This sermon was preached at Peace Hill Christian Fellowship on April 15th, 2007. To listen to the audio of this sermon, just click on this link – Prov 18A.
PROVERBS 17:27-18:8 — SPEAKING FROM THE HEART
The structure of this passage is a central statement about words -(18:4), with warnings about the way we use words on either side -(one one side words used without restraint, and on the other, gossip). The effect of the structure is that the words of wisdom are like a path down the middle between two dangers.
We will begin and end with the central statement, and examine the two dangers in the middle.
OUR WORDS ARE DEEP WATERS.
“The words of a man’s mouth are deep waters…” The image of water shows up throughout Scripture. Water is life-giving – particularly in the arid regions of the Middle East. But deep water is somewhat of a conflicted image. Deep water is full of danger. The sea, in the ancient mind, was dark and deep and dangerous – full of monsters and demons.
What, then, does it mean to say that man’s words are deep waters? It means that man’s words have potential to be life-giving, but that they also have the potential to bring harm or death. Our words have the power to overwhelm and drown those we speak to – they conceal secrets and hidden motives. And like deep waters, we should be very careful with our speech.
Beware of the Danger of Unguarded Venting: “An unfriendly man pursues selfish ends; he defies all sound judgment, A fool finds no pleasure in understanding but delights in airing his own opinions.”
There is a direct connection between our hearts and our tongue. When we speak our minds those things that we feel strongly about, our passions come to the surface – we are tempted to speak from the heart – that is not necessarily always a good thing. Notice what the image gets at – the words of a man are deep water – dark and full of hidden demons. The writer is pointing out what he has been saying all along in Proverbs – that our hearts need to be guarded – that they are full of sinful passions – foolish notions and desires that corrupt.
Here in Prov.18:1-2, is a picture of the man whose speech is unguarded – who pours out what is in his heart and who airs his opinions. The proverb describes him as unfriendly and selfish. He is a person who speaks his mind – who vents his passions without regard to those around him.
We consider venting – speaking our minds and airing our opinions – to be our right. We, as Americans, demand to have the right to air any opinion – to express ourselves in any way we want. But the words of a man’s mouth are deep waters. Our words can be harmful, can lead others astray, can overwhelm. Our words can give expression and life to evil ways of thinking. Our words are not neutral. The person who speaks unguardedly, pouring out what is in their heart without restraint, lacks and even defies sound judgment.
Where our words are spoken without restraint in anger or malice or rudeness – where we express the thoughts and passions of our hearts without restraint, we are in danger of harming others. Where we speak without restraint we deceive ourselves – firming up in our hearts words and opinions that are damaging and sinful – we give expression to evil and form the way we think. So Jesus said, we will be judged for every word.
Where we air our opinions without restraint – speaking in selfish and unfriendly ways, we are in danger of disgracing ourselves. “When wickedness comes, so does contempt, and with shame comes disgrace”.
Beware of the Danger of Gossip: “The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to a man’s inmost parts”
How many times, already, has the writer of Proverbs addressed the issue of gossip? Look at the images here – words of gossip are choice morsels – people love to hear them and to take them in. And having taken them in, they go down to a person’s inmost parts and create strife – anger, envy, hatred, bias, unkindness, impatience, malicious speech. The words of gossip become, “… a snare to [our] own soul”.
James 3 captures the image of gossip perfectly – it is a fire set by Hell itself – it becomes a rudder that steers the course of a ship. It brings about strife and contention and it can be our undoing – it has undone entire churches.
But Prov.18: 5 introduces another aspect of gossip – it is unjust. Gossip “…deprives the innocent of justice”. Gossip is our way of influencing the hearts and minds of others – of setting the opinions of others for ourselves and against those we speak about. Gossip is like deep water – it has depths and hidden motives – evils that cannot be seen.
WISDOM IS LIFE-GIVING.
“… but the fountain of wisdom is a bubbling brook”. The bubbling brook of wisdom is contrasted with the deep waters of man’s words. Where the deep water conceals dangers and is a danger itself – the bubbling brook – running water, is a life-giving image – a cleansing image – a picture of purity.
Be Wise, Speak with Restraint: “A man of knowledge uses words with restraint, and a man of understanding is even tempered”.
Restraint sounds limiting – not life-giving. But here restraint is connected to pure speech. The wise man – the man of knowledge is not wise because he is free of sin and passions – but rather because he recognizes sinful attitudes and passions within himself. Consequently, he guards his heart by restraining his speech.
