On Not Sponsoring Stupidity

The book of Proverbs is full of wisdom, wisdom for those who need to get wisdom, and wisdom for those who need to give it. Solomon helps the one who already understands obtain guidance and then also give guidance to others.

One of the proverbs most quoted in our house is Solomon’s lesson on the unteachable.

Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge,
but he who hates reproof is stupid.
(Proverbs 12:1, ESV)

The word “stupid” (translated as such in the ESV, NAS, NIV) usually referred to an animal that lacks sense. To hate correction is “brutish” (KJV). Lots of times parents are up against the worst sort of willful stupidity. Some other times parents are the worst at keeping their kids dumb.

Jonathan Edwards illustrated it this way.

If any of you that are heads of families, saw one of your children in a house that was all on fire over its head, and in eminent danger of being soon consumed in the flames, that seemed to be very insensible of its danger, and neglected to escape, after you had often spake to it, and called to it, would you go on to speak to it only in a cold and indifferent manner? Would not you cry aloud, and call earnestly to it, and represent the danger it was in, and its own folly of delaying, in the most lively manner you were capable of? Would not nature itself teach this, and oblige you to it? If you should continue to speak to it only in a cold manner, as you are wont to do in ordinary conversation about indifferent matters, would not those about you begin to think you were bereft of reason yourself? (emphasis mine)

Who has the bigger problem, the child in the burning house or the dad who sees the child in the burning house and acts as if it’s no big deal? He who hates reproof is stupid. He who hates giving reproof when it is necessary sponsors stupidity, and death (Proverbs 19:18). Maybe the most ironic response is hating correction so much that you get fired up to correct the ones urging your kids to get out of the burning house because you don’t like their tone. We should be wiser than that.

Four Chariots Wide

These sermon notes on self-control are better than a heap of Babylonian bricks. Wilson aims his admonition at the angry, but certainly there is application for all sorts of afflicting or tempting emotions. It all starts from the text: “He that hath no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down, and without walls” (Proverbs 25:28, KVJ).

Notice that a man who is not self-governed is compared in the first instance to a man who is defenseless. Not having rule in his own spirit, which means he does not have rule over his own spirit, means that the walls of his “city” are little more than rubble. Now this means that self-control is a wall, a bulwark, and you should want walls like Babylon had, where four chariots could drive abreast around the top of them. Now that’s a wall. But there is more. The man who has “no rule” is a man who has no rule over his spirit. In other words, the problem is that his soul is tempestuous. He lets others live in his head rent-free. This is the man who is defenseless.

Someone who is self-controlled in his spirit is someone who is a warrior. His city is not defenseless, but this control is not just a defensive posture. Note what Proverbs tells us elsewhere. “He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; And he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city” (Prov. 16:32).

A man with self-control in his spirit can defend his city, but more than this, he can take a city.

Read the rest.

Envy Kills

Envy kills. It kills the taste buds of one’s own soul, making sweet things seem dull and unsatisfying. It kills contentment, making those who have not wish that they were someone else. Envy has killed entire classes of people, as with the manifesto of communism to overthrow those with property and make sure that everyone has an equal amount.

Such are the ways of everyone who is greedy for unjust gain; it takes away the life of its possessors. (Proverbs 1:19)

Envy corrupts politics, ruins the use of money, undermines education, divides neighbors, flattens genders, and embitters siblings. More than of all of that, it is a spiritual problem. Sure, some laws protect against envious theft, some systems of government promote personal responsibility, but only freedom from our envy and covetousness in Christ can replace a worldview of envy with a worldview of thanks.

We want and don’t have so we fight and quarrel and kill (James 4:1-2). The current world way of thinking is littered with self-centered comment cards. So Paul told the Philippians that they would shine as lights in the midst of a crooked generation simply by not complaining.

Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world (Philippians 2:14–15)

All we need to do to be lights in the darkness is to stop whining. Thankfulness is a political statement, an economic principle, a worldview that changes our influence.

Don’t grumble, be grateful. We should learn to see all of our possessions as things that were given to us by God (because they are, 1 Corinthians 4:7), and see the things others have as their gifts from God and be thankful for that, too. We should submit gladly and gratefully for all that God enables us to enjoy. If we see the seeds of bitterness or discontentment or envy or grumbling starting to take root in our soul, we need to confess it before it chokes out our life.

Overlooking Glory

There is a stage of development as Christians are learning to love righteousness that can cause its own kind of damage. There is no way to not love righteousness and have that be good. There is also a way to love righteousness that is not as good as it could be. It can happen between peers, it can happen from parents and pastors, and really anytime someone watches someone else sin.

