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The random technotheolosophical blogging of Reid S. Monaghan​

Introduction to the Proverbs

Introduction [1]

Wisdom, as related to human beings, may simply be defined as the life quality that enables one to make good choices in the complicated circumstances of life in order to walk a good path. For the follower of Jesus, wisdom is the art of godly living.

Every culture knows that there is a way to live that is rightly called foolishness. There really is a way to waste your life and fizzle your days away filled with folly. We are always seeking wisdom from others yet many times we go all over the place looking to figure out how life works.

Bookstores are jammed full with self-help books offering wisdom to the seeker. Movies and literature are filled with wise characters (Yoda and Gandalf the gray being some of my favorites). There is never a shortage of gurus being paraded out on the Oprah Winfrey show. Usually they are western dudes dabbling in eastern philosophy who write books and get paid.

Ironically, we are people who are surrounded by impressive knowledge but seem to be profoundly lacking in wisdom. Our culture seems to have a deficit of wisdom as we tend to float like empty ballasts upon a sea of nothingness. I offer MTV’s Jersey Shore as humble proof. Seriously, how many times can a chic fall in love and give everything she has to some idiot during the course of a summer?

We may know how to split the atom, make machines talk, decode the genome and scan the electrical activities of our brains but we remain unsure about how to make life work. In our search for meaning and happiness we simply lack the wisdom we truly need.

On Gaining Wisdom

Wisdom is something that grows in us progressively as we walk with God in his world. It is no coincidence that the ancients saw the elderly as a source of wisdom; they have lived more life with God and have learned from him through teaching and experience. Proverbs 20:29 teaches us that the glory of young men is their strength, but the splendor of old men is their gray hair. It is not always the case that old age = wisdom, but there is a general principle here that we can learn and deepen in wisdom over time. The tragic story of King Rehoboam ignoring the wisdom of the elderly for the counsel of some punk young men is a classic example of this principle. You can read this in 1 Kings 12 in the Old Testament.

There is a bit of a paradox with wisdom.  It is the thing we need most when we are young, but being young we do not have it. This confronts people, particularly younger folk, with some difficult choices.  Will I learn from the wisdom God has given to others? Or will I remain an idiot? In our pride we can choose the latter, but if we are willing to humble ourselves, there are several ways that we can grow in wisdom.

Study and listening to God’s Word

God has revealed himself through his Word that we can study, read, listen, meditate upon and obey. Over time we gain the ability to discern good from evil (Hebrews 5:11-14) by the constant practice of the teaching of God. Learning and following over time results in becoming wise.  Will we come to the Word for wisdom?

Heeding the words of the Wise

Proverbs 11:14 reads, where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety. Further Proverbs 24:6 teaches us that in an abundance of counselors there is victory. Of course, the counselors must actually be wise, but the point is that we can learn from others if we listen. In fact the book of Proverbs begins by with these words: Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance, to understand a proverb and a saying, the words of the wise and their riddles. Our parents, pastors and our community of faith have wise counsel for us...but we don’t always listen.  My favorite is to combine the first two – to hear the words of the wise, in the Scriptures. This essay will roll into that discussion in a minute.

Learning the Hard Way

The final way we learn is the hard way. This is where we do foolish stuff and we reap the reality. We all have been here have we not? God is kind and will discipline us to help us walk in wisdom. Yet as I tell my kids, you can learn just by listening to me—but like Bill Cosby once said, some children simply cannot get by without a good beating. [2]

In this paper we aim to do the following.  First, we hope to provide a very short introduction to the wisdom literature of the Bible in general and the book of Proverbs in particular. In doing so we’ll encourage one another to become wise by heading and hearing the wisdom of the wise in Scripture. 

The Wisdom Literature of the Bible

There are many genres of literature (or kinds of writing) in the Holy Scriptures. There are histories, narratives, poems, law codes, songs, letters, writings about the end of history, parables, covenants and prophesies about events declaring God’s judgments and actions throughout history. There is also a unique body of writings properly called wisdom literature. The canonical books of Job, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Proverbs, some of the Psalms, the writings of James and portions of the teachings of Jesus are rightly seen as writings offering wisdom for God’s people.

