Daily in the Word: a ministry of Lancaster Baptist Church
"The eyes of the LORD preserve knowledge, and he overthroweth the words of the transgressor."
David’s sin with Bathsheba was perhaps the lowest point of his life. Yet rather than immediately repenting and seeking God’s forgiveness, instead he began devising plans to cover his sin. He went to great lengths to try to make it look like Uriah was the father of Bathsheba’s baby, and when that didn’t work he arranged Uriah’s murder. He devoted great effort and used his office for his cover up, and in human terms he did a pretty good job covering his tracks. Yet the Bible says, “But the thing that David had done displeased the LORD” (2 Samuel 11:27).
No sin is ever hidden from the eyes of God. We may cover sin from the eyes of men for days or weeks or months or even years, but no sin stays hidden forever. God has set an unchangeable law into the foundation of the world—the law of sowing and reaping—that guarantees that sin will be discovered. Moses warned the members of the tribes of Rueben, Gad, and Manasseh to be faithful to fulfill their responsibility to fight with the other tribes to win the battle for the land of Israel. “But if ye will not do so, behold, ye have sinned against the LORD: and be sure your sin will find you out” (Numbers 32:23).
We have two basic choices. We can attempt to hide our sins and keep on the wrong path, or we can repent of doing wrong and seek God’s forgiveness and mercy. Only one of those choices is a good one. The prophet Isaiah wrote, “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon” (Isaiah 55:7).
"Buy the truth, and sell it not; also wisdom, and instruction, and understanding."
In 1867, US Secretary of State William Seward made one of the best deals in the history of the country. After several years of negotiations with Russia, he completed an agreement to purchase what is now the state of Alaska to become part of the United States. The price of $7,000,000 was a significant sum of money in those days, and many people derided the decision. The Alaska purchase was referred to as “Seward’s folly” and “Seward’s ice box.” One critic even referred to Alaska as a “polar bear garden.”
But in the end, the purchase proved to be an amazing investment. Seward paid about two cents per acre for a land area equal to one fifth of the rest of the United States. And the discovery of gold, oil, and other natural resources in later years made the purchase an even better payoff. Though it is doubtful that Seward had any idea of all that would follow from his purchase, he was wise enough to recognize an opportunity and take advantage of it while it was available.
Each day we are presented with a variety of options for how we will use our time, our talents, and our money. But while the options may be nearly limitless, our resources are not. That means we must make choices—selecting some things and rejecting others. The path of wisdom is to choose what is important and eternal, and make our investments in those areas. Solomon counseled his son to “buy the truth,” because it is something that lasts. There will always be things that we must leave behind, sometimes even good things, if we want to spend our lives on what is best. By filling our hearts and minds with the Word of God, we will be able to identify what matters most and choose that.
"He that saith unto the wicked, Thou art righteous; him shall the people curse, nations shall abhor him: But to them that rebuke him shall be delight, and a good blessing shall come upon them."
In September of 1919, the governor of Massachusetts faced a difficult decision. The policemen of Boston, long underpaid and overworked had formed a union to demand better pay and working conditions. When their demands were not met, more than two thirds of the policemen went on strike, leaving the city unprotected. Crime quickly became an overwhelming problem. The governor faced a dilemma. He sympathized with the policemen and recognized their genuine complaints, but he was unwilling to allow them to hold the city and state hostage.
Though his political aides were sure it would end his career, the governor called out the state National Guard and sent them to restore order. Told that he would lose the next election, he replied, “It does not matter whether I am elected or not.” Instead of angering the people, his action gathered widespread praise. He easily won re-election, then was nominated to be Vice President of the United States. Calvin Coolidge—the former Massachusetts Governor—became president when Warren Harding died in office. His courageous refusal to go along with those who wanted him to encourage wrongdoing to further his career was in the end the key to his rise to higher office.
Often we are tempted to lower our standards and allow bad behavior to continue unchecked for the sake of keeping peace and getting along with others. Those who would counsel us that it would better to not take a stand and let things go are not giving us words of wisdom. While we should never be mean or carry a nasty disposition, we should also be clearly known and identified with those who stand for what is true and right. When we do this, we find unexpected blessing is the result.
"If thine enemy be hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he be thirsty, give him water to drink: For thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head, and the LORD shall reward thee."
Though she is part of one of the most famous pictures of the last fifty years, very few people recognize the name Kim Phuc. She was nine years old when her village in Vietnam was hit by napalm bombs. The Pulitzer Prize winning photo that seared her image into the minds of people all over the world showed her running down the road screaming after having been horribly burned in the attack. Though doctors expected her to die, she survived, but spent more than a year in the hospital and endured seventeen surgeries.
Though she lived, more than just her body was scarred. The wounds left deep marks on her spirit. Telling the story she said, "The anger inside me was like a hatred high as a mountain, and my bitterness was black as old coffee. I hated my life. I hated all people who were normal, because I was not normal. I wanted to die many times. Doctors helped heal my wounds, but they couldn’t heal my heart." A friend of her family invited her to church for a Christmas service, and that night everything changed. "I could not wait to trust the Lord," Kim said. "[Jesus] helped me learn to forgive my enemies, and I finally had some peace in my heart."
All of us have injuries we have suffered in life. In most cases they are not as severe as Kim Phuc’s physical injuries, but the emotional injuries we suffer bring pain and sorrow. Rather than hating those who have hurt us and trying to get even, we should show them love and kindness. This is the model Christ set on the cross when He prayed, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).
"He that hateth dissembleth with his lips, and layeth up deceit within him; When he speaketh fair, believe him not: for there are seven abominations in his heart."
There is an old saying stating that you shouldn’t believe everything you hear. There is great wisdom in that, because many people are skilled at using words to manipulate and encourage others to do evil. People often forget that one of the most evil leaders in history, Adolf Hitler, was elected to office, in part because of his oratorical skills. One journalist who covered his campaign speeches wrote: “There were no qualifications in what he said; everything was absolute, uncompromising, irrevocable, undeviating, unalterable, final. He seemed...to speak straight from the heart, and to express their own deepest fear and desires…Such uncompromising radicalism lent Hitler's public meetings a revivalist fervour.”
Millions were swept along by the powerful current of Hitler’s words…and millions perished as a result. Not everyone who speaks eloquently and fervently has your best interests at heart. Rather than judging their speech by the power and force of their words, you should judge it by whether it is in line with the principles of Scripture. There are plenty who are intentionally striving to deceive others. We often focus on Satan as the source of deception, but in truth he has many willing accomplices in his evil schemes to mislead and destroy people.
In warning of false teachers who would come Jesus said, “Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them” (Matthew 7:19). Rather than allowing ourselves to be swept along by rhetoric, we should be carefully watching to see if the life of the speaker matches his words. Those who sound good but do not live rightly should be discarded as evil influences, lest we come under their sway and be led astray. Be a careful and thoughtful hearer and you will be guarded from evil.
"My son, be wise, and make my heart glad, that I may answer him that reproacheth me."
Although he came from a powerful and wealthy family, William Penn was greatly persecuted in England because he was a Quaker. After being acquitted in a criminal trial that hinged on his refusal to be part of the Church of England, Penn received permission to go to America and found a new colony—Pennsylvania. Unlike most of the other colonies, Pennsylvania offered a great deal of religious freedom. Penn not only helped shape the new nation of America, but he left behind a great deal of wise advice as well.
His work Some Fruits of Solitude in Reflections and Maxims was popular in colonial America. In it, Penn wrote this about the importance of spending the time to train young people to do right rather than relying on money to make up for parental shortcomings. “Men are generally more careful of the Breed of their Horses and Dogs than of their Children. Those must be of the best Sort, for Shape, Strength, Courage and good Conditions: But as for these, their own Posterity, Money shall answer all Things. With such, it makes the Crooked Straight, sets Squint-Eyes Right, cures Madness, covers Folly, changes ill Conditions, mends the Skin, gives a sweet Breath, repairs Honor, makes Young, works Wonders.”
