DashHouse.com

The Blog of Darryl Dash

This blog is about how Jesus changes everything. He changes:

Our relationship with God

Our relationship with others

Our vocations - how we live and work in this world

Our ministries

This blog exists to explore some of the ways that Jesus changes everything. It provides resources and articles that will help you think about the ways that Jesus can change every part of your life.

The Lord himself invites you to a conference concerning your immediate and endless happiness, and He would not have done this if He did not mean well toward you. Do not refuse the Lord Jesus who knocks at your door; for He knocks with a hand which was nailed to the tree for such as you are. Since His only and sole object is your good, incline your ear and come to Him. Hearken diligently, and let the good word sink into your soul. (C.H. Spurgeon, All of Grace)

God's Plans and Our Plans (Proverbs)

One of the most important issues in any of our lives is that of making choices. We make them every day - big ones like who to marry, what career to choose, what city to live in. But equally as significant are the everyday decisions that we make, the consequences of which add up to be just as significant as the momentous decisions.

The choices we make are going to determine our destiny. I've heard someone say that most decisions can be made by any reasonably competent person of average intelligence. But there are a small number of decisions that are life-changing. Even the small decisions end up really making a difference because we make them on such a regular basis.

So the question really is how to make good decisions, and there are two schools of thought. One is the hands-off approach. Do you remember the Greek myth of Oedipus? Before he was born, it was prophesied that he would kill his father and marry his mother. When he grew up he was aware of this prophecy, and he tried everything to avoid his fate, yet he ended up killing the prophesy despite all of his efforts. In this view or reality, you can make all the decisions in the world, but you can't escape your fate. Your destiny is predetermined, and no matter what you do you can't avoid your fate.

The very opposite view is probably what most of us hold. It can be summed up in the famous words of the great theologian, Doc from Back to the Future. Doc said, "Your future hasn't been written yet. No one's has. Your future is whatever you make it. So make it a good one." In this view, everything is up for grabs, and you can determine your own future by the choices that you make.

Then we have a unique view that doesn't really fit into either category, and you might have been exposed to this view within the church. The view is that God has a perfect will for your life: the person you're supposed to marry, the job you're supposed to take, and so on. It's like the bull's eye. It's your job to discern what that will is through a series of steps, like praying, putting out tests for God to confirm what he wants, and sensing when you have peace. The pressure's on with this view, because if you marry the wrong person you not only miss your own bull's eye, but you have taken the bull's eye away from the person who was supposed to marry your spouse, so you've messed up things for at least three people, probably more.

So it's in this context that we come to Proverbs and ask, how in the world are we supposed to make wise decisions? Proverbs is very helpful in answering this. It's amazingly nuanced and practical when it comes to this subject.

So let's look at what Proverbs teaches us on this subject. First: our role when it comes to decisions. Second, God's role. Third, how to put our role and God's role together.

First, let's look at our role in making decisions.

Proverbs teaches us that you have a role in making decisions. For example, listen to these proverbs:

The plans of the diligent lead to profit
as surely as haste leads to poverty.
(Proverbs 21:5)

Surely you need guidance to wage war,
and victory is won through many advisers.
(Proverbs 24:6)

And if you make good decisions, you'll get to enjoy the benefits. Proverbs 31 speaks of the noble woman who embodies the wisdom described in Proverbs, and it says:

She is clothed with strength and dignity;
she can laugh at the days to come.
(Proverbs 31:25)

One of the clearest verses that describes the both the importance of planning, and one of the most important ingredients in planning, is found in Proverbs 20:18:

Plans are established by seeking advice;
so if you wage war, obtain guidance.

You'd have to be crazy to go to war if you didn't have a plan. Imagine having all the troops lined up about to engage in battle when somebody asks, "OK boss, what's the plan?" "I don't know yet. We'll wing it." Armies have plans and strategies before they go to war, and they're based on lots of advice from lots of smart people. That's why there are books like The Art of War. Smart sports teams have plans before they approach a draft, like the Leafs did this past week. I hope! And you'd be crazy if you didn't have a plan. It involves thinking about goals, getting advice, thinking about the steps necessary to accomplish that goal, devising alternatives, dealing with roadblocks, and using your imagination to picture the end result.

We need to begin with the human side and say: you need to plan. Some people think it's unspiritual to plan, but Proverbs says that's bunk. Some people say that we need to go through all kinds of spiritual exercises to determine God's will. Proverbs says: no, plan. Use your brain. Get good advice. Make good decisions. So you should be planning for your future. That's the human side of planning.

Proverbs doesn't stop there, though.

Second, we need to look at God's role when it comes to the decisions that we make.

Proverbs teaches us that we have a role to play in our decisions, but so does God. Proverbs 16:1-2 says:

To human beings belong the plans of the heart,
but from the LORD comes the proper answer of the tongue.
People may think all their ways are pure,
but motives are weighed by the LORD.

What this means is that we can plan, but God may have something different in mind than what we plan. Verse 1 gives us an example. Have you ever planned what you were going to say to somebody, even planned carefully, but when you went to speak, something completely different came out? That's what verse 1 says. You can plan all you want, but if God wants you to say something different, then you're going to say something different. You can plan all that you want, but if God wants something else to happen, then something else is going to happen.

Then verse 2 says that God sees something completely different than we do. When I make a decision, I think that I'm being objective and rational, and I'm often pretty convinced that I've made the correct decision when I'm done. That's what the first part of verse 2 says: "People may think all their ways are pure." The reality is, though, that I am not impartial and rational when I make decisions. God sees my heart and my motives, and he understands that I'm often not making the best decisions because I have all kinds of mixed motives, and so do you.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones said that our problem isn't so much small-s sins, like sinful actions, as much as capital-S Sin. We have sinful hearts. John Bunyan said it well: there's enough sin in his best prayer to damn the whole world. That is, even when we are at our best, we are still full of mixed motives and selfish desires and all kinds of things that corrupt us. We can't make wise decisions like we're supposed to because our hearts are corrupt, and we lack wisdom.

Then look at Proverbs 16:9:

In their hearts human beings plan their course,
but the LORD establishes their steps.

Proverbs 19:21 says:

Many are the plans in a human heart,
but it is the LORD's purpose that prevails.

Do you see the tension? We have a role to play when it comes to decisions, but so does God. You see this especially when it comes to bad things that happen. What happens when the decisions that are made are bad ones? Proverbs 16:4 tells us:

The LORD works out everything to its proper end—
even the wicked for a day of disaster.