Outside of the book of Proverbs, many of these treasures can be greatly unknown to many in the church, yet they offer great counsel to the human race living in a world cursed due to sin and death. Job teaches us about life as suffering in relationship with God. Ecclesiastes offers a philosophical reflection on meaning, happiness and the transient nature of life. Song of Songs teaches us about life as covenantal love.  These themes are profoundly important and speak loudly with alacrity millennia after these works were inspired and written down. [3]

The biblical wisdom literature is a body of unique writings in that they instruct God’s covenant people (those who have entered relationship with him through his gracious promises and work in Jesus the Messiah) in how they are to walk with him on the earth.  Living in wisdom is living in godliness reflecting the nature of the kingdom of God in the course of everyday living. Many peoples, both ancient [4] and modern, posses a body of wisdom literature but what makes the biblical writings distinct are their relationship to YHWH, the creator God. In the wisdom literature of the Bible we have writing that is not just enormously practical for all people on the earth, but also a description for how to live in the fear of the LORD. [5]

Old Testament scholar Bruce Waltke rightly observes that the wisdom in Scripture exhorts us away from autonomy from God (Proverbs 3:7 being wise in your own eyes) and to live in trusting relationship with God following his paths (Proverbs 3:5-6). Though we find wise teaching of great value outside of Scripture, the wisdom of the Bible is unique in that its aims are far beyond just happily getting by on the earth. It is given to us to teach us to live within a trusting relationship with God as his people.  

A note on non biblical wisdom

In coming to the words of the wise and the writing of the sages, we must remember that there are various flavors of wisdom floating around.  There is a worldly wisdom that exists in the people, philosophies and religions which flow around us.  Many of these have much to say to us, but much of it stands in contradiction to the wisdom of God.  On two occasions the book of Proverbs reminds us “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death. [6] Additionally, the New Testament writing of James is very clear for us here:

13Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. 14But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. 15This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. 17But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. 18And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. James 3:13-18 (ESV)

As wisdom is offered to us as we sojourn on the earth, we must be concerned to discern it through the teaching of the Scriptures.  In the Bible we have a sure word that can keep us from crashing like a runaway train being led astray by all manner of human opinions. Human wisdom is helpful at times as it has been forged in the furnaces of experience, but it must sit under the throne of a higher word that speaks from a higher place.  Duane A. Garrett makes a good observation that we would do well do remember as we seek to learn and grow in wisdom.

Finally, biblical wisdom stresses the limitations of human knowledge. The gulf between human perception and divine reality is never really closed. The sage is commanded to go about his task with humility and reverence for God. The learned must never forget their limitations (Proverbs 30:2–4) and that they are prone to error and conceit. Above all, they must subordinate their quest to the Word of God. For “every word of God is flawless” (Proverbs 30:5).[7]

The Book of Proverbs

One of the most read and cherished portions of the Bible’s wisdom literature are the Hebrew Proverbs.  It is a collection of sayings from various people in the ancient world mostly compiled by the ancient Israelite King Solomon who reigned from 971–931 B.C.  We read in 1 Kings 4:29-34 that Solomon was a person whom God gave wisdom and understanding and that he indeed collected a quite a few proverbial sayings during his life. This passage states that his wisdom library included some 3000 proverbs and over a thousand songs. Now he couldn’t fit 1000 songs in his pocket, but he did manage to collect a plethora of wisdom in his life. Most biblical scholars segment the book into several sections based on the author of the sayings or when they were compiled.  The following is commonly used:

The Value of Seeking Wisdom (Chapters 1-9)

This section focuses on persuading people of the important nature of wisdom in the life of God’s people.  We also note the specific emphasis on parents teaching wisdom to the yutes [8] by way of proverbs.  Young people are also exhorted not to be hard headed and listen to their parents. Old School. There is some debate as to whether Solomon wrote these longer exhortatory poems with most conservative scholars agreeing with the attribution in Proverbs 1:1. [9]

The Proverbs of Solomon (Chapters 10-22:16)

After the early work of the book persuading us with the value of wisdom, the meat of the book are the proverbs of Solomon. These are shorter sayings than the sections in chapters 1-9 and cover all manner of topics. Proverbs 22:17–24:22 contains thirty sayings that are not attributed to Solomon but rather simply coming from “the wise”

The Collected Sayings of Solomon (Chapters 25–29:27)

Proverbs 25 begins with the following phrase: These also are proverbs of Solomon which the men of Hezekiah king of Judah copied. Hezekiah was a king who ruled much after Solomon in 715–686 B.C. and led a renewal of Judah’s spiritual practices and faith after a wayward time. During this time of spiritual renewal additional proverbs attributed to Solomon were written down.

