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

Copyright © 2014 by Stephen S. Bilynskyj

Proverbs 24
ďGood SecurityĒ
October 5, 2014 - Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

†††††††† A deadbolt is good security. One summer between college terms I worked as a handyman. One of our jobs was to retrofit deadbolts on each apartment door. With burglaries increasing near Los Angeles, it gave the residents peace of mind to be able turn that additional lock behind them as they left for work or settled in for the night.

†††††††† Years later I was invited to be a special speaker for a weekend at our Covenant church in Oakland, Nebraska. Coming from southern California, and having lived near Chicago, I was amazed to find residents of that tiny community mostly left their doors unlocked. One family told us they werenít sure if they could find the keys if they ever wanted to lock their house. They felt totally secure. I doubt the local hardware store sold many deadbolts.

†††††††† Good security takes different forms. If you are wise, you will seek security for yourself and those you love. Thatís part of the message of chapter 24 of Proverbs, our text today. At the beginning and end we learn itís not only wise to secure a house, a household, a home, but that it is in wisdom itself that security is to be found. Wisdom and righteousness will make you safe, while foolishness and evil will put you and your home at risk.

†††††††† So the chapter begins with a message we heard last week in chapter 23 as well. Donít be envious of those who seem to prosper and do well through wickedness. Donít even desire their company, because their wealth and security just cover up the danger they are in.

†††††††† Then verse 3 gives us the theme of the chapter, ďBy wisdom a house is built, and by understanding it is established.Ē That theme is echoed at the end of the chapter in another, smaller collection of additional proverbs beginning in verse 23, as we read about careful preparation and maintenance of oneís land in an agricultural culture. It is all to say that we establish a place for ourselves and make it secure by becoming wise rather than by using wicked and selfish means to become rich or powerful.

†††††††† Verse 4 pictures† wisdom as wealth, ďBy knowledge the rooms are filled with all precious and pleasant riches.Ē Verse 5 tells us ďWise warriors are mightier than strong ones, and those who have knowledge than those who have strength.Ē In other words, this biblical conception of security turns our modern ideas about the value of education on its head.

†††††††† As I mentioned as we began our study of Proverbs, we are often inclined to think of education in terms of how much it enhances our income. A good education is one which will get you a good job, by which we mean a well-paying job. Skills and facts which donít directly relate to earning potential move to the back burner and we give the money and emphasis to subjects which will pay off.

†††††††† Whether itís Beth reading freshman writing essays or I reading pastorsí ordination papers, the two of us often bemoan a general lack of formal writing skills among younger generations. Yet my brother-in-law thinks it doesnít matter, tossing off a line heís used since high school, ďHow much does a sentence-diagrammer earn?Ē But according to Proverbs, thatís a foolish question. Wisdom and knowledge is about much more than income and job security. It takes wisdom and guidance to win a victory, as verse 6 tells us, whether itís in war or in the struggles of life.

†††††††† Thatís why in verse 7 fools ďin the gate do not open their mouths.Ē The gate of a city was where public discussion and justice took place. Itís the town hall meeting. Without any wisdom or knowledge of good self-expression, people have nothing worthwhile to say, and they fail to speak up when something needs to be said. If your company starts laying people off unfairly, but your own job is secure, you may not have anything to say if you arenít already in the habit of speaking the truth wisely and clearly.

†††††††† Verses 8 and 9 warn us against planning and doing evil and foolishness directly. It might be wrong to sit around a table and plan to sack full-time employees who are doing good work so you can turn around and hire part-time people at less expense. But verses 10 to 12 tell us that itís just as wrong, and just as insecure, to stand by saying and doing nothing while the firing is being done.

†††††††† We all like to think we would jump in to save someone who is drowning or to defend a person being attacked, but itís terribly easy to let considerations of our own security take over and keep us from helping.

†††††††† My friend Mark Alfano points out that psychological studies show that even the pressure of being late for an appointment makes us less likely to help someone in need. He cites a study at Princeton Seminary in 1973. Students were assigned to give a talk on the parable of the Good Samaritan at a place across campus. Then some of them were told they were late for their talk. On the way they saw someone slumped on the ground in distress. Almost invariably the ones who were ďlateĒ failed to stop and help.[1] The irony is obvious.

†††††††† Which all means that it is good to bear in mind that last part of verse 12. God sees and knows all our excuses. It does no good to claim ignorance, ďLook, we did not know thisÖ,Ē because God is looking into our hearts and watching how we respond to people around us. We may think we are secure, but our relationship with God is in jeopardy.

†††††††† The next verse seems a little odd, the advice to eat honey long before anyone had notions about processed versus natural sugars. And that advice gets balanced out in the very next chapter, verses 16 and 27, which warn against eating too much honey. But the point is to compare the sweetness and delight of honey with wisdom in verse 14. And itís in wisdom that real security is to be found, ďif you find it, you will find a future, and your hope will not be cut off.Ē

†††††††† Verse 15 sounds like a no-brainer for people like you and me. None of us is planning an ambush or home invasion. Itís a moral warning we donít really need. But verse 16 turns it into a blessing and promise for us when we seek the Lord and try to live righteously ourselves. The righteous may ďfall seven times,Ē but ďthey will rise again.Ē

†††††††† The parable Jesus told in our Gospel lesson reveals His own expectation that He would be killed by His own people. As Godís Son coming to the Lordís vineyard of Israel, He would be ambushed and murdered by people thinking they were taking control of their own future. But as we know, the real story ends with Jesus being raised from the dead by His Father and offering forgiveness even to the people who killed Him. And He gives us the hope of being raised again, no matter how often we fall in this life.

