July 6, 2014 - Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
The bottle of bait was
meant to last the day. My great aunt had a “secret” recipe for a soft dough
made from white bread, Velveeta cheese, and a little water and
flour. The night before we went fishing she would make a batch, pack it
into little glass bottles that used to hold salmon eggs, and assign one to each
The trick was to turn
that bait into fish. You couldn’t leave the lid off or it would dry out. You
had to be careful not to drop it in the water and get it soaked. It
was fun to toss little bits of bait to the small fry in the shallows, but too
much of that and you quickly got to the bottom of the bottle. If you cast too
hard, the bait would fly off the hook and be wasted. And the most frustrating
threats to bait supply were wily trout which would steal the dough right off
the hook, over and over, without getting caught. Trying to set the hook
too fast or too hard only aggravated the problem because it pulled the
hook right through the soft bait and left it behind for the fish to enjoy at
Good fishing meant
taking that little treasure of bait and carefully stewarding it, but
also putting it to solid use for its intended purpose. The result was a
creel full of fish to take home for the skillet.
means managing assets, stewarding them but also putting them to good
use so they result in profits. And fishing and business both take place in
the larger context of the business of life, which itself requires
that we discern our assets, those gifts which God has bestowed upon us,
and both steward and put them to use.
Proverbs 11, like most
chapters in the book, is a collection of sayings without any obvious single
connection or theme. But this Sunday “good business,” or “good fishing” as I’ve
described it above, works pretty well as a way to catch hold of it. Wisdom
takes hold of what we have been given and puts it to good use for God’s glory
and our neighbors’ good.
The first verse talks
literally about doing honest business. In both Leviticus and Deuteronomy, God’s
law commands honesty when you weigh and measure what you sell. The Lord
detests, the Lord hates the practice of cheating others by giving less than
they paid for. He bestows favor on those who deal fairly and truthfully.
Some of you know Kent and Bethel struggled to sell a house. They had to pour in money and suffer a loss to bring
things up to code and complete the sale. Yet it’s all done now and Kent told us Friday morning how he had resented all the time and cost involved for
purchasers he didn’t really like. But then he told us Bethel and him received a
note this past week from the buyers thanking them for all they had done to help
make the purchase possible for the price agreed, and for being honest and true
to the contract. That thanks and recognition of their integrity is the blessing
and favor of God on their business.
We hear a lot these
days about the dishonesty, arrogance and duplicity of people in business,
bankers who sell worthless investments, CEOs who chop jobs to raise stock
values, or oil companies which ruin ground water in communities they paid off
or kill wildlife with reckless excavation and transport of their products. Yet
there is still room and blessing for those who do business in the ways
described here in verses 1-3, with honesty, humility and integrity. Each
of us has that opportunity in whatever business we work.
But verse 4 warns us
not to mistake the business of making money, no matter how honest we are about
it, for the real business of life. When it comes to the end of the world, when
God’s judgment finally arrives on all we’ve done, on all the business we’ve
conducted, it won’t matter how much money has been made. “Wealth is worthless.”
What will save us is the theme of the next few verses, righteousness that “delivers from death.”
Over and over the rest
of this chapter contrast the results of righteousness with the results of wickedness.
Those who do what is right have a smooth path, they are delivered from danger,
“rescued from trouble” in verse 8. It’s those who do wrong who suffer in the
end, who are “trapped by their evil desires” in verse 6. Verse 19 tells us
“Truly the righteous attain life, but those who pursue evil go to their
We want hat justice,
that reward for the righteous and fitting punishment for the wicked. Seeking audiobooks
to hear in the car I recently started going through old Ian Fleming James Bond
novels. Bond on the side of truth and justice and some girl that needs rescuing
always triumphs over a villain brought down by his own traps and schemes. Mr.