The Sayings of Agur, Lemuel and one Hot Momma (Chapters 30 and 31)

The final two chapters contain the words of rather obscure people.  Chapter 30 is attributed to Agur son of Jakeh who is mentioned nowhere else in the Bible. Whether his name is a metaphor, a pen name, or a real person is not clear or certain. [10]

Finally, another quite unknown sage named Lemuel, possibly an Ancient Near Eastern King is given props for chapter 31.  Interestingly the words are said to have been taught to him by his Mother further reinforcing the importance of parents teaching wisdom to their kids. Some would couple the poem about the virtuous wife with the words of Lemuel, but one thing is for certain, the paradigm of feminine virtue extolled in the final words of Proverbs is a beautiful ideal.  Here we find a wife, mother and business woman who generous, wise and praised by her husband and her kids.

Some Help Reading Proverbs

In some ways Proverbs is a very easy book to read.  In fact, believers have found it easy to read one per day due to the breaking of the book into 31 chapters. On the other hand the Proverbs require a little help to understand and appropriate, well, wisely. What follow are two sections designed to help you read proverbs.  The first deals with the types of literary characters we find in the book and how understanding these help us grasp its message clearly. Second, we will wrestle with how to take the clarity of some of the Proverbs while living in a broken and fallen world. Proverbs seems to promise health, prosperity and the righteous finishing on top.  Yet in other parts of Scripture we realize that we suffer, die and sometimes give up all wealth for the sake of following God. I’ll try to give a few points of help with this tension. 

Some Peeps in the Proverbs

When reading Proverbs we run across several characters who personify certain human trends and actions.  They do not refer to a specific person but serve as types which stand for many people.  We will look at the fool, the simple, the wise, the wicked (including scoffers, and those wise in their own eyes) and the righteous. Many times these characters are contrasted with one another, for instance the wise and the fool, in order for us to see clearly the path we ought to take. The introductory article in the ESV Study Bible by Garrett and Harris describes this well:

Also, these characters usually serve as idealized portraits: that is, they denote people exemplary for their virtue and wisdom or especially despicable for their evil. The literary name for this is “caricature”: portraits of people with features exaggerated for easy identification. The positive figures serve as ideals for the faithful, to guide their conduct and character formation. The negative figures are exaggerated portraits of those who do not embrace the covenant, so the faithful can recognize these traits in themselves and flee them. [11]

What follows is but a brief look at how Proverbs uses these caricatures in order to help us see more clearly the path of walking with God.

Fools and Folly

The fool is someone who shows himself to be not only lacking wisdom and discretion but also morally deficient.  We would call him an idiot or a moron but not simply in referring to intellectual capacity.  The fool in Proverbs is an idiot in the sense of the way he chooses to live his life. Americans like to watch the fool on various reality TV shows usually to feel self-righteous and better about their own lives. The fool talks to much, does not listen, lies regularly, thinks sin is funny, hates knowledge and wisdom and pretty much will have a ruinous end. Pull up the Bible online (www.gnpcb.org/esv/) and search for the word “fool” and you will find not a few Proverbs to read. Simply put, you don’t want to be an idiot so pay attention to the fool’s way of life as you read the Proverbs.

The Simple

The person who is called “simple” is one who is in a situation needing some learning about the ways of godly living. She is not as far gone as the fool and her life could change or stay simple (Proverbs 1:22, 32). The simple are called to take head and listen and choose a path of wisdom rather than the moronic idiocy of the fool. The simple are easily deceived (Proverbs 14:15) and need to stop and think about her decisions. 

The Wise and Wisdom

The wise are those whom are taking the path which God sets out for us and are to be emulated. The lives of the wise are typified by hearing and learning from the ways of God (Proverbs 1:5; 8:33; 10:8; 12:15).  The mouth of the wise is used for teaching, healing and preserving rather than tearing down (Proverbs 12:18; 14:3; 15:2,7).  The wise avoids sexual misdeeds and adultery (Proverbs 5 and 6; 23:26-28) and stays away from drunkenness which is common deep downtown in Liquortown (Proverbs 20:1; 23:29-35).

