Biblical Wisdom

Where There Are No Oxen, The Manger Is Clean | Proverbs 14:4

Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean,
but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox.

Proverbs 14:4

 

I am aiming, not simply to live life, but to live it abundantly. The LORD has called us to do so. He who is the resurrection and the life will be faithful to produce much fruit in our daily walk with Him.

Of course, Jesus said that it would come at a cost, the cost of this life, of self, of our own hopes and dreams in exchange for His. Fruit cannot come without a cost. Even in the tropic, where fruit grows like weeds, they pay for it by the constant, humid heat and the threat of storms.

Nothing good is cheap, even grace.

Indeed, grace is free. Praise the LORD, since we could never afford it! But grace is anything but cheap. Forgiveness by God is the most expensive purchase ever made. It comes at a great cost, just not to us.

If eternal life is costly, how then can we expect this life to be one of ease and comfort. Indeed, a life of ease and comfort may be due to the lack of a messy ox. It may be a clean life, but it will also lack an abundant crop.

Children are an example of this.

No one denies that children uproot nearly everything in one’s life, but this is good. It is the tilling of the ground for the abundant crop to grow.

There is much joy in difficulty. And there is much lost to ease.

Choose, therefore, the messy path.

Choose the road that begins and ends with crucifixion.

Look for the better things in life than clean mangers and homes.

Embrace the dirt of the ox, and enjoy with thanksgiving its harvest.

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Biblical Wisdom

Walk with the Wise | Proverbs 13:20

Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise,
but the companion of fools will suffer harm.

Proverbs 13:20 ESV

 

Wisdom, the skill of living, can be found in walking among the wise. Choosing to associate with wise people will inevitably lead to wisdom.

Why is this?

The heart dwells wherever the feet traverse. Movements, actions, habits have direct relevance to the status of the heart. Listening to worshipful music (or better yet, singing worshipful music) causes the heart to follow in worship. The path is not always instantaneous, but it is present. Companions, the voices and messages that ring in one’s ears throughout the day, are often foolish.

I often consume frivolous YouTube videos and podcasts, and they nudge me ever so slightly toward harm. They draw my soul away from the wisdom of God. They pull my thoughts and desires toward things that do not contribute to my eternal joy.

This isn’t to say that I cannot enjoy entertainment in this life. The question is whether such entertainment is ultimately contributing to my growth in godly wisdom. Few things are more entertaining to me than diving again into the worlds of Middle Earth or Narnia. Yet these stories do not merely provide an escape from reality; instead, they offer valuable insight into many biblical truths.

So many voices are screaming to be heard. They each long to be my companion. To be wise, I must walk with the wise. Ultimately, of course, this means that I must walk with Christ. His Word above all else must daily be my delight and the meditation of my heart.

When Technology Replaces the Holy Spirit

Leaving pieces behind, in my opinion, is the most difficult aspect of sermon preparation. Yet for the sake of clarity and precision, some must be left on the cutting room floor. The following is one of those.

While preparing to preach on the incarnation, I wanted to show how God becoming flesh proves that our physical bodies are important and not innately evil. Two threads emerged from this general idea. One addressed the need to both enjoy the pleasures of our physical existence and to discipline ourselves against abusing those same enjoyments. The other targeted how, like the people of Babel, we use technology to try to transcend our bodies. Ultimately, the first felt more cohesive to the rest of the sermon, so the second one was scrapped. Yet the idea of technology replacing the role of the Spirit in our lives is worth sharing (and considering), so here it is.


To have a physical body means being limited. The people of Babel understood this all too well. After learning how to form strong and durable bricks, they began to use this new technology to build a tower. This proto-skyscraper was meant to ascend into the heavens; it was to be their stairway to the throne of God, a means of making a name for themselves. They not only wrongly believed that they could transcend their earthly limitations; they also believed that God was small enough to be reached by human effort. God, of course, displays their tininess by stooping down to disassemble their tower and scatter them across the earth.

