Lessons from Proverbs 3: The Pursuit of Wisdom Brings Security

My son, if you will receive my words and treasure my commandments within you,

Make your ear attentive to wisdom, incline your heart to understanding;

For if you cry for discernment, lift your voice for understanding;

If you seek her as silver and search for her as for hidden treasures;

Then you will discern the fear of the LORD and discover the knowledge of God.

For the LORD gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding

He stores up sound wisdom for the upright; He is a shield to those who walk in integrity

Guarding the paths of justice, and He preserves the way of His godly ones.

Then you will discern righteousness and justice and equity and every good course.

For wisdom will enter your heart and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul;

Discretion will guard you, understanding will watch over you.

Proverbs 2:1-11

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Here, the father reinforces the lesson that he gave previously by exhorting his son to earnestly pursue wisdom. In this statement, it is assumed that the natural disposition of our heart is to love our folly and thus to rebel against God’s wisdom. The son is charged to receive the words of the father and to treasure his commandments (v.1). In other words, the son is charged to internalize the father’s commandments for a definite purpose and to love his words. In the process of internalizing the father’s words, the son must be attentive to wisdom. Because wisdom is the full substance of the parent’s teaching and the skill required to live a godly life, the son must not only passively listen to his father, but he must carry out the command. He must be a “doer of the word, and not a hearer only” (cf. James 1:22)

However, in carrying out the father’s command, the son must understand that internalized wisdom is both a gift and a reward. It is a gift that is received by crying out to the Lord (and to his father) and yet it is something that must be diligently pursued (v. 2). In this statement, the father is challenging the son to truly assess what he values. This does not mean that worth and value are completely subjective ideas, but it does mean that the worth and value of an object are determined by the length for which the owner would go to possess it. We know that men have traveled across continents in search for silver, but who would expend this much effort for wisdom? Jesus repeats the same sentiments in discussing the kingdom of God:

The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid again; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls, and upon finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and brought. Matthew 13:44-45

After living a long life, the father understands what his son does not – namely that the value of wisdom surpasses any earthly treasure. Moreover, the father also knows that wisdom is indeed a hidden treasure; it cannot be obtained unless one is looking for it and willing to sacrifice for it.

Moreover, no one will find wisdom if they believe wisdom doesn’t have any true value to it. Fools and mockers regard the wisdom of God as foolishness and thus, they love their folly and refuse to turn from it. However, the father clearly states that nothing compares to value of wisdom. When the son internalizing his father’s teaching, he will come to fear and know the LORD (v. 5). According to Jerry Bridges, this fear of the Lord is “that affectionate reverence, by which the child of God bends Himself humbly and carefully to His Father’s law.” Hence, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and the reward of obtaining wisdom. By internalizing the father’s teaching, the naive can truly come to have personal intimacy with God through obedience to His word.

The Lord is the fountainhead of all true wisdom, knowledge, and understanding and therefore, those whose conduct does not deviate from the paths of revealed wisdom, piety, and ethics will come to truly know the Lord. Furthermore, the pursuit of wisdom brings true security (v. 7), rather than the false safety from those who walk along the road of folly. As the son begins to grow in wisdom, then he will properly discern righteousness, justice, and equity.

Through wisdom, the naive begin to learn righteousness intuitively. This is a vitally important point because what characteristics the naive of Solomon’s day (as well as our current day) is a lack of moral discernment and intelligence. Many individuals attempt to use fallen human reason as a means to understand righteousness, whereas others use the ever-shifting standards of modern ethics and morality. The promise given to the son in the passage is that the naive will know and understand true righteousness because it has been revealed to them in the Scriptures. Because the naive will learn true righteousness, they will also understand justice. In other words, without knowing and understanding true righteousness, then it is impossible to restore true righteousness after it has been disturbed. Rather than being outraged at every little fad or issue that arises, the wise will have proper discretion and see beyond the surface.