Wisdom itself is personified in the book of Proverbs and is said to speak to us and cries out for us to listen. Many have rightly linked the personification of wisdom with the person of Jesus, the son of God. The New Testament teaches us that Christ is the wisdom of God and that in him are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. The way of wisdom is found in following a way that is set out by God.  The way of wisdom is following in the way of Jesus as his disciple

The Wicked

Joining the fool in Proverbs as a negative character is the way of the wicked. While we observe the fool’s jacked up choices in everyday life, we see that the way of the wicked is utter rejection of the covenant making God. The wicked is seen as setting his way in opposition to God and seeking to take others with him.  He is sometimes called a “sinner” (Proverbs 1) but not in the sense that everyone sins and falls short of the glory of God.  He is a sinner whose joy and goal in life is sinning it up and commending this as a good way to live.  The wicked are said to be under God’s curse (Proverbs 3:33), living in darkness (Proverbs 4:19), live in a way that is an abomination to God (Proverbs 15:9) and will come to sudden, disastrous ruin.  The message in Proverbs: you want to go to Hell? Walk in the way of the wicked and only the wrath of God remains.

The Righteous

There is a character in Proverbs known as righteous which shows the rich blessing of walking in covenant relationship with God.  The righteous is also called upright, diligent and prudent to describe this way of life to us. [12] The righteous is similar to the wise person whereas here the relationship with God is central rather than every day decisions and living. It should be obvious to any reader of the Scripture that our relationship with God (righteousness) and holy, wise living in the world are always conjoined.  As followers of Jesus we understand that we are made righteous by God and we live righteously in our lives by his empowering Spirit.  Proverbs does not present a self-righteous person living in his own strength, but rather one dependent upon God who makes straight his paths. The path of the righteous is light, his way is understanding and knowledge, his mouth and lips bring blessing to others and he is ultimately delivered by God.

A few Miscellaneous Peeps

Finally, there are also a few special folks listed in Proverbs: The sluggard, scoffers and those who are wise in their own eyes.  The scoffer loves to mock and deride God’s people and those who are wise in their own eyes are utterly deceived.  The former suffers from a deep arrogance and pride (Proverbs 21:24) while the latter’s condition is almost seen as without hope (Proverbs 26:12). The sluggard is the lazy guy who loves to sleep, never finishes anything he starts pretty much fails to utilize opportunities before him. [13] Derek Kidner, in commenting on the sluggard, made the following observation: [the sluggard] does not commit himself to a refusal, but deceives himself by the smallness of his surrenders.  So, by inches and minutes, his opportunity slips away.[14]

Promises and Truths of Proverbs

As the Proverbs are so practical and easy to read we must be careful not to misunderstand their message.  There are several principle which can help us to ascertain and properly understand the proverbs.  Let me give a few examples of the problems which can arise.

  • Proverbs 22:6 teaches parents to train up a child in the way he should go and even when he is old he will not depart from it.  Does this mean that if you are perfect parents your kids will turn out to love and walk with God? Of course not, yet some parents claim this as a promise or guarantee. Now parents I am not taking this verse away from us; I just want us to come to it with humility.  We’ll talk more about proverb vs. promise in a moment.
  • Proverbs also teaches much about the nature of health and wealth and many a preacher on television will grab a proverb or two and promise all his hearers they are to be rich and never get sick! There are also verses like this one: Do not toil to acquire wealth; be discerning enough to desist (Proverbs 23:4)

So how do we understand the Proverbs as we read so as to not be led astray by our excitement nor minimize the wonderful teaching of these verses?  I pray the following might be of some help. I will use the example of wealth to illustrate each of these principles in order to help us read the proverbs with wisdom.

A few Principles for reading Proverbs

  1. Proverbs are dealing with observed probabilities, not absolute promises and guarantees. Dillard and Longman make a great observation for us here, “they are not divine promises [for every occasion] for the here and now, but true observations that time will bear out.” [15]
  2. Proverbs are to be read in the whole, not simply in their parts. There are many times other proverbs which balance the teaching of the first one you read. They do not nullify one another, but they give a bigger picture. Additionally, other parts of the wisdom literature and other parts of the Bible may shape how we understand a Proverb.
  3. Proverbs obtain in certain circumstances and life contexts. Wisdom is always exercised in real life, not simply in abstraction.  So Proverbs is not playing a pithy game when it tells us “Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself.” and then in the very next verse “Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes.” (Proverbs 26:4,5) The point here is that fools are complicated to deal with and wisdom would require balance.
  4. Proverbs are to be read with a long horizon of eternity – Even though some of the wise sayings dictate what usually happens with a certain course of action and behavior, they do not always obtain in the here and now. However, in light of eternity, they will prove true. In a fallen world where sin, death and injustice still have a hand in life we long for a day when the life, health, peace and prosperity talked of in Proverbs will be final and absolute. These have us long for the day when the righteous will inherit the earth in the Kingdom of Heaven.
  5. Proverbs are about life Coram Deo – The proverbs should not be read in a vacuum where God is not considered. I know this may seem like a ridiculous thing to say but we are a people who can love formulas and sayings more than we love God. God is sovereign and his will sometimes is mysterious.  Job’s wife and friends were quoting proverbial type wisdom to him when the truth of what God was doing was quite different. We trust a Sovereign God who have made sure promises with our lives.  We trust and stand on his actual promises to us in Jesus and hear and heed the wisdom in Proverbs.  There is a difference between a promise of God and a wise Proverb inspired by God.  One is sure and we rest in it, the other must be skillfully heard and applied.

