Proverbs 26

Prov.26:1-12  — WISE IN OUR OWN EYES

This Sermon was preached at Peace Hill Christian Fellowship on May 8th, 2011.  To listen to the audio just click on this link Prov 26A.

Structure:  There are some lessons that we don’t tend to learn well unless they catch us unawares.   Facing our pride is one of those lessons.   If someone tells us directly that we are prideful, we can generally dismiss or ignore them.

The author of Proverbs 26 recognizes this and so structures his words in vs.1-12 in such a way as to catch us unawares.    He begins with general statements about what fools are like… they don’t listen, they argue out of folly, it is better to drink poison or cut off your own feet than to try to send a message by them.  The fool is described with ridiculous images – like a man who ties a stone to a sling (and ends up hitting himself in the head), so that we find ourselves beginning to laugh at the fool and shake our heads and despise or pity him.

And just as we find ourselves in the position of looking down at the fool and comparing his foolishness with our wisdom – the author catches us –  “Do you see a person wise in their own eyes?   There is more hope for a fool than for them.”

This is meant to do two things… (1) Shock us into the realization that the author is perhaps talking about us – that he has set us up to see that we are, perhaps, wise in our own eyes, and to make us willing to see a few things that we would usually not be willing to see… and (2) Cause us to go back and look at these Proverbs again with new eyes, to see ourselves in a more confrontational way than we normally would have.

What Does it Mean to Be Wise In Your Own Eyes?

The primary characteristic of those who are wise in their own eyes is that they keep their own counsel – they listen to themselves and they do not submit themselves to the wisdom of others.  Vs.3&11 describe the fool as one who will not receive instruction except under the most extreme circumstances (a rod on their back), and as someone who will always return to their foolish actions – defiling themselves like a dog who returns to its vomit (a more unclean image could not be imagined for a Jewish man).

“Ha!”, you say, “I am listening and submitting myself to wisdom right now – so I am off the hook”.   No, you are hearing a sermon – but the question of whether you will submit to the wisdom of the Scriptures is still up for grabs.

Here are some ways we ignore instruction and keep our own counsel…

We Make it Impossible for Others to Challenge Us:   We can set up our lives for isolation, avoid close relationships, be unapproachable or evasive in conversation.  We can create situations where no one ever dares to ask us hard questions about our lives or where no one knows us well enough to ask us how we are on more than a surface level.

Or, if we are more socially minded, we can surround ourselves with people who will never challenge us.   We can retreat from anyone who questions their actions or beliefs.  We can act as though it is inappropriate for another person to question our actions, motives or beliefs.  People come to churches their whole lives without ever facing difficult personal questions about their lives.  We can “hide” our lives from others, pretending always that we are doing well.

We Turn Wisdom into Academic Learning:   We can and often do make wisdom about what we know or don’t know – not what we do.  We can receive wisdom like an interesting novel – not like an instruction manual.  Can you think of one way that the Proverbs have changed your way of living?   If not, does that mean that you have not been challenged at all?  We tend to take in information without being trained by it.  This only feeds us with the notion that we are wise – making us wise in our own eyes while we gain nothing.

What is the Result of Being WIse In Your Own Eyes?

We Justify Wrong Behavior:  Vs.4-5 seem to be contradictory.  In order to understand them you have to look at them recognizing that the author intends for you to use wisdom in understanding them.  Vs.4 tells us that we should not answer someone making a foolish argument according to their folly – that is, we should not accept their foolish assumptions.   The man who explains that he must cheat the IRS or that he must cheat on his wife, makes assumptions about what he needs, what he deserves, what he has earned.   He lays a foundation of folly for his argument – a foundation that we should not accept.

Vs.5 tells us that we should  answer a fool according to his folly – that we should expose his hard heartedness and the foolishness of thinking that he can dismiss God’s call of holiness, his responsibilities to his wife.  We should answer the folly of the fool – not be taken in by his false assumptions.

These verses expose one result of being wise in our own eyes – that rather than having the assumptions of our lives questioned and guided by Scripture – we decide what we need – we consider ourselves to be wise enough to rule our lives – and we justify our decisions.

We Dismiss Specific Convictions That We Don’t Want to Face:   The person who has made themselves unchallengeable or who keeps wisdom academic, has put themselves in a place to easily dismiss whatever convictions reach them from the preaching of the Word, or from the Holy Spirit.   They have a selective spirituality of their own making which requires no repentance or struggle.  They never have to live our their Christian life in difficult circumstances.  They do as they please.

We Cause Harm With Our Counsel:   Notice vs.6&10 – The fool who handles wisdom is like a foolish messenger – he is going to cause harm because he won’t get the message right.   You might as well cut off your feet or drink poison – the wrong message is going to be passed with disastrous consequences.  This is why Jesus told his followers to examine themselves (the log in their own eye) before they confronted another’s sin.  When we pass on wisdom without having been trained by it ourselves, we lack compassion – we lack the experience and insight to know what should be said – what is realistic and what is unrealistic.