Here are two ways to state it positively, one from Proverbs and one from an apostle. Solomon said,

Good sense makes one slow to anger,
and it is his glory to overlook an offense.
(Proverbs 19:11)

And Peter said,

Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. (1 Peter 4:8)

In each circumstance there are real problems: an offense was committed and sins were multiplied. These are not okay, and they are virtually impossible to avoid in a community or a classroom or around a kitchen table. Yes, we are to help one another recognize and repent from sin. Yes, we are to train our kids to obey and respect. Yes, we are to be a people who love righteousness.

But how can we have the glory of overlooking an offense without anyone committing an actual offense against us? And are we loving earnestly by always grinding confession out of others? It is not good sense, let alone our glory, to be fussy with the fussers. We may have been sinned against, but we may sin in being so easily offended.

Defining Gifts

I told the following story for our school assembly last Thursday afternoon.

Once upon time there was a boy named Ben Levite. Ben’s father, Jamin, was a scribe by trade. He worked long before computers or typewriters when every book was written by hand, including God’s Law. Ben’s dad enjoyed his job and took his job seriously because he didn’t want to make any mistakes with Scripture.

Ben loved that his dad had such a uncommon and privileged career. Most of Ben’s friends had dads who farmed or shepherded. Some of his friends’ fathers were soldiers in the King’s army, others worked at the palace cooking or in construction. A few of Ben’s cousins had dads who were priests. But Ben took pride in telling others what his dad did.

Copying the law was hard labor. Guiding an ox to plow a straight line in rocky soil takes one kind of strength and determination, but constant focus on jots (dots, small letters such as the Greek iota) and tittles (serifs or an small accent marks) takes all of another kind of muscle and backbone. Scribes worked six days a week and many hours each day. When possible they worked near windows but most of the time they toiled with only the light from candles or oil lamps.

Sometimes the manuscripts they worked from were ragged or faded. Other times the manuscripts were in fine condition but the previous scribes’ penmanship looked like a Kindergarten phonogram test. The work was also very difficult because writing supplies were limited. Papyrus (a sort of paper made out of plants) was not always available and papyrus (a thin material made out of animal skin) was very expensive. Because of these things, most writers used all the space possible and left very little margin. In Ben’s dad’s day the scribes used no punctuation; they didn’t even use spaces between words so that they could save room for more letters. All the sentences ran together making it easy to skip a letter, or words, or accidentally add extra ones.

The work also involved copying from scroll to scroll. Books with spines and numbered pages hadn’t been invented yet. So letter by letter, line by line, scribes paid close attention as they carefully, repetitively dipped pen in ink and stroked out a new copy.

Ben appreciated his dad’s diligence. Going to synagogue services each Sabbath he knew that the priest read from his dad’s handiwork. Most nights at dinner Jamin would tell the family stories from the section of Scripture he had transcribed that day. Ben heard the stories of Joseph in jail due to Potiphar’s lying wife, of Moses leading the people through the Red Sea out of Egypt, of David and Goliath, and of Daniel and the lions’ den. Many dads told their kids about the Passover, but few had read it for themselves in the ancient scrolls.

Ben’s family threw him a party for his 13th birthday. Many family traveled from out of town and all his neighbors came. When the evening was almost over Ben’s dad brought out one final present. Ben quickly untied the string and unwrapped the cloth covering. He could hardly believe what he held in his hands: his very own copy of “Solomon’s Book of Wisdom” (what we know as Proverbs). Ben’s dad had been saving since Ben was born to buy extra scraps of parchment and stayed a little longer at work a couple evenings each week to copy this special edition as a gift. He gave Ben something even he didn’t have himself.

Jamin gave his son a treasure. He also gave his son something transformative. Jamin knew that the word makes a young man wise. The word protects a man’s steps. The word strengthens a man’s hands. The word rejoices a man’s heart. The word lights a man’s path. Ben had been given a gift that would change his life. The whole community would know about this present. They would also see the effects of the book in his life.

Solomon described a similar gift in the first chapter of Proverbs:

Hear, my son, your father’s instruction,
and forsake not your mother’s teaching,
for they are a graceful garland for your head
and pendants for your neck.
(Proverbs 1:8–9, ESV)

The “garland” and “pendant” (or necklace) were symbols of health and prosperity. They were treasures worn, gifts from parents that adorned their kids. Solomon says listening to instruction and obeying teaching make a son look good. They are visible signs that your parents sacrificed to get you something expensive.

