By lovingkindness and truth iniquity is atoned for,
And by the fear of the LORD one keeps away from evil.
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.
A tranquil heart is life to the body,
But passion is rottenness to the bones.
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.
He who withholds his rod hates his son,
But he who loves him disciplines him diligently.
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.
When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable,
But he who restrains his lips is wise.
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.
If you are wise, you are wise for yourself,
And if you scoff, you alone will bear it.
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.
For the ways of a man are before the eyes of the LORD,
And He watches all his paths.
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.
Watch over your heart with all diligence,
For from it [flow] the springs of life.
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.