It is an honor for a man to cease from strife: but every fool will be meddling.
Avoiding a fight is a mark of honor; only fools insist on quarreling. (NLT)
FIGHT, FIGHT, FIGHT!
I have seen a few fights in my time. Firstly at school when the shout of FIGHT, FIGHT, FIGHT, would result in a circle of boys around the two boys who were slugging it out. The shout of fight and the obvious circle of jeering boys in the playground also attracted the attention of teachers. They would wade in and separate the antagonists, who would then be dragged away to face punishment.
There were occasional fights while I was serving at sea, even in the officers’ quarters. Alcohol often played a part, especially when combined with the stress of many months away from family and friends, working seven days a week. Disputes usually began with quarrels, often over the most trivial things. Even a game of Monopoly caused a fight after a one-month voyage across the Pacific followed by several weeks slowly discharging grain in the then Soviet Far East.
While many quarrels at sea did not lead to fist fights, there was an easy way to predict those that might. Prior to moving from a quarrel to a full-blown fight, most seafarers remove their wristwatches. Why? Because when I was at sea there was an obsession with expensive Seiko watches, and jack tar didn’t want to get his watch broken in a punch-up. So why even get that far? Why be a fool and insist on quarrelling and come to the brink of physical violence? Why indeed? The message of this proverb is not only to avoid strife and fights, but to avoid the quarrels that lead to fights. Kenny Rogers sang about it back in the late 70s when I was still at sea:
“Promise me, son, not to do the things I’ve done.
Walk away from trouble if you can.
It won’t mean you’re weak if you turn the other cheek.
I hope you’re old enough to understand:
Son, you don’t have to fight to be a man.”
(Lyrics taken from ‘Coward of the County’ released by Kenny Rogers in 1979)
He that wasteth his father, and chaseth away his mother, is a son that causeth shame, and bringeth reproach.
Children who mistreat their father or chase away their mother are an embarrassment and a public disgrace. (NLT)
This teaching is so basic that it featured in the Ten Commandments. There is only one problem. What if the son who mistreats his father or chases away his mother, is only following an example set through poor parenting? Bad parenting has devastating effects when it carries down through the generations. Biblical examples of bad parents include a whole range of kings and queens. Even King David set a bad example at times. I wonder what Solomon thought of the way in which David came to marry his mother? Did this cause Solomon to be equally blind when it came to the matter of matrimony? Yes! The Bible records that Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines. Some of these relationships led to Solomon turning a blind eye to idolatry, and then building shrines to false gods. 1 Kings 11 records that God was very angry with Solomon because of the condition of his heart. After Solomon died the kingdom was divided, and Solomon’s son demonstrated none of the wisdom of his father.
What About Us?
It is easy to judge parents because of their children. We probably do it several times a week at the very least. When we see badly behaved children in a shopping mall, for instance, it is easy to assume that the children are merely following a poor example provided by their parents. But what about us? It is not just our children who are watching us. If we claim faith in Jesus Christ, then the world is watching us. When followers of Jesus fall from grace and set a bad example to the world, it could be said that as children of God they have behaved in the manner described in this proverb. How we behave in our daily lives paints a picture of God our Father to a watching world. What sort of picture are you painting?
There are many devices in a man’s heart; nevertheless the counsel of the Lord, that shall stand.
You can make many plans, but the LORD’s purpose will prevail. (NLT)
The Jonah Syndrome
Back in 1998 I heard God speak very clearly to me about a gift He wanted me to make. A young man in ministry needed to replace his car, but this was something he could not afford. I argued with God for a while because I felt that the sum in question was too large. I was prepared to make a gift, but on my terms, not God’s.