OK, let us apply these to an example that many a prosperity preacher might use to talk of all the money Christians should have. Proverbs 13:22 says “A good man leaves an inheritance to his children's children, but the sinner's wealth is laid up for the righteous”

  1. If one absolutizes the latter part of this verse into a promise or a guarantee we must be required to think that whenever a wicked person dies some Christian is going to get all his money.  Some actually teach this sort of schmack. In the short term, this is not true
  2.  The book of Proverbs teaches much about wealth not simply this one verse; it might help us to know the bigger picture. Wealth is good is gained justly and in walking with God. Good stewardship will lead to the sort of blessing in the first half of this verse.  Proverbs 11:7 teaches us that “when the wicked dies, his hope will perish, and the expectation of wealth perishes too.”  There is nothing for the wicked after the grave, and his wealth goes to someone else.
  3. This entire proverb can be completely true now in certain circumstances. I know one personally.
  4. Ultimately all who belong to Jesus will quite literally “inherit the earth” and the wealth and riches of God will not remain with the wicked.  The long term horizon validates the Proverb completely.
  5. The promise of God is that we have a secure, unfading, eternal inheritance in Him (1 Peter 1:3-9) that includes every spiritual blessing in Christ (Ephesians 1). When the wicked continue to prosper in this age we know the final judgment of God will stand firm and clear.

I hope this simple example is helpful in thinking through the reading and living of the wisdom literature.  For those desiring a bit more discussion of this matter I refer you to Mark Dever’s excellent treatment in his sermon on Proverbs in The Message of the Old Testamant: Promises Made. [16]

Conclusion

There is a divine shout out going on in the world today where wisdom is crying out for us to hear.  God in his kindness has given us literature like Proverbs to shake our deaf ears. Proverbs 1:20-23 reads so clearly:

20 Wisdom cries aloud in the street, in the markets she raises her voice; 21at the head of the noisy streets she cries out; at the entrance of the city gates she speaks: 22“How long, O a simple ones, will you love being simple? How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge? 23 If you turn at my reproof, behold, I will pour out my spirit to you; I will make my words known to you.

How much more longing we have for wisdom as God’s people who see and savor Jesus Christ as “the wisdom and power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18-25) What a tremendous privilege we have to follow Jesus within who are all the hidden treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Colossians 2:3).

In proverbs wisdom is personified as shouting aloud in the streets to us? Will we listen? Wisdom was incarnate in Jesus Christ and crucified by the wisdom of the world. We will do the same day after day?  Derek Kidner, the late Old Testament scholar, commented simply on the urgency to gain wisdom: What it takes is not brains or opportunity, but a decision. Do you want it? Come and get it? [17]  Jesus was even simpler in his call to us all in relationship to wise living.  Come, follow me! Even concerning Lust, Language and Liquortown.

May each of us choose his paths, as he gives grace.

Reid S. Monaghan

Lead Pastor

 

Bibliography

Bromiley, G. W. , The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. Wm. B. Eerdmans., 1988; 2002.

Crossway Bibles. The Holy Bible : English Standard Version : The Esv Study Bible. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Bibles, 2008.

Dever, Mark. The Message of the Old Testament: Promises Made. Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2006.

Dillard, Raymond B., and Tremper Longman. An Introduction to the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1994.

Garrett, Duane A. Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs. Nashville, Tenn.: Broadman Press, 1993.

Kreeft, Peter. Three Philosophies of Life : Ecclesiastes-- Life as Vanity, Job-- Life as Suffering, Song of Songs-- Life as Love. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1989.

"The Urban Dictionary."

Waltke, Bruce K., and Charles Yu. An Old Testament Theology : An Exegetical, Canonical and Thematic Approach. 1st ed. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2007.

 

 

 

 

1.  This introduction is adapted from an essay I wrote during our study of Ephesians in the summer of 2009.  The original essay, Wise Guys, can be read at http://www.powerofchange.org/blog/2009/8/16/wise-guys.html

2. See Bill Cosby, “The Same Thing Happens Every Night” Available online at http://www.last.fm/music/Bill+Cosby/_/Same+Thing+Happens+Every+Night — worth a few minutes to laugh.

