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COMMENTARY ON THE BOOK OF PROVERBS: PART TWENTY-THREE

SERMON PRESENTED ON 01-21-17

       Last time we reviewed Proverbs 21:4, 14 and 22:2.  We discussed how darkness and light are used in Scripture to illustrate wickedness versus righteousness. We looked at the matter of bribery and touched on the issue of predestination and freewill.   Today we will continue in Proverbs 22 beginning with verse 13.

       Proverbs 22:13: The sluggard says, "There is a lion outside!" or, "I will be murdered in the streets!"

       Proverbs 26:13: The sluggard says, "There is a lion in the road, a fierce lion roaming the streets!"

       While it is apparent Solomon is using “a lion in the street” in a figurative manner to say a sluggard is one who won’t do anything because of real or imaged obstacles, with today’s crime rate being what it is, the sluggard may have a point in expressing fear about there being a lion the street. While you are not going to see an actual lion in the street as a rule, a lion in the street can be a metaphor for danger.  Some times you my see an actual lion in the street.

       In today’s world there often is a lion in the street, figuratively speaking. People are being robbed and killed while simply walking down the street.  One has to consider whether it is safe to venture outside the home.  Even staying in the home is risky as there have been an increasing number of home robberies where criminals invade the home in broad daylight while the residents are in the house. 

       I don’t now what the crime rate was in Solomon’s day but I suspect it was not like we presently are experiencing in our day.  Solomon was a king and as a king would have ruled autocratically.  Criminal activity would not have been tolerated and most such activity would have brought swift punishment.  To the extent Solomon and his government was following the laws of the Mosaic Covenant, lawless behavior that in our day is tolerated and allowed to fester would have met with speedy definitive and decisive action under the Law of Moses which was actually the law of God.  Here is a small sample of the administration of justice under the Old Covenant. 

       Exodus 21:14-17: If a man schemes and kills another man deliberately, take him away from my altar and put him to death. "Anyone who attacks his father or his mother must be put to death.  "Anyone who kidnaps another and either sells him or still has him when he is caught must be put to death.  "Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.

       In our day if someone kills another person there generally is a long trial and if found guilty, such person is sentenced to prison for various lengths of time. We, the tax payer, end up supporting that person and paying for the increasingly greater amities that prisons are providing for convicted criminals.  In the rare case where a convicted murderer is sentenced to death, such person is often allowed to live for years on so called death row.  

       During the evening of June 17, 2015, a young man by the name of Dylann Roof entered the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston South Caroline      where church members were worshiping and having a Bible study.  He systematically shot and killed nine people.  In Solomon’s day such an atrocity would have been met with swift justice and Mr. Root would have been put to death immediately.   In our day, it has taken almost two years for Root to be convicted and while sentenced to death, you can bet there will be any number of appeals and Root will continue living for a long time.

       As can be seen, there can be a real lion in the street in the sense of there being real danger in the street.  While such danger should cause us to be careful, it should not cause use to not go into the street. It should not cause us to use danger in the street as an excuse for not venturing out into the street to fulfill responsibilities. 

       Solomon sees those who fail to go out into the street and meet responsibilities as being a sluggard. He is speaking about people who use a real or imaged lion in the street as an excuse not to work.  Solomon is pointing out that the sluggard is creating a straw man, a false reason for his failure to go out and get a job, work for a living and provide for himself and his family.

       Solomon is not talking here about legitimate reasons for not getting a job or working.  There are always situations where working to support oneself and others just can’t be done.  Illness, injury or some kind of disability can certainly make it difficult or impossible to work.  Solomon is not talking about that kind of person.  Solomon is talking about able bodied people who use real or imaged dangers or difficulties as an excuse for not supporting themselves or perusing goals in life.