It is a double tragedy when parents fail to teach and train their children. It is a tragedy for the children because they miss “the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4) that every child needs to be equipped for life. But such careless parents also rob themselves of the joy of seeing children develop into men or women of God. Many parents mourn missed opportunities in their later years when it is too late to go back and shape the child’s life.
"The rich man is wise in his own conceit; but the poor that hath understanding searcheth him out."
During the 1960s an entrepreneur named Johnny Ling put together one of the first massive conglomerate companies with interests in many different fields. For a time LTV, as his new company was known, was one of the faster growing businesses in the country. In fact, they grew so quickly that they attracted the attention of a Congressional committee looking into anti-trust violations. Called before Congress regarding his recent purchase of US Steel, Ling testified that there was no one in his company who “knew a thing about steel.” This was his way of assuring Congress that the deal did not pose a threat.
When the economy slowed in the late 1960s, LTV and the companies they had purchased came crashing down in financial ruin. One economic writer later observed, “Maybe Ling would have been better off if someone had known something about steel.” There is a temptation when someone has been successful in one area of life—particularly if that success has been financial—to regard them as experts in many other areas as well. That is folly. Success and riches can easily leave a person conceited and self-focused.
Paul instructed Timothy, “Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy” (1 Timothy 6:17). The problem with thinking highly of ourselves because of success is that earthly riches are fleeting and temporary. They are not a stable foundation on which to build either security or our opinion of ourselves. The only true source of wisdom and stability is found in God. Anything else is subject to change—and because of His hatred of pride, God harshly judges those who are lifted up in their own conceit.
"If a wise man contendeth with a foolish man, whether he rage or laugh, there is no rest."
Some three hundred years before the birth of Christ, a Greek king named Pyrrhus of Eiprus was trying to resist the invading Roman armies. Pyrrhus was a gifted tactician, and he was able to defeat the Romans twice during what came to be known as the Pyrrhic War. But though he was victorious, his armies suffered very heavy casualties. According to Plutarch, when he congratulated Pyrrhus on his victory after the second battle, he said without joy that one more such victory would utterly undo him. Some battles are simply not worth winning.
Anyone who has interacted with a fool understands this truth. No matter what you do—how carefully you plan your words, how logically your arguments are, or how right your position may be—the fool simply will not listen. You cannot convince such a person because they are not willing to listen to wisdom and truth. No communication strategy is effective—neither humor nor anger will make your point.
There is a saying among businesses that deal with outside inspection and licensing: “Arguing with an inspector is like wrestling a pig in the mud. Sooner or later you figure out that the pig enjoys it.” The same is true when we find ourselves forced to deal with fools.
None of us have complete control over our lives. We cannot completely avoid having to deal with foolish people. But when you recognize that as the situation you face, remember that you are facing a no win situation. The best course of action is to end the conversation as quickly as possible and spend your time with those who are willing to learn and teach wisdom.
"Surely the churning of milk bringeth forth butter, and the wringing of the nose bringeth forth blood: so the forcing of wrath bringeth forth strife."
In addition to being a skilled medical doctor, Walter Wilson of Kansas City was a fervent personal soul winner. He often used his extensive knowledge of medicine and the natural world to make a spiritual point with those with whom he spoke. He told the story how he once encountered a young skeptic who had been taught to believe that the Bible simply wasn’t true. The young man challenged Dr. Wilson, claiming that the Christian faith rested on ancient fairy tales. “Nothing in the Bible is true,” the young man said. Dr. Wilson replied, “If I show you a verse in Scripture that is true, will you listen to what I have to say?” The young man agreed. Dr. Wilson opened his Bible to Proverbs 30:33—and the skeptic agreed to listen to the gospel without insisting the truth of that Scripture be demonstrated on him!
There is great power in the Word of God because it came to us from God Himself. Peter wrote, “According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue” (2 Peter 1:3). Over and over men have laughed at what the Bible says, only to be proven wrong in their doubting. And though our faith does not rest on archaeology, history, or science, there are no contradictions between what God says and what is true.
The problem with the Bible is not that it is outdated or errant, but that it is not believed and obeyed. Jesus answered Satan’s temptation by saying, “It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).
"She seeketh wool, and flax, and worketh willingly with her hands."
The story is told that a man wrote to the great missionary David Livingstone and told him that there were men willing to come and join him in the work, if he would tell them a good road to take to get there. Livingstone replied, “If you have men who will only come if they know there is a good road, I don't want them. I want men who will come if there is no road at all.” While talents and training can play a role in success, the attitude with which we approach our work is one of the most important factors in determining whether we achieve what we can and should in both ministry and career.
As we look at the virtuous woman described in Proverbs 31, often our focus is on her work, and there is certainly a great deal of work going on. Yet God also calls attention to the manner in which she works. She does not view her tasks as painful drudgery, but instead takes them on with a willing heart and spirit. This is the way God expects His children to work.
A great deal of the success Nehemiah enjoyed in his project to defend Jerusalem by rebuilding the wall around the city was found in the way the people approached the massive project. They could have viewed it as an overwhelming and impossible job, but instead they followed his lead and succeeded. Nehemiah records: “So built we the wall; and all the wall was joined together unto the half thereof: for the people had a mind to work” (Nehemiah 4:6). When we take on our assigned responsibilities with a willing heart, we are more likely to do them well and to stay on task until the work is complete. Do not allow the world’s contempt of work to infect your attitude.
"Then shall they call upon me, but I will not answer; they shall seek me early, but they shall not find me:"
The patience and longsuffering of God is so beautifully illustrated in the story of Noah and the ark. When God determined to judge the world with a great flood because of the wickedness of man, He would have been fully justified to do so immediately. Yet instead, He allowed more than one hundred years to pass, during which time Noah proclaimed the coming judgment to those around him. The Bible says, “By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith” (Hebrews 11:7).
Although God kept the opportunity open for decades, one day time ran out. Many people make the mistake of thinking that they have plenty of time to make things right with God. Someone said, “The problem is that people who rely on a midnight conversion may die at 10:30.” None of us know when we will reach the point when God will say “Enough,” and the door of repentance will be closed forever. But we do know that if we continue to reject His call, one day a deadline will be reached. Paul wrote, “Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” (2 Corinthians 6:2).
What is true of the lost is true of Christians as well. Just because we are not immediately judged when we sin, we may fall into Satan’s snare of thinking that God does not see or care. But just as with the lost, there comes a day when a Christian who refuses to confess and walk in the light finds that the door is closed and the opportunity to repent is gone.
To deliver thee from the way of the evil man, from the man that speaketh froward things; Who leave the paths of uprightness, to walk in the ways of darkness;
In the early days of America, the Puritans who came here from England seeking religious freedom played a vital role in shaping the culture and thought of life. One area in which they had a special impact was on the view of work—what is sometimes referred to as the “Protestant work ethic.” To them, work was not a curse but a necessary and important part of life and service to God.
Cotton Mather described the belief that Christians have two important callings: one to salvation and one to work. Comparing these two to the oars on a boat he wrote, "If [the Christian] mind but one of his callings, be it which it will, he pulls but on one side of the boat, and will make a poor dispatch to the shore of eternal blessedness."
As we observe Labor Day it is worth taking time to reflect on the importance of work in God’s plan for us. Work did not start with the Fall and the curse. Work started on the day God created Adam. “And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the Garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it” (Genesis 2:15). While work became harder after sin entered into the world, productivity was part of God’s original design for us.
Instead of viewing work as a necessary evil, we should view our job—whatever it is—as a calling from God. Paul wrote that we are to work “Not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart” (Ephesians 6:6). As a Christian you should strive be the best worker in your place of employment.
Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the LORD, and depart from evil. It shall be health to thy navel, and marrow to thy bones.
If you have ever seen an advertisement for a prescription medication, you’ve undoubtedly heard a long list of side effects—things that are not the intended purpose of the medication, but may be a result of taking it. People probably should pay more attention to those lists. A recent study by the Indiana University School of Medicine analyzed more than five thousand common medications. They found that the two hundred most commonly prescribed drugs—antidepressants, antivirals, and Parkinson’s medications—have an average of one hundred side effects!
