Grace Words

A Daily Bible Reader's Blog

Presented by Mike Tune, Pulpit Minister for the Church of Christ in Falls Church and Amazing Grace International

Listening

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear . . . (James 1:19).

Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future (Proverbs 19:20).

I thought of these two passages recently while reading The Boys, a memoir by Ron and Clint Howard. You remember Ron, surely. He played little Opie on television’s Andy Griffith show (ok, some of you aren’t old enough to remember that show – look up an episode on YouTube).

Ron began playing Opie when he was just shy of six years old. I always liked that show (still do). In fact, some years ago a friend and I were at the Pepperdine Bible Lectures with an afternoon free. I said: “Let’s find that pond that opens the Andy Griffith show.” So we looked it up and drove over to Franklin Canyon Park in (believe it or not) Beverly Hills.

Early in the first year, the script required Opie to deliver a particular line to Andy. Before shooting, little inexperienced Ron raised his hand to ask a question. When called on, he said he didn’t think his line sounded “kid-like.” Everybody stopped. Director Bob Sweeny said: “How do you think a child would say it?” Ron replied and Sweeny said: “Good. I like it. Say it that way instead.”

The whole thing was (obviously) memorable for Ron. He writes: “My appreciation for how seriously I was taken, as a human being with ideas and agency . . . has only deepened with time.”

Not all of “Opie’s” suggestions were taken in the years following, but he felt “listened to” and valued. Everyone, including a child, deserves to feel heard. God’s people, in honoring one another, must work to affirm the value of others by listening to one another. The wise person understands you never know when a good idea might crop up, or who it might crop up from!

The Straight(er) Path

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight (Proverbs 3:5-6).

My first attempt at plumbing was a disaster. What my father-in-law assured me was an easy thirty-minute job (installing a garbage disposal) took all day – and several trips to the plumbing supply house and untold frustration. The reason he thought it was an easy thirty-minute job was that he had already done it – several times over the years – and knew how and what to expect. I knew neither.

It wasn’t just Roy’s personal experience that made the task seem easy. He also had a good teacher. As a young man Roy undertook to build a house. When it came to plumbing (something he knew nothing about at the time), his wife’s uncle (an experienced plumber) came and spent a week helping him. Without that help, the house might never have been finished.

The wise person recognizes his (her) limitations and brings in help. When it comes to the affairs of life, Solomon wrote that wisdom (knowledge that comes from experience) begins with consulting God. In fact, the first nine chapters of the book of Proverbs begins and ends with the note that wisdom starts with God. And in the New Testament, James wrote: “If you lack wisdom, ask God.”

What does all this have to do with plumbing? Perhaps nothing. On the other hand, prayer that God might open my eyes to my own limitations would have been a good idea. Prayer that God might make me humble enough to ask for direction and help couldn’t hurt either, followed up with prayer that God might give me a receptive heart to instruction.

The result might have been a thirty minute job rather than one that took all day. Or, in the words of Solomon, a straighter path.

Proverbs 18

Remember Psalm 109, the cry of the poet wounded by hurtful things said about him – things that weren’t true?
The Proverbs continually remind us that every time we open our mouths to speak, a message is being conveyed about who we really are. In fact, speech is such a revealing thing that it’s not just the content of what we say that betrays our character, but the fact that we say anything at all! So Solomon writes that “the words of a man’s mouth are deep waters” – danger lurks there (18:4). The wise man “holds his tongue” (10:19; 11:12) and guards his life (13:3).
Your words can “pierce like a sword” or they can bring healing (12:18). Even a gentle tongue can break a bone (20:18).
Righteous people think before they speak, but fools are quick to respond (often before the question is finished – 18:13), their words are many – and destructive (15:28).
A person who talks all the time will eventually tell something he shouldn’t (20:19), and that person is to be avoided.
In the New Testament, James will write that the tongue is a “world of evil among the parts of the body.” It is such an undisciplined body part that “if anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check” (James 3:6,2).
This business of what we say, when we say it, how often and for how long is such an important matter that it is addressed in some way in every chapter of the proverbs except for three (chapters 3, 9, 29). As you read the proverbs, take note of these warnings, reflect on them regarding your own life. Your willingness to do it, and mold your life accordingly, will say volumes about the kind of person you really are.

Saturday, July 19. Proverbs 29 – Ecclesiastes 1

Proverbs 29 speaks in many ways to those who are in positions of leadership. Leaders should seek to do the right thing, and have it done. Surely the only reason for not going in this direction would be if the matter is self-serving. Solomon says, when the leaders seek to serve themselves, the very thing over which they rule will come apart (vs. 4).

When a ruler become someone who listens only to what he wants to hear, rather than the truth, his administration will be corrupt (vs. 7).

The security of leadership is tied directly to the leader’s concern for those who are least able to help themselves (vs. 14).

No matter how good leadership is, it can never take the place of God’s sovereignty (vs. 26).

Respect for God, concern for the weak, a devotion to honesty and integrity. These are what make a leader worth having, and a prize to the organization.

Friday, July 18. Proverbs 25 – 27

Jesus condemned calling people “fools,” but the writer of Proverbs has no such inhibitions. We should not see it as a contradiction. Jesus was condemning an attitude that is contemptuous of others. Solomon, in chapter 26, is speaking of a reality: some people are simply fools. You can tell who they are by the way they live their lives, and you should be careful around them.

They are unreliable (vs. 6).

They are hopeless. They never learn from their mistakes (vs. 11).

They believe they have the answer to the world’s problems (vs. 12).

