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Bible Thought

Read Your Own Mail

Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.

Proverbs 22:6

I have heard much debate on whether this verse is a promise or a principle. I assure you at the start, I probably won’t definitively clear that up for you in this post. But I do think we can learn something from the concept of the debate.

I think the question stems from uncertainty as to whether my actions can change someone else’s response and actions. I can’t be the Holy Spirit for someone else. However, I have power over my own decisions and actions. Therefore, I should do what is right regardless of how someone else may or may not respond.

Unfair Commands

This verse is a good launchpad for us to learn about one-sided commands. In other words, statements (or commands) that I am supposed to apply to me but that don’t take into account another person’s free will to do as they please.

The post from a couple of days ago that I titled Driving a Hard Bargain is an example of one of these types of statements. In the marketplace we are supposed to treat people fairly even if they don’t treat us fairly. Does this seem fair? That is the type of command I am talking about.

More Examples

In Ephesians five and six there are commands to husbands, wives, parents and children. Husbands are to love their wives. Wives are to submit to their husbands. Children are to obey their parents. And parents are not to provoke their children to wrath (not to frustrate them) while raising them in a loving, Christian environment.

If my wife does not submit, does that mean I don’t have to love her? Or if my children don’t obey, I am no longer under the obligation to raise them in a loving way? No!

This is where we need to see the command that is given to us (whichever person in the family we are) and live in obedience to that regardless of whether others in the family are doing their part. Don’t make your obedience to God contingent on whether other people obey the commands given to them.

Reading Your Own Mail

As a husband I should focus on what is written to me. When I love my wife, it makes it easier for her to submit. But I should love her whether she submits or not. And, as a wife, her obedience to God’s command is submission, whether I love her or not. Again, it is much easier for her to do her part if I do mine. And, it is easier for me to do my part if she does hers. However, I should not make my obedience to God’s command based on whether other people are also obeying.

My responsibility is to obey the part written to me.

This is what I call “reading your own mail.” Read what is written to you. As a child, I should obey my parents because it is commanded for me to obey. The command does not say, “you only need to obey if your parents are loving and promise to give you a car when you turn 16.”

Gentle Aside: Parents, it is a dangerous thing to constantly promise some type of reward for obedience. They should obey because God told them to, not because they will get a treat for being good. Giving them treats is not wrong. But you should be the ones training them, not allowing them to train you into giving them something in exchange for obedience.

Principle or Promise?

I have dear friends who struggle with the decisions their adult children are making. Dad and Mom have been faithful in the ministry God has called them to. They are heartbroken because they, understandably, want to hold onto Proverbs 22:6 as a promise. But their children are making decisions that have departed far from the path they were taught. How do you comfort them?

In a perfect world, with perfect parents and perfect children, I believe this verse is an ironclad promise. If I always trained my children perfectly in accordance to God’s leading and there were no outside influences to pull my child off path, then this is a promise I could rest upon.

But we don’t live in a perfect world. My children are pretty good kids, but they aren’t perfect. I know I haven’t always been the best example of a biblically obedient parent. And, no matter how much we may try to protect our children, they are influenced by their peers and the worldly media that reaches them.

This is certainly not an argument for never letting your children outside the home. Or, for signing them up for a monastery or convent the day they turn 12. The argument is for you to also look at the principle behind the verse.

If I, as a parent, will train my child in the ways of the Lord when they are young, it will be very hard for them to go astray from that. If they do go astray it will be in conscientious disobedience to God.

Another Aside: For my animal husbandry friends, this word train is interesting to me. It is from a word that filtered into many other languages that is used for what we would call today, imprinting.

I don’t know all the ins and outs of how psychology uses the term imprinting, but in the animal world it is used to help the new baby animal learn about the world. You do things to them—like stick your finger in their mouth and nostrils—to help them think that being handled in this way is a normal occurrence. Then, when you have to administer medicine later, they won’t be surprised by it.

The word translated train, morphed into other languages meaning the jaws, palate and neck. It can mean to taste, to put something in the mouth. Metaphorically it can mean to understand.

The Point

Whether this verse in Proverbs is a promise or principle is not the point today. My point is that I should do my part whether the other person does theirs or not.

Approach the Bible with the thought that, “I will do what I am commanded to do whether other people live in obedience to that or not.” When God gives a statement that should be obeyed, I need to look and see if it is written to me. Is it my mail? If it is, then I should read it and heed it.