Big gets eaten by his own sharks. Hugo Drax is blown up by his own Moonraker
rocket. Goldfinger drowns in a plane carried down by the weight of the gold he
You might object that
James Bond is not exactly a paragon of virtue, not much of an example for
Christian living, and you would be right. Yet he always trys to do what’s asked
of him by M. Bond is cruel and hedonistic and unfaithful to every woman he
meets, but he’s always trying to be faithful to his mission. That’s his one and
That’s almost the kind
of righteousness God invites us to seek. On our own and in ourselves we always
end up where Paul finds himself in our lesson from Romans 7 today, “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.”
Our wickedness and evil leads to disaster, whether it’s dishonesty or
unfaithfulness or cruelty. Yet inwardly Paul has a different aim in Romans 7:22, “For I delight in the law of God.” He wants to do what God wants him to
do. That’s the mission he’s trying to accomplish.
As we read the
contrasts between the righteous and the wicked here in this chapter and all
through Proverbs, that’s what wisdom asks. As we hear in verse 19 that “Whoever
is steadfast in righteousness will live, but whoever pursues evil will die,” or
in verse 20 that “Crooked minds are an abomination to the Lord, but those of
blameless ways are his delight,” the point is to make us want that
righteousness, to want with all our hearts and minds to be the people who
delight God. The only question is the one Paul asked at the end of Romans 7, how are we going to get there? How do we become righteous?
If there is any limitation
to the wisdom in Proverbs, it is that we are told again and again to be
righteous and wise, but we don’t find an awful lot of help with Paul’s problem,
the fact that we are often not righteous, not wise, not good. We know that “the
wicked will not go unpunished,” as verse 21 says, but like Paul we do not do
the good that we want.
You hear of some
horrible act of evil, child abuse or a shooting, and mutter like I do, “People
are just crazy.” Yet then we turn around—knowing perfectly well that it’s crazy—and
do something hurtful or dishonest or selfish. That homely image in verse 22, a
gold ring in a pig’s snout compared to a beautiful woman without discretion, is
a picture of us all. We God’s beautiful children ruin our lives and the lives
of others, taking His golden gifts and wallowing with them in the mud of anger
or lust or pride.
It won’t do just to
read Proverbs and go away thinking you will just apply it to your life, to your
business. These are good words, good maxims for any sort of business. Verses 12
to 15 are absolutely right to advise us to hold our tongues and to be
trustworthy with the confidence of others, to seek advice and to avoid risky
ventures like cosigning a loan for a stranger. But we need something more when
we find ourselves doing stupid, sinful things anyway, shooting off our mouths,
throwing our money away on useless junk.
That’s when we need to
turn to the New Testament and to the Gospel, to hear, as we heard from Jesus in
Matthew 11, that the only totally unwise thing to do is to reject Him and His
help with our righteousness problem. The only bad business that will ruin us
forever is to do what people did in Galilee, ignoring and criticizing Jesus.
There is no other help
and guide for the business of life, only Jesus Christ. Paul answers his own
question, “Who will rescue me from this body of death?” with “Thanks be to God
through Jesus Christ our Lord!
hounds us to do righteous business, to be honest and generous, as it constantly
warns us, like in verse 28, “Those who trust in their riches will wither, but
the righteous will flourish like green leaves.” It’s setting us up to make one
large, wise choice, to turn to Jesus and let Him change our lives, to let Him
forgive all our sins and make us over into righteous people who will truly
I’m willing to bet on
what Proverbs tells us here, on what Jesus says about wisdom and her children there
in Matthew 11:19. It’s those who trust in Christ and seek His righteousness who
are going to grow and flourish in this world and in eternity.
Jesus talked about His
critics being like spoiled, bored children who don’t appreciate any music they
hear, whether it’s happy or sad, a dance tune or a funeral dirge. They didn’t
like John the Baptist because he ate too little and they didn’t like Jesus
because He ate too much. And the critics of Christ and of Christianity are just
like that today.
Jon asked people to
read from G. K. Chesterton’s book Orthodoxy Friday evening. It reminded
me of the chapter where Chesterton shows how Christianity’s critics are like
the Galileans. They criticize Christianity because it turns people into docile
sheep, doing what they are told. Then they turn around and criticize it for
causing most of the violence in the world. They complain that Christians are
too divided, that there are too many denominations and different ideas of how
to be Christian, and then in the next breath they complain that Christians all
think alike and that they want everyone else to think like them.