       By using the analogy of there being a lion in the street that may kill him, Solomon is saying the sluggard sees things as just being too tough. Life is just too tough, so what’s the use of trying?  I just can’t get ahead so why even try?  I’m just going to set back and let others provide for me.  It is this kind of person Solomon is talking about.  It is the person who sees obstacles to success as just too big and won’t try to overcome them.  Solomon is talking about the person who fails to try or gives up too easily when adversity comes. 

       Now life can be tough.  Obstacles to success can be ever present.  Dreams and goals can appear to be unreachable.  I still remember Fountain in the musical Les Miserable’s, lamenting her station in life.  Les Miserable’s is a story about conditions in France during the time of the French Revolution.  The title of the musical is French for the phrase “the miserables.”   Life for many was miserable which led to revolution. Life for Fountain had become miserable.  She lost her job, she had a baby out of wedlock, her lover left her and she had to resort to prostitution to provide for herself.   She laments all this in a song she sings which ends with the iconic statement, “life has killed the dream I dreamed.”  She had dreamed of having a normal life, being married, having children, seeing them grow up. Instead the circumstances of life killed her dreams.

       The circumstances of life can sometimes kill the dreams we may have. But if we allow disappointment to dominate our thoughts and actions that proceed from those unfulfilled dreams, such disappointment can become the “lion in the street.”  It can become our excuse for failing to strive to rise above our circumstances and move forward despite the difficulties we may face.  We can avoid the “lion in the street” mentality by maintaining focus on being a light to the world as discussed in my last sermon in this series.  Focusing on being a light to others can help us to rise above difficulties and disappointments and experience success despite obstacles we may face.     

       A couple of weeks ago Barb and I saw the movie musical La, La land which has already won a number of Golden Globe awards and is now up for a number of Academy Awards. The story line in this musical is based on the struggles of a jazz pianist and an actress who are trying to be successful in their respective fields.  They are shown to face many obstacles and at times come close to giving up on their dreams. For them the “lion in the street” was at times all too real.  Yet they persevered and both achieved their goals.   

       Playing sports is such a great venue for developing the skills and attitudes necessary to avoid the “lion in the street” mentality.  Look at the Packer/Cowboys game several weeks ago.  Neither team gave in or gave up.  Both teams fought to the final whistle.  Both teams laid it all out on the field of play. God expects us to daily lay it all out on the field of play.  It is instructive that the writer to the Hebrews likens our walk through this life to an athletic event.  He compares it to running a race.

       Hebrew 12:1: Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.

       Track was my primary sport in high school and running the 200 and 400 meter races were my primary events. Those two running events demand full out speed for the entire race.  You can‘t pace yourself in these two races. It is simply flat out speed.  In the 400 meter you tend to hit the wall at the 300 meter mark which means the muscles in your legs begin to burn and your have to pour every last ounce of energy and mental fortitude into the race in order and finish and beat your opponents.  Those last 100 meters become the “lion in the street.” 

       It is instructive that Paul uses the metaphor of running a race as illustrative of our Christian walk and how we are to run to win the prize of eternal life.

       1 Corinthians 9:24-25: Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.

       Paul points out that athletes train hard to be competitive in sporting activities and they do it for rewards that are very temporal.  The Christian race, on the other hand, is life long and involves the attainment of a reward that will last forever, eternal life. Shortly before his death, Paul acknowledged that his Christian walk had been a battle and yet he was able to work through the hitting of the wall in his Christian race.  He was able to get past the “lion in the street” and continue the race to the very end and come out victorious.   

       2 Timothy 4:7-8: I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.  Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day--and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.

       Solomon spoke of the sluggard who uses a real or imaged “lion in the street” as an excuse to not do anything.  Solomon apparently had little use for those he perceived as failing to put forth the appropriate effort to do what is necessary to take responsibility for what is in his sphere of influence.  Solomon observed the results that came about as a result of being a sluggard and was distributed by what he saw.  Here’s what he writhes in Proverbs 24:

       Proverbs 24: 30-34: I went past the field of the sluggard, past the vineyard of the man who lacks judgment; thorns had come up everywhere, the ground was covered with weeds, and the stone wall was in ruins. I applied my heart to what I observed and learned a lesson from what I saw:  A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest--  and poverty will come on you like a bandit and scarcity like an armed man.