In our day, we do not need to handwrite copies of God’s Word to give to our kids. Buying Bibles is easy for us, and many of you will have multiple translations on your phones. Maybe some day your watches will shine holograms of the text in 3-D images. But all your parents and teachers are working hard to give you a great present just like Ben.

Ben’s copy of Proverbs was a costly gift. Your education at ECS is also, paid for with dollars, time, energy, and sacrifices. Your parents are working diligently, and most of the time with happy hearts, to give you something great, something more precious and more apparent then jewelry. We hope that one day you will graduate and that your worship of God will be obvious to the world. We are not copying literal pages of the Bible but we are copying Latin worksheets, science sound-offs, and teaching models for you to have. We are learning songs with you, singing Psalms with you, and stitching raggants onto sweaters for you.

All of this is to make you look good. We want you to listen (hear instruction) and obey (forsake not teaching) your parents (and the teachers your parents partner with). Then your life will be decorated with the gifts of wisdom and God’s blessing.

No Successful Cover-Ups

Among his collected proverbs, Solomon teaches us a few things about the wisdom of confession.

Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper,
but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy. (Proverbs 28:13)

First, attempts to conceal one’s sin ultimately fail because God already knows. Someone may ask how that observation comes from this verse. Here’s how. God’s fixes the truth in His universe that sin concealers cannot be a prosperers. But how does it work? Who enforces it? Assuming a successful cover-up as the verse does, how would we know whose prosperity to preclude? The principle holds because God knows. He cannot be snowed.

Second, confessing sin is the right foot forward and forsaking sin is the left foot, the necessary second step. Fools hop on confession alone. Honesty before God is good as far as it goes, but accurately describing a garden overgrown with weeds isn’t the same as pulling them out. Devoting time to confess sin should help us avoid the plastic smiles of hypocrites. But we also forsake sin rather than wallow in honest immorality.

Finally, the aim of confessing and forsaking is obtaining mercy. Confession doesn’t earn points with God; by itself, confession doesn’t make us presentable. We always need His mercy. In confession, we acknowledge our disobedience and our dependence on His grace. He gives grace to the needy, not to those who try to conceal their need by concealing their transgression. That’s why coming clean before God is wise.

Better Together

In a recent sermon I preached Ephesians 3:10, that the church makes known the manifold wisdom of God in heavenly places. The church is Christ’s Body, an assorted mix of individual members joined together under His headship. We’re better together, not meant to be separated.

While not written to the church, Proverbs 18:1 certainly applies for us in the church.

Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire;
and he breaks out against all sound judgment.

The NKJV translates the second-line summary: “He rages against all wise judgment.” That seems extra dramatic until we remember a few things. We were made for relationship, not isolation, because we were made in the image of the Triune God. In addition, we remember that sin isolates and, where there is sin, there is sinful blindness to our sin and every man sees himself as right. Soon Mr. Right is off by himself and “seeks his own desire.”

But we’re better together. Iron sharpens iron in contact. Hiding in the sheath all day dulls the edges of our hearts.

We need each other, for protection against sinful blindness and for shared, intensified joy. We were made male and female–in particular, husband and wife–for two to be one. It’s not good for man to be alone. We were made as believers, individual members of one body. We wisely fight isolation in our corporate meetings, our smaller groups, and our family fellowship times as we value and depend on one another. Let us not be guilty of isolating ourselves, even in our minds, and raging against wisdom.

Distinguishing Marks of a Quarrelsome Person

Distinguishing Marks of a Quarrelsome Person

This is a helpful article by Kevin DeYoung about how to identify “habitually disagreeable, divisive, hot-headed church people.” Here’s a humbling taste:

3. Your only model for ministry and faithfulness is the showdown on Mount Carmel. There is a place for sarcasm, but when Elijah with the prophets of Baal is your spiritual hero you may end up mocking people instead of making arguments.

5. You never give the benefit of the doubt. You do not try to read arguments in context. You put the worst possible construct on other’s motives and the meaning of their words.

10. You derive a sense of satisfaction and spiritual safety in being rejected and marginalized. You are constitutionally unable to be demonstrably fruitful in ministry and you will never affirm those who appear to be. You only know how to relate to God as a remnant.

Fools Play with Fire

Series | Whispers and Flames

Avoiding drama doesn’t mean we never say tough things, it means we don’t add theatrics. It also means that we say tough things to the person, not about the person. Being kind to someone’s face doesn’t always equal love, and saying difficult things to someone’s face doesn’t always equal not love.

