Friday, May 26, 2017

Counseled By The King: The Proverbs Of Solomon. Day 5, Wisdom Gives Moral Guidance

Solomon has been cautioning his son about getting mixed up with the wrong crowd. He has counseled him to seek the Lord and His wisdom so he won't fall into trouble. Today he provides several examples of how godly wisdom helps a person live a moral life.

"Wisdom will save you from the ways of wicked men, from men whose words are perverse, who have left the straight paths to walk in dark ways, who delight in doing wrong and rejoice in the perverseness of evil, whose paths are crooked, and who are devious in their ways." (Proverbs 2:12-15) According to several commentaries I consulted, Solomon is telling his son that wisdom will protect him from those who are tahpchoth: subversive. And wisdom will protect him from those who promote taphach, which means a change of course but indicates a desire to incite acts of sedition against a government, against a religion, or against commonly accepted modes of honest and lawful living. These type of persons or groups particularly like to target those who are young enough not to know better. They actively recruit young people who want to feel a part of something big, who want their voices heard, who think they can change the world, and who are too inexperienced to recognize they are being used. One example of this would be the Hitler Youth of World War II. Another example would be the young men and women who join terrorist groups like ISIS.

Solomon says, "My son, wisdom will protect you from such things. You may not be old enough to recognize lies and frauds from experience, but godly wisdom will give you discernment in such matters. You will be warned in your spirit that something is wrong and you will avoid falling into this trap."

Wisdom will not only protect the king's son from falling for the lies of men, but it will also keep him from falling for the lies of women. "Wisdom will save you from the adulterous woman, from the wayward woman with her seductive words, who has left the partner of her youth and ignored the covenant she made before God. Surely her house leads down to death and her paths to the spirits of the dead. None who go to her return or attain the paths of life." (Proverbs 2:16-19) Solomon paints the portrait of a woman who was once on the right path but has now gone astray. She is not a pagan woman, for she took her marriage vows "before God". But now she has cast her vows, and her husband "the partner of her youth", aside. She runs after other men and entices them with her hechelikah words, which means smooth or oily words. Her words sound nice to a man's ears. She flatters him and says all the right things. She knows all the right words to make him feel special and appreciated and respected, but her goal is to drag him down into sin with her. He will hate himself by the time she is through with him.

Solomon advises, "The wise man does not get mixed up with an adulterous woman. That path leads to nothing good. It might even cost you your life. Her jealous husband may kill you, or one of her other lovers may kill you, or you might contract a fatal disease from such a promiscuous woman. Even if you manage to keep your physical life, what will such a sin do to your spiritual life? Your relationship with the Lord will die a little bit every day as long as you live in sin like that." The Apostle Paul agrees with Solomon, saying, "Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body." (1 Corinthians 6:18) We think of sin as something we commit against God or against our fellow man, and most of our sins fall into those categories, but sexual sin is a sin we commit against ourselves. That path leads to nothing good, as Solomon warns his son.

If his son will follow the words of wisdom he can escape a great deal of trouble in this world. "Thus you will walk in the ways of the good and keep to the paths of the righteous. For the upright will live in the land, and the blameless will remain in it; but the wicked will be cut off from the land, and the unfaithful will be torn from it." (Proverbs 2:20-22) The king says, "Sin is pleasurable for a season, but the day of reckoning always comes. Don't live for instant gratification. Don't fulfill your needs in ungodly ways. Don't join in with the wrong people in order to feel accepted and appreciated. Remember who you are in the Lord. He loves you. He wants to provide everything you need. He will reward your faithfulness. But He will not reward sin."

Humans have been created with a need for love and acceptance. If God had not created us this way, we wouldn't form families and communities. We would never accomplish much of anything because we would all be doing our own thing and we wouldn't be able to work together to form societies or governments or nations. Even the Lord Jesus Christ enjoyed the friendship of the disciples. He needed their company and their support, as evidenced by His request that they watch and pray with Him on the night before the crucifixion. There's nothing sinful about wanting to be loved and accepted; sin creeps in when we violate our principles in order to gain someone's love or approval. If gaining acceptance with a particular person or group involves saying or doing things contrary to God's laws and commandments, then we don't need to become involved with that particular person or group. What we need is to remember who we are in the Lord, that we are "accepted in the Beloved". (Ephesians 1:6) We need to remember this, "Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies." (1 Corinthians 6:19-20) We are not our own; we are Christ's. What greater honor could there be? What better acceptance could we ever hope for? Our Lord, who was able to save us by His own blood, is also able to provide godly friends for us. Let's seek His wisdom when choosing our close friends so that we end up with relationships that encourage us in our faith. Let's seek His wisdom when joining any group or activity so we don't end up with the wrong crowd wandering down the wrong path. If we are wise in the Lord, as Solomon says, we will avoid many of the troubles of this world.

