RPM, Volume 15, Number 18, April 28 to May 4, 2013

The Right Way

Proverbs 15:6-10

By D. Marion Clark

Introduction

There are two types of people in the world, I am told: those who are Irish and those who wish they were; according to Bob in the movie What About Bob?, they are people who like Neil Diamond and those who do not; there are those who prefer that the toilet paper rolls over the tube and those who prefer it roll under the tube; and then there are those who divide people into two categories and those who do not. Proverbs likes to divide. Its two favorite sets of categories are the righteous and the wicked, and the wise and the foolish. Our verses this morning characterizes what happens to those who follow the right way of righteousness and wisdom and those who depart it.

Text

6 The house of the righteous contains great treasure, but the income of the wicked brings them trouble.

I've found a great way to prepare sermons from Proverbs. The book requires a different approach than the other books we have studied, in that, where the others required consulting the research of scholars to pull out the subtle meanings of the texts, what Proverbs mostly requires is the insight of people experienced in life. Thus, I turned to the Keenagers Wednesday morning group for consultation. I asked them what kinds of treasure would be in the house of the righteous. Here are the answers I got: peace, contentment, love, knowledge.

The oddest answer was "serving others." Certainly we think of serving others as good work to do, but most of us would not think of placing it in the category of personal treasure. But then, that is how the righteous think. They think differently about what has value. Thus, as in this case, they believe that having the opportunity and ability to serve others, is a treasure to prize. (I can immediately think of exemplary persons in this church, but will not embarrass them by naming them.)

Let's go back to those other treasures mentioned. Peace was one. Everyone would agree with that one. How many times have we thought or yelled, "If I could just have some peace and quiet in this house!" Of course, what we mean is, "If only the others in this house or in this church or in this workplace would change, then I could have peace." What we have to ask is why the house of the righteous contains treasure like peace and love. The answer of course is that the righteous are people who promote peace. They are people who have learned to be content in all things. They have used knowledge wisely to better themselves and benefit others.

This also explains why, in general, the righteous seem to have, if not great wealth, at least financial security. They use their money wisely; they don't value material pleasures more than good relations with God and others; thus they don't spend more than they can afford.

They wicked, on the other hand, can never be contented, because they are either worrying about losing what they have or about how to get more. Debt dogs them no matter how much they have, thus more income only brings more trouble. Indeed, income, which ought to be a source of building security, only creates problems. As 1 Timothy 6:10 says, For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. In the context of that statement, Paul grieves that it has led people astray from the faith. It breaks up families. It leads good men and women astray who started off in the workplace with noble motives. It creates insecurity when one is secure, and creates a false sense of security when one's downfall is near. It skewers one's ability to value what is really valuable. The wicked who love money simply cannot comprehend how the mind of the righteous work. They would hold the individual, who named "serving others" as a great treasure, in contempt for being so simpleminded or regard him as a hypocrite since they can't imagine a person who has all his wits thinking that way.

7 The lips of the wise spread knowledge; not so the hearts of fools.

This proverb is similar to verse two: The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouth of the fool gushes folly. Note the contrast: lips of the wise with hearts of fools. The same idea is being brought out that we spoke of in the previous sermon. What is at issue is the state of the heart. The wise spread knowledge, not because they took a good course on communications (though that can help), but because they prize knowledge.

We should consider for a moment what is meant by knowledge. In Proverbs knowledge, as Derek Kidner explains, implies "not so much an informed mind as a knowing of truth and indeed of God himself." A person of knowledge is a person of wisdom. We understand the distinction. There are many educated persons who are foolish. That is why there are just as high, if not higher, incidents of divorce, family dysfunctions, broken relationships, infighting, etc. in a university as in a factory.

Furthermore, the reason for such foolishness is also evident. Consider what the proverbs attribute as essential to having knowledge: The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge (1:7). The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding (9:10). If one is not willing to acknowledge God; if one is not willing to submit to the revelation of God, then wisdom is hard to come by.

Education is good, but education without godly wisdom leads to pride and foolish application. Even secular people acknowledge that education does not necessarily lead to wisdom. That is why universities and think tanks are filled with contradictory political positions, moral philosophies, social policies and so on. That is why the same research findings inevitably lead to contradictory conclusions. It takes wisdom to spread true knowledge.