In summary, obtaining true wisdom is not merely an obligation; rather, it is a blessing that guards, shapes, and protects our life.

 

The Holiness of God (Defining Evangelism)

You can listen to the audio lesson here.

You can also find the “Working Definition of Evangelism” here.

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DEFINING EVANGELISM

PART III – THE PRESENT ESTATE OF MAN

Lesson Six: The Holiness of God

“And to the eyes of the sons of Israel the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a consuming fire on the mountain top, (Exodus 24:17; NASB).

 

The proper starting point. Having discussed the purpose of evangelism (making disciples) and the messengers and recipients of evangelism, we finally arrive at the actual message to be delivered in evangelism. This point is where the Reformed and biblical approach will differ from many modern approaches. A great many modern approaches to evangelism center the message either on the messenger or the recipient. They might begin with asking the recipient, “Would you consider yourself to be a good person.” Some other approaches begin and end with a mere telling of the messenger’s personal testimony.

In order to be truly biblical, though, evangelism must have as its primary Subject He who is the primary subject of the Bible itself: God. The goal of discipleship is to move the disciple from a place of enmity with God to a reconciliation with God, from a place of great disparity from God to an intimate relationship with God. The problem we seek to address, then, is a problem of location.

The carnal man is located outside of the covenant promises of God. He stands as a sinner who is on a crash course with the eternal wrath of God. All of God’s attributes require that justice must be served to the sinner, because God is a God of justice and all of God’s attributes are naturally consistent with His justice. One primary focus for our explanation of the gospel, though, ought to be His holiness.

The holy and the unholy. We’re told in Exodus: “And to the eyes of the sons of Israel the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a consuming fire on the mountain top,” (Exodus 24:17; NASB). In bringing the sons of Israel to repentance, God first impressed upon them His holiness. He helped them to see that He was as a consuming fire among them (cf. Deuteronomy 4:24; Hebrews 12:29). He did the same with Moses at the burning bush when He told him to remove His sandals, “for the place where you stand is holy ground,” (Exodus 3:5b; NKJV).

The new disciple must first come to a recognition of the holiness of God before he or she can truly understand any of the message of the gospel. The new disciple must see that God’s holiness necessarily means consumption for the unholy. God’s holiness and justice demand payment for all sins ever committed.

“He is immutably determined by the moral perfection of his nature to visit every sin with a just recompense of reward, if not in the person of the sinner, then in the person of his Substitute. The terrible lake of fire and the cross of Calvary are awful testimonies to his absolute justice,” (A.A. Hodge, The System of Theology Contained in the Westminster Shorter Catechism, pp. 14-15).

The carnal mind may naturally balk at such notions as a God who would punish every sin. In a desire to continue in their sin and to treat it as of little consequence, the recipient of the gospel message may go as far as to say that he or she can never believe in a God who would punish sinners with an eternity of hell. A little exercise is instructive at this point.

An illustration. In order to demonstrate the importance and the necessity of the holiness of God, the gospel messenger needs to use a reference point. One such reference point that has proven helpful in many an explanation of the holiness of God is the unbeliever’s own innate sense of justice. We must be mindful, though, that this approach does not work with all men. Men are self-deceived creatures, and you may find that men and women with an Eastern or Middle Eastern worldview have often deceived themselves to the point of denying the necessity of justice in God, and even in some cases between men.

For those who do recognize the necessity of justice between men, you may ask them to think of the worst crime they can imagine followed by asking them, now, to imagine that crime being perpetrated on a small child. For the average man who is not actively suppressing the truth in regard to his sense of justice, just the thought of such an act should evoke a sense of righteous indignation. Allow that thought to weigh on him for a moment, and then move the subject to God.

The world over, nearly every theist will agree that the god in whom they believe and whom they worship is a god of love. This recognition comes to man by the light of nature placed within them and evident to them in God’s works of creation and providence. They know intuitively that God is love. Otherwise, the world would be far worse off than it is today. However—and this is the next question we want to ask our unbelieving friends—if God truly loves that little child, will He allow the crime against her to go unpunished?