In that context we usually think of side effects as being negative. But in fact sometimes these can be beneficial. For example a popular hair-restoring prescription was originally intended as a blood pressure medication, but many of those taking the drug noticed that their hair was growing. Positive side effects in the world of medication have a parallel in the spiritual realm as well.
God expects us to do what He says because He says it. We do not need reasons and explanations—God said it and that settles it. Yet in many cases, there are positive benefits that come with and from obedience to the commands of Scripture. For example Paul wrote, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right. Honour thy father and mother; (which is the first commandment with promise;) That it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth” (Ephesians 6:1-3).
Doing what God says is good for us spiritually, but it also produces a positive impact on our lives physically, emotionally, and mentally as well. When we find principles and commandments in the Word of God, we should not view them as restrictive and onerous, but instead as opportunities to reap the benefit of living as God intends.
Enter not into the path of the wicked, and go not in the way of evil men. Avoid it, pass not by it, turn from it, and pass away.
A bus of high school students on their senior trip had been enjoying their visit to America’s great historical sites along the East Coast. They had visited Washington, Philadelphia, and New York City and seen the heritage of freedom left behind for them. As they made their way into Boston on the chartered bus, the driver suddenly stopped. Over the highway into the town was a low bridge—too low for the bus to get under. Traffic quickly began to back up behind the bus.
Unable to go either forward or back, the group sat there until policemen finally came. After the police blocked off traffic, the bus driver was able to back up to the closest exit so he could take another route. Before sending him on his way, the police officer gave him a ticket for failing to heed the warning sign that instructed all trucks and high profile vehicles to take the exit and avoid the bridge.
The Bible is filled with warning signs—instructions from God that caution us against taking paths that will lead to trouble. Yet often we see them and continue on our way, not stopping to realize that those signs are there for a reason and that if we keep going despite their warning there will be consequences. Some people rationalize their conduct, choosing to believe that those “old fashioned” warnings were given for another age and time and do not apply to us today.
Others think that they are exempt from God’s cautions and warnings. Even though Scripture and experience teach otherwise, they decide that they can get away with living however they choose. The wise man or woman observes and obeys the warning signs, and avoids much pain and suffering.
He shall die without instruction; and in the greatness of his folly he shall go astray.
It is tragic when someone suffers injury or dies because of an accident, but it is even more tragic when the event could easily have been prevented. Many of the things that cause pain and suffering in our world are well known in advance. For example, few people who have smoked for decades are legitimately surprised when they get lung cancer. The warning labels right on the package detail the likely result of the use of the product. Yet many do not receive the instruction that is provided for them.
We must guard against the tendency to reject instruction because we do not wish to be corrected or because we do not like or appreciate the person delivering the words of warning. It is bad to not be warned, but it is far worse to be warned and not heed that warning. All of the instruction in the world—the faithful preaching and teaching of the Word, wise counsel, godly input—does no good if we do not listen and apply those truths to our lives. It is a characteristic of a fool not to be willing to receive instruction, and sadly it often produces a tragic end.
When David decided to number the people of Israel, he was warned against that course of action by Joab, but he refused to listen. “Notwithstanding the king's word prevailed against Joab, and against the captains of the host. And Joab and the captains of the host went out from the presence of the king, to number the people of Israel” (2 Samuel 24:4). Joab was in charge of David’s army, but he was also David’s nephew, and they often clashed. As a result, David refused to heed the warning he was given, and a great plague came on Israel as a result.
"Lust not after her beauty in thine heart; neither let her take thee with her eyelids."
Reuben Robinson, better known as “Uncle Bud,” was an unlikely candidate to be a greatly used preacher and evangelist. He had no formal education and a severe speech impediment rendered him difficult to understand. Yet on the night he was saved as a twenty-year-old man, he felt God’s call to preach, and he obeyed. For sixty years he served as an evangelist, seeing more than one hundred thousand saved in his meetings as he crisscrossed the country preaching the Word. Once he had the opportunity to visit New York City. On his return he remarked, “Lord I thank You for letting me see the sights of New York. And Lord I thank You that I didn’t see anything I wanted!”
We cannot stop the devil from placing temptation in our path, but we can certainly stop it from taking root in our heart. We do not generally sin from casual temptation but rather when we allow it to linger in our hearts and our thoughts. As we allow it to linger, it appeals to our desires and draws us away from the Lord.
We sometimes speak of someone “falling” into sin, but in truth the normal process of sin is not a sudden fall but a long slow walk. When Lot left Abraham he had no idea that one day his family would be destroyed by his move to Sodom. He simply placed his tent so that he could watch that godless city out his front door. Little by little he left behind what he knew to be right until one day he was fully enmeshed in the wickedest place of his day. That is how sin begins.
When you are faced with temptation today, remember that one of the surest ways to victory is to ignore the earliest nudges of temptation.
"Therefore came I forth to meet thee, diligently to seek thy face, and I have found thee."
We usually think of diligence as a positive character trait. In most cases, persistence until you reach your goal without allowing anything to derail you is a good thing. Yet there is a kind of diligence that is a danger, and that is the diligence of temptation. We see this principle in action in the story of the temptation of Joseph by Potiphar’s wife. Often we focus on the critical moment when Joseph fled out of the house to avoid her, but this was not a one-time event. The Bible says: “And it came to pass, as she spake to Joseph day by day, that he hearkened not unto her, to lie by her, or to be with her” (Genesis 39:10).
As Satan attempts to get us to sin he is persistent. He is willing to exert great effort day after day after day to wear down our defenses and lull us into a false sense of security. Even after Jesus completely overcame Satan’s temptation the Bible says, “And when the devil had ended all the temptation, he departed from him for a season” (Luke 4:13). If the complete and total victory of Jesus over temptation only provided relief “for a season” we should not expect our experience to be any different.
The devil knows that we are prone to overconfidence. When we have successfully overcome a particular challenge, the natural tendency is to relax. Yet we must not forget that a temptation defeated today is not vanquished, and we can never afford to let down our guard. Knowing the persistence of temptation, we must be just as diligent to fill our hearts and minds with the Word of God and allow our lives to be filled and directed by the Holy Spirit. Only then can we know lasting victory.
"I lead in the way of righteousness, in the midst of the paths of judgment: That I may cause those that love me to inherit substance; and I will fill their treasures."
Today is Grandparent’s Day, and I have to say that I am thoroughly enjoying having grandbabies in our life. Someone once said, “If I’d known how much fun grandchildren were, I would have had them first!” The joy these little ones bring is certainly amazing. But each time I see their faces, I remember that I have a responsibility to leave them an inheritance—not so much of money or possessions, but of my faith.
Our faith is not just for ourselves or even for our children, but for our grandchildren as well. It is meant to span the generations, being passed down as part of a godly inheritance from parents to their children and then to their children. Moses told the people of Israel, “That thou mightest fear the LORD thy God, to keep all his statutes and his commandments, which I command thee, thou, and thy son, and thy son's son, all the days of thy life; and that thy days may be prolonged” (Deuteronomy 6:2).
God’s plan for the family is that it be a far-reaching instrument for building, strengthening, and nurturing faith in Him. We should be establishing memorials that we can point back to in coming years to show our children and grandchildren how God has worked in our lives. When God parted the Jordan River so that the Israelites could cross into the Promised Land, He instructed Joshua to build a memorial altar. That way the future generations would have a visible reminder of God’s power and protection over His people. In the same way, we should be intentionally planning ways in which we can leave these reminders for our family for years to come.
"For she sitteth at the door of her house, on a seat in the high places of the city, To call passengers who go right on their ways: Whoso is simple, let him turn in hither: and as for him that wanteth understanding, she saith to him,"
Wolfgang Beltracchi, who often described himself as “a German hippie,” never received any formal art instruction. But the self-taught painter had a great gift—he could mimic the styles of some of the most famous Surrealist and Expressionist painters perfectly. Although he had some success selling his work, Beltracchi went into the art forging business in the 1980s, because it paid much better. His wife sold the “newly discovered” masterpieces that he was churning out, and they became multi-millionaires.
