Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Family

Part 6 of Wise Steps, a series on Proverbs

Text: Proverbs 22:6

You can listen to this sermon here.



Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it (Prov. 22:6). 


What Does Proverbs 22:6 Mean? 

If a Christian parent “train[s] up a child in the way he should go,” is that child guaranteed to stay on the right path? In other words, is Proverbs 22:6 a command (“Train up a child in the way he should go”) with a promise (“even when he is old he will not depart from it”)?

To properly answer that question, we must identify the literary genre of Proverbs 22:6. [1] Identifying the literary genre of Proverbs 22:6 is easy. It’s a proverb. But what is a proverb? An example of a popular proverb that is not found in the Bible is, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” When we say that proverb, do we believe it’s a promise that everyone who eats an apple a day will never be sick? No. But the proverb does contain a general truth: healthy eating generally leads to good health.

We should interpret biblical proverbs in a similar way. Richard Pratt writes that biblical proverbs are “adages that direct us toward general principles that must be applied carefully in a fallen world where life is always somewhat out of kilter.” [2] This means that proverbs are not promises.

Proverbs 22:6 is not a promise. 

Tremper Longman writes,
[Proverbs 22:6] sounds like a promise, but a proverb does not give a promise. The book of Proverbs advises its hearers in ways that are most likely to lead them to desired conse-quences if all things are equal. It is much more likely that a child will be a responsible adult if trained in the right path. However, there is also the possibility that the child might come under the negative influence of peers or be led astray in some other way. The point is that this proverb encourages parents to train their children, but does not guarantee that if they do so their children will never stray. [3]
Correctly interpreting Proverbs 22:6 is extremely important for a Christian parent. What happens when Christian parents believe that Proverbs 22:6 is a promise and diligently “train” their child, but the child ends up choosing a wrong path? They either lose confidence in the Bible, or they feel tremendous guilt as a “bad” parent. According to Bruce Waltke, Proverbs 22:6 “must not be pushed to mean that the [parent] is ultimately responsible for the youth’s entire moral orientation.” [4]


How to "Train Up" a Child 

Though Proverbs 22:6 isn’t a promise, it does contain a general truth. This means it’s vital that Christian parents “train up” their children in a biblical way. How should parents “train up” a child?

1. We should continually teach our children.

Children need to be taught many things, but it’s essential that they be taught to understand and obey God’s word. Waltke states that “train up” refers to “religious and moral direction, not professional activity.” [5] Much of Proverbs is written as a father teaching his son. Proverbs 1:8 says, “Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mother’s teaching.” It’s important not only to tell our children what is right and what is wrong, but also talk to them about the benefits of doing good and the consequences of doing wrong.

In Deuteronomy 6:4-7, Moses urged the people of Israel to teach God’s word to their children during the various activities of each day:
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 
Timothy was a man who benefited from being taught God’s word while he was a child. The apostle Paul mentioned this in his first letter to Timothy:
But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom [6] you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work (1 Tim. 3:14-17). 
2. We should lovingly discipline our children. 

Proverbs 13:24 says, “He who loves [his son] is diligent to discipline him.” Proverbs speaks of “the rod of discipline,” which is unpopular today. For example, Proverbs 22:15 states, “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of disciple drives it far from him.” But any form of discipline can be abusive if it’s not administered in love. Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4; cf. Col. 3:21).

3. We should consistently model Christ-like behaviour. 

Joel Miller writes, “If you’re looking for a gauge to measure how un-Christlike you are, try raising kids.” [7] Children notice when their parents don’t practice what they preach. A bad example can undermine good teaching.


[1] “There are many different genres in the Bible—songs, prophecies, proverbs, laments, visions, speeches, parables, historical narrative. Identifying the genre is very important to how we interpret a passage” (Nigel Beynon and Andrew Sach, Dig Deeper, 105).
[2] Richard Pratt Jr., “Broken Homes in the Bible,” http://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/broken-homes-in-the-bible/.
[3] Tremper Longman III, Proverbs, 405.
[4] Bruce K. Waltke, The Book of Proverbs: Chapters 15-31, 206.
[5] Ibid., 204.
[6] The Greek for “whom” is plural. It could refer to Timothy’s mother and grandmother (see 1 Tim. 1:5).
[7] Joel J. Miller, “What to See How Un-Christlike You Are? Try Raising Kids,” http://www.patheos.com/blogs/ joeljmiller/ 2013/03/ parenting-need-grace/.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Money

Part 5 of Wise Steps, a series on Proverbs

Text: Proverbs 30:7-9

(Sorry, there is no audio available for this sermon.)



Give me neither poverty or riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, “Who is the Lord?” or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God (Prov. 30:8b-9).


In Money We Trust

Most people know that the phrase “IN GOD WE TRUST” is written on American coins. But many Canadians aren’t aware that God is also mentioned on Canadian coins. Next to the Queen’s image the phrase “D. G. REGINA” can be found. This is a Latin phrase. The letters “D. G.” stand for dei gratia, and dei gratia regina means “Queen by the grace of God.”