At this point, you have come just a little way in helping your friend or family member to see the importance of God’s holiness to the discussion. However, God’s holiness is not merely the starting point or a rhetorical device to get us to the point of convincing our lost friends and family that they are in danger. God’s holiness is the ultimate reference point for all things in the universe. Everything we see, hear, and understand either aligns with or deviates from God’s holiness. His holiness is the great referent. It is the necessary starting point in our discussion of the gospel, because it is the necessary starting point in our discussion of God Himself.

God’s absolute justice. God’s holiness speaks to His great otherness and His great purity. It also speaks to His unrelenting hatred of sin—deviation from the holiness of God. It is for this reason that He absolutely must punish all sin. If He punishes some sin, but not all sins, He would be terribly inconsistent. He would possess some righteousness, a righteousness comparable to an earthly judge perhaps, but He would not be completely righteous. He would be righteous enough to punish some sin, but not righteous enough to punish all sin. However, if he is not righteous enough to punish all sin, how could He be righteous enough to punish even the greatest of sins. The Bible is clear, though, that God does punish all sin and, as such, it is a very grievous matter to be found in sin. Consider Isaiah’s recognition of his own sin, when he beheld the glory of God in his temple vision:

3And one called out to another and said,

‘Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts,

The whole earth is full of His glory.’

4And the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filling with smoke. 5Then I said,

‘Woe is me, for I am ruined!

Because I am a man of unclean lips,

And I live among a people of unclean lips;

For my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts,’” (Isaiah 6:3-5; NASB).

To recognize the holiness of God is necessarily to recognize our terrible lack thereof. Isaiah recognized not only the great heights of the purity and majesty of God in his vision, but also the great disparity that existed between God and himself. He recognized not merely the sinfulness of the people among whom he lived, but he took the all-consuming holiness of God into the core of his own being, and he was utterly wrecked by what he beheld. Let us not be trivial, then, in our own assessment of God’s relationship to the sinner. God hates sin so much that He willingly poured out His wrath on His own Son in order that His justice might be satisfied.

“Not all the vials of judgments, that have, or shall be poured out upon the wicked world, nor the flaming furnace of a sinner’s conscience, nor the irreversible sentence pronounced against the rebellious devils, nor the groans of the damned creatures, give such a demonstration of God’s hatred of sin, as the wrath of God let loose upon his Son.,” (Stephen Charnock, Discourses on the Existence and Attributes of God, pg. 484).

Reconciliation with the God of perfection? God is completely separate in His holiness from sin of any sort. That is the definition of sin, after all: deviation from God’s holy standard. However, God’s holiness is not solely a negation of sin. It is also the complete perfection of His being. Berkhof explains: “But the idea of ethical holiness is not merely negative (separation from sin); it also has a positive content, namely, that of moral excellence, or ethical perfection,” (Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, pg. 73).

The holiness of God does not exist in order to provide us with a rhetorical device to persuade unbelievers to recognize their sins. It is not revealed to us simply to provide us with a dilemma or a riddle that must be solved. It does, however, present us with a dilemma. It brings us before the holy, unapproachable throne of heaven, strips us bare, exposes all our shame, our imperfection, and our guilt, and leaves us condemned before a just and vengeful God.

Apart from some atonement, some payment, some divine pleading of our case, we find ourselves not merely separated from God, but under His just, holy, and eternal condemnation. As such, it is all too important that we help our unbelieving friends and loved ones to see themselves in the mirror of His infinite perfection. Do they hope to stand on the day of judgment? Apart from Christ, they should have no such confidence, for He dwells in unapproachable light.

“who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see. To Him be honor and eternal dominion! Amen,” (1 Timothy 6:16; NASB).

