Reading Proverbs Wisely

samantha-sophia-34200.jpgIn Proverbs the ideas of wisdom, righteousness, and reward are prevalent. And as I highlighted here and here, these three ideas are developed together under the old covenant. Therefore, they cannot be directly applied to the new covenant believer—at least, not without showing how they apply to us in Christ. That said, they are important for understanding the righteousness of Christ and the way in which we are to follow him when, by the Spirit, we walk by faith.

In what follows I want to consider how to read the Proverbs wisely by holding the old covenant and new covenant together as we read Proverbs. In this approach to the Proverbs, we see the covenantal context of Proverbs relates to Christ and the whole counsel of Scripture. In other words, by holding these biblical realities together, we begin see how the wisdom of the old covenant called for God’s people to enjoy God’s gracious promises through wisely applying the law of Moses. However, for us, because we do not live under Moses, we learn how to apply them in Christ. Graphically, we might illustrate the difference like this:

Old Covenant

Law >> Wisdom >> Righteousness >> Reward (=Inheritance) . . . [Gospel]

New Covenant

Gospel >> Faith  >> Reward (=Inheritance) >> Law >> Wisdom >> Righteousness**

** Righteousness defined as a progressive growth in righteousness (i.e. sanctification) as the believer exercises faith in God’s Word, demonstrated in love and justice.

With this framework in place, we can see that the wisdom of the Proverbs still has a vital place in the life of a Christian. But it is not a pathway to salvation or blessing, as some prosperity preachers wrongly apply the proverbs. Neither are the Proverbs timeless principles that promise material blessing today; they are instead enduring principles that teach the child of God how to walk in the light of Christ.

In truth, by living out the Proverbs, we are often protected from many earthly trials and find greater earthly success. However, such proverbial fruit is all the more reason to be careful with Proverbs. Why? Because earthly fruit through a Provers-centered life does not mean that we can read Proverbs as a certified manual for ensuring material blessing. In fact, there are hints in the Proverbs that righteousness is itself a reward: “Better is a little with righteousness than great revenues with injustice” (16:8).

In the end, we should read Proverbs regularly, but  we must read them wisely. And to help us read wisely, let’s consider how Proverbs speaks of righteousness and how we might apply its words in and through Christ today. Continue reading

Wisdom, Righteousness, and Reward: Four Reflections on Proverbs 8

wisdom

In Proverbs 8 we find wisdom personified, a woman speaking who is sometimes called Lady Wisdom.

In church history, this chapter has raised all sorts of exegetical and theological questions with respect to eternal deity of Christ—Did God “possess” (ESV), “make” (HCSB), or “create” (LXX) wisdom in verse 22? Is wisdom speaking of Christ directly or indirectly (typologically) or not at all?

These are the debates made famous by the heretic Arius, who denied Christ’s eternal deity, and they are important questions, but my focus is not on this debate. Rather, I want to consider how Proverbs 8 speaks of wisdom with respect to righteousness and reward in verses 8, 15, 16, 18, 20.

In these verses we discover at least four truths about wisdom and righteousness and reward. They are worth our consideration and application, especially as we see how Christ is God’s Wisdom, who teaches his (once foolish) disciples to walk wisely after they have come to trust in his wisdom (cf. Matthew 11:28–30). Continue reading

The Gospel and Wisdom: Learning to Apply the Gospel to All of Life

This evening, our church will look at the Book of Proverbs in our ongoing study of the Bible.  In preparation this morning, I came across this helpful reminder by noted Biblical Theologian, Graeme Goldsworthy, that the gospel of Jesus Christ necessarily includes the conversion of the mind and the application of the gospel to all areas of our thought life (cf. Rom 12:1-2;  2 Cor 10:3-6).