It’s ironic that both American and Canadian coins mention God. Why? Because North Americans, in their day-to-day living, generally don’t trust in God (even if they identify themselves as Christians); they trust in money.


The Root of All Evil? 

Is money the root of all evil? No, the Bible doesn’t say that money is the root of all evil. It says, “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evils” (1 Tim. 6:10). Money is morally neutral; it’s neither good nor evil. Anthony Selvaggio writes, “The moral issues regarding wealth arise entirely from how we acquire it, relate to it, and use it. In other words, the problem is us.” [1]

Money isn’t everything, but it is a blessing from God.

The book of Proverbs talks about money in a positive way. Proverbs 10:22 says, “The blessing of the LORD makes rich.” [2] We must avoid extremes in our view of money. Money isn’t everything, but it’s not nothing. [3]


What Should We Do with Our Money?

What should we do with the blessing of money?

1. We shouldn’t make money our God. 

Is it wrong to work hard and make money? No. But we need to be careful that we don’t make money our idol. Tim Keller defines an idol as “anything more important to you than God, any-thing that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give.” [4] Charles Spurgeon once said,
I believe that it is anti-Christian and unholy for any Christian to live with the object of accumulating wealth. You will say, “Are we not to strive all we can to get all the money we can?” You may do so. I cannot doubt but what, in so doing, you may do service to the cause of God. But what I said was that to live with the object of accumulating wealth is anti-Christian. [5]
In Agur’s prayer, he asked for neither riches nor poverty. He prayed, “Feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’ or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God” (Prov. 30:8-9). [6] It’s not sinful to be rich or poor, but Agur didn’t want the temptations that come with riches (“lest I be full and deny you”) and poverty (“lest I be poor and steal”).

The apostle Paul wrote about people who had “wandered away from the faith” because of their “love of money”:
But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs (1 Tim. 6:9-10). 
People who love money forget about God (“Who is the LORD?”). Agur was more concerned about honouring God than how much wealth he possessed.

J. D. Rockefeller was at one time the world’s richest man. Someone once asked him, “How much money is enough?” Rockefeller answered, “Just a little bit more.” Immanuel Kant once said, “Give a man everything he wants and at that moment, everything will not be everything.” If make money our god, we will end up being disappointed. Only God can fill the emptiness that’s within us. Jesus warned about “the deceitfulness of riches” (Matt. 13:22). It won’t deliver what people think it will.

2. We should be generous with our money. 

When God blesses us with money, we are to bless others by being generous. Proverbs 19:17 says, “Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will repay him for his deed.” Jesus is the ultimate example of generosity. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9). When Paul wrote these words, he was raising money to give to needy believers in Jerusalem.

3. We should be content with our money. 

More money doesn’t guarantee a better life. [7] Proverbs 15:16-17 says, “Better is a little with the fear of the LORD than great treasure and trouble with it. Better is a dinner of herbs where love is than a fattened ox and hatred with it.” Paul wrote to Timothy,
Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content (1 Tim. 6:6-8). 

True Wealth 

Who is the wealthiest person on earth? Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook)? According to Forbes magazine, Zuckerberg is the world’s fourteenth wealthiest person ($34 billion). Warren Buffet? Buffet is the world’s third wealthiest person ($67.6 billion). Bill Gates (Microsoft)? Gates is the world’s second wealthiest person ($81.2 billion).

Does money make a person wealthy? It depends on how you define the word “wealthy.” One definition of “wealthy” is “characterized by abundance.” At the end of the movie It’s a Wonderful Life, George Bailey (played by Jimmy Stewart) reads a card from Clarence (his guardian angel). The card reads, “Dear George, remember no man is a failure who has friends.” George had many friends because he was a generous man. In the final scene, George’s brother Harry raises a glass and says, “A toast to my big brother George: the richest man in town.”

A wealthy person can be poor, and a poor person can be wealthy. A person can be wealthy no matter how much money he or she has. Generosity and contentment enrich our lives. Many rich people aren’t generous or content, so they lack love and happiness.

Whether a Christian has been blessed with lots of money or not, he or she is “rich” (2 Cor. 8:9) because of Christ. That’s true wealth.


[1] Anthony Selvaggio, A Proverbs Driven Life (Kindle edition), location 1021.
[2] “Prosperity gospel” teachers often misuse a verse like this to claim that every Christian can receive material riches in this life.
[3] Proverbs 3:14 says that wisdom is more valuable than money: “the gain from her is better than gain from silver and her profit better than gold.”
[4] Timothy Keller, Counterfeit Gods, xvii.
[5] 2,200 Quotations from the Writings of Charles H. Spurgeon, 216.
[6] There are a few similarities between Agur’s prayer and “The Lord’s Prayer” (Matt. 6:9-13). In both prayers there are requests for daily food, for protection from temptation, and for God’s name to be sanctified.
[7] There are some problems that the rich encounter that the poor don’t. For example, Proverbs 13:8 says, “The ran-som of a man’s life is his wealth, but a poor man hears no threat.”