This applies to the church as well. One can become knowledgeable about doctrine and biblical facts, but, nevertheless, be unable to understand the implications of the doctrine and biblical information. Let me give one example. As Reformed Christians we uphold the doctrine of total depravity, which teaches that sin taints all that we think and do, even as Christians. That doctrine should teach us, therefore, to be cautious and humble in the opinions we hold, knowing that we may err. Even so, we Reformed Christians can be obstinate and arrogant in the way that we hold forth our teachings. We can have knowledge — right knowledge — and yet miss out on the benefits ourselves, because we do not wisely examine ourselves in light of the knowledge. It is not enough to be right; we must have a right heart and attitude towards others, as well.

8 The Lord detests the sacrifice of the wicked, but the prayer of the upright pleases him.

We will turn to Isaiah 1:10-17 for a commentary on this proverb.

10 Hear the word of the Lord,
you rulers of Sodom;
listen to the law of our God,
you people of Gomorrah!
11 "The multitude of your sacrifices�"
what are they to me?" says the Lord.
"I have more than enough of burnt offerings,
of rams and the fat of fattened animals;
I have no pleasure
in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.
12 When you come to appear before me,
who has asked this of you,
this trampling of my courts?
13 Stop bringing meaningless offerings!
Your incense is detestable to me.
New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations�"
I cannot bear your evil assemblies.
14 Your New Moon festivals and your appointed feasts
my soul hates.
They have become a burden to me;
I am weary of bearing them.
15 When you spread out your hands in prayer,
I will hide my eyes from you;
even if you offer many prayers,
I will not listen.
Your hands are full of blood;
16 wash and make yourselves clean.
Take your evil deeds
out of my sight!
Stop doing wrong,
17 learn to do right!
Seek justice,
encourage the oppressed.
Defend the cause of the fatherless,
plead the case of the widow.

I think this gets the message across. Don't live unethical and unloving lives, and then come to church thinking that our attendance and contributions and service activities will please God. No, God hates, he despises, such hypocrisy and the disgrace that it brings on him and his church.

Conversely, the smallest of prayers by the upright gives him great pleasure. Who are the upright? We will turn to another prophet for insight into that.

6 With what shall I come before the Lord
and bow down before the exalted God?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
7 Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousand rivers of oil?
Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
8 He has showed you, O man, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:6-8).

What's in your heart? We keep coming back to that. What is in our hearts is what matters to God. Large contributions are good. Being active in church activities is good. Attending worship is good. It is important to know the right way of worshiping and serving God. But rule number one is that we must have hearts that desire the same things God desires, viz., justice, mercy, and a humble relationship with our Lord. If those things are not in our hearts, then no worship, however theologically correct it may be, will please God.

9 The Lord detests the way of the wicked but he loves those who pursue righteousness.

God is prejudiced. He doesn't like wickedness. Dress it up, make it look sophisticated, make it look open-minded, make it look like fun, even make it look respectable — the Lord detests the way of the wicked. We can rationalize disbelief and immoral behavior; we can minimize the harm done; we can try to make up for it by being good in other ways; God hates our wickedness and will not excuse it.

On the other hand, God loves those who pursue righteousness. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness (Matthew 5:6), says Jesus. Blessed are they because God loves them. Righteousness is not so much about separating oneself from sin as it is getting involved with battling the effects of sin. Righteousness primarily refers to upholding justice: defending the weak, supporting the cause of those with little voice, helping the poor. It is the student who comes to the aid of another student who is being bullied or taunted, such as a teenage Christian I recently read about who publicly became friends with a homosexual student who was being harassed at school. How is this righteousness? By showing friendship while still disapproving the behavior, he demonstrated the commandment to love one's neighbor whoever the neighbor may be. Is this other student under the judgment of God? Yes. But now, because of the Christian's unconditional love, there is greater opportunity for him to repent and turn to Christ. There is also greater opportunity for others to see the power of the gospel to make Christians risk their own reputations to befriend the outcast. I assure you, that pursuing righteousness will bring slander not only from the immoral, but from the socially moral. That is what happened to Jesus when he had the audacity to befriend notorious sinners.