(I will be out of town for three days during this holiday weekend, so we will pick back up with the blog on Tuesday. I wish you all a safe and happy Memorial Day weekend.)

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Counseled By The King: The Proverbs Of Solomon. Day 4, How To Stay On The Right Path

Solomon tells his son that the Lord gives godly wisdom to the one who seeks it. The one who follows the Lord can stay out of trouble.

"My son, if you accept my words, and store up my commands within you, turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding---indeed, if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God." (Proverbs 2:1-5) God passed along fatherly advice like this to His people Israel, pointing out that He can easily be found by the one who seeks Him, "I have not spoken in secret, from somewhere in a land of darkness; I have not said to Jacob's descendants 'Seek me in vain'." (Isaiah 45:19a) The Lord Jesus spoke similar words in Matthew 7:7-8, "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened." We can have as much of the Lord in our lives as we want! The one who seeks Him will never seek in vain.

Solomon continues, "For the Lord gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding. He holds success in store for the upright, He is a shield to those whose walk is blameless, for He guards the course of the just and protects the way of His faithful ones." (Proverbs 2:6-8) The king sounds like his own father David, a man who knew and loved the Lord. Solomon had such a thirst for knowledge that he spent a great deal of his life furthering his education and studying every subject he possibly could, but without the Lord's guidance this education could do little to help him be emotionally and spiritually successful in life. It was only when he applied himself to building a relationship with his Maker that Solomon found satisfaction in the things of this life and a sense of peace about the life to come.

When a person gives his heart to the Lord and commits to following Him, then and only then does he attain true wisdom. "Then you will understand what is right and just and fair---every good path. For wisdom will enter your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul. Discretion will protect you, and understanding will guard you." (Proverbs 2:9-11)

Why is it that we can't find wisdom on our own? Because we are so easily led by our fallen natures. In our human way of thinking, a particular solution to our problem may appear to be correct, but it might lead us into sin. We are like little children in some ways, because left to our own devices we will make up our own rules....and they will be rules that satisfy our most basic instincts. They will be rules that tell us it's okay to do unto others as they have already done to us, or worse yet, they will be rules that say it's okay to go ahead and do wicked things unto others before they can do wicked things unto us. We can't be trusted to make up our own moral and spiritual codes for living. We must depend on the One who is completely holy and righteous and trustworthy to set out these rules for us. We can't count on ourselves to recognize right from wrong without the Lord's guidance. This is why Solomon will say in Proverbs 14:12, "There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death."

Ancient Jewish tradition teaches that David is the author of Psalm 119 and that the words contained in it are intended as instructions for his son Solomon. He speaks of the wisdom that can only be attained by studying the laws of the Lord and points out that knowing God's word is what makes a person truly wise. If a person is following the Lord, he can't help but stay on the right path, for God will never lead him in the wrong direction. "Your commands are always with me and make me wiser than my enemies. I have more insight than all my teachers, for I meditate on Your statutes. I have more understanding than the elders, for I obey Your precepts. I have kept my feet from every evil path so that I might obey Your word. I have not departed from Your laws, for You yourself have taught me. How sweet are Your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! I gain understanding from Your precepts; therefore I hate every wrong path. Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path." (Psalm 119:98-105)

Why wander off by ourselves in the dark? Let's allow the word of God to shine a light on our path.

Our worship song for today is based on our passage from Psalm 119.
Thy Word

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Counseled By The King: The Proverbs Of Solomon. Day 3, If Wisdom Were A Person

Solomon gives wisdom a personality as if it were a human being with a voice.

"Out in the open wisdom calls aloud, she raises her voice in the public square; on top of the wall she cries out, at the city gate she makes her speech." (Ecclesiastes 1:20-21) He says, "Godly wisdom is not hard to find. She's out in the open. She raises her voice and invites us to learn. I spent many years of life pursuing the wrong kinds of wisdom and knowledge, while all along the right kind of wisdom was pursuing me."

This is what the voice of wisdom asks, "How long will you who are simple love your simple ways? How long will mockers delight in mockery and fools hate knowledge?" (Ecclesiastes 1:22) Wisdom encourages the listener to take stock of his life. How long will he keep going down the wrong path? How many more years will he waste by living apart from the Lord?