Beltracchi’s work fooled numerous experts. His paintings hung in well-known museums and were purchased by celebrities around the world. He even sold one forgery to the widow of the artist whose work he was copying! Beltracchi continued producing high quality forgeries until 2008 when a suspicious appraiser tested the pigments in one of his paintings and found paint that had come from forty years after the painting was supposedly done. When the German authorities arresting him they seized many more “masterpieces” waiting to be sold.
The devil is not original. His plan is to imitate what God does, but change it so that rather than bringing life and joy, it brings death and pain. Notice how the beginning of the invitation of folly to those who are simple is the same as the invitation of wisdom recorded earlier in the chapter: “Whoso is simple, let him turn in hither: as for him that wanteth understanding, she saith to him,” (Proverbs 9:16). Of course the advice given is very different, but there is a lesson here in how Satan approaches us. He wants to deceive us, and we must be on our guard so that he does not.
"The way of the LORD is strength to the upright: but destruction shall be to the workers of iniquity."
In his great allegory Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan paints many wonderful pictures of the Christian’s journey to Heaven. One of these is found in a story called “The Fire in the Wall.” Pilgrim sees a strange sight—there is a fire burning at the edge of a wall. He sees a man standing there throwing buckets of water on the fire, trying to put it out. “Yet did the fire burn higher and higher,” Pilgrim says. “Why is this?” He does not understand until Interpreter shows him the other side of the wall. There another man is pouring oil on the fire, keeping it burning brightly. "This is Christ," Interpreter explains, "Who continually, with the oil of His grace, maintains the work already begun in the heart."
When we do God’s work and walk in God’s way, we have the promise of God’s grace to strengthen us for our lives. Paul wrote, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Philippians 4:13). Sometimes we rely on our own resources and try to do the work ourselves, but such an effort is doomed to failure. We cannot do what God means for us to do without the strength that He provides. However when we have that supernatural source of strength great things become possible.
When Elijah was fleeing from Jezebel, an angel came to him and said, “Arise and eat; because the journey is too great for thee” (1 Kings 19:7). In the strength provided by the food the angel prepared, Elijah was able to run for forty days and nights. God’s power enables us to accomplish whatever He has planned for us. Knowing how helpless we are without His power, we should be constantly seeking His grace and favor for His work.
"Where no counsel is, the people fall: but in the multitude of counsellors there is safety."
The news of the explosion of the Challenger space shuttle in January of 1986 was a major shock to almost everyone. Millions of school children watched the coverage of the launch because a teacher from New Hampshire, Christa McAuliffe, was part of the crew. Yet to some the tragedy was not unexpected. A year before, engineers for Morton Thiokol (the company that made some of the key components of the shuttle) had discovered a serious problem. Under very cold conditions, the seals called o-rings that were part of the solid rocket boosters would fail, with potentially devastating results.
In July of 1985 an engineer named Roger Boisjoly wrote a memo to his superiors in which he said: “It is my honest and very real fear that if we do not take immediate action to dedicate a team to solve the problem…then we stand in jeopardy of losing a [space shuttle] flight…” Those concerns went unheeded on a cold morning in January of the following year. Morton Thiokol executives made what was later described as a “management decision” that the launch could proceed safely. Tragically they were wrong, and those who warned of danger were right. Seven people perished as a result of an accident that could easily have been avoided.
There is a tendency—a dangerous and potentially deadly tendency—to think that we have things pretty well figured out and don’t need help and input from others. The Bible stresses the importance of receiving and heeding wise counsel, but sometimes we only apply that principle to the young. It is for everyone. Even those of us who have been saved for many years still benefit from the safety of godly counselors. Humble yourself enough to receive and follow good counsel, and you will be protected as a result.
"He that tilleth his land shall be satisfied with bread: but he that followeth vain persons is void of understanding."
The origins of the children’s story The Little Red Hen are uncertain, although it may have originated in Russia. This little parable describes a hen who finds wheat and invites the other barnyard animals to help her. Despite her repeated asking for assistance, none of them are interested in planting, weeding, watering, harvesting, milling, or baking. Yet when the delicious bread is finished, they are more than happy to volunteer to help eat it. Instead, the Little Red Hen says, “I’ll eat it myself.” She had done all of the work, and she deserved the satisfaction of reaping the fruit of her efforts.
Our society does not value work as it once did. There are many government programs providing funding for those who are unwilling to labor. (This is different than providing help for those who cannot help themselves.) This produces a negative incentive. When there is no connection between work and reward, it is not hard to understand why people regard work as something to be avoided if at all possible. Yet those who refuse to do what they are able to do cheat themselves of the satisfaction and accomplishment that comes from diligent labor.
Instead of drifting along with the culture, God’s people should be shining examples as workers. Whether the task is enjoyable or not or whether it pays as much as we think it should or not, work is part of God’s plan for our lives, and it is ultimately not for our human boss that we work. Paul wrote, “And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men; Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ” (Colossians 3:23-24).
"Hope deferred maketh the heart sick: but when the desire cometh, it is a tree of life."
One of the most vividly drawn and memorable characters in all of Charles Dickens’ work is Miss Havisham from Great Expectations. Though she is a wealthy woman, she lives as a recluse, dressed in a yellowed wedding gown. Every clock in her house is stopped at twenty minutes before nine, and remnants of a banquet are rotting on the dining room table. She even only wears one shoe. The story explains that she was jilted on her wedding day and never got over her heartbreak. In fact she takes in and raises a girl, training her for the specific purpose of breaking a man’s heart so that she could have her revenge.
While this is an exaggerated and fictional character, it is also a powerful illustration of the damage that can be done by broken dreams. Of course not all dreams and expectations can or should be met. But when we have made a commitment to someone, we should diligently strive to fulfill it. Once we have created a hope in someone’s heart, there will be repercussions if that hope is delayed or dashed.
This word of caution is especially important for parents (and grandparents). A promise or offer made in casual conversation to a child may be quickly forgotten by the adult, but the child takes it deep into his heart and places great hope in seeing it fulfilled. When it is not, a rift in the relationship can easily develop. We need to exercise caution not to make careless promises, and to do everything possible to keep the commitments we make. The same is true in our marriages. When promises are repeatedly made and broken, a level of distrust and wounded spirit often result. How much better it is to make those dreams come true causing joy and life to spring up in those we love.
"Fools make a mock at sin: but among the righteous there is favour."
Edwin Cooper was famous across America, yet almost no one knew his real name. Coming from a family of circus clowns, Cooper began performing before audiences when he was just nine years old. After a stint with the Barnum and Bailey Circus, he became a fixture on television in the 1950s as Bozo the Clown. In addition to entertaining both young and old, Cooper had a message for his “buddies and partners” every week: get checked for cancer. Yet Cooper was so busy working that he neglected to follow his own advice. By the time his cancer was discovered, it was too late for it to be treated. Edwin Cooper died at just forty-one years of age from a disease he had warned many others to watch out for.
Sin is far more deadly than the most aggressive and fast growing cancer. Sin kills and destroys everything it touches. From the Fall of Adam in the Garden of Eden until now, sin takes no prisoners. This is the purpose behind everything Satan does. Jesus said, “The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy” (John 10:10). Because of his evil nature and his hatred of everything good, the devil brings destruction to everything within his reach.
When we regard sin as God does, we find nothing amusing or humorous about it. We will not make it the subject of the jokes we tell or those we hear. We will not allow ourselves to be tempted to get a little closer to the line to see if we are still safe. God hates sin with a holy and righteous fury, and so should we. When we find ourselves amused by sin, it is time for us to focus on the cross. Seeing the price paid for our sin reminds us that it is no laughing matter.
"The way of the slothful man is as an hedge of thorns: but the way of the righteous is made plain."
For decades people who like to drive really, really fast have descended on the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. Many of the world land speed records were set here. The miles and miles of this smoothly and densely packed salt pan in northwestern Utah offer drivers of cars, trucks, and motorcycles the opportunity to achieve their maximum speed in relative safety. Because the course is smooth and straight, the only consideration is how fast a top speed can be achieved.
