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Self-Development and Self-Expression

⌊As⌋ iron sharpens iron,

so one person sharpens the wits of another.

As a face is reflected in water,

so a person is reflected by his heart.

The crucible is for refining silver and the smelter for gold,

but a person ⌊is tested⌋ by the praise given to him. (Proverbs 27:17, 19, 21 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 27:17-27 GW)


The self—our individual sense of identity and personhood—is a favorite topic in American culture. There are books and courses on self-development, self-improvement, and self-expression among many other self oriented focuses.

This fits well with our ingrained sense of individualism. The term expressive individualism captures the obsessive yet elusive search for the true self.

This is nothing new. It’s just a new spin on it all. It may appear new the past couple of centuries but Solomon reminds us there’s nothing new under the sun (Eccl 1:9).

The classic figurative language used in these three verses describe what defines and shapes us. Each verse flies in the face of what our surrounding culture says about self. Perhaps these few thoughts are keys to discovering the elusive but genuine self.

Benefits of honesty in relationships

Iron sharpens iron…that sounds harsh. What happens when iron strikes iron? Sparks fly with the clanging thud of metal against metal! And don’t get your fingers caught in between because that would hurt! Makes me cringe to think about it.

Who wants to be on the wrong side of conflict or confrontation? No one! Most all of us tend to avoid or resist such experiences—unless we’re searching for punishment or derive some strange satisfaction from it.

But the focus of iron sharpening iron is a beneficial and positive one. It is when we value honesty in our relationships. The benefit of honest conflict, correction, and counsel from someone we know and trust brings accountability, balance, and perspective in our life.

If we want real self-improvement in a way that benefits others and ourselves, we need people in our life whom we trust and appreciate because they’ll be honest with us—even when it makes us uncomfortable.

As our personhood develops in the way God intended—through healthy and honest relationships—our true identity will be evident to those who know us. When a person experiences inner transformation others will see it in their attitude and actions.

Who we are on the inside is seen by others on the outside—whether it’s good or bad. Other people notice whether or not our words and actions agree. They notice if the attitude of our heart doesn’t match the expression on our face and the words of our mouth.

The real test of a person is not how we handle criticism but praise from others. A person can ignore criticism and avoid conflict. But no one is indifferent to praise from others. How we handle it reveals our true self.

If we, as the saying goes, believe our own press releases—thinking everyone else says the same about us when we think well of ourselves—we set our self up for a fall.

Do we allow the praise of others to over inflate us with pride or resist and reject compliments and praise? Neither reaction is healthy for us. Both produce a false sense of identity.

If we are able to accept and appreciate the compliments of others, then set them aside to keep a good sense of perspective, we’ll be a healthier version of our self.

I need people in my life who care enough about me to be honest with me. People who will tell me how things are not how I want them to be.

I have had and now have people who keep me grounded in reality and I’m better for it. When I was pastoring on the west coast, I met regularly with two other friends. We knew each other well and called one another out when needed. We helped keep each other grounded in reality.

How about you? Do you have people in your life who sharpen you and help you see yourself in perspective with things as they really are?

Reflection—

Our personhood will develop the way God intended through healthy and honest relationships and our true identity will be evident to those who know us. We all need people in our life who care enough about us to be honest and keep us grounded.

Prayer Focus—

When you find yourself avoiding honesty in relationships, ask the Lord to show you why and how to benefit from those who care about you in a healthy way.

©Word-Strong_2019


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Feeding Your Enemy

If your enemy is hungry, give him some food to eat,

and if he is thirsty, give him some water to drink.

⌊In this way⌋ you will make him feel guilty and ashamed,

and the Lord will reward you. (Proverbs 25:21-22 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 25:1-22 GW)


Polarized. This is the common and current description of American society. Where various groups of people are pitted against each other as archenemies. But the sense of polarization among people or within a culture is nothing new.

Perhaps the news media, the internet, and social media heighten our awareness of it. Even contribute to it. And, some of the reactionary rhetoric fans the flames higher than needed.

But enemies—perceived or real— have existed since the beginning.

The serpent in the garden of Paradise was no friend to God or the first humans (Gen 3:14-15). It appears Cain viewed is brother Abel as an enemy of sorts. Cain perceived God honored his brother over him, so he killed him.

And so it continues

Some people become our enemies because of nationalism, jealousy, economics, politics, religion, ambitions, and a variety of other reasons. These enemies can be real. They want to harm us, even destroy us.

Other people we perceive as enemies. Perhaps for one of the previous reasons given but more often it’s because of personal slights, insecurities on our part, or a difference of opinion.

Photo by  Bradford West  on  Unsplash

During the anti-war, anti-nuke protests and love-ins of the sixties, a popular slogan was—Make love, not war!

