In this post we will whack a religious bee hive with our bare hands. The stings might hurt, but they will help.
Most life topics have been covered in the previous 19 chapters of Proverbs: gaining wisdom, honoring God, relationships, taming the tongue, work, etc. One topic that hasn’t come up thus far is that of drinking alcohol. For some reason I find that intriguing. But, I am not going to rattle a saber, or even a butter knife, on this topic.
But, I do want to point out a way of thinking, or believing, that flows out of this topic. It will involve us being willing to clear two hurdles to get to the conclusion. It won’t be comforable. In fact, if you harrumph at the thought of someone challenging your approach to the Bible, and how you arrive at what you “believe,” then you should click on the “X” at the top of this post and return for for Chapter 21 tomorrow. No kidding.
The Starting Line:
For those of you who didn’t dash for the nearest exit, and that is a good sign for you, here we go. Out of 525 verses thus far in the Book of Proverbs alcohol has been mentioned in one verse. So, 0.018% of the verses have dealt with drinking. There have been dozens of verses about seeking wisdom above all things, taming the tongue, working hard, treating others with mercy, and so on. Careful, we are approaching the starting point. From the entirety of what we have seen in Proverbs we can deduce this: Until we get the inside aligned with the Word — Scripture soaked-mind, upright heart, and wise soul — then we shouldn’t bang the drum about external things.
The First Hurdle: our ease creates a focus on the external.
I can sense your religious cheeks reddening.
God, in the Book of Proverbs, and throughout Scripture makes a big deal about things we ignore, but we often create a circus out of things that He says little about. Gossip, complaining, fibbing, and backbiting are things that Proverbs, and the rest of the Bible, shout about. Have you seen any “stop gossip” or “end complaining” campaigns by churches lately. I haven’t either. Perhaps we should focus on what God emphasizes and be discerningly cautionious on things He doesn’t stress as much.
Here is a point that might cause your back teeth to grind, or ache: Christians who live in luxury (think USA, not Indonesia) often stumble over issues of style rather than substance. It’s true. Christians who are being persecuted for their faith, and/or imprisoned for it, do not debate styles of church music, tattoos, or drinking. Think about it …
The reason that I jumped into this is to make a broad point (it follows this) and a deeper one (coming in the next paragraph): It is easy for Christians who live in comfort to skip past the basics of the faith and entertain ourselves with the non-essentials. We are exceptional at taking a minor Biblical topic, rendering judgement on it, and fashioning it into a religious emblem for full display. For example, if we spend more time protesting a certain movie than reading our Bibles, praying, and serving others then we have the whole thing upside down. This is due to pride — Proverbs has much to say on this — a pride craves creations of checklists used for grading others, or condemning things that we do not like.
The Second Hurdle: An old problem that is new to each generation.
The Gospels describe a group of people who lived comfortable lives, were schooled in Scripture, and ached to debate minor spiritual issues. This group missed the essentials of knowing and following God, and frustrated Jesus (and, ahem, they also crucified Him). Yes, you guessed it: they were the Pharisees — religious pugilists and moral legislators of the highest order. Jesus had nothing positive to say about them. He mocked them openly, publicly, repeatedly. The danger for us as believers who live in relative ease — compared to other Christians around the world – is us slipping into Pharisee-ism, aka legalism. If you invest more time in doctrinal and moral hair-splitting than loving and serving others, then you are on your way to being a Pharisee of the highest rank. BE CAREFUL!
But, don’t bank on my thoughts about legalism. Here are some of Jesus’ words about the issue of religious high-mindedness:
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel! “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. Matthew 23:23-28
OUCH! If you read that with a mind and heart wanting to hear God, then it felt like the sting of a dozen wasps. If you felt nothing reading those words of Jesus, or worse thought of someone else to apply them to, then congratulations, you are the person that Jesus was referring to.
It is worth noting here the use of so many exclamation points in those few verses. That is very rare in the Gospels, and in the Bible in general. You know what that means … Jesus was making a strong point, very sternly.
I know that this post is long. But, it is a reminder of what Proverbs is really about. Proverbs teaches us to pursue God’s wisdom and discernment, not more religious knowledge, morality superiority, or self justification. It is about becoming like Christ, and relating to Him, not religious rule-making or keeping. You have likely picked up that wisdom has a loving side, not a judgmental one; an open hand, not a checklist; a kind word, not a whip-like tongue.
Take a few moments and consider the previous points. It was not about wine or beer — or, for us Arkansans, moonshine — at all, they were the topic that got us to the root of it: focusing on what God emphasizes and minoring on what He minors on. Please, go back through this. Ponder. Pray. Ask yourself hard questions. Then, have a glass of wine. Just kidding.
Now, let’s sum up the rest of the chapter with a wide array of principles:
- Verse 3 – Any fool can start a quarrel, but the wise seek to end them. (even if they slipped up and started it).
- Verse 4 – The lazy wait for the perfect day to do their work. The perfect day never arrives. You just have to work anyway.
- Verse 9 – We all need a Savior who can cleanse our conscience, remove our guilt, and forgive our sins. His name is Jesus!
- Verses 10, 14, 17, and 23 – Cheating for gain — at work or personally — dishonors God and harms others. Do not do it. You can cheat with your motives as much as with your money. Yikes!
- Verse 12 – Our natural eyes and ears cannot receive from God, we must have spiritual eyes that see and ears that hear. God creates this by His Holy Spirit.
- Verse 13 – You will never read a book called, “Snoozing to Success.” Work and rest must be balanced, but much rest without much work has a name … you know it.
- Verse 19 – Gossips cannot wait to find your secrets, so they pry them out of you with flattery.
- Verse 22 – Trust God to right your wrongs and deal with others. We do not see the whole picture, have the right motives, or possess the authority to decide punishment.
Whew, I am tired from writing and are tired of reading. Thank you for hanging on through this post. Here’s the summary: Do not take a moral trinket and turn it into your spiritual hood ornament. Legalists do that. Do take time to grow in wisdom and grace, and share them with others. Christ-followers do that.
So, let’s both get some rest. Tomorrow’s post will be shorter. Maybe …