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New Hope Café on Castleton Ave. in Staten Island, New York –Evening Concert on 7/21/2012
(edited October 2019)
We all bear a name and, most likely, a number (or several) that identify us in our society and culture. Recently, while travelling outside of the USA, I found that I needed to maintain my passport paperwork at all times. That was all new to me. But in this study we will see that the most important identity a believer can bear is the degree to which we resemble our Creator in thought, word, and deed, and, as the New testament puts it so well: “in Spirit and in Truth” (see John 4:23).
The first nine verses of Proverbs chapter 12 deal with the rewards of the righteous living. I think we should say “ultimate” rewards because many of us become quite disillusioned with the actual defeats and sufferings of true believers, in this life, and the apparent gains of the wicked. If you have ever felt this way, you are in good company. Even Solomon who originally wrote these words in the Bible, eventually I think, stepped away from the “rewards” part of them. We’ll get back to that later.
Verses 1-9: “Whoso loveth instruction loveth knowledge: but he that hateth reproof is brutish. A good man obtaineth favour of the Lord: but a man of wicked devices will he condemn. A man shall not be established by wickedness: but the root of the righteous shall not be moved. A virtuous woman is a crown to her husband: but she that maketh ashamed is as rottenness in his bones. The thoughts of the righteous are right: but the counsels of the wicked are deceit. The words of the wicked are to lie in wait for blood: but the mouth of the upright shall deliver them. The wicked are overthrown, and are not: but the house of the righteous shall stand. A man shall be commended according to his wisdom: but he that is of a perverse heart shall be despised. He that is despised, and hath a servant, is better than he that honoureth himself, and lacketh bread.”
These things certainly don’t always play out immediately in real life, wouldn’t you agree? How about over a person’s lifetime?
Solomon observed many people over many years. And, as the King of Ancient Israel, he had to judge crimes and complaints among his subjects. As time wore on his attitude and his faith were sorely tested. Later in his Book of Ecclesiastes chapter 1, he wrote this, “Vanity of vanities…all is vanity…I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit.”
Is that how you feel about the concept of justice in this world? I know have questioned it at times. But all New Testament believers, from Pastors to the youngest Sunday School child, myself included, need very much to continue to believe that righteous living is worthwhile. Even if the rewards are, at times, delayed. We must be very cautious in how we handle what King Solomon says to us in verses 1-9 if we are to avoid the hopelessness that swallowed him up in his later years.
Let’s move on for now, and take a look at Solomon’s description of the qualities that identify a righteous person. For me, they all ring true for us today:
Verse 10: KIND
“A righteous man regardeth the life of his beast: but the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel.”
Kindness that extends even to animals, and especially to human beings. The wicked can even cause trouble when trying to do well.
Verse 11: DILIGENT
“He that tilleth his land shall be satisfied with bread: but he that followeth vain persons is void of understanding.”
Honest labor is God’s will and He can lead us to it and through it. Ignorance seeks, through worldly wisdom, to cunningly avoid appropriate and required tasks. (This verse reminds me of an old Blues song about a man on death row. Mournfully, he cries: “Bad company brought me here.”)
Verse 12: PATIENT
“The wicked desireth the net of evil men: but the root of the righteous yieldeth fruit.”
Controlling personal ambition. Not envious of others, especially of evil men.
Verse 13: SELF-RESTRAINED
“The wicked is snared by the transgression of his lips: but the just shall come out of trouble.”
Circumspection of others and inner reflection before speaking.
Verse 14: RESOLVED
“A man shall be satisfied with good by the fruit of his mouth: and the recompence of a man's hands shall be rendered unto him.”
Inner harmony and purposefulness to think, speak and actually DO good. Believe and trust in God bears fruit in your labor, your living, and your heart.
Verse 15: TEACHABLE
“The way of a fool is right in his own eyes: but he that hearkeneth unto counsel is wise.”
No man should be his own, highest authority. That is self- worship and humanism, not faith and trust in God.
