Live a Godly Life

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For any who are new here this morning may I just say this by way of introduction.

We are still in our mid-Summer series of sermons that are covering the first nine chapters of the book of Proverbs. And Proverbs, of course, is an Old Testament book of practical wisdom. King Solomon, the son of King David, has given his name to the book. And there is no reason for doubting that he has contributed a great deal to this collection of sayings and teaching. But we know from chapters 30 and 31 that otherwise men such as Agur and Lemuel also contributed to this teaching.

Two weeks ago Jonathan Pryke spoke about chapters 5 and 7 under the title Be Faithful. And if you go online you will see those chapters dealt with sex and marriage. However, our Old Testament reading this morning (verses 1-19 of chapter 6) is in the middle of that section of Proverbs, and something of a digression. So with that said, will you open your bibles at Proverbs 6.1-19.

And this morning, as we go through this passage, I have three headings: first, Be Prudent; secondly, Work Well; and, thirdly, Hate What God Hates.

1. Be Prudent

Look again at verses 1-5:

"My son, if you have put up security for your neighbour,
have given your pledge for a stranger,
if you are snared in the words of your mouth,
caught in the words of your mouth,
then do this, my son, and save yourself,
for you have come into the hand of your neighbour:
go, hasten, and plead urgently with your neighbour.
Give your eyes no sleep
and your eyelids no slumber;
save yourself like a gazelle from the hand of the hunter,
like a bird from the hand of the fowler."

Here is a father talking to his son. So imagine king Solomon talking to one of the royal princes – maybe he is already one of his estate managers. And the advice is this:

'think carefully before you make serious commitments. And when you realize you've made a mistake, eat humble pie and admit you are wrong. And do all you can to right the wrong.'

The specific case envisaged is guaranteeing other people's loans. And the son is being advised to avoid liability for someone else's debt when he has not the resources to cover it. To do so is utter folly. There may be some business advantage but it is a huge gamble. It is not clear whether Solomon is teaching an innocent son, so he doesn't get into trouble. Or whether he suspects his son is already in trouble and he has been utterly foolish and cannot pay up. No matter. For us it is the principle that is important.

So in verses 1-3 there are three people: the neighbour (perhaps a great estate owner himself) who is the lender; the stranger who receives the loan; and the son who guarantees the loan. The stranger could well be a foreign trader and so quite outside the moral and ethical framework of Israel. And the son may be thinking he is onto a good business deal. But he is utterly stupid to guarantee a loan when he has no wealth to back up the promise. For lenders, like the neighbour, in those days of an agricultural economy, could drive hard bargains on their loans.

Then imagine Solomon as a sort of Donald Trump. For he was hugely wealthy and successful in many ways, but his personal moral life became questionable (we are told, in 1 Kings 11.3, that in later life he ended up with "700 wives, who were princesses, and 300 concubines") – the mind boggles! Nevertheless, he was a great businessman in earlier life and here we are to imagine him simply saying to his son:

"Be prudent. Think carefully before you make serious commitments. And when you realize you've made a mistake, and you have been a fool, eat humble pie and admit you are wrong. And do all you can to right it."

And if anyone here this morning is involved similarly in something that is doggy, do follow this advice and come clean immediately:

"Give your eyes no sleep
and your eyelids no slumber;
save yourself like a gazelle from the hand of the hunter,
like a bird from the hand of the fowler."

Now all of this, of course, is not teaching that you cannot lend to those in need who would be helped by your loan. The lender here is not being criticized. It is the son who may not be, or is not, prudent or not thinking before he acts in such a triangular business arrangement.

But is not this also a fundamental message with a wider application than for just individuals:

'Think carefully before you make serious commitments. And when you realize you've made a mistake, eat humble pie and admit you are wrong; and do all you can to right the wrong'?

Does it not apply to us on a national level? For in the West we are living in an age of irrationality with foolish and rash thinking. This irrationality has gone hand in hand with the rejection of the Christian world-view that undergirded and gave rise to the rise of science in the 17th century, the age of reason in the 18th century, the great humanitarian movements in the 19th century and ordered liberty and democracy in the 20th century. But all of those have been degraded as people have progressively rejected the God of the Bible.