They are dangerous. I particularly like verse 8. “Like tying a stone in a sling is the giving of honor to a fool.” You can fire a stone from a sling as David did against Goliath, but if you attach the stone to the sling, it will only come back to wound you.

I’ve thought about that a lot when asked, as a minister, to give recommendations for others. To recommend for any reason other than they are commendable is sure to come back to haunt you.

Thursday, July 17. Proverbs 22 – 24

What do you value?

Proverbs 23 is about values, particularly material ones. The warning is to be careful what you value, what you long for, and whose company you keep.

I take verses 1-3 two ways. On the one hand, don’t long for the stuff of the wealthy. Their stuff is deceptive. It will not bring happiness and has likely brought them sorrow (vss. 1-3). On the other, when in the company of the wealthy, don’t take advantage. To this day, when someone else is buying my dinner, I only eat what I can personally afford.

Don’t work your self to death to accumulate wealth. In a moment, illness or an economic downturn can take it all from you (verses 4-5). Then what will you have?

And then, there is the illusion of happiness that comes from too much materialism. Those who give themselves to satisfying every desire will find themselves either unable to afford the necessities (vss. 19-21) or drowning in their luxuries (vss. 29-35). In the end, keep a level head, and balance in all things.

Wednesday, July 16. Proverbs 19 – 21

Children deserve parents who have thought about the responsibility of parenting and settled on fulfilling that responsibility – before bringing children into the world. They deserve sufficient and healthy food, an education, encouragement, and a safe place to live. They deserve two parents who love them.

They deserve direction.

The ability to think through, formulate, and make good decisions is due in large measure to the direction children receive growing up. These are life skills that must be learned, and parents are responsible for teaching them.

It may very well be that some children, even properly reared ones, go bad. There are a lot of influences in a child’s life and once the child leaves home, parents have little control (though they should always have a say and even an adult child should listen and consider the direction given). But if this happens, let it not be because the parents did not provide the necessary direction and guidance. As Solomon points out in 19:18, failure to do this makes the parents complicit in the failure of the child.

Tuesday, July 15. Proverbs 16 – 18

In a book devoted to wisdom, you would expect a lot of references to “the Lord,” for after all, the “fear of the Lord” is the beginning of wisdom. And we do find a lot of references. In fact, some ninety references throughout the book. Interestingly, though the book of Proverbs was written without our chapter divisions, the heaviest concentration of references to “the Lord” are in chapters 3, 15 and 16.

Four points stand out to me in the references and form an outline useful is seeing the far-reaching sovereignty of God expressed in the Proverbs.

First, the Lord is omni-present: His eyes are everywhere keeping watch on all mankind (15:3). Nothing is hidden from him, not even the intents and motives of your heart (15:11; 16:2).

Second, God has standards – moral absolutes if you will. Honest scales and balances are from the Lord (16:11) and those who treat these absolutes with disrespect or impunity find themselves separated from Him – even despised by Him – (15:8,9, 29) and punished by Him (15:25).

Third, the Lord is in control. Of everything (16:4). Think your own thoughts, but no matter what you think, God can control what comes out of your mouth (16:1). Make your plans, but God will adjust them as He pleases according to His will (16:9, 33). God can even make a man’s enemies be at peace with him, if that man’s ways are pleasing to God (16:7). Nothing is beyond His ability or control.

Fourth, it is, therefore, important to consider the Lord in all that we do, seeking His will and approval in all things and making sure He is foremost in our hearts and minds. Prosperity and blessing are dependent on it (16:20). “Better,” the wise man says, to have a “little” and respect the Lord, than a lot and face His opposition (15:16).

Monday, July 14. Proverbs 13 – 15

Perhaps you’ve heard the saying: “A messy desk is a sign of a cluttered mind.” I’m not too sure Solomon would agree, particularly in chapter 14. The NIV renders verse 4 as follows: “Where there are no oxen, the manger is empty, but from the strength of an ox comes an abundant harvest.” The point is, if the manger has no hay, but is clean, that means nothing is going on. You’ve got to have a work animal if you are going to have a harvest, and work animals require food and all the mess that goes along with them.

I’m not necessarily an advocate of a tidy desk, except, perhaps, at the end of a day. But a desk, like a shop or a kitchen, is going to get messy if anything is being accomplished.

Proverbs contains much financial advice, and some of it is hard to swallow. When Solomon writes “The poor are shunned even by their neighbors, but the rich have many friends” is he advising us to shun the poor or just stating a fact? Is he encouraging us to get rich?

He is certainly not advocating poverty. Proverty, in Proverbs is a sign of laziness (though not always). Nor is he urging the shunning of the poor, for twice more in this chapter alone (vss. 21 & 31) he pronounces a blessing on those who help the poor. Rather, his statement in verse 20 is to be seen as a reality. Poverty is to be avoided – and best avoided by hard work.

Sunday, July 13. Proverbs 9 – 12

From Proverbs you can make a lists of the things God hates:
Haughty eyes – a demeanor that says “I’m better than you.”

A Lying tongue

Hands that shed innocent blood – not just murderers, but those who tend to run over innocent people to get their way.

A Heart that devises wicked schemes.

People who stir up trouble among others.

And people who act before thinking. There is a lot in chapter 12 about rash actions – people who chase fantasies rather than working with what they’ve got, people who covet the treasure of the wicked without thinking about how they got it. People whose ill-considered talk paints them into a corner or hurts other people. Folks who cannot abide by criticism but immediately take offense. People who are too quick to make friends without considering the character of their companions.

Two proverbs from chapter 14 sum this up: “The wisdom of the prudent is to give thought to their ways” and “A simple man believes anything, but a prudent man gives thought to his steps.”