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Work

Part 4 of Wise Steps, a series on Proverbs

Text: Proverbs 6:6-11

You can listen to this sermon here.



In all toil there is profit, but mere talk tends only to poverty (Prov. 14:23). 



The Ultimate Purpose of Work

When I was in Bible college, one of my friends was taking a lot of naps and getting behind on his assignments. One day, I went into his room when he wasn’t there and wrote the following words on the ceiling tile above his bed: “How long will you lie there, O sluggard? When will you rise from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man” (Prov. 6:9-11). I don’t think he was too impressed by my prank.

How should we view our work?

Many Christians think they live two different lives: a spiritual life (attending church meetings, reading the Bible, praying) and a regular life (doing your job, preparing a meal, mowing the lawn). But the apostle Paul writes, “Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31; cf. 6:19-20). This means that our work—whether it’s paid or unpaid work—should be viewed as spiritual.

We should view our work as a way to bring glory to God. 

“The ultimate purpose of work is neither income, nor prestige, nor self-fulfillment. Rather, it is to bring glory to God. That’s what it means for work to be a calling.” [1]


Created in the Image of a Working God

The Bible begins with God working. God is a working God. Jesus said, “My Father is working until now, and I am working” (John 5:17). God “created man in his own image” (Gen. 1:27), and when we work, we act like God.

Work was a part of God’s original plan for humanity. God commanded Adam to “subdue [the earth]” (Gen. 1:28) and to “work [the garden of Eden] and keep it” (Gen. 2:15). But work became difficult after sin entered the world. After Adam sinned, God said to him, “Cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground” (Gen. 3:17-19).


The Work of Jesus

For the Christian, Proverbs is more about a who than a what. The “who” is Jesus. He lived out the wisdom of Proverbs. So learning to live by the wisdom found in Proverbs is learning to live like Jesus.

When Jesus lived on this earth, he worked. The Gospels tell about his days as a rabbi (teacher), but what did he do before he became a rabbi? In Mark 6:3, the people of Nazareth were astonished by Jesus’ teaching, and they said, “Is not this the carpenter…?” (cf. Matt. 13:55). The Greek word translated “carpenter” is tekton. A tekton was “someone who could work with wood, metal, or stone. He could be a builder, a mason, or a carpenter. In Jesus’ Palestinian context, it probably denoted a woodworking handyman.” [2] Jesus knew what it was like to do difficult work. The creator of the universe (John 1:3; Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:2) was a labourer.

On the night of his arrest, Jesus prayed to the Father, “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do” (John 17:4). In all of his work—whether it was his work as a carpenter, his work as a teacher, or his work as a Savior dying for the sins of the world—Jesus glorified the Father.


Avoiding Two Extremes

If we are to glorify God in our work, we must avoid two extremes. We must not be a sluggard or a workaholic. Basically, Proverbs tells us that laziness is foolish and productivity is wise. Proverbs 14:23 says, “In all toil there is profit, but mere talk tends only to poverty.” [3] And Proverbs 28:19 says, “Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread, but he who follows worthless pursuits will have plenty of poverty” (cf. Prov. 12:11). [4]

1. We must not be like the sluggard who hates work. 

I once saw a sign in a workshop that said, “Work fascinates me. I can sit and look at it for hours.” There is one thing that the sluggard excels at: finding ways to avoid work. Of course, avoiding work is foolish: “The sluggard does not plow in the autumn; he will seek at harvest and have nothing” (Prov. 20:4). In contrast to the sluggard is “the excellent wife” of Proverbs 31 who “looks to the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness” (Prov. 31:27).

2. We must not be like the workaholic who worships work. 

To many people, work is an idol. Tim Keller defines an idol as “anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give. [An idol] is anything so central and essential to your life that, should you lose it, your life would feel hardly worth living.” [5]


Shining Our Light While We Work

Do you know how the early church grew so rapidly? Every Christian did evangelism. How did most Christians do evangelism? In the context of their relationships, including their work relationships. If a Christian was lazy or unethical in his work, he wouldn’t be an effective witness.

The best way to glorify God in our work is by being a “working missionary.” 

Jesus said to his followers, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see our good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16). How do we shine our light? By doing “good works.” Are these good works limited to religious work. No, they include regular work. What will happen when we shine our light while we work? People will be saved (i.e., they will believe and “give glory” to God; cf. 1 Peter 2:12).


