Thursday, August 31, 2017

Counseled By The King: The Proverbs Of Solomon. Day 84, Protecting Ourselves, Our Marriages, Our Friendships, And Our Finances

Today the king discusses several matters. He tells us how to avoid personal danger, how to protect our finances, how to be a good neighbor, how to choose a good spouse, how to choose our friends, and how we should be living if we claim to belong to the Lord.

"The prudent see danger and take refuge, but the simple keep going and pay the penalty." (Proverbs 27:12) Solomon has made similar statements before. The wise will be led by the Lord and will avoid the path that leads to danger, but those lacking in spiritual discernment are like those who ignore a sign that says "bridge out" and end up walking straight into the ocean. This is why Solomon told us in Chapter 3 to, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to Him, and He will make your paths straight." (Proverbs 3:5-6)

The king has warned us before about not pledging security for others, or in modern terms: we must be careful whose loan we co-sign. Today he talks about what we, as someone's creditor, should do if a person pledges to be security for another. "Take the garment of one who puts up security for a stranger; hold it in pledge if it is done for an outsider." (Proverbs 27:13) He tells us to demand some type of collateral from the person pledging to pay the debt. Since he's told us previously in the book of Proverbs that it's foolish to put up security for someone we don't know very well, he's concerned that the person who co-signed lacks good sense and will also default. At least if we have some collateral we won't walk away with nothing.

This next verse is considered by many commentators to be about hypocrisy, "If anyone blesses their neighbor loudly in the morning, it will be taken as a curse." (Proverbs 27:14) The fact that the person doing the blessing is doing it "loudly" leads us to the conclusion that he wants to be heard by the whole neighborhood. This is probably because he intends to ask a favor of the neighbor he's blessing. He's gotten up early for the purpose of buttering up the neighbor in preparation of making his request. He's praising his neighbor loudly for being good and generous, which will make it harder for the neighbor to say no to his request without feeling ashamed. This is why the loud blessing is considered a curse by the neighbor who is being blessed; he knows something is up.

Solomon has made previous observations about the woes of living with a quarrelsome spouse, and he revisits the topic today, "A quarrelsome wife is like the dripping of a leaky roof in a rainstorm; restraining her is like restraining the wind or grasping oil with the hand." (Proverbs 27:15-16) He counsels his son and his son's young companions, "Don't marry a woman with a bad attitude. You won't be happy with a person who is angry all the time. Listening to her fuss all day will be as bad as listening to a dripping from the roof. It will be monotonous. It will make you feel like you're going to go crazy. You won't be able to stop her anymore than you could capture the wind." Since Solomon is speaking to a male audience, naturally he uses quarrelsome wives as an example, but his words could apply equally to quarrelsome husbands. We need to carefully investigate the character of the person we are considering marrying, and most of all we need to prayerfully seek the Lord's will in our choice of spouse.

This next verse has application in marriage, in friendships, and in business partnerships. As Christians, our closest alliances should be with people who are on the same spiritual level. "As iron sharpens iron, so one sharpens another." (Proverbs 27:17) You can't sharpen iron with a material that's softer than iron. This will only dull the iron and cause the other material to crumble. The same holds true for marriages, business partnerships, and close friendships. If we are not made of the same spiritual material we can't keep each other sharp. The person who is more godly may become dull and discouraged by the faithlessness of the other person. The one who is not as godly might feel guilty and undervalued, causing them to want to avoid the other person. This is why the Apostle Paul sternly warned us not to be "unequally yoked together with unbelievers". (2 Corinthians 6:14) To be yoked together is to be in a close partnership, and just as it's important for both animals in a yoke to be equally matched, it's important for both people in a partnership to be equally matched. Two oxen in a yoke can't pull together very well if one is weak and the other is strong; neither can a husband and wife pull together very well if one is weak in the faith and the other is strong in the faith.

"The one who guards a fig tree will eat its fruit, and whoever protects their master will be honored." (Proverbs 27:18) We are to be diligent in our work. We will have plenty if we are industrious and responsible in our duties.

The king concludes today's study with this observation, "As water reflects the face, so one's life reflects the heart." (Proverbs 27:19) We can't always tell a person's character by what they say, because words are cheap. But we can tell the condition of their heart by how they live. The Lord Jesus said something similar, "By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit." (Matthew 7:16-17) The Lord makes this statement in the same chapter where He warns us about judging others. This is not contradictory, for two separate ideas are expressed in Matthew 7. The word "judge" in the original language has to do with maintaining a condemnatory attitude, like that of an earthly judge who has found a person guilty and passes sentence on him. If our fellow man is doing wrong, we aren't to write him off and condemn him to his fate. We're to try and lead him to the truth. The "fruit" inspection has more to do with those who claim to be godly but whose actions don't offer any proof of godliness. When the Lord tells us not to judge, He's not telling us to be ignorant and incapable of recognizing wrong from right. We can't know the word of God and not be able to tell wrong from right. He's simply saying we will know who His followers are by how they live. Solomon is saying the same thing. Our actions reveal the condition of our heart. This should lead us to examine our own lives, to look into a spiritual mirror and see whether our lives reflect who we claim to be in Christ. If our words and deeds aren't matching up, we need to get with the Lord and make some things right with Him.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Counseled By The King: The Proverbs Of Solomon. Day 83, Honorable Intentions

Solomon is teaching his son how to live an honorable life. He talks today about the dangers of overindulgence, of the foolishness of abandoning our vows, and of the shame of abandoning our faithful friends. His son, and all of us, should live with honorable intentions that are fitting for a child of God.

"One who is full loathes honey from the comb, but to the hungry even what is bitter tastes sweet." (Proverbs 27:7) It is possible to have too much of a good thing. When we studied Ecclesiastes we found Solomon saying, "I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my labor, and this was the reward for all my toil. Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun." (Ecclesiastes 2:10-11) At one time Solomon had everything worldly that the heart could desire. He had more money than any other man on earth. He had more fame than any other man on earth. With 1,000 wives and concubines it's probably safe to say he had more female company than any other man on earth. He could afford the best wines and so he drank to excess. (Ecclesiastes 2:3) He was bored and so he filled his time by building beautiful palaces and monuments, plus he planted magnificent orchards. (Ecclesiastes 2:4-6) For a while these things helped him to ignore the gaping hole in his heart where God should have been. But there came a point where he was as sick of these things as a man who has gorged himself on honey. A life of pleasure and debauchery left him feeling emptier and ever, which is why we found him in such a deep clinical depression in the book of Ecclesiastes. He had a hunger, but not a hunger for the things of this world. His hunger was for a relationship with the living God. Nothing less than this was capable of satisfying him. Solomon doesn't want his son to make the same mistakes he made. It's better to find the Lord early in life than to waste years in carnal pursuits.

"Like a bird that flees its nest is anyone who flees from home." (Proverbs 27:8) A bird devotes several days to building the nest and making it just right for habitation. How foolish it would be to expend all that energy on the nest and then abandon it. Solomon says it's equally foolish to spend time building a home with someone only to abandon the marriage vows in order to see if the grass is greener on the other side. This family counseling could also apply to wayward children such as the young man in the parable of the Prodigal Son, who thought life was better and more exciting away from the godly influence of his father. The king says, "You've got it good at home! It's comfortable there. You have everything you need there. Why not work on your relationships at home instead of striking out into this cold world on your own?"

"Perfume and incense bring joy to the heart, and the pleasantness of a friend springs from their heartfelt advice." (Proverbs 27:8) Anointing oneself with perfumes was a way of celebrating life in ancient times. The pleasant smells had a way of uplifting the spirit. Not anointing oneself often indicated distress or mourning, as when Daniel was troubled by one of his visions and said he mourned for three weeks, tasting no meat and wine and using no lotions. Solomon is telling us that advice from a friend who loves us is as spirit-lifting as a sweet smell. We should cherish and nurture our friendships, for they will be a blessing to us.

"Do not forsake your friend or a friend of your family, and do not go to your relative's house when disaster strikes you---better a neighbor nearby than a relative far away." (Proverbs 27:10) Do you have friends who are like family to you? Do you have friends who are closer than family to you? The king says these are the ones to call on when we need help. We can't choose the family we are born into, but we can choose our friends, and a friend who has proven himself faithful is a valuable resource in times of trouble. That's the one we can count on to pray for us and encourage us in the faith.

Solomon concludes his discourse today by reminding his son how he can make his father proud. "Be wise, my son, and bring joy to my heart; then I can answer anyone who treats me with contempt." (Proverbs 27:11) He says, "Live an honorable life, a life that will hold up to scrutiny. Then the only way anyone can say anything bad about you is if they make it up. They will have to lie in order to malign your character, and I will be able to prove them wrong. Would I take delight in a wayward child? Would I rejoice in the actions of a prodigal son? My joy in you will be the proof that you are living wisely. My face will shine with the pride that comes from knowing my son is a good man." Is there anything that makes a godly parent happier than knowing their child is walking with the Lord? Is there anything that makes our Father in heaven happier than knowing we are faithfully following the Lord Jesus Christ? Let's make Him happy today! Let's give Him reason to rejoice over us! Let's go out into this dark world and be a light for those who have lost their way. Let's have honorable intentions toward everyone so that they will see Christ in us.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Counseled By The King: The Proverbs Of Solomon. Day 82, The Wounds Of A Friend Can Be Trusted

Solomon begins today with a verse that may be familiar to many of us, "Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring." (Proverbs 27:1) The Lord's brother James devotes five verses to this subject in James 4:13-17 where he discusses the foolishness of making plans without the Lord's input. Neither Solomon nor James is telling us not to be responsible and plan ahead, but they are warning us that we can't count on tomorrow to be like today. This is why we should seek the Lord's will in all of our plans, since only He knows the future. James considers it prideful to boast about all the big things we will do tomorrow, and I suspect Solomon feels the same since our next verse deals with pride.