Unfortunately, the spirit of Babel has never left us. Today, more than ever, we continue to use technology with the hope of breaking free from our fleshly limitations. We keep creating towers to the heavens, attempting to transcend any need of our Creator, while also trying to stay united together in the midst of a world broken by sin.

Consider a few examples.

Electric lights break us free from the tyranny of day and night. For millennia, our bodies were guided by the patterns of our Circadian Rhythm, but now we create our own schedules. We dictate the best time to sleep and stay awake.

Cars and planes liberate us from the confines of distance. Being able to drive across town at any moment or fly across country (and even oceans) within 24 hours has expanded our village of family and friends onto a much wider area. Unfortunately, the actual village lifestyle of the past is vanishing into a memory. Although we may be able to drive to one another’s home at any time, it’s quite a different practice than “just dropping by to say hi” while on a walk through the neighborhood.

Phones and social media guard us against solitude and seclusion. They ensure that we are never truly alone, yet they also ensure that a significant portion of our communications happen through a buffer. Face-to-face conversation was once called simply conversation, but we now speak to one another primarily without all the nonverbals of facial expressions and body posture, which thankfully were never very important for conversation anyway (side note: since you can’t see my face… yes, that is sarcasm).

Modern medicine protects us from the pain and discomfort of symptoms. Unfortunately, the prevalence of pain medication seems to ignore the reality that pain is warning signal for something that has gone wrong. We treat headaches and stomach pains without much consideration as to what our body is trying to tell us. We snuff out cold and flu symptoms without pondering why our immune system was weak enough to allow such pathogens to survive so long.

Grocery stores assure us that food is plentiful and easily accessible. This appearance is by design, since we are more likely to buy produce if the display is fully stocked. Of course, this leads to grocery stores forming 10% of the 133 billion pounds of food (or 1/3 of all that is produced) that we throw away. All of this is to say nothing about our consumption without all the mess of having to grow or kill whatever we eat.

The list could go on.

Our modern lifestyle gives us greater comfort and luxury than any ancient royalty could ever possess. We live in an unprecedented time of technological advancement in history. And none of these things are wrong or sinful in and of themselves. Having too much food is certainly a better problem than not having enough. Even two decades ago, medicine would not have been advanced enough to save my dad’s life after his accident. Electricity, transportation, and communications have made our vast network of civilization possible. But neither was the development of brickmaking the sin of Babel; their sin was attempting to be gods, trying to transcend free from their physical limitations. Similarly, whenever we use technology to sedate the hungers and needs of our flesh entirely, we end up rejecting God as our Provider and Creator. Our gadgets help us perpetuate the lie that we can save ourselves.

But God alone offers us both the sustenance and transcendence that we crave. In fact, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2 plays out like an anti-Babel. The tower was an attempt to reach the heavens, but the indwelling Spirit truly carries our prayers to the very throne of God. The people of Babel were united by a common language, but the Spirit forms us into a new people from every nation, tribe, and language on earth. The people of Babel wanted to make a name for themselves, but the Spirit enables us to joyously glorify the Triune God. Also, by the Spirit, we are reminded that we will one day be given glorified bodies as we dwell with God and His new creation for all eternity.
Through the Spirit, we both transcend this present reality while simultaneously becoming more firmly embodied in it. In fact, we could simply say that by the ordaining of the Father, through the work of Christ, and by the empowering of the Spirit, we are entering back into reality itself, communion with God, which then empowers us to be united with one another. The Spirit connects us and gives deeper meaning to our lives than technology ever can.

Sadly, technology will continue to be used as a substitute for the Holy Spirit to break us free from the limitations of our bodies. But, as Christ’s followers, we must reject this and keep technology within its place. We must use it to cultivate and subdue both the earth and ourselves, but it cannot save us. It cannot bridge the hostility caused by our sin. It cannot take us beyond the limits of our flesh.