It was at this time that my eldest son (Nick) was fundraising to join the Baptist Missionary Society for a gap year between school and university. He needed to raise £2,400. One retired lady at our church gave him a check for £100 one Sunday. When I found out about her generosity I went to thank her. Tears welled in her eyes as she told me that God had instructed her to make this gift, but that she had argued with God that she could not afford to give Nick £100. My heart sank right down into my shoes. I went home and wrote a check for the amount God had placed on my heart and I sent it to the young man God had identified. He duly wrote back and thanked me for my generosity. But I didn’t feel generous. I didn’t feel anything but that horrible feeling you get when you have done something wrong and been caught out.
A Question of Attitude
Obedience brings blessing, but usually only if the timing is right. When Jonah disobeyed God he had to face the consequences. Time spent in the belly of the fish resulted in a change of mind, but not attitude. He duly obeyed God and delivered God’s message to Nineveh. Amazingly the King and people of Nineveh listened to Jonah. They decided to change their ways, and God responded with forgiveness. Did this make the messenger happy? Did Jonah feel blessed? Not at all. In fact Jonah chose to sulk. To be blessed, we need to be obedient. To receive a blessing we need to listen to God, and do as He asks, when He asks. Not several weeks later because we feel bad about our failure to act. His plans, not ours. His timing, not ours.
Slothfulness casteth into a deep sleep; and an idle soul shall suffer hunger.
Lazy people sleep soundly, but idleness leaves them hungry. (NLT)
I remember reading a book entitled ‘Mr Lazy’ to my children. Mr Lazy lived in Sleepyland where the birds flew so slowly that they fell out of the sky sometimes. One afternoon Mr Lazy fell asleep in his garden while waiting for his bread to toast for breakfast. He was woken by two gentlemen shouting; “WAKE UP!” He opened his eyes to find Mr Busy and Mr Bustle standing in front of him. They set about giving Mr Lazy many tasks in an attempt to change his life. But it was all a dream and Mr Lazy didn’t have to change his life. Or did he?
There always needs to be a balance between work and rest. Work too much and rest too little and we may face burn out or depression. Even Jesus took time off, and He made sure the disciples took time off too (Mark 6:30-32). But there is a big difference between justifiable rest and bone idleness.
The KJV states that an ‘idle soul shall suffer hunger.’ While that may seem like an obvious statement, is Solomon linking failure to work with hunger, or is there a deeper meaning here? How about a hunger of the soul? I wonder how many followers of Jesus have hungry souls? Walking with Jesus is like any relationship – it requires investment, and it requires our time and commitment. All this comes on top of everything else we have to do. Consider the disciples. They had to invest a significant amount of time, and make some pretty substantial sacrifices, before they qualified as apostles. Even the process of waiting for Pentecost required an investment in prayer.
We need to carry out a spiritual stock-take to determine whether we have hungry souls. Are we Mr or Mrs Lazy living in Spiritual Sleepyland waiting for a wake up call? What will it take for God to get our attention? What will it take for us to make time for Jesus?
The king’s wrath is as the roaring of a lion; but his favor is as dew upon the grass.
Of Earthly Kings and Princes
I was intrigued this week to see a video posted on Facebook in which Prince Charles spoke very favorably of the church in the UK. He was referring to a particular event called The BigChurchDayOut, but the positive manner in which he described the church was most encouraging. Prince Charles is not yet King Charles, but he is next in line to the British throne, and his favor is definitely worth having. In fact, Prince Charles has bestowed his favor on many through his involvement with various charities through The Prince of Wales’s Charitable Foundation.
While Prince Charles is unlikely to display wrath, many of his ancestors were skilled in anger. Before the monarchy became constitutional, the Kings and Queens of England were the most powerful individuals in the land, and their subjects were wise to avoid their wrath. Anger the king and you might up in The Tower of London, facing torture and execution. Not even the rich and famous were safe. It seems amazing that the great explorer Sir Walter Raleigh met his end not during some dangerous expedition, but at the blade of the executioner’s axe.