And this is the God who, through Jesus' coming, death and real Resurrection, is clearly the one true and living God, one God in three persons, who is the creator of this amazing universe and who needs to be trusted and obeyed. The Apostle Paul describes what happened to people in his day in a parallel situation (Romans 1.21-22):

"For although they knew God, they did not honour him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools."

And that, Paul explains, leads to a break-up of sane religion, and a break-out of sexual disorder and violence. And this folly and darkness has given us a mainstream utterly libertarian world-view as expressed in a 1992 United States Supreme Court judgment as follows:

"At the heart of liberty is the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life."

Paul would say that the millions who have followed that judgment …

"… have become futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts are darkened. Claiming to be wise, they have become fools."

So how we now need to …

"Give our eyes no sleep
and our eyelids no slumber; and
save ourselves like a gazelle from the hand of this national hunter,
like a bird from the hand of this national fowler."

But before we move on, having said all this about "Prudence" in economic and wider-affairs, we must never forget that prudence is only one of the virtues. Love and mercy must also go alongside prudence. And those virtues relate to lending and loans and being a guarantor, as well as prudence. For Jesus said, in Luke 6.34-36:

"If you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful."

But we must now move on secondly to our next six verses that encourage us to think about our use of time and work. Look at verses 6-11.

2. Work Well.

"Go to the ant, O sluggard;
consider her ways, and be wise.
Without having any chief,
officer, or ruler,
she prepares her bread in summer
and gathers her food in harvest.
How long will you lie there, O sluggard?
When will you arise from your sleep?
A little sleep, a little slumber,
a little folding of the hands to rest,
and poverty will come upon you like a robber,
and want like an armed man."

So we are to learn from the ant. Why? Well it is one of the most amazing creatures in the world. I'm no entomologist, but if you go on the web you learn (or rather are told) amazing facts about the ant, which apparently is the longest living insect. We are told the ant is a highly co-operative creature and is amazingly strong. For a single ant can carry 30 or so more times its own bodyweight - that is like a human individual carrying a car! And ants hold the record for the fastest movement in the animal kingdom. The aptly named species of Trap Jaw ant, can close its jaws at 140 mph, which it uses to kill its prey or injure predators!

But a fact the Bible mentions here is that no one is telling all these ants what to do. Each one just gets on and does it well, with the ant's working giving the appearance of prudent activity. She works hard for her food. And as Proverbs 6.8 says:

"she prepares her bread in the summer and gathers her food in harvest."

She plans ahead. She prepares her food when it is plentiful in readiness for when it is not. But the sluggard, who is being warned against, does nothing. He is not even planning, let alone working his plan. He is asleep. So we read in verses 9-10:

"How long will you lie there, O sluggard?
When will you arise from your sleep?
A little sleep, a little slumber,
a little folding of the hands to rest."

And so the sluggard, is told, verse 6:

"Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise."

For this lazy person is like a "slug" rather than an ant. It is not clear whether the words "slug" and "sluggard" are, or are not, connected. But the person referred to verse 9 -11, is certainly like a slow moving slug. For the slug is a messy undesirable creature that normally stays put, just where you don't want it to be.

Now the book of Proverbs and the Bible is not criticizing those who can't work for one good reason or another, but those who won't work when work is possible. And there are three simple reasons why it is important to engage in work.

One, work is part of the fourth of the 10 commandments. Exodus 20.8-9 says:

"Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. [Listen] six days you shall labour, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work."

Two, work is not the result of the Fall – it is not bad in itself. It is a God-given privilege. It is one of the ways we are made in his image. For God worked, as those 10 commandments go on to remind us, in his work of creation. In Genesis 2.2 we read:

"On the seventh day God finished the work that he had done."

And then Genesis 2.15 says:

"The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it."