Use technology to serve you, not save you.

And embrace the limits of your body. They are displaying your need for the Creator.

Discipline Is More Than the Rod

In Ephesians 6:4, the Apostle Paul commands fathers to raise their children in the discipline and instruction of the LORD.

Correct them.

Teach them.

What’s so hard about that?

Proverbs, particularly and repeatedly, reminds us of the corrective role in parenthood through the rod. “Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him” (10:24). “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him” (22:15). “Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you strike him with a rod, he will not die. If you strike him with the rod, you will save his soul from Sheol” (23:13-14). “The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother” (29:15).

The Bible clearly affirms and promotes the “rod” as a means of disciplining children. With my daughter, I now also see the practical benefit of a quick and physical response to disobedience. It provides a sharp reprimand of behavior, which I then follow by reemphasizing why that behavior is not permitted and with an assurance of my deep love for her. And life moves on. She is often playing full-force again within the next few seconds.

The rod of discipline is a prod to keep children from veering off the appropriate path, and as such, it is an essential component of discipline, which even the LORD does not withhold from us. Yet discipline is so much more than the rod.

While conversing about discipline in adulthood, people rarely consider physical correction; instead, they think of things like waking up or going to bed early, training and practicing a skill, exercising, and exerting self-control. We rightfully consider discipline to be how we shape ourselves, little by little, into the molds of who we would like to be in the future. Discipline means actively cultivating our lives into how we desire to live them. Sometimes physical correction plays a role. For example, if I want to continue losing weight but I also want to eat desserts, I’ll need a significant amount of exercise in order to maintain a caloric deficit. Yet in general, I gradually come to realize that limiting desserts and regularly doing moderate exercise is the easiest path to shedding the extra pounds. As a whole, being disciplined is nothing less than how we are choosing to live our lives.

Why is it then that we often have such a narrowed lens for understanding how we discipline our children? Of course, with young children physical correction has a prominent place, especially as they repeatedly push against and thereby discover what constitutes socially appropriate behavior. Yet the role of parents in childrearing is to discipline and instruct in the LORD’s ways, to show and guide them in the path of wisdom, which has its beginning in fearing God. By strength and grace of the Spirit, we are called to shape and mold their lives into a biblical pattern, a Christ-glorifying cruciform design.

This means so much more than simply having well-behaved children; we should want well-disciplined and well-instructed children after God’s commands. God’s commands, of course, is the key phrase. Far be it from us to only desire miniature clones of ourselves! Rather, our aim must be to equip them for living as God designed and intended, to be a disciple of Jesus. After all, parenting is a long-term act of discipleship.

And just as Christ demands every facet of our lives, may we discipline and instruct our children in every facet of their lives as well. Let us be faithful to correct them away from fits of behavior that are not loving to their neighbors. Let us be faithful to instruct them well in the basics of the faith. Let us be faithful to show them by example how the spiritual disciplines grow our love and obedience to the LORD. Let us be faithful to teach them how to steward the gifts that God has given them: their bodies, their time, their finances. Let us show them by our everyday interactions the love, grace, consistency, discipline, and gentleness of God through how loving, gracious, consistent, disciplined, and gentle we are with them.

If this all sounds overwhelming, it is. The biblical demand upon parents goes beyond safekeeping our children. We must raise them in the discipline and instruction of the LORD, which demands our constant intentional effort. Of course, even our greatest efforts will be found wanting, but thankfully we can trust that God’s grace will more than work in spite of, and even through, our weaknesses and failures. But grace isn’t an excuse for us to stop applying our effort; instead, grace provides us with the confidence of knowing that we are simply called to faithful, while God Himself will provide the fruit.

Disciplining our children requires much more than the rod; it requires the outpouring of ourselves. May we gladly follow Christ’s example in this, since He did far more for us.

Biblical Wisdom

Background on Proverbs

Author

Proverbs 1:1 presents Solomon as the primary author of the book, but there are other writers as well, such as Agur and Lemuel.

