September 7, 2014 - Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost
over-educated and under-employed.” That’s what someone here at Valley Covenant
told me when I came twenty-one years ago to candidate as pastor. Maybe they
thought I fit pretty well in that picture. I’m not sure if it’s still true or
not, but if it is, I’d like to think we fit perfectly with verse 15, right at
the center of Proverbs 20, “There is gold, and abundance of costly stones; but
the lips informed by knowledge are a precious jewel.” According to the wisdom
of the Bible, profitable employment is overrated and good education is
That verse sits in the
midst of several verses which talk about how we do business. Our other texts
today have something to say about that same theme of work and business and what
is valuable. We heard Psalm 119:36 pray to God in the same spirit as our center
verse from Proverbs, “Turn my heart to your decrees, and not to selfish gain.”
Good business in God’s eyes makes us attentive to what He teaches rather than
worried about profit.
Maybe the best way to
understand this chapter and the good business it encourages is to start there,
in the middle, and work up and down to think together about what makes for God’s
kind of business. Let’s kind of bounce up and down this chapter, first toward
the end, then toward beginning, back and forth, working outward from its center
in verse 15.
Down to verse 16,
then, repeats a theme we’ve encountered before in Proverbs, this time telling us
you might as well go ahead and take the shirt off the back and empty the bank
account of someone dumb enough to co-sign a loan for a stranger. God’s wisdom
certainly has room for good business sense and harsh words for those with none.
On the other hand,
move up to verse 14 and read an equally harsh depiction of those who do
business without scruples. Ask anyone who has sold a house or a car. That
person looking at your faithful old vehicle notes that the tires are a bit
thin, that the coolant hasn’t been changed in awhile, and there’s a little tear
in the upholstery you hadn’t noticed before. Then when you lower the price a
few hundred dollars she’ll drive it away and text her friends about her sweet
new ride that was a steal. Buyers find all the flaws they can while haggling,
but then once a deal is struck they brag about the bargain they got.
Go the other way and
read verse 17, God’s judgment on doing business dishonestly, “Bread gained by
deceit is sweet, but afterward the mouth will be full of gravel.” We might
remember that it was the wicked woman Folly back in chapter 9 verse 17 who
entices people to their destruction with the words, “Stolen water is sweet, and
bread eaten in secret is pleasant.” The image here asks us to realize that what
we get dishonestly is ultimately going to feel like a mouth full of rocks.
It can be difficult to
know if what we have was gotten honestly, even if our purchase was totally
righteous. I’m rather proud of my cheap prepaid cell phone which cost me $60
and needs maybe $100 a year in minutes to do everything I need. But this week I
read that almost every cell phone and electronic device in the world uses
material from a mineral called coltan, which is mined in a country where we’ve
had mission work for a century, the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Coltan mining in Congo is uncontrolled, managed by independent militias. It exploits both workers and the
land. Congo is rich in resources, but poorly developed. The result is
corruption. Working conditions have no oversight and one article I read said
that poor miners are often raped or murdered. What is mined is smuggled out of
the country to China for electronics manufacturing, short-circuiting any
possibility that the profit can benefit the overall infrastructure or make the
average Congolese life much better.
So that maybe, like
other products I use, my sweet, cheap cell phone is really a pile of rocks
broken by the broken backs of the poorest people in the poorest country in the
world. I don’t know what to do about it. I don’t think I’ll quit using my
phone, but I may not find it so sweet, and maybe I will remember to pray for Congo when I take it out of my pocket.
On a more positive
note, when we head back up from the center again we find in verse 13 a good
business thought we’ve heard in Proverbs before, “Do not love sleep, or else
you will come to poverty; open you eyes, and you will have plenty of bread.”
It’s echoed in our reading from Romans 13:11, which tells us that it is the
spiritual time to wake up and be about the Lord’s business. Laziness and too
much sleep is not going to make us anything but poor both materially and
spiritually. But wide awake, open eyes are going to give us that bread we need
through honest work rather than deceit.
Five verses, then, at
the center of this chapter offer simple, practical wisdom on business, calling
us to work for that which is truly worthwhile in ways that are honest and fair,
avoiding foolishness like bad investments and sleeping in too much. But that
business advice is set in the larger context of a chapter which speaks to us
about the kind of personal character a truly good business person should have.
So keep moving up then
to verse 12 and read how those eyes we are to open up in order to do the
morning’s work are God’s creation. As we get ready for our daily tasks, let us
remember our eyes that see daylight and the ears that hear the alarm waking us
up were made by the Lord. He is the one who equips us for our work. He deserves
thanks and praise for what we accomplish this day, before we accomplish it.
Let’s open our eyes and go off to work focused on God. Spend a few moments in
prayer, maybe in reading Scripture too, and our business will be better before
You may have heard
business people quoting Sun Tzu’s ancient little book, The Art of War.
Comparisons between business and war abound, so bounce back down to verse 18 to
find a proverb that applies to business and war and everything else in life,
that good plans are helped by getting advice and guidance.
Bounce back up again
and we get the first of several verses in this chapter which teach us that good
business is not just about being awake and planning well and focusing on the
right things. To do good business we need to be good people. That shows up, as
verse 11 tells us, even in children. Our character is forming even when we are
young, by whether what we do is pure and right, or tainted and wrong.
We have to keep
moving, so don’t get whiplash as we swing back down to verse 19 for the
beginning of some warnings about the wrong kind of character. In business, in
family life, in church or any social setting, a person who gossips is a problem.
Businesses have trade secrets they don’t want revealed and not everything said
or done in a family needs to blabbed on Facebook.
Yet some secrets ought
to be exposed when they happen in business, so look up at verse 10 which
declares that “Diverse weights and diverse measures are both alike an
abomination to the Lord.” God doesn’t look at all kindly on cheating people with
phony measurements. Bounce right back down, skip a few lines, and see that
verse 23 says almost exactly the same thing. God truly hates corrupt, dishonest
business. He doesn’t care that it’s profitable to shareholders or that it’s
providing a needed service or that everyone does business that way. It’s bad
and He will punish it.
In fact, return to the
top half again and we see in verse 9, what Christians know and everyone should
know. We’re all guilty. “Who can say, ‘I have made my heart clean; I am pure
from sin.’” It’s why we have business laws and regulations. If everyone had
pure motives and honest hearts, perhaps we could rely on a purely free market
to regulate corporations, but we know that’s not how it works. Even trying hard
to do what’s right we all fail at times, let our selfishness overcome honesty,
like students trying to meet deadlines are tempted to take the easy road of
finding their term paper on-line rather than doing their own research and
Down in verses 20 and
21, which probably need to hang together, we get a glimpse of family business,
with children “cursing,” wishing parents dead, so that they can quickly inherit
an estate. All Proverbs can say is that such desire and such inheritance “will
not be blessed in the end.” If we let our desire for money and property
overrule proper love between family members, it’s a spiritual disaster, if not
a financial one. I can’t tell you how often I’ve seen the passing of parent or
grandparent turn into a family squabble over the estate. The pain of those
quarrels often lasts another lifetime.
So we aren’t always
good people doing good, honest business. As I implied, that’s why we need
government, as much as we dislike it. Swivel your eyes upward to verse 8 and
there it is, “A king who sits on the throne of judgment winnows all evil with
his eyes.” A good “king,” whether that’s a president or a governor or a local
mayor is meant to preside over a social arrangement where doing wrong gets just
punishment. It’s the same message a little farther up in verse 2, repeated on
the flip side when you swing down to verse 26, which calls for a wise king who
“drives a wheel” over the wicked and verse 28 which talks about a loyal and
faithful king whose rule is upheld by righteousness.
Now, you can work this
out politically in more than one direction, except I can’t see how the Bible supports
a view that we ought to get rid of government. And it’s more than just a
necessary evil. God gave His ancient people judges and kings and He wants us to
have the equivalent. God expects human beings to give themselves leaders who
will protect and care for those who can’t help themselves and punish those who
deceive and do harm to the helpless. However you vote, vote for people who will
do that, who will be like growling lions towards business people and
corporations who cheat and exploit. Vote for candidates who will drive a wheel
over those who lie, deceive and even murder the unprotected, like unborn children,
senior citizens, people with handicaps, and the poor.
If you’re like me, you
won’t find a leader, a politician who embodies totally good business in
government. It’s as true for them as for any of us, that no one is pure from
sin and from error. But pray for and vote for the best you can find. And if God
leads you, don’t hesitate to take an office yourself, whether in your
neighborhood or in your professional organization or in your country. Be the kind of leader you want to elect and maybe we’ll find some better people
for whom to vote.
As we rise back toward
the start and read verses 5 and 6 we find the question we may ask ourselves as
we think seriously about the way we do business and politics. As verse 5 says,
motivations are sometimes murky, but intelligent investigation will draw them
out. And when we do, the end of verse 6 asks us, “but who can find one worthy
That question, “Whom
can we trust?” cries out for answers back toward the end of the chapter. Verse
22 asks us not to seek revenge, but to trust and wait for the Lord to help us.
Verse 24 tells us that “all our steps,” all our direction through this life, is
planned and ordered by God. We can’t hope to understand even our own actions
without His help. We certainly can’t do good business without trusting in Him.
As you may have
noticed, our bouncing up and down is getting more frantic as we reach toward
the beginning and the end of the chapter. The ideas repeat. Verse 4 tells us
again not to be lazy and verse 28 matches verse 5 in calling us to utilize that
light which is God’s image in us to discern what is truly inside a person, to
Back up to verse 7 and
we hear a blessing on family business done with integrity. The result is happy
children. Maybe that has something to do with verse 3, which reminds us that we
“It is honorable to refrain from strife, but every fool is quick to quarrel.”
Let us keep teaching our children that it is good and honorable to walk away
from a fight and to stay out of quarrels, and perhaps there will be still more
Getting near the end,
verse 29 teaches us to honor everyone, young or old. Youth have their strength.
The aged have their gray hair and wisdom. We need each other. That’s why a
church shouldn’t be all seniors or all college students. We belong together,
learning from and supporting each other.
Return to the top of
the chapter for a strong warning in verse 1 about what can ruin us. I saw drink
be part of the destruction of my father, who was a brilliant man who spoke
seven languages. But instead of seeking God in his regret for his sins, he
sought the numbness of alcohol. He liked to think he was wise, but anyone could
see he was not. Maybe that verse is at the top to remind us that we sometimes
need to hit bottom, as some alcoholics learn, in order to grow wise.
So let’s go to the
bottom, to the last verse, which you might think is a kind of sadistic
celebration of punishment. It sounds like what our culture thinks Christians
do, that we beat up ourselves trying to get rid of evil and sin. But we can’t
really trust ourselves even to punish ourselves. It can and does turn ugly too
There are wounds,
though, which truly cleanse away evil and that’s why we’re here this morning,
to remember at this Table the wounds of Jesus. He gave His life on the Cross,
letting Himself be beaten and shedding His blood, to clean the innermost parts
of you and me. He was wounded for us. That’s the business He came to do.
Whom can you trust?
Trust Jesus Christ, who died for you and then rose from the dead for you, so
that He could raise you up into a person who can be trusted. Put your business
into the wounded hands of Jesus and let Him clean it up and make it good.
Let Jesus be your business Partner, and even if you take a beating, He will
raise you up again with Him.
Valley Covenant Church
Copyright © 2014 by Stephen S. Bilynskyj