There is nothing like a smooth road to make travel easier. The Hebrew word used for “plain” in today’s verse is the idea of a road that was elevated—a highway. Though we use the term for any major road these days, the original meaning was a road that had been built up so that it would be flat and level, without the dips and valleys that would make travel difficult in the days before motorized transportation. The Romans raised the building of such roads to an art form, and remnants of the old Roman highways still exist to this day. This is the term God chose to describe the lives of those who are following His wisdom principles for living.
It is important to note that this verse is not teaching the careless prosperity theology so popular in our day. It does not say that the way of the righteous is easy and without trouble. Instead it teaches that as we walk in God’s way, we find an easier path through life than we would otherwise have. There will still be suffering and persecution, but we will not be dealing with the painful consequences of sinful behavior and bad decisions. Like a driver searching for the fastest route to his destination, let us look for God’s way through our lives.
"Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall."
In the days leading up to Super Bowl XLII in February of 2008, the New England Patriots were riding an impressive winning streak. They hadn’t lost a game all season, and one more win would make them only the second undefeated team in NFL history. They were heavily favored to defeat the New York Giants in the Super Bowl, and team officials made plans to capitalize on the expected victory. Steps were taken to trademark the phrase 19-0, and hats and shirts with that commemoration of a perfect season were printed up ahead of time. Unfortunately for the Patriots, the Giants were not interested in rolling over and playing dead. They fought for every yard and point, and when the game was over the Giants had pulled off a shocking 17-14 upset victory.
The natural sinful tendency is for us to feel overconfident pride for our accomplishments and achievements. Yet, in truth, though we can and should work hard, all that we do is the result of what God has given us. Paul reminded the church at Corinth that all of their success was due to God’s grace and not their own ability. “For who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?” (1 Corinthians 4:7).
There is no place for pride in God’s plan for our lives. In fact when we are proud, we position ourselves for judgment. The only true and lasting form of glory is that which God gives to those who banish pride. Peter wrote, “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time” (1 Peter 5:6). Exalting ourselves in what we have done sets us up for a great fall.
"The fining pot is for silver, and the furnace for gold: but the LORD trieth the hearts."
There are a lot of metals that on the surface look similar to gold. Centuries ago, people discovered that unscrupulous operators would take advantage of this to trick people into paying for worthless metal. In order to determine whether gold was genuine or not, scientists devised an “acid test.” The item that is supposed to be gold is rubbed on a black stone, leaving a mark behind. Gold is what is called a noble metal, meaning that it is resistant to the corrosive effects of acid. If the mark is washed away by the acid, then the metal is not real gold. If it remains unchanged, the genuine nature of the gold is proven.
It is not always immediately apparent from the outside whether someone is a genuine believer doing work for God out of good motives or not. Some are tares among the wheat while others are doing the right things but for selfish motives. It is only when faith and works are put to the test that it will become clear. Not all of these tests will turn out as people expect. Jesus said, “Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity” (Matthew 7:22-23).
Those who are believers will stand at the Judgment Seat of Christ where their labor will be tested. Those who have put their trust in Christ can never lose the eternal life Christ promised, but our labor for the Lord will be tried. Paul wrote, “Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is” (1 Corinthians 3:13). Only that which has been done with pure motives and for the glory of God will survive that judgment.
"He that is first in his own cause seemeth just; but his neighbour cometh and searcheth him."
In the children’s story Alice in Wonderland, Alice observes the trial being held for the Knave of Hearts who is accused of stealing some tarts baked for the Queen. Like everything else in the story, the trial is an exercise in the absurd. The silliness reaches its pinnacle when the King and Queen tire of the process and are ready to move forward.
'It's a pun!' the King added in an offended tone, and everybody laughed, 'Let the jury consider their verdict,' the King said, for about the twentieth time that day.
'No, no!' said the Queen. 'Sentence first—verdict afterwards.'
'Stuff and nonsense!' said Alice loudly. 'The idea of having the sentence first!'
Of course we recognize immediately that it is folly to render judgment prior to hearing the entire story—we have no basis for making a decision. Yet often we fall into the trap of basing our decisions on partial information. The first version of the story that we hear is not always complete and accurate. While that version may sound convincing, wisdom takes the time to investigate the entire situation and get the whole story before making a decision.
We live in a hurry up world. Some people act like instant coffee still takes too long. But when it comes to making important decisions, wisdom counsels us to slow down and make sure the details are right. There was almost a civil war in Israel after the death of Joshua. The people were ready to fight based on a rumor—a rumor that turned out to be inaccurate. “And the children of Israel heard say, Behold, the children of Reuben and the children of Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh have built an altar” (Joshua 22:11). Make sure you know the whole story before taking action.
"Hear counsel, and receive instruction, that thou mayest be wise in thy latter end."
Often we think of counsel in the context of young people. They face major issues and decisions—where to go to school, who to marry, what kind of work they should do—that certainly will be made better with godly advice and input. But the need for counsel does not end in youth or even middle age. Throughout our lives—and certainly including our youth—we need to continue to get input from others. Wisdom is not just meant to get us started in the right direction—it is meant to guide us all the way through our lives.
Solomon himself serves as a tragic example of what failing to adhere to this principle produces. Though God granted him great wisdom, Solomon did not walk in wisdom all the days of his life. He indulged his sinful appetites, and his heart turned away from following God. The nation of Israel suffered greatly as a result, and after Solomon died a civil war divided the nation in two. The decisions that Solomon made reflected foolishness in action.
Although Solomon was wiser than anyone else, he was not the only wise person in Israel. There were men who had served his father David who could have given him godly counsel and encouraged him to avoid the marriages that pulled him into idolatry. However there is no record that Solomon had any interest in hearing from them. Thinking that he had it all figured out, he went his own way—towards disaster.
In light of what we know of the history of Solomon’s reign, there is an ironic statement found in his later writings which says: “Better is a poor and a wise child than an old and foolish king, who will no more be admonished” (Ecclesiastes 4:13). When Solomon was inspired to write those words, did he recognize himself and shake his head at his own folly?
"The sluggard will not plow by reason of the cold; therefore shall he beg in harvest, and have nothing."
William Sydney Porter, better known by his pen name O. Henry, became one of the most popular authors in America at the turn of the last century. He wrote for years, but his literary career really took off from a most unlikely place—prison. Porter had been convicted of embezzlement from the bank where he had worked in Texas (although there is some evidence that it was not theft but carelessness that led to the loss of funds) and was sentenced to five years in prison. While there, he wrote and published some of his best-known stories, establishing himself as a premiere author.
In his interactions with others, O. Henry displayed the same wit that filled his stories. Once he attempted to get a royalty check from a New York publisher without success. He went to the office to try to collect in person, only to be told that the person who signed checks was not available because of a sprained ankle. “My dear sir," O. Henry said, "does he sign them with his feet?"
When we are trying to avoid doing something we don’t want to do, almost any excuse will suffice. It’s much easier to plow a field on a cool day than a hot one, yet Solomon points out that a lazy man will even use the cold as his excuse not to work. Rather than looking for reasons to avoid the tasks that are set before us, we should be faithful and diligent about our work. Success at making excuses may avoid temporary effort, but it leads to more pain in the end. When a sluggard goes hungry, then he has time to regret his failure to work when he should have done so. God has established rewards for work that can never be obtained by making excuses.
"Whoso keepeth his mouth and his tongue keepeth his soul from troubles."
James said that one of the clearest measures of our growth and maturity as a believer is our ability to control our tongues. “For in many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body” (James 3:2). Yet despite the fact that it is difficult to tame the tongue, it is critically important that we do so. Our words have great power. They can strengthen and encourage others—or tear them down.
Dr. Bob Jones, Sr. said, “There is nothing today that is doing more to deaden the spiritual testimony of Christianity than the long, backbiting, mean tongues of some supposedly orthodox Christians. There are Christians that talk much about a separated life and boast about what they do and do not do and speak with great pride about their loyalty to orthodoxy, who spend their time dipping their tongues in the slime of slander and speaking the death warrant to the reputation of others. The Bible is filled with condemnation of people that slander other people. It condemns with great severity people who even take up a reproach about other people. It is just as bad to carry a rumor around after it starts as it is to start it.”