Maybe in our polarized times we can start a new slogan to depolarize things—Make friends, not enemies!

Both slogans may seem idealistic and naive but they echo similar conduct esteemed in preschool and kindergarten. Not only were we encouraged to share toys and such, but when some conflict erupted we were challenged to “say you’re sorry” and shake hands or hug.

Again, maybe this seems too naive and idealistic but this is the intent of these verses in Proverbs. The idea is to turn an enemy into a friend or at least defuse or deflect the animosity of an enemy.

Another Bible version phrases verse 22 this way—

In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you. (Prov 25:22 NIV)

Taken literally, this doesn’t seem to be an effective way to make a friend of your enemy. But there’s at least a couple of thoughts on this.

Taken literally, the inference is one person lending their “enemy” burning coals to start a cooking fire with much less effort. They would place the burning coals in a pot carried on the head of the other person.

But figuratively and most likely, it refers to the effect of a person’s kindness to an enemy. It brings a sense of conviction, perhaps shame for the enemy’s spiteful attitude.

Becoming peacemakers

Jesus referred to this in His sermons on the mount in Matthew (Matt 5:43-48) and on the plain in Luke (Luke 6:27-31). This is tied to the Golden Rule to—do unto others as you would have them do unto you, and to the merciful nature of God.

I’ve learned the effectiveness of this approach first hand from my wife. She’s done this many times with me when I’m in one of my antagonistic moods.

I’ve watched her successful use of this same strategy with feuding children, disgruntled staff, and quarrelsome people in our ministry in the US and abroad.

This is a simple way to turn enemies into friends or at least defuse their combative attitude.

But, it’s also difficult. What makes it difficult is our part. It requires us to be peacemakers—to humble ourselves, choose reconciliation instead of revenge, and trust in the Lord to honor our effort.

So, feed your enemy when he or she is hungry. It they’re thirsty, give them some refreshing water.

Be a peacemaker. It’s one of the ways we show ourselves to be true children of God (Matt 5:9).

Who knows, we just might bring some depolarization to the world around us.

Reflection—

God’s people are called to be peacemakers—to do our best to defuse and deflect antagonism from others. It requires humility and choosing to trust in God.

Prayer Focus—

Are there people who have slighted or wronged you? People you dislike because of their opinions, or what they stand for or who they are? Then, ask the Lord to help you see them with His eyes and to help change your heart to become a peacemaker.

©Word-Strong_2019


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Keep the Floodgate Closed

Whoever forgives an offense seeks love,

but whoever keeps bringing up the issue separates the closest of friends.

Starting a quarrel is ⌊like⌋ opening a floodgate,

so stop before the argument gets out of control.

Whoever loves sin loves a quarrel. (Proverbs 17:9, 14, 19a GW)

(Context—Proverbs 17:7-20 GW)


Ever notice how much easier it is to start an argument than to end one? Most arguments are based on a difference of opinion with both parties insisting on their own rightness. The assumption is made that one side is right while the other is wrong, which isn’t necessarily true.

This can be seen in the typical news or sports talk shows where one or more people state their case against the view of another. The back and forth goes on and on till a moderator steps in as a referee.

Most of these arguments amount to straw man arguments based on opinion rather than facts. Oftentimes, knowledge about the topic is limited or unknown but this doesn’t stop people from arguing their point. They state conjectures and opinions as if they were facts.

A classic example—one that hits home, literally—is what I call the domestic discussion. Arguments between husbands and wives are typically the opinions and feelings of one spouse versus the other. The “facts” are various reasons for claiming rightness about an issue, often at the expense of the other.

I’ll joke with people that, “If my wife would just realize I’m right, we wouldn’t argue!” Of course, that’s the point. I assume I’m right and she’s wrong.

Some of our arguments have gone on and on to the point we forget what started it. We’ve even found ourselves laughing at how silly it is to be arguing, if we’re not too emotionally invested in our own rightness.

This is exactly the point of these verses—

Photo by  Felix Koutchinski  on  Unsplash

Starting a quarrel is ⌊like⌋ opening a floodgate, so stop before the argument gets out of control.

The purpose of a floodgate is to hold back a flood of water. When torrential rains threaten to break a dam, a floodgate or spillway may be temporarily opened to relieve some pressure. But this is a drastic and temporary measure that could lead to a greater flood.

When someone—a spouse, a sibling, a friend, or whoever—continues to bring up an issue already discussed, a full-fledged argument is inevitable.

This doesn’t resolve issues or offenses, it produces a separation between people. Forgiveness—an act of mercy rather than judgment—is the way to resolve and repair relational separation.

Forgiveness is an act of love.

On the other hand, a person—such as you or me—who continues to quarrel and bring up old offenses indicates selfishness rather than willingness to forgive and love to restore a relationship.

