Atonement and Fear (Proverbs 16:6)

By lovingkindness and truth iniquity is atoned for,
And by the fear of the LORD one keeps away from evil.

Proverbs 16:6

There are two thoughts in this morning’s proverb.

First, atonement. I have heard atonement defined as at-one-ment, meaning that atoning for some wrong that is between myself and another results is our relationship being restored to its prior state. Solomon writes that it is by lovingkindness and truth iniquity is atoned for. Lovingkindness is often translated as mercy, but the term unpacks into something richer than just that. Yes, mercy is part of the concept, but the definitions of the word include kindness and goodness and faithfulness. Jesus’ death on the cross is what makes atonement for our wrongdoing and that death and the life that preceded it circumscribe the term lovingkindness. LAst thought on this before continuing: Jesus said that He is the Truth in John 14:6.

Second, the fear of the LORD and evil. Once my wrongs have been atoned for, there should be (and is) a desire not to do those things again. Solomon advises that fearing the LORD will steer me away from evil. And he is correct. If I understand; really just get Who and What God is, then I will have a healthy fear of Him. Elsewhere, it is written that the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom. Couple that with this and it becomes a comment on the beginning of wisdom being to stay away from evil. Lot of truth there.

How does this apply? Atonement is available to address my wrongdoing. God forgives. From there; starting at that place of being cleansed, I should fear the LORD with an appropriate fear and that fear should steer me away from further wrongdoing. If I am not being steered away from wrongdoing, then I may not fear the LORD the way I should.

Sound (Proverbs 14:30)

A tranquil heart is life to the body,
But passion is rottenness to the bones.

Proverbs 14:30

This proverb puzzled me when I read it. It sounded to very Buddhist; like passion is inherently bad. A problematic position when it was written of Jesus that zeal (passion) for God’s house consumed Him. God says in multiple places that He is jealous (same Hebrew word in both those verses and this one … I checked). So, there must be a right way and a wrong way to be zealous/jealous/passionate. There is a right way to be angry — Be angry and yet do not sin (Ephesians 4:26) — and a wrong way to be angry — letting the sun go down on your anger, same verse — so it is reasonable enough to conclude that there is a right and wrong way to be passionate/zealous. For many things that we drop solidly into the good or bad camp, God tells us that there is a right way to do it and a wrong way to do it. Passion is, I think, one of those things.

What is more, the context of the words that precede it give some insight into how it ought to be understood. The word used for tranquil could also (possibly better) be translated as sound, like the whole sound mind and body thing we hear every time someone makes a will in TV or movies. To be sound is to be intact; whole; not lacking anything necessary; healthy. Juxtapose that with the possibility that passion could also be rendered as jealousy or envy and you have a pretty strong case that the verse could probably better be rendered as:

A sound heart is life to the body,
But envy is rottenness to the bones

Anyone who has suffered from jealousy can bear out the truth of this proverb. Jealousy eats away at a person, undermining physical and mental health as well as friendships. By contrast, the person who is sound in the essence of who they are (heart), has none of the psychological or physiological problems that the envious person has. It is not that the person of sound heart is healthy as a horse at all times, but that the maladies precipitated by envy are not present. It is a warning with a promise; a warning that my heart impacts all of me and that jealousy is a cancer that will destroy me.

This verse is challenging. Marketers would like me to be discontent; not sound. Jealousy is one weapon in a large arsenal that they bring to bear in their attempts to get me to buy more stuff — whether I need it or not. On the other hand, being a sound person in the inner man means I can shake my head at those attempts and know that God provides absolutely everything I need. The world’s systems — of which marketing is only the most obvious example — push me to be unsound so that they can tell me what I need. God challenges me to be sound; complete; lacking nothing. And His challenge is valid, because He gives the challenge with a promise that He will supply all my need according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19). Will I be sound or envious? Will I worship the true and living God or the old Invidia? The choice is mine.

Discipline (Proverbs 13:24)

He who withholds his rod hates his son,
But he who loves him disciplines him diligently.

Proverbs 13:24

Some take this verse to mean that a child must receive corporal punishment for wrongdoing if a parent loves that child. The rod, I suspect, is a metaphor for discipline in general, not just corporal punishment. This seems to bear up as the following disciplines him diligently is translated literally as seeks him diligently with discipline. This makes sense, as we humans tend to be a mass of learned behaviors. We learn some things from our parents and others from our siblings (if we have any); some things from our friends and others from our adversaries. We learn from everyone and not everything we learn is worthy of brain space. A parent that loves their child will seek to strip away the muck that accumulates as we wander through life with other people. The loving parent is looking for the child they have seen at home; the good potential that they want to see realized. Being a father myself, this touches on a need for me to carefully observe my daughter and to recognize her good and Godly potential and to try to see that potential realized through discipline — discipline in my own life and discipline administered to my daughter.

