Proverbs 25:1-7 — PRAYING FOR HUMAN GOVERNMENET
This sermon was preached at Peace Hill Christian Fellowship on October 24th, 2010. To listen to the audio of this sermon, just click this link – Prov 25A.
This morning we begin a section of proverbs that will run from Ch.25-30 – the further proverbs of Solomon, “…copied by the men of Hezekiah king of Judah”. Verses 1-7 record three proverbs about human governments, and give us insight, from the perspective of the wisest king who ever lived, on what human government should be like. This morning we want to understand how we are called to pray for our human governments.
Pray That Our Leaders Will Be Wise.
It Is a King’s Glory to Be Careful and Thoughtful and Wise: “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings”.
Solomon gives us the definition of wise rule here. What makes a ruler glorious or praiseworthy is the willingness to take the time to search out, and come to a true understanding of the complexity of a situation and issue – and to make a wise policy or decision. But at the same time, Solomon warns that, even if a ruler is careful and thoughtful, there is no way of telling what is going on in his heart: “As the heavens are high and the earth is deep, so the hearts of kings are unsearchable”.
Solomon, of course, wrote this in the context of a monarchy, where people had no say about who got to be king. There only recourse was to pray to God for a wise king. We live in a time and a place where rulers are elected by people and we have the opportunity to vote.
Those who vote thoughtfully (not reactively), do spend time trying to discern which candidates are truly being thoughtful about the issues. In a sense, we do understand that it is the glory of a ruler to search out an issue or a situation. However, I think we are called to go beyond careful consideration of candidates.
Pray for Leaders Who Will Be Wise: Note that Solomon is the author of this proverb. He was known for his wisdom – Why? Was Solomon simply the smartest man who ever lived? Does intelligence and the ability to be articulate, guarantee that a person will make wise decisions? No!
Solomon was wise because he asked God for the gift of wisdom, and God gave it to him (1Kings 3:7-12). Wisdom is more than intelligence or the ability to speak well. Wisdom is a matter of knowing and doing what is right, honorable and pleasing to God. Wisdom is a gift from God. Therefore, if we want leaders who will take time to search out what is right and just, and who will then make wise decisions, we should vote for those who seem to be thoughtful and upright – and we should pray for those who are in office to have the gift of wisdom.
Pray That Wicked Men Would be Removed.
When the Wicked are Removed from Leadership, Governments See Clearly: “Remove the dross from the silver and out comes material for the silversmith; Remove the wicked from the king;s presence and his throne will be established through righteousness.”
Solomon is not asking his people to come and eliminate corrupt officials, but rather he is explaining that when a government has corrupt, wicked people, who act corruptly and put forth self-serving arguments and causes, governments are, in effect, blinded. As an example he uses the illustration of the silver and the dross. Dross is impurity. The silversmith heats up the silver and skims the dross off the top until he can see his reflection in the silver – then it is ready to be made into something by the silversmith.
In the same way, the corrupt desires, arguments and practices of the wicked blur what a government should be doing and bring confusion. But when the corrupt are removed from a government, what was cloudy becomes clear – issues of justice and policy.
Pray that God Would Remove Wicked Leaders: We have the power to vote. Sometimes the choice between a good or wicked candidate seems clear – sometimes not. But we have something more powerful than the vote – we have prayer. Dan.2:20-21 and Psalm 75:7 tell us that God raises up and removes those in authority, according to his purposes. Consequently, we should pray for God to remove the wicked from positions of authority in government – and believe that he hears us.
Pray That Those Who Govern Would Be Servants.
Do Not Exalt Yourself in the King’s Presence: “Do not exalt yourself in the king’s presence, and do not claim a place among great men; It is better for him to say to you, “Come up here,” than for him to humiliate you before a nobleman“.
This is the only command in these verses, and it is directed to the king’s court – those who would be in a position to exalt themselves or grasp honor before the king. Those who grasp at power, position, and honor are not in the frame of mind to be servants, while those whose desire is to serve may be honored but are not motivated by that desire.
Solomon, in writing this proverb, was asking his court not to set themselves forward to be honored, but instead to serve faithfully so that he could honor them.
Pray for Servant Leaders: Leaders should be servants. We should pray for our leaders that they would recognize their calling to serve and would be more dedicated to thoughtful governing and hard work than to the perks of office.
Live in the Hope of The One True Government.
Recognize the Limitation of Human Governments: Because human beings are fallen, human governments will always be incomplete. Human governments are capable of bringing about justice and rewarding what is noble and praiseworthy. Rather than being apathetic or despairing, we should recognize government as God-given and pray expectantly that God will use our government in good ways.
On the other hand, we should recognize that human governments can never fully do away with injustice – corruption – will often fail to recognize and reward what is good.