Here's what this means. The first part of the verse says that God is in control of everything. But the second part of the verse says that when wicked people make bad choices of their own free will, God is able to use even their free choices for good. God doesn't author evil, but he's able to use even the evil choices that people make of themselves for his own purposes. We can choose, but God ultimately gets his will done even through even the bad choices that we make. A good example is the life of Joseph in the book of Genesis. Joseph was able to say after years of being unjustly treated by others, "You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives" (Genesis 50:20).

There's a tension here that we really aren't going to be able to put together. Are we free to make our own choices? Yes. Do our choices really matter? Yes. But does God sovereignly determine the way things are going to turn out? Yes. The technical term for this is antinomy. It's an apparent contradiction. And if you think about it, it's really the best of both worlds.

If your decisions didn't matter, then you may as well stay in bed all day because what's the use? But if your decisions determine everything, then the pressure is on. You have to make good decisions or else. But if your decisions matter and at the same time God determines the future, then you have an important role, but you can relax knowing that God is in charge. Understanding our role and God's role brings significance to our decisions, but it also brings confidence because we know that God is at work even through our mistakes and the bad things that happen.

This also means that if you want to know what God's will is for your life, you're standing in it. God's will is not something that you discover; it's something that he does. He has you right where he wants you. So your decisions matter, but God ultimately uses those decisions so that it's his purpose that prevails. He uses even the bad things to accomplish his purposes.

But what we really need is to pull this all together.

And there's no better verse to pull this altogether than Proverbs 16:3:

Commit to the LORD whatever you do,
and he will establish your plans.

This is one of those verses that you think you know what it means, but we probably don't. We need to slow down and read it again. This is what it doesn't say. It doesn't say to make plans and then pray that God will bless them and establish them. That's not at all what it says.

It says, "Commit to the LORD whatever you do." The word commit there literally means roll. It means rolling everything you do on to the LORD, giving everything to him and keeping nothing back. This means complete dependence on God. What this means is that you stop relying on yourself, and that you roll control of your life over to God so that everything you do and who you are is completely committed to him.

This is much more than praying that God will bless what we choose. The original sin involved rolling our lives away from God and declaring independence from him. As a result, our natural condition is one of sin, of wanting our own way. But Christ has come to make a way possible back to God. Through Christ God has made it possible for us to roll our lives back on to the Lord, so that our entire lives are once again lived in submission to him.

When this happens, verse 3 says that God will establish your plans. The result of giving our entire lives over to God is that he will establish what he wants to do through us. This takes all the pressure off. Our decisions matter, but we don't bear the weight of them. We roll everything on to God, and he does with us as he pleases. And then we don't have to worry about the results. If it was all up to us, then we have pressure and all kinds of fear. But because God is sovereign, we can rest even though we know our limitations. When we commit our entire lives to God, and realize that he's sovereign, we can plan and then relax, knowing that our achievements are ultimately up to God. We can then live in prayer and peace.

So your decisions matter. But what matters most of all is that you are committed to God. When you get this balance, that your decisions matter, but God is sovereign, and that what matters even more than your decisions is that you are yielded to him - then you can work and relax, knowing that God is sovereign, and that he can work through the choices that you make.

Jack Miller was a pastor on the verge of burnout. In 1970, while pastoring a small church in Pennsylvania and teaching practical theology at a seminary, he became so discouraged that he resigned from both his church and the seminary. He had failed. People weren't changing like he knew they should.

He spent a few weeks crying. Gradually he came to realize what was wrong. He realized he had been motivated by his own personal glory and the approval of those he was serving. "He said that when he repented of his pride, fear of people, and love of their approval," his daughter writes, "his joy in ministry returned, and he took back his resignations from the church and seminary."

Miller came to a turning point. "He had been relying on the wrong person to do ministry - himself." He began to give up all dependence on himself, and began to learn the basics of doing Christian ministry in Christ's strength. The result was greater freedom and power.

Miller discovered that his actions mattered, but it's not all up to him. He learned to give up all dependence on himself, to acknowledge how poor in spirit he was, and then rely exclusively on Jesus and the gift of His Spirit in constant prayer.

Miller once wrote to a young missionary and said:

Remember the only real leader you have is Jesus Christ. Unless you are daily taught of him you will not be able to make the right decisions.

Miller discovered the joy of rolling his entire life on to the Lord, and relying on God's strength and not his own. And his life ministry was never the same.

My prayer for you is that you will make wise decisions. But my greater prayer is that you will understand that God is sovereign, and that it's only as we roll our entire lives over to him that the pressure is off, and we discover the freedom and joy that come from relying on him.

Father, I pray that you would give us wisdom as we make decisions. Thank you for the important role we play in making decisions, but thank you that you work even through our weaknesses and mistakes.

Thank you also for the invitation to trust you, to roll our lives over to you. The original sin was Adam and Eve claiming sovereignty over their own lives rather than submitting to you. Jesus Christ came to undo the results of that sin, to make it possible to once again submit to you.

Through the power of the Spirit, please convict us today in the areas in which we are trying to control our own lives, acting as little gods. Stop us from relying on the wrong person - ourselves. And bring us back to submission to you through the work of Christ and the power of your Spirit, so that every person here would realize that the only leader they have is Jesus Christ. In his name we pray, Amen.

Work (Proverbs)

When I was in high school, I looked at all the career opportunities that I could pursue. I thought about going into business, becoming a journalist, and also about teaching. But in the end I couldn't avoid the sense that I should become a pastor. There were all kinds of good and bad things that factored into that decision, but let me tell you the bad.

The bad is that I made a separation between everyday work and spiritual work. Do you get what I mean? It's like I made two lists. One one list I put ordinary secular work: business, commerce, construction, law, writing, teaching. On the second list I put things like pastoring, being a missionary, teaching in seminary - that's about it. I thought that you can do ordinary, everyday work, or you can do spiritual work that really matters.

I don't know where I came up with this view, but I know I'm not alone. If you follow this to its logical conclusion then all of you work to make a living and to support those of us who are doing important work. But nothing could be farther from the truth.

Today I want to look at what the book of Proverbs says about work. I hope that it will change the way that you think about career and vocation. I want to ask three questions:

  • What does it say about work?
  • Why does it say what it does?
  • Finally, how does this impact what you do?

First, what does the Proverbs say about work?