       Notice how Solomon associates being a sluggard with being a person who lacks judgement.  A person who allows things to deteriorate right before his eyes is seen as failing to exercise proper decision making with the result being that things just don’t get done.  Solomon says he learned from watching the sluggard that the sluggard mentality leads to poverty. 

       How often this is the case with those who won’t put forth the effort to get a job or become educated enough to get a job.  They end up in poverty and then blame others for their poverty rather than looking in the mirror and seeing the real reason for their circumstances being what they are.

       May it be our individual and collective goal to never allow a real or imaged “lion in the street” to prevent us from moving forward, especially as it pertains to our Christian walk and doing what God expects of us.

Proverb #2:

       Proverbs 22: 24-25: Do not make friends with a hot-tempered man, do not associate with one easily angered, or you may learn his ways and get yourself ensnared.

       This proverb is quite self explanatory. It teaches us to avoid a hot tempered man and avoid associating with a man easily angered so we don’t become influenced by his ways and become like him.  However, there is a greater principle being expressed here.  The greater principle expressed here is that we need to be careful who we associate with because such associations will play a role in how we behave. 

       We humans can be influenced by the behavior of those we associate with and our goal should be to primarily associate with those whose behavior is righteous as opposed to those whose behavior is unrighteous.  If we hang out with people who are profane, immoral and behave in other ways contrary to righteousness, guess what?  We often begin to behave like they do.  When exposed to wicked behavior, it seems to be a quirk of human nature to succumb to such wickedness more easily than to resist it and maintain righteousness. 

       You see this with gang behavior. Young men and women who may be raised in a decent home environment and taught proper values will, when associating with members of a gang take on the behavior of the gang.  In becoming exposed to unlawful behavior that such gang may be exhibiting, a young man or woman can quickly abandon the values they were taught and begin to take on the lawless behavior of the gang.   This is especially true when dominate versus submissive personalities are involved.  People with strong dominate personalities can easily sway the thinking and behavior of those with submissive personalities who tend to simply follow the crowd. 

       When it comes to strong personalities, people tend to accept what they say without investigation of the facts. There is what is called the herd effect where someone with a dominate, forceful personality can influence the behavior of many who fail to step back and properly evaluate what is going on.  This kind of thing goes on all the time.  You see it in religious movements and political movements.  You may remember the Jonestown massacre.

       On November 18, 1978, in what became known as the “Jonestown Massacre,” more than 900 members of an American cult called the Peoples Temple died in a mass suicide-murder under the leadership of their leader Jim Jones. This mass suicide-murder took place in Guyana South America where members of this cult migrated after receiving negative press in the United States. Jim Jones was a very charismatic leader who was able to strongly influence people’s behavior.  Rather than objectively examining his teachings, people blindly followed him thinking him to be some great prophet.  

       We are all familiar with the influence political leaders such as Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini and other of their ilk have had on the people they governed.  These men have had massive impact on world affairs.  They have had such influence because they were able to convince enough people that what they were saying was valid and thus create a following that gave them the power to dominate not only their followers who believed in them but also those who didn’t believe in them who now became powerless to resist.

       We see the herd effect in political champagnes. We just recently went through this process where various political leaders developed large followings where people did little fact checking as to what the political leader was saying but just blindly accepted want was said and had their thought processes influenced and molded by what was said.

       We see the herd effect at play in what happened in the wilderness when Moses failed to return from meeting with God for a lengthy period of time and the people became restless.  Many gathered before Aaron and demanded that he provide them with gods to lead them.  Aaron caved in to their demands and the golden calf was produced.  Rather then carefully investigating where Moses was and why he had not yet returned, they just assumed he wasn’t coming back and proceeded to go a different direction. 

