Proverbs 29:1-27 – Discipline Yourself

Some people refuse to bend when someone corrects them. Eventually they will break, and there will be no one to repair the damage.

When the rulers are good, the people are happy. When the rulers are evil, the people complain.

A son who loves wisdom makes his father happy. One who wastes his money on prostitutes will lose his wealth.

A nation will be strong when it has a fair and just king. A nation will be weak when it has a king who is selfish and demands gifts.

If you give false praise to others in order to get what you want, you are only setting a trap for yourself.

Evil people are defeated by their sin, but good people will sing and be happy.

Good people want to do what is right for the poor, but the wicked don’t care.

Proud people who laugh at what is right cause problems that divide whole cities, but people who are wise are able to calm those who are angry.

If someone who is wise tries to settle a problem with a fool, the fool will argue and say stupid things, and they will never agree.

If you always try to be honest, murderers will hate you, but those who do what is right will want you to be their friend.

Fools are quick to express their anger, but wise people are patient and control themselves.

If a ruler listens to lies, all his officials will be evil.

In one way the poor and those who steal from them are the same—the Lord made them both.

If a king judges the poor fairly, he will rule for a long time.

Punishment and discipline can make children wise, but children who are never corrected will bring shame to their mother.

If the wicked are ruling the nation, sin will be everywhere, but those who live right will win in the end.

Correct your children whenever they are wrong. Then you will always be proud of them. They will never make you ashamed.

If a nation is not guided by God, the people will lose self-control, but the nation that obeys God’s law will be happy.

Servants will not learn a lesson if you only talk to them. They might understand you, but they will not obey.

There is more hope for a fool than for someone who speaks without thinking.

Give your servants everything they want, and they will learn to be wasteful.

An angry person causes arguments, and someone who is quick-tempered is guilty of many sins.

Your pride can bring you down. Humility will bring you honor.

You are your own worst enemy if you take part in a crime. You will not be able to tell the truth even when people threaten you.

Fear can be a trap, but if you trust in the Lord, you will be safe.

Many people want the friendship of a ruler, but the Lord is the only one who judges people fairly.

Good people think the wicked are disgusting, and the wicked feel disgust for those who are honest. (Easy to Read Version)

I’m not much one for binary definitions of either/or. I find both/and to be a better approach to most things. So, when it comes to the nature versus nurture debate, it seems confusing to apply the either/or. Children are shaped by both their nature, DNA, and ancestral lineage – and the nurturing (or lack thereof) provided by their parents, grandparents, and significant people in their lives.

Both nature and nurture influence children so that the way of the parent tends to be the way of the child. It is extremely difficult for kids to rise above traumatic, abusive, or neglectful parenting and be virtuous. Violence, greed, and misdirected anger are vices both inherited and learned.

Even in loving homes directed by good hearts, a child can fall into bad companionship leading to bad behavior. And added to the mix, we are all profoundly touched by the fall of humanity. Our disordered loves, unhealthy habits, and dubious actions easily rub off on others, especially kids.

This is why self-discipline is so very important. It needs constant attention. There are too many obstacles and too much at stake to ignore wisdom and slide into an undisciplined life. The biblical proverbs help us to focus our attention and our efforts in healthy directions so that we might contribute to the good of our families and our society.

Reverence and trust in the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. The self-controlled and self-disciplined life leads to spiritual prosperity, emotional buoyance, and a mentality of abundance. Selfishness, and the lack of proper boundaries, quickly degenerates into foolish behavior and adversely effects the family and society.

Any garden variety fool can bluster on and cause a raucous, being insensitive and shortsighted to the consequences of their words and behavior. Foolish people scoffing and belligerently offering their unsolicited opinions helps absolutely no one. Indeed, it seems the fools around us are a dime-a-dozen.

The security and stability of both home and society depend upon wise order. Such order, applied wisely and graciously, avoids the extremes of harsh discipline and lax correction. It takes wisdom to make sound decisions in finding the sweet spot between too much and not enough.

Holding people accountable for their words and behavior, and doing it without a critical spirit, is at the heart of godly living.

A great deal of self-discipline is to force ourselves, and allow the Lord to bend our will, to exercise faithfulness in a responsible, regular, and robust way over all those whom we nurture and care for – without succumbing to ramshackle improvising, as if spontaneity were our only tool.

The wise sayings of the biblical proverbs are to be our merciful guide, keeping us on the road of life, not falling into the ditch on either side.

May it be so to the glory of G-d, and the shalom of our family homes, faith communities, and societal institutions.

Proverbs 22:1-21 – Teach and Train the Children

Priest teaching children the catechism by Jules-Alexis Meunier, 1898

Choose a good reputation over great riches;
    being held in high esteem is better than silver or gold.

The rich and poor have this in common:
    The Lord made them both.

