deepest needs of our hearts. This world will end.
This new identity means that our lives are no longer a short 70 or 80 years of trying to make things work in a fallen world – they have become much more – we have become eternal people – immortal. Death has ceased to be our end, and eternity is before us.
Christ Offers an Identity of Joy in Exchange for Emptiness: “The prospect of the righteous is joy, but the hopes of the wicked come to nothing.” Christ offers us the prospect of joy – joy in this world because we have the new life of God in us – and joy in the next world where we will be completely free.
This new identity means that we do not have to live in the emptiness of trying to find satisfaction and life in a fallen world. There is no lasting joy in finding our identity in accomplishments, beauty, possessions, relationships – all of these will leave us empty – but finding an identity in Christ will bring us joy.
Christ Offers an Identity in Refuge in Exchange for Ruin: “The way of the Lord is a refuge for the righteous, but it is the ruin of those who do evil,” Outside of Christ, we have the ruin of sin – its consequences for our lives both now and eternally. But Christ offers us an exchange – an identity of forgiveness in exchange for an identity of guilt. This new identity means we do not have to fear the ruin that sin will bring on us – Christ has become our refuge and the final consequence of sin is done away with.
Christ Offers an Identity of Belonging in Exchange for Being an Outcast: “The righteous will never be uprooted, but the wicked will not remain in the land.” Christ wants us! The world wants to use us! Christ wants us to belong with him for ever. God has always wanted to gather a people for himself – to give them a land to live in. The world wants to clutch what belongs to it.
This new identity means that we do not have to fight for approval to belong. We do not have to lie about who we truly are to avoid rejection. Christ knows us and he wants us.
Christ Offers an Identity as Messengers of Grace in Exchange for Our Twisted Speech: “The lips of the righteous know what is fitting, but the mouth of the wicked only what is perverse.” Christ gives us a message of grace in exchange for our foolish talk – our self-justification, our evil speech, our accusations and slander. Christ, in changing our identity, has given us a new topic of conversation – words of grace.
WE ARE THE MESSENGERS OF THIS HOPE.
In the middle of this passage is this strange verse: “As vinegar to the teeth, and smoke to the eyes, so is a sluggard to those who send him.” It is right in the middle of the structure of this passage, and it doesn’t seem to fit. Is it a mistake?
We are Called to Be the Messengers: This verse, taken together with the last verses of the chapter, send a clear message. In the OT context that message was – “This is what the righteous look like and this is what the wicked look like, and you better stop being wicked or these judgments will fall on you”. But in the NT context, the message takes on a different tone. Christ is offering a new identity to the wicked – the exchange of his grace freely to those who believe – his righteousness for our wickedness.
We have fitting things to say – a gospel – words of grace we have been given in exchange for our perverse and unfitting speech. God has put his message in our mouths. And now we can either be like the sluggard – who frustrates those who sent him by failing to deliver the message – or we can be like the wise man – who speaks fitting words. There are people like us all around us, who live with despair and emptiness rather than hope. We can offer them a new identity of Christ’s grace in exchange for their despair.