~ Leaders will sometimes fail to adequately search out issues and situations…
~ Leaders will sometimes be wicked, or influenced by evil…
~ Leaders will sometimes be motivated by perks and honors, rather than service…
Nevertheless, we are called to believe that our prayers make a difference. We are commanded to pray.
Live In Anticipation and Hope of the One True Government: Of course, our hope is in the final heavenly government which God himself will establish. And here, we need to go back to verse 2 “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter;”, and recognize that we have no room to be cynical about government – but that we ourselves are, at times, unwise – that we ourselves are, at times wicked and corrupt – and that we ourselves, at times, are more interested in being honored and served than in being Christ-like servants. It is not only government that needs to be remade, but we ourselves need redemption.
Verse 2 anticipates this and transforms Solomon’s words from just good advice into redemptive hope. It is to God’s glory to conceal (Satar: to separate us from, shelter from) an offense. It is not merely God’s promise, or his kindness – but his glory to forgive our offenses.
It is because God has gloried in separating us and sheltering us from our sins that we now have the hope of inheriting his perfect kingdom – from which all injustice and wickedness (including our sinful desires and ways) will be removed – and in which God himself, the king, will recognize and exalt us as his good and faithful servants.
Prov.25:8-14 — PURSUING THE TRUTH ABOUT MY NEIGHBOR
This sermon was preached at Peace Hill Christian Fellowship on February 13, 2011. To listen to the audio of this sermon, just click on this link – Prov 25B.
This morning we want to look at these proverbs about judging our neighbor. The simple structure given is two statements about how we are not to judge our neighbor – and then four corrective similes – (three positive, one negative) that call us to repentance and wisdom.
We Prefer a Shallow Understanding of Our Neighbor.
We Judge Our Neighbor Lightly: What you have seen with your eyes do not bring hastily to court, for what will you do in the end if your neighbor puts you to shame? Vs. 8 shows, in an exaggerated way, our tendency to jump to conclusions – to judge what we see people doing – and to rush to an easy understanding of the truth. Here we are told not to rush to take a neighbor to court hastily because of something we have seen – which would be expensive and unlikely – rather we would be more likely to judge people and situations – to draw conclusions about their character and motives – in the courtroom of our own minds, based on what we have seen. We make light of setting ourselves above people and judging them based on assumptions that would outrage us if we were judged in the same way.
We Talk About Our Neighbor Lightly: If you take your neighbor to court, do not betray another’s confidence, or the one who hears it may shame you and the charge against you will stand.
Not only do we judge our neighbor lightly, but as Vs.9-10 point out, we often are willing to expose them with our words. Again, the picture is a court scene in which the one who has brought their neighbor to court is willing to talk about and betray things that should have been kept to themselves. We talk, lightly about people we know and their character (parents, siblings, fellow workers, public figures).
What we do not want is for the one we are talking about to find out what we are saying and to confront us. We are often willing to share what we know about our neighbor – confidential knowledge – to gossip – but we do not want to be confronted with the statements we have made about them.
At The Heart of Our Judgments on Others is Pride:
~ The desire to set myself up as an authority over someone else’s life
~ The desire to impress others with what I think I know and understand.
~ The desire to put myself in an easy comparison with another.
Pursue a True Understanding of Your Neighbor.
The Proverbs do not tell us just to stop it – not to think about or ever speak about our neighbor. Rather, they give us wisdom by encouraging us to know our neighbor and to pursue love for them.
Pursue True and Thoughtful Judgment of Your Neighbor: 11 Like applesof gold in settings of silver is a ruling rightly given. A ruling rightly given goes back to the whole courtroom scene. We are to see the contrast between the one who drags a neighbor hastily into court and a judge who takes time and effort to consider and weigh evidence – to ask questions.
Taking the time to have right judgment towards our neighbor is costly – it cannot be arrived at quickly or easily – it involves knowing and understanding them. The truth is that human beings are somewhat mysterious and complex – sometimes contradictory in the ways they act and believe and talk. Light judgments and light gossip are misleading and harmful and slanderous – but tempting. Taking the time to truly understand another person is honorable and loving. Generally speaking, the more we know about people and why they are the way they are – and why they believe what they believe – the more compassionate we tend to be towards them. Right judgments lead us to treat other people properly – they protect and bless.
Be willing to Grow in Your Understanding of Your Neighbor.
12 Like an earring of gold or an ornament of fine gold is the rebuke of a wise judge to a listening ear.
Part of our pursuit of wisdom in understanding our neighbor is the willingness to be corrected rather than to desperately hold onto what we think – our easy knowledge. We all have aunts or grandparents who only remember us as babies or five year olds. In a sense they treat us as though we were still at that stage. They do not honor us by recognizing that we have grown or developed.