All you have to do to answer this question is to read through the book of Proverbs, or else search for the words sluggard or diligent. It's not very subtle. It skewers those who don't work hard, and it praises those who work hard. For instance, look at how it slams those who don't work:

How long will you lie there, you sluggard?
When will you get up from your sleep?
(Proverbs 6:9)

Probably the bluntest passage is this one from Proverbs 26:

A sluggard says, "There's a lion in the road,
a fierce lion roaming the streets!"
As a door turns on its hinges,
so a sluggard turns on the bed.
Sluggards bury their hands in the dish
and are too lazy to bring them back to their mouths.
(Proverbs 26:13-15)

It's not a very pretty picture. The sluggard uses absurd excuses to get out or work. He's not lazy; he just doesn't want to go outside in case there's a lion. Yesterday it was too hot to work; today it's too cold. Instead he lays in bed. Again, he probably has an excuse: "I'm not my best in the morning." There's a bit of humor in verse 14: he lies in bed turning, but his motion is like a door. There may be lots of movement, but it never goes anywhere because he's hinged to the bed. Even when the sluggard is hungry, he is so lazy that he can't manage to lift his hand to his mouth. The writer has no sympathy at all for those who are lazy.

Contrast this to what the writer says about the diligent:

Diligent hands will rule,
but laziness ends in forced labor.
(Proverbs 12:24)

The plans of the diligent lead to profit
as surely as haste leads to poverty.
(Proverbs 21:5)

Those who work their land will have abundant food,
but those who chase fantasies will have their fill of poverty.
(Proverbs 28:19)

Over and over again, Proverbs gives us the message. Work hard. Avoid laziness. The book is completely intolerant of lazy people. Lazy people, according to Proverbs, are the epitome of folly. It parodies them, it pokes fun at them. It has absolutely no sympathy for them.

We could stop right there, but we'd miss out on really understanding the message of Proverbs if we did. If we stopped here, we would think that Proverbs is a little like a nagging parent who is always saying, "Get to work! Don't you have homework that you should be doing?" We could even be driven to workaholism.

We need to go a little deeper and to ask a second question, and the question is this:

Why does Proverbs say what it does about work?

In other words, what is the reason that Proverbs says what it does about work?

To answer this, I want to give you a bit of background about how other cultures saw work at that time. In the other cultures, the gods had to fight to create the world and to bring order out of chaos. When they realized how much work it is to maintain the world, they tried to think of a way to get out of all this work, so they created us. In this view, we're stuck with all the work while the gods sleep. Work is something that we have to do because the gods are too lazy to do it. We'd get out of it if we could as well.

This isn't the view we get in the Bible at all. When you open the Bible you meet a God who loves to work, a God who has no trouble at all bringing order out of chaos and arranging the world just as he wants it. What's more, he even gets his hands dirty. He does manual labor, forming man from the dust of the ground. There's a dignity that God gives to work right from the beginning. He's not trying to get out of work; he does work that expresses who he is and what he wants this world to be.

All throughout the Bible, imagery is used that describes God as a worker. Genesis portrays him as a gardener and a farmer. Proverbs 8 describes his work of creation in terms of architecture and building. Psalm 139 compares him to a weaver, knitting us together in our mother's womb. Jeremiah compares God to a potter and a craftworker.

And when God himself came to earth in the person of Jesus Christ, he came as a builder. In Mark 6 we learn that Jesus is a carpenter, a word that could mean carpenter or just builder. Jesus himself was a manual laborer. And when Jesus spoke of his work, he used images from other professions: doctor, shepherd. He even compared God to a homemaker (Luke 15). And he said of his Father, "My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working."

This is a very different picture of work from all of the other gods of the Ancient Near East. God is a God who works, and who endows all work - manual work, professional work, and so on - with dignity. And we haven't even got to the good part yet.

When God created us, listen to what the Bible says:

Then God said, "Let us make human beings in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground."

So God created human beings in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.

God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground." (Genesis 1:26-29)

The next thing we see, Adam is tilling and keeping the garden, naming the animals - which, by the way, has cultural dimensions. So right away, you have humanity doing important work, work that's very similar to God's.

But let's back up a second. Twice in Genesis 1, God emphatically says that he made us in his image. What does this mean? As someone has said, you could fill bookshelves with the three thousand years of conversation sparked by this one verse. What's especially interesting is that God has said that we are not to make anything in his image, but this is a restriction God hasn't put on himself.

What does it mean to bear God's image. It means to be like him. And looking at Genesis 1 and 2, in what ways are we to be like God?

  • We meet a God who is a God of limitless and extraordinary creativity
  • We meet a God who takes an environment that is disordered and inhospitable, and who transforms it into an environment that flourishes with life and creativity
  • We meet a God who has authority over this world

Then God turns to us and says, "I am giving you authority to fill the earth and subdue it." Being fruitful means building families, churches, schools, cities, governments, and laws. Subduing the earth means harnessing the natural world: planting crops, building bridges, designing computers, composing music.

He's given us the job of being, as one person says, "creative cultivators" (Andy Crouch) - to make something of this world. We're talking marriage and family, but we're also talking art, language, commerce, and government. When we do these things, we're bearing God's image and carrying out the cultural mandate God has given us.

Someone else has said that you are here on earth for four reasons: to love God, to serve others, to responsibly cultivate the earth, and to savor the work of your hands. You are here not only to love God and to serve others, but to help bring shalom to this earth, and to savor the work that you do. It's only in our work that we get to do all four of these at the same time.

One theologian says:

To unfold...possibilities - for example, to speak languages, build tools and dies, enter contracts, organize dance troupes - is to act in character for human beings designed by God. That is, to act in this way is to exhibit some of God's own creativity and dominion in a characteristically human way. (Cornelius Plantinga Jr., Engaging God's Word)

Work is not something that entered the world because of sin. We have been made so that baking bread, playing soccer, writing music, creating products, banking, practicing law, is holy work before God. It expresses his creativity, contributes to the flourishing of this world.

That's why Proverbs takes work so seriously. It's not just because the writer doesn't like lazy people. It's because when we're sluggards, we're not taking seriously what it means to be made in the image of God. When we are diligent in our work, we help to shape culture and bring glory to God.

You can see how wrong I was to think that some professions are holy, and some are secular. Every vocation can bring God glory.

It is not only prayer that gives God glory but work. Smiting on an anvil, sawing a beam, whitewashing a wall, driving horses, sweeping, scouring, everything gives God some glory if being in his grace you do it as your duty. (Gerard Manley Hopkins)

One man put it this way, hundreds of years ago:

The homeliest service that we do in an honest calling, though it be but to plow, or dig, if done in obedience, and conscience of God's Commandment, is crowned with ample reward; whereas the best works for their kind (preaching, praying, offering Evangelical sacrifices) if without respect of God's injunction and glory, are loaded with curses. (Joseph Hall)

In other words, the work of a banker or a mother or a teacher or an entrepreneur can be loaded with more blessing than the work of a preacher. Because this is so, Proverbs is right to challenge us to take our work seriously.

