An Eternal Perspective

Let not your heart envy sinners,
    but continue in the fear of the Lord all the day.
Surely there is a future,
    and your hope will not be cut off.

Proverbs 23:17-18

Here, the writer encourages his reader to take the long, eternal perspective. The natural tendency is to desire that which we can see. And in this case, the implication is to chase whatever it is that sinners have or are doing. Maybe it’s wealth. Prestige, perhaps. Whatever it is, the writer says, Don’t long for that! It’s here today, gone tomorrow. It’s temporal (see Ecclesiastes 1:3-4, Hebrews 11:24-25).

In contrast, we are encouraged to continue trusting, by faith, in the Lord.

The New Testament shares this same theme:

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

Hebrews 11:1

Hebrews 11 continues, “By faith …

  • we understand that the universe was created by the word of God
  • Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Can
  • Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death
  • Noah built an ark
  • Sarah received power to conceive
  • Abraham offered Isaac on the altar
  • Isaac invoked future blessings on Jacob and Esau
  • Jacob, while dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph
  • Moses left Egypt
  • the people crossed the Red Sea
  • the walls of Jericho fell …”

What is to be gained for those who fear the Lord rather than envy the sinner? A hope and future that will not be cut off (Proverbs 23:18).

Questions:

What do you envy about sinners, in general, or a specific sinner?

Why is that, whatever it is, more inviting than a future that will not be cut off?

There’s a reason …

A fool takes no pleasure in understanding,
but only in expressing his opinion. (Proverbs 18:2 ESV)

My elementary school report cards were often littered with X’s on the Excessive Talking line, so it was not infrequent that I was reminded, “There’s a reason God gave you only one mouth and two ears.” In other words, “you should listen at least twice as much as you talk.” In the south, perhaps other places as well, this phrase is used as a logical argument for why a kid (or an obnoxious adult) should demonstrate self-control and talk less, particularly in a group setting.

In Proverbs 18:2, the writer is pressing deeper than simply the matter of self-control. Here, he is suggesting that for the fool what can appear to be a self-control issue is actually a window into the heart. The reason his mouth works overtime is pride.

Beware strong silent types, the fool doesn’t have to be a Chatty Kathy. A quiet reserved person can also struggle with pride, engaging with others only when his/her thoughts or opinion can be shared.

Proverbs fleshes out this idea in other places by describing the wise person. For example, “A wise son hears his father’s instruction, but a scoffer does not listen to rebuke” (13:1 ESV). Or, “Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning” (9:9 ESV).

Whether we are loud or quiet, an important question to ask ourselves is, What do my conversations reveal about my heart? Am I a fool who is only interested in sharing my own opinion or knowledge? Or, do I demonstrate wisdom by being open to instruction and/or correction? Am I willing to learn from others?

When I am my own fool

One doesn’t need to get very far into the book of Proverbs to see the writer’s emphasis on the contrast between wisdom and foolishness. Transparency alert: When reading through Proverbs, the temptation for a Bible College/Seminary professor (at least this one!) is to see this student or that student playing the part of the fool … you know, a contemporary example of the proverb under consideration.

A better approach to Bible study is to let the text correct oneself long before it is read to correct others. When reading Proverbs, I should be asking questions like: In the situation described here, am I wise or foolish? How does the text describe my own actions or thoughts?

Today, the text reminded me of my own error of seeing others in the text before seeing myself.

Everyone who is arrogant in heart is an abomination to the Lord; be assured, he will not go unpunished. (Proverbs 16:5 ESV)

Reading the text and immediately seeing how others are the fool before considering my own heart and actions demonstrates a foolish arrogance that doesn’t please the Lord.

Sometimes, I’m my own fool.

A Parable: The College Student

And he spake many things to them in parables, saying, …

As he rode the bus to work each day, the young man scanned the car lots for the perfect car. He knew his life would be changed for the better if he could find the right car, so each day he scanned the car lots as the bus moved past them. Then it happened; one car caught his attention and he knew that car was the car he needed to get where he was going. He promised himself that he would get that car, and the next day he rang the bell, requesting the bus stop at the stop immediately in front of the car lot. Nervously, he descended the bus and approached the lot.