"Let someone else praise you, and not your own mouth; an outsider, and not your own lips." (Proverbs 27:2) He says, "Nobody likes a braggart! Don't go around pridefully boasting about your talents and accomplishments. If you do, people will start avoiding you. It's so much better to have someone else praise you! It's a true compliment when it comes from someone else's lips and not your own."

"Stone is heavy and sand a burden, but a fool's provocation is heavier than both." (Proverbs 27:3) The king discloses his feelings about this, "I'd rather carry large stones or lift sand bags all day than to listen to the babbling of a spiritually and morally corrupt person. Twelve hours of hard manual labor would be preferable to sitting at ease while enduring foolish chatter."

"Anger is cruel and fury overwhelming, but who can stand before jealousy?" (Proverbs 27:4) I would venture to guess that more people have been murdered during a fit of jealousy than during an episode of regular anger. Everyone has been infuriated by something or someone. There is even a type of anger known as righteous anger, which is anger at injustice perpetrated against ourselves or against another innocent person or creature. But jealousy burns white hot. Jealousy wipes away reasoning and leads to crimes of passion. It's a vicious emotion that robs us of intelligent reasoning and reduces us to our most primitive instincts. Jealousy says, "This is mine! No one else can have it! I will kill anyone who stands in my way!"

"Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses." (Proverbs 27:5-6) True friends will be honest with us. They will feel concerned when they see us going down the wrong path and they will express their concern to us. Their love for us won't allow them to turn a blind eye to the mistakes we're making. But an enemy won't care about the direction our life is going. An enemy will flatter us and say, "You're fine! There's nothing wrong with how you're living your life and it's nobody's business anyway. You don't owe anyone an explanation. Do what you want! You have the right to live however you please."

The Lord condemned this cavalier attitude in the prophets and priests of Jeremiah's time who refused to tell people the truth. The priests and prophets themselves had gone astray and were unable to be spiritual examples to the nation. "From the least to the greatest, all are greedy for gain; prophets and priests alike, all practice deceit. They dress the wound of My people as though it were not serious. 'Peace, peace,' they say, when there is no peace." (Jeremiah 6:13-14) Not telling our friend the truth is like trying to put a small band-aid on a deep hemorrhaging wound. It's like saying, "There, there! Everything is okay now! You don't need to repent. You don't need to turn around and go back in the right direction. Run along now and don't worry about anything."

In the book of Ezekiel we find the Lord condemning the false prophets and vowing to wipe their names off the roll of the children of Israel, "Because they lead My people astray, saying, 'Peace', when there is no peace, and because, when a flimsy wall is built, they cover it with whitewash, therefore tell those who cover it with whitewash that it is going to fall." (Ezekiel 13:10-11a) The Lord is warning the false prophets, saying something like, "You are deceivers, like workmen who cover the cracks in a weak wall with plaster. You should be faithfully delivering My word to My people so they can be healed, but instead you are merely sweeping sins under the rug. You bear some of the responsibility for My people's sins because it's your job to provide godly spiritual counseling. They looked to you for guidance onto the right path and you led them straight off a cliff. You will not go unpunished for your part in My people's downfall."

It's hard to go to a friend and tell him or her we're worried about the direction their life is going, but God's word points out that we have a responsibility to do so. And I would hope my own friends would do the same for me. If a loving and godly friend whose character and opinion we admire comes to us privately and expresses concern, we should take it to heart. It will hurt to have them point out our sins, but this is why Solomon refers to this situation as a wounding, "Wounds from a friend can be trusted." It will wound us but it will also heal us if it turns our life around. After all, the Lord Himself, that friend who sticks closer than a brother, sometimes has to wound us to heal us, "For He wounds, but He also binds up; He injures, but His hands also heal." (Job 5:18) It is said that shepherds in ancient Israel would break the leg of a wayward lamb that keeps wandering from the flock. This wound necessitate that the shepherd must carry the lamb until the leg heals. The shepherd must hand feed the lamb and carry water for it to drink. By the time the leg heals, the lamb is so in love with the shepherd that it never occurs to him to ever again leave the shepherd's side. This is why the author of Psalm 119 thanks the Lord for wounding him, "Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word." (Psalm 119:67) On several occasions the Lord has had to wound me in order to heal me. He's had to afflict me so that I would fall so in love with my Shepherd that I would never dream of leaving His side. Jesus is our friend, and the wounds of a friend can be trusted.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Counseled By The King: The Proverbs Of Solomon. Day 91, Beauty On The Outside, Wickedness On The Inside

Today Solomon talks about people who put on a front, who pretend to be our friends but aren't. He also discusses the horrible habit of gossip.

"Without wood a fire goes out; without a gossip a quarrel dies down. As charcoal to embers and as wood to fire, so is a quarrelsome person for kindling strife. The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to the inmost parts." (Proverbs 26:20-22) Have you ever heard the expression about a scandal or piece of gossip being a "nine days wonder"? This means it's a short-lived sensation. Most scandals and quarrels fall into that category because the interest in them lasts only until something new happens a few days later. But a gossip is like someone who keeps throwing fuel on a fire. A gossip refuses to let it die down, probably because the ongoing quarrel generates some type of enjoyment for the gossiper. That's why Solomon says gossip is to some people like choice morsels of food. He advises, "For goodness sake, let it go! Tend to your own business. The problem will soon go away if you'll just quit meddling in it."

"Like a coating of silver dross on earthenware are fervent lips with an evil heart." (Proverbs 26:23) The king is talking about putting on a front. You can plate an earthenware pot with silver, but at heart it's still made of mud. It's worthless. It's a fraud. The Lord Jesus deplored this type of character when He said to the hypocritical religious leaders, "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence." (Matthew 23:25) He also used another example, "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean." (Matthew 23:27) The Apostle Paul accused the council of the Sanhedrin of putting on a front, calling them "whitewashed walls" and accusing them of being hypocrites in Acts 23:3 because they were sworn to uphold the law but were lawbreakers themselves.

"Enemies disguise themselves with their lips, but in their hearts they harbor deceit. Though their speech is charming, do not believe them, for seven abominations fill their hearts. Their malice may be concealed by deception, but their wickedness will be exposed in the assembly." (Proverbs 26:24-26) Most of us have had people pretend to be our friends who really weren't. I've been fooled before. The most shocking deception came from someone who pretended to be interested in learning about the Lord, who was going to church events with me, who was regularly included in small gatherings of my family, while all along she intended to try and do harm to me. Why? I wish I knew what makes some people harbor anger and evil intentions in their hearts. I wish she had actually come to know the Lord when she heard the truth of the gospel, because Jesus can heal bitter hearts. He can take away whatever makes people think that lashing out and hurting others will somehow heal the hurt in their own hearts. Solomon warns us to be on guard. We should never share a lot of private information with anyone until they have proven themselves to be genuine friends. We shouldn't place them in our inner circle until they have earned our trust.

"Whoever digs a pit will fall back into it; if someone rolls a stone, it will roll back on them." (Proverbs 26:27) Here Solomon professes his faith that the troublemaker will suffer the penalty of his wrongdoing. When digging a pit for someone else, there's always the danger of stumbling and falling into it. When rolling a large stone to hurl down on someone else, there's a possibility it might roll backwards over the one pushing it. God doesn't always have to point His finger and call judgment down on evildoers, for they are their own worst enemies. Their wickedness has a way of falling back down on their own heads. Sooner or later their way of living will take its toll on them.

"A lying tongue hates those it hurts, and a flattering mouth works ruin." (Proverbs 26:28) There is hatred in the heart of the one who lies and gossips. It's often an unfocused hatred, a feeling of anger and bitterness in general due past hurts that person has experienced or due to feelings that the world hasn't given them something it owes them. After successfully deceiving someone, the liar usually can't stand the sight of that person anymore. He knows he has trespassed against another person and deep down it makes him hate both himself and the person he sinned against. This is why it's so rare that someone like this will actually come and apologize to us. They would rather avoid us and avoid thinking about how they treated us.

No doubt Solomon had many false friends. He was the most powerful man in Israel, perhaps the most powerful man in the world at that time. He was definitely the wealthiest man in the world, even by today's standards. He learned from experience that people would lie to his face. He knew what it was like to have people say one thing and mean another. He realized people would flatter him with their lips just to be included in his inner circle and to enjoy all the privileges of palace life. This is why he advises us to be careful. He isn't saying we should be suspicious of everyone's motives, but that we should be led by the Holy Spirit. If we feel a warning in our spirit that something is kind of "off" about a person who behaves as our friend, we should take heed to that warning. We should be careful not to overshare personal details of our lives or invite them into our inner circle where they can do the most harm. We can still love and pray for that person and share the gospel with them. We can still behave in a Christlike manner. The king is just telling us to be smart. Or as Jesus put it, "Be as shrewd as snakes but as harmless as doves." (Matthew 10:16b)

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Counseled By The King: The Proverbs Of Solomon. Day 90, Sober And Responsible Living

Solomon continues on with one of his favorite subject today: fools. And as always we keep in mind that in Biblical terms a fool is someone who has no regard for God's word and who lacks a moral and spiritual compass for his life.

The king has this to say, "Sending a message by the hands of a fool is like cutting off one's feet or drinking poison. Like the useless legs of one who is lame is a proverb in the mouth of a fool. Like tying a stone in a sling is the giving of honor to a fool. Like a thornbush in a drunkard's hand is a proverb in the mouth of a fool. Like an archer who wounds at random is one who hires a fool or any passer-by. As a dog returns to its vomit, so fools repeat their folly." (Proverbs 26:6-11) Solomon, in his position as king, has dealt with many a reprobate person in his time. His observations in these verses are darkly humorous, and I especially like the one that says giving honor to a fool is like tying a stone in a slingshot. He considers both things equally pointless. The stone tied into the slingshot isn't going anywhere or accomplishing anything. In the same way, the one who lacks good moral and spiritual character won't possess good leadership skills and should not be lifted to a position of honor. He says, "This person isn't going anywhere and he won't be able to lead people anywhere."