A prudent person foresees danger and takes precautions.
    The simpleton goes blindly on and suffers the consequences.

True humility and fear of the Lord
    lead to riches, honor, and long life.

Corrupt people walk a thorny, treacherous road;
    whoever values life will avoid it.

Direct your children onto the right path,
    and when they are older, they will not leave it.

Just as the rich rule the poor,
    so the borrower is servant to the lender.

Those who plant injustice will harvest disaster,
    and their reign of terror will come to an end.

Blessed are those who are generous,
    because they feed the poor.

Throw out the mocker, and fighting goes, too.
    Quarrels and insults will disappear.

Whoever loves a pure heart and gracious speech
    will have the king as a friend.

The Lord preserves those with knowledge,
    but he ruins the plans of the treacherous.

The lazy person claims, “There’s a lion out there!
    If I go outside, I might be killed!”

The mouth of an immoral woman is a dangerous trap;
    those who make the Lord angry will fall into it.

A youngster’s heart is filled with foolishness,
    but physical discipline will drive it far away.

A person who gets ahead by oppressing the poor
    or by showering gifts on the rich will end in poverty.

Listen to the words of the wise;
    apply your heart to my instruction.
For it is good to keep these sayings in your heart
    and always ready on your lips.
I am teaching you today—yes, you—
    so you will trust in the Lord.
I have written thirty sayings for you,
    filled with advice and knowledge.
In this way, you may know the truth
    and take an accurate report to those who sent you. (New Living Translation)

As a pastor, I have seen my share of parents broken over their particular son’s or daughter’s lifestyle and/or behavior. In some cases, the parents have a great deal of work to do with their own shortcomings. In many other scenarios, there are godly mothers and fathers experiencing the heartache of a wayward child through no real fault of their own. 

Yet, some of them feel tremendously guilty because of a famous (or infamous) verse tucked away in our Old Testament lesson for today, to train children in the way they should go, and when they are old, they won’t depart from it.

Keep in mind, there are many different literary genres in Holy Scripture. Narratives, parables, gospel, epistles, poetry, and even apocalyptic literature all occur in the Bible. The book of Proverbs is a collection of wisdom sayings. 

A proverb is a short pity statement of experiential truth. 

In other words, a proverb expresses a general truth in which, all things considered, a particular outcome will likely occur. Proverbs were never designed to be ironclad promises of how things always are or will be. Rather, they are meant to teach wisdom, to give guidance in how to apply reality to a range of life circumstances.

So, when it comes to directing, guiding, and training children, it cannot be claimed that if a parent does a certain set of practices or disciplines that the child will always come out living a certain way. Neither people, nor Scripture, operates in that manner. 

Biblical proverbs on parenting are designed to place emphasis on the necessity of intentional training and instructing children in the ways of God. And, more than likely, all things being equal, that training in the law of God will kick-in when the child is an adult, living on their own, needing wisdom to navigate a difficult world. Yet, remember, it is not a guarantee.

Even God, as the perfect parent, had rebellious children. 

Adam and Eve disobeyed and went their own way. The ancient Israelites, God’s people, were often fickle about their commitment and obedience to the God who consistently showed them steadfast love.

Proverbs encourage us to put significant effort into developing children to be responsible people who live into their full humanity. We teach, train, exhort, live by example, and discipline our kids. We do it all because we love them and seek to be faithful in our own faith commitments.

And we live with the hope that our maternal and paternal efforts are not in vain. So, it is good for parents, teachers, and all who work with kids to have a gracious, wise, well-thought-out plan for training those children. 

As we do so, we trust God, the One who ultimately does the needed renovations of the heart, and transformation of the mind.

Lord of life, you shape us in your image, and by your gracious gift the human family is increased. Grant to all parents everywhere the blessing of teaching and training children. Fill them with wisdom and love as they care for their family, so that they and their children may know and love you. Give us all, whether parents or not, wisdom so that we might always pray intelligently, live circumspectly, and speak lovingly to all the children in our lives, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Deuteronomy 11:18-21 – Leave a Spiritual Heritage

You shall put these words of mine in your heart and soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand and fix them as an emblem on your forehead. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates, so that your days and the days of your children may be multiplied in the land that the Lord swore to your ancestors to give them, as long as the heavens are above the earth. (New Revised Standard Version)

Remember God’s Law

The book of Deuteronomy is a farewell address by Moses to the Israelites. Moses was about to die. The Israelites were about to enter the Promised Land. So, Moses restated God’s law and called the people to remember all that God had done. He exhorted the people to communicate the law and their heritage to the next generations. If God’s Word and God’s ways are continually observed, then the people would prosper in the land.

The overarching command and call to the people is to love God with everything they have and everything they are. God’s people are to have a total commitment of mind, body, emotions, and spirit to the law of God. Each ability and gift, and all that makes a person a person, is to have its clear direction and orientation toward loving God through obeying God’s commands.

