Christianity 201

November 19, 2016

Do the Proverbs Come with an Iron-Clad Guarantee

Yesterday’s reading took us briefly into the book of Proverbs which we said weren’t hard and firm promises but statements of general principles. We quoted Paul Tautges and said we’d return to all six of the interpretive guidelines he gives for this book. This is his tenth time quoted here at C201; click the link below to read this (and more) at the website Counseling One Another.

Are Proverbs Sure-Fire Promises?

Last week, a church member emailed me this question:

I was having a discussion about a couple of Proverbs that I was reading with a friend and it came about in the discussion that he believed that Proverbs are promises. I had asked what his basis for believing that was. He told me because of the defined word “will’ which means it “will” happen if you do this or do that. Are the Proverbs indeed promises?

One of the ways I answered was to direct him to one of my top-three favorite commentaries on Proverbs, the Mentor Commentary, by John Kitchen. Here is how he helps us understand six principles for interpreting the book of Proverbs.

6 Principles for Interpreting Proverbs

“Proverbs can appear overly mechanical in its description of the universe, God’s sovereignty over it, and His dealings with man in it. Its observations are often stated in absolute terms, apparently leaving little room for variance. For example, consider the sequence in Proverbs 3, which demands that if one fears the Lord he will experience great health (v. 8), material prosperity (v. 10), peaceful sleep (v. 24), and protection from calamity (v. 26). How should we view such sweeping statements? Are these guarantees? Is any lesser experience a sign of moral and spiritual failure? To arrive at God’s intention, several observations should be kept in mind as one interprets and applies Proverbs.

First, the proverbs are consistent observations, not categorical absolutes. The proverbs are not always intended as promises, but only as observations of repeated phenomena. Take Proverbs 22:6: ‘Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it.’ Many a parent has been told that, in this verse, God guarantees their wayward child will return to the fold. But, like so many other proverbs, its author is making an observation of consistent behavior and outcomes (i.e. normally children raised in godly homes end up walking with God themselves), not issuing an inviolable law.

It will take discernment to carefully draw the line between divine guarantee and divinely inspired observation. A helpful path to such wisdom is the balancing of individual proverbs with the fuller witness of Scripture. This leads to a second principle of interpretation.

Second, the proverbs must be read in context. Many view the aphorisms as individual nuggets of gold scattered randomly along the path of wisdom. There is, they assert, little help to be found in the context. However, each proverbial saying does reside within the whole of Proverbs and its teaching. They must be read against the balancing treatment of wisdom in Job and Ecclesiastes, as well as the fuller span of the poetic books. Then, too, the inspired Scriptural circle must be drawn to include the whole of the Old Testament and, ultimately, the entire Bible.

Third, we must understand that, by their very nature, the proverbs are truth stripped to the essentials. They are seldom qualified, balanced by surrounding statements, or extensively defined. They are stripped down, stated, and left to stand – all with the goal of arresting our attention and engaging our minds.

A proverb is truth in its most concentrated form, and thus expects us to add Spirit-illuminated reflection to come to full understanding. A proverb is designed to be ‘unpacked’ through much meditation, comparison with life, and with other Scriptures. Murphy well says:  ‘The proverb’s declaratory nature catches our attention, but it also conceals, for it achieves only a slice of realty…. The truth of a saying – call it a partial truth – usually needs another saying to counterbalance it.’

Fourth, though Proverbs can appear simplistic to the uninformed reader, we must realize that Proverbs does not intend to present life as void of ambiguities. Consider the juxtaposition of the seemingly contradictory words of Proverbs 26:4-5:  ‘Do not answer a fool according to his folly, lest you also be like him. Answer a fool as his folly deserves, lest he be wise in his own eyes.’ The one who comes to Proverbs for simple answers requiring little thought will leave disappointed. We want to know, ‘Which is it!?  Do I answer him? Or do I not?’ Proverbs was written not merely to tell us what to do, but also to make us think. Pure pragmatists may find themselves frustrated, if unwilling to pursue reflective, Spirit-guided meditation.

Fifth, we do well to unearth the assumptions inherent to a proverb. Because a proverb is truth stripped to its irreducible minimum, all helpful qualifying and clarifying statements are implicit rather than explicit. Bullock helpfully observes: ‘The first hermeneutical principle is that the theological assumptions of the book are often more important than the textual context.’ For example, until we have carefully absorbed the instructions of Proverbs 1-9, we are not well positioned to rightly interpret the aphorisms of Proverbs 10ff. The theology of Proverbs 1-9 sets the stage for understanding the wisdom of the later sentence literature.  We must ask ourselves not only what is stated, but what is assumed about God, His relationship to, and role in, the world around us, and His purposes.

