Wednesday, July 13, 2011

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 we can see we get plenty of warnings, regarding the 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 essential things to know, and correspondingly do, 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 on a different realm of pleasing God, more 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 despicable is it 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, 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 do it all over—that’s three trips instead of one, which is not efficient, and there’s also 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 end well, to give as much as they get, and issue control over their desirous craving (verses 25-26). The carefully diligent person is rarely 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. It’s not our human way to let injustice continue unabated, but it’s worse still for injustice to be believed; 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 ever 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’ve done a poor job at something at work and knowing it will catch up with us later, with vast reputational damage. No one with ‘good sense’ would do it, and, still, we’re often caught out doing the same thing as far as God’s concerned. We’re therefore 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 modest sum of righteousness and love.

© 2011 S. J. Wickham.

This article is an excerpt from my book, Grow In GOD. All author proceeds from this book go to Compassion Australia to help some of the world’s neediest children and families.

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