We need to apply this by asking one more question:

What does this mean for me?

To answer this, I have a couple of proverbs and then a verse from the New Testament.

Proverbs 13:4 says:

A sluggard's appetite is never filled,
but the desires of the diligent are fully satisfied.

What does this mean? It says that sluggards and those who are diligent both have desires, but the sluggard's desire isn't fulfilled while the diligent person's desires are. At first glance you could interpret this to mean food or money or all the things that money can buy, but I think it goes deeper. There's a sense of satisfaction that comes when we work, even if the work isn't what we would naturally choose to do. Your work is not only for the purpose of paying bills; your work actually brings satisfaction. At each phase of God's creative work in making this world, he pronounced it as good. There's something in us as well that longs to take a step back from our work and say that it too is good. Work can be intensely satisfying.

Proverbs 22:29 says:

Do you see those who are skilled in their work?
They will serve before kings;
they will not serve before officials of low rank.

So we have desire or satisfaction that comes from work, but here we also have skill. There are certain things that you may enjoy doing, but you will never be skilled at doing them. But when you have desire and skill come together, it is a powerful combination. Frederick Buechner said, "The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet."

I realize that this can all sound hopelessly idealistic. You may understand everything I've said, but really struggle with how it could ever be true in your life and in your job. It's going to be true here, but the reality is that although we bear the image of God, we've sinned, and neither we nor this world are what God intended them to be.

But God through Christ is renewing and restoring all things. The good news (gospel) for us this morning is that Jesus came into this world to take on our sins, and to begin the process of restoration so that one day things will be as they should.

You've heard of J.R.R. Tolkien, author of Lord of the Rings. He and C.S. Lewis decided to write fiction they way they thought it should be written. Lewis kept producing book after book. Meanwhile, Tolkien labored over one book and never felt satisfied.

One night Tolkien had a dream about a man named Niggle. Niggle is an artist who paints a picture of a great tree, but is never satisfied. Before he can finish the painting he dies. On the train to heaven he sees the tree that he had been trying to paint. The Tree he sees is the true realization of his vision, not the flawed and incomplete form of his painting.

One day, through Jesus Christ, the tree you've always wanted to paint, the sermon I've always wanted to preach, the work we've always wanted to do - we'll discover it in heaven. Your work now matters to God, but it's only a shadow of the work we'll be able to do, and the satisfaction that we'll get from that work, when God one day restores all things through what Christ accomplished at the cross.

Let's pray.

Yuko Maruyama, a Japanese organist working in Minneapolis, was once a devout Buddhist. Now, thanks to the music of J. S. Bach, she is a Christian. "Bach introduced me to God, Jesus, and Christianity," she told Metro Lutheran, a Twin Cities monthly. "When I play a fugue, I can feel Bach talking to God." Masashi Masuda, a Jesuit priest, came to faith in almost the same way: "Listening to Bach's Goldberg Variations first aroused my interest in Christianity." Our jobs can be used to proclaim God's glory and even to draw people to Christ.

Martin Luther King Jr. said, "If it falls your lot to be a street sweeper, sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures, sweep streets like Beethoven composed music, sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry. Sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will have to pause and say: Here lived a great street sweeper who swept his job well."

Father, today we give our vocations to you. Thank you that you are a God who is still at work. Thank you for your Son, who not only worked as a carpenter, but worked to accomplish our salvation. And thank you that you call us to serve you with our whole lives, including the work that you've called us to.

We offer our work to you today as an act of worship. May you be glorified through our holy vocations. And we look forward to that day when there will be a new heaven and a new earth, and we'll do the work we've always longed to do. In the name of Christ our Savior we pray. Amen.

Words (Proverbs)

Words Matter

Let me see if you can finish a sentence that I begin. "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but..."

You're right, you got it. "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me." I don't know who ever thought of this saying, but they lied. It's not true at all. Sticks and stones will hurt your bones, but words can actually break your heart. Words matter.

Let me ask you: What's the meanest thing that anyone ever said to you? You may have heard of the person who pretended to be a 16-year-old boy on MySpace. She became "friends" with Megan Meier, age 13. After starting out nicely, the person, pretending to be a teenage boy, started sending Megan messages like, "I don't know if I want to be friends with you anymore because I've heard that you are not very nice to your friends." More messages like this came. Tragically, Megan became so upset by these messages that she took her own life. Sticks and stones can break bones, but words can break a heart. Words can kill.

The Bible compares our tongues to a fire, that can set "the whole course of one's life on fire" (James 3:6). Our words are like the cigarette that a 46-year-old woman in South Dakota threw into a forest. That cigarette started a fire that burned for two weeks, that burned eighty thousand acres of forest. Rumors, half-truths, grumbling, sarcastic remarks, hurtful things said in the heat of anger—all of these smoldering matches have the potential for burning down acres of office morale, family peace, and church unity.

Let me ask you, on the other hand: What is the nicest thing anyone has ever said to you? There was a man that I really respect who came to my wedding. He said something about me that day that I overheard - he didn't even mean for me to hear it - that is one of the nicest things anyone has ever said about me, and I've never forgotten it. Words can break a heart, but words can also heal a heart.

We've been studying what the book of Proverbs says about how to live. Listen to what Proverbs says about our words:

The words of the reckless pierce like swords,
but the tongue of the wise brings healing.
(Proverbs 12:18)

The tongue has the power of life and death,
and those who love it will eat its fruit.
(Proverbs 18:21)

We need to remember two words: Words matter. Your words are like a fire. Your words, the Bible says, are like a sword that can cut right into people. It can kill. But your words can also bring healing and life. How you speak is going to bring you and everyone around you life, or death.

A pastor was welcoming some members into the church. This is what he told them:

And now, I charge you that if you ever hear another member speak an unkind word of criticism or slander against anyone—myself, an usher, a choir member, or anyone else—that you stop that person in mid-sentence and say, 'Excuse me—who hurt you? Who ignored you? Who slighted you? Was it [the pastor]? Let's go to his office right now. He'll apologize to you, and then we'll pray together so God can restore peace to this body. But we won't let you talk critically about people who aren't present to defend themselves.'

I'm serious about this. I want you to help resolve this kind of thing immediately. And know this: If you are ever the one doing the loose talking, we'll confront you.

That pastor says, "To this day, every time we receive new members, I say much the same thing. That's because I know what most easily destroys churches. It's not crack cocaine, government oppression, or even lack of funds. Rather it's gossip and slander that grieves the Holy Spirit."

We need to take our words as seriously as we do swords, guns, and fires. When someone uses them recklessly, we need to deal with it right away. Sticks and stones may break our bones, but words kill. Words matter more than we could ever think.

