comparisons

Too Much and Too Little

Eating too much honey is not good,

and searching for honor is not honorable.Hebrew meaning of this line uncertain.

⌊Like⌋ a city broken into ⌊and⌋ left without a wall,

⌊so⌋ is a person who lacks self-control. (Proverbs 25:27-28 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 25:16-28 GW)


We live in a binary world. Consider how pervasive computers are—huge main frames, desktops, laptops, and handhelds. They all work off a sequence of zeros and ones.

Ok, it’s not quite that simple. A programmer may use different ways to configure things—different programing language or code—but it boils down to manipulating a sequence of zeros and ones to execute some action.

Think of the countless decisions you make in a day. Most decisions are yes–no, either–or. Others weigh the pros and cons of a decision. Still binary. And there’s the classic—Are you a glass half-full or half-empty person?

Why is life in this world so binary? I track it back to the decision in the garden to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Even that decision was a choice between—Do we continue to trust God or believe this clever talking serpent?

They chose the second option. They chose the lie.

Our Struggle

What does all this have to do with these two verses? Each of us struggle to find the somewhat neutral ground of contentment between too much or too little.

Why is this so difficult? Because our self—our ego—our basic nature—never seems to be satisfied. This leaves us open to making poor decisions, pursuing empty promises, or drifting along through life.

Both proverbs are explained with simple illustrations of comparison.

Too much

We know what it’s like to have too much of a good thing. It’s not good. In an earlier verse (Prov 25:16), we’re told eating too much honey makes a person nauseous.

You know the feeling of eating more than you should because it tastes so good—a 2nd or 3rd helping or a rich dessert after a big meal. This applies to more than eating. It’s great to get some sun but too much will make you sick or sunburned or both.

We all want and need honor and respect. The opposite would be shame or contempt. No one enjoys shame or contempt.

When others honor and respect us, it’s a good thing. But when we pursue our own honor or glory, it’s despised by others and tends to bring embarrassment, shame, and disrespect on us.

Too little

It’s not hard to imagine an ancient walled city with broken walls. You’ve either seen it in photos, movies, or digital games. If not, recall the story of ancient Jericho’s walls tumbling down after Israel’s army marched around it for seven days (Josh 6:20).

It would also be similar to the destruction a tornado, hurricane, or earthquake brings. Imagine being in a house where the walls and roof are blown away or broken down leaving you vulnerable to the elements, wild animals, or scavengers and looters.

This is the picture of someone who lacks self-control. We’ve seen what this brings in the life of others and perhaps in our own life.

A lack of discipline leads to many problems—over-eating, over-spending, little to no exercise, too little sleep, and so on. A lack of self-control can lead to things like addictions, broken relationships, excessive worries, poor health, and on and on.

How can we escape the back and forth struggle between too much or too little? Contentment comes with trusting the Lord. Trusting Him instead of our self. We need help with who we are and how we’re wired internally.

Later, in the New Testament book of Galatians, the apostle Paul speaks of this struggle (Gal 5:16-18). He goes on to say the evidence of relying on our self is obvious (Gal 5:19-20) but when we rely on the Lord—His Spirit in us—we gain self-control and a lot more (Gal 5:22-23).

The book of Proverbs is intended to help someone gain wisdom and develop self-discipline. This isn’t about self-improvement or self-reliance but entrusting our self, our decisions, and our deepest needs to the Lord.

Reflection—

Contentment comes with trusting the Lord rather than our self. We don’t need to improve nor rely on ourselves but entrust our decisions, deepest needs, and life to the Lord daily.

Prayer Focus—

When you find yourself caught in the tension between too much and too little, call out to God in prayer. Ask His help with decisions before you make them. He knows your deepest needs, so look to Him as your source of honor and respect—He knows you better than any person on earth.

©Word-Strong_2019


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Do the Right Thing

A person thinks everything he does is right,

but the Lord weighs hearts.

Doing what is right and fair

is more acceptable to the Lord than offering a sacrifice. (Proverbs 21:2-3 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 21:1-8 GW)


The time is always right to do what’s right. Martin Luther King Jr

Every year, as our nation observes the birthday of Dr Martin Luther King Jr, a flurry of his quotes fill social media posts, news media, and speeches. As with many statements these days, these quotes are expressed outside of their original context.

Oberlin College Archives

Oberlin College Archives

The quote above is a statement Dr King made at Oberlin College in October of 1964. The thought of this statement permeates much of what he spoke and wrote about integration and civil rights.

The context of these words are the life and calling of Dr King—a Baptist preacher and the son of a Baptist preacher. The 50’s and 60’s were a tumultuous time in America. It was not empty rhetoric but truth grounded in the reality of his time.

Doing the right thing is a common theme throughout the Proverbs. It’s a common tenet of good business ethics and basic morality. However, what the right thing is depends on a person’s belief system, values, and cultural influences.

Each of us can be convinced of our own rightness but our words and actions in life need to be consistent within our daily lives. Otherwise, it’s a matter of saying one thing but living out something different. Then, what we claim as rightness is out of context with who we are.

A sense of our own rightness soon becomes self-righteousness—our own narrow view of right and wrong. This extends beyond religious self-righteousness and permeates every aspect of our life. It becomes an attitude of the heart.

Self-righteousness sets us up to be judgmental and prejudiced toward others

This narrow view of rightness produces a judgmental view of others and a sense of superiority towards those who don’t measure up to our sense of righteousness—our view of what’s true, right, and fair.

When self-righteousness goes unchecked it isolates a person from those deemed inferior in their religion, thinking politics, behavior, associations with others, and so on.

The only counter to self-rightness is humility—a sense of who we are in comparison to God rather than others.

God knows our heart. He knows our motives. He alone is able to judge in a true and just way and He is by nature merciful (Exo 34:6; Luke 6:36).