Listen to what Goldsworthy has to say,

The Christian mind-set comes about through the gospel, and so we must come to think of Christian wisdom as a conforming of the mind to the gospel.  If, then, we understand the gospel only in its basic terms of Jesus dying for us, we will probably wonder how this can affect the way we think totally.  We need to remind ourselves that the simple gospel is also profound.  The truth, ‘Jesus died for me,’ actually implies everything that God has revealed in the Bible about his relationship to humanity and to the created order. Growing as a Christian really means learning to apply the fact of the gospel to every aspect of our thinking and doing (Graeme Goldsworthy, Gospel and Wisdom in The Goldsworthy Trilogy [Waynesboro, GA: Paternoster, 2000], 341).

May we as Christians continue to turn from the pernicious patterns of this world to the mind-renewing truth of the gospel that informs every aspect of creation, wisdom, and life.  For in Christ all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden (Col 2:3).

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Bulls, Birds, and Bugs: Financial Aid from the Forest and the Field

When not going to school, reading, studying, preaching, or blogging, I am helping students with financial aid at Southern Seminary.  This is my full time work, Supervisor of Student Resources, and today I had the pleasure of addressing more than 100 prospective students and their families about financing seminary.  Sharing financial aid nuts and bolts, I tried to frame the presentation with four biblical truths about financial aid.  Considering the current economic uncertainty in the world, I sought to encourage those called to ministry to lift their eyes to heavens from which their help comes from (Ps. 127:1).  You can call it, “Financial aid during a time of financial uncertainty,” or “Bulls, Birds, and Bugs: Financial Aid from the Forest and the Field.”  Let me share them with you briefly.

First, God owns the cattle on a thousand hills.  Psalm 50:10-11 reads, “For every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills.  I know all the birds of the hills, and all that moves in the field is mine.”  The underlining truth that grounds our confidence as Christians, is that God is sovereign.  In terms of financial provision, we can trust that all the earth is his and the fullness thereof (cf. Ps. 24:1).  At any time, our Sovereign God can appropriate, reallocate, or liquidate his “stock.”  Regardless of how the Nasdaq or the Dow fare, God’s economy is always good, and he will care for his own.  So as you consider your financial need at this time, be reminded that God owns it all and will provide exactly what you need when you need it.

Second, the birds of the air doing just fine. In Matthew 6:24-26, Jesus confronts anxiety caused by the question of means, when he says, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on.  Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing.  Look at the birds of the air, they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not more valuable than they?” 

God’s word teaches us that God cares about the birds and the bees and the flowers and the trees, and if he does, Jesus says, we need not worry about our provision.  He cares significantly more about those who bear his image, than the bird who fly today and fall tomorrow.  Jesus goes on, “Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matt. 6:33).  For those who are called to ministry, it is imperative that we learn to trust God for his provision.  God affords us this learning tank as we prepare for seminary.  Therefore, in a time of financial uncertainty, God gives us the opportunity to learn contentment (cf. Phil. 4:11-13, 19) and to trust him for provision as we train theologically. 

Since we know the end of the story, a new heavens and a new earth with fields aplenty, we can gladly walk through the unsettled middle. 

Third, God’s timing is perfect, so don’t be a horse or a mule.  In Psalm 32:8-9, God says, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you wit my eye upon you.  Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding, which must be curbed with bit and bridle, or it will not stay near you.” 

In the Christian life and in ministry, it is essential to learn that while God is Jehovah Jireh, the God who provides, he does so in ways and in days that we may not expect–or want (cf. Isa. 55:8-9).  I did not anticipate that my seminary career would take four and a half years to complete, but in God’s timing he made perfect provision for me over the course of 9 semesters. For those going into ministry, this waiting on the Lord, is as important to the pastor, missionary, or church planter as learning Greek or Hebrew.  God’s timing is perfect, but we must learn to trust his timing.  Be comforted by Psalm 32:8-9 and remember Isaiah 64:6, “God works on behalf of those who wait for him.”   Guard yourself from being a horse who moves too quickly or a mule who moves too slowly by trusting in the Lord’s timing.  God’s good designs for your life may include seminary and a bounty of undeserved provision, but they may include another path of provision and blessing.