Speaking with restraint does not mean that we never speak passionately about anything – but that we take care to speak passionately about what is true. Speaking with restraint does not mean that we never speak our minds in front of others – but that we speak in order to build up and to promote understanding and truth. This way of speaking is like running water – clarifying what is good – creating truth – purifying.
Be Wise, Learn to Keep Silent When You are Tempted to Speak Foolishly:
“Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent…”. Restraint sometimes involves silence – being unwilling to join in a conversation that is attacking or gossiping about someone. Silence can even make a fool appear to be wise and reserved. We need to learn the self-control and restraint of silence – of not taking part in evil conversation. Unwillingness to participate in evil conversation is a witness against it.
Be Wise, Speak From the Fountain of Wisdom: Christ is the fountain of wisdom. What does that mean? Do we want to say that as long as we belong to Christ we can speak from our hearts and he will just transform our words? No – experience tells us that this is not necessarily so.
Rather, when we speak from our heart – we must learn to speak not only what is in our minds, but also the Gospel. To speak from the heart for a believer means to speak about our own sin and need for Christ – about the forgiveness and grace given to us by Christ – about the grace and forgiveness offered to others in Christ.
Speaking the Gospel cleanses our conversation so that, tempered and formed by the grace our words become life-giving and true.
This sermon was preached at Peace Hill Christian Fellowship on April 22nd, 2007. There is no audio available for this sermon.
PROVERBS 18:9-12 — THE WORSHIP OF WORK
We want to look at 4 verses this morning that take up the topic of work/ vocation. We want the Scriptures to address this very large area of our lives. Often, work is considered to be outside of the spiritual life – connecting with it only in terms of whether we are witnessing to those in our office or living morally in the workplace. But the passage this morning addresses the place of work in our lives and the balance between being irresponsible about work and making work an idol in our lives.
BALANCE BETWEEN THE TWO EXTREMES OF WORK.
Do Your Work with Energy and Excellence: “ One who is slack in his work is brother to one who destroys”. To understand why slackness is so destructive, we need to grasp the meaning of work – of vocation – but also we need to think about the effect of irresponsibility in the workplace on those around us.
~ To be slack in the work is to degrade the abilities and calling that God has given us. Work is a calling – a vocation. There is – or should be – something sacred about work. God gave Adam and Eve meaningful work in the Garden of Eden, as part of the good Creation. When we use the gifts and abilities that God has given us with excellence, we bring glory to God.
~ To be slack in the work God has given us is to degrade the world around us. Cheaply made products, poorly done services have an effect on society that is degrading. Poorly done work and service create a tone of despair and emptiness in society – and consequently a tone of self-protecting indifference. We have learned not to care – not to expect admirable work or workers. Many forms of work have become menial, even degrading. But even the most menial work, done well and with dignity is not only honoring to God – it has a beauty about it that is uplifting to others.
~ To be slack in the work God has given us is to harm the community of those who depend on us – both those who have to make up or fix the work we have not done or done poorly, and those we are supposed to be supporting. Society is full of people whose poor work, or unwillingness to work cause others to suffer.
Recognize and Reject Our Cultures Idolatry of Work: ”The wealth of the rich is their fortified city; they imagine it an unscalable wall”. The other extreme of self-indulgence in work is the blinding drive to find our life and security in our work. To the rich, wealth is a fortified city. The image of the fortified city is an image of strength and pride and security. To the rich wealth is a defense against disaster – the answer to every need. Our society has totally bought into the idea that money is security – that it is enjoyment. A whole industry has grown up around the idea of retirement and having enough money to enjoy life and be secure. The promise is that money will protect us in retirement like an unscalable wall.
But the fortified city is about more than just wealth – it is about recognition, security, acceptance. There is a temptation to turn our work into a fortified city – an identity that is secure. There is something about work – the activity/place that takes up much of our time and energy and day – the use of our gifts and talents – that tends towards idolatry. It is easy for work to become everything to us – an urgent, demanding tyrant that keeps asking more of our time, our relationships, our energy – until there is little left for family and less for worship.
TRUST GOD TO PROVIDE WHAT YOU NEED.
Trust in the Name of the Lord: ”The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe.” There is a contrast going on between vs.11 and vs.10. The rich are taken in by their wealth – “… they imagine [their wealth] an unscalable wall”. But the name of the Lord actually is a strong tower. What does this mean?
First we need to say what it does not mean. The commandment not to use the name of the Lord in vain – not to lift up the Lord’s name to an empty purpose – was a command against the magic use of God’s name for the purposes – the manipulations – of men. So the idea that the Lord’s name could be lifted up to make us wealthy needs to be rejected completely. The name of the Lord is not our own personal charm.
