Proverbs Recap

Andie Szyman / December 12, 2017

Wisdom in Dizzying Times

The Church today finds itself enveloped by a culture of consumerism as it pursues biblical contentedness. The appeal of material wealth, popularity, and comfort is enhanced by our sinful nature, constantly reaching to satisfy the desires of our flesh. These dizzying times disorient us and cause us to question our reality: When is enough, enough? How do we know if we’ve given too little or gone overboard?

As Redemption Flagstaff wraps up its series on the Book of Proverbs, it is imperative that we holistically engage the scriptural practice of self-examination, or as the Psalmist pleads, rather, to allow God to examine our hearts. In his most recent sermon, Vince suggested that each of the various topics discussed in the past several weeks can be placed on the spectrum of Contentment <> Consumerism. Assuredly, when it pertains to the Gospel and adhering to its teachings, there are a myriad of difficulties to work through at either end of this spectrum. I hope that this post provides us more clarity with which to do so.

Wisdom

Are our hearts inclined to receive wisdom? This question is essential as we seek to learn from our time studying the book of Proverbs. Before we can orient ourselves in regard to our anger, lust, or contentment, we must first be able to receive truth.

Proverbs 9:8-9 says “do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you; reprove a wise man, and he will love you. Give instruction to a wise man, and he will still be wiser. Teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning.” Are we willing to receive correction, and taking it a step beyond that, are we committed to its application in our lives? It often seems that people with differing opinions from our own are those in need of correction, and the tendency is to then bombard them with our personal beliefs. Immediately then, the question of “what is in our hearts?” must be asked. It is from the abundance of our heart that our mouth speaks (Luke 6:45), so if the words pouring from our lips are laced with malice and a desire to be correct, what does that say about the posture of the heart?

God, would you examine the very depths of our hearts, even for the things we keep
secret, and illuminate them with your love. As we struggle to mind our
tongue when we see the need for correction in others, thank you for your unwavering example.

Keeping Your Heart

Concerning the matters of the heart, we tend to have things backwards: instead of making every corner of our hearts easily accessible to God while remaining vigilant about the ways of the world, we do the opposite. The biblical call to love God with all of our hearts disallows us to serve two masters, yet often, that is the dilemma we face.

Our relationships, our desires, our actions are at times contrary to the will of God for our lives, and our feeble attempts to fit God in next to our plans has already created a hierarchy in which He isn’t #1. That just won’t do. God cares deeply for us and He works things together for our good. [pausing to caution against prosperity gospel] On paper, choosing anything but God makes zero sense, and yet our heart propels us towards things that aren’t from Him. As created beings, it feels like we were hardwired to find our way back to God, and yet we attempt to fill the spot He left for Himself inside of us with other things or other people.

We are His alone: His image is upon us, His grace is for us. When we comprehend that truth, we can see sin as sin and guard our hearts accordingly. We forego the acrobatics of conforming to the will of man, forget the exhaustion of deceitfulness, and instead accept the sacrifice of the willing savior, freeing ourselves to be who we truly are, not by choice but by grace.

Sovereign Lord, we confess that your ways are much higher than our ways
and ask that you rid our hearts of impurity. Would you take your rightful place,
enthroned in our hearts, and cast out that which we have fashioned for worship.
We trust your intentions and take your easy yoke upon us.

Communication

Communication in society today is something we are subsequently getting worse at and doing more of. There is no end to the various ways in which we communicate with one another: Facebook, Instagram, texting, Tinder, Snapchat, Twitter, etc, etc, etc. As interpersonal face-to-face communication takes a back seat to digital means, we are losing the inherent authenticity of human interaction. When we are on our phones in social settings, it communicates something both directly and indirectly. Have we stopped to think about what is being said to the people present when we would seemingly prefer to communicate with others electronically?

A dangerous trend in the world today is allowing our technology to provide us with an alternate reality. In this virtual realm, we can craft our own version of the truth: we decide who we interact and don’t interact with, we choose the things we read or listen to and focus our attention on the events we’re interested in. To do so is to usurp God in His intention for humanity. The fact of the matter is, the world experiences brokenness and depravity every day due to our ineffective communicative skills, heightened by our obsession with self-interest. We are able to turn a blind eye to the hurt and marginalized by escaping into our personalized reality. When we disagree with someone, we can easily block or hide their posts with the touch of a button. This is a blatant robbery of the mosaic God intends for His creation to be.

Concurrent with an upswing in technological advancement is the rise of a new archetype: the keyboard warrior. We as a culture have become emboldened and entrenched in our beliefs, and take our linguistic swordplay into public arenas. Several places in scripture speak to the power our words possess:

● “There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” – Proverbs 12:18
● “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Proverbs 15:1
● “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” Proverbs 18:21
● “What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out, that is what defiles him.” – Matthew 15:11
● “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.” Romans 12:14

The list continues on. At times, we are prone to saying things online that we would never dream of uttering in person, and the harm in unhealthy and irrational conflict resolution is damaging to the processes by which we can be reconciled to one another. In many instances, we believe that conflict is bad, and that is largely perpetuated by all the ineffective and negative forms of communication we are frequently observing.