If what is written is not for me, then I need to accept that others must make their own choice as to whether or not they will obey. I do not need to be the one to force them to obey. That is not to say that I can’t teach others what is right. Especially in the home, parents are told to teach God’s commands (Deuteronomy 6:1-9).

There are situations where it is appropriate to train others in how to obey God. And, in some situations, God has authorized you and me with the responsibility to carry out the punishment for someone’s disobedience. But, our obedience to His Word is not based on their obedience.

We must read the mail that is written for us. Then we should obey it because it is right to obey. Don’t base your obedience on the obedience of others.

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Bible Thought

When the Wise Is Instructed

When the scorner is punished, the simple is made wise: and when the wise is instructed, he receiveth knowledge.

Proverbs 21:11

I Can’t Learn That!

Have you ever heard someone say, “I’m not good at that kind of thing”? Or, have you said it yourself? We probably all have at some point. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that it is true.

Pay attention to how often people self-limit what they supposedly can and cannot do. You might be surprised by how often you hear people say they can’t do certain things. Or, how they tried something once and decided they were lousy at it and could never learn to do it well.

No one has ever picked up a pencil for the very first time and turned out an amazingly accurate architectural drawing. Or dabbled with oil painting and created something that would make Monet jealous. It takes learning and experience to build skill. Or, in the language of Proverbs, it takes knowledge and understanding to have wisdom.

“Learn a language? Not me!”

A friend of mine teaches people how to learn other languages. He was speaking to a group of missionaries when I heard him say something that has stuck with me many years later. He said that he often hears people say, “I’m no good at language learning.” To which he replies, “What language expert told you that? Or, did you decide that yourself.”

The conversation goes on and he finds out (almost every time) that they took a few classes and decided it was too hard. It’s not that the teacher told them they should quit because they were incapable of learning. It is that the student decided on their own that they could not do it.

People so easily limit themselves on what they can learn and do without regard for whether God would have them learn that skill. I wonder how many people have walked away from God’s calling on their life to be a missionary because they believed they could not learn a language?

The Best of the Best

Does everyone need to learn a language or learn to paint like Monet? No. But don’t limit God’s will in your life by saying you can’t learn something that you haven’t really put an effort to learning. Will you ever be as good as a professional translator or painter? Probably not. But you might be. You will never know if you never put in the effort to build the skills.

It would be better if you would just admit that you really don’t care about learning a certain skill. There is nothing wrong with that if that is not God’s will. Not everyone cares about being a great musician or carpenter. That’s OK.

Just don’t limit your God-given abilities due to laziness; or worse, to being a scorner. If God wants you to learn it, then it is worth the effort.

When the Scorner Is Punished

Remember that a scorner is someone who “moves the mouth in a mocking way.” If God has given you a task to do, don’t blow it off because, “I’m no good at that kind of thing.” That is like turning your back on God, rolling your eyes, and mocking God’s Word.

We’ve probably all heard preachers talk about how they ran from God’s calling on their life because they didn’t think they could do what God had called them to do. I am thankful that they eventually returned to following the Lord’s leading. But we should not glamorize that path.

I’m certain there are people in other professions who could give the same testimony. We just happen to hear preachers talk about it much more often.

What is God calling you to do? Are you like the scorner who has to be beaten to get him to do the task? Oh, how I want to be the man who is instructed by God to do something and then jumps right into the task; whether I think I am good at it or not.

In the past, you and I many not have eagerly followed the Lord’s leading, but we can start today to become like the wise one who builds the skill (wisdom) in what he is instructed to do. Don’t be like the scorner who must be punished to get him to move onto the right path.

Note

As an aside to this post, notice the language in the verse. It says, “when the scorner is punished,” and “when the wise is instructed.” These are individual scorners and wise (“scorner is,” “wise is“). This, like almost all of Proverbs, is intended to be read by a person and applied to that person. Most of the book is not written to a theoretical “whoever.”

Proverbs is written for me to apply to me. And for you to apply to your own life. Continue to read the book with this thought in mind: “How should I apply this to my life right now?”

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Bible Thought

Driving a Hard Bargain

Have you had the opportunity to negotiate the price of something at a marketplace? I know that, here in America, when we go into most stores the prices are fixed and culture says we should not ask for a discount. But there are many cultures in the world where that is not the case. There are even certain situations where it is expected that you would negotiate for an agreeable price.