Yet there is something worse than being a fool, in Solomon's opinion. "Do you see a person wise in their own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for them." (Proverbs 26:12) The king muses, "A foolish person, one lacking in spiritual discernment, can sometimes be brought to the truth. A man like that may get tired of living a life of futility, a life without God, and may decide he wants to turn his life around. It might finally dawn on him that he needs the Lord. But the person who is wise in his own eyes is hardhearted. He thinks he knows it all. He thinks he needs nothing, certainly not forgiveness and redemption. He is stubborn and unwilling to listen to the truth. So I say there is more hope for the fool than for him."

Laziness is another quality Solomon deplores. "A sluggard says, 'There's a lion in the road, a fierce lion in the streets!' As a door turns on its hinges, so a sluggard turns on his bed. A sluggard buries his hand in the dish; he is too lazy to bring it back to his mouth. A sluggard is wiser in his own eyes than seven people who answer discreetly." (Proverbs 26:13-16) He tells us, "The one who is able to work but doesn't want to work always has excuses for it. Sometimes his excuses are illogical. He'd rather roll over and over in bed all day, going nowhere like a door hanging on hinges, than to make something of himself. He also can't seem to finish anything he starts. He's like someone who shoves his hand into a dish of candy but then lacks the ambition to put the candy in his mouth. What's the point of that? It's no use trying to reason with him, either. I've tried that plenty of times, but he thinks he knows more than anybody else."

The king dislikes meddlers too. "Like one who grabs a stray dog by the ears is someone who rushes into a quarrel not their own." (Proverbs 26:17) "Stay out of other people's business!" he advises. "Getting involved in someone else's dispute is as dumb as grabbing hold of the ears of a stray dog you don't know. That dog is going to turn around and bite you. You're going to wish you'd never bothered him. You're also going to wish you'd never gotten involved in someone else's quarrel."

He concludes today with a warning against playing cruel tricks and practical jokes. "Like a maniac shooting flaming arrows of death is one who deceives their neighbor and says, 'I was only joking!'" (Proverbs 26:18-19) Solomon wants to know this, "Why do you want to hurt people? Why would you tell a lie to your neighbor who trusts you and get him all upset? He is not going to think it's at all funny when you say, 'Just kidding!' He's probably going to punch you in the eye!"

The king's instructions today are about living thoughtful and sober lives. He encourages us to display character fitting for the children of God. We are to be morally upright and responsible citizens who show love to our neighbors. This is Christlike and those around us will be able to see the Lord Jesus in us and be attracted to Him. They will say, "I want the joy and peace my neighbor Jane has in her life since she came to the Lord," or, "John is a changed man since he became a Christian. He's living a godly life now. I wonder if Jesus can do the same thing for me."

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Counseled By The King: The Proverbs Of Solomon. Day 89, Showing Love To Unbelievers

Solomon talks a bit about one of his favorite subjects, which is foolishness. Then he gives us some advice about how to interact with unbelievers. We study his words on the subject along with those of Peter and Paul.

"Like snow in summer or rain in harvest, honor is not fitting for a fool." (Proverbs 26:1) Solomon says it's unseemly for the morally and spiritually reprobate to be honored and recognized by their fellow man. He exclaims, "Such a thing is as crazy as a blizzard in the middle of July! Wickedness should never be rewarded. People should never be praised for dishonesty and greed." The prophet Isaiah observed the same type of thing going on in the world and he warned, "Woe to those who call evil good and good evil." (Isaiah 5:20a) It's the way of this fallen world to reward shrewdness in business dealings, to pay the big bucks to actors and actresses who will perform explicit scenes in movies, and to award Grammy's to musical artists who spew nothing but filth on the stage. Solomon says, "These things are not fitting! These things are wrong! The world may be willing to honor a fool, but God isn't." God says, "These are the ones I look on with favor: those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at My word." (Isaiah 66:2b)

"Like a fluttering sparrow or a darting swallow, an undeserved curse does not come to rest." (Proverbs 26:2) We need not fret over what the ungodly say about us. They can curse our names or mock our faith or lie about us behind our backs, but Solomon says these curses won't land on us. They are far more likely to return to the roost, to those who spoke wickedly about us. The Lord makes this promise to those who are His, "'No weapon forged against you will prevail, and you will refute every tongue that accuses you. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and this is their vindication from Me,' declares the Lord." (Isaiah 54:17) Let the tongues wag all they want; God prove to the world that we are who we say we are in Christ.

"A whip for the horse, a bridle for the donkey, and a rod for the backs of fools!" (Proverbs 26:3) As always, we have to keep in mind what a "fool" in the Bible is. It's a person who lacks a heart for God and who has no respect for His laws. It's a person without morals and one who breaks the rules of both polite society and religious society. Here Solomon compares fools to farm animals. He is saying something like, "Just as it's no use to stand in the barn and read the Scriptures to a horse or donkey, it's no use to explain spiritual matters to a foolish man who has no heart for them. A horse or donkey has to be led wherever we want it to go because it lacks the ability to plan ahead or to know what work needs to be done. A fool is the same way. If left to his own devices, he will end up in trouble time and again."

These next two verses almost seem, on the surface, to contradict each other, "Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you yourself will be just like him. Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes." (Proverbs 26:5-6) After consulting several commentaries (some of which skip these verses entirely) I think we can reach a reasonable conclusion about what Solomon is saying. In verse 5 he seems to be advising us, "Don't sink down to the level of a fool. Don't get caught up in an argument with him. His opinion on your faith or your God may hurt you or make you angry, but be careful how you handle this situation. If you get all red in the face and start jumping up and down and pointing your finger at him and screaming, people passing by won't be able to tell the two of you apart. You will both look like idiots." The Apostle Paul warned young Timothy about the same thing, "Do not have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels." (2 Timothy 2:23) But does this mean we are to allow the spiritually reprobate person to remain in his ignorance? Apparently not, for Solomon seems to be saying in verse 6 that we are to try and help that person to see the truth. Otherwise, he predicts, "he will be wise in his own eyes". He will be prideful and feel he has no need for God. He will think he's got it all figured out and that he needs no repentance and no redemption.

So how do we begin to reason with someone who opposes the Christian life? First of all, we should follow Solomon's own advice from Proverbs 15:1, "A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger." If someone is hostile toward the church or toward the Christian faith, we aren't going to win them over by yelling and arguing. We must remain calm and respectful when giving our testimony. The apostles in the early church knew what it was like to face opposition at every turn, and Peter speaks with experience and wisdom when he says, "Do not repay evil with evil or insult for insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing...Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander." (1 Peter 3:9,15b-16) Paul agrees with Peter's assessment, "The Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will." (2 Timothy 2:24-26)

Kindness goes a long way in breaking down barriers to faith. Who would want to hear the testimony of an angry and argumentative person? I wouldn't, and I'm already a Christian, so I can't imagine why an unbeliever would stand and listen to the testimony of someone who doesn't appear to practice what they preach. But an unbeliever just might be willing to listen to the testimony of a person he respects. How do we earn that respect? I think it's by being the real deal, by walking the walk as well as talking the talk, by being kind and gentle and respectful, and by loving others even when they don't agree with us.

Remember the story of the rich young ruler in Mark 10? The way Jesus interacts with him is a good example of how to interact with those who reject the faith. The rich young ruler wanted to know the Lord but he idolized money. Money was more of a god to him than the Lord was, so Jesus advised him to remove that idol from his life and to become a disciple and follow Him. The young man turned away, unable to put the Lord first in his heart. From the moment this man approached Him and asked how he could inherit eternal life, Jesus knew he was going to reject His advice, yet the Bible tells us, "Jesus looked at him and loved him." (Mark 10:21a) As soon as Jesus set eyes on this man, He knew everything about him but loved him anyway. He loved him even though he didn't agree with Him. He loved him even though he didn't convert. I think the young man sensed this love. He chose to reject Jesus, at least in that moment, but who knows what happened to him later on? Maybe the words of this Man he respected kept coming back to him later on in life. Maybe when he heard that Jesus rose from the dead he had a change of heart. We don't know his fate, but I think we can safely assume he found it hard to close the door on the words of Jesus who spoke to him with such love. And maybe unbelievers will feel the same way about words we speak to them in love. Maybe someday down the road they will remember our testimonies of faith and our kindness and love toward them. Maybe they will decide to reach out for the Redeemer who loves us and gave Himself for us.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Couseled By The King: The Proverbs Of Solomon. Day 88, Resisting The Enemy

The king speaks today on the subject of self-control and of resisting evil. We are not victims and we don't have to allow the enemy to break through the walls.

'Like cold water to a weary soul is good news from a distant land." (Proverbs 25:25) Solomon didn't have a postal carrier putting mail in a box outside the palace every day. News from distant lands took quite a while to reach him. If he sent a letter to a foreign king, it might be months before he would receive the reply. It wasn't a daily occurrence to get letters or packages like it is today. Not very far in our past, before the advent of the internet, our own soldiers fighting on foreign shores had to wait weeks or months for letters and packages from home. How refreshing it must have been to receive a long-awaited letter and find good news in it!

I've heard verse 25 used in relation to the good news of the gospel, and although Solomon probably wasn't referring to the gospel (since he lived about nine hundred years before Christ), I think there's nothing wrong with using verse 25 this way. The gospel is good news from a distant land. The gospel is refreshing to a weary soul. I've never heard better news than that Jesus Christ loves me and died for me and lives today making intercession for me. Nothing has ever refreshed my weary soul more. The truth of Christ's love has given me the strength to keep going at times when nothing else could.