We Turn Wisdom into a Useless Thing:   Notice vs.7-9.  Here we are given three separate pictures of the result of giving wisdom to those wise in their own eyes.

Vs.7 – it is as useless as a paralyzed leg because the fool can’t/ won’t do anything with it – will not allow it to form them in obedience.  vs.8 – it is like tying a stone to a sling – if you honor a fool by giving them wise advice you might as well hit your head against a stone – they will just continue in their foolishness.vs.9 –  it is like a thorn in a drunkards hand – the fool does not feel the force or weight of the proverb – it is just an interesting saying to them and consequently forms no conviction.

How Can We Avoid Being Wise in Our Own Eyes?  Isn’t this all a catch 22 – we are talking about wanting to be wise – but then if we think we are wise we are even worse off than the fool?    How are we supposed to respond to a teaching like this?

Have the Humility to Allow Yourself to Be Challenged:  If we are willing to respond to Proverbs 26, then we need to begin to listen to people who those who we can trust to tell us the truth about ourselves even when we won’t like it.  We need to consider putting ourselves into situations and relationships where we can be challenged about the choices we make and the things we do.

Make an Effort to Understand Wisdom as More than Head Knowledge:  In the hardness of our hearts, we are naturally going to treat the sermon today, and other days, as an interesting lecture.  We need to make an effort to take this teaching beyond information if it is every going to have an effect on our lives.

Accept Instruction with Prayer:   If we are willing to respond to Proverbs 26, then we need to be honest about those aspects of the Christian life that are threatening or uncomfortable to us – and we all have them.   We need to recognize where we have dismissed the teaching of the Scriptures and the call of the Gospel.  And having done that, we need to pray and ask God to begin to help us to move towards a response of obedience.

Those of us who have been financially dishonest need to ask God to begin to help us to become financially honest, generous, and trusting towards God as our provider.  Those of us who need to confess wrongs we have done against others, need to ask God to begin to prepare us to confess our wrongs, seek restoration, make a way for the impossible (right now) to happen.   Those of us who are afraid to respond to some call of obedience that God has shown them, need to pray and ask God to begin to prepare  them to accept the call to obedience – to change their heart to desire obedience.

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Prov.26:13-15   —  REVIVING THE SLUGGARD

This sermon was preached at Peace Hill Christian Fellowship on May 29th, 2011.  To listen to the audio just click on this link – Prov 26B.

The Biblical Picture of Laziness (the Sluggard).

Vs.15 His Appetite for Rest is Out of Control but Unsatisfied:  A sluggard buries his hand in the dish; he is too lazy to bring it back to his mouth.   The sluggard has an appetite for rest that he cannot fill.  Notice the picture given in vs.15… a man whose appetite is out of control – who buries his hand in the dish of food set out on the table, so that his hand has now touched everything – and yet, though he is starving, he cannot bring the food back to his mouth.     He is the picture of a person who is starving for rest and restoration, whose attempts to find rest are excessive, and yet who never seems to be able to find the rest they need.

Vs.14 He is Under the Power of Restlessness:  As a door turns on its hinges, so a sluggard turns on his bed.   The sluggard is characterized by a restlessness – he tosses and turns on his bed – dissatisfied with the rest he has.   At the same time he is like a door on a hinge.  As the hinge fastens the door to the doorframe, so the sluggard is “fastened” to his restlessness – it has power over him – it has a hold over him.

Vs.13 His Fears and Despair Hold Him in Laziness:   A sluggard says, “There’s a lion in the road, a fierce lion roaming the streets!”   The sluggard is held in place by his own fear based excuses.  Notice the picture given in vs.13… a man who will not go out of doors to work because he fears that a lion may be in the street – and so he is paralyzed and does nothing.  His fear (whether real or imagined) is insurmountable in his mind so that he is unable even to attempt to do what he should do.

Recognize Laziness as a Spiritual Issue.

Restlessness and the Laziness of the sluggard is not merely a matter of making a better moral choice over a worse moral choice – but it is a spiritual condition.  In fact, what is most obvious about these verses is that the title of “sluggard” is given to describe what is a spiritually broken condition.  Therefore…

We Cannot Heal Ourselves by Trying Harder:  This is usually the answer that is given to us when we struggle with the issues of restlessness and laziness and sloth and irresponsibility.   Usually we are told to plan our day better, to determine to work harder.   These are not bad things to say, but they miss the fact that we are deeply and profoundly broken…

~ We are starving for rest and cannot find it – working harder isn’t going to mend that.

~ We are, in some way, fastened to his restlessness and laziness with a power that we cannot break.

~ We have fears, despair – belief commitments that bind us in our thinking and understanding.