Theme

Proverbs aims to teach us biblical wisdom, which is the skill of understanding and navigating the broken, sin-filled world around us by conforming ourselves to God’s pattern for creation.

Background

Solomon, the son of David, is the primary author and/or collector of the proverbs within Proverbs, and the Bible certainly paints him as being qualified. After becoming king of Israel, 1 Kings 3:3-15 tell of God appearing to Solomon in a dream, asking what he desired. The young king asked the LORD for wisdom to lead Israel, which was a wise request itself. From then onward, Solomon became known for his great wisdom, so that people from all over the earth came to hear his words (1 Kings 4:34). With his understanding, Solomon spoke 3,000 proverbs and composed 1,005 songs. Many of those proverbs are no doubt within this book.

But Proverbs is not the sole work of Solomon. The book, as we have it today, was not complete until more than two hundred years after Solomon’s death. We know this because King Hezekiah (one of Judah’s most godly kings) compiled more of Solomon’s proverbs about a dozen generations later (25:1). We know nothing about Lemuel and Agur nor of the anonymous authors of 22:17-24:22 and 24:23-34. Thus, Proverbs began to be composed with Solomon, was still being compiled in Hezekiah’s day, and might have been finished as late as the Babylonian exile. This vast time frame should remind us that God’s wisdom transcends the ages, speaking and guiding whomever has ears to hear.

Purpose

The purpose of the book of Proverbs is to teach us “to know wisdom and instruction, to understand words of insight, to receive instruction in wise dealing, in righteousness, justice, and equity; to give prudence to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the youth (1:2-4).” Proverbs aims to increase the learning of the wise and to give guidance to the one with understanding. This book wants to make us wise, to give us the skills and understanding to navigate life in a way that pleases God.

Principles for Understanding Proverbs

Proverbs can be a very difficult book to understand well, so before we begin our dive into the book, here are a few principles to keep in mind while studying Proverbs.

First, Proverbs is divided into two major halves. The first half (chapters 1-9) are an introductory course of on biblical wisdom, with Solomon writing to us readers as a father teaching his son. Although these paternal speeches form the bulk of the first nine chapters, we are also treated occasionally to speeches from Lady Wisdom. Because of this teaching pattern, it is important for us to approach these chapters as students ready to learn wisdom from experts.

Second, Proverbs are principles, not promises. Many parents can testify that Proverbs 22:6 is does not always happen. Proverbs show us how things should work within God’s creation, but they are not guaranteed. Ecclesiastes and Job show us how biblical wisdom is applied to these situations when life goes against what we expected.

Third, Proverbs cannot make us wise, only God can. Even though Proverbs is the book of biblical wisdom, they cannot make us wise themselves. We must rather pray for God to use His Word to make us wise, but without His illumination, these words will never change or impact our hearts.

Fourth, Proverbs are not lifehacks to apply immediately; they require wisdom to use properly. Too many people think of Proverbs as being full of sayings that can be grabbed without context and applied to life’s various situations. This approach fails to realize the importance of Proverbs using nine chapters to introduce the concept of wisdom before launching into the proverbs themselves. In fact, Proverbs speaks against trying to use these wise words without wisdom: “Like a lame man’s legs, which hang useless, is a proverb in the mouth of fools (26:7.” Or “Like a thorn that goes up into the hand of a drunkard is a proverb in the mouth of fools (26:9).”

Fifth, there are multiple types of literature within Proverbs. Verse lists four types of literature with Proverbs: proverbs, sayings, words of the wise, and riddles. Proverbs are the bulk form of literature present in the book. Most often proverbs are composed in a parallelism format, meaning they have two lines that reflect upon each other. There is plenty of debate over what exactly sayings and words of the wise refer to. Proverbs 22:17 begins a section of thirty sayings that are called the words of the wise, so maybe the two terms are generally interchangeable. Most commentators agree that riddles within Proverbs refer to texts like Proverbs 30:18-19: “Three things are too wonderful for me; four I do not understand: the way of the eagle in the sky, the way of a serpent on the rock, the way of a ship on the high seas, and the way of a man with a virgin.” These are obviously not riddles as we have them in the English language; instead, they are sayings that are purposefully ambiguous and we are meant to search out their meaning.