3. A good little reflection on these themes is found in Peter Kreeft, Three Philosophies of Life : Ecclesiastes-- Life as Vanity, Job-- Life as Suffering, Song of Songs-- Life as Love (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1989). Kreeft is a philosopher and not a theologian but still offers some helpful insights surrounding these wisdom oriented books of the Old Testament.

4.Bruce K. Waltke and Charles Yu, An Old Testament Theology : An Exegetical, Canonical and Thematic Approach, 1st ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2007), 898-901.

5. Proverbs 1:7 is clear that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” The term LORD here is God’s unique covenant name YHWH, or I AM as expressed in Exodus 3.

6. Proverbs 14:12 and 16:25

7.Duane A. Garrett, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (Nashville, Tenn.: Broadman Press, 1993), 58.

8. Yutes, plural for young adults. "The two yutes in question." - My Cousin Vinny"The Urban Dictionary."

9.Waltke and Yu, 905. See also the brief authorship discussion in Raymond B. Dillard and Tremper Longman, An Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1994), 236-237.

10. For more discussion on the identity of Agur see Proverbs, Book Of, in The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia Revised ed.: Wm. B. Eerdmans., 1988; 2002), s.v.

11.  Introduction to Proverbs, Crossway Bibles., The Holy Bible : English Standard Version : The Esv Study Bible (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Bibles, 2008).

12 Ibid.

13. Mark Dever, The Message of the Old Testament: Promises Made (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2006), 512-514.

14. Quoted by Mark Dever, Ibid., 513.

15. Dillard and Longman, 244.

16. Dever, 509-511.

17. Waltke and Yu, 908. Emphasis mine.

Walking with the Little Ones - Parenting in the Toddling Years

One of the great joys that Kasey and I have in our lives is being the parents of Kylene, Tommy and Kayla Monaghan. God has used them to teach us both so much and they add so much joy, and frustration at times, to our lives. As a mentor told me long ago, parenting is a quite the ride...sort of like a roller coaster, high highs which are sometimes followed by low lows. What we have learned is that if you focus well when your kids are young you can give them a life trajectory that flowers into something pretty cool. The following are a few quick tips that we learned parenting our kiddos through the young years – toddler to school age.

I’ve given it a cool acronym to make it memorable DTPL (G) – which pretty much means nothing other than Discipline, Teaching, Presence, and Love (Grace). Today we will only cover Discipline, but will likely roll these out over time here or on the JWell blog as I tend to get a little long winded at times. Also, I’m speaking for Kasey and me when I use the pronoun “we.”

Discipline

The Scriptures are pretty clear that parents are to bring their kids up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4). Too many times we might think of discipline as punishment but we need to see it differently. The right use of discipline helps a child to focus their energies into patterns of life that unleash true freedom, create a learning environment in the home, and a family where people both love and respect one another. It really is for everyone’s good that we discipline our kids.

Establishing Right Authority

There are a few important principles of discipline we’ve maintained with each of our children which have helped the culture of our home. First, our kids never get to disobey their parents. The scriptures teach “children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right” and they are to “honor their mother and father” (Ephesians 6:1,2, Exodus 20:12). I want to restate this. Our children NEVER get to disobey their parents. Do they? Of course they do. They are kids. They never “get to” without discipline. Now I’m not talking about parents acting like arbitrary rule-setting dictators and just making kids obey their every wish. What I am saying is that when I ask my kids to do X they should do it. If not, then there is direct disciplinary action. As kids get older they learn to reason, discuss and ask questions. We never discourage that. Here I’m talking about the toddling years. They need to learn to respect their parents and do what they say. They also need to accept a clear “no” answer without continuing to badger Mom or Dad.

So in summary:

  • Direct defiance and disobedience – always discipline right away
  • Not accepting “no” for an answer – always discipline right away
  • When they clearly break one of your household rules or do something wrong – always discipline (maybe not always right away – smile). We’ll share more on this below in establishing household flow.

This may sound exhausting and constant and guess what. It is. Yet it yields a harvest in the home where children respect authority. This respect builds toward a future where reason- ing, questions and dialogue with kids can take place.