"Like a muddied spring or a polluted well are the righteous who give way to the wicked." (Proverbs 25:26) When a godly and well-respected person in the church falls into sin, it hurts the whole community. It hurts those within the church and it hurts those without. It hurts those within the church because the members may begin to doubt whether any pastor or teacher or deacon is really what they seem. They've trusted in their church leadership and their trust has been betrayed. Such a thing hurts those outside the church as well, for it only confirms what unbelievers have thought about Christians all along: that they are hypocrites. They can nod their heads and say, "See, those Bible thumpers aren't any better than the rest of us! In fact, some of them are worse. The pastor at the church down the street was caught in adultery. I've never committed adultery. And did you hear about the church treasurer who embezzled from the funds? I've never stolen anything in my life." Solomon wants us to understand the responsibility we have to stay on the right track, especially if we hold any type of office or leadership role in the church or community. We can live honorable lives and attract people to Jesus Christ, or we can live dishonorable lives and discourage unbelievers from coming to Christ. It's a very serious responsibility, for we are Christ's representatives in this world. People around us should be able to see Jesus in us. It's vitally important how we conduct our lives.

"It is not good to eat too much honey, nor is it honorable to search out matters that are too deep." (Proverbs 25:27) Solomon often uses the eating of honey as a metaphor about practicing moderation and self-control. When we studied Ecclesiastes we found Solomon in a deep depression. He was a man with an insatiable appetite for knowledge, but his constant learning had done nothing but weary him. His education did not answer his most burning questions. It did not fill the emptiness in his soul. There's nothing wrong with learning, with reading, or with developing our talents. These things can be very enjoyable for the person who has the Lord at the center of his life. But for many years Solomon didn't have the Lord at the center of his life, so nothing was able to satisfy him. This is why he sighed heavily and observed, "Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body." (Ecclesiastes 12:12b) The only thing that helped Solomon was returning to the Lord and studying the Book: the holy Scriptures. Once he elevated the Lord to His proper place in his heart, life once again became meaningful. When he applied the word of God to his heart, all his other education enhanced his ability to understand the greatness of God.

"Like a city whose walls are broken through is a person who lacks self-control." (Proverbs 25:28) Ancient city walls existed for the purpose of keeping enemies out. A breach in the wall meant an enemy could creep in and do much damage to the city and its citizens. A person who lacks self-control is like a city with an opening in the wall: the enemy is able to slip in and do damage. This is why it's important to perform spiritual checkups on ourselves. Are our walls secure? Or is there an area where we keep letting the enemy in? We have to be on guard at all times, as the Apostle Peter warns, "Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour." (1 Peter 5:8) We have an enemy who circles the walls constantly looking for a weak spot. When he finds it, he attacks us there. This is why Solomon advises self-control in every area of our lives.

We need to examine ourselves and take note of any area where we seem to get defeated time and time again, for that is our weak spot in the wall. That's where the enemy will slip in. It worked for him before and he expects it to work again. But it doesn't have to be that way. The Apostle Peter says, "Resist him, standing firm in the faith." (1 Peter 5:9a) The Lord's brother James, a leader in the Christian church at Jerusalem, agrees, "Resist the devil, and he will flee from you." (James 4:7b) Christ has won the victory for us. We aren't victims, so let's not behave like victims. We are not at the mercy of our enemy but at the mercy of the living God who loves us. Let's shore up those weak spots in the walls with the truth of God's word, with prayer, and with a closer relationship with our Redeemer. We must resist the lies of the enemy. We are in possession of good news from a foreign land, and that good news says we are overcomers in Christ! This knowledge is what caused the Apostle John to declare, "Everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God." (1 John 5:4-5) Everyone born of God overcomes the world! This means you and this means me!

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Counseled By The King: The Proverbs Of Solomon. Day 87, Satisfying Relationships

Solomon gives some advice today on how to have satisfying relationships with our neighbors, our friends, and our spouses. Much of the success of these relationships depends upon us and whether or not we maintain godly and respectful attitudes toward others.

"If you find honey, eat just enough---too much of it and you will vomit. Seldom set foot in your neighbor's house---too much of you, and they will hate you." (Proverbs 25:16-17) Solomon says, "Don't overdo anything. Just as eating too much will make you sick, dropping in on your neighbor every day will make him sick of you. Don't wear out your welcome. He doesn't want to hear you knocking on his door every morning before he's even had his coffee! Don't become a nuisance to him."

"Like a club or a sword or a sharp arrow is one who gives false testimony against a neighbor. Like a broken tooth or a lame foot is reliance on the unfaithful in a time of trouble. Like one who takes away a garment on a cold day, or like vinegar poured on a wound, is one who sings songs to a heavy heart." (Proverbs 25:18-20) This is more advice about being a good neighbor. Don't gossip about him and make up stories. Don't be unreliable when he needs help. Don't make merry when he's feeling down; instead, as the Apostle Paul said, "mourn with those who mourn". (Romans 12:15) We are to share in the life experiences of those around us. We aren't to be out of touch with what they're going through. If our friend is sad, we ought to feel sad for him. If our friend is happy, we ought to rejoice with him. Friendship relies on experiences that bond us together, and one thing that really cements a friendship is being there for someone in their darkest hour.

This next passage will probably sound familiar to you, since the Apostle Paul quotes these same words in the book of Romans. "If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you." (Proverbs 25:21-22) This goes along with Jesus' command to "love your enemies". (Matthew 5:44) But what does Solomon mean when he says that treating our enemy kindly will heap burning coals on his head? It makes us picture some fire and brimstone raining down on our enemy, doesn't it? But I don't think that's what it means, and neither do a number of very reputable Bible scholars who certainly know lots more about the Scriptures than I do. The best explanation I've ever heard for verse 22 came from Dr. Charles Stanley on his radio program. He said that the kindness we show toward our enemy is intended to warm his cold heart, that the "burning coals" are a metaphor for the melting of the ice inside a person. When we overcome evil with good (Romans 12:21), we just might achieve the softening of our enemy's heart toward the Lord and toward the Lord's people. Another good explanation is given by Bible scholar James Coffman, "This is a metaphor referring to the pangs of conscience that an enemy will experience upon receiving such undeserved treatment." It wouldn't fit with Solomon's instructions in Chapter 25 if he were advising us to do something that would bring harm to our enemy, since he's been telling us how to treat our fellow man in a godly fashion.

"Like a north wind that brings unexpected rain is a sly tongue---which provokes a horrified look." (Proverbs 25:23) Have you ever known anyone who could suddenly say something, out of the blue, that cut you to the quick? Isn't it hurtful and horrifying when they do that? That's the type of person we can never relax with because we always have to be on guard. With a friend like that, we don't need enemies. The king is telling us not to be that kind of person. Our words should be used for encouragement and instruction, not to harm our fellow man.

He now repeats a theme he's spoken on before, "Better to live on a corner of the roof than share a house with a quarrelsome wife." (Proverbs 25:24) Solomon isn't providing us with an excuse for divorce. He isn't saying, "If you've married someone who is hard to get along with, just go and file for divorce." Throughout the book of Proverbs he's been speaking to his young son and to other young men who have gathered to hear his wisdom. Since these fellows are presumably still single, I think he's giving premarital rather than marital advice. They will soon be old enough to choose a wife and start a family, so the king warns them, "Carefully investigate the character of the person you plan to marry. Choose wisely! If you don't, you will end up keeping to yourself in a corner of the house just to stay out of your wife's way. Make certain the person you plan to marry has a godly personality. If you choose wisely, you will end up with a true helpmate, a woman who can be your best friend."

I'm not here to criticize anyone who has ever gotten divorced. Sometimes it's unavoidable, such as when the spouse is abusive or unfaithful and refuses to change. Sometimes a spouse may walk away and divorce us even though we want to work things out. But I've heard a number of couples give the reason for their divorce as, "We just couldn't get along." I want to put forth the opinion that quarreling is a symptom of something deeper that's going on. I can say this because there once was a great deal of quarreling in my own marriage which will be twenty-three years old on Sunday. I came close to being divorced myself, so I'm not putting anyone down who has gone that route. I'm just saying that quarreling happens sometimes because one or both people in the marriage is too prideful to admit to being wrong, or that each of them has to have their own way. It could be an inability to truly commit to being a couple and an unwillingness to consider what's best for the marriage rather than what's best for each person individually. It could be that one or both of them is living in a way that's contrary to God's word. But quarreling is more of a symptom than a cause. I think in most cases a quarrelsome marriage could be saved if we could just get to the root of the problem.

Today the king has given us advice on how to be good neighbors, good friends, and good spouses. The Lord created us with a need for relationships and He knows best how to nurture these relationships. If we follow His instructions we can't go wrong.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Counseled By The King: The Proverbs Of Solomon. Day 86, Persuasive Patience

Solomon discusses several courtroom scenarios today and he teaches us a valuable lesson about patience, the same lesson Jesus taught in Luke 18.

"What you have seen with your eyes, do not bring hastily to court, for what will you do in the end if your neighbor puts you to shame?" (Proverbs 25:8) Another way to translate the first half of this verse is, "Go not forth hastily to strive." We should be more in a hurry to work things out with our neighbor than to bring a lawsuit against him. For one thing, we could be mistaken, as Solomon says. Perhaps we misunderstood and things weren't as they appeared to be. For another thing, how humiliating it would be to take him to court and lose the case. It's better to try and work disagreements out privately first, as Jesus said in Matthew 18:15, "If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over." When someone close to us hurts us, we should speak to them about it privately first. It could be they didn't even realize they hurt us and they didn't intend to.

"If you take your neighbor to court, don't betray another's confidence, or the one who hears it may shame you and the charge against you will stand." (Proverbs 25:9-10) There is a good reason why our courts don't allow "hearsay" as testimony. We cannot prove what another person has said to us unless there were witnesses to the conversation. If that person is called to the stand, he can deny he ever said what we claim he has said. It will be our word against his, which is why such testimony is useless in court.