Our words have a great impact on our own lives as well. When we violate God’s law by gossiping or speaking falsely against others, we create pain and suffering and divisions in the body of Christ which is meant to be united. Do not allow your words to tear apart what God has brought together. Paul wrote, “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers” (Ephesians 4:29).
"Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him."
There is an old story dating back centuries of a scorpion who set out to see the world. His progress was halted when he reached a river that was too wide for him to cross since he could not swim. A frog passed by, and the scorpion asked for a ride across the river. The skeptical frog asked, “How do I know you won’t sting me?” The scorpion answered with unassailable logic, “Because if I sting you, I’ll die too.” That convinced the frog and they set out across the river. Halfway across, the scorpion stung the frog despite his promise. Feeling the paralysis spreading through his body and realizing he was about to die, the frog asked, “Why did you do that? Now we will both die.” The scorpion replied, “Because it’s my nature.”
Despite the pronouncement of educators, sociologists, and politicians to the contrary, man is not basically good. While it may appeal to our pride to say that we are good, the plain (and obvious) truth everywhere we look is that man’s innate nature is evil. David wrote, “The LORD looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God. They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy: there is none that doeth good, no, not one” (Psalm 14:2-3).
We do not become sinners—we start out that way from birth. The sin nature is bound in our hearts, and only the grace of God can replace it with a new nature and make us in His image. But even after our conversion, the old nature remains. Unless the Spirit of God is filling our lives and guiding our steps, we will revert to walk in our old ways.
"Hear thou, my son, and be wise, and guide thine heart in the way. Be not among winebibbers; among riotous eaters of flesh: For the drunkard and the glutton shall come to poverty: and drowsiness shall clothe a man with rags."
A lot of people think they are having a good time as they go along with their friends doing things that are wrong. They may drink, gamble, eat, party, and find temporary pleasure—but in the end, going against God’s law always brings consequences. Tragically many people never stop this downward spiral, while others wait until they have reached the bottom of the barrel before turning to God for help.
Sam Jones was a greatly used evangelist who saw thousands saved in his meetings. But before he became a Christian, he lived for the bottle. Jones was so brilliant that he passed the bar exam to become a lawyer after only one year of study, yet he drank himself out of job after job until he hit rock bottom. Jones remembered that day well: “I went to the bar and begged for a glass of liquor. I got the glass and started to drink and looked into the mirror. I saw my hair matted, the filth and vomit on my clothes, one of my eyes totally closed, and my lips swollen. And I said, ‘Is that all that is left of the proud and brilliant lawyer, Sam Jones?’ I smashed the glass on the floor and fell to my knees and cried, ‘Oh God! Oh God, have mercy!’”
The grace of God transformed him into a powerful preacher, but how much better would it have been for Sam Jones to turn to God before he reached such a low point—or before he started down the path of sin at all. Any pleasure sin offers is at best fleeting and temporary, but the consequences are painful and lasting.
"Say not, I will do so to him as he hath done to me: I will render to the man according to his work."
An elephant and a giraffe walked together to a watering hole on the African plain. It was a cool and pleasant evening, and they were talking about life. When they reached the water hole, they saw a large turtle sunning himself on a log. Without saying a word, the elephant walked over and kicked the turtle, sending him spinning out over the water until he landed with a huge splash. “Why did you do that?” the giraffe asked his friend. “Thirty years ago I came to this same water hole and that turtle snapped at my trunk,” the elephant replied. “You have an amazing memory,” the giraffe said. “Yes,” said the elephant. “I have turtle recall!”
Even those of us who struggle with remembering what we were supposed to get at the grocery store, or why we walked into a room, find it easy to remember those who have treated us wrongly. We tend to nurse our injuries, rehearsing the details and thinking about ways in which we could get even. Holding on to the pains of the past harms us in two ways. First, the more time we spend focused on them, the more painful they become. Rather than allowing the wound to heal, we keep picking at the scab and making it worse.
Second, the longer we think about injuries done to us, the more likely we are to attempt revenge for what happened. This leads to all sorts of evils. Paul wrote, “Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord” (Romans 12:19). The pain that we suffer is real, but faith in God allows us to trust Him to bring true justice to those who have done us wrong.
"Hast thou found honey? eat so much as is sufficient for thee, lest thou be filled therewith, and vomit it. Withdraw thy foot from thy neighbour's house; lest he be weary of thee, and so hate thee."
Each year on the fourth of July the Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Company sponsors a hot dog eating contest. In 2013 Joey Chestnut won the competition for the seventh year in a row, setting a new record by eating 69 hot dogs and buns in just ten minutes. The second runner up “only” managed to eat 51. According to a nutritionist, Chestnut consumed almost 27,000 calories in that ten minute eating spree. According to news reports, Chestnut received a prize of $20,000 for his eating performance.
Few of us are in danger of eating seventy hot dogs in one day, let alone nearly seven a minute for ten minutes straight. And yet we live in a world where “enough” is never enough. Many people devote their lives to acquiring wealth and possessions, living with a focus only on the temporal. As a result, rather than living in contentment, they live in a perpetual state of dissatisfaction. They struggle to get the latest and biggest and newest toys and never enjoy a moment of peace.
God’s plan for us is contentment. This contentment is not based on having “enough” but on our faith that the presence of God is sufficient for whatever we lack. The writer of Hebrews said it this way: “Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee” (Hebrews 13:5). Knowing that God is with us should give us the peace of mind to not insist on getting more and more. Being satisfied with what He has chosen to provide is a vital step to wisdom.
The words of a talebearer are as wounds, and they go down into the innermost parts of the belly.
Most of us learned the saying when we were little: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” In reality, words are amazingly powerful—they can either build up and encourage, or tear down and cause deep wounds. Whether the words spoken against someone are true or false, they are able to deeply injure.
When David was fleeing from King Saul, he briefly took shelter with Ahimelech the priest. A man from Edom named Doeg saw David there and reported him to Saul. In his jealous rage, Saul had all the priests and their families killed. When he heard this news, David wrote a powerful condemnation of Doeg. “Thy tongue deviseth mischiefs; like a sharp razor, working deceitfully. Thou lovest evil more than good; and lying rather than to speak righteousness. Selah. Thou lovest all devouring words, O thou deceitful tongue. God shall likewise destroy thee for ever, he shall take thee away, and pluck thee out of thy dwelling place, and root thee out of the land of the living. Selah” (Psalm 52:2-5)
While we should always tell the truth, sometimes telling the truth becomes an excuse for repeating stories that do not need to be told. There are stories that are completely true that benefit no one by being repeated and spread around. Character assassination in the name of truth is not godly speech. Instead we should guard our tongues and not delight in knowing the latest gossip to share. Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus: “But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ” (Ephesians 4:15). Speaking in love prevents us from carelessly wounding others and falling under the judgment of God.
"Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend."
A number of years ago, a man named James Hewett compiled a book of sermon illustrations. In it he included some stories from his own life. He said that one of his neighbors was trying to install a television antenna on his roof and was really struggling to get it done by himself. Hewett walked over and offered to help. He had a collection of nice tools and had everything needed for the task. When they finished the job, his neighbor looked at his rather impressive tool kit and asked what he made with such tools. “Friends mostly,” Hewett answered.
All of us need friends. God did not intend for us to go through life flying solo. In fact while everything God created was good, there was something that He said needed to change. “And the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him” (Genesis 2:18). This principle applies to more than just a marriage relationship—it demonstrates the need for friendship as well.
Ecclesiastes 4:9–10 puts it this way: “Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up.” We need friends to strengthen and encourage us as we strive to do right. We need friends to rejoice with us when good things happen and weep with us when bad things happen. The necessity of having friends means that we must be willing to make investments to build and maintain these important relationships. Jesus sent the disciples out two by two—and rather than trying to do it alone, we should rely on our friends.
"A faithful man shall abound with blessings: but he that maketh haste to be rich shall not be innocent."
