Shout for Joy
Have you ever wondered why those things we find most appealing often turn out to be so self-destructive? Read what Solomon has to say about greed.
“Such is the fate of all who are greedy for money; it robs them of life” (NLT).
To have at least a bit more, certainly describes the average person we meet – even when we look in the mirror. It may be more money, prestige, things, time, whatever. It seems that having enough is not quite enough. That’s simply human nature. We sometimes wish we could be more like the apostle who told the church in Philippi, “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation” (Phil. 4:11). That’s a great goal, but let’s stay with Proverbs 1:19 and the result of what the NIV calls “ill-gotten gain.”
What strikes me is that we tend to be our own worst enemy. The things we desire the most often turn out to work against us. In today’s proverb it is the desire for money. Many have found that a lifetime spent pursuing financial gain turns out to be far less satisfying than imagined. The dream house on the hill has been purchased but in the life long commitment to making it happen the family has fallen apart. As the quip puts it, “No man on his deathbed ever said, ’I wish I’d spent more time in the office.’” The intense desire to get what we told ourselves we had to have became our true enemy. It watched rather quizzically as those bent on achieving destroyed themselves in the process. Such is the irony of life.
It is because what we want so often brings us down that God’s way is always the best way. His “laws” (i.e., road signs warning us of dangers that lie ahead) are for our benefit. God has no desire to rob us of those things we hold to be justifiable pleasures of life, but he knows full well that if we allow our desire to change into greed it will destroy us. So Solomon warns us that an insatiable greed for riches is a sure road to disaster. Put more simply, “Greed robs a person of life.”
Since that is true, as well as all the other “warnings” in scripture, ought we not to pursue a way of living that is devoid of all that appeals so strongly to our human nature? Since “God’s way is always the best way” we can thank him for calling to our attention those pitfalls that appeal to our “old man?” Solomon’s proverbs point out a way of living that protects us from self-destruction.
How to do what you can’t do
Following the magnificent hymn on the humility of Christ (Philippians 2:5-11) Paul exhorts the believers in Philippi to “work out” their own salvation with fear and trembling (vs. 12). That always confused me because I was taught that salvation was a gift of God that asked nothing but that I believe. Didn’t the great reformers of the church teach that justification was sola fide, by faith alone? But here Paul tells us to “work [it] out.” I now know that the answer to the conundrum is that by “to work out,” Paul means, “to put into action.” It is one thing to know the truth but something quite different to put it into action.
Until truth takes action it remains little more than something to discuss. I may “believe” that there is a fire in the kitchen but that “belief” is meaningless until it moves me to get up and call 911. In the biblical world, “faith” becomes faith when it becomes a conviction, that is, it moves a person to take the necessary action. What Paul is telling the Philippian church is that they are to “work out,” that is, “put into action,” what they believe. And the example they are to follow is Jesus who put heaven aside and became one of us. They are to “humble” themselves as Jesus did. They are to carry out their Christian commitment “with fear and trembling,” that is, in reverence toward God.
Most of us want our profession of faith to be authentic. How many times have we said something like, “I really tried but I blew it again.” We do our best to work it out just like Paul told the Philippians. The desire to carry out in life what we understand to be the will of God for us is itself a gift of God. He is the one who stirs up in us the longing for a more productive and holy life. Unfortunately the harder we try the more we fail. It doesn’t seem to be working out.
But here comes the good news; in addition to the desire God also supplies “the power to do what pleases him” (NLT). God never intended us to live the Christian life in our own strength. Spiritual life calls for the presence and activity of the Spirit. We can’t expect to do what only God’s Spirit, working in and through us, can do. Why is this so hard to understand? The answer is that until the believer finds himself in heaven his old nature continues its battle to be in charge Thank God that He enables us to do what he calls on us to do. Enough of our miserable attempts to fulfill spiritual goals by human effort. No wonder we call it salvation, because it saves us – saves us from ourselves, from our innate and self-centered desire to prove to God that we can handle things on our own.