[1] Anthony Selvaggio, A Proverbs Driven Life (Kindle edition), locations 502-504.
[2] David E. Garland, Mark, 231.
[3] We must remember that proverbs are general truths, not promises. There will not be profit in all toil. There are exceptions to the general truths in Proverbs.
[4] In Proverbs, there is a distinction between “the poor” and “the sluggard.” “The sluggard” becomes poor because of his laziness, but “the poor” are “those who are poor by virtue of circumstances beyond their control” (Bruce K. Waltke, Proverbs 1-15, 339).
[5] Timothy Keller, Counterfeit Gods, xvii.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Humility

Part 3 of Wise Steps, a series on Proverbs

Text: Proverbs 29:23

You can listen to this sermon here.



One’s pride will bring him low, but he who is lowly in spirit will obtain honor (Prov. 29:23).


The Irony of Pride and Humility 

When I was a kid, one of my favourite stories was Yertle the Turtle by Dr. Seuss. Yertle said to himself, “If I could sit high, how much greater I’d be! What a king! I’d be ruler of all that I see!” Yertle lifted himself up (on a stack of hundreds of other turtles), but eventually he had a big fall.

The irony of pride and humility is seen in Proverbs 29:23, which says, “One’s pride will bring him low, but he who is lowly in spirit will obtain honor.” When a person is arrogant, people want to see that person, but when a person is humble, they want to see that person honoured.

Pride lowers us, and humility lifts us up. 

Ray Ortlund puts it this way: “Pride humiliates us, and humility honors us.” [1] This is a theme found in Proverbs and throughout the rest of Scripture. “Toward the scorners he is scornful, but to the humble he gives favor” (Prov. 3:34; cf. James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5). “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom” (Prov. 11:2). “The fear of the LORD is instruction in wisdom, and humility comes before honor” (Prov. 15:33). “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Prov. 16:18). “Before destruction a man’s heart is haughty, but humility comes before honor” (Prov. 18:12). “The reward for humility and fear of the LORD is riches and honor and life” (Prov. 22:4).

Bruce Waltke describes humility as “the renunciation of human sufficiency.” [2] In the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18:9-14), the tax collector renounced his human sufficiency (“God, be merciful to me, a sinner!,” v. 13). But the Pharisee did not (“God, I thank you that I am not like other men,” v. 11). Jesus concluded the parable by saying, “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted” (v. 14; cf. Luke 14:11). We can’t be “justified” (v. 14) unless we humbly confess our sin and our need of a Savior. And those whom God justifies will also be “glorified” (Rom. 8:30).


Acknowledging Our Pride

C. S. Lewis wrote, “Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind.” [3] This is seen in Genesis 3’s account of the first sin. Adam and Eve wanted to “be like God” (v. 5).

Pride is difficult to see in ourselves, but it’s easy to see in others. We all struggle with pride, and pride leads to the following sins: boasting, looking down on others, living for the praise of others, ungratefulness, not listening to advice or correction, and refusing to repent.

Of course, you can be proud of someone or something without sinning. It's good to be proud of your child. But if you say to yourself, "Look at how good my son is. I'm a much better father/mother than the other parents I know," that's sinful pride.


Becoming More Humble

Humility is very elusive. Many people who think they’re humble are actually proud of their “humility.” We are not naturally humble. How can we become more humble?

1. We must remind ourselves that every good thing we have we owe to God's grace. 

Most prominent among God’s blessings is our salvation. To the Ephesian believers, the apostle Paul wrote, “By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:8-9). But we should boast about what Christ has done for us: “Far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Gal. 6:14).

Paul wrote to the church at Rome, “I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think” (Rom. 12:3). Pride is thinking too highly of ourselves. But being humble isn’t saying, “I’m a nobody.” It’s saying, “I’m a somebody because of God’s grace.” As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 1:31, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord” (cf. Jer. 9:23-24; 2 Cor. 10:17).

2. We must remind ourselves of the astonishing humility of our Lord. 

The apostle Paul wrote to the church at Philippi, “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Phil. 2:3). He encouraged them to be humble by reminding them that Jesus, the God-man, “humbled himself” (Phil. 2:8). From beginning to end—from the manger to the cross—his earthly life was one of humility. Jesus said, “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28).

On the night that Jesus was betrayed and arrested, he washed his disciples’ feet (John 13:5). He told them, “I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you” (v. 15). During that same meal, “A dispute also arose among [the disciples], as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest” (Luke 22:24). Jesus rebuked them by saying, “Who is greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves” (v. 27).

We are quick to condemn the disciples for their pride, but don’t we often act the same? When we think about the humility of Jesus, doesn’t our pride seem so foolish, so awful, so out of place?

Monday, August 18, 2014

Being Wise with Our Words

Part 2 of Wise Steps, a series on Proverbs

Text: Proverbs 18:21a

You can listen to this sermon here.



Death and life are in the power of the tongue (Prov. 18:21a).


The Power of Our Words

According to Ray Ortlund, the book of Proverbs “has more to say about our words than anything else it addresses in our lives—more than money, sex, or family.” [1]

When I was a kid, I used to say, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never harm me.” But is there anyone who has never been harmed by words? We shouldn’t underestimate the power of our words. Proverbs 18:21 says, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.”

