August 31, 2014 - Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost
Wolves make bad pets.
We were at the wolf sanctuary near Tenino, Washington, not far from Cascades
Camp. Joanna was cooing over cute wolf pups, but our guide explained how wolves
came to them because they had attacked the people who raised them from pups.
Starting out, young wolves are cute and friendly, much like dog puppies. Their
instincts regard humans around them as their pack. But that’s the problem.
Every wolf pack has
alphas, a male and female leader. A wolf pup among humans will regard their owners
as alphas. But instinct programs younger members of a pack, at a couple years
of age, to challenge the alpha for dominance. So that cute, friendly, cuddly
little creature that seemed to love you so much will one day all of a sudden go
for your throat. That’s when animal control is called and the wolf, no longer
able to live in the wild, is either killed or hauled off to a sanctuary like
the one we visited.
Wolves make bad pets,
and certain kinds of people make bad friends. That’s one of the themes of Proverbs 19. And our Gospel lesson shows that people who are good friends can sometimes be
bad friends. This chapter of Proverbs talks about three kinds of bad friends:
fools, lazy people, and mockers.
Fools show up in the
first 14 verses beginning with a “better than” proverb in verse 1, “Better the
poor walking in integrity than one perverse of speech who is a fool.” It’s a
contrast explored further in the next few verses, because the fool here is a
rich liar. It’s better to be poor and honest than well-off and dishonest.
The first three verses
explore the range foolishness can take, from dishonesty to complete ruin in
verse 3, all using the image of movement, of going along a path or road. In Matthew 7:13, Jesus said, “wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to
destruction, and many enter through it.” Fools walk that broad road leading to
Note how verse 2 talks
about “desire,” about wanting something. For the past 10 or 15 years we’ve
heard people celebrate passion for an activity or goal. Christians talk about
having a passion for sharing the Gospel or a passion for helping the poor or a
passion for beautiful worship. But slip that word into this verse and read, “Passion
without knowledge is not good.” Mere passion, even for what is good, is no
substitute for knowledge and to guide what you do. As one of our backpackers
found out when he walked past and missed the trail back to camp, one who moves
too hurriedly, too passionately, can miss the way.
When we rush off
passionately but foolishly down the wrong road, whom do we blame? The end of
verse 3 says our heart far too often “rages against the Lord.” Our own folly
has gotten us into trouble. We spent too much or ate too much or rushed too
quickly into a relationship, but when it turns out ugly we put the blame on
Matching a word we
heard last week, verses 4 to 7 are the sort of foolish bad friends who are
there when you have plenty to offer, but disappear or think less of you when
you have little. So verse 4 says “Wealth brings many friends, but the poor are
left friendless.” Verse 6 fleshes out one side of that, talking about all the
friends generous people have, while verse 7 develops the other side, saying that
even poor people’s relatives don’t like them, so they can certainly expect to
be shunned by their friends.
That’s the kind of
friend Peter was to Jesus in today’s text from Matthew 16. Last week we heard Peter boldly declare his conviction that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God. But
this week, when Jesus starts talking poor, starts talking about suffering and
death, Peter turns on Him and tells Jesus He is wrong. Peter doesn’t want a
poor suffering Jesus as his friend. He wants a king Jesus who will make him
These verses about
friends and wealth suggest two lessons. Beware of such friends and do not be
such friends. In that moment when Peter was angry with Jesus for being poor and
powerless, Jesus got angry with Peter and told him to get behind Him, to go
away. We may wonder if some of our “friends” are simply there for what we can
do for them.
It’s not that friends
don’t help each other. Our epistle lesson from Romans tells us to help each
other and donate to each other’s needs and to show hospitality even to
strangers as well as friends. But when Aristotle thought carefully about
friendship he put those friendships which are merely about mutual advantage at
the lowest level. We don’t want to be or to have friends that are only in it
for what can be gained. So Romans 12:16 tells us to be willing to associate, to
be friends with those who are lowly, who are poor.
Friends there to take
advantage will show up for what they are. The end of verse 7 says that when you
call to them for help, “they are not there.” Ultimately, you see they are fools
and liars, fools because as in verse 10 they want the wrong things out of
friendship, like luxuries you can give them, and liars as in verse 5 and 9,
because they’ve deceived you about their motivations.
