Proverbs 30:1-10 – Live Wisely and without Envy

These are the solemn words of Agur son of Jakeh:

    “God is not with me, God is not with me,
    and I am helpless.
I am more like an animal than a human being;
    I do not have the sense we humans should have.
I have never learned any wisdom,
    and I know nothing at all about God.
Have any ever mastered heavenly knowledge?
    Have any ever caught the wind in their hands?
    Or wrapped up water in a piece of cloth?
    Or fixed the boundaries of the earth?
Who are they, if you know? Who are their children?

“God keeps every promise he makes. He is like a shield for all who seek his protection. If you claim that he said something that he never said, he will reprimand you and show that you are a liar.”

I ask you, God, to let me have two things before I die: keep me from lying and let me be neither rich nor poor. So, give me only as much food as I need. If I have more, I might say that I do not need you. But if I am poor, I might steal and bring disgrace on my God.

Never criticize servants to their master. You will be cursed and suffer for it. (Good News Translation)

These are the raw expressions of a man who has awareness of his own envious nature. He realizes his profound lack of wisdom. The man, Agur, discerns how helpless and pathetic he really is, apart from wise living.

The wise person knows that a heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones. Possessing too much or too little tends to awaken the eye of envy within us. Agur wants to avoid thinking that people, even God, owes him. He is concerned he might slip into the disposition of what the Lord and others can do for him, rather than vice versa.

“The secret of success is that it is not the absence of failure, but the absence of envy.”

Herodotus

Today, envy manifests itself in moving-on to another church, or friendship, or marriage, or job when perceived needs and wants are not met. Certainly, ties need to be severed in the case of abusive treatment. Yet, when we simply do not like something, and aspire to more and more hoarding of emotional and spiritual resources, there is little to no awareness of the shadowy places in our hearts.

Perhaps, through the difficulty, the Lord was attempting to reveal something important to us or working to bring about positive transformation. However, we bailed from the situation too quickly, not wanting to deal with the pain or inconvenience of it all. And, all the while, our real motivations remain hidden and unaddressed.

It is necessary to see envy for what it is – not just a common predilection everyone has – but a malady of believing I deserve things no one is giving me. It’s the age old endemic problem, much like Adam and Eve’s original sin, of grabbing a forbidden fruit in the belief G-d is not providing everything I need. And we then cannot, or will not, see all the vast resources and blessings already possessed.

Gratitude is a spiritual practice, when engrafted into a daily spiritual walk, provides a strong antidote to keeping envy at bay. Instead of wondering why G-d is not blessing my life and work in ways I think it should happen, perhaps we ought to identify and count the blessings we already possess and enjoy. 

Some of the greatest joys around us are the simple pleasures of everyday life – holding and sipping a hot cup of coffee; a quick kiss good-bye to my spouse on the way out the door; the opportunity to curl up with a good book on a rainy day; these and many more are blessings given to us by a heavenly Father who cares for us deeply.

“Gratitude turns what we have into enough.”

Aesop

It might be a good thing to spend some intentional time saying and/or writing out many of the blessings currently existing in your life. 

For example, rather than wishing a loved one would not have to endure disease or surgery and envying healthy people, rejoice that he/she is with you, that you enjoy one another’s love and companionship, whether it is in times of health or in seasons of illness.

And instead of envying the rich or worrying about becoming poor, give thanks for this current place in your life. Simple thanksgiving to G-d for every meal, each possession obtained, and even all things lost forever, fortifies the spirit for resilience over the long haul of life.

Much of our life on this earth comes down to mystery. We simply do not know, and are not privy, to the myriad ways G-d is working in the world. We may never know why we must face and deal with our particular and personal pains, disappointments, and sorrows.

So, when we pray, much like Agur, it might be wise to ask for continual help with never-ending problems, rather than constantly praying for deliverance from unwanted situations. It is best we pray as Jesus taught us saying, “Give us this day our daily bread.” (Matthew 6:11)

“I’ve learned by now to be quite content whatever my circumstances. I’m just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little. I’ve found the recipe for being happy whether full or hungry, hands full or hands empty. Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am.”

The Apostle Paul (Philippians 4:11-13, MSG)

Wise persons know the frailty of their own hearts. Prayer, for them, is an organic practice arising from vulnerable and forthright discussions with G-d about doubt and disbelief. Indeed, people come to know the Lord not through speculating or imposing their own personality on G-d but by daily calling upon the Divine Being for practical help at the neediest points of life.

Blessed Lord, take me to the place where I am saved from my pride and arrogance and humility takes center stage, where I’m lifting up clean hands and a pure heart to you. Take me to the place where I’m no longer looking at the mountains I face but looking down upon them, where I can clearly see, and my decisions are flooded with your light, truth and justice. I bend my knee and receive your truth. I open my ears to receive your counsel. I open my heart to receive your eternal wisdom. Amen.