Living in a couple of foreign countries and traveling internationally quite a bit, I have my share of market negotiation stories. Many of my stories I tell because I feel like I got a good deal. Most that I don’t tell are where I feel like the salesman made out better than I did.

You want to hear a couple of them? Consider this verse first.

It is naught, it is naught, saith the buyer: but when he is gone his way, then he boasteth.

Proverbs 20:14

After a couple of stories I will come back to the verse and see how it applies.

My Personality and Good Looks

A couple of years ago my wife and I were in the Philippines visiting some missionary friends. We went to a souvenir shop that actually had the prices on the products—a rare sight. And the prices weren’t terrible—even rarer.

There was a sign on the door that said prices were not negotiable. I intended to honor their sign and prices.

While in the shop we had a good conversation with the two ladies who were taking care of everything.

When we got ready to pay for our items I jokingly said to the lady, “I saw your sign that said prices were fixed and not negotiable. I won’t try to talk you down on the price. But, I wonder, do you have a discount for people like me with such a charming personality and good looks?”

She laughed and said, “No, I can’t do that.”

Then she totaled up the bill and gave us a 10% discount anyway.

I was willing to pay the asking price because I thought it was fair. The proprietor was willing to come down in price because she thought it was fair. It was a win for her and a win for me.

This is how I hope most of my market experiences end. And I think most do. It is best when the buyer and seller both feel like winners in the transaction. The seller doesn’t make as much as they could have, but they don’t feel bad for gouging the buyer. And the buyer feels like he got a fair price without robbing the seller.

When It All Goes Wrong

In May of 2003 I had the privilege to go to the country of Cuba. It was a wonderful trip. I would love to go again and see the many pastors that I met there. But, there is one bad experience that sticks out in my mind from that trip.

A caricature of me that makes me look 30 years older than I was.
A funny caricature of me painted by a street artist in Cuba.

One day, while my friend Reed and I were roaming the town looking for Deaf that we could invite to our meeting, we walked through a market area.

A lady had two wooden boxes she was trying to sell. I wasn’t really interested in her boxes, but she was very insistent that I look at them. To be kind I took them in hand and looked them over. I told her I was not interested. She asked me to name a price and I said I really didn’t want them.

She then said that the price was $17 for both of them. I didn’t want them for $17. I didn’t even want them at all. She started coming down on the price. Then she asked me how much I would pay if I did want them.

I told her that I would not even want them if they were $2. She kept dropping her price slowly down to $6. I kept telling her no. I really did not want the boxes.

Finally she said—as if I had pressured her into it—that I could have the boxes for $2. At that point I felt bad not buying the boxes. I told her I would give her the $2 and she could keep the boxes. She insisted I take them.

All these years later I feel like I stole the boxes from her. But, I would have also felt terrible in not giving her something. I still have the boxes somewhere. I have never wanted to put them on display.

This is one of those few times where I think the buyer and the seller both lost.

Win-Win

This verse in Proverbs 20 talks about a buyer that goes to the market and argues with the seller saying the value of the product isn’t worth the asking price. Presumably he talks the seller down to a price that is unreasonably low.

Then, after driving the price down, he walks away feeling victorious that he robbed the seller. There is no thought as to whether the seller will be able to feed his family on the price that was paid. Nor is there concern for the factory workers that aren’t paid a living wage to work in terrible conditions to provide the product for the seller.

I know there is the argument that says the seller doesn’t have to sell the product. But give some thought to the fact that sometimes it is better sell at a loss than not have any money to feed the family. The seller has money wrapped up in inventory. If they get $2 for a $10 item, that gives them $2 to live on even if it is an overall loss of $8.

The Bible isn’t saying we shouldn’t negotiate. However, don’t drive such a hard bargain that you are robbing someone of their livelihood. You should be able to walk away feeling like you both got a fair deal.

I understand there will always be people trying to cheat you, but that doesn’t mean you have to cheat others. Consider another verse from the same chapter when you are tempted to push a bargain beyond a reasonable point.

The just man walketh in his integrity: his children are blessed after him.

Proverbs 20:7
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Bible Thought

An Ignorant Soul is Not a Good Soul

A Soul Without Knowledge

Also, that the soul be without knowledge, it is not good; and he that hasteth with his feet sinneth.

