Responsibility, Opportunity, And Unity In The Gospel
There are six things that the LORD hates,
seven that are an abomination to him:
. . . one who sows discord among brothers.
—Proverbs 6:16, 19
We didn’t come to church today to fine-tune our own righteousness or to airbrush our appearances. We came because we want to change. We want to know all about God he’ll tell us, we want to know all about ourselves he’ll tell us, we want his extreme grace for our extreme makeover, one step at a time. He has three steps for us to take today.
God speaks into three areas of our lives in Proverbs chapter 6 – how we handle money (verses 1-5), how we discipline ourselves (verses 6-11), and how we build community (verses 12-19). He uses negative examples to teach positive wisdom. His thought seems to progress from a bad example in verses 1-5, to a worse example in verses 6-11, to the worst example in verses 12-19. First, the wise father-figure speaks to his son who needs correction. You see “my son” in verses 1 and 3. Then the father speaks to the sluggard, but he does not call him a son. Finally the father speaks about a disruptive person, without even addressing him. In fact, the father feels so strongly about community-destroyers that he doubles up on this third bad example. Verses 12-19 break down into two parts, verses 12-15 and verses 16-19, but the theme is the same: “continually sowing discord” (verse 14), “one who sows discord” (verse 19). God our Father is calling us to take new steps of faith and repentance into responsibility, opportunity and unity, for the sake of Christ.
My son, if you have put up security for your neighbor,
have given your pledge for a stranger,
if you are snared in the words of your mouth,
caught in the words of your mouth,
then do this, my son, and save yourself,
for you have come into the hand of your neighbor:
go, humble yourself, and plead urgently with your neighbor.
Give your eyes no sleep
and your eyelids no slumber;
save yourself like a gazelle from the hand of the hunter,
like a bird from the hand of the fowler.
What is “putting up security” or “giving your pledge” for someone else? It’s co-signing a loan. It’s putting yourself up as collateral. It’s underwriting someone else’s speculative risk. It’s getting into a partnership when your partner’s default can bring you down. God is saying, in verses 1-2, “If you’ve done this, you’re not in danger of becoming ensnared, you’re already ensnared.” Even the Federal Trade Commission, on their website, warns us about co-signing:
You are being asked to guarantee this debt. Think carefully before you do. If the borrower does not pay the debt, you will have to. Be sure you can afford to pay if you have to, and that you want to accept this responsibility.
You may have to pay up to the full amount of the debt if the borrower does not pay. You may also have to pay late fees or collection costs, which increase this amount.
The creditor can collect this debt from you without first trying to collect from the borrower. The creditor can use the same collection methods against you that can be used against the borrower, such as suing you, garnishing your wages, etc. If this debt is ever in default, that fact may become a part of your credit record.
If the person applying qualified for credit in the first place, they wouldn’t be asking you to back them up, would they?
The Bible is clear in two ways. One, God wants us to be generous. Two, God doesn’t want us to gamble. The Old Testament commanded a culture of generosity. In Deuteronomy 15:1-12 God told his people to loan money to the poor freely, and every seven years all debts in the nation were cancelled, erased forever. God had been generous to his people, so he wanted them to create a culture of generosity here within a world of tightfisted, grudging exactitude. In the New Testament, when the apostle Paul sent Onesimus back to Philemon, he said, “If he has wronged you at all, charge that to my account” (Philemon 18). Paul covered his past debts. But Paul did not promise to cover any future debts. That is the warning here in Proverbs 6 when it says, “Do not put up security for your neighbor.”
God wants every one of us to take responsibility for himself. But if you put your financial future in the hands of someone the banks already think is a bad risk, you are acting irresponsibly and encouraging irresponsibility in that person. Look how serious it is. Look at the urgency of verses 3-5. God is saying, “Take decisive action. Get out of that obligation before it’s too late!” The Hebrew verb translated “humble yourself” in verse 3 suggests getting down on the ground and letting the other guy trample all over you and call you every bad name but you go ahead and let him do it and admit how stupid you’ve been, but get yourself free. The verb translated “plead urgently” means to pester, to badger. It means leaving a string of messages on the answering machine. But just hoping things will work out is foolish.
A friend of mine made this mistake. He was at home one day when a man came by to ask him to co-sign a loan for $250,000. The bank wanted more security. My friend thought, “He’s a good guy, I care about him, I don’t want to disappoint him,” and he signed it. He knew Proverbs 6, but he forgot it. Then the man went belly-up. And the bank came after my friend. He lost about $100,000 in cash. And the bank didn’t let up on him until he begged them not to throw his wife out of their house. He had jeopardized his wife’s future. He repented before God, and over the next ten years or so God graciously restored the lost money. It was pure grace.