King of Kings
Psalm 47:7 states: ‘For God is the King of all the earth; sing to him a psalm of praise’ while in Revelation 19:16 God is referred to as the ‘King of kings and Lord of lords.’ God is King above all kings, but unlike other kings He does not demand our allegiance. The King of kings gives us a choice. He doesn’t threaten us with His wrath, but instead promises favor that is like dew on the grass, or icing on the cake (to bring this proverb up to date). But while God’s wrath may not fall on us now if we turn our backs on Him, there will be a day when all humanity will be required to stand before the King (Matthew 25:31-46).
A false witness shall not be unpunished, and he that speaketh lies shall not escape.
A false witness will not go unpunished, and whoever pours out lies will not go free. (NIV)
There are people in prison today who are there because someone has falsely testified against them. Sometimes we read in the press about terrible miscarriages of justice that have taken place because one person gave false witness against another. While giving false witness is a terrible thing, even the smallest of lies usually has consequences. The trouble with lies is that they entrap us. When we are untruthful it is often the case that one lie leads to another. Although we are always hopeful of improving a situation through lying, lies are eventually discovered and those who lie or bear false witness have to face up to the consequences of lying.
I learnt the lesson early in life. I had been forbidden to walk home from school, but one day I did. When I arrived home my mother asked if I had travelled home on the school bus. I told her that I had. Then she asked who I had sat next to on the bus. That stumped me momentarily, until I managed to pluck a name out of the air. Then my mother asked me if I had disobeyed her and walked home. I insisted that I had been on the bus. Unfortunately for me my mother had watched the bus stop outside our house ten minutes earlier and she knew I hadn’t been on the bus. I went to bed early that night. It gave me plenty of time to think about what I had done.
God is very clear regarding what He thinks about lies and false witness. The trouble with false witness is that it is bad witness. God calls His people to demonstrate His eternal investment in them through the way that they live their lives. Lying is not an acceptable component of a life surrendered to God. Jesus warned a group of Pharisees about the fruit of the mouth, and His teaching applies equally to us.
“Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit. You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Matthew 12:33-37 NIV)
Better is the poor that walketh in his integrity, than he that is perverse in his lips, and is a fool.
Better to be poor and honest than to be dishonest and a fool. (NLT)
Perverting the Course of Justice
A former senior politician is currently serving a prison sentence in the UK. He is a wealthy man, and a man who was so driven by ambition that when clocked by a speed camera for the umpteenth time he persuaded his wife to tell the authorities that she was driving. She duly complied and took the points on her licence so that her husband could keep his. Some years later she discovered that her husband’s dishonesty extended to matters of the bedroom, and she leaked his past misdemeanor to the press, claiming that she perverted the course of justice only because of marital coercion. The jury did not accept her defense, and she was also imprisoned, but only after many months of her former husband denying the charges. He eventually admitted that he had been driving. He will still have his wealth when released from prison, but his integrity is in tatters and will be difficult to rebuild.
The challenge to be honest in all things is one that most of us face daily in a variety of situations. I remember being given too much change in a restaurant. It was 1976. I was home on leave and taking a holiday in my childhood home of Guernsey. I was also running out of funds, and a week or two away from payday. I knew when the waitress handed me my change that there were two brand new £5 notes stuck together. I got halfway to the door, but as much as I wanted that other £5 I could not bring myself to knowingly take what wasn’t mine. I turned around and went back to the waitress. When I explained that she had given me too much change she was overwhelmed. She told me that if I had not returned that £5 note it would have been deducted from her wages. I wanted to feel good about myself, but I couldn’t because I knew that I had wanted to leave the restaurant without returning what wasn’t mine.
In both the above examples it is evident that dishonesty has consequences. It hurts us when we are dishonest, and it hurts others. There can be no differentiation between dishonest acts and dishonest words. Dishonesty hurts. Likewise, there is never any wisdom attached to dishonesty. Dishonesty almost always catches up with the dishonest. Ask a certain British politician and his wife.
Jesus once said to the Pharisees: “You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” John 8:44 NIV
Death and life are in the power of the tongue: and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof.