[song]

Learning How to Speak

So words matter. Words can kill, but they can also give life. How then should we speak?

It's actually quite easy. Proverbs tells us how we should speak: Speak less, speak honestly, and speak fittingly. Simple - yet as we're going to see, impossible without God's help.

Speak less - The average person speaks sixteen thousand words a day. There's lots of room to get into trouble with this many words. One former U.S. president (Calvin Coolidge) said, "I have noticed that nothing I never said ever did me any harm." Proverbs says something similar:

Sin is not ended by multiplying words,
but the prudent hold their tongues.
(Proverbs 10:19)

And then one of my favorite proverbs:

Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent,
and discerning if they hold their tongues.
(Proverbs 17:28)

One of the best ways that we could improve in how we use words is to speak less. Words are so powerful that we need to guard how many words we actually use.

Speak honestly - When we do speak, though, it's important to speak honestly. Proverbs 12:19 says:

Truthful lips endure forever,
but a lying tongue lasts only a moment.

Proverbs 24:26 says:

An honest answer
is like a kiss on the lips.

Telling the truth is right, beneficial. Telling the truth is a kind act. One of my friends says that many times we're too unloving to be truthful. Telling the truth is an act of love, even if what we're going to say is hard. What we say has to be for the other person's good, but our words must be honest even when it's hard.

Speak fittingly - This is the hardest. It takes real wisdom to know what to say and when to say it. Proverbs 15:23 says:

A person finds joy in giving an apt reply—
and how good is a timely word!

Proverbs 25:11 says:

A word aptly spoken
is like apples of gold in settings of silver. (NIV)

There's a beauty, artistry, and skill in knowing how to speak. In fact, we can't do it without God's help. Proverbs 16:1 says:

To human beings belong the plans of the heart,
but from the LORD comes the proper answer of the tongue.

What I want to do right now is to ask a few people to pray for all of us in this area. If there's one area that I want to focus on today, it's in our families. If there's anywhere where it's tough to speak well, it's there. I've asked a few people of different ages to pray that God will help us speak well. Let's take a few minutes to pray.

What Words Reveal

Most of all what words reveal is the condition of our hearts. Words reveal that ultimately we need a new heart. Jesus said, "But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these defile you" (Matthew 15:18). What we say reveals what's in our heart.

Proverbs 22:11 says the same thing:

One who loves a pure heart and who speaks with grace
will have the king for a friend.

What we need more than anything else is for our heart to be changed. A pure heart and words of grace go together.

What we say is a reflection of what's inside. You'll remember that the heart in the Bible doesn't mean our emotions. It means it's the essential you. Your heart is what makes you you. God promised in Ezekiel 11:19, "I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh." Paul wrote, "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!" (2 Corinthians 5:17)

God himself came to earth. One of his closest friends said of Jesus, "He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth" (1 Peter 2:22). He's the only person who ever lived who never misspoke. And he died for us so that he could take upon himself all of our sins, all of our misspoken words. He gives us his righteousness, and also a new heart.

Jesus said, "Good people bring good things out of the good stored up in their heart, and evil people bring evil things out of the evil stored up in their heart. For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks" (Luke 6:45). We don't need new words; most of all we need clean hands and clean hearts, given to us through the gospel.

Envy (Proverbs)

I'd like to ask you to think for a minute about what you desire the most in your life. It could be anything, really: a better house, success in your career, an accomplishment, popular acclaim, marriage, children, a comfortable retirement. But for everyone here, there is something that you think about, that you're working towards, that gives your life some meaning. As someone has said, "There is woven inside each of us a desire for something more - a craving to be part of something bigger, greater, and more profound than our relatively meaningless day-to-day experience" (Paul David Tripp, A Quest for More).

I'll give you an example. Remember Rocky, the first one way back in 1976? When Adrian, his girlfriend, asked him why he trains so hard, beating up meat in the freezer and running up those stairs in Philadelphia, Rocky answers, "I just want to go 15 rounds cause then I'll know I'm not a bum." There is something in your life that you are striving towards. It gives you identity, and if you attain what you're hoping for, then you know you're not a bum.

So can everyone think of something that you desire most in life? It should be fairly easy to identify. It's what gets you up out of bed in the morning. If it's a house, then it's what keeps you looking at the real estate section of the paper every time it arrives. If it's a career, it's what keeps you working so hard. It's whatever it is that you start thinking about when you lie in bed at night. It makes your daily life more bearable. You know you can make it if you reach your dreams in that area.

Now you may feel like I'm setting you up here, that I'm about to say, "Shame on you for wanting to live for something bigger than yourself." But actually, the desire to long for something transcendent in your life is God-given. You were meant to live for something bigger than yourself.

But there's a danger that goes along with this desire. That danger is envy. Envy is an attitude of discontentment, a consuming desire to have something that somebody else has that we don't. Jonathan Edwards defined envy as "a spirit of dissatisfaction with, and opposition to, the prosperity and happiness of others as compared with our own."

So I'd like to take whatever it is in your life this morning that you really desire, and to do some heart surgery on all of us this morning. Three questions: where do I envy? What's so bad about envy? And what do I do about it?

1. Where do I envy?

The reason I ask where you envy is because envy is one of those hidden sins that is very hard to detect within ourselves. We're not even aware that we're doing it most of the time. But Proverbs gives us two tests to see where it is that we envy.

The first test is what we're wearing ourselves out to get, what we have to have at all costs. Proverbs 23:4 says, "Do not wear yourself out to get rich; do not trust your own cleverness." If there is something that you just have to have, that you are wearing yourself out to get, that you must have at all costs, then it is something that you envy.

In fact, the Hebrew word for envy in the Old Testament is interesting. Proverbs 23:17 says, "Don't let your heart envy sinners." The word envy there literally means to be jealous or zealous for something. It describes a passionate and intense desire for something. It's not always a bad word. You can be passionate and zealous for a good thing. But we're going to see in a minute that the zeal and passion can be misdirected, and this passion and zeal can turn into something negative that we call envy. If you want to figure out if you have envy in your life, you need to ask yourself what it is that you are passionate about, what it is in your life that you intensely desire. Those who know you well could probably help you figure this out, because it's often obvious to other people, even if it isn't to you.

The second test that Proverbs gives us is to ask: what is it that other people have that I would like? So all throughout Proverbs, we read things like: "Do not envy the violent" (Proverbs 3:31). "Do not let your heart envy sinners" (Proverbs 23:17). "Do not envy the wicked, do not desire their company" (Proverbs 24:1). "Do not fret because of evildoers, or be envious of the wicked" (Proverbs 24:19). The idea is that we will be tempted to look at what other people are enjoying, and it will drive us crazy because we're not enjoying the same things. It will especially drive us crazy if we are trying to live a life that is pleasing to God, and they are not, yet they are enjoying benefits that we don't get to enjoy.