Proverbs 19:2

It is difficult to go through life without an education. We can see babies constantly looking to take in as much information as they can. We often hear parents say that their baby is like a sponge. This is a true statement of any baby. It is their nature. They desire information (knowledge) so they can make sense of the world (understanding).

This verse says that it is not good to be without knowledge. This doesn’t mean that everyone needs to have a university education, but they need to have a desire to learn. Self education is what we participate in for our entire lives. Now it is a matter of how much work we actually put into it.

There has never been a time in our world when a person could so easily obtain knowledge than the times we live in today. Even without access to the internet, there are free resources available in just about any community.

I’ve traveled in many countries and love going into public libraries to see what they might have available. Sadly, free access to information is not a privilege every citizen of the world has available to them through a good public library system. But, that doesn’t mean that self-education is not possible. With curiosity and a desire to meet wiser and more experienced people, a person can obtain a better education than what they have now.

However, if you are reading this, then you have access to information. Avail yourself to that information. An ignorant soul is not a good soul.

A Soul With Wisdom

He that getteth wisdom loveth his own soul: he that keepeth understanding shall find good.

Proverbs 19:8

The one who works to obtain wisdom is one who loves himself. This is not an inappropriate self-centeredness; rather, it is a desire for improvement. It is a desire to learn how to understand the world and make wise decisions in light of that understanding.

Getting wisdom requires work. After knowledge is obtained, there has to be some experience with that knowledge to bring about understanding. The application of that understanding brings wisdom. Work is required.

The word translated getteth in verse 8 means to buy, trade, obtain. The idea is like that of a merchant who is always on the hunt for products to buy, sell and trade. He doesn’t accidentally find something that he can take to the marketplace. He is actively in search of new products.

We should always be searching for wisdom. Remember that Proverbs 4 says we can get wisdom and understanding. It is not something outside our abilities to obtain.

The second half of the verse says that the one who keeps a guard on his understanding will find those good things he has been searching for.

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Bible Thought

Through Desire a Man Has Wisdom

1 Through desire a man, having separated himself, seeketh and intermeddleth with all wisdom.

A fool hath no delight in understanding, but that his heart may discover itself.

15 The heart of the prudent getteth knowledge; and the ear of the wise seeketh knowledge.

Proverbs 18: 1, 2, 15

Again we see that knowledge, wisdom and understanding are things that can be obtained. Don’t fall into the false belief that you are either smart or you are not. Certainly some people have had more opportunities in life to get a better education than others, but acquiring knowledge, understanding and wisdom come through desire and work.

Not everyone has the same capacity for obtaining knowledge, but everyone has the ability to try harder to make use of the knowledge and understanding they already have. My point is that you don’t need to be self limiting and think that the wisdom found in Proverbs is only available to someone else. God put it in His Word for each of us.

Through Desire

Verse one tells us that we must have a desire for wisdom. We can obtain wisdom, but it doesn’t happen if we aren’t seeking it. Wisdom comes to those who are seeking for it.

The word translated intermeddleth means to fight with, to quarrel. Wisdom isn’t something you casually pick up along the way of life. It is something you have to strive for and maybe struggle with to obtain.

A Fool Has No Interest in Understanding

While a wise man desires to obtain understanding, verse two tells us that a fool has no desire to understand. Certainly this understanding would be applied to an understanding of God’s wisdom—His Word. But I think we see it demonstrated in many other areas too.

Have you met people who have no interest in learning new things? They have no curiosity or ability to wonder at something for the sheer joy of learning. While not everyone needs to be interested in every subject, these people seem to be interested in nothing.

When I see a Christian who seemingly takes no joy in learning anything new, I have to wonder if they are even interested in learning God’s Word and benefiting from the understanding that obedience to Him brings.

Getting and Seeking Knowledge

The prudent one (literally the understanding one) seeks for more knowledge. They aren’t satisfied with what they have. They want more understanding. They are constantly working to obtain more understanding. Understanding with the experience of application of that understanding brings wisdom.

This is not to say that a person needs to seek facts and figures for the sake of just knowing information. The goal is wisdom—an understanding of the facts that helps him apply that knowledge in life.

Not knowledge for knowledge’s sake; rather, knowledge that leads to wisdom for the sake of God’s kingdom.