He knew he needed a car but now, he wasn’t sure if this was the right car. A salesman approached him as he circled the car, looking in the windows. “Want to look inside?” the salesman asked. “Sure,” came his nervous reply. “How does it run? Can I start it? Can I take it for a drive? What about a warranty? How many miles?” he nervously asked in rapid fire succession without giving the salesman a chance to answer. Finally, the salesman got a chance to reply, “Yes, yes, yes, yes and we’ll have to see the odometer. Let me get the keys.”

Buying this car was a big decision because the young man knew it would change his life. Sure, it would take some work to get it and keep it up, but whatever it took to get it would be worth it.

When the salesman returned with the keys, what the young man knew to be true was, in fact, proved to be true. It was the perfect car for him. He knew it would be, and it was!

After negotiating the price, which was not cheap, the young man agreed to the deal. “Let’s go inside and do the paperwork” the salesman said with a smile. Inside the office, the salesman began to gather a stack of papers that had to be completed in order to finalize the sale. As each document was pushed across the desk, the young man thought to himself, “This is silly. I don’t need to do all this stuff.” Once, he accidentally let his private thoughts slip out as he mumbled, “I don’t think I really need to do all this paperwork.” The salesman smiled a knowing smile and said, “I understand that it doesn’t make sense, but we’ve collected and organized the paperwork in a way that helps you get everything done, so that you can own the car. Trust me, I’ve done this a lot of times, and although it doesn’t make sense to you now, in the end, you will have the car you want.”

The young man haltingly went along with the salesman. He filled in most of the requested details … multiple times on multiple forms. He also signed most of the places marked by an X. He skipped some details here and there, since he knew those details couldn’t be that important. As the salesman looked over the papers, he noticed the deficiencies and asked the young man to correct those “oversights.” “Really?” the young man thought to himself. “This is getting overbearing; this stuff just isn’t necessary.” The salesman noticed how indignant the young man was becoming with each additional request. “If you haven’t ever done this before, I know it seems crazy, but believe me, every page of the paperwork is necessary … if you want the car.”

Almost finished, the salesman was required to explain in detail the terms of the loan, including the amount of the monthly payments, the due date for those payments, and the date of the final payment. On the 5th of each month, for the next 4 years, the loan required a payment of $427.38. “Sign here, accepting the terms of the loan, and we’re almost done” said the salesman. The young man scribbled his signature with the flair of a new car owner.

Then, the salesman said, “One more document. We need to complete the title transfer document so the car can be put in your name.” “Nah, I’m done. I’ve signed enough papers and I’ll make the payments on time” said the young man. With that he got up and  walked across the lot to the bus stop. He got on the next bus, paid his fare and went to work.

On the 5th day of each of the next 48 months, a check in the amount of $427.38 arrived at the bank. And five days a week for the next 40 years, the young man rode the bus past the car lot, remembering the car that he bought but never got.

For those with ears to hear, let them hear.

The Show Must Go On! “Where My Backup Singers?”

“The show must go on!” may have never been better illustrated than by Patti LaBelle at the 1996 Christmas Tree Lighting in Washington, DC as seen in the video below.

Watch the video, then continue reading.

Throughout the song she brought attention to the problems by mentioning them, rolling her eyes and making faces, humming rather than signing, and complaining. But, … She. Kept. Going.

Question: Was it better for Ms. LaBelle to continue on even though she didn’t have her backup singers, didn’t know the song, and had the wrong cue cards? Or, should she have taken a moment to get organized?

A couple questions should guide us to an answer.

1. What did she intend to accomplish?
2. Did she, in fact, accomplish her goal by continuing on with the show?

Although I don’t know Ms. LaBelle’s goal for that performance, I can’t imagine that the product was anywhere near what she had hoped. Thus, it seams reasonable to conclude that she might have benefited by taking a moment to reorganize. Of course for public presenters – whether in song or spoken word – it is embarrassing to stop when things don’t go as planned. That’s understandable. But, could stopping for a moment to better organize be more embarrassing than the outcome of Ms. LaBelle’s performance? There is a reason it’s on YouTube.