"Like apples of gold in settings of silver is a ruling rightly given. Like an earring of gold or an ornament of fine gold is the rebuke of a wise judge to a listening ear." (Proverbs 25:11-12) The right word at the right time is as beautiful as an piece of art we might hang on the wall or a piece of jewelry we might wear. The right word can be a word of encouragement when it's needed, or it can be a word of correction when it's needed. Solomon is saying that the wise person will take heed to both and will view both as equally beautiful.

"Like a snow-cooled drink at harvest time is a trustworthy messenger to the one who sends him; he refreshes the spirit of his master. Like clouds and wind without rain is one who boasts of gifts never given." (Proverbs 25:13-14) It's refreshing to be around a person who isn't false. We know exactly what to expect of them because they never put on a front. They are the same whether at home or in public. The king says that a person who promises something but doesn't follow through is like clouds that appear over a parched land but never send any rain on it. They are phonies and are unable to refresh anyone.

"Through patience a ruler can be persuaded, and a gentle tongue can break a bone." (Proverbs 25:15) The Lord Jesus taught a parable in Luke 18 about an unrighteous judge. This judge was a person who feared neither God nor man. He had little interest in the troubles of the poor widow who came to see him, so he sent her away without granting her the help she requested. But time and again she came back and asked him to pass judgment on her enemy. Because he was weary of listening to her story, he finally agreed to help her so she wouldn't keep coming back and bothering him. Some Bible scholars believe Jesus was referring to Solomon's words in verse 15 when He told the story of the judge. Solomon says to us, "Don't give up so easily! You must learn patience. We don't always get what we want on the first try. We will never develop any perseverance if we are defeated the first time we hear the word 'no'. Sometimes it's good for us to meet with resistance. That's how we build spiritual muscle. That's how we are changed from weaklings into warriors of God. Don't take your armor off and throw your sword to the ground every time you are faced with opposition. Press on! Stay in the fight! Victory could arrive at any moment."

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Counseled By The King: The Proverbs Of Solomon. Day 85, Humility And Exaltation

Today we begin a passage that studies some additional sayings of Solomon that were copied down by the men of King Hezekiah. The main theme of today's study has to do with having a humble spirit before our God. This is the same type of humble spirit Christ had.

"I went past the field of a sluggard, past the vineyard of someone who has no sense; thorns had come up everywhere, the ground was covered with weeds, and the stone wall was in ruins. I applied my heart to what I observed and learned a lesson from what I saw: A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest---and poverty will come on you like a thief and scarcity like an armed man." (Proverbs 24:30-34) We already know by now how much Solomon dislikes laziness. He's seen laziness in action as he tours his nation. He's seen fields covered in weeds with the walls around them broken down. He knows that the owner of these fields is living in poverty and going hungry. It makes him angry, for he knows there are women and children who don't get enough to eat at night because the main breadwinner isn't providing for them. God has done His part; He provided the fields and gave the ownership of them to the tribes of Israel. But some of the citizens have not done their part in cultivating the fields the Lord blessed them with. This is nothing but sheer waste and it upsets Solomon to see it. He says he has observed these things and has "applied my heart to what I observed". He didn't merely notice it and go on his way, but he took these problems to heart and learned from them so he himself would not be lazy and so he could teach his son not to be lazy.

"These are more proverbs of Solomon, compiled by the men of Hezekiah king of Judah: It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings. As the heavens are high and the earth is deep, so the hearts of kings are unsearchable." (Proverbs 25:1-3) The king is comparing his office to that of the one true King. The citizens don't always know what the king is doing, but they are welcome to understand more of him and of his laws. We don't always know what God, the King of kings is doing, but that shouldn't keep us from continuing to search the Scriptures and to try and discern God's will for our lives.

"Remove the dross from the silver, and a silversmith can produce a vessel; remove wicked officials from the king's presence, and his throne will be established through righteousness." (Proverbs 25:4-5) In ancient times it was common in many cultures for the new king to put to death the family members and supporters of the previous king. This was so the new king could rule without opposition. We don't see this custom in ancient Israel, but from time to time a new king had no choice but to banish or put to death a troublemaker who kept threatening the throne. In 1 Kings 2 we find King David about to go to his grave, and he warns the young King Solomon about potential enemies of the throne. He reminds him of certain evildoers in the nation and tells him to keep an eye on them. We can tell from 1 Kings 2 that what David would really like to do is order his son to have these men executed, but Solomon is now king, so David respectfully leaves it up to him how to deal with evildoers. It turns out that Solomon had no choice but to put to death certain men who were a threat to him. In reading the text I get the idea he would have preferred not to have to resort to violence, but his enemies left him no choice.

"Do not exalt yourself in the king's presence, and do not claim a place among his great men; it is better for him to say to you, 'Come up here,' than for him to humiliate you before his nobles." (Proverbs 25:6-7) Jesus preached a similar message in Luke 14:7-11 when He spoke about having a humble spirit and about not being selfish and taking all the best places for ourselves. He concluded by saying, "For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted." (v 11) Who would know better than Jesus that those who humble themselves will be exalted? He humbled Himself more than anyone ever has, leaving all the glory of heaven to take on the image of man and to die in our place. Because He was so willing to humble Himself, God the Father exalted Him and gave Him the highest honors and the name above all names.

The Apostle Paul had this to say about the humble spirit of Christ, and he used it as an example of how we are to behave toward each other. We are not to be selfish and take the best for ourselves and leave others out. We are to esteem our fellow man as highly as we esteem ourselves. "In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage; rather, He made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death---even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." (Philippians 2:5-11)

If Jesus Christ was willing to have a humble and obedient spirit, how much more should we have humble and obedient spirits? If we belong to Him, we ought to look like Him. If we want to honor Him, we must have the same attitude He had. God will honor those who humble themselves before Him, but He will oppose the proud. (James 4:6) God gave His own Son the name above all names because Jesus was willing to be humble. He was willing to be identified with lowly creatures such as us. He was willing to serve us and to love us sacrificially. Obedience is a form of sacrifice, and it is a sacrifice our God will honor. Let's strive to be obedient to Him and to esteem our fellow man as Christ esteemed them.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Counseled By The King: The Proverbs Of Solomon. Day 84, The God Who Shows No Partiality

Solomon talks a bit more today about law and order, about judging impartially and about not bearing false witness. He also provides some practical advice about our finances.

"These also are sayings of the wise: To show partiality in judging is not good: Whoever says to the guilty, 'You are innocent,' will be cursed by peoples and denounced by nations. But it will go well with those who convict the guilty, and rich blessing will come on them." (Proverbs 24:23-25) The Lord gave this law in Leviticus 19:15, "Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great. but judge your neighbor fairly." It is wrong to have a different set of rules for the rich and influential than we have for the poor and needy. This is not the type of judge our God is, and this is not how our court systems ought to work. "For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes." (Deuteronomy 10:17) We are to be careful to judge according to the law, not according to who a person is or how much money he might have. "Now let the fear of the Lord be on you. Judge carefully, for with the Lord our God there is no injustice or partiality or bribery." (2 Chronicles 19:7) There can be no justice when the law is not applied equally to all citizens.

"An honest answer is like a kiss on the lips." (Proverbs 24:26) Our God values honesty, for He Himself is honest and cannot lie. (Titus 1:2) If we are His children we ought to look and behave a whole lot like Him, and this includes giving honest testimony. To bear false witness is to break one of the ten commandments. God will not be pleased with such behavior.

"Put your outdoor work in order and get your fields ready; after that, build your house." (Proverbs 24:27) Solomon gives some practical economical advice. If we spend all spring and summer building our house, but neglect to sow our fields, we are going to be hungry when winter comes. There's nothing wrong with building a house as long as we have our finances in order first, and that includes getting our work done at the proper time. In our day the advice would sound more like this, "Go out and get a job before you take on the financial burden of a home of your own. Make sure your job offers a salary that can support your mortgage payments."

"Do not testify against your neighbor without cause---would you use your lips to mislead? Do not say, 'I'll do to them as they have done to me; I'll pay them back for what they did.'" (Proverbs 24:28-29) Have you ever had anyone say things about you that weren't true? Wasn't it hurtful and infuriating, especially when you knew you had never done anything to them to deserve such treatment? Solomon says not to speak against our neighbor without cause, then he goes on to tell us not to speak against our neighbor with cause. We aren't to say, "So-and-so has always been so rude and disrespectful to me. I can't stand him! The first time I get a chance, I'm going to get back at him. I'm going to say some things about him that will take him down a notch or two." Solomon's advice in verse 29 sounds so much like something Jesus would say that we can't help but conclude the king is speaking by inspiration of the Holy Spirit. We aren't to testify falsely against our enemies. We are to trust God with taking care of the one who has spread rumors about us. He hates dishonesty and He will deal with it.

I've seen God's vengeance in action in just this type of situation in my own life. Someone who spread ugly rumors about those near and dear to me suffered a very public humiliation of his own. He became the talk of the town for several months, and rightly so, for he did and said some shockingly improper things in this community. I didn't lift a finger against him. I didn't have to; my God took care of it for me. God avenged me and all the others who were hurt (without cause) by this person. I can testify to the truth of God's word in such matters, having seen it happen before my very eyes. God will avenge us. Let's leave it up to Him.

We never have to wonder whether God is a righteous Judge. He will show no partiality to anyone. Our earthly justice system is often corrupted, with the wealthy and influential receiving special treatment. The poor have to rely on public defenders while the rich are able to hire a team of top-notch defense attorneys. We are far more likely to be found guilty if we are poor than if we are rich. We are far more likely to receive a harsh sentence if we are just another face in the crowd than if we hold a high status in the community. But no travesty like this will ever take place in God's courtroom. He knows the truth. He knows every secret hidden in the heart of man, and He will judge accordingly.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Counseled By The King: The Proverbs Of Solomon. Day 83, Law And Order

Solomon discusses some matters today dealing with law and order, with the laws of God and with the laws of an organized society. He urges his son to be a godly man, a man who respects the word of God and the laws of the land.

"Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter. If you say, 'But we knew nothing about this,' does not He who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not He who guards your life know it? Will He not repay everyone according to what they have done?" (Proverbs 24:11-12) We ought to care about the lost. When we get to heaven, and God asks us why we never shared the gospel of Jesus Christ, it won't do us any good to shrug our shoulders and say, "We didn't know our friends and neighbors were lost. And besides that, we thought it was their own business to find their way to Christ. We didn't want to interfere." The Lord Jesus never taught about a private faith. He never told us to maintain a silent faith that we hold secretly within our hearts. Instead He said, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation." (Mark 16:15)

"Eat honey, my son, for it is good; honey from the comb is sweet to your taste. Know also that wisdom is like honey for you: If you find it, there is a future hope for you, and your hope will not be cut off." (Proverbs 24:13-14) In Solomon's day you couldn't go to Kroger and buy honey in the little bear-shaped containers. It was found only in the wild, where a traveling man might suddenly come upon a beehive on his journey. This was an unexpected but welcome treat, so Solomon says, "My son, you should desire wisdom as eagerly as you desire to eat the honey you find along your journey. It should taste as sweet on your tongue. It should be just as satisfying. A man who is faint with hunger will find renewed strength and hope after he partakes of the honey. In the same way, the man who is faint with the cares of this world and with the heavy burden of his sins will find renewed strength and hope when he finds the wisdom of the word of God."

"Do not lurk like a thief near the house of the righteous, do not plunder their dwelling place; for though the righteous fall seven times, they rise again, but the wicked stumble when calamity strikes." (Proverbs 24:15-16) Solomon taught us in Proverbs 3:28 not to mistreat those around us, "Do not plot harm against your neighbor who lives trustfully near you." Burglary is a terrible sin. People go off to work or go about the business of their lives and expect to come back to find things in their houses exactly as they left them, not knowing that someone was lying in wait to rob them of the things they've worked for. Burglary committed when the homeowner is present is even worse, for violence usually ensues.

Just this month in my community a young man was arrested for beating, raping, and robbing his 89-year-old neighbor who later died from her injuries. She lived trustfully by him, not suspecting the wickedness that was in his heart. If he's charged with capital murder, as seems likely at this point, he faces life in prison without parole or even the death penalty. We shake our heads over such stories in the news and wonder what the world is coming to and wonder how much longer God is going to be able to stand it before He brings judgment on the world. In Solomon's day similar crimes happened and the public wondered what the outcome would be, so the king asks, "Does God not judge such things? Does He not have His eye on the righteous? Does He not punish the wicked? Of course He does! Whether or not human courts find the evil person guilty, we can rest assured that someday the offender will stand before our holy Judge, and that will be a terrifying day indeed. That will be a day of darkness and despair, a day when the offender can offer no excuse. He has no excuse, only the expectation of judgment."

It's human nature for us to rejoice when a wicked person gets what's coming to him, especially when that particular person who did harm to us gets what's coming to him. But Solomon warns the godly not to gloat in the day of calamity. "Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when they stumble, do not let your heart rejoice, or the Lord will see and disapprove and turn His wrath away from them." (Proverbs 24:17-18) This is the type of advice that can be difficult to follow, but it's unseemly for the children of God to shout with joy or dance in the streets when an evil person falls under judgment. There should be something in our hearts that sorrows over the lost condition of our fellow man. There should be a sense of sadness over a wasted life.

The county I live in was shocked and saddened about what happened to the 89-year-old member of our community. We were relieved when law enforcement found the perpetrator and placed him behind bars where he can't hurt anyone else. But at the same time we look at his mug shot in the newspaper and wonder where he went so horribly wrong. What wayward path did this young man follow that caused him to waste his life this way and to take the life of another? We can be thankful for justice and sorrowful for the lost soul at the same time. We can thank God for keeping His promise to punish our enemies while also feeling sad about the lost condition of our enemy's soul. Jesus never told us not to expect the judgment of our enemies, but He still told us to pray for them. (Matthew 5:44) We are to pray when our enemy falls, not dance excitedly in the streets and send celebratory gifts to our friends. This is very hard to do, for it goes against our carnal natures, but it will make us more like Christ.

Solomon concludes today with one more piece of advice regarding law and order. "Fear the Lord and the king, my son, and do not join with rebellious officials, for those two will send sudden destruction on them, and who knows what calamities they can bring?" (Proverbs 24:21-22) The king instructs his son, "Fear the Lord and obey His laws. Obey Him first, but also obey the laws of the land. Live peaceably with those around you. Do not trespass against the word of God and do not trespass against your fellow man. Judgment will fall if you break the laws of God or the laws of the king. Don't join in with evildoers who plot against the righteous. God is watching. The king is watching. The one who is a lawbreaker will not go unpunished."

As king of Israel, Solomon had an intense interest in the law and order of his nation. He yearned to see everyone doing what was right, but when they did not, he was thankful that there were laws and penalties in place to deal with crime. The King of kings feels the same way. He yearns for us to do what is right, but if we do not, laws and penalties are in place to deal with our waywardness. If we obey our King we can live in the light of His favor. We can live without fear of judgment falling down upon our heads. Today's passage is not teaching salvation by works, but instead it deals with the natural outcome of our deeds. The one who lives in sinful wickedness is a lawbreaker, and lawbreakers must be punished. The one who obeys the laws of the land can walk in freedom without fear of arrest and imprisonment. In the same way, the one who trespasses against God's laws is in danger of judgment at every moment, but the one who respects and keeps God's laws enjoys the favor of the Lord. King Solomon was pleased with the righteous, and so is our God and King.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Counseled By The King: The Proverbs Of Solomon. Day 82, Stepping Up Our Faith

"By wisdom a house is built, and through understanding it is established; through knowledge its rooms are filled with rare and beautiful treasures." (Proverbs 24:3-4) Solomon may be speaking of a literal house here, but I tend to think he's using it more as a metaphor. A house can also be a small family, a large dynasty, or a lineage. A stable family and an enduring legacy cannot be established without wisdom. Solomon asks, "Do you want a happy home? Do you want to leave a godly legacy behind for your descendants? Then seek knowledge and understanding." Yesterday the king told us some things not to do if we want to keep our family together; today he tells us what we must do.

"The wise prevail through great power, and those who have knowledge muster their strength. Surely you need guidance to wage war, and victory is won through many advisers." (Proverbs 24:5-6) Brains often win out over brawn. Godly wisdom is power. When we study military battles in the Old Testament we find Israel and Judah victorious when they followed the Lord, but we see them meeting with defeat when they strayed from righteousness. David was vastly outnumbered in most of the battles he ever fought, but the Lord was his helper and his military adviser. I think I'd feel far safer going into battle with a group of godly, praying companions than with a group of muscle-bound fighters. When God fights on our side, victory is certain.

"Wisdom is too high for fools; in the assembly at the gate they must not open their mouths." (Proverbs 24:7) You've probably heard the saying, "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all." Solomon takes this saying a step further, "If you can't say anything godly or wise, be quiet. You can't add anything to the conversation of the judges and the wise men at the gate, so it's better to listen and learn. Don't make a fool of yourself by speaking on matters you know nothing about."

"Whoever plots evil will be known as a schemer. The schemes of folly are sin, and people detest a mocker." (Proverbs 24:8-9) Wicked people are known in the community. It's hard to hide a scheming heart. Only those who are like them will want to associate with them.

Every time I read this next verse it hits me like a rebuke, but at the same time it motivates me to step up my faith. "If you falter in a time of trouble, how small is your strength!" (Proverbs 24:10) So often I've almost fainted under the heavy burden of troubles and worries! Many times I've almost given up. I've spent a lot of useless hours in doubt wondering whether my God was going to come through for me. Haven't you been there, too? Don't we all, from time to time, experience days that overwhelm us? Haven't we all encountered circumstances that threatened to rob us of our peace?

Sometimes we read the gospels and marvel over the weakness of the disciples' faith, but the Lord could often say to us the same thing He said to them, "You of little faith, why are you so afraid?" (Matthew 8:26) Jesus answers His own question within His question. Why were they so afraid? Because their faith was weak. Why are we so afraid when an unexpected event arises in our lives? Because our faith is weak. But this shouldn't discourage us! It should motivate us to aim higher. I don't think Jesus intended His question to the disciples as criticism but as an invitation to step up their faith. He wasn't condemning them. He didn't say, "These guys are never going to get it. I'm never going to be able to make fishers of men out of them, so they might as well go back to the sea of Galilee and cast their nets in for regular fish. I've tried and tried to raise them up higher but they insist on remaining in their comfort zone. I give up!" No, He never said this about the disciples, and He won't say this about us either.

Both Jesus and Solomon intend for us to use the words we've studied today as a spiritual checkup. Do we become discouraged easily when troubles come? Do we doubt the promises of a God who cannot lie? Do we think He's tired of coming to the rescue? Then we need to work on our faith. We need to work on our relationship with our Redeemer. He invites us to step it up, to move out of our comfort zones, to "press on toward the goal to win the prize". (Philippians 3:14) Jesus doesn't cast us aside when we falter anymore than He cast the disciples aside. Instead He says, "Call to Me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things that you do not know." (Jeremiah 33:3) Jesus says something like, "Forget how you messed up yesterday. I'm not concerned with where you've been, but with where you're going. I'm inviting you to come along with Me on the greatest adventure of your life!"

Friday, August 18, 2017

Counseled By The King: The Proverbs Of Solomon. Day 81, Three Things That Destroy Families

Solomon provides more fatherly advice today. There are some traps that are easily seen and therefore easily avoided. He warns his son to avoid sexual immorality, drunkenness, and bad company.