       Paul made an instructive observation in a letter to the Corinthians when he said to them, “Do not be misled: Bad company corrupts good character" (1 Corinthians 15:33.  Paul made this statement to the Corinthians in the context of a discussion that was going on in that church as to the nature of resurrection.  Apparently some thought the resurrection had already occurred.  Others thought there was no resurrection.  Some thought resurrection was for some but not for others. 

       Paul, on the other hand, was teaching that there was going to be a resurrection and that it was still future to them and had not as yet taken place.  By saying Do not be misled: Bad company corrupts good character Paul was essentially telling the Corinthians they should stay away from all the opinions flying around about the resurrection and listen to what he was telling them because what he was telling them he had received from Christ.

       So what both Solomon and Paul are saying is we must be careful that we are not led astray by behavior or information that isn’t valid.  Paul gave us the key to avoiding being taken in by bad company, bad behavior and bad information

        1 Thessalonians 5:21: Test everything. Hold on to the good.

        But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good (NAS)

        Prove all things; hold fast that which is good (KJV).

       According to Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, the Greek word rendered test, examine and prove in these translations means exactly that.  It means to test, examine, prove or scrutinize to see whether a thing be genuine or not.  If we follow Paul’s instruction to the Thessalonian brethren, it can go a long way to avoiding getting involved with the wrong people and falling pray to bad influences and false information.

       Falling prey to bad influences was apparently an ongoing problem within the Corinthian Church.  We have already seen some of the problems Paul had to deal with in the Corinthian Church.  Of all the various Church congregations Paul was responsible for, it was the Corinthian Church that appears to have given him the most grief.  I want to cite another problem Paul had to deal with which will also serve to lead us to our taking of communion which has once again been prepared for us. 

       It is apparent that in the first century Christian community, communion was sometimes held in conjunction with the eating of a meal.  We know from the Gospel accounts that the first communion was held during a Passover meal Jesus shared with His disciples the night before His crucifixion.   We see communion apparently being held in conjunction with the eating of a meal in the Corinthian Church.

       1 Corinthians 11:18-22: In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God's approval. When you come together, it is not the Lord's Supper you eat, for as you eat, each of you goes ahead without waiting for anybody else. One remains hungry, another gets drunk. Don't you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you for this? Certainly not!

       According to various commentaries I read regarding this passage, it is generally believed that Paul was dealing with the Corinthians coming together to partake of the bread and wine while having divisions among themselves as a church and then making matters worse by individual members doing their own thing and ignoring the needs of others.  Some were bringing quite a spread of food and drink and having a feast while others, who didn’t have the wherewithal to bring such a spread, were left to eat and drink what little they could afford to bring. 

       It is generally recognized that the early church had what where referred to as love feasts where everyone would bring what they could and share with everybody else.  These were probably similar to our pot lucks.  What apparently was happening in the Corinthian Church was that the rich weren’t sharing with the poor.   

       Paul saw this as disgraceful and totally disrespectful to what the Lord’s Supper was all about.  The Lord’s Supper is all about reflecting on the death of Jesus and what that death means for each and every one of us. It is all about unity, sharing and showing respect for what God did for us through Jesus.  The Corinthian’s were coming together in disunity, disrespect and in behavior that was contrary to the purpose for which Christ died.  Earlier in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians he provided the reason for participating in the Lord’s Supper.

       1 Corinthians 10:16: Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ?

       Paul refers to the cup as a cup of thanksgiving.  Isn’t this what it is all about?  By drinking the cup and eating the bread we are acknowledging what Christ did and in doing so we express thanksgiving for what He did. 

       So as we come forward to take of the bread and wine let us do so with a sincere heart of appreciation and thanksgiving to God for what He has done for us in facilitating our salvation through the broken body and shed blood of Jesus.

PART TWENTY-FOUR