But the name of the Lord has meaning. Wherever God speaks of his name or gives his name, the meaning of his name is in view. God calls himself I Am – (Yahweh), or The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob -(The God of the Promises). In the NT, the name of the Lord is Jesus (He Saves) and Christ (Anointed King). The name of the Lord tells us about – assures us of – his character. The name of the Lord is what God has said is true about himself – and therefore what we can believe about him.
So what does it mean to say that the name of the Lord is a strong tower? It means this: that rather than running after more money – rather than competing against other people in your work – rather than trying to win the approval of people you work with… that we are to believe in the name of the Lord – that he is our provider – that he has placed eternal value on our work – that he will create through our work a glory that employers and those we want to impress can never give it.
To run into the strong tower is to believe that God is using our work in a redemptive way – that God is our provider and that God is creating an eternal weight of glory through our lives and our work. It is to believe and therefore not to be driven by the expectations and demands and fears of the workplace.
Matt.6:25-34: This is what Jesus taught his disciples… “… do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? 26Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life.”
HUMBLE YOURSELF TO WORK FOR GOD’S GLORY.
Humble Yourself – Take Yourself Out of the Competition and Work: Isn’t this what these verses are getting at. The fortress of self-sufficiency that we want to build through our jobs – the status, the money, the recognition of others – is not only a false security, it makes work into an idolatry and draws us away from faith. We have been drawn away from the notion that God provides – from the notion that life is more important than food and clothing.
We need to humble ourselves and stop and recognize the lies that we have ben told and have believed. Our world does not have a wise view of work. So what does it mean to humble ourselves? For those of us who have been slack in our work, it means a recognition of our sin against God, who redeemed us to work meaningfully, and against others – those we have failed to support – those we have hurt through poor service and work. Humility means becoming obedient to the calling God has given us and fulfilling it.
For those who have idolized work, humility means taking ourselves out of competition with others and doing the work that God gave us to do not for our own recognition, but to the glory of God – doing excellent work because we are fulfilling the vocation God has given us. But humility also means that we cannot be driven by the prideful desire to impress – allowing that desire to take us away from our families, from worship of God.
This sermon was preached at Peace Hill Christian Fellowship on April 29th, 2007. To listen to the audio of this sermon, just click on this link – Prov 18C.
PROVERBS 18:13-19 — MAKING PEACE
(A) 13 He who answers before listening – that is his folly and his shame.
(B) 14 A man’s spirit sustains him in sickness, but a crushed spirit who can bear?
(A) 15 The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge; the ears of the wise seek it out.
(C) 16 A gift opens the way for the giver and ushers him into the presence of the great.
(A) 17 The first to present his case seems right, till another comes forward and questions him.
(C) 18 Casting the lot settles disputes and keeps strong opponents apart.
(B) 19 An offended brother is more unyielding than a fortified city, and disputes are like barred gates of a citadel.
MAKE THINGS RIGHT WITH THE OFFENDED BROTHER.
Settle the Dispute: We want to look, this morning, at the issue of making peace with an offended brother or sister or friend. The image of the shut up fortress is a good description of the offended brother: hostile, uncommunicative, ready for a fight.
Generally these are situations that are easier to ignore and avoid in the hope that we will not have to deal with them – that they will pass over. And we should say at the outset that these verses do not offer the easy way to deal with those we have offended, but rather the wise way. We are called, as the children of God, to confront, rather than avoid, these situations. In fact, Jesus told his disciples…
“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift. (Matt.5:24-25)
Look at the Offended with Wisdom: “An offended brother is more unyielding than a fortified city, and disputes are like barred gates of a citadel” Within the structure of the passage, the offended brother is described both as a shut up citadel, and as a picture of illness in the face of a crushed spirit. The two images combine to give us wisdom’s picture of the offended brother.
To all outward appearances the offended brother/ sister is a citadel – whether that means that they are silent and angry, have little to say and are distant, or angry and aggressive. The point is that the offended brother looks like a fortress of strength.
But this outward view of the offended brother should be paired with the other, more inward picture of the crushed spirit. “A man’s spirit sustains him in sickness, but a crushed spirit who can bear?” The fact is that people who are hurt – whose spirit is crushed by some offense – do put up walls and bars like a citadel. The picture of the citadel is a picture of self protection.
To be wise towards the offended brother is to take the complete view. This view changes the way we approach the offended – they are not merely a fortress that needs to be overcome – but a wounded spirit in need of healing and grace.
GO AND LISTEN TO YOUR BROTHER.