†††††††† That hope is meant to change our perspective on our enemies. First, in verses 17 and 18, weíre not to rejoice when itís our enemies who fall. If we accept Godís grace to raise us up when we fall down into doing what is wrong, then we need to be ready to extend that same grace to others who fall. Gloating is not for Christians, whether itís about military victories over ISIS or about seeing a dishonest co-worker get caught.

†††††††† In fact, verses 19 and 20 tells us to just quit fretting about evildoers. Thatís hard. Thursday evening I was just starting to turn left out of our cul de sac when a woman driving a big SUV came roaring up the hill from the right, going at least 45 or 50 in a 25 mile per hour zone. I slammed on my brakes and watched her go by, honking my horn at her disregard for the safety of our neighborhood. Then I fretted about her all the way to the store, wishing I had got her license plate number, wishing the police would set up a speed trap on our hill, wishing for a little justice to be done.

†††††††† But God invites you and me not to fret like that. If someone persists in doing whatís wrong, then ultimately have no future, like those evil vineyard tenants in Jesusí parable.† The Lord will deal with them, their lamp will go out, as verse 20 says. In the meantime, we ought to consider our own security, our own relationship with the Lord and with what is right and good.

†††††††† So verses 21 and 22 ask us to worry about, maybe even fret about, our obedience to the Lord and to the authorities he allows to govern us. Instead of letting myself get worked up about someone elseís driving, let me be a little more careful of my own attention behind the wheel. Instead of bemoaning the hatred and cruelty of radical Muslims, let me work on the feelings I have toward the annoying person who lives across the street.

†††††††† The last section of this chapter is another, separate small section of proverbs, added in here by whoever finally put the book together. But as I said at the beginning, it also speaks to the issue of security. Verses 23 to 26 go back to that earlier call to speak up and do what is right when there is wrong being done. We shouldnít fret about evildoers, but we should also tell the truth about them when it matters. If an athlete commits domestic violence or rape or even just cheats on an exam, those around him should not tell him he is innocent and ignore whatís been done just because he scores touchdowns.

†††††††† There is security in speaking the truth. As verse 26 pictures, an honest answer is like giving someone a kiss. Itís grace and kindness, even if itís hard and difficult truth, because it offers others the opportunity to acknowledge the truth and repent and do what is right. We want to be people who speak that kind of gracious truth to each other. Some of you have done that for me at times, and I am grateful for it.

†††††††† On the other hand, verses 28 and 29 warn us not to speak against each other without cause, to accuse another person dishonestly. We hear a negative echo of Jesus telling us to do to others as we want them to do to us. ďI will do to others as they have done to me; I will pay them back for what they have done.Ē ďIf someone lies about me, Iíll lie about them.Ē No, thatís not who we are as the people of God.

†††††††† We want to be a community of people who are secure together in the way we talk to each other and care for each other and come to each otherís help when needed. Thatís why I want to end talking mostly about that odd little verse 27, ďPrepare your work outside, get everything ready for you in the field; and after that build your house.Ē

†††††††† I had to read commentaries to understand that verse is picturing how to make oneself financially secure in an agricultural world. Donít just find a spot and build a house. Prepare your fields around it first. Plow and plant your vines and crops. Gather your livestock. Then you will have an income to support you when you build your house and settle down to live in a place. Itís slow, thoughtful preparation for a secure life of farming.

†††††††† Church here at Valley Covenant is about slow, thoughtful work together to be a community of help and peace and security in a scary world. Iíve started to read a book entitled Slow Church,[2] which says just that. Weíre not here to come up with flashy programs that quickly build up crowds. Iím not sure I could do that if I wanted to. But weíre here to plow the ground of hearts, plant the good seed of Godís Word, and then build a community together in which you and I and people around us can find security and hope.

†††††††† So you wonít find here a wicked cool worship band that records its own songs and packs in bunches of people ready to rock. You will find a place where anyone who has a musical gift to offer is loved and cherished and given an opportunity to share it.

†††††††† And you wonít find at Valley Covenant a carefully planned discipleship course that will take you through six specific classes and make you a mature Christian in 3 years. But you will find people who will take time to get to know you and your family and will do their best to share Godís Word and help you grow in Christ.

†††††††† Nor will you find here a special service for single people or a fellowship group for divorced people or a program to recover from addiction. You will find people that will love you and come alongside of you if you are lonely or struggling in your marriage or fighting temptation. They will visit you in the hospital and bring you food when youíre sick. They will give you a hug when your father dies and remind you of the hope we have in Jesus. They will celebrate with you when you graduate or have a baby or get a new job. And whenever you ask for it, they will hold you up in prayer and bring your needs to the Lord.

†††††††† Thatís the kind of security weíre building here, the slow, patient security of life together in Jesus Christ. Donít get me wrong. Weíre not always good at it. Thatís why we need to take a glance at the last few verses of Proverbs 24 and remember not to fall asleep at the job. Thatís why Iím reminding us this morning why weíre here.

†††††††† Yet we live together in the blessed security of Lordís grace, the grace that says if we fall down seven times, He will raise us up. He will. He will keep raising each of you and He will keep raising up this church which is His beloved house on earth. Iíve seen Him do it time and again. Rest in that and rest secure.

†††††††† Amen.

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



[1] In Character As Moral Fiction (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), p. 35f.

[2] By C. Christopher Smith and John Pattison (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Press, 2014).

 
Last updated October 5, 2014