Establishing Gospel Rhythms

The other important aspect of discipline in the home is not simply practicing punitive discipline, but gospel rhythms in our discipline. Kids should understand what it means to apologize, repent, and be explained the nature of what they did wrong. When they sin they should apologize specifically and be forgiven specifically. This requires patience in us as parents to not simply get angry and punish kids. It requires us to discipline them, in order to teach them, forgive them, and love them like crazy.

Establishing your Household Flow

Finally, you need to be clear about rules in your house. Obviously breaking commandments and sins against God are not good. The law, specifically the Ten Commandments, can be used as a teacher and good summary with kids. Even then, teach them why lying, stealing, killing etc are wrong. Usually our dishonoring of God or people made in his image is at the root. In addition to biblical truth, there are also “household rules” that you will establish for your family. What things are toys, what are not? Learning not to run sprints on top of the furniture? Or if that is cool in your home, that it may not be cool in public or the homes of a friend?

Loving discipline will help young kids know good boundaries and allow them the freedom to flourish. A young kid that grows up without respect for authority will have trouble in school, on the job, and can lead to even worse realities for them. Furthermore, a young kid that learns how to adapt to authority and appropri- ately interact with it will go a long way in this world. Yet most importantly we want our kids to learn to respect God, follow his ways, and understand his love and forgiveness when we sin. Your kids can learn all of this at home through consistent discipline over time in the toddler years.

One last thing. If you get on this when they are young and don’t bend or waver, their lives will be much easier to lovingly lead as they get older. If you think a two year old is terrible, wait until you have an undisciplined, disrespectful twelve-year-old. As John Witherspoon, the 6th President of Princeton, once wrote: “There is not a more disgusting sight than the impotent rage of a parent who has no authority” (Letters on the Education of Children, and on Marriage).

No kids are perfect; we should not expect this in any way. We should not expect our parenting to be of a flawless heavenly character either. Yet we can have courage to discipline, courage to follow through, and courage to love our kids in this way. There is a harvest from this effort that is indeed a good thing. As Hebrews 12:9-11 teaches us:

[9] Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? [10] For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. [11] For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

Discipline also must be accompanied by teaching/instruction, your presence in your kids lives, and extra loads of love topped with grace. We will take up those topics in the future together.

Also see the following sermons in the series “The Home Team

A New Mind

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This essay first appeared in the June 2014 Edition of Well Thought, the journal of the Jacob's Well community. 

Do people really change their minds about things in life? Maybe someone will convert from a PC to a Mac or from an Android phone to an iPhone but what about the really important things? The things that shape our view of the world? It is anecdotally true that people can get very set in their ways by a certain age, yet there is always the possibility for shaping new ways of thinking about life and reality.

As a young university student studying physics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, I underwent this sort of change. I was raised in a family where my father was an Irish Catholic agnostic. Church did not really play a big role in my life, so when I went to UNC on a wrestling scholarship I was not in any way “looking for God.”

As I began to ask some of the bigger questions in life, things really began to change for me. It very much started as a spiritual conversion. I sensed, in a very profound way, that although I was not looking for God, God was in a way coming to find me. I realized that I was beginning to see and to think differently about all of life. Something very strange happened; I actually wanted to read books. Don’t get me wrong, I was vice president of my high school’s National Honor Society and was in the top five percent of my class. I just liked scientific equations much more than literature. 

I will never forget when a Christian philosopher came to our campus to speak about the existence of God. He was a man who had two PhD’s, one in theology and one in philosophy, both at secular universities in Europe. I was intrigued. Yet it was something he said that night in a private Q&A with a smaller group of students that shook me profoundly. He said to develop a new mind you had to begin to think differently by allowing new ideas and new paradigms into your world. Then he said “as a student at a secular university, this might mean you have to read double.” 

As a Division I athlete with in a very vigorous course of study, I did not have extra time, so I cannot say this was an encouraging thing to hear at first. What he meant, however, stuck with me. I needed to learn to think and see the world as a follower of Jesus, because his way is different than the world around us. I not only needed to do my assigned reading for school, but I needed to read the Scriptures and Christian thinkers to have a different mind about things. So I stepped away from pursuing only position, power and possessions and began to renew my mind in light of the teachings of Jesus. I needed to see the world and my academic pursuits as a Christian. 

CS Lewis, the eminent literary scholar and author said it this way: 

I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else. i

During that season of my life I began to love new things, think about new things and make new choices that took my life in a different direction. My love for math and science was expanded by a desire to learn some of the more philosophical things about life. I graduated with a knowledge of science and letters but from a point of view that had been, well, changed. 