Listen Before You Speak/ Assume: “He who answers before listening, that is his folly and his shame”. There is a process most of us go through when there has been an offense. We think about the offense, we go over it in our minds, we highlight certain considerations and dismiss others – all in the process of simplifying things and making sense of them in our minds. This is particularly true with long standing offenses, we simplify them and shape them according to our point of view. This is death to reconciliation – to understanding. The simplistic, quick answer is generally unsympathetic, lacking in compassion and comprehension – it is a shameful and foolish way to respond.
Wisdom requires that, in the face of an offense, we go and listen, even empathize to try to understand our brother. Disputes are often fueled by a lack of listening.
Question Both Sides: “The first to present his case seems right till another comes forward and questions him” Notice the trial imagery of this verse. Wisdom call us to question both sides of a dispute. It is wrong to be arrogantly convinced of our own way and innocence. It is equally wrong to yield to what is not true (false accusation). Listening and understanding requires the willingness to honestly question.
Seek Out Wisdom: “The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge; the ears of the wise seek it out” The point of listening is neither to find out how to appease a disgruntled brother, nor is it to build a case and store up ammunition against him/her – but it is to gain wisdom – to honor the Lord – to find out how to bring healing and reconciliation that is both honest and compassionate.
GO WITH HUMILITY.
Go Graciously with Overtures of Kindness: “A gift opens the way for the giver and ushers him into the presence of the great”. The point here is not to bribe our way into the favor of a disgruntled brother – but to with kindness and graciousness – to go with the humility of good will. We must put aside suspicion, fear and anger and approach a disgruntled brother with love.
Go with a Willingness to Compromise: ”Casting the lot settles disputes and keeps strong opponents apart” The lot was a way of divining the god’s will. The question would be put forward to the god – generally in a yes or no – true or false – format – and then the lot would be cast. The decision of the god was final, backed by divine authority.
To agree to cast the lot was to agree to compromise. To cast the lot was to admit that one did not already know what was right. Strong opponents would cast the lot when they were not already convinced of their right.
This is a picture of compromise – a willingness not to demand to have our way…
~ Not to demand that we have the last word
~ Not to demand that our memory of events is the only true record.
~ Not to demand that our interpretation of events is the bottom line.
We are called to go to our offended brother with a willingness not to get our way, but to put peace and wisdom and reconciliation above our own demands and record of events.
Go As One in Debt to Grace: Jesus commanded his disciples to lay their gift at the altar and go and be reconciled ot their brother before they continued worship. Why? Because worship is, in large part, a recognition of the Gospel – God’s forgiving grace towards us while we were still offending – yet sinners. It is because we have been reconciled and shown grace that reconciliation is so important – it is living out the Gospel.
This sermon was preached at Peace Hill Christian Fellowship on May 20th, 2007. There is no audio available for this sermon.
PROVERBS 18:20-21 — THE FEAST OF OUR WORDS
WE FEED ON OUR WORDS.
Our Words, Over Time, Define Us: “From the fruit of his mouth a man’s stomach is filled; with the harvest of his lips he is satisfied”.
Our words produce consequences. People respond and react to us depending on what we say to them. This is not only true in the immediate situation – but over time. Over the long run our words at as a frame – bringing the picture of who we are into focus. Our words create the understanding that people have of us.
Consequently the person who uses filthy language – over time – comes to be known as a filthy person. The person who speaks with gentleness over time comes to be known as gentle. This is obvious.
But what is, perhaps, less obvious is the fact that we feed on our own words. We have our own mantras that we repeat to ourselves – our own slogans we tell ourselves. A person who fears constantly rehearses dangers. The bitter man rehearses the offenses of others against him. The arrogant man rehearses his entitlements.
We speak to ourselves and convince ourselves – like a propaganda machine, we speak over and over and rehearse words that we have been taught by others – or understandings that we have come to on our own – whether good or evil. These words create the motivation and the behavior and the feelings that drive us. The words we speak create much of the reality we live in.
Our Words Seek to Satisfy Us: The second half of verse 20 is an ironic statement. “… with the harvest of his lips he is satisfied” – meaning both “filled” but also happy about being filled. This gets down to what is going on in the human heart. We satisfy ourselves with our own words. The words we speak are chosen and spoken to fulfill the desires in our hearts.
~ The guilty man who berates himself and rehearses his guilt is atoning for his own sin.
~ The bitter man who accuses others and rehearses the offenses of others is justifying himself.
~ The arrogant man who despises others and rehearses his entitlements is setting himself above others.