Better to stop than start an argument. But how?

When we pursue forgiveness and let go of our need to be right, we’ll stop arguments that lead to broken relationships.

When our motivation is love rather than a selfish pursuit of being right, even those domestic discussions won’t get out of control so easy and there’ll be a lot less crying and yelling.

So, it’s up to us what we pursue. If we choose to quarrel, we’ll open a floodgate we can’t easily close. But when we pursue forgiveness and love, we’ll keep the floodgate closed.

Reflection—

It’s better to stop arguments than start them. When we pursue forgiveness and let go of our need to be right and our motivation is love rather than a selfish pursuit at being right, we’ll stop a lot of arguments that lead to broken relationships.

Prayer Focus—

When you find yourself stirred up enough to argue a point or insist on your own rightness, take a step back in your mind and heart and pray for God to help you pursue forgiveness and love rather than your own rightness.

©Word-Strong_2018


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Betrayed by a Friend

Open your ears to my prayer, O God. Do not hide from my plea for mercy. Pay attention to me, and answer me.

My thoughts are restless, and I am confused because my enemy shouts at me and a wicked person persecutes me.

They bring misery crashing down on me, and they attack me out of anger.

My heart is in turmoil. The terrors of death have seized me. Fear and trembling have overcome me. Horror has overwhelmed me.

Curse or Contentment?

Photo credit: lightstock.com

I grew up in a beautiful area along the Pacific Coast of Southern California. I lived in an area of immense wealth, even though our family was not wealthy. We rented, while my friend's families owned their homes.

If I wanted what my friends had, I worked for it. I valued what I had even though it was much less than what my friends enjoyed.

I've lived overseas in SE Asia and seen the great disparity between the "haves and have-nots." It's a big gap. And yet, I've seen greater contentment and happiness among the poor than among the wealthy.

This isn't to say the poor don't long for a life of ease and wealth. They do. And yet, their lives are often filled with more peace and contentment than those they envy. It's ironic.

Scripture

Whoever loves money will never have enough money; Whoever loves wealth will not be satisfied with it. This is also useless. The more wealth people have, the more friends they have to help spend it. So what do people really gain? They gain nothing except to look at their riches. [vss 10-11]

Those who work hard sleep in peace; it is not important if they eat little or much. But rich people worry about their wealth and cannot sleep. I have seen real misery here on earth: Money saved is a curse to its owners. They lose it all in a bad deal and have nothing to give to their children. [vss 12-14]

People come into this world with nothing, and when they die they leave with nothing. In spite of all their hard work, they leave just as they came. This, too, is real misery: They leave just as they came. So what do they gain from chasing the wind? All they get are days full of sadness and sorrow, and they end up sick, defeated, and angry. [vss 15-17]

I have seen what is best for people here on earth. They should eat and drink and enjoy their work, because the life God has given them on earth is short. God gives some people the ability to enjoy the wealth and property he gives them, as well as the ability to accept their state in life and enjoy their work. They do not worry about how short life is, because God keeps them busy with what they love to do. [vss 18-20]

(Ecclesiastes 5:10-20 NCV) [Context– Ecclesiastes 5]

Key phrase— Those who work hard sleep in peace...But rich people worry about their wealth and cannot sleep.

[bctt tweet="Those who work hard sleep in peace...But rich people worry about their wealth and cannot sleep."]

Digging Deeper...

Review the Scripture text above as you answer the following questions—

What are two or three specific things said about those who have and love wealth?

Who seems to enjoy rest and sleep more—those with much or those with little? Why?

What is the status of all people at birth and death? What is the pursuit of wealth likened to?

What seems to be the key to enjoying life regardless of their status in this life?

Reflection...

Americans enjoy a high standard of life, especially compared to much of the world. Even our poor, especially those on government assistance, enjoy a higher standard of living compared to most of the world's population.

And yet, with all we possess and have access to, some very simple things seem elusive. Americans spend millions, maybe billions, on supplements and drugs to help them sleep, calm their nerves, and lift their spirit.

Sleeplessness, anxiety and depression are plague-like conditions for millions. Why? As a nation, we seem unable to attain satisfaction or contentment. Perhaps we need to stop chasing after what we don't have, and enjoy what we do have, along with enjoying what we do in daily life.

As mentioned in Ecclesiastes, like a dog who chases its tail, we need to stop "chasing the wind."

Make it personal...

Read through the Scripture text again as you consider and answer these questions—

What in particular causes you to lose sleep? Do you realize what causes you anxiety or worry?

When was the last time you had a good night sleep? Do you experience more inner peace or stress?

Have you ever gotten something you longed for only to be disappointed with it?

How do you escape or deal with the cares and desires of your life? Is it in a healthy or unhealthy way?