If you are in a credit arrangement holding you hostage, you need to get free. Take back your own responsibility for your life. Or if you’ve asked someone else to do this for you, you need to set them free. And here’s the good news for every one of us. In the book of Job, he says to God, “Be my surety . . ., for who else will pledge himself for me?” (Job 17:3, REB). In other words, “God, I’m a bad risk. I need you to do for me what I wouldn’t do for someone like me. I need you to cover all my debts, past present and future.” At the cross Jesus not only wrote “Paid in full” across the record of our debts, he also tore up the ledger in which our debts could be written thereafter: “This he set aside, nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:14).
You’re free and clear with God through Christ. Now you can make something of your life. That’s where the sage goes next.
Go to the ant, O sluggard;
consider her ways, and be wise.
Without having any chief,
officer, or ruler,
she prepares her bread in summer
and gathers her food in harvest.
How long will you lie there, O sluggard?
When will you arise from your sleep?
“A little sleep, a little slumber,
a little folding of the hands to rest,”
and your poverty will come upon you like a robber,
and your want like an armed man.
What is a sluggard? Think of the way syrup oozes slowly out of a bottle when it is cold. That is the sluggard – sluggish and slow and hesitant when he should be decisive, active, forthright. His life motto is, “Don’t rush me.” The Bible says, “As a door turns on its hinges, so does a sluggard on his bed” (Proverbs 26:14). He is lazy, constantly making the soft choice, losing one opportunity after another after another after another, day by day, moment by moment, until he lies there helpless in his wasted life. Let’s all admit it, there is a sluggard inside every one of us.
That’s why the sluggard reappears throughout the book of Proverbs. What does Proverbs say about the sluggard? Three things. One, the sluggard will not make up his mind. Here’s a direct question in verse 9: “How long will you lie there? When will you rise from your sleep?” But that’s too definite for him. He doesn’t know. He won’t give an honest refusal, but he deceives himself by an endless sequence of little compromises.
Two, the sluggard will not finish things. On the rare occasions when he finds the motivation to get going, it’s too much for him. The impulse dies: “The sluggard buries his hand in the dish; it wears him out to bring it back to his mouth” (Proverbs 26:15). He doesn’t stick with a task all the way through to a strong finish. He is a shallow person.
Three, the sluggard will not face things as they are. Rather than embrace the challenge of life, he dreams up excuses: “The sluggard says, ‘There is a lion outside! I shall be killed in the streets!’” (Proverbs 22:13). A lion down on Main Street? I don’t think so. What’s really out there is a life, a job, a mission to fulfill for Christ.
What should the sluggard do? Go to the ant and take notes. How humiliating! The sluggard wouldn’t mind learning from Jonathan Edwards. The sluggard likes to philosophize. He likes to debate and speculate and bandy highfalutin ideas around with his buddies. But wisdom is saying, “Go watch an ant!” I don’t know anyone who has a Ph.D. in Antology. We want to study big important things. And it’s doubly humbling to go to ant school because the Hebrew word for “ant” is in the feminine gender. But we guys need this, because we are passive. We are so accustomed to being wait-and-see and hang-back and critical and guarded, we don’t even feel the shame of it any more. For a church to be filled with men energized, men working, men engaged, men intense, men of conviction and action – that’s exactly how we need to surprise people in our city. But we need to humble ourselves and admit our need and accept God’s simple remedy. It is so humbling that we, whom God created to rule over creation, need to go learn how to live from an ant. What can we learn from an ant? Three things.
One, inner motivation. Verse 7: “Without having any chief, officer, or ruler . . . .” There is no Boss Ant standing over the others with a whip. Ants don’t report in to anybody. No one has ever seen a foot-dragging ant. An ant has within herself all the motivation she needs to make something of her life, moment by moment, and she never lets up.
Two, hard work. Verse 8: “She prepares her bread in summer.” Under that hot sun she scurries about and gets the job done. You’re at a Fourth of July picnic, you’re relaxing, but the ants are carrying off the sugar one grain at a time, and they’ll be back for the Fritos. I don’t know if ants sweat, but if they do they don’t care. They don’t complain. They’re not above hard work. They seem to love it!
Three, future preparation. Verse 8: “. . . and gathers her food in harvest.” The ant works today for tomorrow. She is not hoping life will go her way. She gets out ahead of the next season of life. Here’s why that matters to you. There’s a winter blast coming your way. I don’t know when, I don’t know how. And you don’t need to go looking for it; it will come find you. But the winter of your discontent is coming. You getting ready, right now in this day of harvest? You stocking up on God’s Word? Are you exploiting today as an opportunity from God to become wise for tomorrow? One year from today, are you going to be a more fruitful man of God? Well, how is that going to happen? What is your growth plan?