The recognition that our understanding of who people are has to adjust and grow and become nuanced is wisdom. Even if we feel that we fully understand someone at one point in their life – people change. Recognizing the complexity and growth of others – being willing to be corrected and instructed in our understanding of our neighbor is what makes our character lovely – like an ornament of gold that is intended to make the wearer more attractive.
Speak in a Thoughtful and Trustworthy Way About Your Neighbor.
13 Like a snow-cooled drink at harvest time is a trustworthy messenger to the one who sends him; he refreshes the spirit of his master. We all want to be known and deeply understood – this is, perhaps the chief joy of marriage – the most important aspect of intimacy. We were made to be known. When others take the time to know us and to speak about us truthfully and with compassion – we are delighted by that – refreshed.
In the same way, when we speak thoughtfully and lovingly about others, we value them. We value people by taking the time to know them. This is the goal of fellowship within the church – that we would truly know and love one another.
Do Not Withhold the Gift of Knowing: 14 Like clouds and wind without rain is one who boasts of gifts never given. Taking the time to know someone and to love them is a gift. God, through Jesus Christ, has given us the gift of knowing Him, and the gift of being known completely by Him with grace and favor – despite the fact that he knows our sin, the motives of our hearts. In Christ God chose to know us and delighted in us – he came and preached peace to us so that we are no longer strangers to Him – Eph.2:19.
In our lives there are relationships in which we are meant to know and be known (husband and wife – parents and children – siblings – friendships – those with whom we are in fellowship in the church). These relationships are meant to bless, nurture and encourage us. But when we refuse to be known – when we refuse to take the effort to know, our children, our parents, our spouse, our siblings – those whose lives are bound up with ours – then we are like clouds and wind without rain. Clouds and wind make a promise that they will deliver the life-giving rain that these Israelite farmers depended on – but then when it doesn’t rain it’s heartbreaking. The gifts we are meant to give are not given – our relationships dry up.
Turn To Jesus for the Grace to Pursue Love.
Repentance is not simply a matter of effort – though effort is required. Repentance is a matter of turning to the One who can give us the grace and the help – who can change our hearts and the hearts of our neighbor. The place to begin is with confession – that we have judged others lightly – spoken of them lightly – that we have not pursued right judgment. When we confess our need before God through Christ, we receive forgiving grace and the power to live differently.
This morning, as God has convicted you of relationships in which you have withheld the gift of knowing – in which you have made light judgments – turn to Jesus and ask for grace and help to love your neighbor as Christ has loved you.
Prov.25:15-28 — LOVING BAD CHARACTERS WELL
This sermon was preached at Peace Hill Christian Fellowship on February 20th, 2011. There is no audio for this sermon.
This morning’s passage is a kind of continuation of what we talked about last week. We are called to know one another in relationships – to expend the effort and to value others by having a right judgment and by growing in our understanding of one another.
But what about those with whom we are in relationship who are difficult and harmful towards us – bad characters whose behavior towards us is annoying or damaging? We have all had people in our lives – friends, family, co-workers – whose behavior towards us has caused us heartache and trouble. When we are faced with such relationships, how can we live wisely? The Proverbs describe some examples of the bad characters we live with – and give us clear direction.
Be Wise in Recognizing Bad Characters.
The Busybody: 17 Seldom set foot in your neighbor’s house— too much of you, and they will hate you… 27 It is not good to eat too much honey, nor is it honorable to search out matters that are too deep. These verses go together in the structure of the passage and describe the neighbor who, too often comes into your house to search out your business. We are all familiar with the busybody who tries to become involved in things that do not and should not concern them.
The wisdom of vs.27 tells us that some issues should remain mysteries – there are things that cannot be searched out. But it also suggests that the same holds true of our neighbor. We do not honor our neighbors when we pry into their business. The busybody is fascinated by the lives of others – desiring either to judge them or to live vicariously through them.
The Sly Tongued: 18 Like a club or a sword or a sharp arrow is one who gives false testimony against a neighbor… 23 Like a north wind that brings unexpected rain is a sly tongue—which provokes a horrified look. The sly tongued person has a way of presenting what they know of people and situations that creates trouble and suspicion and that leads to anger, hatred and misunderstanding. We know people like this, cynical and angry themselves – trouble surrounds them and they hold other people in contempt. They are like an arrow in the side or a cold rain – they wear us down and bring us sorrow.
We know or have known people like this – our own personal “Worm tongue” (from Lord Of The Rings) – the person who has an opinion on everyone – who delights in accusing people of evil motives and whose conversation is full of accusations – who has a perverse way of describing the world. Like profanity – everything they say degrades life and people.
