Saturday, March 23, 2013

Proverbs 10: Character, Choices & Consequences

Prov 10:1-12 The proverbs of Solomon:
A wise son brings joy to his father,but a foolish son grief to his mother. 
Ill-gotten treasures are of no value,but righteousness delivers from death. 
The Lord does not let the righteous go hungry but he thwarts the craving of the wicked. 
Lazy hands make a man poor,but diligent hands bring wealth. 
He who gathers crops in summer is a wise son, but he who sleeps during harvest is a disgraceful son. 
Blessings crown the head of the righteous, but violence overwhelms the mouth of the wicked.  
The memory of the righteous will be a blessing, but the name of the wicked will rot. 
The wise in heart accept commands,but a chattering fool comes to ruin. 
The man of integrity walks securely, but he who takes crooked paths will be found out. 
He who winks maliciously causes grief, and a chattering fool comes to ruin. 
The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life,but violence overwhelms the mouth of the wicked. 
Hatred stirs up dissension,but love covers over all wrongs. 

From this chapter (10:1) till chapter 22 (22.16) is the first collections of 375 proverbs known as the "proverbs of Solomon". These are pithy sayings (aphorisms) that are derived from observations of life. They are not revelatory truths but commonsensical principles. These principles are organized around a few themes:
  • Cause and Effect: We may also call these proverbs the laws of cause and effect. These natural laws are applicable to all humans, whether believers or non-believers, whether under the new or old dispensation or no dispensation at all. They are generic truths and so apply to all people: Examples:
    "Lazy hands make a man poor, but diligent hands bring wealth"
    "A wise son brings joy to his father, but a foolish son grief to his mother."
    "The man of integrity walks securely, but he who takes crooked paths will be found out."
    "Hatred stirs up dissension, but love covers over all wrongs."
    "He who heeds discipline shows the way to life, but whoever ignores correction leads others astray."

    A believer cannot claim exemption from these natural laws: for example, a Christian student who has not prepared at all for an examination will fail, no matter how desperately he may pray if he does not have the pre-requisite knowledge to answer the examination questions.
  • Promises & Warnings: The second group of Proverbs consists of promises for the wise and warnings for the foolish. Examples:
    "The Lord does not let the righteous go hungry but he thwarts the craving of the wicked."
    "Blessings crown the head of the righteous, but violence overwhelms the mouth of the wicked."
    "Wise men store up knowledge, but the mouth of a fool invites ruin."
    "The wages of the righteous bring them life, but the income of the wicked brings them punishment."
    "The blessing of the Lord brings wealth, and he adds no trouble to it."

    These promises apply even to non-believers because the Lord rewards all who seeks to do what is right according to their own conscience.
  • Character and Conduct: These proverbs describe the contrasting character and conduct of the wise and the foolish. Examples:
    "The memory of the righteous will be a blessing, but the name of the wicked will rot."
    "The wise in heart accept commands, but a chattering fool comes to ruin."
    "He who winks maliciously causes grief, and a chattering fool comes to ruin."
    "The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life, but violence overwhelms the mouth of the wicked."
    "Wisdom is found on the lips of the discerning, but a rod is for the back of him who lacks judgment."
    "The wealth of the rich is their fortified city, but poverty is the ruin of the poor."
    "He who conceals his hatred has lying lips, and whoever spreads slander is a fool."
    "When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise."
    "The tongue of the righteous is choice silver, but the heart of the wicked is of little value."
    "The lips of the righteous nourish many, but fools die for lack of judgment"

    These proverbs does not spell out consequences of our choices or promises of blessings but contrast wise and foolish conduct arising from their character.
For evangelical Christians, the focus of Proverbs on this-worldly success may seem to go against Jesus and Paul's warning against too much focus on material success. For examples, Jesus gives the following warnings:
  • Matthew 6:19-21 "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" 
  • Matthew 6:24: "No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money."
Similarly, Paul gives specific warning to those who aspire to be rich in this world:
  • 1 Tim 6:9-10 "People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs."
  • 1 Tim 6:17-18 "Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share."
Someone suggested that if I want to preach prosperity, I should go to the Old Testament; if I want to preach grace, I should go to the New Testament. It's hard to preach prosperity from the New Testament because of Jesus' and Paul's emphasis on cross-bearing, viz., self-denial and self-sacrifice. So is the Proverbs irrelevant for Christians, since it focuses too much on attaining this-worldly success, in contrast to Jesus and Paul (including Peter, James, John) who de-emphasize acquiring this-worldly treasures but instead call Christians to focus on eternal treasures? 

In other words, is the OT focus on earthly wealth and riches based on Law whereas the NT focus on heavenly wealth and riches based on Grace?

My position is this: Proverbs are general principles of life -- and even Christians who obey them will also experience success in terms of material wealth and social uplift (which is the fact in Singapore, no matter what their churches teach--prosperity or discipleship). However, Jesus and Paul's warning remains valid: over-preoccupation with prosperity (whether as individuals or churches) can make the believers arrogant and open themselves to temptations of covetousness which will ultimately undermine their faith in God.

Father, we thank You that the natural laws of consequences of good and bad choices affect believers and non-believers alike. Help us to seek the righteous character rather than its rewards, for we know that righteousness does not always guarantee promotion but will also bring persecution. Amen. 

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