Chesterton came to the
conclusion that if this position, this faith in Christ is being criticized from
all directions, then perhaps it is the one true conviction in the world.
If Swinburne is irritated because Christians are too happy, he wrote, while
also being irritated that Christians are too mournful and unhappy, maybe the
problem is not with Christianity, but with Swinburne. It is Christ who stands
at the center of it all, balancing out all the extremes of the world with His wisdom.
So Jesus tells us in
the Gospel that “wisdom is vindicated by her children.” Trust in God, trust in
Him, and see what the results are. Just as Proverbs invites us, look at how it
turns out for those who do evil and seek their own gain versus how it will turn
out for those who love what is good and are generous. Be pragmatic, like
economists and marketing people often tell us. Which way of doing business,
which form of life truly profits a person?
Verses 24 to 26 show
us a way of life that looks Jesus. Verse 24 tells us, “Some give freely, yet
grow all the richer, others withhold what is due, and only suffer want.” Jesus
came giving up His life for us and God raised Him from the dead. He invites us
to join in the same business. Verse 25 says it in both lines, “A generous
person will be enriched, and one who gives water will get water.”
People are talking
about how to turn water into a commodity that can be traded like grain or meat
and make a profit in financial markets. But Christians at Living Water
International and our own Covenant World Relief talk about how to dig wells and
give clean water to people who have none. Proverbs asks which sort of business
we want to do.
The first part of verse
29 of Proverbs 11 was made famous by the play and movie about the Scopes
evolution trial in 1925, “Inherit the Wind.” In the play, the character who
represents William Jennings Bryan quotes the King James Version, “He that
troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind,” to a fundamentalist preacher
who curses his own daughter for supporting the young man supposedly teaching
Creation and evolution
is a whole other discussion. It’s enough to say that we Christians can
absolutely affirm God’s good creation without having to totally deny He may
have done some of it over millions of years through evolution. What we want to
get here in this verse is how fruitless and unwise it is to live and speak in
harmful ways that alienate and separate us from others, especially from our own
invites us into lives like His. We heard His invitation today: “Come to me, all
you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart,
and you will find rest for your souls.” That’s the wisdom He has to offer us,
that He said was often hid from the smart and the wise, but which God gives to
those who come like children ready to learn.
That wisdom of Jesus
brings us to the next to last verse of this chapter, “The fruit of the
righteous is a tree of life, and those who win souls are wise.” That phrase
“win souls” is an unfortunate carryover from the King James and makes it sound
like this verse is about aggressive, door-to-door evangelism or something like
that. But it literally means to acquire or gather lives, to save lives.
The real, practical
business of righteousness turns our lives into a tree of life for those around
us, like the Cross of Jesus is the Tree of Life for all who come to Him. From
that Tree grows the fruit that makes us live forever, His broken Body and shed
Blood which we receive at His Table this morning. And when we generously give
what we have, when we even give up our lives to do what is right, we share that
fruit with those who also need His life, His grace, and they too are saved to
Verse 31 sums it all
up, the whole business of life. It’s the eternal profit and loss statement that
even the righteous will get what’s coming to them, and so it will be even more
with those who do evil. I Peter 4:17 says that judgment begins in God’s house,
and that if it starts with us, “what will be the outcome for those who do not
obey the Gospel of God?” Proverbs invites us to not find the answer to
that question, but instead find the wisdom of Jesus.
Proverbs says that
righteousness is the straight path, the easy way, the successful business. It’s
using your bait to catch fish instead of losing it or throwing it away. It’s
investing in what really profits. Righteousness is blessing and safety and joy
and long life. It’s Jesus who makes all that true because His yoke, His
business, is truly easy, and His burden is light, and He will give us rest for
Valley Covenant Church
Copyright © 2014 by Stephen S. Bilynskyj