Fourth, consider the ant and plan wisely.  Solomon writes in Proverbs 6:6-8, “Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise. Without having any chief, officer, or ruler; she prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest.”  Waiting for the Lord and trusting in his provision does not mean passive inactivity.  I often encounter zealous young men and women called to ministry, who have spent little time thinking about how they might afford the education.  They go out to sea without a paddle, a sail, a radio, or a life raft, assuming that the currents of the waves will lead them in the right direction.  They call this walking by faith, but in fact it is a kind of foolishness that that disregards God’s call to walk wisely, exercising dependent dominion. 

Walking by faith is based on hearing God’s promises and acting in belief (cf. Rom. 10:17; James 2).  Blindly presupposing that God will bless an untimely decision to go to seminary that imperils family, that jeopardizes current ministry, or that hinders the ability to suitably provide for your family–I am speaking to men here–is not the same thing as “risk-taking” faith.  The latter is steeled by God’s promises revealed in Scripture, the former is assumed based on an uncounseled decision (Prov. 11:25).  The sovereignty of God promotes human responsibility; it does not facilitate sloth or idle living.  God’s cosmic reign encourages honest work, coupled with ant-like planning.  Along the way God often smiles on us, providing gracious and unexpected supplies and resources, but this never frees us from the responsibility to plan and to plan well (cf. Prov. 16:1-9).

In short, all creation reflects the glory and wisdom of God that help us to better walk in wisdom (cf. Ps. 19:1; Isa. 28:23ff) .  In the five animals considered here, we see principles of wisdom that spur us on as laborers and aspiring shepherds, for we ourselves must learn to live like sheep even as we train to shepherd.  God is our Great Shepherd and the One who will provide all that we need, and for those who are called to ministry they are also called to wisely pursue biblical equipping, according to the provision and the timing God supplies.  This kind of equipping may come from a seminary, or it may not, but regardless we are called to labor faithfully in the vineyard in the God places us until the master returns to receive his own.

(If you would like more information about Southern Seminary, come to a Seminary Preview Conference.  The next one is scheduled for April 2009.  More information about financing seminary can be found at Goingtoseminary.com. ).

Sola Deo Gloria, dss

Walk in the Way of Wisdom: Be Slow to Anger

James, a bond-servant of God and the Lord Jesus Christ, writes: “Let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.  For the anger of man does not produce the righteousness that God requires” (1:19-20).

Last Wednesday, I had the privilege of teaching the Open Bible Study at my church, Ninth and O Baptist.  The assigned topic was “Anger,” and I taught from James 1:19-27.  After surveying the complexities of anger throughout Scripture we landed here because of James’ short, yet powerful, admonition to throw off the filthiness of anger and to embrace the word which can save your soul (v. 21). 

There is much to be heard in James about anger, but it is apparent that he is not writing anything novel.  He draws heavily on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7) and the wisdom of the Old Testament.   Below is a list of Proverbs that surely informed James understanding of anger and speech, wisdom and foolishness, and the intricate relationships between them.  They call us who want to walk in the way of wisdom to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.  Read them slowly and ask: Does my life display wisdom or foolishness? 

(The italicized words are the verse, ESV.  What follows the “=” attempts to synthesize the proverb).

Proverbs
12:15
The way of the fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice = listening quells anger

12:16The vexation of a fool is known at once, but the prudent ignores an insult = foolish anger is not hidden

14:17 A man of quicker temper acts foolishly, and a man of evil devices is hated = sudden anger is foolish

14:29 Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly

15:1 A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger = anger provokes more anger

15:18 A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, but he who is slow to anger quiets contention = patient assuages anger

15:32 Whoever ignores instruction despises himself, but he who listens to reproof gains intelligence.

16:32 Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city = those who possess the earth through force, violence, and oppression are in the end small men

19:11 Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is to his glory to overlook an offense = anger ruins reputations, while controlling anger gains honor

19:19 A man of great wrath will pay the penalty, for if you deliver him, you will only have to do it again = anger is not a isolated incident; it is a pattern, a way of life, a means of gaining ground in life

19:20 Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future.

20:2 Whoever provokes [terrible king] to anger forfeits his life = anger + power = death for the object of wrath

21:14 A gift in secret averts anger, and a concealed bribe, strong wrath = anger is assuaged through by payment

21:5 The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty.

