Sunday, March 24, 2013

Proverbs 11: The Fruit of the Righteous is a Tree of Life

Prov 11:3 The integrity of the upright guides them, but the unfaithful are destroyed by their duplicity.
Prov 11:5 The righteousness of the blameless makes a straight way for them, but the wicked are brought down by their own wickedness.
Prov 11:13 A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy man keeps a secret.
Prov 11:25 A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed.
Prov 11:30 The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and he who wins souls is wise.

There is no particular theme in the way Solomon's proverbs are listed, except the obvious parallelism which contrasts the "righteous" with the "wicked" separated by the conjunction "but". So the parallelism goes this way: "The righteous is.... but... the wicked is.... So, we may see Proverbs as a study in contrast between two types of people represented by two ways of life - a life of moral integrity and a life of moral compromise. The righteous produces good fruits and the wicked produces evil fruits. Proverbs 11 continues this theme of comparing and contrasting the righteous with the wicked. Today, we will look at how the righteous are described in order to identify some of their fruits.
  • Integrity (v.3 "The integrity of the upright guides them"): Oxford dictionary defines integrity as the "quality of being honest and having strong moral principles, moral uprightness." Another dictionary defines integrity as the "steadfast adherence to a strict moral or ethical code." However we define the word, it's the moral quality that undergirds integrity. The Latin root of this word (integer) suggests wholeness. Other English words with the same root are the mathematical integers, which are "whole numbers" as opposed to mathematical "fractions", which are "incomplete". So, integrity suggests that there is consistency in all of life - same adherence to ethical and moral principles in our private and public life, both personal and professional, spiritual and secular. Interestingly, there are only three occurrences of this word in the NT, two of which came from Jesus' enemies. And their definition of integrity is quite insightful: "Teacher, we know you are a man of integrity. You aren't swayed by men, because you pay no attention to who they are; but you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth" (Mark 12:14). A man of integrity is someone whose lifestyle is consistent with the truth found in God's Word. 
  • Blameless (v.5 "The righteousness of the blameless makes a straight way for them"): The word does not imply sinless but free from blameworthy actions. Oxford dictionary defines blameless as "innocent of wrongdoing". Blameless suggests we are not guilty of any moral transgression. In contrast to integrity, the word "blameless" is used many times in the NT. Examples:
    Ephesians 1:4 "For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight."
    1 Thess 5:23 "May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ."
    Titus 1:6 "An elder must be blameless, the husband of but one wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient."
  • Trustworthy (v.13 "a trustworthy man keeps a secret"): Being trustworthy is now recognized as the fundamental attribute of leadership - whether in the churches, corporations or in governmental organizations. The first two attributes of integrity and blameless are pre-requisites to this third quality of being trustworthy. Once we lose our followers' trust, we cannot command their respect. Some followers blindly trust their leaders and that is not good.   A trustworthy person is one who is transparent and accountable to his followers. There are no secret agenda or skeletons in the cupboard. What you see is what you get. Jesus states that this quality is necessary for being entrusted with greater responsibility: "So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else's property, who will give you property of your own?" (Luke 16:11-12). Paul describes himself as "trustworthy" when he gives a certain command about marriage and singleness: "Now about virgins: I have no command from the Lord, but I give a judgment as one who by the Lord's mercy is trustworthy" (1 Cor 7:25). If we want to be used in the ministry for the Lord, we have to be found to be trustworthy in small matters. Only then will God entrust us with greater responsibilities.
  • Generous (v.25 "A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed."): Generosity is the practical expression of God's gracious character--it's marked by giving to those in need, especially to the poor. When the righteous is generous with God's blessings, he himself will be blessed: "he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed." When Paul wanted to encourage the Ephesian elders to continue to be generous in their ministry to the weak, he said: "In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: 'It is more blessed to give than to receive'" (Acts 20:35).
There are many more attributes of the righteous we can pick out from Proverbs 10-11. But these key ones are good starters to help us walk in the ways of wisdom. However, in Proverbs 11:30, we read of the ultimate attribute of the  righteous life--they are like the tree of life in Eden. People who know them will find eternal life in Jesus Christ: "The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and he who wins souls is wise" (v.30).

Father, help us never to forget to win souls for whom You sent Your Son to die on the Cross. Give us a heart that is generous to want to see others come into Your eternal kingdom. Amen.

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