"My son, give me your heart and let your eyes delight in my ways, for an adulterous woman is a deep pit, and a wayward wife is a narrow well. Like a bandit she lies in wait and multiplies the unfaithful among men." (Proverbs 23:26-28) Solomon says, "Take heed to my teaching and observe the way I live. I don't run around with other men's wives. The idea may seem enticing, but it's like falling into a narrow well. It will be extremely difficult to extricate yourself. Don't listen to the flattering words of an immoral woman. She will cause you to be unfaithful to God and unfaithful to your wife. She will cause you to lose everything you have; and believe me, what you already have is more precious to you than you realize. It's more precious to you than the smooth words of a sinful woman. Don't take a chance on breaking your family up."

"Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has strife? Who has complaints? Who has needless bruises? Who has bloodshot eyes?" (Proverbs 23:29) The king asks a series of short questions to make his son think about the people he has seen who have these troubles. Who are they? "Those who linger over wine, who go to sample bowls of mixed wine. Do not gaze at wine while it is red, when it sparkles in the cup, when it goes down smoothly! In the end it bites like a snake and poisons like a viper." (Proverbs 23:30-32) Alcohol can be as seductive as a beautiful woman, and as deadly. Alcohol has broken up as many families as adultery has, or perhaps even more.

"Your eyes will see strange sights, and your mind will imagine confusing things. You will be like one sleeping on the high seas, lying on top of the rigging. 'They hit me,' you will say, 'but I'm not hurt! They beat me, but I don't feel it! When will I wake up so I can find another drink?'" (Proverbs 23:33-35) Solomon is describing the person who has become an alcoholic. This person began using alcohol to numb himself from the cares of the world and ended up falling into a trap. Now he can no longer think about anything but his next drink.

The king concludes today with a third warning for his son. He must not associate with people who like to cause trouble. They will influence him to do wrong, and the next thing you know he will be just like them. "Do not envy the wicked, do not desire their company; for their hearts plot violence, and their lips talk about making trouble." (Proverbs 24:1-2) The man or woman who falls in with the wrong crowd will soon be in deep trouble. Crime is another thing that splits families apart, when the mom or dad ends up in jail for things like embezzlement, burglary, or the manufacturing or selling of drugs. This is why the foster system is overflowing. Too many parents have taken the wrong path.

There are more reasons families break up than just the three Solomon mentions today, but the three he discusses are very common reasons. As children of the living God, we must avoid sexual immorality, drunkenness, and dishonesty. If we want to have stable homes, we have to say no to such temptations. We will never truly profit by doing wrong; we will only end up hurting ourselves, our spouses, and our children. Our families deserve better than that.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Counseled By The King: The Proverbs Of Solomon. Day 80, Thirty Sayings Of The Wise, Part Four

Part four of Solomon's wise sayings contains mostly fatherly advice. He tells his son how to be a good man and how to make his parents proud of him.

"Listen, my son, and be wise, and set your heart on the right path: Do not join with those who drink much wine or gorge themselves on meat, for drunkards and gluttons become poor, and drowsiness clothes them in rags." (Proverbs 23:19-21) Solomon says, "Drunkenness, gluttony, and laziness have been the ruin of many a person. The one who isn't responsible, and who doesn't get up and go about his work, will live in poverty. Partying all night won't pay the bills. Don't even associate with people like that."

"Listen to your father, who gave you life, and do not despise your mother when she is old." (Proverbs 23:22) The king advises, "Listen to the words of your father. I'm older and far more experienced than you are. I've made plenty of mistakes in my life and I've learned from them. If you take my instruction to heart you can avoid making those same mistakes. I want you to be an honorable and responsible man. I want to be able to trust you to look after your mother for me if I pass on before she does. Set my mind at ease by being a good son and a good man."

"Buy the truth and do not sell it---wisdom, instruction and insight as well." (Proverbs 23:23) The truth is not literally for sale, but Solomon expresses it this way to emphasize the fact that godly truth is more valuable than anything else his son could ever want. The Apostle Paul found this out when he came to Christ. He was previously a very prosperous and influential man, but when he came face to face with Christ, he realized nothing else meant anything to him. He said he had lost all things for the sake of Christ and he counted all those things as garbage in comparison to his relationship with the Lord. (Philippians 3:8) What use are riches and influence and fame if we don't have Christ? Without Him we are poor indeed.

"The father of a righteous child has great joy; a man who fathers a wise son rejoices in him. May your father and mother rejoice; may she who gave you birth be joyful!" (Proverbs 23:24-25) Those of you with godly children can relate to what Solomon is saying. It blesses your heart to know they are walking in the ways of the Lord. It takes a great load off your mind to see your children living for Christ.

The Father in heaven also relates to what Solomon is talking about. God has great joy over His righteous Son, saying, "This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased." (Matthew 3:17) And the Father in heaven has great joy over all of us who have become His sons and daughters through Christ. There is no other way to make the Father proud of us, for, "Without faith it is impossible to please God." (Hebrews 11:6a) The Father's goal in us is to conform us to the image of His Son. (Romans 8:29) This is what is pleasing in the Father's eyes. The more we are like Jesus, the more the Father rejoices in us.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Counseled By The King: The Proverbs Of Solomon. Day 79, Thirty Sayings Of The Wise, Part Three

Solomon gives us a strong warning about taking advantage of the weak, then a reminder about correcting a child when he disobeys, and then he cautions us not to envy the wicked. There is nothing about their lives to envy. There is nothing about their future to envy. The one who follows the Lord wholeheartedly is the person with the envious life and the glorious future.

"Do not move an ancient boundary stone or encroach on the fields of the fatherless, for their Defender is strong; He will take up their case against you." (Proverbs 23:10-11) Solomon quoted this law from Deuteronomy earlier in the week, but today he gives us the reason why we mustn't defraud others: their Defender is strong! There is a holy God with whom we must contend when we take advantage of our fellow man.

"Apply your heart to instruction and your ears to words of knowledge." (Proverbs 23:12) The king stops here to make sure his son, and all of us, are paying attention. We must be doers of the word and not hearers only, as the Lord's brother James said in James 1:22. We must apply this instruction to our hearts.

"Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you punish them with the rod, they will not die. Punish them with the rod and save them from death." (Proverbs 23:13-14) In Solomon's day it's likely that discipline took the form of a spanking or paddling, but we've already talked before about discipline taking many forms. In our modern times spanking is becoming more and more frowned upon, but there are other means of correction when young children or teens disobey. When I was a kid I would much rather have had a spanking than a timeout because I was so hyper, but my mom wasn't much into spanking, so I often found myself sitting in a chair for a period of time after being naughty.

"My son, if your heart is wise, then my heart will be glad indeed; my inmost being will rejoice when your lips speak what is right." (Proverbs 23:15) He says, "Son, the way to make me proud is to be a godly man." What more could any parent really want than for their sons and daughters to be upright, honorable, and responsible citizens who obey the Lord? This is successful parenting. This is the type of outcome that makes a mom or dad's heart overflow with pride and love.

The world views success differently than the Lord views it. The world rewards shrewdness and it honors wealth gotten by any means. But the Lord rewards and honors an upright heart, so Solomon cautions his son, "Do not let your heart envy sinners, but always be zealous for the fear of the Lord. There is surely a future hope for you, and your hope will not be cut off." (Proverbs 23:17-18) It may seem like sinners are living it up without a care in the world, but a day of reckoning is ahead of them. The psalmist Asaph once found himself feeling sad and bitter when he looked around and saw how much the wicked appeared to be enjoying life. He said, "I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked...This is what the wicked are like---always free of care, they go on amassing wealth." (Psalm 73:3,12) Asaph was going through some hard times in his life and it seemed unfair to him that the wicked were partying day and night without any worries. But when he took his troubles to the temple and laid them before the Lord, he saw the truth. He saw the destiny of the wicked, "Surely You place them on slippery ground; you cast them down to ruin. How suddenly are they destroyed, completely swept away by terrors!...Those who are far from You will perish; You destroy all who are unfaithful to You." (Psalm 73:18-19,27) In contrast, the righteous have the presence and the help of God at all times, plus the certain promise of eternity with the Lord. "Yet I am always with You; You hold me by my right hand. You guide me with Your counsel, and afterward You will take me into glory." (Psalm 73:23-24)

We, the church, have a glorious future! We also have a glorious present, for we have the constant companionship of our Creator and Redeemer. He is our help, our strength, our comfort. He is our provider and healer. His is the voice that whispers in the night, "Do not fear. I am with you."

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Counseled By The King: The Proverbs Of Solomon. Day 78, Thirty Sayings Of The Wise, Part Two

We continue on with the section called "Thirty Sayings Of The Wise".

"When you sit to dine with a ruler, note well what is before you, and put a knife to your throat if you are given to gluttony. Do not crave his delicacies, for that food is deceptive." (Proverbs 23:1-3) This is social and dietary advice. It's unseemly to gorge ourselves when invited to the home of someone with authority over us. Solomon says to have the proper manners at the table. He's also telling us to be careful about eating rich food we aren't used to eating. It won't be very attractive at all if we become sick at the table.

"Do not wear yourself out to get rich; do not trust your own cleverness. Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone, for they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle." (Proverbs 23:4-5) It's unhealthy to be workaholics. The Lord wants us to have a good balance in our lives between work and leisure. I doubt anyone on their deathbed ever said, "Gosh, I wish I'd spent more time at work!" If we have any regrets on our deathbeds, they will be about not spending more time with our families or about not getting more enjoyment out of life while we were still physically able to go places and experience new things.

"Do not eat the food of a begrudging host, do not crave his delicacies; for he is the kind of person who is always thinking about the cost. 'Eat and drink,' he says to you, but his heart is not with you. You will vomit up the little you have eaten and will have wasted your compliments." (Proverbs 23:6-8) At the beginning of the chapter we were told what is not acceptable behavior at the table of our host. Now Solomon talks about the host whose behavior is not acceptable. Wouldn't it be miserable to eat dinner with someone who doesn't really want to share? Solomon says, "By the time you get home, he will have made you so nervous that you will throw up the little bit you were able to eat. It's better to turn down the dinner invitation of someone whose heart isn't in it."