Sixth, while Proverbs is not highly prophetic in nature (though see Prov. 30:4 and the commentary there), it ultimately finds its fulfillment in Jesus Christ, who is the wisdom of God (Isa. 11:2; 1 Cor. 1:24, 30). ‘Lady wisdom’ in Proverbs 8 is probably best understood as a personification of a divine attribute for didactic purposes, rather than a reference to the second Person of the Trinity specifically (see the commentary at 8:1, 22). Yet, it is only as we embrace Christ through faith that we are then able to enter into the wisdom that His Spirit sets forth here. When Christ becomes our very life (Col. 3:4), we find Him to be the One ‘in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge’ (Col. 2:3). We should, therefore, look to the New Testament not only for clarification and balance, but for fulfillment of the wisdom so gloriously set forth in Proverbs.”


May 30, 2015

The Book of James as a Poem

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1 James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,
To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations:

I suspect that doing this would force you to delve more deeply into the text. Ray McClendon is on pastoral staff of a California church. Click the link below to read at source. (This really needs to be in a print publication somewhere; contact the author for details.)

P R O V E R B I A L – J A M E S

James has been referred to as the ‘Wisdom Literature of the New Testament’ by some theologians. The Psalms and the Proverbs are didactic poetry (among other things), and the Proverbs in particular are a collection of poetic yet practical statements about what Torah looks like when lived out in daily life and community. Since James ‘reads’ and ‘feels’ like Proverbs to some extent, (what the Gospel looks like when lived out in daily life and community), I wondered what James would look and sound like if rendered proverbially using modern English poetry. Perhaps the following result will make James a little more memorable for you and yield an insight or two. A word of caution. Poetry has its own rewards, but also its limitations. While poetry may be put to good use in a number of ways, this rendition is not meant to nor can it can ever replace James’ letter. What he meant by “God cannot be tempted neither does he tempt anyone” or “judges with evil motives” or “faith without works is dead” must be worked with carefully within his own letter and our larger understanding of God and his Story.

J A M E S – 1

When trials bring you hardship… fear…
Then count it joy and persevere.

When perseverance has its say,
You’ll be complete in every way.

Ask for wisdom and believe,
And from a generous God receive.

Ask in faith and do not doubt,
Like the waves, wind-tossed about.

The poor rejoice in exaltation,
The rich, in their humiliation.

The steadfast ones are blessed when down,
For when they rise they have their crown.

Don’t beat your own desire’s drums,
Then blame God when tempting comes.

Each good and perfect gift in sight,
Is given by the God of light.

Be slow to let your anger peak,
Be quick to hear and slow to speak.

Renounce all evil, be undeterred,
Receive with meekness the engrafted word.

Those casual hearers of the law,
Forget what they in mirrors saw.

Be doers of that word and never,
Just hearers who are lost forever.

Be steadfast in the law that frees,
In doing you’ll be blessed in these.

Are you a true, religious one?
Then guard your heart, control your tongue.

Pure religion and undefiled,
Serves widow and the orphan child.

Keep from the world, unstained and pure,
To show a faith sincere and sure.

J A M E S – 2

Brothers, show no preference for,
The wealthy rather than the poor.

An evil motive judges things,
Like shabby clothes and golden rings.

Dishonor not the poor God gave,
The kingdom to and faith to save.

The Law convicts us of our sin,
When we’re partial deep within.

A sin, by any other name,
Is still a sin and still a shame.

Live your life and have your say,
Knowing you’ll be judged someday.

A faith that will not share its bread,
Or other needed things… is dead.

If your faith is true indeed,
Your faith will work in time of need.

J A M E S – 3

Let not many aspire to teach,
It’s hard to practice what you preach.

We often stumble too and slip,
But they’re in control, who control their lip.

Like rudder and the bridle too,
The tongue will take control of you.

Though a flame of strife be small,
A fiery tongue can burn down all.

We bless our Father and our Lord,
Then curse our brethren with a word.

Church, these things should not be so.
What’s in your heart, the tongue will show.

Where selfishness and pride exist,
Every evil will persist.

Let conduct be informed by love,
And gentle wisdom from above.

Mercy and good fruit increase,
When righteousness is sown in peace.

J A M E S – 4

Arguing and fights the more,
Persist when passions go to war.

Hateful envy in all its strife,
Is rooted in the selfish life.

Friendship with the world is odd,
And creates hostility with God.

God jealously desires a heart of,
That Spirit whom he made us part of.

Resist the devil and he will flee,
Draw near to God, he’ll draw to thee.

Lament and mourn and shed a tear,
And let repentance be sincere.

Humility must fill your cup,
Then the Lord will lift you up.

Speak no evil of your brother,
For who are you to judge another?