On the other hand, whisperers are invariably haters. They talk a love game in certain settings but, as Proverbs 26:23-28 describes, they are hiding an evil heart and harboring deceit. It is never loving or kind to whisper; it is dishonest, insincere, two-faced talk. Whisperers, quarrelers, deceivers, and haters are destroyers.

The whisperers in Proverbs 26:20-22 are fools. Of course, the entire book of Proverbs identifies the contrast between wisdom and foolishness, and a man’s speech tells on him. Wise men quiet contention; fools start fires. Fools whisper and start fights. Fools take a bad situation and stir it up. Other fools listen to and eat up drama.

While these related proverbs comment on the effect or results of drama, the apostle Paul reveals the cause of drama. Whispering and fighting are works of the flesh.

Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. (Galatians 5:19-20)

Some of these sins fly under the banner of drama. The point is, drama–especially drama in whispers–starts in the heart. These sins are also a sign of God’s abandoning men to their unrighteousness.

And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. (Romans 1:28-31)

It’s no wonder tongues cause such turmoil since “the tongue stains the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell” (James 3:6). We inflame and sustain fire with our mouths, because our tongues are hellish. It may not be a surprise, but it is no less wrong.

Spirit-filled Christians should not whisper or quarrel. Drama is fleshly. Galatians 5 says that if we walk in the Spirit, we will not gratify the desires of the flesh. We will stop the drama. Those who increase drama, therefore, are those not walking in the Spirit.

This has application for everyone, but young ladies appear especially susceptible to being busybodies, buttinskies, and backbiters.

But refuse to enroll younger widows, for when their passions draw them away from Christ, they desire to marry and so incur condemnation for having abandoned their former faith. Besides that, they learn to be idlers, going about from house to house, and not only idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not. So I would have younger widows marry, bear children, manage their households, and give the adversary no occasion for slander. For some have already strayed after Satan. (1 Timothy 5:11-15)

Apparently because they don’t have enough to do and aren’t looking for responsibility, they go about writing on other’s Facebook walls, text messaging, and getting each other in corners to talk about what Miss So-and-so did. But the devil watches young women. He takes their drama and uses it to slander Christ. Ladies must keep their tongues from wagging after Satan.

no dramaWith every response we show what is important, either drama, or the Lord. We’ve got to guard our hearts, guard our lips, and guard our ears. Especially for leaders, those who typically know more information about others, and those on whom more eyes and ears concentrate, drama must not be entertained or tolerated in our reactions. We need to make disciples, not drama.

Whisperers Eat Fires

Series | Whispers and Flames

There’s a reason we don’t put out fires: we love the action.

The words of a whisperer are like delicious morsels; they go down into the inner parts of the body. Proverbs 26:22

We don’t extinguish drama because we enjoy it. We’re not built to let fires die out. We are fire eaters, not fire fighters. Though that may sound silly, it correlates the image of fire in verses 20 and 21 with the picture of eating in verse 22.

Proverbs 26:22 is verbatim with Proverbs 18:8. When a proverb is repeated like this, it contains a key nugget of wisdom. This is a sad, but commonly true description of human character: The words of a whisperer are like delicious morsels. Delicious morsels are a noun form of a verb that means to swallow greedily. That these delicious morsels go down into the inner parts of the body means we scarf them down.

We love to listen to drama. We delight in bits and pieces of juicy gossip. They are delicious, lip-smacking, finger-licking, and good to the last drop.

It’s why reality television (and soap operas before them) fascinate our culture. It’s why producers of reality TV always allot time for soliloquy in every show, separating a character in a soundproof room so we can hear her slander and rip the housemates. And we eat it up. We get a little and we want more. We’re entertained by relational conflict, deception, bad-mouthing and revenge. It entertains us.

We love us some dirt. Whether by instant messages, text messages, Facebook walls, notes in class, room corner conversations, or late night phone chats, we eat it up, then vomit it back to others. Most of us–that is, those of us in the church–act like our motives are pure and justify our participation in the drama because we care. But under the smokescreen of sympathy we eat and inflame the fire.

Though whispers are delicious morsels to us, they are bitter and foul to God’s palate. Whispering drama destroys like poison. As it seeps it ruins the reputations of others. It kills our credibility. It undermines unity. It wrecks relationships and friendships. It hurts.

The first two proverbs in this unit deal with our talking; this third one addresses our listening. We are not only what we say, we are what we listen to. Whispering is wrong and so is paying attention to whispers. Our ears play a big part in drama too.