So verse 8 slips in
here to encourage us to be friends to ourselves, to “love oneself” by getting
wisdom and understanding, perhaps especially to discern what true friendship
is. And there it is in verse 11, “Those with good sense are slow to anger, and
it is their glory to overlook an offense.” We know that Jesus forgave Peter,
not just for Peter’s foolishness about His suffering, but for the even greater
offense of denying Him. That’s the kind of friend we want to be and have, one
who is willing to overlook, to forgive our failings.
As Christians that
spirit of forgiving friendship gets extended even to our enemies. In Romans 16:20, Paul is actually quoting Proverbs 25:21 and 22 when he tells us to kill our
enemies with kindness, to feed them when they are hungry and give them
something to drink when they are thirsty. Good friends do what is good, even
for bad friends. But we need to listen to verse 8 and really work at getting
wisdom to understand this.
Verses 12 to 14
focuses in on some very specific forms of friendship, first with a king, that
is people of power, and then with folks in our own families, children, parents,
spouses. In regard to being friends with “kings,” Paul told us in Romans 16:18, “If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”
That applies to people in positions of authority, whether government officials,
police officers, your employer or your teacher. As much as you can, be a good
friend to them. Make their work easier, not harder. You don’t want them growling
at you like lions, but blessing you like the gentle rain that fell yesterday.
It can be very
difficult and our lives are badly broken, but we do want to be friends with
those we live with. Verse13 pictures the broken side, both between parents and
children and between spouses, “A stupid child is a ruin to a father, and a
wife’s quarreling is a continual dripping of rain.” Many of us here in Oregon have experienced a leaky roof, and all of us know how constant, dripping rain can
get on your nerves. We don’t want to do that to each other, to turn the
friendship of parent and child, of husband and wife, into a slow, drop by drop,
torture of each other.
Instead, we find the
alternative in verse 14, to realize that the things bad friends want, property
and wealth, come to us by human means, by inheritance or hard work, but that a
true friend, like a precious, “prudent wife is from the Lord.” In the end we
need to seek God to have and to be good friends to each other. Like a number of
other proverbs, this one anticipates the last chapter which celebrates the good
woman who fears the Lord.
I said there were
three kinds of bad friends in this chapter. We’ve looked at fools, now verse 15
talks about laziness. Lazy friends can ruin our lives. “An idle person
suffers hunger.” In a family, when one person is idle, lazy, either about physical
work or about the work of the relationship, then we starve. A person who can
but won’t work will wreck a family. A spouse can be lazy about expressing
affection or encouragement or help when it’s needed, and the other person will
suffer a lonely hunger for love.
So, repeating a theme
we looked at bacl in Proverbs 6, the next few verses encourage diligence, the
opposite of laziness, inviting us to be and to look for friends who are not
lazy. Verse 16 says to be diligent in keeping God’s commandment. Jesus taught
us there is really just one commandment, with two parts. Love God and love each
other. Doing the second part is often how we do the first part. We love God by
loving each other. That’s what Paul was focused on in our reading from Romans.
He started out, “Let love be genuine.” Be real friends to each other, willing
to keep at the relationship, even when it’s hard.
The alternative is
there in the second part of verse 16. To be heedless about how we act toward
others, to be careless about God’s command to love, is to die, to cut ourselves
off from the true life which He wants to give us. Bad friends are those who are
lazy about loving others. Good friends keep at it and are rewarded by God.
Verse 17 says that kindness to the poor is like a loan to God, which He will
completely and richly repay. Those who take the trouble to befriend and help
those in need are investing in a relationship not only with them but with God.
Verse 18 tells us, “Discipline
your child while there is hope; do not set your heart on their destruction.”
That last bit is not a warning against murdering your kids. It’s sarcasm. It’s
telling you that laziness in regard to the hard work of good discipline is like
wishing destruction on your children. Letting them get away with doing wrong
because it’s easier is like planning to kill them.
Ask any good parent
about the effort it takes to keep a two year-old from killing himself. You
can’t be lazy about it. You can’t just go take a nap and leave him alone in the
kitchen. And it only gets harder as they get older to listen and talk and try
to guide a child into living in ways that are safe and healthy.
On the other hand,
there are people who are themselves so lazy about how they behave that keeping
them out of trouble is a never-ending job. So verse 19 warns against trying to
rescue a violent tempered person from the consequences. You will only have to
keep rescuing them again and again. It’s what we nowadays call co-dependency.