Our words have the power to do great good or great evil, so we must be wise with our words. 

In the book of James, the tongue is compared to a small spark, and James writes, “How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire!” (James 3:5).


The Sin of Gossip

Sometimes people think that a sin like gossip is a “little sin,” but it destroys churches. The book of Proverbs addresses the sin of gossip. “Whoever covers an offense seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates close friends” (Prov. 17:9; cf. 16:28). “The words of a whisperer are like delicious morsels; they go down into the inner parts of the body” (Prov. 18:8). “An evildoer listens to wicked lips, and a liar gives ear to a mischievous tongue” (Prov. 17:4). “Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets; therefore do not associate with a simple babbler” (Prov. 20:19).

How would you answer the following question: Will a gossiper go to heaven? Jesus said, “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, [2] and by your words you will be condemned” (Matt. 12:36-37). This is true because “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (v. 34). The apostle Paul states that “revilers” (“slanderers,” NIV) will not “inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor. 6:10; cf. Rom. 1:29-30).


Think Before You Speak

How many times have you said to yourself, “I shouldn’t have said what I said”? And how many times have you said to yourself, “I should have said something”? How can we be wiser with our words? We need to think before we speak. “The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things” (Prov. 15:28). Before we speak, we should ask ourselves three questions.

1. Is this the right thing to say? 

We should remember the advice of Proverbs 10:19: “When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent” (cf. 21:23). But this doesn’t mean we should always remain quiet. Proverbs 16:24 says, “Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.” Instead of gossiping about others, we should encourage others with our words. “Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad” (Prov. 12:25). What we say should be beneficial to others: “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Eph. 4:29). 

2. Is this the right time to say it? 

Sometimes we are guilty of speaking when we shouldn’t. Other times we are guilty of not speaking when we should (e.g., sharing the gospel). Proverbs 15:23 says, “To make an apt answer is a joy to a man, and a word in season, how good it is!” (cf. 25:11). Sometimes saying a good thing can be a bad thing if the timing is wrong: “Whoever blesses his neighbor with a loud voice, rising early in the morning, will be counted as cursing” (Prov. 27:14).

3. Is this the right way to say it?

It’s better to say nothing than to say the right thing the wrong way. Proverbs 15:1 says, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” We are to speak the truth, but we are to speak “the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15). If you can’t speak the truth in love, don’t speak.


The Wise Words of Jesus

The book of Proverbs should not be seen as merely a book about good morals. We should view it as a way to follow the wise steps of Jesus. He has given us an example “so that [we] may follow in his steps” (1 Peter 2:21). Jesus was the embodiment of wisdom. When he spoke, he always spoke wise words. The people of Nazareth “marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth” (Luke 4:22; cf. John 7:46). Sometimes the words of Jesus were very strong (e.g., “You hypocrites!”, Matt. 15:7).

Jesus knew when to speak and when not to speak. The apostle Peter writes, “He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten” (1 Peter 2:22-23). Imagine how difficult it was for Jesus to remain silent. But he remained silent because there was something more important than defending himself: dying for our salvation. He put others before himself, so he didn’t speak. If we always put others before ourselves, how would our words change?

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Foundation of Wisdom

Part 1 of Wise Steps, a series on Proverbs

Text: Proverbs 1:7

You can listen to this sermon here.



The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction (Prov. 1:7). 


A Strategy Guide for Life

Back in 1990, Nintendo released Super Mario Bros. 3. If you ever come across a list of the greatest video games of all time, Super Mario Bros. 3 will probably be on that list.

During the summer of 1990, the company that makes Popsicles had a contest. You could collect Popsicle points and earn prizes. (The points were printed on the Popsicle sticks.) One of the prizes was a copy of Super Mario Bros. 3. I remember my brother collecting Popsicle points that summer. (We must have eaten a lot of Popsicles!) Near the end of summer, he finally had collected enough points for the video game. He put all of his Popsicle sticks into an envelope and mailed them to the company.

As he anxiously waited for his game to arrive in the mail, my brother bought a strategy guide for Super Mario Bros. 3. I'm sure the more he read the guide, the more excited he got to play the game. Finally, something from the Popsicle company arrived in the mail. He opened it up, but there was no game. All of the copies of Super Mario Bros. 3 had already been given out. My brother had a strategy guide, but no game.

The book of Proverbs is sort of like a strategy guide for life. Of course, life is more difficult than a video game. But the book of Proverbs can help us make wise life decisions.


What Is Wisdom?

What is wisdom? There is a difference between having knowledge and having wisdom. There are many smart people who are also very foolish. In the age of the internet, knowledge is abundant, but wisdom is rare.

Wisdom is the ability to make good decisions based on knowledge. 