22:24f Make no friendship with a man given to anger, nor go with wrathful man; lest you learn his ways and entangle yourself in a snare = the result of anger is a snare (i.e. entrapment, bondage, and death)

25:8 What your eyes have seen do not hastily bring into court, for what will you do in the end when your neighbor puts you to shame? = Hasty accusations fail to gather all the facts and result in personal shame

27:4 Wrath is cruel, anger is overwhelming, but who can stand before jealousy? = the characteristic that makes anger so dangerous is the fact that what may appear controlled is in fact intractable

28:20 A faithful man will abound with blessings, but whoever hastens to be rich will not go unpunished.

29:22 A man of wrath stirs up strife, and one given to anger causes much transgression = the damning effects of anger are far reaching because one man’s anger promotes sin in the lives of others

30:33 For pressing milk produces curds, pressing the nose produces blood, and pressing anger produces strife = the fruit of anger is strife (i.e. division, discord, and the separation of relationships)

Ecclesiastes
5:1 Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. To draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools…be not rash with you mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and your are on earth. Therefore, let your words be few.

7:8-9 Better is the end of a thing than its beginning, and the patient spirit is better than the proud spirit;
Be not quick in your spirit to become angry, for anger lodges in the bosom of fools
= anger is complicit with foolishness, the fool becomes angry; anger is not like something spilt on the hand or something stepped in by the foot, which can easily be removed or cleansed. Anger roots itself deep within the soul of the (wo)man and becomes lodged. It ensnares! Anger is a way of life, not easily discarded and one that arises in all sorts of unbecoming ways, proving a man’s folly.

May we flee folly and run to the all-wise one, Jesus Christ!

Sola Deo Gloria, dss

Why Blog? (4): So that the sparks may fly.

Why blog?

If two of the three reasons for blogging listed so far are aimed at conversation with non-Christians (i.e. 1. to explain and expound the gospel of Jesus Christ, and 2. to defend the faith once for all delivered to the saints),  the fourth reason is directed towards other believers.  Proverbs 27:17 says, “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.”  So too, we who know the Lord ought to spur one another on towards love and good deeds (Heb. 10:25)– the language of “spurring” is one of provocation.   However, it is not the kind of goading that leads to argumentation–the kind that I used to engage in with my younger brother.  Rather, it is the thought-provoking, spirit-convicting, heart-rending kind of spurring that would turn someone to repent from error and wrongdoing.   It is the kind of spurring that instigates godly sorrow and saves a brother from egregious sin (cf. 2 Cor. 7:8-9; James 5:19-20).  It is not the kind of instigation that leads to wranglings over words, personal attacks, or vain speculations, but it is the kind that prizes truth but never relinquishes charity.   This kind of provocation takes more thought and time, and cannot be done without the Spirit.

When done in this manner, blogging can be very fruitful and clarifying.  Even when more heated issues are debated, the resulting friction can provide a flame to purify consciences and a surface to round rough edges.  The daily exercise of answering difficult questions and articulating nuanced thought is valuable in understanding the simplicity and profundity of the Bible.  Thus, blogging proves valuable in crystallizing complex ideas.  At the same time, in a way that no other medium can, it allows brothers from all over the globe and from various traditions to discuss critical matters of the faith. 

Sadly, as we all know, blogging can also be mean-spirited, fool-hardy, and destructive.  Providing a platform for the carnal nature to take center stage, blogging has the potential to incite vicious arguments, undisciplined rants, and speech that is simply unbecoming to a Christian.  With sober recognition of that, we who belong to Christ must guard our tongues and fingers.  For even if your post can be deleted, your words cannot (Matthew 12:36) .  Consequently, we must exercise spiritual discernment over what and how we write.  Perhaps sitting on comment for a day beforing publishing, or letting another brother read it in private before the world can view it in public.   

With that said, blogging remains an excellent way for those committed to the gospel to challenge and encourage one another in the things of Christ and His Word.   And it is something to be employed for fruitful and godly discussion.  So brothers, draw your swords and let the sparks fly.

Sola Dei Gloria, dss