Burning lips and a wicked heart are like a potsherd covered with silver dross.
Smooth words may hide a wicked heart, just as a pretty glaze covers a clay pot. (NLT)
This is the first of several proverbs dealing with the subject of hypocrisy. Loosely defined this is saying one thing and doing another. Jesus warned about hypocrisy when he spoke about the teachers of the law and the Pharisees in Matthew 23 verses 1-7:
Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.
“Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others.
The Pharisees liked to dress up in fancy clothes and have the place of honor wherever they went. They constantly sought respect from the people of Israel, yet had a reputation for not practicing what they preached. The dressing up bit is mentioned in this proverb where it refers to covering an ordinary clay pot with silver. It isn’t what the pot looks like on the outside that matters – it is what it looks like on the inside.
The Apostle Paul taught that we should examine ourselves, especially before participating in communion (1 Corinthians 11:28-31). Communion in my church is scheduled twice monthly. What about the rest of the time? The fact is that we should be constantly checking up on ourselves. Portraying Jesus Christ is not an easy task. But we owe it to Jesus to do our best at following His example.
It is possible that Jesus appeared drab when standing close to the Pharisees, but only if you looked at what they were all wearing. When I read Scripture and look into Jesus I see the most beautiful person who ever lived. The problem is that He calls me to live like Him. If I claim to follow Jesus then I have to try and make that evident through the way that I live, not through what I am wearing, what I earn, what I drive, my position in church or any other thing. Jesus has to be visible in how I act, through the words that I speak, and in the thoughts behind the words that might not betray me to people, but are completely visible to God. I hate the thought of being a hypocrite. It is up to me to something about it.
The slothful hideth his hand in his bosom; it grieveth him to bring it again to his mouth.
A sluggard buries his hand in the dish; he is too lazy to bring it back to his mouth. (NIV)
This is the third verse in a row in which Solomon focuses on the lazy, with one more to follow. For some reason Solomon is really hammering home the point about laziness. I simply can’t imagine a person so lazy that he is unable to lift food from a dish to his mouth, but the point being made here about laziness is that it is completely unacceptable.
Right now in the UK we have a government that is trying to deal with a culture of living on benefits that appears to have become the norm for a proportion of society. If you believe the politicians and the press we have families where more than one generation has never worked in this country. While there are obviously other reasons for unemployment than laziness, the fact remains that there are folk who are quite happy to sit back and live on handouts. Some even call these handouts their wages! That is quite an insult to those who have worked and paid taxes all their lives.
My third son James graduated from University in 2009. He decided to spend a year working to save money to add to what he had already saved so that he could take a masters degree. He got an invite to live with his eldest brother and his wife, and set about looking for work. Having worked two jobs while studying for his BA he thought that this would be a simple matter. It wasn’t. Recession had kicked in and there wasn’t much work around. He refused to claim benefits and carried on searching, doing jobs around the house to compensate his brother and sister-in-law for feeding him. It took a few weeks, but James found two part-time jobs. He had to leave those jobs to return to University but managed to start another job before he completed his masters. Now that impresses the pants off me, not just because James is my son, but because he has shown what is possible despite the dire condition of the economy. I am proud of my son for not choosing the path of laziness.
As a thorn goeth up into the hand of a drunkard, so is a parable in the mouths of fools.
A proverb in the mouth of a fool is like a thorny branch brandished by a drunk. (NLT)
It is interesting that Solomon compares drunkards brandishing strange weapons with fools attempting to speak parables of wisdom. The church I belong to has plenty of experience of drunks. In recent years several nearby commercial properties have been converted into pubs or nightclubs, and the area changes at night, particularly on Friday and Saturday. For the last ten years or so we have opened our church foyer from midnight every Saturday until 03:00 hours on Sunday to serve hot and cold (non-alcoholic) drinks to the clubbers and provide a place of safety where they can sit a while, sober up, wait for a taxi, find a listening ear, etc. This ministry is called Nightshift.
The listening ear bit can be painful at times, particularly when attempting to listen to the inebriated. We often get asked questions about God, the church, the Universe, and anything else someone who has had too much to drink decides that they want to discuss. Sometimes our guests try to impose their wisdom on us, the problem being that wisdom is usually absent in the early hours of Sunday morning when they have been drinking for several hours and Nightshift team members are stone cold sober.
Unfortunately a foolish person attempting to dispense words of wisdom sounds no better than a drunk stumbling over his words and drooling down his chin. There is a word of warning here for us all. We may never have experienced burbling like a drunk, but if we speak too soon, too quickly, or without thought, we run the risk of being no better than a drunk, and possibly worse. It wasn’t a proverb of Solomon, but the best advice I ever heard was “to put your brain in gear before putting your mouth into motion.”
Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit.
Be sure to answer the foolish arguments of fools, or they will become wise in their own estimation. (NLT)
Back in 1978 when I was second mate on a 100,000 ton bulk carrier we had a first-trip engineering cadet who quickly gained the nickname ‘village idiot’. The problem was that while everyone on the ship recognized that this lad wasn’t blessed with significant brainpower, he thought he that was. The other problem is that idiots are not easily tolerated on ships.
To be fair, most first trippers begin their careers as idiots. I did. There is so much to learn. The key is being willing to learn. A superiority complex never goes down well on a ship, but a first trip cadet with a superiority complex is quite intolerable. Inevitably life becomes intolerable for the intolerable one as he or she is brought down to size. It would be foolish to allow a foolish seafarer to become wise in his own eyes, but also potentially dangerous given the working environment on board ship.
Solomon was spot on with his advice. It is important to let a fool know that he is a fool. Fail to do so and the fool will believe that he knows better than everyone else. Lack of experience combined with lack of wisdom might then have disastrous effects.
