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A Sermon from
Valley Covenant Church
Eugene, Oregon
by Pastor Steve Bilynskyj

Copyright © 2014 by Stephen S. Bilynskyj

Proverbs 11
“Good Business”
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 fisherman.

         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 their leisure.

         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.

         Good business 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 deaths.”

         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 always carries.

         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 only righteousness.

         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!

         Proverbs constantly 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 flourish.

         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 evolution.

         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 families.

         Instead, Christ 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 live forever.

         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 our souls.


         Valley Covenant Church
         Eugene/Springfield, Oregon
         Copyright © 2014 by Stephen S. Bilynskyj

Last updated July 6, 2014