Balance Beam

Proverb 21: 17 – 18          NIV

He who loves pleasure will become poor; whoever loves wine and oil will never be rich.

Wow! That is a powerful statement. We have become very developed in seeking pleasure whether it is our TV time, our hobbies, food, drink, vacations, or any of a number of pleasures. There is a place for recreation, no doubt. There is a time for play and there is also a time for work. Ecclesiastes teaches us that there is a time for everything (3:1). Solomon isn’t denying that in today’s proverb, after all, he was also the author of Ecclesiastes. The point I believe Solomon is trying to convey is that using our energy in seeking pleasure is a vain activity which leads, ultimately, to emptiness. We even work to fulfill our pleasures but there must be things of substance in this life and in this world which would give us much greater satisfaction that simply chasing pleasure.

Of course, the clear point that Solomon makes is that this seeking after pleasure will lead us to poverty and this is from the richest man to ever live upon the earth, even to this day. Solomon was so rich that he didn’t even bother with silver. I accept what Solomon suggests here but also speculate that the endless search for fulfillment in pleasure leads to an impoverished lifestyle. I mean to say that perhaps this person’s poverty does not see him living on the streets and begging at soup kitchens but that he is none the less very poor in spirit, in friends, in fulfillment, in rewarding relationships with his family, and a plethora of other ways.

The one pleasure that Solomon highlights in this passage is the desire for wine and oil. There are so many among us whose life seeps away at the bottom of a wine glass. Their ambition for more fruitful pursuits is swallowed up by the pleasure they seek in that glass. Time, which is such a valuable commodity, gets wasted when much good could have been done. All this pursuit buys is regret. We do not want this for our loved ones. Life is so meaningful but can we wasted so easily.

One of the biggest life lessons I have learned is that it is all about balance. You can work too much, play too much. Almost all things, even good things, can turn into negatives when we exercise them out of their proper balance. There are many nice and pleasurable things in our life and God gave us all good things to enjoy (1 Timothy 6: 17), but they can be overdone and then become detrimental to our lives. Paul wrote, “All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify (1 Corinthians 10: 23). Perhaps this is the admonition which Solomon is giving us today, that is, to spend our time in fruitful pursuits. Let us not run the race seeking pleasures only because at the end of our days on earth we, ourselves, will say, “Vanity, vanity; it was all vanity.”

Honor and Humility

Proverb 13: 18

Poverty and shame will come to him who neglects discipline but he who regards reproof will be honored.

This is a difficult verse and certainly for the maturing Christian rather than cultural Christians. Cultural Christian is my term for people who are Christians but who are not pursuing spiritual growth. We might call them passive Christians. This is not a passage for them because this one causes one to look introspectively. 

The word which is translated here as discipline can also be translated as instruction. So the honored among us are those who do not neglect instruction and correction. No one likes being corrected. Few will even stand instruction but for those who are masters of their egos rather than a slave to it there is honor and promotion. So, let us all look inwardly for a moment? From whom do I receive instruction? To whom am I submitted? Christians are expected to receive daily instruction. I think that can be seen in the number of devotionals which are available. Of course the master instructor is the Holy Spirit and we should all be tuned in to his daily program but let us not deceive ourselves. The Holy Spirit also uses people for his purposes.

First of all, not everyone is sensitive and listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit and some are just better receptors than others. Secondly, he employs people in every area of expertise to speak his wisdom. So each one of us should first of all submit ourselves to the Holy Spirit and take our direction from him rather than being our own leader. Second, we are deceiving ourselves if we think that we are not supposed to submit to human leaders. To think we should lead our own parade is just the voice of ego. You may be the leader of hundreds or even thousands but you should also have someone from whom you receive instruction and if need be, correction. 

The other side of the coin is, don’t follow someone who isn’t also a follower. We are all at various stages in the journey. Make sure that the person you are following is still travelling; a stagnate person can only lead you to stagnation. We should all be growing in the things of God. None of us has yet arrived but like Paul said, we press on to that high calling. If you want to follow that high calling you should submit yourself to another’s leadership and make sure that person is also submitted. Then we are all receiving instruction and growing the result of which is the unveiling of the mystery which is in Christ Jesus.

Poverty like a Thief

Proverb 6: 9 – 11

How long will you lie down, 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 in like a vagabond, and your need like an armed man.

God has promised to bless the work of your hands. In fact, in Deuteronomy 30: 9 He promised to “prosper you abundantly in all the work of your hand.” The point is, though, that you must set your hand to the plow, as it were. In Colossians 3: 23 Paul teaches that in “whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men.” 

We were never meant to be idle beings. God created the sloth for that purpose. Even in the Garden of Eden humanity was expected to work and produce. The Garden of Eden was nothing more than a seed garden. Adam and Eve were supposed to take those seeds and create a planet of Eden but they failed miserably. Fortunately, despite our failures God always has an alternate blessing plan. If you read the twenty-eighth chapter of Deuteronomy you see that He filled the environment with blessing. About the only blessing you will not find is the couch potato blessing.

Have you heard the expression “work hard, play hard”? Is there a reason that work comes before play in that expression? We must first work and then we play with glee.

Your work is meant to be a source of blessing not just a source of income. As a matter of fact, you may be retired. That does not mean that your work has ended. God may have called you into something new. And work doesn’t have to be a bad word. It is meant to be part of our fulfillment. Meaningful work is a delight. Truth be known, when we dedicate it all to the Lord it is He who does the heavy lifting anyway and we get to walk around in the blessing.

No matter what you are called to do it with all your energy as if your boss is Jesus because in truth he is. Do your work with joy. Your joy comes through the Holy Spirit and the joy of the Lord is our strength (Nehemiah 8: 10). You see work doesn’t have to be drudgery. If the Lord has given you something to do, do it with all your might and with joy blessing the Lord that you have something to which to set your hand. There are thousands and millions of people who do not have the opportunities that we have. God is blessing us.

If we do not arise and do what He has called us to do, He will take away what He has given us and give it to someone else to do. Then we will understand that our work was a gift and a blessing. Just a little folding of the hands, just a little laziness and all of a sudden you have moved yourself out of the blessing and into the curse. We have to understand that God has always, since the beginning of time, been trying to bless people. You see it all through the Old Testament. Then Jesus came to bring us abundant life (John 10: 10). You can see the parallel of God’s will in Deuteronomy 30: 9. It has always been about abundant blessing. But there is a thief among us so God began warning us early that Satan comes to steal, kill and destroy (John 10:10). If we fold our hands and slumber the devil will take free rein with our blessing. Guard diligently what the Lord has given you. He has put all things in your hands for joy and blessing. Don’t let the devil steal your blessing. Instead work diligently with a joyful heart giving the Lord thanks for the multitude of blessings He has given you. Make your work a praise offering to the Lord. Go to work with Him, take Him with you. When you take Jesus with you, then all things are a joy.