Richard Cecil was a greatly used pastor in England in the late 1700s. He was closely connected with John Newton and Wilber Wilberforce in their efforts to end the slave trade. The spirit that kept him faithful to God through a long life of service was demonstrated when he was just a boy. Richard’s father who worked for the British East India Company one day took the boy into the city with him. He told Richard to wait at a certain gate until he returned. In the busyness of his day, he forgot the boy and returned home alone. He said, “Dear me! I left him in the morning standing under such and such a gateway, and I told him to stay there till I came for him. I should not wonder but that he is there now.” He did, in fact, find Richard Cecil at the very spot where he was told to wait.
We live in an impatient world, yet God expects us to be faithful even if results are not immediately apparent. Faithfulness is not a nice accessory to the Christian life—it is an absolute essential. Paul wrote, “Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful” (1 Corinthians 4:2). The reason faithfulness matters so much is that despite what some prominent television preachers like to proclaim, God did not promise us an easy life where everything goes the way we want it to go.
Instead God expects us to trust and follow Him just as much in the dark as we do in the light. When things go well we sometimes say that God has been good to us, but the truth is that God is good all the time. Faithfulness in His love allows us to remain consistent through the ups and downs of life.
"If a ruler hearken to lies, all his servants are wicked."
In their best-selling business book In Search of Excellence, Tom Peters and Bob Waterman tried to discover what made some companies perform so much better than others. One of the companies they visited was Hewlett-Packard. The founders of this company, William Hewlett and Dave Packard, wanted their company to be filled with people who approached their jobs with interest and excitement. To that end they took the unusual step of establishing an “open lab stock” policy where employees were allowed and encouraged to take tools and parts home to use on their own projects and inventions. The consultants wrote: Legend has it that Bill Hewlett visited a plant on a Saturday and found the lab stock area locked. He immediately went down to maintenance, grabbed a bolt cutter, and proceeded to cut the padlock off the lab stock door. He left a note that was found on Monday morning: "Don't ever lock this door again. Thanks, Bill."
They then described a conversation with a young engineer fresh out of school who had only been with the company for a year. Commenting on some problems with a new personnel procedure, he said: "I'm not sure Bill and Dave would have done it that way." It's truly remarkable to find the value set stamped in so quickly, and with such clarity. Peters and Waterman reported the same attitudes across the company. Why did the employees have that spirit? Because the leaders did.
Each of us is a leader in some part of our lives. From pastors and bosses to parents and teachers, we serve as examples to others—and they will follow those examples. If we conduct our lives with honesty and integrity as we should, it will make a positive impact on them. Of course, the reverse is also true. Never forget those who are watching you.
"The locusts have no king, yet go they forth all of them by bands;"
Every day we are presented with opportunities to help people in need—spiritually, physically, or emotionally. Yet often these opportunities are missed because we do not seize the initiative and take action. When Peter and John went to the Temple to pray and saw the lame man there begging, they did not receive a special revelation or direction from God to help him. They simply saw his need and realized they should do something about it. “Then Peter said, Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk” (Acts 3:6).
An English pastor of the 1800s Sydney Smith wrote these words about those who fail to take action when they should: “A great deal of talent is lost in the world for want of a little courage. The fact is, that to do anything in the world worth doing, we must not stand back shivering and thinking of the cold danger, but we must jump in and scramble through as well as we can. A man waits, and doubts, and consults his brother, and his particular friends, till one day he finds that he is sixty years old, and that he has lost so much time in consulting that he has no time to follow their advice.”
Most of the great things done for God are not the result of grand plans but rather grow from the initiative taken by Christians to do something about a problem or need that they see. It does not take a revelation from God or a directive from a leader to respond to a challenge or crisis. God wants His people to be active rather than passive, responding in whatever way they can to the needs of those they meet.
"My son, hear the instruction of thy father, and forsake not the law of thy mother: For they shall be an ornament of grace unto thy head, and chains about thy neck.""
One of the biggest tourist attractions in England is found at the Tower of London—the Crown Jewels. The crowns and regalia there have graced the heads of monarchs for centuries. Some of the pieces date back more than eight hundred years. The best-known piece of the collection is the Imperial State Crown. It contains more than three thousand gemstones, including the Second Star of Africa, the Black Prince’s Ruby, the Stuart Sapphire, St. Edward’s Sapphire, and Queen Elizabeth’s Pearls. This is the crown that Queen Elizabeth wears for the Opening of Parliament and other state occasions. These beautiful pieces are a token of honor and tradition that has lasted for centuries.
When we walk in God’s paths, keeping the instructions and principles taught to us by our earthly and spiritual parents, there are many benefits. We are spared the judgment for wrongdoing that comes when we violate these precepts, and we are able to receive the blessings that God promises for obedience. But one of the most important things in God’s plan for our lives is that we pass on what we have received. The monarchs of England do not retain the Crown Jewels for themselves—they add to them to make them more beautiful and valuable and then pass them on to future generations.
God wants us to live in obedience so that we set an example for those who come behind us. Some have the privilege of coming from generations of believers while others are the first Christians in their family. In either case, we should live so that those who come after us have a legacy of grace to follow.
"When wisdom entereth into thine heart, and knowledge is pleasant unto thy soul; Discretion shall preserve thee, understanding shall keep thee:"
Wisdom works from the inside out. It must be in our heart before it can be in our actions. Doing right on the outside is important, but if things are not right on the inside, it will be revealed in time. We see a prime example of this in the life of Solomon. He was young when he became king of Israel, and Solomon recognized his need of help and asked God for wisdom. God was pleased and made Solomon extremely wise. His reputation spread around the world and leaders from far away, such as the Queen of Sheba, came to see his beautiful palace and hear him answer difficult questions.
Unfortunately, Solomon did not maintain wisdom in his heart. He allowed it to be replaced with idolatry. First Kings 11:1, 3–4 says, “But king Solomon loved many strange women together with the daughter of Pharaoh, women of the Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Zidonians, and Hittites; And he had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines: and his wives turned away his heart. For it came to pass, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned away his heart after other gods: and his heart was not perfect with the Lord his God.”
We do not receive a lifetime supply of wisdom all at once. We must continually seek it through the pages of God’s Word and from godly counselors. The direction of our lives will be shaped by our heart attitude toward wisdom. The benefits that come from having it are great and well worth the effort. As long as we are seeking and valuing wisdom, both our lives and those with whom we come in contact will be blessed.
"Length of days is in her right hand; and in her left hand riches and honour. Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace. She is a tree of life to them that lay hold upon her: and happy is every one that retaineth her.""
A young boy accompanied his mother on her trip to the general store. He was quite well behaved, and the man behind the counter was impressed as he watched the little fellow. When they were ready to check out, the man told the boy to reach into the jar of candy that was by the register and help himself. But the boy kept his hands down in his pockets and wouldn’t respond. Finally, the man reached into the jar, got some candy, and handed it to the boy. When they left the store his mother asked, “Why didn’t you get the candy when he told you to?” The boy replied, “Because his hands are way bigger than mine!”
God loves us and wants us to have good things for our lives, and His hands are far bigger than ours. One of the great blessings He offers to us is the instruction of wisdom. Wisdom comes to us with both hands full of blessings. When we walk in God’s ways we reap enormous benefits. This is not to say that we can expect God to give us all the goodies we can think of. It is a prescription for living in a way that creates positive results and avoids negative ones.
A person who walks in folly may do things which shorten life, bring shame, and create financial hardship. These are not so much signs of the judgment of God as the natural consequences of walking outside of His commandments. The learning and living of wisdom is vital if we want to experience a happy and blessed life.
"Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life."
High in northwest Minnesota, the Itasca State Park holds the origin of one the largest and most powerful natural features of our world—the Mississippi River. More than 2,500 miles long, the great river carries millions of gallons of water down the middle of the country. The Mississippi is vital to commerce, farming, transportation, and navigation for our nation, but it begins with a very small stream. The headwaters of the Mississippi River are the place where it all begins.
The Bible tells us that our heart is the source for the decisions and choices of life. We set the course for our future by the direction of our heart—everything else flows from that. Great wickedness comes when we allow our heart free reign to exercise evil. This was the reason God sent the Flood to destroy the world. “And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5).