The Sins of Our Celebrities

Recently, there has been a lot of discussion on the interwebs about the proper Christian response to a repentant celebrity who has admitted to heinous crimes. The general consensus among many is that if we have been forgiven by the gospel, and if the celebrity in question has been forgiven through the gospel, we too ought to forgive them as we have been forgiven. Those who would offer any contrary opinion on this matter are then accused of not understanding or “living out” the gospel in their response to these Evangelical celebrities. Many others are simply at a loss for how to respond at all, or whether or not they should. I REALLY did not want to post anything about this. I tweeted about it earlier, but at my wife’s insistence, I have agreed to write this little blurb. All I will do is seek to explain what I have already tweeted. My tweets read as follows:

“It’s neither my place to judge, nor defend, nor forgive any celebrity child molesters. I leave that to God, their church, and the victims.”

…and…

“I wonder what a price the church in the West has had to pay as a result of the celebrity culture that has infiltrated her.”

First, regarding the specific case in question (I’m not going to name names), I have been asked if I think the family handled the matter incorrectly. I don’t know all the details. From what I can tell from what I’ve been told, the family handled things fairly well, as did the local church, as did the criminal who committed the criminal act. The criminal admitted to his crimes and repented of his sins, the family reported him to the authorities, and the local church investigated the matter thoroughly. However, the police seem to have dropped the ball. Besides the police, though, I will say that I think that a lot of Evangelicals are responding in a very improper way. I believe they are responding in an improper way because, in most cases, it is not their place to respond.

There are several questions that seem appropriate here before determining to tweet, blog, comment, re-post, share, etc. Let’s get into them: handcuffed-hands-kevin-curtis

1. Am I God?

Unless you are crazy, we can pretty much agree to the answer to this one. We are not God. As such, in most cases, it is not our place to judge, redeem, forgive, defend, or punish the person in question. That was an easy one. Next question.

2. Am I the victim?

Now, I feel the need to clarify here, because many are making the perpetrator in this case out to be the victim. I’m not talking about him. I’m talking about the little girls he molested. They are the only victims here. If you are not God and you are not the victims, it is not your place to forgive this man for his crimes. It’s just not. Next question.

3. Am I a member or leader in his local church?

If you are, you probably have reason to discuss these matters when they come before the church to be dealt with, and you should probably seek the counsel of your leaders before letting your kids be alone with the man. However, blogging, tweeting, etc., should probably be out of the question.

4. Have your previously, publicly endorsed the man?

This is important. Too often in evangelicalism, pastors endorse men to their congregations and to other pastors that they know to be volatile and reckless, only to respond with utter silence when those men destroy churches and go on speaking circuits seeking to justify their sins without any true repentance. But I digress. If you have publicly endorsed this man in the past, you may feel a need to either retract your previous statements or explain why you still endorse him. However, if you’re not a nationally known mega-church, multi-site pastor, silence may still be the best answer.

5. Are you just defending him because he’s a celebrity?

You shouldn’t say anything.

6. Are you just using this situation as an ice-breaker to start conversations about the gospel?

You should probably find a better ice-breaker.

As a final note, I would just remind you that there are real victims here. To defend a man on the basis that he has been forgiven through the gospel only turns the gospel into a tool to keep victims silent. You may not realize it, but in defending this man, you may be perpetuating the stigma of hopelessness that keeps current victims from speaking out against those who are presently victimizing them. I don’t even think the man you are trying to defend would want that.

Finally, if you have celebrity idols in your life, I would encourage you to turn them over to God. If you find yourself getting overly defensive over your favorite celebrity pastor, or if you find that your favorite Christian actor or TV personality can do no wrong in your eyes, you probably have an unhealthy fixation on them. You should probably diversify your interests in these areas so that your identity is not so wrapped up with theirs. Listen to dozens of pastors instead of just four. Hold loosely to your fascination with celebrities who claim the name of Christ. If you find that you are utterly unable to do these things, these celebrities may just have become idols in your life, idols from which you need to repent.

Well, that’s all I got. I welcome discussion in the comments section. Let’s try to keep it civil.