The gospel shows us such glory in God and in ourselves, because of Christ, that gospel-people become accomplishment-hungry. A Christian family should be like an anthill, everyone busily accomplishing something. A healthy church is like an anthill, everybody actively achieving together. Wise people love goals and strategies to leverage their present into a better future. Sluggards are like Mr. Macawber, “waiting for something to turn up.” It won’t.
The sluggard procrastinates. He treats each precious moment of God-given life as no-big-deal. He isn’t astounded that the grace of God is giving him one more moment to live for Christ. What is the sluggard thinking? Verse 10: “‘A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest.’” Just a little bit more, always. But “a little” is not a little. Verse 11 predicts the eventual cascade of consequences crashing into his life with inescapable force. There he is, a tragic buffoon, helpless and worthless. In his book Lord, Make My Life A Miracle, my dad concludes this way:
Your danger and mine is not that we become criminals, but rather that we become respectable, decent, commonplace, mediocre Christians. The twentieth-century temptations that really sap our spiritual power are the television, banana cream pie, the easy chair, and the credit card. The Christian wins or loses in those seemingly innocent little moments of decision. Lord, make my life a miracle!
Some of us have been settling for “a little,” and not even noticing it. How long will you lie there? When will you arise from your sleep and accomplish something great for Christ? Stop telling yourself you’re a loser. Stop telling yourself your dad let you down. God has given you Christ, his very best. What are you going to do about that?
As we get traction in this way, we can expect counterattack. One of the devil’s favorite strategies is to disrupt our unity:
A worthless person, a wicked man,
goes about with crooked speech,
winks with his eyes, signals with his feet,
points with his finger,
with perverted heart devises evil,
continually sowing discord;
therefore calamity will come upon him suddenly;
in a moment he will be broken beyond healing.
The Bible looks at a sneaky, disruptive person and calls him “worthless” in verse 12. The Hebrew is beliyyacal. It means “without benefit or profit or use.” And that Hebrew word comes over into the New Testament as a name for the devil himself: “What accord has Christ with Belial?” (2 Corinthians 6:15). It’s wonderful to have doubters and skeptics here in church. But in the churches of America today we have members and even leaders who not on Christ’s side. Everyone sins stupidly. But some church people sin aggressively. That is what our passage condemns.
How do people sin aggressively? In little ways, but with huge impact. You see, in verse 13, the little acts of non-verbal communication – winking, signaling, pointing, to sow discord. I was sitting in the back row of a meeting once. The leader was up front. I noticed another man over at the right end of the back row leaning back in his seat, looking slyly at another man over on the left end of the back row, and rolling his eyes in disdain with a smirk on his face as if to say, “Can you believe that moron up front?” God is saying, in verse 15, “I will punish that behavior, because my Son died to bring you together in unity!” Look how intensely God feels about this:
There are six things that the LORD hates,
seven that are an abomination to him:
haughty eyes, a lying tongue,
and hands that shed innocent blood,
a heart that devises wicked plans,
feet that make haste to run to evil,
a false witness who breathes out lies,
and one who sows discord among brothers.
When the Old Testament uses this literary device (x // x + 1), as in “three // four” (Proverbs 30:18-19, 29-31) or “six // seven,” it’s the last item in the list that matters most. The seventh thing the Lord hates, “one who sows discord among brothers,” is the key to understanding the other six things the Lord hates. What he hates about haughty eyes is that their arrogance sows discord among brothers. What God hates about a lying tongue is how its gossip and slander sow discord among brothers, and so forth. God hates all discord with a passion. That’s what “abomination” means. It turns his stomach.
But God delights in unity: “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!” (Psalm 133:1). Christ himself dwells in the midst of unity. Our unity is his cross becoming real in our hearts, as we demote Self for his sake and we care about Self less and we exalt him more. By our unity in Christ, we’re not just being nice; we’re being prophetic. We are saying to all the divisive idols of this world, “Jesus is Lord, and you’re not. Jesus makes life sweet, and you don’t. Jesus brings people together, and you can’t. You have no claim on us here. We belong to the Lord Jesus Christ, the crucified Friend of sinners, and we will have the whole world know it.” He who was in the form of God made himself nothing, he humbled himself down to our level, even down to the level of a servant, all the way down to the level of a condemned criminal. Therefore, God delighted to exalt him (Philippians 2:1-11). Okay, now we know how to live, and how God will exalt us too.