This principle works both directions. When our heart is aligned with the things of God, blessings follow. Additionally, when our heart is right with God and the hearts of those with whom we fellowship are also right with God, our hearts will be knit to one another. During the good part of Saul’s reign, Israel’s first king was strengthened by a select group of his followers. First Samuel 10:26 records, “And Saul also went home to Gibeah; and there went with him a band of men, whose hearts God had touched.”
If your heart is right, your actions and choices will reflect a desire for the things of God rather than the things of the world—and you will be blessed.
"Let thy fountain be blessed: and rejoice with the wife of thy youth."
Marriage is under attack in our society. On one hand, the push for same-sex marriage is seeking to change the very definition of the institution which God created. On the other hand, there is a lack of respect and commitment for marriage, even among those who still understand what marriage is. Often we hear jokes about marriage that reveal contempt rather than holy reverence for the institution that is part of God’s original plan for mankind. Marriage did not come after the fall but before it—and God takes the covenant commitment made by a man and wife very seriously.
God intends for marriage to be a source of joy and help in our lives. While it is not God’s plan for every individual to marry, marriage is God’s gift to many. For marriage to be what God intends it to be, effort on the part of both spouses is required. It cannot be done properly unless it is done unselfishly. There aren’t any secrets or shortcuts—it is simply a matter of living day after day with the best interests of the other person in mind.
The pattern of humility and service that is required for a joyful marriage is set for us in the life of Christ. Picture Him on His knees in the Upper Room washing the feet of His disciples—including Judas who would betray Him that very night. The disciples had been discussing their comparative ranks in the coming kingdom and asking which of them would be the greatest. Yet Jesus, the Lord of Heaven and Earth, was humble before them, performing the task of a slave to meet their needs. When we approach marriage with care for the other person rather than insisting on getting everything we want, marriage becomes a source of joy and strength as God intends.
"These six things doth the Lord hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him: A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, An heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief, A false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren.""
Despite the flippant portrayal of God that our modern society has created, we know from the pages of Scripture that the High and Holy God of Heaven and Earth hates sin. This is not a casual dislike—it is an intense hatred. A person need only look at the cross and see the price sin required to understand God’s wrath toward sin. Even though God hates all sin, there are some sins that call down His special condemnation and judgment. On the list of seven abominable sins found here in Proverbs, one makes the list twice—lying.
This is not filler. God did not run out of things to include on the list of seven and repeat one to complete a number. Lying is a sin that God holds in special judgment and hatred. Why? Because lying was at the very heart of Satan’s rebellion against God. Jesus told the Pharisees, “Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it” (John 8:44).
Too often Christians give themselves permission to tell “white lies” or stretch the truth, thinking that it is not that big of a deal. But it is a big deal to God. Complete honesty and integrity in our lives is the standard. Anything less means we are siding with Satan and doing his evil work. Those of us who know Christ should walk in and speak His truth.
"With her much fair speech she caused him to yield, with the flattering of her lips she forced him."
The 2004 presidential election was expected to be close, and it was. Early in the afternoon of election day the first round of exit polls showed Senator John Kerry with a significant lead over incumbent President George Bush in several key states. A long-time Democratic strategist with the Kerry campaign, Bob Shrum walked up to the Senator and said, “Can I be the first to call you Mr. President?” Of course when the actual votes were counted, Mr. Bush defeated Mr. Kerry, and Shrum’s premature statement was proven incorrect. It was later revealed that he had said something very similar to then Vice President Al Gore during the 2000 election four years earlier.
There are many tools that people use to try to influence others, but one of the most effective is flattery. The old saying, “Flattery will get you nowhere” is belied by centuries of human experience. Flattery often works quite effectively at shaping the opinions and actions of another. For example when Daniel’s enemies wanted King Darius to sign the decree forbidding anyone from praying to any god except the king himself, they did not reveal their true purpose. They painted a picture of bringing honor and respect to Darius, and he foolishly went along with their plot. Only the intervention of an angel prevented Daniel from being devoured by the lions.
That story points out the danger of flattery. It is a safe conclusion that the person trying to get you to do something by flattery is thinking far more about themselves than about what is good for you. While valid compliments are both appropriate and powerful, flattery focuses on unearned praise and tries to build up pride in the heart of the hearer.
"I love them that love me; and those that seek me early shall find me."
The expression “the early bird gets the worm” entered the English language more than five hundred years ago, possibly from an even older German variation of the proverb. The idea that people can improve their chances of success by starting early is not new. Despite its demonstrated truth, too often we find excuses to put things off rather than beginning promptly. This principle applies in many areas, and it is especially applicable to the topic of wisdom in our lives.
There is a clear promise given to us here—when we seek wisdom early, we will find it. Solomon’s own life illustrates this principle. He was a young man, around twenty years of age, when he became king over Israel. At the beginning of his reign when God offered him whatever he wanted, he asked for wisdom. David had taught him the vital importance of wisdom, and, when presented an opportunity to ask for great things from God, Solomon correctly selected wisdom.
Not only should we seek God’s wisdom early in our lives, but it is important to seek wisdom early in the day as well. Though we live in a culture that values self-reliance, it is important for God’s children not to approach life with the arrogant assumption that they need no help. In truth we must have God’s help every day. Jeremiah wrote, “It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not” (Lamentations 3:22). We cannot live as God intends unless we walk in wisdom. Each morning we should set aside time to read God’s Word and ask for His guidance and direction through the day. Since we have His promise that this request will be answered, we are foolish indeed if we fail to ask.
"But he knoweth not that the dead are there; and that her guests are in the depths of hell."
Frank Stockton’s short story The Lady or the Tiger? first published in 1882, was for many years a favorite of high school English and literature classes. The story tells of a barbaric king who administered justice in his kingdom in a unique way. When a man was accused, he was placed in an arena with two doors before him. Behind one was a bloodthirsty tiger that would kill him in an instant. Behind the other was a beautiful maiden who would immediately become his wife.
In Stockton’s tale, a commoner fell in love with the king’s daughter. When the king discovered this, he was furious and sentenced the young man to his fate. Before the appointed day, the princess discovered which door concealed the tiger and which concealed the woman who would marry the man she loved—a woman she knew and hated. Just before the man chose his door and his destiny, she signaled toward the door on the right. The story does not answer the question of which fate she selected for the young man, leaving it up to the reader to determine what her choice would be. Would she rather see him alive with someone else or would she rather see him dead?
Like the man in that fictional story, we face a choice when temptation comes—a choice that is literally life and death. The difference is that we can know what is behind the door. While sin presents a beautiful face, it conceals death. The path of sin always leads to the same end. James wrote, “Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death” (James 1:15). The only hope we have is to yield to God’s Spirit and take the way to escape that He provides when temptation comes.
"He becometh poor that dealeth with a slack hand: but the hand of the diligent maketh rich.""
Biographical accounts of his early life vary, but it is generally believed that when Andrew Carnegie came to America from Scotland as a thirteen-year-old boy, he had less than a dollar. Like a large number of young people in his day, Carnegie went to work in a factory instead of going to school. Looking to better his life, he found a job first as a telegraph messenger and then later as a telegraph operator. In this position, his prodigious memory and diligent work brought him to the attention of some of Pennsylvania’s leading industrialists. At eighteen he went to work for Thomas Scott at the Pennsylvania railroad, and by twenty he was made superintendent of the operation. Carnegie went on to become one of the wealthiest men in the world. While he was apparently not a born-again Christian, his life gives ample evidence to the importance and value of diligence.
As the old saying goes, “I’m a great believer in luck. The harder I work the luckier I get.” A diligent worker stands out. The so-called Protestant work ethic has largely vanished from our world today. As a result, anyone who shows up on time, works hard, and gives an employer full value for wages paid will quickly get noticed. The Word of God tells us that the alternative to such work is poverty.
God’s plan is not for people who are able to work to sit around and expect others to care for their needs. Paul wrote, “For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10). When we view work as an opportunity to excel rather than a drudgery to complete, we can accomplish great things.