Challenging as it may seem this proverb speaks to everyone. It is important to know and understand our limitations and focus our energies on what we do best. This is particularly important in church where sometimes we place or find the wrong people in ministries where they simply do not belong. The out-of-tune choir member might make an excellent Sunday School teacher, but someone needs to identify this and gently guide the croaky crooner to the place where God can really use him. And that does call for wisdom.
If thine enemy be hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he be thirsty, give him water to drink: For thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head, and the Lord shall reward thee.
There is a famous story from the First World War in which British and German soldiers left their trenches on Christmas Day 1914 and exchanged handshakes, Christmas greetings and presents, and even took part in games of soccer. Wikipedia records that this so-called ‘Christmas Truce’ took place in several locations across the Western Front, although fighting did continue elsewhere.
There must have been spirit-filled followers of Jesus in both armies. One could speculate that an awareness of the teaching of this passage of Scripture, which is repeated by Paul in the New Testament, may have prompted the Christmas Truce on the battlefields of Northern France. But perhaps it took place because warfare at that time retained an element of chivalry, that was subsequently lost as the war described as ‘the war to end all wars’ dragged on all the way to 1918 resulting in at least ten million deaths. Whatever the reason, the teaching of Scripture is clear: We are to love our enemies, even if it is not reciprocated. Although that may seem difficult, even impossible in a war footing, we cannot argue with the words of Jesus who said:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:43-45 NIV)
If you are serving in the military then it is important to follow orders, but that does not remove the possibility of loving the enemy and proving that love through prayer. It is not an option, it is a requirement. The same requirement exists for all of us in the daily relationships we encounter as part of life. At school, at college, at work, in church, and in our neighborhoods, we are to be known as people who love others, whatever the cost. That’s what Jesus did, all the way to the cross.
By long forbearing is a prince persuaded, and a soft tongue breaketh the bone.
Patience can persuade a prince, and soft speech can break bones. (NLT)
Patience is a virtue, or so they say. The problem is that patience is a difficult virtue to acquire. Patience cannot be purchased, but has to be learned, perhaps over a lifetime. Children are especially known for their impatience, but are adults any better? Consider the behavior of motorists where impatience creates danger when drivers fail to wait, give way, or take their turn. Running red lights seems to be a sport in my small town, where for the sake of about ninety seconds drivers risk putting their foot down to squeeze through when the lights have gone amber, or even red. Every now again there is a collision, but my fear is that one day an impatient driver may kill a pedestrian.
There are examples of impatient men in the Bible. King Saul waited seven days for the prophet Samuel to arrive at Gilgal (1 Samuel 13:8-14). Boredom eventually got the better of Saul and he took it upon himself to make a burnt offering. Samuel arrived soon after and told Saul that because of his impatience he would lose his position as king. Eventually Saul did lose his kingdom to David, but David was patient and wise in his dealings with Saul, waiting for the moment ordained by God and not aggravating Saul during the waiting.
The challenge that many of us face is waiting for the moment ordained by God. Our timing is not his timing. Rushing ahead and trying to do what we think God wants is crazy when we know what we know about God. The phrase ‘all in good time’ should perhaps read ‘all in God’s time.’
I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord. (Psalm 27:13-14 NIV)
1 These are also proverbs of Solomon, which the men of Hezekiah king of Judah copied out.
2 It is the glory of God to conceal a thing: but the honor of kings is to search out a matter.
3 The heaven for height, and the earth for depth, and the heart of kings is unsearchable.
4 Take away the dross from the silver, and there shall come forth a vessel for the finer.
5 Take away the wicked from before the king, and his throne shall be established in righteousness.
6 Put not forth thyself in the presence of the king, and stand not in the place of great men:
7 For better it is that it be said unto thee, Come up hither; than that thou shouldest be put lower in the presence of the prince whom thine eyes have seen.
Hezekiah was the son of King Ahaz. King Ahaz did not cover himself in glory. (The story of Ahaz is told in 2 Kings 16:10-18 and 2 Chronicles 28:16-25.) Because Ahaz was a foolish man the people he ruled suffered as foreign armies invaded the land of Judah. A key verse is 2 Chronicles 28:19 (NLT):
The Lord was humbling Judah because of King Ahaz of Judah, for he had encouraged his people to sin and had been utterly unfaithful to the Lord.
King Hezekiah did not follow his father’s example. He did not get everything right, but as a young man of twenty-five he quickly set about putting right the wrongs of his father. Idols were removed and destroyed, and the Temple that had been boarded up by Ahaz was reopened for worship. It seems that Hezekiah took note of the wisdom of Solomon to the extent that he had the Proverbs of Solomon reproduced as part of his commitment to following God (Proverbs 25:1). Scripture records that:
Hezekiah trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel. There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before him or after him. He held fast to the Lord and did not stop following him; he kept the commands the Lord had given Moses. And the Lord was with him; he was successful in whatever he undertook. (2 Kings 18:5-7 NLT)
As a King, Hezekiah was well placed to understand the importance of not indulging in an attitude of over-importance. Jesus drew on verses six and seven when he was at a feast and observed people fighting for the best place at the head of the table (Luke 14:7-14). Jesus suggested that the best place to be is the foot of the table. But that was before He died. Today the best place to be is at the foot of the cross. If we dare to look up we will see that the cross is empty. The King of kings is no longer nailed to that cross, but reaching out to take our hand. It is only when we humble ourselves before Him that He reaches down to us in this way. As it says in verse 7 above:
For better it is that it be said unto thee, Come up hither; than that thou shouldest be put lower in the presence of the prince whom thine eyes have seen.