Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Proverbs 21 – Take Care to Live Diligently

“The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance,

but everyone who is hasty comes only to want.”

~Proverbs 21:5 (NRSV).

When we think about life in an overall sort of way we do get plenty of warnings, generally, regarding ways to live life and ways not to. This chapter of Proverbs merely acts, then, like all the chapters of Proverbs, as a ‘gate’ to these ways; the ways to sound living via the Wisdom way.

Doing What Pleases God

One of the most important things to know, and correspondingly do in living a sound life, is aligning life to what pleases God. Verses 2-3 and verse 27 major on this concept. Whilst we often think our way is pure, it’s God who truly weighs our hidden, underlying motives. The Lord’s will, then, is that we’re honest with ourselves, acknowledging when our motives are founded from our brokenness.

To do what is right and just is at a different realm of pleasing God than merely sacrifice. The wrongly motivated sacrifice—as if we could fool God anyway—is detestable to the Lord, for we aren’t respecting God when we forget how he wishes us to answer.

How much worse to bring an ‘empty’ sacrifice to God that comes with the intent of shortcutting the very morality of God? How ridiculous a thought it is, but hazard to say it, we’re all quite apt at doing it in our brokenness. What good is sacrifice for selfish gain? That, of itself, is no sacrifice at all.

Shortcuts are the Long Way Around

We all suspect that with shortcuts comes re-work. Do something poorly and we have to return and then do it all over—that’s three trips for the price of one, which is not efficient at all, let alone the reputational costs we must bear for our unreliability.

What’s profiled in the shortcut is folly through a lack of careful diligence. Verse 5 (and to a lesser extent the bracket of verses 4-8) speaks of haste being an enemy of the truly diligent person. It just so happens that a key nuance of diligence is the part-virtue of prudence, or due care.

The carefully diligent person is mindful of preparing stocks for coming months and does not devour irresponsibly all he or she has (verse 20). The carefully diligent also know they need to work to keep up, as well as needing to give as much as they get, and issue control over their desirous craving (verses 25-26). The carefully diligent person is also not often rash with their words, for they know the devastating power of the tongue (verse 23; cf. see James 3:1-12).

The Lord Loves Justice

At least three proverbs (verses 12-13, 15) major on justice. God cannot abide in injustice, not ultimately. Further, it is not our human way to let injustice continue unabated. It is worse still for injustice to be believed, so we need to be diligently prudent about what testimony we believe (verse 28).

God’s justice may not always be swift, but when it comes it is final.

The Lord Wins - Why Try Putting Things ‘Over’ God?

We all try this and we all fail, again and again. Wisdom is applying the theory that God knows everything and that we might as well give up all hope of getting the better of him. Verse 1 and verses 30-31 bookend the chapter providing a handy inclusio for those other proverbs that centre on right and wrongly-motivated sacrifice.

Why would we bother ‘submitting’ inappropriate sacrifices to God? It’s rather like knowing we’d done a poor job at something at work and knowing very well it would catch up with us later on, with vast reputational damage imminent. No one with ‘good sense’ would do it. And, still, we’re often caught out doing one and the same thing as far as God’s concerned. We’re therefore more apt at acting like God doesn’t exist. This is general human nature.

Hope for Those Pursuing “Life”

Verse 21 takes us all the way back to Proverbs 3:13-18—to the allusions of the Tree of Life, and what Wisdom holds in both her hands. How could we possibly find anything more alluring than “life, prosperity and honor?” (NIV)

And these three for the lovely and very reasonable price of righteousness and love.

© 2010 S. J. Wickham.

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