The action taking place in verse 22 is similar to the action that takes place when the Holy Spirit goes to work on us. His is the voice that troubles our consciences. His is the voice that promises something better in exchange for our sinful way of living. When we stop trying to shut our ears to His words and actually start listening, His is the same message that wisdom delivers in the next verse, "Repent at my rebuke! Then I will pour out my thoughts to you, I will make known to you all my teachings." (Ecclesiastes 1:23) 

Repentance comes first and fellowship with the Lord follows. Then the Holy Spirit, as Christ promised, "will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on His own; He will speak only what He hears, and He will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify Me because it is from Me that He will receive what He will make known to you." (John 16:13-14) Our Lord wants us to learn of Him. He desires to pour out His thoughts to us. He wants us to pour out our thoughts to Him. This is how we develop human relationships and this is how we develop a relationship with God, by two-way communication. He will make known to us His teachings and will lead us in the right direction. He says, "Call to Me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know." (Jeremiah 33:3) 

What does wisdom have to say of the one who continually resists godly wisdom, who has no desire to repent and live a life that honors the Lord? "But since you refuse to listen when I call and since no one pays attention when I stretch out my hand, since you disregard all my advice and do not accept my rebuke, I in turn will laugh when disaster strikes you; I will mock when calamity overtakes you---when calamity overtakes you like a storm, when disaster sweeps over you like a whirlwind, when distress and trouble overwhelm you." (Proverbs 1:24-27) Wisdom remarks, "In the day when the trouble you've brought on yourself falls on you, I will have nothing to say but, 'I told you so.'" Solomon may have learned this imagery from his father David, who told us not to fret over the evildoers in this world, "The wicked plot against the righteous and gnash their teeth at them; but the Lord laughs at the wicked, for He knows their day is coming." (Psalm 37:12-13) David pictures the Lord laughing at those who think they will obtain victory over His children. In the same way wisdom laughs at those who think they can commit evil deeds and get away with them.

"Then they will call to me but I will not answer; they will look for me but will not find me, since they hated knowledge and did not choose to fear the Lord. Since they would not accept my advice and spurned my rebuke, they will eat the fruit of their ways and be filled with the fruit of their schemes." (Proverbs 1:28-29) Wisdom is not saying that there will come a point when the person who wants to repent can't repent. She's saying something like this, "You wouldn't listen to me when I daily cried out to you. You wouldn't heed my warnings. You wouldn't accept my wisdom. Now that you're in trouble and are experiencing the natural consequences of your deeds, you want me to come and bail you out, but it's better for you to endure these hardships and learn your lesson." 

Wisdom is speaking about learning lessons the hard way, as Solomon did. She's not saying God will cover His ears and refuse to accept anyone's sincere repentance. As any parent knows, sometimes it's better not to step in and keep a child from having to deal with the consequences of his rebellion and disobedience. If someone constantly makes all the problems go away, the child will never learn to take responsibility. God dealt with wayward Israel in the same way a parent would deal with a disobedient child, by allowing them to reap the consequences of their continual rebellion so they would learn not to stray from Him. He allowed calamities to come upon them because this is how they behaved,  "All day long I have held out My hands to an obstinate people, who walk in ways not good, pursuing their own imaginations," and, "My people have forgotten Me days without number". (Isaiah 65:2, Jeremiah 2:32) Yet when they learned their lesson and repented, the Lord did not close His ears to their cries. This is what He promised to do when that time came, "Then you will call on Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me when you seek Me with all your heart." (Jeremiah 29:12-13)

Why should we seek godly wisdom? Because wisdom says, "For the waywardness of the simple will kill them, and the complacency of fools will destroy them; but whoever listens to me will live in safety and be at ease, without fear of harm." (Proverbs 1:32-33) Solomon is speaking more in legal terms than in spiritual terms. To live an honest life is to be free of the fear of being called before a judge or of being cast into prison. Doing what's right keeps a person from being afraid someone will suddenly serve a warrant on him or break down the door or seize evidence of a crime. Obeying the laws of the land and the laws of God keeps a person out of a great deal of trouble. Solomon isn't promising us that hard times will never come into the lives of the godly. We know better from our study of Job and we know better from our own experience. But he's saying, "Do you want to live in peace? Do you want to go about your business and enjoy your blessings? Then you must live wisely and honestly."

These verses also have a spiritual application. God cannot bless disobedience. To do so would be to reinforce the behavior, the same as rewarding a child for disobedience would reinforce the behavior. If our lives are ruled by godly wisdom, we need have no fear of God's wrath. He may allow troubling circumstances to come into our lives for other purposes, but they won't be coming into our lives in order to discipline us. We will be able to endure them with clear consciences, with the encouragement of knowing there is nothing between us and God. He will be our comfort and strength. 