It could be said that wisdom is skillful living. The book of James is often call the NT’s wisdom book. James 1:22 says, “Be doers of the word, and not hearers only.” Having knowledge (hearing) without also having wisdom (doing) is not living skillfully.


Gaining Wisdom 

Proverbs 1:7 says, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge.” Knowledge and wisdom are closely connected in Proverbs. We pursue knowledge so that we can have wisdom. Psalm 111:10 says, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom.”

Bruce Waltke writes that the “fear of the LORD” is “the key to Proverbs.” [1]  What is “the fear of the LORD”? It’s not being afraid of God. The fear of the LORD has been described as “worshipping submission,” [2]  “reverent obedience,” [3] and “affectionate reverence.” [4] The fear of the LORD consists of both reverence for God and love for God, and it leads to obedience. Job 28:28 says, “Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to turn away from evil is understanding.”

Wisdom begins with an affectionate reverence for God. 

“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge.” The fear of the LORD is like a foundation. When you build a house, you begin with the foundation. But you never stop needing the foundation.

Why should we have an affectionate reverence for God? The gospel stirs us to not only revere God, but also love him. When we revere and love God, we desire to obey his commands. The book of Proverbs provides wisdom for obeying God’s commands.


Valuing Wisdom 

Proverbs 1:7 also says, “Fools despise wisdom and instruction.” Why should we choose the path of God’s wisdom? 1.

1. Living wisely is the best way to live. 

Consider how better (not necessarily easier) our lives would be if we (and others) always followed the wisdom of God. According to Proverbs, it’s wise to work hard: “He who gathers in summer is a prudent son, but he who sleeps in harvest is a son who brings shame” (Prov. 10:5). It’s wise to be humble: “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom” (Prov. 11:2). It’s wise to listen to others: “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice” (Prov. 12:15). It’s wise to speak kind words: “There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing” (Prov. 12:18).

2. Living wisely makes us resemble Christ. 

Luke 2:40 tells us that Jesus became “filled with wisdom” (cf. 2:52). Solomon was wise, but Jesus declared that he was “greater than Solomon” (Luke 11:31; cf. Matt. 12:42). Jesus is “the very incarnation of wisdom.” [5] (Many scholars believe that the personification of wisdom in Proverbs 8 is a description of Jesus.) Jesus was also a teacher of wisdom.

Proverbs 4:9 says that wisdom “will bestow on you a beautiful crown.” “Wisdom is the grace of Christ beautifying our daily lives.” [6] When our lives resemble the beauty of Christ’s character, we become effective witnesses for the gospel.


Life Isn't a Video Game

All of us make foolish decisions. Not all of our steps are wise. And, unlike a video game, life doesn’t have a restart button.

Proverbs gives us wisdom for our relationships, work, wealth, and words. We can’t change the past. But hopefully our study of Proverbs will help us take wise steps.

[1] Bruce K. Waltke, The Book of Proverbs: Chapters 1-15, 100.
[2] Derek Kidner, The Proverbs: An Introduction and Commentary, 59.
[3] David A. Hubbard, The Preacher’s Commentary: Proverbs, 48.
[4] Charles Bridges, Proverbs, 17.
[5] Tremper Longman, Proverbs, 67.
[6] Raymond C. Ortlund Jr., Proverbs: Wisdom that Works, 17.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

How Can Prayer Be Less Frustrating?

Part 12 of Authentic, a series on 1 John

Text: 1 John 5:14-21

You can listen to this sermon here.



And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him (vv. 14-15). 


Frustration with Prayer

After I preached this sermon on prayer, someone in my church told me that they had a frustrating experience with prayer the day before. They went to church thinking, "I hope today the sermon is on unanswered prayer."

Sometimes the biblical promises about prayer can cause us frustration because they don’t match up with our experience. One of these prayer promises is found in 1 John 5:14-15: “And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.” How can prayer be less frustrating?


Four Realities of Prayer

There isn’t an easy formula for prayer. When we pray, we should remember four realities of prayer.

1. When we pray, we should remember that it’s normal to be frustrated with prayer. 

There are many biblical examples of people who were frustrated with prayer. One of these people was the prophet Habakkuk. The book of Habakkuk begins with the prophet complaining to God about unanswered prayer: “O LORD, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you, ‘Violence!’ and you will not save?” (Hab. 1:2). Sometimes it’s encouraging to discover that other people struggle like us. (We’re not happy about the struggles of others, but we are happy to know we’re not abnormal.)

2. When we pray, we should remember that we’re approaching a loving Father. 

Throughout 1 John, John has emphasized that believers are God’s children (“born of God”). In 3:1, he wrote, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” God is a Father who loves his children more than we can imagine. Because we know God loves us, we can have “confidence” (v. 14) when we pray.

