Monday, 8 September 2014

(252) September 9: Proverbs 16-17 & 2 Corinthians 1

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.

To discover:­
As you read consider what lessons strike you most forcefully.

To ponder:
Some lessons from Proverbs 16: We may plan things, but it is God who determines if people agree to them. We may think we are acting in innocence, but it is God who judges whether we are. If we commit our plans to the LORD, then he will grant them success. This probably refers to both asking him to give us success and deciding what we do according to his will. And it is qualified by his own plans (16v1-2, 4,9). Everything that happens is being used by God for his purposes. This includes the existence of the wicked, because his justice will be seen in their destruction. This doesn’t mean God is pleased with wickedness. He hates the proud and will punish them. Human love and faithfulness atones for sin in the sense of proving genuine repentance, or “fear of the LORD,” by which people also avoid evil. God causes enemies to be at peace with the one who pleases him. Better to have little and be righteous, than a lot but have acted unjustly. We make plans, but ultimately it is God who determines what we actually do. Kings speak authoritatively and so should not command what is unjust. Honesty in business (or indeed in anything) is from God. Rulers (good ones) hate wrongdoing as their authority is established through doing right. They therefore delight in those who speak truth. Their anger can bring death, although the wise can find ways to appease it. Likewise, a ruler’s pleasure can bring life. It is better to get wisdom than money. The upright avoid evil. Pride goes before destruction, perhaps because it leads to foolish action, or simply because God chooses to humble the proud. And it is better to be oppressed and humble than be wealthy or do well with the proud. No doubt this is because pride and the influence of the proud puts one under God’s judgement. Those who listen to instruction and trust God experience prosperity and joy. The wise will be known for their discernment and instruction. Understanding brings life but foolishness punishment. Our hearts (inner desires and attitudes) determine what we say. Pleasant words can be good for people’s souls and bodies. Hunger (and so need) is what drives people on in their work. A scoundrel’s speech is like fire in causing damage. Gossip separates friends, no doubt as it causes them to think ill of each other. A perverse man causes argument, and a violent man leads others into what’s bad. Evil can be spotted by mere body language. Long life signified by grey hair is a crown of reward for righteousness. As the perspective of wisdom affirms righteousness is supreme to all else, it is better to be patient and control one’s temper, than be a great warrior who takes a city. Even random decisions like the lot are determined by God.
            Some lessons from Proverbs 17: Better to be poor than have much, if having much means strife. Parents will favour wise servants (today, close acquaintances or employees) more than disgraceful children, placing godliness above privilege. God tests our hearts with trials to rid them of impurities and increase their preciousness. The wicked and deceptive listen to evil and malicious speech. To mock the poor is to show contempt for God who made them. Those who gloat over disaster will therefore be punished. Grandchildren are a reward to the elderly, and children take pride in their parents. Arrogance doesn’t suit the fool, no doubt because he has nothing to boast in. Likewise, lying lips don’t suit the ruler, as they don’t fit his station. Although not commended, bribes do work. Bringing up wrongdoing separates friends in bringing tension, but covering over offences as if never done promotes love between the two. A rebuke to the discerning teaches them more than severe punishment teaches the fool. Evil men will receive no mercy at the hands of the state. It is better to face an angry bear than a fool carrying out his foolishness, no doubt because it can be so harmful. Trouble will come on those who respond to good with evil. Starting a quarrel can cause a much more intense argument to break out. God hates injustice in the court. Money is useless to the fool, presumably because he will waste it. So managing money requires wisdom. Friends always love, but siblings argue. It lacks good judgement to provide financial security for another, probably because it makes you dependent on them, and they may be encouraged to foolish action by it. Just as a secure home invites robbers, so quarrelling invites destruction because it is to love sin. The perverse and deceitful face trouble, no doubt because they bring it on themselves. A foolish son brings grief. The wicked accept bribes to pervert justice. A discerning man keeps focused on wisdom, but the fool will consider anything and everything as a possibility. The wise restrain their speech and temper, and even the fool is thought wise and discerning if silent.

Praying it home:       
Praise God for whatever he has most brought home to you. Pray that he would help you live according to that wisdom.

Thinking further: Do the righteous really prosper?           
This is a subject we thought a little about in the psalms, and it cries out for an answer throughout the proverbs. The righteous are said to prosper, succeed, and enjoy wealth, peace and long life, whilst the wicked face disaster. How are we to understand this, when we see the wicked prospering, and godly Christians often struggling, failing, impoverished, oppressed, and dying just as others do? A number of things need to be said. First, even the proverbs recognise the righteous don’t always prosper. Repeatedly they affirm it is “better” to be righteous without such things than have them but sin. They are therefore intended only as generalizations. Indeed, Job, Joseph, David and Daniel, are all examples of righteous people who suffered nevertheless. Second, in being written to Israel the proverbs reflect on life under God’s covenant with the nation, in which he promised such prosperity to the righteous in the context of the people in general obeying his law (Deut 28-30). In these circumstances, the wicked would be brought to account for their deeds, sometimes with capital punishment. And the righteous would not only live, but be favoured by those around them. For the Christian, this covenant points to the more perfect working out of these principles in the new creation, when the wicked will be punished and the righteous live forever. Moreover, as Christians now live amongst those who generally don’t believe, they are subject to hostility and injustice in a way Israelites wouldn’t have been amongst their peers during the days of Solomon. Third, we need to understand this different experience in Christians is purposeful. Just as Christ’s obedience was proved and drawn out through suffering, so is ours (Heb 2v10). So for those who live by the Spirit not the law, God actually intends suffering as one of his means of sanctifying us, and enabling us to identify with Christ, who had to suffer before entering into glory.
            Fourth, having said all this, because God’s wisdom was involved in creation, its principles do also apply to humanity in general. So given the exceptions, the proverbs still stand. Paul can therefore say that those who obey their parents will enjoy “long life on the earth” (Eph 6v3). The point is that by receiving godly training, instruction and therefore wisdom from our parents, we are better equipped to navigate life in our fallen world. The writers of the New Testament assume as a general truth, that the Christian will, by obeying God, be free from prosecution by the law (Rom 13v3), protected against oppression (Rom 13v4), and enjoy favour with others (1 Thess 4v11-12), no doubt leading to success and so increased wealth through being known to work hard and be trustworthy. One can even conclude that in respecting their bodies and not being given to drunkenness, the Christian will live a healthier life too (Eph 5v18). So God’s wisdom really does make a difference. However the critical thing is not to seek these benefits in themselves, but seek to fear and so obey God, knowing these will usually follow, but submitting to whatever plans he has for us (Prov 16v9).

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