The best example of this may be from the film Amadeus. Mozart's contemporary, Antonio Salieri, prayed as a young man, "Let me make music that will glorify you, Father. Help me lift the hearts of people to heaven. Let me serve you through my music."

God didn't answer that prayer. Salieri never became that great musician. But Mozart did. Mozart dazzled the crowds, playing music as if it was second nature to him. His melodies were complex and fun all at the same time, songs that soared till they seemed to bring heaven right down to earth. Yet Mozart was an obvious sinner. He was immature, vulgar, and obscene. He made off with the ladies every chance he could get. Salieri never understood why God chose to give Mozart extraordinary gifts and not him. He envied the wicked, and it drove him crazy.

The psalmist confessed in Psalm 73:

But as for me, my feet had almost slipped;
I had nearly lost my foothold.
For I envied the arrogant
when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
They have no struggles;
their bodies are healthy and strong.
They are free from common human burdens;
they are not plagued by human ills.
(Psalm 73:2-5)

You'll recognize this in your own life by when you hear good news about somebody else. You went to school with someone, and you hear that they just got a big promotion, or moved into this huge house on the Kingsway, or that they're incredibly rich. In most of our hearts we don't react to news like this with unbridled happiness for them. We're a little sad, and we think, "Why couldn't that have been me?"

We recognize envy two ways in our lives: by our intense desires, and by the times that we want what other people have for ourselves.

This leads us to the second question I want to ask this morning:

2. What's so bad about envy?

I hope you've recognized that all of us have envy in our souls. It's incredibly hard to detect in our own lives, but the reality is that it's a temptation to all of us. You may be thinking, "What is the big deal about envy? What's the problem?" Some argue that envy is good, that it is the driving force behind democracy and capitalism. On the other hand, envy is listed as one of the seven deadly sins by the historic church. Proverbs gives us quite a few reasons why envy is wrong. In fact, it's a danger to our souls.

One of the problems with envy is that the object of our envy is too small, too fleeting, to really take the place of affection that it has in our souls. Remember that I said that you were meant to live for something bigger than yourself? You were, but most of what we envy is ridiculously small. In the recent movie Juno, the stepmother of a pregnant teenager yells out in frustration, "When you move out I'm getting two Weimaraners!" The teenager sarcastically replies, "WHOA DREAM BIG!" But that's a lot like us. We were meant to live for something much larger than ourselves, but most of us settle for envying something much too small to really fill our souls.

Proverbs 23:4-5 says:

Do not wear yourself out to get rich;
do not trust your own cleverness.
Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone,
for they will surely sprout wings
and fly off to the sky like an eagle.

The writer says that something like wealth can become an all-consuming purpose in life, but it can lead to frustration, because they can disappear so quickly. The same goes for pretty much anything that we long for. If you long for youthful looks, then you're longing after something that's fleeting. It's a losing battle. If you long for popularity and acclaim, then it's only a matter of time before someone else is more popular than you are. A lot of what we envy is just another version of wanting two Weimaraners. It's not really a big enough desire. We're settling for something too small for our souls. Paul Tripp writes:

We were never meant to be self-focused little kings ruling miniscule little kingdoms with a population of one. Sure, it's right for you to care about your health, your job, your house, your investments, your family, and your friends. It would be irresponsible for you to act as if none of these things mattered. Yet it is a functional human tragedy to live only for these things. It is a fundamental denial of your humanity to narrow the size of your life to the size of your own existence, because you were created to be an "above and more" being. You were made to be transcendent. (A Quest for More)

The other problem with envy is that it is destructive. It destroys and consumes all who indulge it. Proverbs 14:30 says:

A heart at peace gives life to the body,
but envy rots the bones.

Jealousy destroys one's inner peace. It eats away at a person. It can actually have a physical effect. Envy has a destructive energy that decimates everyone who falls in its path. Envy is actually what turned paradise into, well, what we have today. Adam and Eve lived in the Garden of Eden, and envied the one thing they couldn't have, which is what got us into the mess we have today.

The story is told of a monk who lived in a wilderness cave. He was known far and wide for holiness, so much so that his reputation reached even to hell itself. So the devil took three of his most effective demons with him to tempt the monk out of his godliness. They found the monk sitting at the mouth of his cave, a serene look of contentment on his face. The first demon planted in his mind the temptation of great power, with visions of glorious kingdoms. But the monk's face remained serene. The second tempter planted in the monk's mind the temptation of great wealth, with visions of gold and silver and prosperity. But still the monk's face remained serene and contented. The third demon planted in his mind the temptation of sensuous pleasure, with visions of beautiful women. But the monk's face remained quiet and godly. Annoyed, the devil barked, "Step aside, and I will show you what has never failed." He strolled up beside the monk, leaned over, and whispered into his ear, "Have you heard the news? Your classmate Makarios has just been promoted to bishop of Alexandria." The face of the monk scowled.

You can have conquered all kinds of temptations, but if you give into the subtle sin of envy it will consume your soul. Envy, Proverbs says, rots the bones. There are other reasons we could look at in Scripture. For instance, envy destroys community. It's impossible to love and envy at the same time. But for now, let's stick with these two. Envy tries to get meaning out of something that is too small for our souls, and it ultimately destroys our souls.

One last question:

3. So what do I do about it?

What do we do about envy? Proverbs has two answers: worship, and eternity.

Proverbs 23:17 says:

Do not let your heart envy sinners,
but always be zealous for the fear of the LORD.

That term "fear of the LORD" is often misunderstood. It doesn't mean cowering or terror. It means worshipful awe, so much so that our awe of the LORD becomes the primary motivator of all that we think, desire, say, and do. It means that we get our primary meaning and identity from God and nothing else.

This verse gives us two kinds of passionate longing. It says, "Don't passionately desire what sinners have. Instead, passionately desire the fear of the LORD." In other words, exchange what you desire most in your life. It's only when you desire God more than you desire anything else that you are free. This is the essence of worship: attributing worth to God. Exchange your worship of lesser things for the fear of God, which is reverence and worship for who God is.

C.S. Lewis wrote:

To love and admire anything outside yourself is to take one step away from utter spiritual ruin; though we shall not be well so long as we love and admire anything more than we love and admire God.