Verses 16-19: SELF-DISCIPLINED
“ A fool's wrath is presently known: but a prudent man covereth shame. He that speaketh truth sheweth forth righteousness: but a false witness deceit. There is that speaketh like the piercings of a sword: but the tongue of the wise is health. The lip of truth shall be established for ever: but a lying tongue is but for a moment.”
Our words matter and can make a real difference for better or worse. The heart and tongue of the righteous builds up. Audrey (the Pastor and leader at the New Hope Café at that time) has preached to me and prayed for me, personally. Her ministry of good words and good wishes will stay with me for the rest of my life. (That has proven true, I can tell you, even though Audrey herself is now in Heaven.)
You don’t have to make front page news and do worldly or flashy things to have a righteous impact on others. Holy Spirit-guided words can literally change and heal the world around you. And this is God’s will for all of us.
But before we can bring out those healing words to others, we must BE HEALED within. A believer in Christ today can become so discouraged by setbacks that their ministry, whatever that may be, is silenced and their faith damaged. This clearly was the case with King Solomon according to the Scriptures. Though he was the wisest, and I think we could say, the most powerfully righteous man on earth at that time, he became the disillusioned fatalist who penned the Book of Ecclesiastes and also, though it is not often spoken of today, he eventually became a worshipper of devils (see I Kings chapter11).
Please to not take this as an attack on King Solomon or his contributions to the Scriptures, because I consider them ALL to be profitable for study and spiritual growth. But being so error prone myself, I know that I need to look carefully for not just the bright side of the life of faith, but also its pitfalls. And these closing verses to Proverbs chapter 12 present some very dangerous pitfalls.
Verses 20-25: “Deceit is in the heart of them that imagine evil: but to the counsellors of peace is joy. There shall no evil happen to the just: but the wicked shall be filled with mischief. Lying lips are abomination to the Lord: but they that deal truly are his delight. A prudent man concealeth knowledge: but the heart of fools proclaimeth foolishness. The hand of the diligent shall bear rule: but the slothful shall be under tribute. Heaviness in the heart of man maketh it stoop: but a good word maketh it glad. The righteous is more excellent than his neighbour: but the way of the wicked seduceth them. The slothful man roasteth not that which he took in hunting: but the substance of a diligent man is precious. In the way of righteousness is life: and in the pathway thereof there is no death.”
I wish this were always true here on this earth but experience shows that it is not as simple as Solomon states it. It is Eternal Truth, but if you are counting on it in everyday life, you are being set up for a fall.
In conclusion, as I have previously stated in other Bible studies, righteous works are not, in our era, the substance of our relationship to God. Faith in Jesus Christ is the substance of that relationship. But righteous living is a singular indication of the health of that relationship and also, at times, a measure of our reverence and love for the Lord.
King Solomon had only the Law of Moses and a Covenant of works within which to function. That is a good reason for us NOT to “pile on” with criticisms of his failures. I don’t, in any way, feel superior to him. His spiritual failures are largely publicly known while most of mine are still private. God has set him forth as an example to all of us. And there is much in his life to be admired, but we should not follow him into error, either.
Let’s learn from his mistakes. And the biggest, (besides marrying 1,000 beautiful women—my desires in this area too have, mercifully, remained private! 😊) the biggest error on his part was to believe and teach that righteousness brings immediate worldly success and happiness at all times. That is wrong, I think. That concept, which still prevails in much of the Church today, is a faith killer and is also often used to discredit the Gospel as an on-going way of life.
More than ever, we need to be righteous in the sight of God and live that way toward our neighbor. But unlike young Solomon and even his Father, King David (in many of his Psalms), we must be ready to accept delays in rewards and blessings that cannot be fully expressed in this present world. We MUST learn from all the Old Testament Fathers, but the actual blueprint for a believer’s life today is Jesus, alone. His life and His Love. Only in Him can we find Hope. Hope of a Love that thrives even through suffering.