When we see our own sense of rightness in light of God’s mercy, we can be freed from a judgmental and prejudiced heart.

True humility can set us free from a self-righteous heart

Instead of the narrow view of self-righteousness—that no one can measure up to including us—humility sets us free to do what is right and fair. This is what is acceptable to God rather than any self-righteous attitude or effort on our part.

How we see and treat others is a good indicator of what standard of rightness we hold. Is it our own or God’s? Do we measure our own sense of rightness in comparison to others or God?

Reflection—

No one can measure up to the narrow and judgmental perspective of self-righteousness. This include our self no matter how right we think we are. How we see and treat others is a good indicator of what standard of rightness we hold—our own or God’s—and He alone is just and merciful.

Prayer Focus—

If you find yourself looking down at others as inferior and wrong, ask God to give you His perspective on others—how He sees them and us. When you find a self-righteous attitude welling up in your mind and heart, humble yourself and ask God to forgive you.

©Word-Strong_2019


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A Tongue of Pure Silver

Photo by  Alfonso Ninguno  on  Unsplash

Whoever conceals hatred has lying lips.

Whoever spreads slander is a fool.

Sin is unavoidable when there is much talk,

but whoever seals his lips is wise.

The tongue of a righteous person is pure silver.

The hearts of wicked people are worthless. (Proverbs 10:18-20 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 10:8-21 GW)


If you "Google" silver-tongued, you might find something like—a person who has a clever way with words. Or, the old song, The Silver Tongued Devil and I might pop up. It alludes to the dark and evil side of a person hidden behind a saintly smile. Obviously, to be silver-tongued gets a bad rap in public opinion and Google searches!

So, how could it be a good thing to have a tongue of pure silver? 

Pure silver—when it's clean and polished—is beautiful. It shines with a mirror-like luster and understated dignity. Pure silver reflects everything around it through its beauty.

The key to the verse about the tongue of a righteous person being pure silver is found within the context of its nearby verses. Contrasting statements clarify the intended meaning—the exact opposite of the popular perception of a silver tongue.

When I seek to understand a verse in Scripture, I look at the context first, then observe anything the specific wording reveals. I'll compare various Bible versions to help me with other word usages for the same verse.

What stands out as most obvious is the comparison and contrast of the worth of the tongue or lips of a righteous person with the value of the heart of wicked people.

Why does this stand out? The tongue and the heart are different parts of the body having different functions. This is figurative language that illustrates the intended meaning.

The tongue represents a person's mouth and what they say, as made clear from the context of the nearby verses. The heart represents a person's inner being—their nature.

As so often is the case, Jesus helps us connect the dots for a clearer sense of the meaning. In response to some self-righteous religious leaders, He said—

You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. (Matt 12:34)

Jesus was blunt and direct in saying this and it stung those to whom it was directed!

We've all said something out loud we wished hadn't come out and then tried to excuse it or explain it away. But the problem isn't with the words so much as where they originated.

Reading the greater context of Proverbs 10:20—verses 8-21—speaks to our need to choose wisely what we hold in our hearts and minds. Sooner or later our true nature will be revealed by what we say.

Reflection—

We all need to be careful about what we hang on to and hold in our hearts and minds. Sooner or later, what is in our hearts and minds—our true nature—will be revealed by the words we speak.

Prayer Focus—

Guarding what comes out of our mouths requires constant self-monitoring but it often seems like an impossible challenge. Prayer—continuous prayer—and the constant presence and guidance of God's Spirit enable us to overcome this challenge.

©Word-Strong_2018


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An Antidote for Hate

Hate starts quarrels,

but love covers every wrong. (Proverbs 10:12 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 10:1-12 GW)


The book of Proverbs begins with personalized encouragements, admonitions, and instruction from a father to a son. The first 9 chapters also include parables that contrast wisdom with foolishness in general.

But starting in Chapter 10, various topics are addressed more specifically—mostly with contrasting couplets and comparisons. Proverbs 10:12 is a great example of contrasting statements very relevant to our present time. Here it is in another version—

Hatred stirs up conflict, but love covers over all wrongs. (Prov 10:12 NIV)

Hatred is defined in various ways—extreme dislike, disgust, ill will, resentment, prejudiced hostility, animosity—you get the idea.

Hate is often expressed by finding fault or projecting blame or making false accusations. Sound familiar? There's way too much of that going around! Regardless of its motivation or source—it stirs up strife...conflict...quarrels...even war.

Hatred doesn't have to run too deep to accomplish this. Think of the many times "I hate you!" is hurled by one person at another. It's pretty common among siblings in childish fits of anger and all too common between spouses. Sadly, I know this from experience.

But love is a powerful antidote for hate!

We have historical examples of love "covering" hate—Martin Luther King Jr, Mahatma Gandhi, and of course, Jesus who said this as He's crucified—Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do (Luke 23:34).

But examples are only valuable to us if we learn from them and follow what they model. These couplets of wisdom are intended to be useful and practical for daily life. How can we apply this bit of practical wisdom?

The next time someone throws some flaming words your way or tries to start an argument—extend kindness and conciliatory words. Don't answer with a bitter barb of your own—extend forgiveness and grace.

It will take some practice but it could change the world—at least your own sphere of it. Who knows, if enough of us keep extending love for hate, the world just might change much faster than you or I can imagine—one opportunity at a time, one relationship at a time.

Reflection—

When someone throws flaming words your way or tries to start an argument—extend kindness and conciliatory words—don't answer with a bitter barb of your own—extend forgiveness and grace.

Prayer Focus—

Prayer is much needed to extend love for hate in the process of daily life, so ask for God's help often—even throughout the day. The Lord is an expert at extending grace and mercy and love to people who don't deserve it—people like you and me.

©Word-Strong_2018


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