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Counseled By The King: The Proverbs Of Solomon. Day 2, Don't Run With The Wrong Crowd

Solomon gives the type of fatherly advice a man might give to a son in his teens or twenties, but this advice is useful for us at any age. It has to do with not falling in with the wrong crowd and with not giving in to peer pressure. Sometimes we think just because we're older we are too experienced to allow the opinions of others to affect our behavior, but the truth is that at any stage of our lives we might be concerned enough with pleasing others to agree to doing something wrong.

"Listen, my son, to your father's instruction and do not forsake your mother's teaching. They are a garland to grace your head and a chain to adorn your neck." (Proverbs 1:8-9) He says, "Remember how you were raised! Your mother and I taught you right from wrong. Don't throw these instructions aside when you go out in the world on your own." Solomon broke some of the Lord's commandments, but as a king the Bible tells us he rightly judged cases according to the laws of the land. In this sense we can be certain he taught his son a moral code. He may not always have set a godly example, but he probably did set a legal example. His son would have known not to do the things that all cultures consider wrong, such as robbery and murder, subjects that will be discussed in today's passage.

My father, who went on to be with the Lord when I was only nineteen, was not a Christian until the last two or three years of his life. But even before he came to Christ he was one of the most honest men I ever knew and I can clearly recall him telling me, "There's never a good reason to tell a lie." Like Solomon, he didn't live his life for the Lord until close to its end, but he knew right from wrong and was able to teach me principles for honorable living. My mother has now passed on as well, but she was a woman who became a Christian at the age of eighteen and was a faithful servant of the Lord her whole life. She taught me about Jesus at such a young age I can't remember a time when I didn't know who He is. She was able to pass along to me the commandments for godly living. Together my parents laid a firm foundation for my life. I have not forgotten my father's instruction or my mother's teaching. I've made mistakes, some of which I'm afraid would shame them if they knew, But because they taught me right from wrong, I know it when I mess up. It bothers me. It's difficult to stay in that situation for very long because my conscience won't allow me any peace. This is why Solomon understands the value of teaching his son right from wrong while he's young. He says, "Carry these values with you wherever you go. They will beautify you like a garland on your head or like a chain around your neck. They will bring you honor and not shame."

"My son, if sinful men entice you, do not give in to them." (Proverbs 1:10) Solomon warns his son, "If you start running with the wrong crowd they will talk you into doing sinful things. They are a bad influence. They will pressure you into doing things you know you shouldn't do." The author of Psalm 1 pronounces a blessing on the one who does not hang out with the wrong crowd, "Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers." (Psalm 1:1)

"If they say, 'Come along with us; let's lie in wait for innocent blood, let's ambush some harmless soul; let's swallow them alive, like the grave, and whole, like those who go down to the pit; we will get all sorts of valuable things and fill our houses with plunder; cast lots with us; we will all share the loot'---my son, do not go along with them, do not set foot on their paths; for their feet rush into evil, they are swift to shed blood." (Proverbs 1:11-16) One minute Solomon paints a picture of simply spending time with the wrong crowd; the next minute he illustrates a scene of robbery and murder. He left out all the steps that take place in between, but I think he does this for dramatic effect. Of course a young man doesn't start keeping company with a rough crowd so that he can eventually end up going to prison for robbery or murder. In the beginning he probably just thinks these guys are cool in a rebellious sort of way. He wants to be considered cool and rebellious too, so he starts hanging out with them at school. Next, in order to maintain their approval, he starts joining in with their pranks. Over time he will begin to share their scornful attitude toward all authority figures and rules. He will become so used to saying "yes" to anything they suggest that his conscience will stop screaming at him when he breaks a legal or spiritual law. From that point on, he might agree to anything, even armed robbery or murder. That level of sin doesn't happen all at once, but it progresses step by step, as a king like Solomon knows from judging so many legal cases. Many a young man has stood before him who started out hanging with a rough crowd to look cool only to end up committing shocking crimes.

Solomon points out that to be forewarned is to be forearmed. The wise person who knows the truth can avoid falling for a lie. "How useless to spread a net where every bird can see it!" (Proverbs 1:17) He counsels, "Learn to recognize the characteristics of a person who lacks a moral code or spiritual values. Then you will be able to avoid him. Just like a bird who spots the net in time to keep from getting caught in it, you will be able to change course and escape without harm."