When you make plans for living large,
Remember that the Lord’s in charge.

No matter what we’re aiming at,
By grace we will do this… or that…

To one who knows what’s right within,
But does it not, it is a sin.

J A M E S – 5

The faithless rich will weep one day,
For all their riches will decay.

The cries of those abused in fraud,
Will rise before Almighty God.

As farmers wait throughout the year,
Wait patient Church, the Lord is near.

Please, don’t murmur anymore,
The Lord is standing at the door.

The compassion of the Lord is sure,
He will help you to endure.

Remember Job, the prophets too.
For godly mercy covers you.

Let not judgment bring you low,
Let yes be yes and no be no.

Do you suffer much today?
Then bow before the Lord and pray.

Are you joyful? Count the ways
the Lord has blessed you. Sing His praise!

Are you sick? In need of care?
Call your elders for oil and prayer…

The anointing oil, the prayer of faith,
Will raise you up and keep you safe.

Confess your sins to one another,
Each praying for their sister… brother…

Pray for healing… rain or sun,
God always hears the righteous one.

Should any stray from Truth’s control,
Then turn them back and save their soul.

— James 1-5

© 2014 by Ray McClendon. All Rights Reserved.



July 17, 2014

Scripture Demands the Highest Work Ethic

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A year ago we introduced you to David Brumbelow, who blogs at West Coast Pastor.  This article appeared back in April; click the title to read at source.

The Christian Work Ethic

I went by the field of the lazy man, and by the vineyard of the man devoid of understanding; and there it was, all overgrown with thorns; its surface was covered with nettles; its stone wall was broken down. When I saw it, I considered it well; I looked on it and received instruction: A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest; so shall your poverty come like a prowler, and your need like an armed man. -Proverbs 24:30-34

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. -Exodus 20:8-9

A man had trouble sleeping. He told his doctor, “I sleep fine at night, and I sleep pretty well in the morning. But in the afternoon I just toss and turn.”

Perhaps we should all go back and read the Little Golden Book about The Little Red Hen.

Some responsibilities are yours alone. Some struggles you are going to have to deal with. Work hard; provide for your family; serve the Lord; give to church and to others. Also get some rest and fun along the way. Make this world a little better, because you were here.

For even when we were with you, we commanded you this: If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat. For we hear that there are some who walk among you in a disorderly manner, not working at all, but are busybodies. -2 Thessalonians 3:10-11

But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. -1 Timothy 5:8

See also: Leviticus 19:13; Deuteronomy 24:14-15; Proverbs 10:4; 12:24, 27; 13:4; 21:5; 23:21; 27:23; John 9:4; 1 Corinthians 9:7; 10:31; 1 Timothy 5:18.

The Message Bible restates the text:

One day I walked by the field of an old lazybones,
and then passed the vineyard of a lout;
They were overgrown with weeds,
thick with thistles, all the fences broken down.
I took a long look and pondered what I saw;
the fields preached me a sermon and I listened:
“A nap here, a nap there, a day off here, a day off there,
sit back, take it easy-do you know what comes next?
Just this: You can look forward to a dirt-poor life,
with poverty as your permanent houseguest!” MSG

At the blog of Palmerston Evangelical Missionary Church, Canadian Pastor Phil DesJardine writes the following. Click the title to read the article in full.

Proverbs 22-24: Eyes to see

…Proverbs 24:30-34 talks about a situation where the field of a slacker is observed by a passer by, a field overgrown with thorns and weeds, a vineyard with a broken wall destined to produce a poor crop.As a side note, the broken wall was significant because crops had to be protected from wandering vagabonds as well as wandering and wild livestock. It would be terrible for a vineyard to be picked over by a herd of deranged sheep on the lamb.  HA! (yes, I know how bad that was).

Then the author says this: “I SAW and took it to heart”

He had eyes to see. He perceived the state of the slackers field, he saw the connection between the state of the field and the lack of motivation by the owner, and he took that information into his heart and mind as informative about life and how to live it. He had eyes to see.

So many in life lack that ability to see situations in life and learn from them or hear words of correction and actually pay heed to them (the Proverbs has lots to say about the wise listening to correction, but the fool ignoring it).

Let me encourage you, make asking the Holy Spirit to give you eyes to see and ears to hear part of your prayer life. It is part of allowing the Spirit to speak, guide and correct us. You won’t be sorry!

Happy reading

  • What was familiar from this passage of scripture?  What was something I already knew?
  • What was new from this piece of scripture? What was something that really stood out for me that I have never paid attention to before?
  • Does Jesus appear in this passage of scripture?
  • How does this passage apply to my life, here and now?  Do I need to do anything about it?
  • What prayer would I offer up to God after reading this piece of scripture?