In Psalm 56 David gives voice to a common experience of faith and fear. The psalm begins as a lament but proceeds to a confidence that moves him to declare, “What can mere mortals do to me!” The threats of the enemy are real but when the psalmist turns it all over to God he is assured that once again he will walk in the “life-giving light” of the divine presence
We have come now to one of the finest passages in scripture setting forth the redemptive ministry of Jesus Christ. It reflects an early hymn of the church that eloquently portrays the divine condescension of Christ in his incarnation and death as the example par excellence of selfless living. The best way to appreciate the passage is to read it in poetic form, reflecting on it fuller meaning.
“Your attitude toward others should be like that of Christ Jesus.
Although he was by nature God,
he didn’t regard that equality with God as something to be maintained at any cost,
but set it aside by becoming a human being, a servant.
So it was as one of us that he walked the lowly road of humility.
His obedience to God led him all the way to death, even death on a cross.
And that’s why God
raised him to the place of highest honor and
bestowed on him a name far above any other
So that someday
every knee in heaven and earth will bow before him and
every tongue will openly declare that
Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.”
Translation from Dear Friends, This is Paul
The history of the human race is, in a sense, reflected in the life, death and resurrection of Christ. As Christ, the eternal Son existed from the “beginning” in a close and glorious fellowship with the Father, so also did man begin his earthly pilgrimage in Eden, basking in the rich experience of fellowship with the Creator as they walked and talked in the Garden. In the incarnation Christ left heaven, came to earth and became one of us. Our transition, however, was not joyful but sad in that we were expelled from the Garden because of Adam’s (read “our”) sin. Christ paid the ransom on Calvary’s cross and made it possible for us to return to a new and living relationship with the Father. As Christ ascended to heaven so may we by faith return to where we began and enjoy forever the indescribably joy that God had always intended for his creation.
Interesting, is not, that this is also the general theme of most every novel: There is a problem that develops, a hero that comes onto the scene, and a solution to the problem that restores normalcy.
Jesus had just fed the crowd of 5,000, so when evening came he sent his disciples across the lake while he went up on the hillside to pray. A fierce storm arose on the lake but suddenly, there was Jesus! walking on top of the waves as he approached his disciples. They were absolutely terrified. But when Peter recognized that the one they all thought was a “ghost” was actually Jesus, he asked to go to him. All went well until Peter noticed how high the waves were. Then, as he began to sink, he panicked and cried out for help. I imagine that you or I might have hesitated for just a moment to teach Peter a lesson in trust, but Jesus “Instantly reached out his hand and took hold of him” (Mark 14:31).
Jesus is teaching us a very simple lesson: When another person is in trouble, reach out your hand, and do it right away. As we work our way through the gospel account of the earthly life of God’s son we find that the most distinctive quality of his ministry was helping the other person. It didn’t matter whether that person was blind or lame, was a demented tomb dweller, a mother whose son had just died, or a host who had run out of wine. Jesus was always on duty. He lived for the benefit of others and at the end of it all he died and rose again for our eternal benefit. Is there any question as to how we are to live? Jesus is our mentor par excellence.
If that kind of life seems a bit dull to you may I tell you a secret? Serving the needs of another can be the most joyful and rewarding experience of a person’s life. Do you remember when Paul spoke of a man who was “caught up to the third heaven” and then described his experience ? (2 Corinthians 12:2). In the same way, I know a man who for the last several years of his wife’s life had the privilege of taking care of her, as they say, 24/7. He got to sleep on the floor near her bedroom in case she awoke, cooked her favorite meals and then washed the dishes, pushed her around the neighborhood in a wheelchair, and read 28 books aloud to her as she lay in bed taking it all in. Her final words were a whispered, “I love you ______.” To serve her needs at the close of 60 years of wonderful marriage was the greatest privilege and joy of this man’s entire life. Heaven itself!