The one who falls in with lawbreakers and sinners is not wise, for such people are really setting a trap for themselves. "These men lie in wait for their own blood; they ambush only themselves! Such are the paths of all who go after ill-gotten gain; it takes away the life of those who get it." (Proverbs 1:18-19) The king states, "The man who leads a life of crime is ruining himself. He thinks he's only hurting others, but he will pay for his wrongdoing. He will pay when the earthly judge finds him guilty. He will pay when the heavenly Judge finds him guilty. He may temporarily rejoice over the gold and silver he took through violence, but what use will that be to him when he stands accused in a courtroom? He might have believed he wasn't suspected in a murder because he was very clever in going about it, but as Moses once said in Numbers 32:23, 'be sure your sins will find you out.'"

Solomon's advice is wonderful for the young person about to go out into the world. It would make a great graduation speech. But his advice is also valuable to those of us who are middle-aged (like me) or older. It's a part of human behavior to want others to like us and approve of us. God created us with a need for friendship. But we must choose our close friends wisely. They need to be people who will encourage us in moral and godly ways, not people who will tempt us to go down the wrong paths. The Apostle Paul would have agreed with everything King Solomon says in today's passage, for he said something similar, "Do not be misled: Bad company corrupts good character." (1 Corinthians 15:33) This doesn't mean we can't interact with unbelievers or include them in activities or show them the love of Christ. I have friends who aren't Christians; all of us probably do. The Bible is telling us to be careful of who we place in our inner circle of friends. What is the character of those closest to us? Can they be counted on to give godly advice? Do they follow legal and spiritual laws? Would they be concerned if they saw us going down the wrong path?

The Lord Jesus had a group of twelve fairly close friends, but His inner circle consisted of Peter, James, and John. These three men sometimes made mistakes because they were human, but from a moral and spiritual standpoint these three were the closest to having a heart like that of Jesus, so these were the three with which He spent the most time. He knew their hearts and that they had it in them to become such fierce spiritual warriors that they would be willing to die for their faith if it came to that. That's the kind of people we want in our inner circle! That's the kind of people who won't lead us in the wrong direction.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Counseled By The King: The Proverbs Of Solomon. Day 1, Introduction

The book of Proverbs is written mainly by King Solomon, the man who asked the Lord for wisdom, which the Lord graciously granted, saying, "I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be." (1 Kings 3:12) The only one who has ever possessed more wisdom than Solomon is the one who is both God and man, the Lord Jesus Christ, who pointed out the foolishness of those who would not listen to Him and said, "The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with the people of this generation and condemn them, for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon's wisdom; and now someone greater than Solomon is here." (Luke 11:31) The Lord Jesus backs up the authority of Solomon's words by using him as an example of wisdom. God further legitimizes Solomon's writings by allowing them to become part of the Holy Bible as inspired Scripture. As such, they are enormously valuable to us for godly living.

Having just concluded the book of Ecclesiastes, we know that Solomon endured a mental and spiritual crisis when he reached the latter years of his reign. He looked back on the way he had lived his life and concluded that he had spent most of it "chasing the wind". This is because he married many foreign women and not only allowed them to keep practicing their pagan religions, but was led astray by his carnal passions into idolatry himself, at least to the point of building altars for these women to their false gods. We are told that as he grew older, Solomon's heart "was not fully devoted to the Lord his God" and he "did not follow the Lord completely". (1 Kings 11:4,6) The years of looking for fulfillment in all the wrong places began to take a toll on him. As he entered the final decades of his life, he was forced to face the emptiness in his heart and to wonder why he could no longer take pleasure in the things that filled his hours when he was younger. He concluded at the end of Ecclesiastes that the root of his problems was his failure to fear God, which in a spiritual context means to honor and revere Him, to acknowledge His authority, to believe in His righteousness, and to accept on faith that He has good intentions toward mankind. If Solomon had retained this attitude at all stages of his life, it could never have been said of him that he was not fully devoted to the Lord. He could never have looked back on his life and said, "Meaningless! It's all meaningless!"

I have come across a few articles and commentaries that attempt to make the case for Solomon remaining in his state of apostasy, but I must respectfully disagree. Would God allow the writings of a reprobate to become part of the Holy Bible? Would the Lord Jesus have pointed to Solomon as an example of wisdom? Would God have given him the second name of Jedidiah on the day of his birth which means "beloved by the Lord"? Why did the Lord love him before he had done anything good or bad? Because God already knew him. Before he was even born or had spoken a word wise or unwise, God knew his heart and knew he would eventually become a man who could be inspired by the Holy Spirit. In this same way God knew Jacob and Esau before they were born, seeing what type of men they would finally become, and He knew Jacob would have a heart for Him but Esau would be a profane and irreverent man.