When we approach God in prayer, we are approaching a Father who wants what is best for us. Jesus said, “Which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him” (Matt. 7:9-11). Sometimes God’s children ask him for stones and serpents, and God says, “No.” Sometimes God grants his children’s requests for bread and fish, but he says, “Wait.” Sometimes God’s children ask for bread and fish, but God says, “I have something else planned for you” (e.g., Paul’s request in 2 Cor. 12:7-10).

3. When we pray, we should remember that prayer really does work. 

Sometimes, when something good happens, we think, “Maybe that was going to happen whether or not I prayed.” But prayer is not a waste of time. It’s possible that when we pray we can “have the requests that we have asked of him” (v. 15). Of course, this doesn’t mean that we can make God do things he doesn’t want to do.

4. When we pray, we should remember that prayer isn’t all about us. 

Prayer is about getting God’s will done, not ours (“if we ask anything according to his will,” v. 14). We should also prayer for the needs of others, not just our own needs (see v. 16).

Monday, July 14, 2014

How Can I Be Sure That I Have Eternal Life?

Part 11 of Authentic, a series on 1 John

Text: 1 John 5:6-13

You can listen to this sermon here.



And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life (vv. 11-12).


What's Most Important? 

What do you have planned for the rest of your summer? A summer vacation? A home improvement project? Weekends at the cottage?

In the busyness of life, we sometimes forget about what is most important. There is nothing more important than having eternal life. How can I be sure that I have eternal life?


A Perplexing Passage

To what do “the water and the blood” refer (v. 6)? Gary Burge writes that “First John 5:6 is perhaps the most perplexing verse in all of the Johannine letters” (Letters of John, 201).  The most common interpretation is that “the water” refers to the baptism of Jesus, and “the blood” refers to his crucifixion. Since John’s opponents apparently didn’t agree with him on “the blood” (“not by the water only, but by the water and the blood”), it could be that they were de-emphasizing the cross.

Why does the KJV contain a statement about the Trinity (v. 7) that is not found in modern translations? The KJV reads, “For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.” Most Greek manuscripts don’t include these words, and undoubtedly they were not in John’s original letter.


Having Eternal Life

“And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life” (v. 11). Eternal life is not something we receive when we die; it’s a present possession. “Gave” is in the past tense. John is writing to people who already have eternal life. Also, eternal life is more than a quantity of life; it’s a quality of life. Jesus said that he came to earth so that people could “have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).

Of the 136 occurrences of “life” (zoe) in the NT, 66 of them are found in John’s writings. To have eternal life is to pass “out of death into life” (3:14; cf. John 5:24). To have eternal life is to “not perish” (John 3:16; 10:28). To have eternal life is to avoid “the wrath of God” (John 3:36). To have eternal life is to “never be thirsty again” (John 4:14; cf. 6:35). To have eternal life is to “not come into judgment” (John 5:24; cf. v. 29). To have eternal life is to be raised up on the last day (John 6:40, 54). To have eternal life is to “not walk in darkness,” but “have the light of life” (John 8:12). To have eternal life is to live after death (John 11:25). To have eternal life is to know the one true God and Jesus Christ whom he sent (John 17:3).

How can we be sure that we have eternal life?

1. If you have eternal life, your faith is in Jesus. 

“And this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life” (vv. 11-12). To “have” Jesus is to have him abiding in you. When you have something, it does its thing for you (John Piper, "He Who Has the Son Has Life"). For example, if you have a car, it does its thing for you: gives you transportation. If you have Jesus, he does his thing for you: gives you eternal life.

Jesus abides in those who believe in him (v. 13). We must do more have beliefs about Jesus; we must have believe in him. In other words, we must trust in him. If you are going on a trip, you must trust in your car. Some cars aren’t reliable, but Jesus is always reliable. When we trust in what he has done for us through his death and resurrection, we have the Son and eternal life.

2. If you have eternal life, your desires have been changed. 

“I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life” (v. 13). Throughout 1 John, John has been writing that people who have eternal life have a desire to obey God and love others. We don’t earn eternal life by obeying and loving, but our desire to obey and love is a sign that we have eternal life.


Make Sure 

We’re told to make sure we do certain things (e.g., brush your teeth, get a good education, save for retirement).

But we must make sure that we have eternal life. And also make sure we do what we can so that others also receive eternal life. Nothing is more important than having eternal life.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

What Is Faith?

Part 10 of Authentic, a series on 1 John

Text: 1 John 5:1-5

You can listen to this sermon here.



Who is he that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? (v. 5).


Mocking Faith 

If you’re someone who regularly uses Facebook or Twitter, you’ve probably come across several anti-Christian memes. Someone I follow on Twitter has created a fake atheist Twitter account. The account has over 400 followers. All he does is tweet silly anti-religion memes. For example: "Faith: Pretending to know things you don’t know." "Give me an 'F.' Give me an 'A.' Give me an 'I.' Give me a 'T.' Give me an 'H.' What have you got? No evidence!" "Science adjusts its views based on what’s observed. Faith is denial of observation so that belief can be preserved."