Concern that leads to action is what Jesus taught and demonstrated in his life. And we are his followers, that is, we live to the best of our ability in exactly the way that he lived.
The book of Proverbs was written, or to some degree compiled, by king Solomon, who ruled over the nation of Israel some 950 years before Christ. His wealth and wisdom resonate down through the halls of history, as does his sizeable collection of some 700 wives and 300 concubines. The answer to the conundrum of wisdom and wives is probably that very few people always put into practice everything they know. It is simply human nature but that doesn’t make a true statement wrong.
Solomon begins his collection of proverbs by telling us with clarity why it is that he has set out on the project. Before all else, the purpose is that they might gain wisdom, have a clear understanding of the insights of the wise, and that this, in turn, will result in just and orderly lives (1:1-3) . The value of wisdom lies not in its intellectual astuteness but in its help in living a life that is satisfying and productive. Wisdom is “moral instruction” (NET). Of those who pay attention to the proverbs and put them into action it will be said that their lives are “honest, just, and fair” (TEV).
Having said that, let’s look at the proverb itself as a guide for living. A proverb has several values. First, it is the summary of people’s experience over a long period of time. It has been found to work better than any of its alternatives. In a democracy we hold that the people’s opinion should be followed because over all it is superior to the limited experience of a single person – king, sage, or president. There is safety in numbers. Another thing about the proverb is that it is short, pithy and easy to remember. That “haste makes waste” is hard to forget because: (1) It is short, and (2) We and everybody else, have found from experience that it always works out that way.
So, to have a firm grasp on what the human race has discovered up until now about the way to experience the summum bonum of life, look to the wise proverb, especially as recorded in holy writ. It will provide “disciplined insight (TEV) into doing what is “right and just and fair.” Solomon’s goal (and mine as I discuss a number of his proverbs) is to help people understand and apply those insights that make for the better life.
Have you ever wished for a single all-inclusive rule for Christian living? If you simply allowed that to control your conduct you would fulfill everything expected of you as a child of God? Well, I have good news for you. Years ago God had the apostle Paul provide the answer to a little church in the town of Philippi. Here’s what he said: “Don’t do anything out of selfish concern or the desire to impress but in all humility value the interests of the other as greater than your own” (Phil. 2:3-4). There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that if all of us who name the name of Christ would live each day guided by that tenet, we would as a people, experience what heaven itself will be like.
The ultimate example of that kind of living is the incarnate life of the eternal Son of God. He decided to put the welfare of the rebellious human race ahead of his own. And the following verses in the chapter describe his great redemptive act of leaving the glories of heaven to become a man who would die a horrible death on a cross for the sins of those he created (vv. 6-11). That is how Jesus lived; how should we?
Humility is a word that is often misunderstood. For some, it describes a submissive, self-loathing wimp who is frightened by everything in life and cringes in the corner while others take care of him. Well, that’s an overstatement, but I think you know the Casper Milquetoast sort of bearing it describes. But humility is a strong word. It is a quality of those who are safe enough to put personal concerns aside and lend their effort to the needs of others. It has been described many times in the literature of the Western world, probably the best by C.S. Lewis who wrote, “True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.” I believe that humility is an act of the will in which a person intentionally decides to turn his attention to the concerns of the next person he meets or think of.” It is a near total disregard for personal advancement. Self-concern has been set aside permanently so as to allow time and strength for helping others.
One might say, “But that’s a denial of life!” Right. Didn’t Jesus say, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23)? I think that to “deny” oneself means to deny oneself and to “take up his cross” means to die to self-absorption. To the response, “But that’s like death,” one can say, “No, the Christian life is possible only by that kind of death.” Again, wasn’t it the same Paul who said in chapter one of this same letter, “For me to die is gain” (1:21)? So, let’s cheer up and ”die.” Christ did, and then he set the pattern by rising to a new and glorious life.
Robert H Mounce