More, this extends upward. God calls Himself our Father. This means that He, as the ultimate Loving Father, will [seek me] diligently with discipline. God will discipline me to bring out the potential for Godliness and good that He sees within me. In short, He will pursue the absolute best version of me and discipline will be the method that brings that out. It is my part to cooperate; to become disciplined in my walk with Him that I might, in turn, pursue righteousness.

Wisdom of Silence (Proverbs 10:19)

When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable,
But he who restrains his lips is wise.

Proverbs 10:19

This proverb challenges me. First, to keep this short. Second, to keep silent more.

I live in an age wherein communication is prized. We have social media and social networks. We tweet and post to our walls and Instagram things and make Vines and whatnot. We Skype and Facetime and all manner of other things. We share our lives in manners heretofore un-thought-of. We utter a terrible amount of words. Do we say anything? Moreover, is what we are saying righteous?

Before I speak, I should consider what Abraham Lincoln famously said (paraphrasing a verse from Proverbs, if memory serves), “It is better to keep silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.” Groucho Marx once quipped, “Before I speak, I have something important to say.” Sadly, there is a great deal of truth in that joke. I live in the midst of a people who do not, as Isaiah lamented, merely have unclean lips, but whose lips cannot seem to stop moving. And I am often the worst offender. I know better and continue to talk anyway.

Solomon notes something that I am wont to lose sight of: too much talk will bring transgression. James has a great deal to say about the sinfulness of the tongue and how proud it is. I need to hold my peace more often. Speak less. It will not make me sinless, but it cannot help but make me sin less.

Wise Choices (Proverbs 9:12)

If you are wise, you are wise for yourself,
And if you scoff, you alone will bear it.

Proverbs 9:12

There is something that I am wont to miss; something I tend to forget. Specifically, I find myself forgetting that my wise and foolish decisions ultimately come home to me.

This is not to say that my actions will not impact others. They often do. I have made foolish choices in my past and both I and others have had to live with the consequences. If I make foolish parenting choices, then my daughter and I must both deal with the consequences. If I make poor choices about how I conduct myself as a husband, then my wife shares in enduring the consequences with me. As a friend, a brother, a son, an employee — as any of the roles I fill in my life, folly impacts others. However, the only one consistently affected by a foolish lifestyle would be me. Likewise, the only one consistently affected by a wise lifestyle would be me. And that, I think, is what Solomon is getting at.

People will come and go in my life — even those who love me best — but I spend every moment of every day of my life with me. With that in mind, I cannot get away from the consequences of my choices. If I make wise choices, then it is likely I will not want to avoid the consequences of my choices. If I make foolish choices, then it is likely I will want to avoid those consequences.

What sort of choices am I making? This should be one of the persistent questions in my mind. If am wise, I am wise for myself. If foolish, then I alone will bear the totality of that folly.

God Sees (Proverbs 5:21)

For the ways of a man are before the eyes of the LORD,
And He watches all his paths.

Proverbs 5:21

A simple reminder to me this morning. God sees.

When I am doing what I ought to do and no one else pays any attention at all, God sees and smiles. He watches all [my] paths. In the end, any reward I want comes from His hand, so it is most important that He see the good things I do; the times when I am an obedient son.

When I am doing what I ought not to do and no one else seems to see or care, God both sees and cares for the ways of a man are before the eyes of the LORD. I cannot hide my wrongdoing from Him. I cannot shield my sins from His sight.

This morning; this very moment God sees everything I do. He always has and He always will.

One more thought: He also sees my heart. In addition to seeing everything I do, God also sees everything I plan and hope and purpose in my heart to do. If I have determined that I will be obedient and I get tripped up in that resolve, God knows that my failure was not what I intended. If I decide to do something wrong and make plans to bring it about, God knows those plans and sees whether or not they come to fruition. Regardless of whether my feet walk that path, God sees that my heart planned to go down it. I wrote in the past about string theory and how every decision either spins-off alternate realities or destroys those potential realities in favor of this one. If my life is the string then God is the Tailor or Weaver or what-have-you Who is outside the thread. More, if I have placed my thread; my life in God’s hand then He is the one Who now determines where that thread goes; where that life leads. From outside, God can see all the twists and turns and all the might-have-beens as well. He sees it all — all my paths. Even the ones I choose not to walk, for good or ill.

God sees. I need to remember that. I cannot hide anything from Him despite my desires to do so when I do wrong. I can also take comfort that no good thing done is ever missed by His gaze. No one else may see, but God does. Comfort in doing right and what will be a deterrent to doing wrong if I can keep it on my mind: God sees.