When we worship God, we will no longer get our identity from anything or anyone else. Someone (Sam Storms) put it this way:

The prideful person is obsessed with comparisons, always measuring himself/herself against others. The proud person finds his identity in relation to someone he thinks of as a lesser (which encompasses just about everyone). The humble person finds his identity in relation to someone he knows is greater: Jesus!

The other way to conquer envy is eternity. Proverbs 24:19-20 says:

Do not fret because of evildoers
or be envious of the wicked,
for the evildoer has no future hope,
and the lamp of the wicked will be snuffed out.

Contrast this with those who fear the LORD, according to Provers 23:17-18:

Do not let your heart envy sinners,
but always be zealous for the fear of the LORD.
There is surely a future hope for you,
and your hope will not be cut off.

The psalmist combined the two ideas of worship and eternity when he talked about his struggle with envy in Psalm 73. What changed? "...till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny" (Psalm 73:17). Worshiping God allowed him to desire God above the prosperity of the wicked. It also helped him to take the long view, and understand that he had a future and a hope that the wicked don't have. And then he concluded:

Whom have I in heaven but you?
And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart
and my portion forever.
Those who are far from you will perish;
you destroy all who are unfaithful to you.
But as for me, it is good to be near God.
I have made the Sovereign LORD my refuge;
I will tell of all your deeds.
(Psalm 73:25-28)

Do you recognize envy in your life? The temptation is there in all of us. We will be tempted to long after things that really aren't big enough for our souls, and in the end it will destroy us. Envy rots the bones. The antidote is worship and eternity: to get our meaning and identity from God, not from lesser things; and to treasure him above all.

Let's pray.

You're meant to be dissatisfied. You're mean to long for more. You weren't meant to fill your cravings with things that can't fill your soul. We're far too easily satisfied.

Ungodliness is not just a set of sins. Someone's defined ungodliness as "finding fulfillment outside of God, which leads me to commit endless sins of the heart." We're supposed to long, but our longing is meant to be fulfilled in God, and in what he's bringing about in eternity.

I invite you to come this morning and repent of envy. The amazing thing about God is that while we were out envying after other things, God did not sit idly by as an unapproachable King. Instead the King went to a cross so that he could welcome us as we are and change our idolatrous hearts into hearts that long for him. Jesus gave up his hold on life so that we could be free from the things that have a hold on us. I invite you to come to Jesus who died for you, and to worship him this morning.

Wisdom and Money (Proverbs)

I really don't know what I was thinking when I planned this series. Last week we talked about sex, and this week we're talking about money. I seem to be heading into all kinds of trouble. You don't get much more personal than talking about sex and money, but both are recurring themes in the book of Proverbs. That's why we're talking about them. We can't live wisely unless we learn to live wisely when it comes to our sexuality, and also with our money.

We had mice in our house a few years ago. I set out all kinds of traps. One day I went to a trap and discovered a mouse there. I took the trap over the garbage and released the trap, expecting the dead mouse to drop into the garbage pail. Instead it ran away. That dumb mouse was smart enough to play dead until it could escape. That mouse may have been smart enough to escape the first time, but I'm pretty sure I captured it again, and that time it didn't get away.

Here's what we need to know: There are some traps that we tend to fall into. These traps have been around for thousands of years. The writer of the book of Proverbs has identified some of these areas, and offers advice to us on what we need to do to avoid setting off the traps and therefore ruining our lives.

One of the areas in which there are a lot of traps is the area of money. So today I want to look at what the book of Proverbs says about money. There's no way that we can look at everything the book of Proverbs says about money. I would encourage you to do what I end up doing with each of the topics we're looking at: to read through the entire book and to select the proverbs that have to do with a particular topic.

Even though we can't cover everything that Proverbs says about money, I think we can come up with a fairly useful summary of its message. When it comes to money, according to Proverbs, there are four things we need to know. Here's the first one:

1. Money is good

This may fall into the blindingly obvious category, but it's important to state. The reason is that some people have a mistaken view of money. They think that money is evil, that it's a bad thing. There are many people who think that the Bible says that money is the root of all evil, when in fact it doesn't say that at all. It says the love of money is the root of evil. Others glorify poverty. I remember sitting in a cemetery of all places eating lunch years ago with a person who said, "My life is just fine in every area except for one. I just wish there was no such thing as money." He had a very negative view of money. Some people think that it's wrong to save and to take prudent financial measures, like they pit spirituality against financial wisdom.

But Proverbs doesn't endorse this view, nor does it say that it's wrong to make lots of money.

For instance, Proverbs 6 tells us that we need to learn from ants and work hard, storing provisions in summer and gathering food at harvest. It says that poverty and scarcity come to those who are lazy.

Proverbs 8 tells us that God often blesses those who are wise with wealth:

With me are riches and honor,
enduring wealth and prosperity.
(Proverbs 8:18)

It says we should gather money by working hard and saving:

Dishonest money dwindles away,
but whoever gathers money little by little makes it grow.
(Proverbs 13:11)

And just one more example. Proverbs 22:4 says:

Humility is the fear of the LORD;
its wages are riches and honor and life.

I won't belabor this point, but it's an important one. There are some people who glorify poverty and look at anyone with money as being suspect. They think that there must be wrong with someone who has a nice house or who earns lots of money. They create this artificial dichotomy that says that spirituality is good and that money is bad. But there is nothing inherently wrong with money, nor is there anything inherently good about poverty. Money is actually a blessing from God. If you think that money itself is bad, you need to correct that thought, because you certainly don't get that idea from the Bible, or at least from Proverbs.

But here's the second thing that Proverbs tells us:

2. Money brings dangers

Don't make a mistake here. It's not that money is bad, but money does present some dangers. In other words, there are traps. This is probably the biggest theme to do with money in the book of Proverbs, so let's just look at a few of the dangers or traps we face when it comes to money.

One danger we face is the temptation to make money through unethical means. Proverbs 11:1 says:

The LORD detests dishonest scales,
but accurate weights find favor with him.

This proverb is repeated, which indicates its importance. It's basically an argument for honest business practices. When the weight of an item that's being sold is calculated dishonestly, it's detestable to the Lord. The Hebrew actually calls it an abomination, which is very strong language. It's the type of word that's usually used for sexual sin like cheating on your spouse. When you sell your house but you're not completely honest with the buyer about the condition of the house, or when you are in business and withhold information in order to make a sale, then those are corrupt business practices, and that is an abomination to the Lord.