… advice to try harder, to do better, to turn over a new leaf is impossible and lacks a true understanding of the spiritual issue.

The Solution for Ourselves and Others Must Be Spiritual:   Just as we cannot heal ourselves, so we cannot heal others who struggle with this spiritual issue unless we bring them spiritual counsel.  If we are to address this issue within our community we must first remove the log from our own eyes – seeing the ways that laziness has affected  us and turning to Christ for healing.  Only then will we come to recognize that laziness is not just a political issue.  We could stop the welfare program tomorrow  and it would not change those who struggle with the spiritual issue of laziness.

Nor is laziness and the sluggard merely a societal issue which could be solved by education.  Education might help some who do not wrestle with the spiritual issue of laziness, but it would be useless for healing the brokenness of others.

Laziness is a spiritual issue and therefore we need spiritual counsel for ourselves first and then to be able to give to others who wrestle with – and those who are content to wallow in – laziness.   What spiritual counsel should we follow/give?

Deliverance and Change Begin with Confession.

We Need to Recognize and Confess Our Failure to Find Rest:  If laziness is, indeed, a spiritual issue, then we need to turn to Jesus who is our deliverer.  We need to confess through prayer, that we have not found rest.  Psalm 23 tells us that the Lord is our Shepherd – this is who God is – the one who leads us to green pasture and quiet water and who restores our souls.  The restoration of our souls (true rest) is not something that we can accomplish in ourselves.  But this is exactly what we attempt to do.  Our solutions do not bring us rest.

If we will come to Jesus in humility, through prayer and confess that we have restless souls – that rather than coming to him with our restlessness, we have tried to heal ourselves – that the result is an appetite out of control – he will begin to reveal to us where true rest is found and offer us rest that can satisfy our desire for rest.

We Need to Recognize and Confess the Hold of Sin on Us:   We need to acknowledge the hinge that fastens us to restlessness (vs.14).   Jesus died to break the hold of sin on us.   When I confess my laziness as sin that has a hold on me – for which I need both forgiveness and deliverance, it changes my relation both to my sin and to God.  Laziness, as a sin, now becomes something I am desiring to be delivered from -rather than something that I excuse and pursue.  God, my Father, shifts from the one who calls me “sluggard” and who condemns my sin to the one who calls me “son” and is delivering me – saving me – from the power of sin.  Laziness now becomes a problem rather than a solution.

We Need to Recognize and Confess Our Despair and Excuse Making:  We need to acknowledge and confess what our, “Lion in the street”, actually is – the hopelessness and despair which we have built up and fed with our minds and hearts.  We have maintained our laziness, our unwillingness to do the things we should, our sloth with despairing words.   We have refused to take up our responsibilities and our callings because we have convinced ourselves that they are useless, that we are incapable.   We have not redeemed the time or gotten up to read the Scriptures because in our despair we believe that God will not speak to us or help us or meet us.

We need to recognize the despair and unbelief that drive us and confess the despairing and helpless phrases we have fed ourselves with.  We need to recognize our excuse making – and we need to see God who is our help.  God is the God who works for us, even when we cannot or will not work.  Jesus is the one who worked for our salvation to do what we could not do.  We need to accept and believe that God will help us when we call on him.  We need to learn to trust that God will not leave us to bear alone the weight of what he has called us to do.

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Prov.26:16-28  —   YOU WILL KNOW THEM BY THEIR WORDS

This sermon was preached at Peace Hill Christian Fellowship on June 12th, 2011.  The audio is not available.

We Know People By their Words.

The Fixer:  Like one who grabs a stray dog by the ears is someone who rushes into a quarrel not their own.  We know people who rush into arguments without any real understanding of what is going on – take sides and make pronouncements.   Fixers are frustrating and they make situations worse because sometimes they try to force reconciliation or some solution when they haven’t taken the time to understand the problem.   They are like the man who puts paint over a rotten board and is happy because the board looks better.  But the rot persists.

The  writer of Proverbs tells us that the fixer is like a person who finds a stray dog  and starts pulling on its ears – eventually that dog is going to turn on him and bite him.  When that happens the fixer is unhappy and confused and in trouble.

The Schemer:   Like a maniac shooting  flaming arrows of death  is one who deceives their neighbor and says, “I was only joking!”      The schemer takes advantage of his neighbor  by misrepresenting – by lying.  This is someone who is out to do harm – to take advantage of those who should be able to trust him.  He pretends friendship but always has another motive.   Trouble surrounds people like this.  They are like rooftop snipers, trying to take advantage of people and then passing off their actions as innocent.  These are people who cause great harm in a community.