Most importantly, I saw something in my own story that I have since witnessed numerous times in others over the last two decades. God changes people when they think they cannot change themselves. This is, after all, the work of renewal that only God does in the hearts of human beings. He brings life and newness to us and we build upon these things with the renewal of our own minds. An early Christian leader wrote succinctly:

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.ii

If you think it’s time for a change take a look at Jesus of Nazareth, read his teachings, his life, death and resurrection in the Gospels.iii  Then see where the path might lead. You may just find some newness in your own story as you read of His. 

 

Notes 

i. CS Lewis, The Weight of Glory, “Is Theology Poetry”, 1944, p92.

ii. Selection from Romans 12:2 NIV84.

iii. I recommend beginning with the gospel according to Mark or John. Both good places to begin. 

On seeking comfort

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Seeking our own comfort is built in. We want to avoid pain and find the happy place in the world. But there is an attendant danger in seeking only comfort and not truth and even finding our duty. I ran across this quote this morning from the CS Lewis:

In religion, as in war and everything else, comfort is the one thing you cannot get by looking for it. If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end: If you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth--only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin with and, in the end, despair.

CS Lewis, Mere Christianity, book 1, chap 5, para 6, p39. Quoted in The Quotable Lewis ed Martindale and Root. 

Jacob's Well - Four Years this Weekend

Jacob's Well turns four on Friday. This video rolled out last week sharing a bit of that story. Very thankful for all our friends and JWell family giving their lives in gospel work in New Jersey.  

Should pastors try hard to be uncool?

Note: Much credit to IX Marks, a ministry I love and respect, for the inspiration for this post.  I agree with most of what they wrote...maybe they will agree also with me? I added #7 of my own accord. 

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  1. Being an uncool pastor is not the power of God for salvation—the gospel is. If we think that the success of our evangelistic efforts depends on the communication style we don't care about, we are missing it. We should just flow without any style so we can be sure the only thing that is attractive to anyone are Bible words. We should write them on vellum and keep them in our room. We want to show that our trust is in the power of God’s Word working by God’s Spirit, so we want to be as awkward and uncool as we can be so to be sure about this.
  2. Being disconnected to the culture is a double-edged sword. Though you can be sure you don't look cool, are not compelling, and be ignorant of what people care about, you might still be human enough to be in real relationships with sinners. Just don't be cool about it. Make them read the vellum if they want you to watch movies.
  3. Our desire to be uncool may reflect more pride than we’d like to admit. Let’s say you want to be pure, unaffected by the culture and only have heaven oriented slang, dress and style. Is your desire to cultivate that image driven by a desire to save the lost or a desire for people to like you? Or maybe to have God like you more than he like cool pastors.
  4. Much pastoral ministry is profoundly cool. Preaching the cross is the power of God to save people is really cool. Moreover, faithfully pleading with others to repent of their sins and be reconciled to God requires a pastor to be earnest and enthusiastic (aka cool) in a way that is utterly at odds with the ironic detachment that being uncool requires. If you define cool as ironic detachment that is not cool.
  5. We must never despise “cool” brothers and sisters in Christ. The more we try to be uncool ourselves, the more we’ll be tempted to look down on Christians who are not like us. Like those who have lots of tattoos.
  6. Being unlike the culture can make it hard for others to see the gospel. The more we understand the world and its definition of “cool,” the less attractive we should find it. In fact, in a society that is increasingly morally and spiritually bankrupt, it may be our identification with people in culture that serves to highlight the gospel. Rather than trying to be uncool, pastors should lead their churches to cultivate a living presence with people in their own culture (to borrow from God's example in the incarnation) that points to a gospel that is genuinely different from what the world believes. It also will have the body of Christ walking among people in every day life. If we are unlike the culture they cannot hear us, see us or understand us...which makes it hard for them to see the gospel.
  7. We should be cool and uncool like Jesus and Paul - Jesus become one of us in this world, in culture, with people in culture, hanging out with cool and uncool, the outcast, the one's with tattoos and no tattoos, loving the lost and preaching the gospel of the Kingdom. We should also be cool and uncool like the apostle who for the sake of the gospel became all things to all people so that by all possible means he might save some. And he knew cool poems that the kids listened to also...which is kinda cool. He also preached the Christ crucified for sinners and the cross as the only grounds for justification by faith...which is really cool.
Many people assume that the best way to reach people is to not be like them at all. Like non earthlings that share no humanity, language, clothing, media and flow with them. So, if pastors don't want to reach cool people, they should try to be uncool. But there are several problems with the idea that pastors should not try to be cool: