we become like who or what we focus on, what we love and hate

Why do the nations say,
“Where is their God?”
Our God is in heaven;
he does whatever pleases him.
But their idols are silver and gold,
made by human hands.
They have mouths, but cannot speak,
eyes, but cannot see.
They have ears, but cannot hear,
noses, but cannot smell.
They have hands, but cannot feel,
feet, but cannot walk,
nor can they utter a sound with their throats.
Those who make them will be like them,
and so will all who trust in them.

Psalm 115:2-8

A frightening thought today: but I think it’s psychologically, and far more importantly for me, biblically and theologically sound: We become like who or what we either love or hate.

First the easier, or more obvious: We become like what we love. I think of a man and woman who have been happily married at least a good share of their marriage for decades. They know each other practically better than they know themselves, and feel completely at home only in the presence of the other. They may have completely different personalities, but they believe they are one flesh in the holy state of matrimony. That may seem like a far fetched example, but there is a sense of awe and reverence for the other which ought to carry over into all of life. Akin to “the fear of the LORD being the beginning of knowledge” (Proverbs).

We become like the one we admire. And who should we admire and esteem the most? Of course if there’s a god, than that god, at least you would think. We Christians reverence God and accept the love of that Triune God in and through Christ by the Holy Spirit. And Scripture tells us that we as God’s children through faith in Christ are being made more and more like Christ. We somehow through God’s work are becoming more and more the people we were created to be, no less than brothers and sisters in the very family of God.

But what if we don’t love God? What if it’s a love focused on ourselves, or someone else? Then either we, or whoever, or even whatever becomes the measure of everything. And the problem with that is that we’re all sinners. We are a mix of good and bad, beautiful and ugly, but somehow never measuring up to whatever good aspirations we might have. And often pursuing what is really not good at all, or is at least a waste. It ends up being the blind leading the blind, like sheep going astray, heading toward a dead end, or even for a cliff. Not good to say the least. We need God’s grace and salvation found in Jesus.

What about what we hate? We must beware here. Indeed we should hate all that’s evil, while we love all that’s good. But we must be careful lest in that hatred we become like the very thing we hate. In the passage above, people of olden times didn’t necessarily love their gods. In fact they often feared them in more like utter fright, believing them to be vindictive if they failed to meet their demands. And while we may not have those kinds of gods today, we do have figurative gods in their place that are every bit as real. The idol of ambition to make it to the top and maybe be well known. The idol of pleasing someone who or something that demands a loyalty that is both crushing and demeaning. Causing us to act in certain ways we never would otherwise. Whatever it might be, anything less than the God revealed in Christ and found in Scripture does not deserve any such place in our hearts and lives.

The dearest idol I have known,
Whate’er that idol be,
Help me to tear it from thy throne,
And worship only thee.

William Cowper

Only God’s grace meaning God’s undeserved, unearned favor in the gift of Christ can make the needed difference in our lives. But even after receiving that grace, we must beware lest we drift back into our old ways. We must hold onto God’s grace in Jesus through faith. We must turn away from other things and keep our focus on Christ. In so doing we will be looking into the face of God. And will change from glory to glory into that resemblance beginning in this life, to be perfected when we see Jesus.

 

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when there’s no fear of God

I have a message from God in my heart
concerning the sinfulness of the wicked:
There is no fear of God
before their eyes.

In their own eyes they flatter themselves
too much to detect or hate their sin.
The words of their mouths are wicked and deceitful;
they fail to act wisely or do good.
Even on their beds they plot evil;
they commit themselves to a sinful course
and do not reject what is wrong.

Psalm 36:1-4

At work we just finished running “The Wisdom Books: Proverbs, Job, Ecclesiastes” in the Our Daily Bread Ministries Discovery Series, Understanding the Bible, by Tremper Longman III. Quite good. One part that stood out to me is just how apart from the fear of God, little else matters if you’re looking for godly wisdom. Or just wisdom period as spelled out in the Bible, specifically Proverbs. Longman points out how there are sayings in the book of Proverbs that anyone might agree with, but that all of them are to be seen in the context of the fear of God. Which is awe and respect, even reverence for who God is, God’s mighty power and even love.

This is a fundamental difference between those who are Christians and those who are not. I’m not saying that no others have any fear of God. But only in Christ who himself is the ultimate wisdom does one come into a saving relationship with God. And the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs). Without it there’s no godly wisdom at all.

The psalm quoted above makes the point that those who don’t have the fear of God don’t have any of the humility that goes with that. The fact of the matter is that God is God and we’re not. That should help us pay attention to our thoughts and attitudes, and put many of them on check with some repentance along the way.

After thoughts on those who don’t fear God, the psalmist turns their attention to God, asks God for his protection, and expresses certainty of the wicked’s downfall and demise. A primary difference between those who fear God and those who don’t is that the former turn to God, while the latter most certainly don’t. Christians pray for those who persecute them. So looking to God when troubled by others is both prayer for God’s intervention and their salvation. In and through Jesus.

Your love, Lord, reaches to the heavens,
your faithfulness to the skies.
Your righteousness is like the highest mountains,
your justice like the great deep.
You, Lord, preserve both people and animals.
How priceless is your unfailing love, O God!
People take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
They feast on the abundance of your house;
you give them drink from your river of delights.
For with you is the fountain of life;
in your light we see light.

Continue your love to those who know you,
your righteousness to the upright in heart.
May the foot of the proud not come against me,
nor the hand of the wicked drive me away.
See how the evildoers lie fallen—
thrown down, not able to rise!

 

wisdom in the real world

One of the major themes of Scripture is wisdom. We have wisdom books: Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Job, even Song of Songs. And some of the Psalms. I would like to include James from the New Testament, and you can find snippets of wisdom everywhere throughout Scripture.

What marks out Biblical wisdom is “the fear of God” which is foundational to it. But also it’s plain to see that the wisdom talked about in Scripture is for us as we really are, for life as it really is, not some idealized version.

I think this is important, because it might be easy for us to give up on the pursuit of wisdom, or think we really haven’t received it from God, because we’re so aware of our flaws. But the wisdom given is for flawed people, yes, to help us walk in the way of God, and not in our own way. But also to help us do better, both unlearn and learn, and continue, not only in the way of wisdom, but as life-long seekers of it.

We’re told that Christ is our wisdom. Ultimately we find God’s wisdom in him, and actually to understand all the rest is to see it in light of him. This is from Scripture, God’s written word, and the Spirit. So that means we don’t leave any of the Scripture witness behind. And we especially mark all that is pointed and helpful for us on our journey. As we continue on in the way of wisdom. In and through Jesus.

where wisdom begins and ends

Wisdom reposes in the heart of the discerning
and even among fools she lets herself be known.

Proverbs 14:33

It’s a struggle to find, live, and remain in wisdom. Lasting wisdom begins with “the fear of God” (Proverbs 9:10). So it’s relational, beginning with God, and then impacting others. But it has to find residence in our hearts. That means our inherent foolishness has to be owned up to, checked, and ultimately scrapped. Which is why it’s best for us to be slow to try to impose ourselves in any way on anyone else. We best make sure we’re in line first before we can even imagine that we can help anyone else. As we read elsewhere, when we judge others, we do the same things (Romans 2). It’s not like what we’re seeing isn’t a real problem. But wisdom reminds us that the best thing we can do is pray. And be slow, even reticent to do anything else.

Wisdom is given to us from God, into our hearts, first and foremost, so that we might change. It’s not so that we can impose our wisdom on others. It’s to receive God’s wisdom for ourselves, our own lives. As we do that, it’s our lives which can speak volumes to others. And that includes those caught up in foolishness, which of course none of us are above falling into. And like the text above tells us, even to fools. It’s how we live, but that starts from the heart. It must settle into our hearts in a way which impacts our lives. The book of Proverbs along with the rest of Scripture will help us understand what that means. It’s ongoing, never ending in this life. But it is something we need to deliberately pursue and be engaged in. Always for change in ourselves. And through that change, hopefully others will find their way into the same wisdom. In and through Jesus.

not acting on emotions

Better a patient person than a warrior,
one with self-control than one who takes a city.

Proverbs 16:32

I think one of the greatest problems we have in not really following through on wisdom as we would like is our habit of acting on impulse. Somehow we proceed on how we feel, our emotions, rather than on good thinking based on understanding considered in the light of what is good for others and ourselves, in the fear and goodness of God.

It is almost a given that if we feel a certain way, then corresponding words or actions will follow. For example, someone cuts us off on the road, or sits at a light. At best we might utter a relatively mild word under our breath, at worst we remark that they’re dumb. Or I might just think they’re on their cell phones, and shake my head in disgust.

What Scripture calls us to is not some stoic resolve and refusal to acknowledge what is happening and how we feel. I’ve seen people act like everything is okay when it’s not, and keep doing that only to explode at a certain point later. It’s better to shake one’s head right along, while keeping oneself mostly in check, not flying off the handle. But better yet is the refusal not to act at all on our emotions which we would call negative. But rather, to keep working through things in a thoughtfully wise and understanding way. And many times along the way that will involve prayers to God and seeking help from others, as well as simply persevering in what we need to do.

Like the NET Bible footnote tells us, it is harder for us to appreciate the impact of this verse now, since the kind of warfare mentioned is largely a thing of the past. If we carried that forward to what we know of the military today, they’re trained not to act on emotion, but strictly on command. But in our imagination we can go back to the days when military feats we’re done in hand to hand combat.  I actually don’t think it’s so much comparing one action to the other, but rather simply saying that one mode of conduct is better than the other.

The Holy Spirit and the word helps us to avoid what is not helpful. To be patient, or slow to anger, to be self-controlled. It’s vitally important that we don’t act on negative emotions like anger or fear when we know our words or actions will not help those who hear or see us. Best never to act on such emotions at all. Part of living in wisdom, knowing what is good and right and helpful. In and through Jesus.

 

what I would like to settle into, if only I knew how

No one can map out just what they’re going to be and do. We each have gifts, things we enjoy doing and can learn to do well in. All from God. In Christ’s body, there are different gifts given to each by the Spirit for the church. We need to discern what they are with the help of others. Listening carefully to what others say about what we do, as well as simply settling into what can do well is a good start.

For me at this late stage in life I know I enjoy writing. I actually enjoy sharing a message from Scripture on Sundays at the nursing home, as well. I find a propensity in myself to get off into areas which I would just as soon avoid. But I find that if one takes all of the Bible seriously, and our Lord’s teaching alone, there are places the church needs to go which are uncomfortable. Christ could not avoid controversy for sure, and it is a mistake to think that his followers can.

That said, I would like to aim for an increasingly quiet seeking of wisdom, along with a gentle sharing of such. Such wisdom is ideally steeped in the wisdom books of Scripture, but can’t be bereft of the input and impact of all the rest. And you can see such conviction within the wisdom literature itself. Wisdom simply defined is beginning to understand what is good and suitable for our lives and all of life, and adjusting our lives to that.

I would like to be a gentle seeker and sharer of wisdom. For all, and especially to help people find the wisdom of God in Jesus. I work at Our Daily Bread Ministries which has the goal of making the life-changing wisdom of the Bible clear and accessible to all. So I’m definitely influenced by that, and I find the same passion in the good church we’re a part of.

I would like to hone what gift I have to be more along this line. Gathered from decades in Scripture and life. With some successes and failures along the way. I would like to be under the discipline of wisdom all the more for my own life, so that in my limited way, I can share that by example and word with others. Of course this comes from interacting with God through Scripture and by the Spirit, in relationship with God and others. In and through Jesus.

wisdom as skill in living

Put your outdoor work in order
    and get your fields ready;
    after that, build your house.

Proverbs 24:27

Life isn’t easy, nor is it foolproof. It sometimes seems like a crapshoot for sure. There are all kinds of self-help books to help people not only deal with problems, but navigate all different aspects of living. And knowledge is at our fingertips now with the internet.

Proverbs is the book known the most for wisdom in scripture. A significant part of the meaning of wisdom in Proverbs is simply skill in living, as reflected in the psalm quoted above. And we have the phrase, “the wisdom of Solomon,” captured well in what Solomon faced after he had received the wisdom he had asked for from God (1 Kings 3).

Remember that Solomon asked for this wisdom so that he could serve God in carrying out his duties as king, to govern with discernment, and know the difference between right and wrong. And Proverbs tells us that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge and wisdom (used almost interchangeably in Proverbs, basically synonymous there). And also that to know God is to have understanding (Proverbs 1:7; 9:10; Psalm 111:10).

So Proverbs is not at all a self-help book. And biblical wisdom has nothing to do with being worldly wise. I think of Jesus’s words, which I take not to be a rebuke against the righteous, but actually stating that God’s people can gain some wisdom from what unrighteous people do, but within the fear of the Lord:

For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.

Luke 16

Jesus goes on to speak against the love of money in that context, certainly not holding up worldly wisdom as a virtue at all, but saying, I think, that we can learn something good from them as those made in God’s image. Such is the compelling, interesting aspect of wisdom within scripture, that it is complex, and something we are going to have to keep working on the rest of our lives, all within the fear of God, with faith in God.

James captures this theme of wisdom well, that book of the New Testament considered probably the closest in some ways to Proverbs:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.

James 1

We are reminded here that wisdom from God is down to earth, for life, and skill in living. But it is always and forever bound and intertwined with the fear of the Lord. Apart from that one will inevitably drift into again what is called, worldly wisdom, even as sadly, Solomon did.

Let us be inspired by reading and meditating on Proverbs, and the wisdom we find in scripture, learning from God for life, in and through Jesus.