The Bible tells us that Solomon sinned, but it also tells us that everyone is a sinner. If someone were to pick and choose portions of my life where I've messed up and publish them in a book after my death, then people might conclude that I perished in apostasy and am not in heaven with the Lord. But that wouldn't be looking at the whole story. We can't conclude that Solomon isn't in heaven with the Lord, because when we look at the whole story of his life we get an entirely different picture. He was a man who grew up in the faith, followed the Lord at the beginning of his reign, then was seduced by the power and wealth that allowed him to obtain any worldly pleasures he desired. If we stopped right there we would shake our heads in pity over Solomon's lost soul. But the Bible doesn't stop right there. The Bible provides us with the writings of Solomon's final years as king, writings that prove to us that he regretted the years of debauchery, writings that clearly display a relationship with the Lord.

A man who does not know the Lord could never have written the book of Proverbs. He wouldn't even want to write it. The book of a man who does not know the Lord would never have been given space in the holy Scriptures. I don't believe Solomon's soul was lost at all. I believe he wandered away from the Lord for a time and became entangled in all the wrong things, but I also believe he speaks from experience when he says, "Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it." (Proverbs 22:6) Solomon was started off on the way he should go by his father David, the "man after God's own heart". (1 Samuel 13:14) When he became old, Solomon returned to his spiritual roots. He remembered the truths he had been taught. He recalled the example his father set for loving the Lord. This prodigal king made his way home.

Solomon wants to help us. He'd like to prevent us from making the same mistakes he made. So he tells us the reason he wrote the book of Proverbs. "The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel: for gaining wisdom and instruction; for understanding words of insight; for receiving instruction in prudent behavior, doing what is right and just and fair; for giving prudence to those who are simple, knowledge and discretion to the young---let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance---for understanding proverbs and parables, the sayings and riddles of the wise." (Proverbs 1:1-6)

He now makes the statement that is the theme of the whole book, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction." (Proverbs 1:7) He says, "If you don't know the Lord, you don't know a thing. Until you form a relationship with Him, you can advise no one. Unless you commit to following Him, you will never have true wisdom."

Solomon speaks to us from the heart with words that come from a repentant and restored soul. This is why the Lord allowed the book of Proverbs to be included in the Holy Bible, so we could be counseled by the king.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Ecclesiastes: Does Anything Really Matter? Day 24, Don't Ignore The Lord While You're Young, Part Two

Estimates of Solomon's age at death vary, but most scholars think he was anywhere from his sixties to about eighty when he died. It's believed he wrote Ecclesiastes and Proverbs during the final years of his reign. We don't know what his health was like in the latter years of his reign, but he has already told us that for most of his life he denied himself nothing. He indulged in alcohol, in feasting, and in the pleasures of this world. Today he speaks like a man who feels old. I know lots of people who are as old or older than Solomon was when he wrote the book of Ecclesiastes, and many of them are still very active and in wonderful health, but Solomon is beginning to feel like an old man. He lived in a time before modern medicine. He lived in an age when he couldn't go to the doctor and have his cholesterol, blood sugar, triglycerides, or blood pressure checked. He could have been suffering from one or more health problems. This is why he warned us yesterday not to waste our youth by waiting to serve God when we're older. He wishes he'd done more for the Lord while he still had the unlimited energy and the strength of body of his youth.

We are going to reread verse 1, which we studied yesterday, because it's a vital part of a thought that runs from verse 1 to verse 5. "Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, 'I find no pleasure in them'---before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars grow dark, and the clouds return after the rain; when the keepers of the house tremble, and the strong men stoop, when the grinders cease because they are few, and those looking through the windows grow dim; when the doors to the street are closed and the sound of grinding fades; when people rise up at the sound of birds, but all their songs grow faint; when people are afraid of heights and of dangers in the streets; when the almond tree blossoms and the grasshopper drags itself along and desire is no longer stirred. Then people go to their eternal home and mourners go about the streets." (Ecclesiastes 12:1-5)

Verses 1 through 5 are a metaphor for the failing strength of old age. Solomon skillfully and poetically paints us a picture of what happens as our bodies begin to show the wear and tear of life on earth. He says, "Serve God now while you're in good health. Don't wait til your eyesight begins to fail. Don't wait til your hearing becomes dim. Don't wait til your joints hurt and you can't straighten up all the way anymore. Don't wait til your hands tremble all the time. Don't wait til you can't sleep through a whole night but instead rise with the birds but are unable to clearly hear their songs. Don't wait til you're feeble enough to be constantly afraid of falling, afraid of driving, afraid of going about your business in the city. It's said that in the springtime man's heart turns to thoughts of love, but even that will leave you as you grow old. Youthful desires of the flesh won't matter to you anymore. You will take no more joy in the arrival of spring than you did in the arrival of winter. And when you reach the point of enjoying nothing at all, can the grave be far away?"