Verses 20 to 23
picture a life that is the opposite of lazy, accepting advice and gaining
wisdom, trusting future plans to the Lord, remaining loyal and truthful, and
living in secure and peaceful fear of God. In contrast, verse 24 gives us a
graphic picture of a person too lazy even to eat. That person reaches out and
puts a hand into a dish for food, but doesn’t even make the effort to bring it
back out. You don’t want a lazy friend like that. You don’t want to be a friend
like that. Friends are not lazy and careless about friendship. They put loving
effort into a relationship.
If you do a Google
search on “bad friends,” you will find it’s one of the main complaints. Bad
friends leave the whole burden of the relationship on you. You have to call
them. You have to plan whatever you do together. When things go wrong, you have
to patch it up and beg forgiveness. But real friendship is a two-way journey of
love, back and forth, sharing responsibility for the relationship.
And that’s how God wants
our friendship with Him to be. Yes, it all starts on His side. I John 4:10 says, “This is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his
Son to be an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” But God doesn’t just want to be
our Friend. He wants us to be His friends, real friends, who don’t just lazily
accept His love, but who make the effort to love Him back.
The third sort of bad
friend is the “mocker,” or the “scoffer” as verse 25 calls him and as verses 28
and 29 condemn. A scoffer should be struck, punished, so that others will learn
not to be like that. A mocker is an ugly kind of friend, and so the last few
verses here warn us away from them, and from being that sort of person. We’ve
all met people who take nothing and no one seriously. Sometimes we pay them
money, put them on a stage and laugh as we watch and listen to them mock anyone
and everyone. But there’s a definite line between a comedy act and a spiritual
attitude which has no real regard for others.
In college I found a magazine
in the library called The Wittenburg Door. It was the Mad Magazine of evangelical Christianity. It made fun of everyone, from Billy Graham to the
pope. It put Woody Allen on the cover as theologian of the year, and gave out a
monthly “green weenie” award to the most ridiculous Christians it could find,
like an Alabama preacher who often wore an asbestos undershirt and set himself
on fire to emphasize a sermon on hell. They quoted him to say he had only been
burned badly once.
I was a young
Christian, unhappy with my church. It was fun to see some of its silly faults
named and laughed at. However, after a year or so of reading the Door religiously, snapping it up as soon as the librarian put out the new issue, I
began to feel not quite right. There was still plenty of silliness to laugh at
and good jokes, like their doctored photo of the pope holding an American
Express card and saying, “Don’t leave Rome without it.” But the whole attitude,
that people of faith were just there to be mined for humor and ridicule just
didn’t sit well with me anymore. I didn’t want to be or be known as merely a
Perhaps the worst form
of mocking happens when rebellious children lash out against and alienate their
parents as we read here in verse 26. It’s not just the need for youthful independence,
it’s mocking that causes, “shame and reproach.” Whether it’s parents or a
church or friends or school or the country we live in, we need to recognize
when we are becoming mockers and turn back. Yes, my little Baptist church did and
even taught a lot of silly things, but they introduced me to Jesus. They loved
me and taught me the Bible. They encouraged me to be a pastor. They don’t
deserve to be mocked for that, only forgiven for their faults and loved in
The constantly recurring
theme of Proverbs is to pay attention to and not forget the instruction offered
in our youth. So verse 27 does a little mocking of its own by being sarcastic.
Literally it says “Stop, my child, listening to instruction, so that you can
stray from the words of knowledge.” It’s inviting us to do just the opposite of
what is right, and showing us that the outcome is a departure from real
There are a lot of bad
friends. They are foolish, they are lazy, they mock what is good and right. You
and I don’t want to have friends like that or to be bad friends. So let’s take
care to examine ourselves first. Are we wise in our relationships? Are we
making the effort to be good friends? Are we laughing too much at others?
In our Gospel text,
Jesus rebuked Peter’s bad friendship that made a mockery of Jesus’ mission to
give His life on the Cross. He then invited Peter and anyone to be His friend by
wisely considering where you are headed, whether you want to save your life or
lose it. And He asked us to take up our own crosses, to make the effort to be
His friends. Then the end will be nothing to mock, when we see the King who is
our friend, coming to bring His kingdom finally and completely to earth.
Valley Covenant Church
Copyright © 2014 by Stephen S. Bilynskyj