Truth be told, a worldview that includes all of life’s various complexities is scary, but as Christians, we are called to have it. Love for our neighbor includes refugees/immigrants, people we disagree with, Black lives, White lives, and everything in between. We communicate our disregard for imago dei when we choose to overlook the experiences of others. Instead, we must choose out of passivity and deliberately care for our neighbor, seeking understanding, truth, and reconciliation whenever possible.

Father, we acknowledge the power of words. We profess that you spoke
the universe into being by the word of your mouth. Teach us to possess the same
kind of care when we speak, choosing to communicate only what is good and
upright and holy in your sight.

Anger

Ephesians 4:26-27 says “Be angry and do not sin. Do not let the sun go down on your anger and give no opportunity to the devil.” What on Earth does that mean? For many of us, anger has always been painted as a negative emotion, and thus Paul’s request seems oxymoronic. How can you do something “bad” without sinning?

James 1:20 says that the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God, and I believe that is the key to walking this delicate line. The things that typically make us angry, whether it’s being cut off on the freeway, underperforming on a test, etc., are not what makes God angry.

God is angry about the marginalization of the poor, the complacency of the church, the type of sacrifices that we offer. When what makes us angry aligns with that which incurs God’s ire, we are practicing “righteous anger”. That Jesus-flipping-over-tables stuff. Even then, we should allow that anger to push us towards action, taking up the cause of the orphan and the widow or rebuking the hard-heartedness of those who claim to be religious yet make a mockery of God’s word. There are a multitude of issues to be angry about, so many that we should have very little anger left to spare when our kids fail to clean up after themselves or we misplace our wallet.

We may also fear that anger will sever our ties to others or wish to avoid the repercussions of taking a firm, counter-cultural stance. These manifest themselves in the art of escapism or the complacency of being passive. Thankfully, in all of this, we experience balance in the character of Jesus, the person who both drove the tax collectors out of the temple and said “let the children come to me.” The dichotomy of soft and firm in the incarnate God, Jesus informs us on how to better engage with our anger and discern its root cause(s).

Jesus, we praise you for your obedience to God, that you faced every kind
of temptation yet were without sin. It is because of this that we have grace
abundantly, freeing us from shame or guilt. Help us to understand our emotions
and die to self, championing the causes of others before seeking our own
prosperity.

Lust

No sin is more shameful than another, but lust is so prevalent in our society, it can often feel like the “thorn in the flesh” (2 Corinthians 12:7-10) that we can’t be rid of. In Christian circles especially, it seems like young people are ostracized in relation to lust more than any other sin. A person who is too comfortable with sexuality and things of the sort are judged. When Jesus uttered the words, “let he without sin cast the first stone”, did he first account for all the sins of the woman he was defending before deciding she was worthy? Signs point to no.

We can often pride ourselves on our purity and our abstinence, and while The Bible repeatedly calls for us to flee from sexual immorality, precaution must be taken. The unrelenting judgement we pass on those who have committed adultery, lusted, or who struggle with sexual immorality does not reflect the heart of God. If we see sin in a person’s spiritual life, we are called to take action, but to my knowledge, no person has repented from sexual sin by way of excommunication and shame.

The Bible says God’s kindness is meant to lead us to repentance (Romans 2:4), not His wrath. It is important to seek understanding instead of resting in blind judgement. In the world today, many people who are familiar with sexual sin did not experience it of their own volition, and victim shaming is a perpetuation of the initial sin committed against them. When we seek the truth, we honor the experiences of others and allow God to shape our consciousness.

Adversely, lust is a heart issue that must be uprooted; a vast array of evil can stem from a lustful heart. The Bible warns us on numerous occasions about its severity:

● “Anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed
adultery with her in his heart.” – Matthew 5:28
● “For everything in the world – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life – comes not from the Father but from the world.” – John 2:16
● “Now flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace.” – 2 Timothy 2:22

Lusting in our heart without examination or repentance causes us to constantly sin against others. It can lead to pornography addiction, failed relationships and marriages, even such extremes as sexual harassment or assault. A lack of contentment can even turn people into consumerist pursuits. Believing the lie that we should always have what we want and that our lives lack meaning without the presence of one person or another gives way to harmful manifestations of lust. Pursuing contentment in God’s will over our own allows Him to exact His plan for our lives, and coupled with careful and constant examination of the heart, gives hope in our struggle against the desires of the flesh.

Deliverer, we trust in your strength and your provision. We admit that our flesh is weak, and we petition you to stay our eyes on that which is Holy and righteous. We ask that you reveal to us the posture of our hearts regarding lust; whether we cast judgement on others from a throne of purity, or are ensnared by the wicked desires of our flesh, we will all perish apart from you. Would we repent of our sin and experience abundant grace.

As with King Solomon, believed to be the wisest man to ever live, to attain wisdom does not come without trial. Our comfort in the midst of growing pains is the truth of James 1 that says “if any of you lack wisdom, ask God.” Let it be a perpetual petitioning, a consistent dialogue, and fervent pleading with the Lord of all Creation, allowing Him to use our gifts and our shortcomings in such a way that brings Him glory.

Moving forward from our series on the Book of Proverbs, may the truth of these passages be hidden in our hearts, and in the midst of dizzying and disorienting times, would that truth shine ever bright. Amen.
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