The picture he paints is gloomy, but we must keep in mind that these words come from the pen of a man who is clinically depressed. These words spring from a heart that never properly learned how to love the Lord. God can use us at any stage in our lives. Of course it's better to begin serving Him in our youth; this will help us avoid making a number of mistakes and having to live with regrets. But if we are committed to living for God, this is what He promises us at every stage of our lives, "The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the Lord, they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green." (Psalm 92:12-14) The Lord is not necessarily saying we will enjoy good health all our lives, but that the person devoted to Him will be able to do something fruitful for His kingdom during every decade of life. It's a fact that our bodies are going to age, but it's also a fact that God will honor a willing spirit. As the Apostle Paul said in the latter years of his life, "Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day." (2 Corinthians 4:16) The activities we are able to participate in may change as we grow older, but we can still be mighty prayers warriors of God even if we can no longer get down on our knees in the floor. We can still set a godly example for the next generation. We can still pass along godly advice. We can still give testimony to all that Lord has done for us.

Solomon doesn't realize it yet, but in his older years he is beginning to produce fruit. In his despair he wrongly believes the best years of his life are behind him. He thinks nothing is ahead of him but the grave. So he urges us to turn to the Lord before it's too late, before we waste our youth and energy chasing after all the wrong things like he did, "Remember Him---before the silver cord is severed, and the golden bowl is broken; before the pitcher is shattered at the spring, and the wheel broken at the well, and the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it." (Ecclesiastes 12:6-7) 

The king looks back on his life and is grieved that he didn't do much for the Lord. Everything he did apart from the Lord failed to satisfy him. The years of his life look like a hundred miles of bad road and his regrets cause him to utter these words: "'Meaningless! Meaningless!' says the Teacher. 'Everything is meaningless!'" (Ecclesiastes 12:8)

We don't know how many years Solomon had left on the earth after he wrote the book of Ecclesiastes, but at some point he was able to say this about the final years of his life, "Not only was the Teacher wise, but he also imparted knowledge to the people, He pondered and searched and set in order many proverbs. The Teacher searched to find just the right words, and what he wrote was upright and true." (Ecclesiastes 12:9-10 Does this passage sound like it was written about a man who had nothing behind him but regrets and nothing ahead of him but the grave? Or does it sound like it was written about a man who found his way back to the Lord, a man who bore fruit in his old age? The depressed and almost suicidal king we find in the book of Ecclesiastes didn't remain in his woeful condition. He became "upright and true" through his relationship with the Lord. He was able to pass on advice for godly living to the next generation. The lessons he learned the hard way became lessons he could write in the form of proverbs to prevent us from making the same mistakes. He couldn't go back and undo the past and change the things he was so ashamed of, but with the Lord's help he was able to take a godly pleasure in the years that remained to him. Because he had the Lord in his life, he finished strong with no need to be ashamed of his final years on earth.

Solomon's son Rehoboam grew up watching the poor example his father set, but the king hopes it isn't too late to prevent his son from going down the wrong paths, so he says, "The words of the wise are like goads, their collected sayings like firmly embedded nails---given by one shepherd. Be warned, my son, of anything in addition to them." (Ecclesiastes 12:11-12a) He cautions his son, "Heed the words of the wise. Like a goad pointing cattle in the right direction, they will point you in the right direction. Like a nail driven so firmly into a post that no amount of weight on it can cause it to fall, godly wisdom will keep you from falling into sin. The Scriptures should be studied and followed, for they are spoken by the Shepherd. Do not corrupt them by adding worldly wisdom to them. They are perfect just as they are because they come straight from the Lord. There is nothing we could ever add to them."

"Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body." (Ecclesiastes 12:12b) The king spent his youth and middle age reading and learning and listening to philosophers and puzzling over enigmas. But none of that profited him because he ignored what was right under his nose: the holy Scriptures. His studies exhausted him because they weren't able to lend his life the meaning he so desperately craved. This doesn't mean we should be ignorant and not obtain an education if it's available to us, but if we neglect the word of God and seek meaning in everything else but Him we are going to end up as depressed and full of regrets as Solomon. Life will seem as meaningless to us as it once did to Solomon.