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.

Proverbs 8:32-9:6 – Listen to Lady Wisdom

Sophia (Divine Wisdom) by Mary Plaster

Pay attention, my children!
    Follow my advice,
    and you will be happy.
Listen carefully
to my instructions,
    and you will be wise.

Come to my home each day
and listen to me.
    You will find happiness.
By finding me, you find life,
    and the Lord will be pleased
    with you.
But if you don’t find me,
    you hurt only yourself,
    and if you hate me,
    you are in love with death.

Wisdom has built her house
    with its seven columns.
She has prepared the meat
and set out the wine.
    Her feast is ready.

She has sent her servant women
    to announce her invitation
    from the highest hills:
“Everyone who is ignorant
    or foolish is invited!
    All of you are welcome
    to my meat and wine.
If you want to live,
    give up your foolishness
    and let understanding
    guide your steps.” (Contemporary English Version)

“The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.”

Socrates

Know-it-all’s don’t pursue wisdom. They ignorantly believe they already know what’s best about just about everything. Yet their prideful stance betrays only foolishness.

The truth is that wisdom is a skill to be developed. It takes time, patience, humility, grace, trial-and-error, action, reflection, and, most of all, a teachable spirit.

“Wisdom is not a product of schooling but of the lifelong attempt to acquire it.”

Albert Einstein

To be blessed is to carefully graft wisdom into one’s daily life. To go about life with meaning, humility, and confidence are the unmistakable evidence of wisdom’s work within a person. It would be difficult to overstate the great importance of wisdom. Indeed, there is no such thing as too much of it.

The wisdom literature of the Old Testament Proverbs contrasts two approaches to life, personified in the book as Lady Folly and Lady Wisdom. Lady Folly relies on clandestine encounters, secrets, and seduction in promising satisfaction and a happy life. Yet, in the end, imbibing her drink poisons the soul and kills the spirit.

Conversely, Lady Wisdom operates openly and in the daylight. She gives a clarion invitation to a genuinely good life and persuades others, without manipulation, to feast at her banquet. Eating from Lady Wisdom’s table is open to all, both the simple and the sage. She offers a perspective which brings insight and clarity to confusing situations and bewildering circumstances. Lady Wisdom sets up a person for a blessed life.

“A man has made at least a start on discovering the meaning of human life when he plants shade trees under which he knows full well he will never sit.”

D. Elton Trueblood

Perhaps an illustration may assist. The COVID-19 vaccination is available. It has proven to work. The clarion call has gone out. Listen carefully, get vaccinated, practice basic human kindness through masking and proper social distancing – and there will be life. Lady Wisdom is open about the process and the procedure for health.

However, another calls goes out, as well. The vaccine is not safe. It is an attempt to control. We are mere pawns in a politician’s game. The statistics on those infected are skewed. Come, drink deeply of freedom and exercise your right to refuse medical treatment. After all, if it was so safe, why is there so much talk about its safety, to convince people of its efficacy? Lady Folly has set her trap.

Foolishness relies on manipulating emotions, making false comparisons, and promising happiness without a pathway to get there. It sets up the logical fallacy of the Strawman, misrepresenting wisdom’s argument to make it easier to attack. Lady Folly is a simpleton who makes judgments without reasoning.

Lady Wisdom invites people to consult, collaborate, converse, and cooperate with well-worn bodies of teaching passed down through the ages – to drink deeply and eat heartily of truth so as to apply cogent applications to life’s most vexing issues.

“Discipline is wisdom and vice versa.”

M. Scott Peck

You see, it is eating and drinking at wisdom’s table which brings enduring patience, proper perspective, needed perseverance, and satisfying provision for life. Impatience, narrow-mindedness, lack of action because of petty squabbling, and ignorance, are the sad results of folly’s empty promises. They only lead to death.

Wisdom can only be acquired through making daily routine decisions of faith and patience, of putting one foot in front of the other in a slow process over time. In contrast, foolishness is just so because it circumvents time and process and speaks of deliverance and happiness now, right now, without all the fuss and hardship.

So, then, in our current social and economic climate; in our world dominated with the effects of pandemic; in our own personal lives; just what is Lady Folly barking at us about? And Lady Wisdom inviting us to?…

Your answer and your response just might be the difference between life and death.

Thank you, Wise God, for being present, available, and inviting me to approach you in my times of need. Thank you for bending your gracious ear to listen and to care. There are times I feel weak, helpless, even afraid. Yet, I cling to the knowledge that God is with me. I know that you are Lord, and I am not. I know that you hold all situations in your good strong hands. Therefore, I trust you and I trust the process you have me undergoing to become wise and just. I ask for strength and wisdom so that I might endure and handle everything in a way that will bless both you and the world; through Jesus Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit I pray. Amen.