~ The unbelieving man who rejects the testimony of others and rehearses his doubts and objections is following his own faith.
~ The recalcitrant man who refuses to change his ways or listen to others and rehearses his excuses is choosing his own will and way.
Each of these are filled or satisfied – (although our own words never truly satisfy us) with the harvest of what we say. We feed ourselves on our own words.
RECOGNIZE THE SPIRITUAL POWER AT WORK IN OUR WORDS.
“The tongue has the power of life and death; those who love it will eat its fruit”.
Our Words Are Loaded with Powerful Intent: The Tongue has the power to produce life and death – to tear down or to build others up. The words and tones of speech we use are generally loaded with meaning and intended to produce an effect or response.
I spend an entire marriage counseling session talking about these things – which is really not enough considering how much our words affect our marriages. We psychologize one another as a way of sounding superior and disrespecting one another. We label one another for the same reason. We lie to one another – not saying what we really mean but speaking to get the effect or response we want. We speak in emotionally manipulative ways – saying one thing with our words but another with our tones. We state as fact emotionally loaded words. We speak in ways pretending to be logical and above those we are speaking to as a way of pretending to be unmoved.
Our Words Are Part of a Spiritual Battle: There is spiritual power behind our words. Our words have the power of life and death. We all are prone to speak like the Serpent – who used words to bring death into our lives and alienation from God and one another. The power of sin – the spiritual battle – is in our words. There is a malignant voice tempting us to speak – not only to speak evil words – but to hear.
Our Hearing is Part of a Spiritual Battle: There is a malignant will, willing us to hear what we have learned to hear. Some of us are programed to hear disrespect in the words of others – and that becomes our interpretive grid when they speak to us. Some of us have been programmed to hear accusation. Some of us have been programmed to hear that we are not doing enough and need to do better. The Serpent uses this to full advantage – words can be malignant and hearing can be tainted.
LEARN TO FEAST ON WORDS OF GRACE.
Don’t Be Surprised By the War of Words: Words are very hurtful. All of us are struggling with this. There is damage in each of us – sin in each of us – in speaking – in hearing. We say the most unbelievable things to one another. But the church community can only survive if we recognize that we all are sinful in our speech. We all speak in the same ways – we all need grace for our words and grace to hear.
So we need to learn to be forthright with one another. Scripture says that the one who covers his sin will not prosper. I think that this sin – which is and is going to be in our midst – cannot be something that we cover. We have to speak honestly. The one who has spoken sinfully cannot just hope that his words will be forgotten. The one who has been hurt needs to speak up. There is definitely a place for giving people time – for taking time ourselves to allow high running emotions to settle before we speak. However, this should be tempered with the importance of not allowing a grievance to fester. We need to be forthright about resolving sinful words with the acknowledgment that we are sinners in need of grace.
Learn to Hear then Speak Grace: The order is important. The spiritual battle of our words begins by recognizing what words we are reacting to. We hear – in our hearts and minds, words of condemnation, of disappointment, of anger, fighting words, words like….
~ Nothing I do is ever going to be Good Enough
~ No one is going to tell me what to do, or take advantage of me
~ No one understands me
~ You have to make people pay for their wrongs or they will do them again.
These words/ understandings determine our response to people – what we hear them saying to us – and what we say in return. We rehearse them to ourselves – they are in our minds, the ways we think – they are the assumptions we live by.
Where have these words come from? Our upraising, our deep psychological needs? Hurtful things people have said to us? These things may have affected us – but the truth is that these sinful assumptions and words have come from the father of lies – from the Serpent – and we have accepted the words of the Serpent and, like Adam and Eve, chosen to listen to him and to believe them and act on them. It’s not psychology it’s sin!
These words of the Serpent need to be exposed, brought to the cross, confessed, renounced and replaced by the true words of Christ. Words like…
~ How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! (1 John 3:1)
~ Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus… (Phil.2:4-5)
~ No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. (1Cor.10:13)
~ To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow \n his steps. ‘He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.’ When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. (1 Peter 2:21-23)
These words are light – and they lead us into godly and gracious ways of speaking and living. If we are going to learn to speak differently, we need First to expose the ungracious words of the serpent – that we have taken in and believed. We need to recognize the lies that we have been sold and have taken into ourselves and loved. And then, Second as these words sink into us and we believe them, only then will our speech begin to change. As we renounce old sinful understandings and words and listen to and hear Christ’s words of acceptance and grace and God’s faithfulness and love for others, and challenge the things we have always said to ourselves – only then can we be able to hear God’s new words and speak them after him and be satisfied.