Talk About God’s Word

The love of God is meant to become a habit in the normal daily rhythms of life. And we are told how to do that:  impress God’s commands in the family; talk about them at home; talk about them when you are out and about; talk about them in the morning and the evening; even write them out and have them before you continually.  The entire day is an opportunity to love God by talking about God’s Word.

The privilege of discussing God’s Word doesn’t need to be forced or awkward. Yet, it is something which needs some intention and purpose to it. Most people like talking about things which are important to them. If someone is really into classic cars, he does not have to try and force a conversation about it because it just comes out of him. Because they go to car shows, maybe own a classic car that they are continually tinkering with, and read up on car magazines, a discussion about the subject is quite natural to them.

So, then, the best way to live into God’s law is to spend time with God through regular Bible reading, focused and earnest prayer, conversing with others, and taking advantage of opportunities to learn and know about God.  For the Christian, talking about Jesus is meant to be organic, springing from a heart which loves God and observes God’s law.

Discuss God with Family

When it comes to family, we don’t need to be an expert on God or the Bible. We just need a willingness and a curiosity to ask questions. Typically, when raising my girls, most of our conversations at the table centered around one question I would ask. We discussed it, talked about it, and mulled it over. Sometimes it was a deep theological question. At other times, it was a practical question. My wife and I often had others share a meal with us, so I usually asked our guests to tell their God story or participate with us in the question. If they were not Christian, I would ask them what they thought about Jesus, and why.

God loves it when we have conversation in the home around biblical teaching. God also loves it when we have discussions in public. Some Orthodox Jewish persons still to this day wear a “phylactery” on their foreheads – a small box with little Scripture passages inside of it – testifying to their value of the written Word.

I’m not sure that’s what Moses had in mind when he talked about binding God’s commands on the forehead and tying them as symbols on the hands. Much of the Hebrew language is metaphorical, speaking about concrete things as a way of communicating something intangible. So, I wonder if the big idea here is simply to be open about faith and love for God and the law.

Keep Tangible Reminders of Scripture

Although I don’t believe we have to take these verses quite so literally, there is, however, something to be said for keeping Holy Scripture in front of us, continually, to remember divine commands and promises. It’s good to write some Bible verses and place them on your bathroom mirror, the dash of your car, in your pants pocket, or anywhere you will see them on a regular basis. It’s a practical way of remembering to observe all that God has commanded.

Physical reminders of significant spiritual events can help us keep God’s Word in our lives. When the Israelites experienced God in some significant way, they built an altar. For example, when they approached the Jordan River to enter the land, God caused the water to stop flowing so that they could cross over. Here is what happen next: 

Joshua erected a monument, using the twelve stones that they had taken from the Jordan. And then he told the People of Israel, “In the days to come, when your children ask their fathers, ‘What are these stones doing here?’ tell your children this: ‘Israel crossed over this Jordan on dry ground.’

“Yes, God, your God, dried up the Jordan’s waters for you until you had crossed, just as God, your God, did at the Red Sea, which had dried up before us until we had crossed. This was so that everybody on earth would recognize how strong God’s rescuing hand is and so that you would hold God in solemn reverence always.” (Joshua 4:20-24, MSG)

Passing the spiritual baton and leaving a heritage for future generations is a sacred trust. The best way for that to happen is within the home, talking about God and Scripture as a daily routine, as well as freely conversing about spirituality in public.

Pass Faith to the Next Generation Church

Hopefully, God and Jesus get talked about in the church! There are several ways churches can impress God’s Word to younger generations: 

  1. Train them to lead.  Adults do not have to do everything in the church. Every generation can be empowered to engage in ministries on a regular basis. Everyone needs a mentor to do anything well – which means taking others with us along the journey of ministry so they can both shadow and participate.
  2. Empathize with young people and young families. That means avoiding criticism. It’s easy for older generations to be critical about millennials – their lack of involvement, or how they live their lives. They don’t need our criticism; they need our help. To have empathy means we recognize they’re just trying to do the best they can in a crazy world. A world, I might add, which is quite different than the one many of us grew up in. This is an extremely competitive world, requiring more energy and drive than previous generations. Being a student today is not like being a student when I was a kid.  Being a young parent is not the same today as it once was. Today’s family structure is completely changed; what we think of as a traditional family only makes up 7% of the American population. The stance to take on this is not to criticize, but to encourage and help.
  3. Take Jesus’ message seriously.  Discussion, conversation, questions, and mutual sharing are the ways Jesus developed his followers, and it is a way we can reach younger generations. Dialogue goes a lot further than just telling others what they should believe and do.
  4. Adopt a young person, or a young family. If you consider yourself part of an older generation, seriously consider taking a younger person or even family under your wing who is not related to you. Invite them to a meal, read these verses, and discuss them together. Commit to praying for them daily for a set period.
  5. Look for ways to support children, teens, and young families. Prioritizing younger generations means they don’t have to do everything our way. Rather, it means we will listen to what they need in loving God and building into their own kids’ lives.
  6. Be great neighbors. Discuss, teach, empower, and develop young people without criticism into good neighbors who engage their local community by addressing issues with great love and lots of compassion.