All his studies, all his activities, and all his riotous living did nothing for Solomon. He felt empty and tired, almost unable to go on with life. He finally sees the light and realizes it all comes down to this: "Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil." (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14) The king began this book by asking, "Does anything really matter?" Now he answers his own question, "Yes! Everything matters! There is a God in heaven and He has a purpose for every one of us. He has His eye on us at all times. We owe Him our praise. We owe Him our lives. We owe Him our faithful service. We may not always see the righteous rewarded in this world or the wicked punished on the earth, but we have eternal souls that will stand before the Judge someday. He will certainly set things straight then. Knowing that our lives have a purpose, and knowing that we have eternal souls, what should we do? We should live our lives for the Lord. He gives meaning to everything we do. He helps us to produce godly fruit at every stage of our lives. He gives us the strength to live honorable lives, lives we don't have to be ashamed of. Everything I've said in the book of Ecclesiastes can be summed up like this: God alone gives meaning to our lives."

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Ecclesiastes: Does Anything Really Matter? Day 23, Don't Ignore The Lord While You're Young, Part One

Solomon is a man who knows how to really live it up in a worldly way because he has the power and the money to get anything he wants. He spent his entire youth experiencing anything his heart desired. Because he's been through it himself, he knows the tendency of youth to put off forming a relationship with the Lord. He understands the type of young thinking that might lead a person to say, "I'm not ready to give my life to the Lord. I want to sow my wild oats. I have plenty of time to make things right later." Solomon made a lot of mistakes in his youth by running after idolatrous women and not requiring them to convert to the God of Israel. Instead, because his lust led him to want to please these women, he allowed them to retain their pagan religions and he allowed himself to be drawn away from the Lord. The Bible tells us that Solomon "did not follow the Lord completely, as David his father had done". (1 Kings 11:6)

The king begins today's discourse with these words, "Light is sweet, and it pleases the eyes to see the sun. However many years anyone may live, let them enjoy them all. But let them remember the days of darkness, for there will be many. Everything to come is meaningless." (Ecclesiastes 11:7-8) For the past few days Solomon has been providing us with proverbs that are helpful for daily living. It temporarily lifted his spirits to give us some good advice, but now he thinks, "Aw, what's the use of anything? No matter how careful we are to live right, we still have to live in a world where troubles come both to the righteous and the wicked. Yes, it's wise to enjoy the good days. It would be foolish of us not to appreciate them. But we should never forget that not every day of our lives is going to be good. What's the point of such a thing?" He's allowing the cloudy days to ruin the sunny days. His fears of the future are keeping him from fully enjoying today.

"You who are young, be happy while you are young, and let your heart give you joy in the days of your youth. Follow the ways of your heart and whatever your eyes see, but know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment. So then, banish anxiety from your heart and cast off the troubles of your body, for youth and vigor are meaningless." (Ecclesiastes 11:9-10) Deep in his heart Solomon doesn't really believe there's no point to our lives on this earth. If he truly believed that, he wouldn't say, "Go ahead and live it up while you're young if you want, but you will have to answer to God for your sins. While you're young you have the strength and energy to indulge in anything your heart desires, but if those indulgences are ungodly there is a Judge before whom you will stand someday."

Solomon knows that when we are young we might decide to pour our boundless energy into the wrong things. Death seems impossible to us when we are that healthy. The day of judgment seems so far away that we don't trouble our minds about it. We can easily be seduced into thinking we should go out and experience everything there is to experience, whether it is sinful or not, and worry about the consequences later. But Solomon has learned all his lessons the hard way. He wants to help us avoid the mistakes he made in his youth. It's far better to use the health and strength and energy of youth to serve the Lord than to serve the flesh. "Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, 'I find no pleasure in them'." (Ecclesiastes 12:1)

The king gives good advice when he says, "Don't wait until you're an older man like me to give your heart to the Lord. You might not be in good health when you reach my age. You may lack the strength to do much work for His kingdom. Doesn't God deserve your best? Go ahead and start serving Him now in the health and energy of your youth. Do all you can for Him before your back starts hurting every time you stand for longer than ten minutes, and before you get short of breath while teaching or preaching, and before your mind becomes too forgetful to pass along your wisdom to the next generation. Don't say to yourself, 'There's plenty of time to serve God when I'm older. I'm going to do what I want now and repent of it later.' You don't want to reach my age and be full of regrets about how you spent your youth. I wish I'd spent those years serving the Lord. Then I'd really have something to show for them, something honorable and good."

Yesterday is gone and we can't do anything to change what we did with it. But this day is still young. We have control over what we do with today and with all our tomorrows. Why not go through this day with Christ? Why not spend every day we have left with Him? It's far too dangerous to keep putting it off because no one is promised tomorrow. The reason life without Christ seems meaningless and pointless is because it is. But life with Him is fulfilling and meaningful. He intends for it to be. So why put it off any longer? If you don't know the Lord, there's no better day than today to commit your life to the One who promises us not only eternal life after death, but a more abundant life here on earth. (John 10:10)