The Unfaithful Friend: 19 Like a broken tooth or a lame foot is reliance on the unfaithful in a time of trouble… 26 Like a muddied spring or a polluted well are the righteous who give way to the wicked. A friend should be someone who helps us in times of trouble – who stands with us when we are facing evil people or circumstances. But we have people in our lives from whom we expect help, and yet who are like a broken tooth – (e.g. when we lean on them it is like breaking a tooth – painful). The unfaithful friend is like a polluted spring – someone from whom we expect refreshment, but who, instead only adds to our sorrow.
The Quarrelsome Complainer: 24 Better to live on a corner of the roof than share a house with a quarrelsome wife. The quarrelsome and complaining person is always unhappy – never finding contentment in anything except complaints. To live with such a person is worse, the proverb says, than living in poverty and exposure on the corner of a rooftop. That is because the quarrelsome complainer spreads discontent – it is very difficult not to be influenced by their discontent and to become unhappy.
The Insensitive Nuisance: 20 Like one who takes away a garment on a cold day, or like vinegar poured on a wound, is one who sings songs to a heavy heart. We have all known people like this who are so self absorbed that they have no sensitivity to what others are going through. The movie, “The Social Network”, portrays the main character in this way. He has only one real friend whom he ends up alienating because he only ever is aware of his own thoughts and needs. The insensitive nuisance brings us anti-comfort. Their friendship with us is empty because they give nothing to it. Like someone who takes your coat on a cold day, they take away any comfort you might have had from them and leave you cold – they worsen our wounds.
Be Wise with Self-Controlled Kindness.
Show Kindness With Wisdom: 21 If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. 22 In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the LORD will reward you. It is important to note, at the outset, what this proverb does not say as well as what it does say. First, we should recognize that those who display this type of behavior towards us are, in some sense, our enemy. We should be aware of the ways in which the insensitive nuisance and the quarrelsome complainer tear us down. We should be wise and see that the unfaithful friend really is not a friend. We are not being called to open our lives to their mischief – to be a part of what they are doing – or to endure the consequences of the trouble they find for themselves. We are not compassionate when we continue to listen to the sly-tongued person or give the complainer a hearing. Wisdom means recognizing bad characters and what they are doing – and not helping them to perpetuate their bad character.
But then, secondly, there is a very clear command to show kindness to these enemies where they are in need. Note how carefully this is phrased – If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat. If we are to be wise towards bad characters who are part of our lives, then we need to be wise about what they need and do not need. A busybody does not need to know all your business, but they may need someone to talk to. A complainer does not need another person to complain to, but they may need a ride to work. An unfaithful friend cannot be depended on, but they may need words of kindness – or words of loving confrontation.
Then, thirdly, note the promise that comes with these verses (which are familiar from Rom.12:20). In caring for an enemy’s needs, we are displaying something that is TRUE. The life of the enemy in this passage is a distortion – but in caring for their needs we are living the way God has made us to live – caringly, lovingly, honestly. This true way of living exposes the distorted life of the enemy and convicts them of sin (dumping hot coals on their heads – a picture of shame). The promise is, as Rom.12:21 puts it – that we will overcome evil with good. The enemy will either be brought to repentance or, in hard heartedness and rejection of the truth, face judgment.
Be Patient in Wisdom: 15 Through patience a ruler can be persuaded, and a gentle tongue can break a bone… 28 Like a city whose walls are broken through is a person who lacks self-control.
The bookend verses, in a sense surround the passage with the call to be patient. They give us the image of the patient man changing the mind of a king – a bone being broken by something as soft as a tongue – these are things that take time. On the other hand, if we do not have the self control to show wisdom and kindness to these bad characters – there is the possibility that their behavior will break through and affect us.
Be Patient and Kind Because This is the Father’s Character Towards Us.
God is Kind and Patient: But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. (Matt.5:44-45)
This is the character of the Father – he patiently does good to us – sends rain on the just and the unjust – (e.g. his blessing). The Father displayed his character by sending his son to bad characters like us in order to bring us to repentance – in order to bless our lives by knowing him. When we show patient kindness and love to bad characters – without falling under their influence or encouraging them to continue as bad characters – we show ourselves to be like our Father in heaven. He overcomes evil by doing good.
Turn to Jesus for the Grace to Be Wise: This is not a morality lesson. It is one thing to know what wisdom is and another to practice true wisdom. Kindness and Patience are aspects of the fruit of the Spirit of God in our lives. The power to live towards enemies with patience and kindness – to live towards friends with kindness and patience for that matter – is the gift of God. When we turn to Jesus and confess our unkindness and impatience – our false kindness and false patience – he forgives our sin and enters into our relationships, helping us to begin to live out the fruits of His Spirit.