The Heart of the Issue (Proverbs 4:23)

Watch over your heart with all diligence,
For from it [flow] the springs of life.

Proverbs 4:23

The Bible has a great deal to say about the heart. The heart is declared to be deceitful, wicked, and unknowable (Jeremiah 17:9). The heart is also also said to be the source of our words (Matthew 12:34 and Luke 6:45). But here, Solomon writes that this is part of his father’s advice to him. David, Solomon’s father, was said to be a man after God’s own heart. With a recommendation like that, I am well served to take David’s advice to Solomon.

David tells Solomon to watch over [his] heart with all diligence. The words are a little richer in potential meaning than the English lets on. Looking through the concordance, “watch” is a good translation, but in a more archaic sense of the word. Think watchman more than watch television. It is an active thing; a vigil being stood. The “heart” can encompass more than a mere biomechanical blood pump and more than just the seat of emotions (think of the phrase “with all my heart”). The word encompasses the entire inner person, the will, the heart, the mind, and the understanding. We might better render “heart” as “the essence of who you are.” The last part stunned me a bit. It is derived from a word that carries both the meaning of a sentry post and a prison. The fascinating reality is that a prison keeps people out as much as keeping people in. The idea, given more scope by rummaging up the potential meanings of the words, is that I should wrap the essence of who and what I am in a protective structure — like a prison or guard post — and stand active sentry duty; keep active watch over it. In short, I need to be careful of what I let in. How do I do that? By being careful of what I let in — What do I read? What do I watch? What do I listen to? Who do I spend time talking and discussing ideas with? I have noticed that I struggle less with some temptations when my informational diet consists entirely of Bible and news and I spend my time with people who encourage me to walk closer with my God.

David’s answer, written down by Solomon, to why I should be so careful with my inner self is this: from it [flow] the springs of life. From out of the essence of who and what I am I will live. If I habitually lie then it is a safe bet that I am a liar in the inner man. If I regularly show kindness then it is an equally safe bet that God is working kindness into my character. My life reveals what is in that inner man. A pastor I sat under for some time was fond of saying that the heart of the issue is the issue of the heart. And he is correct. Whatever the issue; whatever the thing is that happens in my life, my response to it will be determined by what is in my inner self; what the essence of who I am is made of. If I have fed in a steady diet of God’s Word and fellowship with others who have built me up in faith and I have set myself to seek God out, then I will likely see a response in keeping with God’s will for me. If I have allowed in a steady diet of filth and muck and spent most of my time with folks who draw me away from obedience to God and not concerned myself with which way I am going, then I will likely see a very carnal response.

Kindness and Truth (Proverbs 3:3)

Do not let kindness and truth leave you;
Bind them around your neck,
Write them on the tablet of your heart.

Proverbs 3:3

The best-known and most often memorized verses in Proverbs three have to be verses five and six. While those verses are awesome, this verse really caught my attention this morning.

Solomon says that two things should not be allowed to leave me; two things should be kept as close as I can — kindness and truth. I could speculate about why these two things and not more, but it would only be speculation. Kindness, my concordance tells me, could also be translated as goodness or faithfulness. Rather than try to narrow the field to one answer to the “So which one is it?” question, I will choose to accept that it can mean all three. The word for truth pretty much means truth. So, I should be doing something with kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and truth. What?

Solomon gives three things I should do — technically one thing I should not and two that I should.

First, I should not allow kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and truth to leave me. These four are, by way of note, some of the most polite guests. If I make them even a little bit unwelcome, then they are heading for the door. And, because I am a fallen man, these four are guests in my nature. Fallen man is not, by nature, kind, good, faithful, and true. Fallen man is cruel, evil, faithless, and deceptive. Kindness, goodness, and faithfulness are, if memory serves, listed as part of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22. This means that kicking them out is kicking out the Holy Spirit. And He is sufficiently courteous to leave me to my own devices if that is what I really want. Jesus says in John 14:6 that He is the Truth. So, I need to cling to Jesus and the Holy Spirit and not do anything that would push them out of my life.

Second, Solomon says I should bind them around my neck. Interestingly, Jesus (Truth) says that His yoke is easy and His burden light (Matthew 11:30) and a yoke was worn over the shoulders on the neck. All of the things that I think about the Holy Spirit and things being wrapped around the neck are metaphors and not, to my recollection, in the scriptures, so I will leave those be. Of note, scarves in various forms have been around for pretty much ever and are as useful for warming the neck in cold conditions as for blocking harsh sunlight in sweltering conditions.

