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 3:5-12 – Choose Wisely

fork in the road
“The choice to make good choices is the best choice you can choose. Fail to make that choice and on most choices you will lose.” ― Ryan Lilly

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.

Do not be wise in your own eyes;
fear the Lord and shun evil.
This will bring health to your body
and nourishment to your bones.

Honor the Lord with your wealth,
with the first fruits of all your crops;
then your barns will be filled to overflowing,
and your vats will brim over with new wine.

My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline,
and do not resent his rebuke,
because the Lord disciplines those he loves,
as a father the son he delights in. (NIV)

The book of Proverbs is a collection of short pithy statements based in experiential truth. In other words, they are wisdom sayings. Wisdom is a gradual accumulation of understanding over time with a combination of observation and practice. The Teacher highlights the wisdom needed to navigate life. It is a bit like learning the basic laws of the universe such as: Respect the force of gravity by not walking off the roof of your house. Wisdom pays attention and applies understanding to reality. Otherwise, you will find you have a broken life.

Notice the realities we need to respect from today’s verses: God, God’s guidance, God’s honor, God’s discipline. The wise response to the existence of these realities is trust, submission, reverence, and acceptance. In contrast, a foolish response to reality is pride, avarice, and hate.

Both wisdom and foolishness are seen for what they are through their consequences.

The wise person, having been taught a respect for God and the ways of grace, will most likely have an experience of guidance, health, abundance, and love. The fool who ignores divine counsel will probably experience misplaced trust, health issues, short-sighted financial decisions, and cruddy attitudes. All things being equal, the wise person who deliberately and carefully applies knowledge and understanding to life will have an abundant spirit full of satisfaction – whereas the fool who improvises everything will struggle to live in a small world of holistic poverty and want.

“You can’t choose your potential, but you can choose to fulfill it.” – Theodore Roosevelt  

The gist of the Old Testament lesson for today is that one cannot live as an island. We all need to practice consultation and collaboration to achieve a good life. Being both instructed and corrected are necessary elements to obtaining the good life. To spurn both divine and human connections in favor of radical personal independence is plain old foolish and leads to a lousy life. In short, the fool incessantly airs opinions with useless sophistry to an empty room; and, the sage is an observant student to universal rhythms and has learned the timing of proper words and of silence.

I am going to state this all in a different way:

Relying on God and others through making and keeping promises to one another is the basis of a solid community and a gratifying personal life.

Relying merely on one’s self is a one-way road to spiritual pain and emotional damage, not to mention physical illness and financial scarcity. Fools always think they know best. Sages always know better than that.

The book of Proverbs is a presentation, a dialectic, a contrast and a setting forth of two ways of approaching how to live in the world: foolishness or wisdom; independence or interdependence; cognitive pride or mental humility; negligence of evidence-based research or consultation through books, literature, and reading; exploitation of resources or submission to the natural laws and rhythms of the land; holding-on with clenched fist or generosity with open hand; Grinch-like attitudes or God-like dispositions; incessant criticism or heartfelt tribute; blame-shifts or recognition of other’s contributions; shame or vulnerability; resistance to correction or acceptance of discipline; hate or love; judgment or grace – there is a fork in the road and we must choose which way to go.

Choose wisely, my friend.

Almighty God, in Christ you make all things new: Transform the poverty of our nature by the riches of your grace; and, in the renewal of our lives make known your heavenly glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.