Tools for Bible Study

Serious study of any ancient document will require resources and tools that help to enrich one’s understanding of the text. The Bible is no different. As both a cohesive and complete revelation of God to humanity and a library of literary masterpieces, the Bible has consumed the lifetime focus of some of history’s most brilliant minds, and yet within it lie countless treasures still to be mined.

Thankfully, tools to aid studying the Bible have never been more accessible than they are today. Since I use many of these resources in order to prepare a sermon each week, I’ve thought that it could be helpful to make a short list of the ones I tend to frequently use. So whether you are called to preach the Word, teach in a smaller setting, or just want to understand the Bible better, here are a few tools for your toolbelt.

ESV Website

First up is the English Standard Version website. I read and preach from the ESV because I love its “essentially literal” interpretation and its poetic readability. Although I preach from a physical Bible, I rarely read or study from one; instead, I use the website or app. Furthermore, you can also access the ESV Study Bible (although it must be purchased or accessed via a code in a physical Bible), which is the best Study Bible that I have found.

Study Light

For purchasing individual commentaries, I typically consult this page, but for the classic commentaries, I use Study Light. The commentaries of Calvin, Henry, and Gill are always solid recommended readings.

Blue Letter Bible

I know that Blue Letter Bible features a lot of study resources, but I really only use it for two purposes: reading multiple translations of a verse and doing word studies of the Hebrew or Greek.

Open Bible’s Topical Bible

Open Bible has a searchable Topical Bible in which verses are voted as relevant to a particular topic by the site’s users.

Logos

The beauty of Logos is that it has all the functions of those other websites and more. It’s essentially an all-in-one source of Bible study tools. If that sounds of interest to you, then purchasing a package may be a valuable investment. I have the basic package (and I certainly understand the appeal of the software), but I rarely use it. I prefer to keep my Word document and the ESV website open while I am studying, and I open tabs to other websites as needed. But that’s just my preferred interface. Logos can be of tremendous value to you if you dive all in, but it is by no means necessary for seriously studying God’s Word.

Why Advent?

The Bible is a story. In fact, it is the Story, the true myth, the architype that is woven into who we are as people. It is the story that we all long for, even those who have yet to hear it and those who reject it. It’s the story that we continue telling. The story of a paradise lost, of brokenness in need of repair, of betrayal and treason, of rescue and redemption. It’s our story, the story of Who made us, what went wrong, and how He fixed it and will fix it permanently.

Advent is intrinsicately about that story. Meaning coming or arrival, Advent is typically used to refer to the miracle of the incarnation of Jesus Christ, the moment when God came down to rescue His people from the plague that we wrought upon creation: sin. That infant in a manger some two thousand years ago was God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God.

God became man. Divinity and humanity mysteriously complete in person of Jesus of Nazareth.

Without this advent, the rest of the story collapses. The crucifixion, resurrection, and salvation all hinge upon Jesus being both God and man, the perfect high priest and only true mediator between the Creator and His rebellious creatures.

The season of Advent is an opportunity to immerse ourselves once again in the Story, to marvel anew at the sheer audacity of God’s plan, to be awestruck once more by the vast treasure of our redemption.

But it is also a time to refresh our anticipation for Christ’s return, the second advent. The decisive battle was won on the cross, but the war has yet to conclude. Like the Old Testament saints, we await still our coming King.

May the LORD, thus, draw you into a deepened sense of wonder over Christ’s incarnation and gospel this Advent.

May you long for Christ’s return with same confident anticipation as those who eagerly awaited His first coming.