10 Stern discipline awaits him who leaves the path; he who hates correction will die.

The KJ uses the term "grievous." To leave the path of righteousness only leads to painful correction. That phrase, leaves the path, indicates a person who had been walking in the way of righteousness. Such a person began life well, perhaps because of Christian parents and a good church. Perhaps it is a person who made a Christian commitment and had started off his new life faithfully following the Lord. But for whatever reason, he has fallen off that path. Perhaps it was the lure of worldly pleasures — the fun that the party crowd seems to have; perhaps it was due to disappointments in the church and with Christians or with parents, perhaps just disappointments with problems in life. He thinks that the new way is the answer, or at least, gets him away from the old path. What he finds instead is another set of problems and disappointments. Or even worse, the new path seems fine, and his correction does not come until death when there is no opportunity to repent. That is why, by the way, that in my prayers for the unsaved, I pray that they will not be made restless and troubled. I'd rather they be corrected now and turn to the Lord.

Even so, many never do turn to God, and they receive the warning of the proverb that he who hates correction will die. The Keenagers made the point that this can speak of spiritual death, which is true. One can live physically and be dead spiritually. So many people are dead, for example, to truth, to real pleasure, real righteousness, real peace and joy and love. But ultimately, of course, if one continues to reject correction, he will die the second death — i.e. receive the eternal judgment of God.

Conclusion

Note the approach of these proverbs as it they make distinctions between the righteous and the wicked, and the wise and the foolish. They do not say what makes a person righteous or wicked, wise or foolish. Rather, they denote what happens to or springs forth from them. Thus, the righteous have treasure, while the wicked have trouble; the wise spread knowledge, while the foolish spread nothing but foolishness; the righteous please the Lord and receive his favor, while the wicked repulse him; and finally, the wayward receive harsh correction and ultimately death if they do not repent.

What is the premise? Jesus states it in Matthew 7:16: By their fruit you will recognize them. The point in saying this that what matters, what makes a real difference in our behavior, is the state of our hearts. And what affects our hearts is the regenerating and sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. A man does not heed correction if he does not fall under conviction of the Holy Spirit. A woman does not think wisely as God thinks, if her spirit is not under the control of God's Spirit.

Therefore, to any who may not have experienced true conversion, I can recommend the proverbs as good counsel that will make one's life better, but I cannot pretend that God is pleased with a person who outwardly conforms to these precepts, yet refuses to yield his life to God through Jesus Christ. That is the message of verse 8. The actual worship practice of the wicked may outwardly be commendable, but God judges the heart, and a heart that rejects the sacrifice of God the Son will not be judged as righteous no matter how much good religion and morals is practiced. What Simeon told Mary as he held the baby Jesus in his arms is true of us all, that by our reaction to Jesus the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed (Luke 2:35). We may seem to desire the right way and do many good deeds that appear righteous, but if we reject the Son of God, then we demonstrate that we are only seeking our own way, our own glory. Rejecting the good news of Jesus' atonement for our sins is neither righteous nor wise.

To the converted, those who profess Christ as Lord and Savior, understand that the right approach to these proverbs is not to pronounce how well you will live up to them, but to humbly pray for God's Spirit to produce such fruit in you. This way we will avoid both the path of pride and the path of despair. (There are two kinds of people!) Some of us are filled with pride because of our outward behavior which seems to be righteous and wise. We share the sin of the Pharisees and scribes who actually believed that they were living up to the law. How can you test if you are in danger of that sin? Here is one test. When listening to the exhortations of these proverbs, is your first instinct to think, "I hope (someone else) is listening to this"? I know that I did during last week's sermon, and the proverbs turned around and hit me between the eyes.

Others of us are despondent because we feel keenly our failures to keep up the ideals of the proverbs. That is a reaction that is more on target, because we do fail to live up to the standards for the righteous and the wise and can always benefit from examining ourselves and striving to conform more and more to them. But if all we gain from the proverbs is a sense of being reprimanded for our failures then our sin is as great as those who have a false self-righteousness. Both those who are confident in their righteousness and those who continually despair of their unrighteousness are guilty of ignoring the righteousness of Christ, which is our only hope and confidence.

But now a righteousness from God, apart from law (and proverbs), has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus (Romans 3:21-24).

Let us all understand, that the greatest of the treasures in the house of the wise is Jesus Christ and the redemption that he has bought through his blood.

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