Third, Solomon says I should write them on the tablet of my heart. It is interesting to me that God said He would write His Law on the hearts of people (Hebrews 8:10) and that He desires truth in the inner man, i.e. the heart (Psalm 51:6). This part could go on for pages as Jesus is said to dwell within us as is the Holy Spirit. Truth and kindness and goodness and faithfulness take up residence within the believer in the Persons of Jesus and the Holy Spirit. In short, God enters into my heart and sets up shop.

Solomon’s instructions come with a promise in verse four. If I obey Solomon’s counsel then I will find favor and good repute with God and man.

I think that I should apply this as follows:

  • I need to watch my life for signs of goodness, kindness, faithfulness, and truth. So long as they are present, all is well.
  • I need to make sure that God is welcome in my heart. This means, in practical terms, that God should be free to talk to me whenever and however and about whatever He chooses and He needs to have carte blanche to rearrange or toss out entirely the things in my heart that displease Him.

The Fear of the LORD (Proverbs 1:7)

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge;
Fools despise wisdom and instruction.

Proverbs 1:7

I love this verse. It is a reminder that there is a healthy fear and that it leads somewhere. This verse is also a reminder to check myself if I find that I grow resentful of those whom God would use to instruct me.

First, the fear of the LORD. I think about this a great deal and write about it often. The short version of the conclusion I have reached on the subject is that to fear the LORD is similar to fearing a parent and should undergo the same progression from fear to love. A right and healthy parent-child dynamic gives the child fear of their parent only in doing wrong; in breaking the rules laid down by the parent. As a child, I had no fear at all of my parents when I was following the rules. And that is as it should be. My fear was grounded in doing wrong. So, too, my fear of the LORD is not a fear based in obedience but in disobedience. I have no reason to be afraid of God when I am doing as He says. That fear is the beginning of knowledge; of wisdom in part because the fear motivates to right conduct and right conduct shows the rewards for itself and begins to motivate of its own accord. It is like exercise. When I first begin exercising, it is because I know that I need to accomplish something — lower blood pressure or try to lose weight or some other such thing — but the energy and endorphins and all around rightness of physical activity is a reward unto itself and begins to motivate in a way that other motivators cannot. It is a decent analogy for obedience to God’s commands. I begin to obey out of fear or a sense of duty or of obligation and learn that obedience begets other good things. But the wisdom to recognize even this began with the fear of the LORD.

Second, the fool. The Bible has much to say about fools and rightly so. It is foolish to despise wisdom and instruction, yet there is a rather large portion of the population who do just that. For five years, I was a classroom teacher and in those five years I met with people who welcomed instruction and those who despised it. The Bible comes right out and calls those who despise it fools. Experience bears out the scriptures. Many and many a person who has despised instruction has ended poorly. While society likes to idolize individuals like Steve Jobs; people who seemingly despised instruction and yet became hugely successful, there is another side to the story that the vast majority of instruction-hating individuals do not know. Yes, people like Jobs dropped out or, like Lincoln, had very little education available to them. But Jobs and Lincoln had something else in common: they were both avid readers and self-directed learners. Neither hated instruction. Quite the opposite, both sought it out. They sought it in others’ writings.

What does all of this meandering text have to do with my day? Simply this: I must fear the LORD where obedience is not yet its own reward and obey out of love in those cases where I have learned the value of obedience. I must also not despise instruction. God may use odd instruments to teach me — he has used movies, novels, news blurbs, and snippets of song, as just a few examples.  When God teaches, I must learn, regardless of the method.

Choose to Praise (Psalm 150:6)

Let everything that has breath praise the LORD.

Psalm 150:6

The end of the book of Psalms. The beginning of my work week. And this morning’s thought is that everything with breath should praise the LORD.

The thought is straightforward and does not require more explanation, but it does require me to think a bit. There are no conditions noted in this psalm under which I should not praise the LORD. I am given a couple of rather extensive lists to draw from if I need inspiration regarding what to praise Him for — His mighty deeds (long list) and according to His excellent greatness (really long list). I am given a list of instruments, many of which are rather loud (one has loud in the name) with which to praise God — my body is included in the list, as verse four calls out dancing as a method of praise.

As I begin this work week, I am faced with the usual choice: To begrudge Monday its
Mondayness or to determine that I will praise God. I am no fan of Mondays — coming back from a weekend, any weekend, is challenging — but going back to work means I have work to which I may return. Not everyone can say that. Will I choose to focus on God and the good things God has given me and praise Him or will I focus on something that leads me to grumbling and complaining? The choice is my own and the choice I make will set the stage for today and the week to come.

This morning, I choose to praise God for Who He is and for the great things He has done.