"Do not speak to fools, for they will scorn your prudent words." (Proverbs 23:9) The Lord Jesus said something similar when He advised us not to cast our pearls to the swine in Matthew 7:6. There are some folks who will ask us religious questions not because they want to learn anything, but because they want to argue with us. They want to mock our faith. Solomon says, "Don't bother wasting your time with this. It doesn't honor the Lord to get caught up in foolish arguments that are going nowhere." There are some people who are willing to hear our testimonies of faith and there are some who only bring up the subject in order to stir up controversy. It's wise to know the difference. The only way we can testify to those who mock the Lord is by living honorable lives and by allowing them to see faith in action. They will pay more attention to how we live than to what we say.

I often think of this saying which is attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi, "Preach the gospel, and if necessary, use words." The message of the gospel is spread not only in words, but in actions. Words are cheap; the world is watching to see if we practice what we preach. It's no use to talk the talk if we don't walk the walk. Unbelievers know the difference. They can spot hypocrisy from a mile away. We may not be able to reach some of our acquaintances with words, but our mode of living will have an impact on them. As Christians we are to be about our Father's business, preaching the gospel at all times in both words and deeds. It's wise to do an occasional spiritual checkup to see if our actions are matching our words. Are we living out our faith on a daily basis? Are we treating others as we would have them treat us? Are we showing the love of Christ to our fellow man? Are we exhibiting trust in our Savior even when it seems like the world is falling down around us? These are the things that will have the most influence on unbelievers. We must preach the gospel in words to those willing to listen, but we must preach the gospel in actions to those whose hearts are hard.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Counseled By The King: The Proverbs Of Solomon. Day 77, Thirty Sayings Of The Wise, Part One

We now begin a section called "Thirty Sayings Of The Wise". These recap much of what we have already studied, but with some different wording that gives us extra insight.

"Pay attention and turn your ear to the sayings of the wise; apply your heart to what I teach, for it is pleasing when you keep them in your heart and have them ready on your lips. So that your trust may be in the Lord, I teach you today, even you." (Proverbs 22:17-19)  Godly instruction is intended to be carried with us at all times, as the Lord said through Moses in Deuteronomy 11:18-21, "Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates, so that your days and the days of your children may be many in the land the Lord swore to give your ancestors, as many as the days that the heavens are above the earth." Our lives will be changed if we are always mindful of the words of the Lord, if we cherish these words in our hearts and memorize them in our minds. Then our "trust may be in the Lord", as Solomon says.

"Have I not written thirty sayings for you, sayings of counsel and knowledge, teaching you to be honest and to speak the truth, so that you bring back truthful reports to those you serve?" (Proverbs 22:20-21) Solomon is a man who values honesty. The Lord values it too, so if we want to serve Him honorably, we will serve Him honestly.

"Do not exploit the poor because they are poor and do not crush the needy in court, for the Lord will take up their case and will exact life for life." (Proverbs 22:22-23) David, like Solomon, cared about the poor and needy, and he said, "My whole being will exclaim, 'Who is like You, Lord? You rescue the poor from those too strong for them, the poor and needy from those who rob them." (Psalm 35:10) He praised the name of the Lord for taking up the cause of the oppressed, "I know that the Lord secures justice for the poor and upholds the cause of the needy." (Psalm 140:12) We may be tempted to think, "I'm a nobody. I don't have money and I don't have influence. No one cares about my problems. No one will help me when I am defrauded." But the Bible contradicts that kind of thinking because the Lord is our mighty defender.

"Do not make friends with a hot-tempered person, do not associate with one easily angered, or you may learn their ways and get yourself ensnared." (Proverbs 22:24-25) Solomon warned us early on in the book of Proverbs to be careful who we hang out with. As the Apostle Paul pointed out, "Bad company corrupts good character." (1 Corinthians 15:33)

"Do not be one who shakes hands in pledge or puts up security for debts; if you lack the means to pay, your very bed will be snatched from under you." (Proverbs 22:26-27) This is yet another warning against co-signing loans, for promising to pay if someone defaults on their debts.

"Do not move an ancient boundary stone set up by your ancestors." (Proverbs 22:28) This law was given in Deuteronomy 19:14. Moving a boundary stone is the same as stealing. It's done for the purpose of making one's own property larger. My father once had to set our corner fence posts in concrete along one side of our property because a neighbor kept inching them inwards on us every time he strung up new barbed wire to keep his cows in. My father-in-law had to do the same for the pins that marked the back boundary of his property because the neighbor behind him kept trying to move them. This is thievery, and petty thievery at that. What is to be gained by a few additional inches of land? I think it has more to do with greed in a person's heart than with the land itself. It displays a spirit of covetousness and a willingness to defraud. Solomon says, "Don't harbor greed in your heart. Don't take what isn't yours. God has given that land to someone else; He will give you your own land. Don't covet what doesn't belong to you."

We conclude Chapter 22 with this wise saying, "Do you see someone skilled in their work? They will serve before kings; they will not serve before officials of low rank." (Proverbs 22:29) This is a good verse for our Monday morning as many of us go back to work. We are to do our best at our jobs, "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters." (Colossians 3:23) Solomon says, "The one who takes pride in his work and does his best will receive recognition." It may seem like those we work for never notice us or reward us, but we can be sure the King of kings notices us and will reward us. He is able to promote us. He is able to provide everything we need. As we go back to work or school this morning, or as we go about our business at home, let's remember which King it is we serve, and let's do everything for His glory.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Counseled By The King: The Proverbs Of Solomon. Day 76, The One The Lord Holds In High Esteem

Solomon begins our lesson today by telling us what kind of person the King of kings holds in high esteem. It is the same type of person King Solomon wants for a friend.

"One who loves a pure heart and who speaks with grace will have the king for a friend." (Proverbs 22:11) Solomon says, "This is the kind of person I hold in high esteem! I have had many false friends who wanted to get close to me because I'm wealthy and influential, but what I want is a friend with a pure heart and honorable motives. I want a friend who can sit down and talk with me about the Lord with gracious and godly words." The King of kings is also looking for true friends with pure hearts and words of grace, as David pointed out, "Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord? Who may stand in His holy place? The one who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not trust in an idol or swear by a false god." (Psalm 24:3-4) The Lord Jesus has shown friendship to us by loving us and giving His life for us; the least we can do is repay His friendship by obeying Him from a pure heart. "Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends. You are My friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from My Father I have made known to you." (John 15:13-15)

"The eyes of the Lord keep watch over knowledge, but He frustrates the words of the unfaithful." (Proverbs 22:12) The Lord is able to uphold the godly plans of the righteous, but all wickedness will someday be blotted out. He is also able to preserve His holy word throughout all generations. Other religions have come and gone. Religious leaders have died and been buried. But the tomb of the Lord Jesus Christ is empty. He is alive and well and at the right hand of God making intercession for us at every minute of every day. He will keep all His promises to His bride, the church. He is coming for her soon.

Solomon now makes an observation on one of his favorite subjects: the shamefulness of being lazy. "The sluggard says, 'There's a lion outside! I'll be killed in the public square!'" (Proverbs 22:13) The king says, "The lazy man always makes excuses. He can't go out to work for this reason or that reason. It gets to the point that his mind becomes carried away with imagining dangers that don't exist!"

Earlier in the book of Proverbs we found Solomon giving his son and some other young men a great deal of advice about how to avoid immoral women. He brings the subject up again today to remind us what a trap sexual immorality is. "The mouth of an adulterous woman is a deep pit; a man who is under the Lord's wrath falls into it." (Proverbs 22:14)

Solomon probably feels so strongly about the sin of adultery because his own family was stained by his father's sin. David took another man's wife and committed adultery with her, which led him to have her husband killed so he could pass off her illegitimate baby as his own. The Lord was displeased with what David had done. (2 Samuel 11:27) The Lord's wrath fell on the house of David. And the Lord's wrath will fall on the house of the man or woman who commits adultery with someone else's spouse. There is no way the Lord can bless such a sin. Trouble will come. Marriages will fall apart. Children will be hurt and confused. Financial woes will ensue. Friends and family members will take sides. The community will frown and shake their heads. Nothing good can come from such a thing, as Solomon knows from his own family's experience, and he wants to help us avoid these terrible troubles.

Next he speaks on the subject of discipline in the home. "Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline will drive it far away." (Proverbs 22:15) Solomon isn't saying we have to spank our children or hit them with a paddle. The rod of discipline can be any type of consequences a parent might impose for disobedience. For small children these consequences might include a short timeout or the removal of a privilege for the day. For a teen it could mean taking away the phone or the internet access for a period of time or temporarily taking away the car keys because they didn't return home by their curfew. The point Solomon is making is that if we never impose any consequences for disobedience, our children will never learn to respect authority. They will never learn the importance of righteous living. They will have difficulty respecting God and honoring His word if they never learn to respect their parents and honor their rules.

The king concludes today's passage with a warning about oppressing others. "One who oppresses the poor to increase his wealth and one who gives gifts to the rich---both come to poverty." (Proverbs 22:16) The Lord cares for the poor and He will judge anyone who cheats them and steals from them. Even Job, in his season of depression, praised the Lord for this, "He saves the needy from the sword in their mouth; He saves them from the clutches of the powerful. So the poor have hope, and injustice shuts its mouth." (Job 5:15-16) The Lord promises to act on behalf of the poor who are being oppressed, "'Because the poor are plundered and the needy groan, I will now arise,' says the Lord. 'I will protect them from those who malign them.'" (Psalm 12:5) David praised the name of the Lord because he knew the Lord would do this, "I know that the Lord secures justice for the poor and upholds the cause of the needy." (Psalm 140:12) The Lord defends the poor and needy. He avenges the one who is cheated. He comes to the rescue of the one who is treated with injustice. As the prophet Jeremiah proclaimed in Jeremiah 50:34, "Their Redeemer is strong; the Lord Almighty is His name."