There are certainly more ways to engage. The idea here is that we think about how to embody the teaching we have in Deuteronomy by passing on God’s love and God’s Word. Where will you start? Is there a way that resonates with you?  If you are a younger generation, who are some people you believe could be helpful to you? Let’s work together to realize God’s Word springing to life!

Malachi 3:16-4:6 – Turning Hearts

Then those revering the Lord,
    each and every one, spoke among themselves.
        The Lord paid attention and listened to them.
Then a scroll of remembrance was written before the Lord
        about those revering the Lord,
            the ones meditating on his name.
On the day that I am preparing,
says the Lord of heavenly forces,
        they will be my special possession.
        I will spare them just as parents spare a child who serves them.
You will again distinguish between the righteous and the wicked,
        between those serving God and those not serving him.

Look, the day is coming,
        burning like an oven.
All the arrogant ones and all those doing evil will become straw.
    The coming day will burn them,
says the Lord of heavenly forces,
        leaving them neither root nor branch.
But the sun of righteousness will rise on those revering my name;
        healing will be in its wings
            so that you will go forth and jump about like calves in the stall.
You will crush the wicked;
        they will be like dust beneath the soles of your feet
            on the day that I am preparing,
says the Lord of heavenly forces.
Remember the Instruction from Moses, my servant,
        to whom I gave Instruction and rules for all Israel at Horeb.
Look, I am sending Elijah the prophet to you,
        before the great and terrifying day of the Lord arrives.
Turn the hearts of the parents to the children
    and the hearts of the children to their parents.
            Otherwise, I will come and strike the land with a curse. (CEB)

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, twenty-five million children in America — one out of every three — live in biological father-absent homes. The National Fatherhood Initiative reports that nine in ten American parents agree this is a “crisis.”  Consequently, there is a “father factor” in many social issues today. Children with involved fathers do better across every measure of child well-being than their peers in father-absent homes.

From a biblical perspective, the relationship between fathers and children is hugely important not only for the well-being of family and society, but for God’s people.  Fathers in ancient Israel were the primary instructors of God’s covenant to their children.  This responsibility was critical to ensuring success in Israel and obeying their God. 

The fact of the matter in the prophet Malachi’s day was this: The fathers blew it.  The last verse of the Old Testament ends on a note of coming judgment. However, that is not the end of the story because the prophet Elijah will come to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and vice versa.

John the Baptist, Jesus said, was the Elijah to come:

From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been subjected to violence, and violent people have been raiding it. For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John. And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come. Whoever has ears, let them hear. (Matthew 11:12-15, NIV)

In the Christian tradition, Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s covenant promises to the people. Therefore, fathers who follow Jesus have a sacred responsibility to gently guide their kids to Christ. It is important for Christian dads to take up the mantle of teaching children the ways of God especially as expressed by Jesus.  

God is on a mission of restoration, and a good place to begin is with restoring relationships between fathers and children. In fact, it behooves all fathers to step back and slow down enough to consider what the nature of their family relationships are really like – taking action to instruct kids in both word and deed.

The word catechism derives from the Greek language and means “instruction.” Ever since the start of the Protestant Reformation, learning about God has often taken the form of catechetical teaching. Catechisms vary in length with a pedagogical question and answer format. Typically included are explanations on the Apostle’s Creed, the Ten Commandments, and the Lord’s Prayer.

Question and answer 104 of the Reformed Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, says this:

Q. What is God’s will for you in the fifth commandment?

A. That I honor, love, and be loyal to my father and mother and all those in authority over me; that I submit myself with proper obedience to all their good teaching and discipline; and also that I be patient with their failings – for through them God chooses to rule us.

Here is a simple observation: Children cannot obey what they have not been taught. Underpinning all submission and obedience of both divine and human authority is the basic assumption that parents will instruct their children in the way of sound theology, biblical ethics, and religious piety.

What is more, we are all spiritual fathers and mothers to a host of children in our sphere of influence. This is a foundational way of relating to one another, and so, deliberate intention and effort needs to be placed here. Otherwise, there is religious decline with neither social nor familial cohesion.

So, let us love one another through careful training, effective teaching, and gracious tutoring so that righteousness will shine like a cloudless dawn and rise to warm the world with the love of God.

Gracious God, thank you for the gift of children.  Teach me your ways of grace so that I might pass them on to children in the merciful name of Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.