Another danger is a little more subtle than that. Later on in the same chapter we read:

People curse those who hoard grain,
but they pray God's blessing on those who are willing to sell.
(Proverbs 11:26)

As I say, this is a bit more subtle. The picture is of someone making a business decision. If a commodity is scarce, then that scarcity can cause prices to go up, which could lead to a greater profit. A business person may be tempted to hold on to that commodity in order to make a greater profit, but then the community suffers because they need that commodity. Proverbs says that we can't focus only on the bottom line. The decisions that we make in business and as we make money are twofold: first, what makes good business sense? and two: what will benefit the community? If we don't ask how our financial decisions will help the community at large, and not just make money for me, then we're not handling our money wisely. We're falling into a trap.

Probably the biggest danger when it comes to money, though, is the one that's mentioned in verses like these:

Those who trust in their riches will fall,
but the righteous will thrive like a green leaf.
(Proverbs 11:28)

The wealth of the rich is their fortified city;
they imagine it a wall too high to scale.
(Proverbs 18:11)

Give me neither poverty nor riches,
but give me only my daily bread.
Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
and say, 'Who is the LORD?'
(Proverbs 30:8-9)

You know the problem with money? It's not actually a problem with money; it's more of a problem with us. When we have money, we tend to put our trust in it rather than in God. Those who are rich often end up being the most spiritually impoverished, because money can become an idol in life. It's what they depend on rather than on God.

C.S. Lewis said:

One of the dangers of having a lot of money is that you may be quite satisfied with the kinds of happiness money can give and so fail to realize your need for God. If everything seems to come simply by signing cheques, you may forget that are at every moment totally dependent on God.

Jesus himself said, "How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for the rich to enter the kingdom of God" (Luke 18:24-25). I've heard all kind of people say that the eye of a needle was a gate in Jerusalem, so Jesus is saying that a camel will have a hard time getting through this gate, but it's not impossible. The problem is that the gate in Jerusalem known as "The Needle's Eye" was built during the middle ages and was not in existence in Jesus' day. Jesus is actually saying that it's as likely that a rich person to enter the kingdom as it is for you to be able to thread a needle with a camel. It's impossible, unless God intervenes.

So there's a danger, and we need to recognize that this is a danger for every person here. I know that very few of us feel rich here this morning. For us, rich is about $50,000 more a year than what we're making. But if earn the average full-time income in the city of Toronto - the average, not the highest - then you are in the top 4% of richest people in the world. You don't feel rich, but indeed we are. We need to understand that money isn't bad, but that it has dangers. Jesus talked about these dangers, and warned us that the main alternative to following him is not following atheism or some other religion. It's following money.

So one: money isn't bad. Two: money brings danger. Three is almost the same:

3. Money has limits

Even if we avoid all the dangers that come with money, even if we are completely wise in how we handle money, we need to recognize that although money is good, money has its limits. Even if you avoid all the dangers of money, and instead earn it ethically, use it for the common good, and trust God - even then, money can only do so much.

There are a lot of verses that touch on this, but probably the best one for us to consider this morning is found in Proverbs 11:4:

Wealth is worthless in the day of wrath,
but righteousness delivers from death.

What's he talking about here? The writer has nothing against wealth. But there comes a day when money won't do a bit of good. "The day of wrath" could refer to a tragedy that hits us, or it could refer to the day of judgment when we stand before God. In either case, you can have all the money in the world, and it won't do you any good.

In fact, even in this life, money can bring you headaches that others don't have. Proverbs 13:8 says:

The rich may be able to ransom their lives,
but the poor cannot respond to threatening rebukes.

In other words, the problem with having money is that you can be robbed and extorted. You can lose your money in the stock market. You can make a bad investment and lose everything. But the poor don't have that problem. They've got less to lose, which means that they've got less to worry about in the end.

Let's review where we've come so far. Money is good. If you have money, you're blessed. But money comes with dangers and limits. You may be asking why money is so good if it comes with so many dangers and limits? It's because you haven't seen what Proverbs says about the best thing you can do with your money.

4. Proverbs gives us the key to wise use of our money: generosity

Proverbs 11:24-25 says:

One person gives freely, yet gains even more;
another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty.
A generous person will prosper;
whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.

This is a theme all throughout the book of Proverbs. Verse 24 literally says, "There is one who scatters, and yet increases all the more."

This is completely counter-intuitive. Common sense would lead us to believe that holding on to our possessions is a more certain way to wealth. It's a paradox. Here we're told that the best way to wisely handle our money, and to get even more, is to scatter it - a word that carries the meaning of throwing it "wildly, loosely, and freely about." It doesn't carry the idea of care and caution. In other words, the best way to handle your money is to be wildly and radically generous with it. Don't save it and accumulate it for your own purposes. Don't waste your life by playing it safe and living the middle class dream. Use what God has given you and be wildly generous with it.

The only way this makes sense is if you think agriculturally. The farmer who clings so tightly to the seed because he wants to keep it ends up with a bunch of useless seed. But the farmer who sows his seed in the field ends up with not only more seed, but a harvest as well.

This isn't just a theme in this passage. You can find it all throughout the book of Proverbs. It occurs over and over. For instance:

Those who are kind to the poor lend to the LORD,
and he will reward them for what they have done.
(Proverbs 19:17)

The generous will themselves be blessed,
for they share their food with the poor.
(Proverbs 22:9)

This is also a theme in the New Testament. Jesus himself said, "Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you" (Luke 6:38). Paul wrote to Timothy and said:

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life. (1 Timothy 6:17-19)

The reason we're talking about this today isn't because the church needs money. The reason is because although money is good in itself, it comes with dangers and limits. And the main Biblical way to neutralize money's dangers and limits and, ultimately, to save our souls, is to give it away. Ironically, the more we give it away, the more God will entrust to us.

You say, "How much do I give away?" C.S. Lewis said, "I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare." If your generosity is not affecting your lifestyle, your vacations, your purchasing habits, you are not giving enough.

We're going to take an offering in a minute. The primary reason that we give isn't because the church needs money. The primary reason we give is because although money is good, it comes with dangers and limits, and the only way to neutralize these dangers and limits is to be wildly generous and as much as we possibly can.

And our model for this, by the way, is the ultimate one who scattered: Jesus Christ. He didn't just give a little. He gave everything. He was literally scattered and broken for us. And because of that we are part of a harvest that will continue through eternity. "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich" (2 Corinthians 8:9)

Father, thank you for money. For whatever reason you have placed us in a prosperous country. Although many of us think we don't have much, the reality is, Father, that you have blessed us.

I pray that you would awaken us to the dangers and limits of money. Preserve us from the dangers of a middle-class, self-absorbed lifestyle. Teach us how to follow the example of Jesus Christ. Save us from the deceitfulness of riches. For those who are generous and willing to share lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life. In Jesus' name we pray, Amen.