Gossips:  Without wood a fire goes out;  without a gossip a quarrel dies down.    Specifically this verse is talking about the gossip who keeps feeding a quarrel – keep resentment and disagreement alive because they won’t stop stirring things up – like stirring up a fire.  We know people who always want to talk about some quarrel that is going on and who delight in laying blame and seem to enjoy and revel in talking about how evil someone has been.

The Quarreler:   As charcoal to embers and as wood to fire, so is a quarrelsome person for kindling strife.      Finally, we know the quarrelsome person who is always discontent and angry – they can be very hard to be around.   The quarrelsome person in their irritation lies in wait for people to say the wrong thing – do the wrong thing – ready to spring on them.  Trouble and hostility and broken relationships surround this person.

Vs.16 tells us a couple of things about this group of people, (1) They are indiscreet – “unwise, incautious, careless, thoughtless, ill advised, , misguided, rash, reckless, impulsive, undiplomatic, indelicate, tactless, insensitive, untimely, unseemly, improper”   (2) They are wise in their own eyes.  They do not see themselves as people whose words create trouble – they see themselves as wise counselors or as people who are smart enough to get what they want out of people.

What these people do not see is how deeply their words affect the whole course of their lives.   James 3 tells us that the tongue is like a bit in a horses mouth – it turns the whole animal.  The same passage also tells us that the tongue is set on fire by hell itself.

Our Words Reveal What is in Our Hearts As Well.

Evil Words Are Also In Our Hearts:  The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to the inmost parts.     Notice, the author lays out these trouble making, self-wise ways of speech, and then vs. 22 is like a confession.   Now suddenly he is not talking about other people – he seems to be confessing something about himself.  He likes gossip – it’s like “choice morsels”  or – the best food.  

The truth is that before I can sit back and begin to evaluate people on their words to see if they are trouble makers, I have to stop and look at myself and recognize my own love of trouble making words.  For the author here the issue is gossip.  The truth is that,  If I am being honest about what is going on in my heart, I have to confess that It feels good to be the resident expert gossip!  It feels good to judge other people!   to feel like we are the ones who are wise and understand and can evaluate!

In fact, if we are going to be honest we need to admit that we love gossip – that’s why we gossip – not because we aren’t thoughtful or careful – but because we love the way gossip makes us feel.

We are like the sluggard in vs.16 – we love to be wise in our own eyes.  We think that our gossip is more impressive and interesting than seven people who answer discreetly.   The issue behind our gossip or our meddling or scheming or quarreling is not thoughtlessness or bad speech patterns, but the pride in our hearts.  Our evil words make us feel impressive.

What Our Words Disguise:  vs. 23-25 are really the heart of what this set of proverbs is saying, which is this:   at the heart of these kinds of speech is a kind of malice and arrogance.   The author of Proverbs is very up front about what indiscreet speech means – it is enemy speech.  Look at the images writer uses…  Like a coating of silver dross on earthenware are ferventlips with an evil heartEnemies disguise themselves with their lips, but in their hearts they harbor deceit. Though their speech is charming, do not believe them, for seven abominations fill their hearts.

God made us in his image to be people of wisdom and understanding  – but we arrogantly rush in to fix things without understanding.

God made us to live in communities where we bless those around us – but we are schemers.

God made us to be peacemakers and to bring healing to situations – but our tongues are set on fire by hell – and we are gossips and quarrelers and fire starters.

Our words are far from innocent, though, like the schemer we often pretend innocence.   Our words are an abomination to God because they are full of hatred.  We talk a good talk with our lips and flatter – but as vs. 28 says, we bring about ruin with our words.

Words of Encouragement and Warning.

Ask for Wisdom – The Observation of Others is a Protection:   Their malice may be concealed by deception, but their wickedness will be exposed in the assembly.

The “assembly” is the gathering of God’s people.   The authors’s encouragement is that those who mean harm by their evil words will be exposed – which is to say that wise people in the assembly will be able to discern those whose words are causing harm.

In other words, if you are concerned about the words someone is saying to you – if they are a schemer or you fear you are being influenced by gossip or caught up in quarrelsomeness – ask people in the assembly who are wise – that you trust – for advice.

We Can’t Hide – Our Words Will Eventually Expose Us:  The other side of vs. 26 is that our words, over time make us known.   They either make us known as people who are continuing in malice and arrogance or they make us known as people who are moving towards repentance.  We cannot hide.

According to the Gospel, Jesus was publicly crucified – before the assembly of elders – for our sin.  He did not gossip or meddle or quarrel or scheme  – but he took our evil words that came out of our evil hearts – on himself.   He who had not sinned became sin for us.

Jesus changed the assembly that threatened to expose us into a place where we could confess our sin and receive forgiveness and grace.  This morning, we can confess that we have been meddlers and gossips and schemers because our confession is no longer threatening but the way to healing.
Those Who Continue in Evil Speech Will Have Trouble:  Whoever digs a pit will fall into it; if someone rolls a stone, it will roll back on them.

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