Are Christians foolish for having faith? No. Usually, when Christian faith is mocked, the person doing the mocking doesn’t understand what Christian faith really is. What is faith?


Real Faith

John writes that every person who has been born of God “believes” (vv. 1, 5). Faith is essential to the Christian life.

1. Faith is well-founded belief. 

A “well-founded” belief is “based on good reasoning, information, or judgment.” Christians believe that “Jesus is the Christ” (v. 1) and that “Jesus is the Son of God” (v. 5). John wrote his Gospel so that people would make these affirmations about Jesus: “Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:30-31).

What caused John to believe? It was the resurrection of Jesus. John says that he found the tomb empty except for the cloths that had been wrapped around Jesus dead body: “Then the other disciple [John]…went in [the tomb], and he saw and believed” (John 20:8). John also claims that the risen Jesus appeared to John and the other disciples (John 20:19-20).

The majority of scholars (including non-Christian scholars) accept the following facts: (1) Jesus died; (2) Jesus’ tomb was empty; and (3) Jesus’ followers (e.g., John) sincerely believed that they had seen the risen Jesus. Christians believe that the best explanation of the facts is that Jesus really did rise from the dead.

2. Faith is life-altering belief.

Faith is more than merely “believing the right things” (i.e., being theologically correct). Faith in the gospel is something that changes our lives. When we believe that “God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him” (4:9), we can’t help but love God. And when we love God, we seek to please him. “This is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome” (v. 3). (Those who have faith in Christ also have been given the Holy Spirit, and “the fruit of the Spirit is love,” Gal. 5:22.)

In 2:15, John wrote, “Love not the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” To “love the world” is to have the values of the world (i.e., to live for what the world is living for). To the world, God’s commandments are burdensome. The world isn’t interested in doing God’s will. But, John writes, “Everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith” (v. 4). Jesus said, “What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” (Matt. 16:26).

Thursday, July 3, 2014

How Can I Have More Love for Others?

Part 9 of Authentic, a series on 1 John

Text: 1 John 4:7-21

You can listen to this sermon here.



Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another (v. 11).


Inspiration Needed

Is there a project that's been on your to-do list for a long time? Many times, there are things we should do that we lack inspiration to do. Loving others (i.e., giving of ourselves to help others) is something we know Christians should do. John writes, “Beloved, let us love one another” (v. 7).

Love is not an option for a follower of Jesus. Jesus himself said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35). 

Our default setting is self-centeredness. We’re naturally more concerned with how other people can help us than how we can help other people. How can we have more love for others?

God’s love provides the inspiration to love others. 


God's Love Revealed 

John writes that “love is from God” (v. 7). If we want to know what love really is, we should look at what God has done for us. Verses 10 begins with the words “In this is love.” (The NLT says, “This is real love.”) John also states that “God is love” (v. 8). That’s who he is. God is continually showing love to others. The death of Jesus was a public demonstration of God’s love for us: “The love of God was made manifest among us” (v. 9).

God loves us so much that he sent his only Son to die for us. 

John emphasizes the depth of God’s love by stating that “God sent his only Son into the world” (v. 9) and that God “sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (v. 10).

God’s “only Son” was sent into the world “so that we might live through him” (v. 9). The Greek word for “only” is monogenes. It’s found nine times in the NT. The word is used to described the widow of Nain’s “only son” (Luke 7:12; cf. 8:42; 9:38; Heb. 11:17). Colin Kruse writes, “In each of these cases the expression is used to add poignancy to a story by highlighting that it was the person’s ‘one and only’ child who was in dire need, threatened, or had died” (The Letters of John, 158-59). The word is found four times in the Gospel of John to describe Jesus, including 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (cf. John 1:14, 18; 3:18).

The Greek word for “propitiation” is hilasmos. In the NT, it’s found only twice—both times in 1 John (2:2; 4:10). In paganism, a propitiation was a sacrifice that appeased the wrath of a god. Christian propitiation is different. God is the one who provided the propitiation: his only Son. And God did not force his Son to die for us. Jesus willingly died: “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us” (3:16.)


Inspired by God's Love 

Fear is not the right motivation to obey God’s command to love others. “Whoever fears has not been perfected in love” (v. 18). “Perfection in love here involves a love for God which is based upon our sense of God’s love for us, and this love relationship is what removes our fear as we face the day of judgement” (Kruse, 168-69). “There is no fear in love, but [God’s] perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment” (v. 18).

Love is the right motivation to obey God’s command to love others. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). John writes, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (v. 11). He also states, “We love because he first loved us” (v. 19).

When we realize how much God loves us, we are inspired to please him by loving others.

Did you know that every Christian should be a preacher? If you’re a Christian, you should preach daily to at least one person: yourself. We must daily preach to ourselves the gospel.

When it’s difficult to give of ourselves to others, we need to remind ourselves that God loved us so much that he gave his only Son to die for us.