True, after the first man, Adam, disobeyed God, there were consequences for his work – and that relates to all kinds of work, from school work onwards. For a start, for Adam there were now weeds in his garden, and it would involve exhausting work – late nights and early mornings. It was no longer just creative. But we all are still created in the image of God though fallen, and suffering the consequences. We are still made for working and being creative ourselves. So not to be working is a great sadness and one we must work and vote to stop. Yes, because of the Fall, all work will have its problems. But not to work is a worse problem.

And the third reason is that, if you don't work when you can, there are economic consequences. That is the main message of Solomon to his son – even the son of the king. If you, like the sluggard, don't get up and do some work, verse 11:

"poverty will come upon you like a robber,
and want like an armed man."

And this is so true. However, there is a final question that comes as we think about work and laziness. And that is how do we relate all this to our Christian lives now? Well, one thing is to remember Paul's words in Colossians 3.23-24:

"Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ."

And Paul adds, if you have serious problems with wrongdoers in one way or another at work, remember there is a final judgment day when Jesus Christ returns. So Colossians 3.25 says:

"the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality."

And that brings us to our third heading.

3. Hate What God Hates

Look at verses 12-19:

"A worthless person, a wicked man,
goes about with crooked speech,
winks with his eyes, signals with his feet,
points with his finger,
with perverted heart devises evil,
continually sowing discord;
therefore calamity will come upon him suddenly;
in a moment he will be broken beyond healing.
There are six things that the Lord hates,
seven that are an abomination to him:
haughty eyes, a lying tongue,
and hands that shed innocent blood,
a heart that devises wicked plans,
feet that make haste to run to evil,
a false witness who breathes out lies,
and one who sows discord among brothers."

Perhaps we should imagine Solomon now warning his son, who will be in some sort of leadership one day, if not already. And, as his father, he wants him to do well. And Proverbs can be used as a hand-book on leadership. Apparently the late Billy Graham, the great evangelist, read through the book of Proverbs each month to help him in his leadership role. You could do worse than follow his example.

However, here there is a warning about some very evil people. Why they have to be watched out for, is that they are (verse 14) "continually sowing discord". Yes, such people, in time, bring destruction on themselves, whether in this life (as happened, of course, with Hitler) or in the afterlife. Until that happens in the meantime they can cause havoc. So Proverbs teaches that people and those in leadership have to be aware that there are such people. One commentator suggests that this character, envisaged, may be involved in the occult as well. That is suggested by the signs described in verse 13 made by "his eyes", "his feet" and "his finger". Who knows? But what we do know is that evil is a reality in this world and evident in some people more than others; and sin is the root problem and Proverbs is brilliant in describing this problem behind all problems.

Sin is simply what follows from the rejection of the one true and living God (who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit) by individuals and by groups; and we all sin! But modern secularism rejects the notion of sin, believing that time itself is redemptive. The problems of the world, it is believed, can all be solved by education or evolution; for human beings are by nature good. The trouble then is that such a belief blinds people to what God hates and how God has solved the problem. For he hates seven things especially (verses 17-18):

"haughty eyes, a lying tongue,
and hands that shed innocent blood,
a heart that devises wicked plans,
feet that make haste to run to evil,
a false witness who breathes out lies,
and one who sows discord among brothers."

What can we say about all that? Well, while few shed innocent blood, devise wicked plans, and run to evil, so many are not totally honest. They are false witnesses by saying publicly, but unknowingly, what is false, because they don't know all the facts. So unwittingly they "breath out lies" and this can "sow discord among brothers". And, of course, we are all guilty to some extent. For James in the New Testament teaches that the human tongue is untameable (James 3.8). So we all use our tongues in ways we shouldn't from time to time.

But the good news is that there is forgiveness for all sin, through the Cross of Christ – of course, including these sins of speech. For on the Cross Christ died in our place to forgive our sins, even the worst, if we admit we are wrong in respect of what we've said or whatever sin it is; and in respect of offending against God our creator. And then the good news also is that the Holy Spirit of God can strengthen us to be more like Christ, who was perfect in every respect.

If there is someone here this morning who has never turned to Christ, can I say that is the most Prudent thing you could ever do. It will then enable you to work well, in life with a new purpose. And you will more and more hate what God hates and so live more as God intended. And that is best for time and eternity.

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