The tongue can bring death or life; those who love to talk will reap the consequences. (NLT)
Be Careful Little Mouth What You Say
Today is my wedding anniversary. Marilyn and I have been married for thirty-four years. During that time I can honestly say that we have had very few fallings out, and harsh words have been a rarity. I am certain that our commitment to honor and respect each other verbally, as well as in other ways, has helped to build the strong marriage we enjoy.
We have tried to raise our five children by example to be careful in their choice of words. For instance, the word stupid is banned in our home. We believe that to call a son, daughter, brother or sister “stupid” is potentially damaging. Regularly tell a person that they are stupid and they will begin to believe the lie.
Taming the Tongue
In James 3:1-11 there is some challenging teaching about taming the tongue. James is in no doubt that the tongue can bring death or life. In verses 5-6 he says:
Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.
Yet we struggle to learn from experience, and often forget about the power of the tongue, and the consequences of the words we use. Many years ago I made a flippant comment to the teenage daughter of a friend. We were at the swimming pool and she had a new stripy costume. I casually mentioned that she looked like a bumble bee. It was years before she spoke to me again. Nothing could have prepared me for such a long-term reaction to words spoken foolishly and without thought. Had I commented on how good her new costume looked no damage would have been done.
Be careful little mouth what you say, for death and life are in the power of the tongue: and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof.
A man’s belly shall be satisfied with the fruit of his mouth; and with the increase of his lips shall he be filled.
Wise words satisfy like a good meal; the right words bring satisfaction. (NLT)
A Good Meal
I visited Pristina in Kosovo for the first time recently. I found the locals exceptionally welcoming and friendly, despite their recent troubles, and the obvious lack of wealth in the country. It was a pleasure to be taken out one evening for a meal in traditional restaurant where there was no menu. Instead of choosing our food, it was chosen for us, and a variety of dishes were brought to the table until none of us could eat any more. The food was superb and I returned to my hotel extremely satisfied. I don’t know if I will ever go back to Pristina, but I will never forget that meal, or the kind people of Kosovo.
Just as a good meal brings satisfaction, so it is with wise words. You know when you have said the right thing to someone, a word of encouragement perhaps, or a word of appreciation. The knowledge that the right thing has been said at the right time brings satisfaction to both the speaker and the listener.
Before I left Kosovo my main local contact thanked me for the way in which I had conducted my review of his organization. Apparently my approach was very different to that of auditors in his company, and he appreciated it. I, in turn, thanked him for his time, for his hospitality, and for the effort he put into preparing for my visit. I also expressed my appreciation of his professional knowledge and expertise. He encouraged me, and I encouraged him. Right words, good words, wise words. Words are so important. We have the power to bless and build others with our words. Let’s aim to bring satisfaction to others with our words every day. May our words be words that will never be forgotten – for the right reason.
He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him.
To answer before listening – that is folly and shame. (NIV)
It doesn’t matter how much teaching we receive on the subject of listening, or how many times we are reminded by Scripture (James 1:19) to be quick to listen and slow to speak, most of us are not good listeners. Isn’t it true that when we are on the listening end of a conversation we are only partially listening? Generally we are working out our reply and looking for the opportunity to interrupt so that we can say what we want to say.
Our failure to be listeners exists despite our own experience of being in conversations where we know that the other person hasn’t heard a word we have said. Such experience means that we are all acutely aware of the need to be good listeners. It is foolish, rude, and shameful to interrupt with a response when the other party to a conversation has not finished speaking.
Listening requires focus and concentration. It is important that we hear correctly and understand what is being said, not just in conversations with other people, but when we come to God in prayer. So how do you approach God in prayer? With a listening heart or a chattering mouth? Or do you start out planning to listen but end up butting in so many times that you never really hear what God is saying to you? God speaks to us in many different ways. It is essential that we take time to ensure that we hear what He is saying. While that means listening carefully, it also means growing in our understanding and knowledge of Him. It is a bit like learning to speak a foreign language effectively. It requires practice and a lot of work to achieve real understanding.