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“Relationship Blessers and Stressers”
Proverbs 15:17 and others
October 7, 2018
The character you cultivate determines the quality of your relationships.
I. Cultivate Character in the Family
II. Carry Character into the Community
Proverbs 15:17 Better is a dinner of herbs where love is than a fattened ox and hatred with it.
Cultivate Character in the Family:
Proverbs 11:29 Whoever troubles his own household will inherit the wind, and the fool will be servant to the wise of heart.
Proverbs 27:8 Like a bird that strays from its nest is a man who strays from his home.
Proverbs 16:32 Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.
Proverbs 30:21-23 Under three things the earth trembles; under four it cannot bear up: 22a slave when he becomes king, and a fool when he is filled with food; 23an unloved woman when she gets a husband, and a maidservant when she displaces her mistress.
Proverbs 19:13-14 A foolish son is ruin to his father, and a wife’s quarreling is a continual dripping of rain. 14House and wealth are inherited from fathers, but a prudent wife is from the Lord.
Proverbs 12:4 An excellent wife is the crown of her husband, but she who brings shame is like rottenness in his bones.
Proverbs 14:26 In the fear of the Lord one has strong confidence, and his children will have a refuge.
Proverbs 22:6 Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.
Proverbs 13:1 A wise son hears his father’s instruction, but a scoffer does not listen to rebuke.
Proverbs 23:15-16 My son, if your heart is wise, my heart too will be glad. 16My inmost being will exult when your lips speak what is right.
Carry Character into the Community
Proverbs 28:20 A faithful man will abound with blessings, but whoever hastens to be rich will not go unpunished.
Proverbs 27:10 Do not forsake your friend and your father’s friend, and do not go to your brother’s house in the day of your calamity. Better is a neighbor who is near than a brother who is far away.
Proverbs 17:17 A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.
Proverbs 18:24 A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.
Proverbs 27:17 Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.
Proverbs 11:16-17 A gracious woman gets honor, and violent men get riches. 17A man who is kind benefits himself, but a cruel man hurts himself.
Relationship Blessers and Stressers
Proverbs 15:17 and others
When Jesus was asked to name the greatest commandment in the law, he said “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38This is the great and first commandment.” Then he added “39And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” Love God. Love others. That’s his summary. So we should expect to see these two priorities reflected throughout the Scriptures. And we do.
Which of these two would you expect to see most in Proverbs, this book of wisdom for right living? Love others, right? Love for God isn’t absent in Proverbs, but it is not the focus. Love for others is a focus, and shows up not only in direct commands, but in practical instructions. Godly character that lives out love for others is first cultivated in families, then carried into larger communities. We’re going to look at both those aspects of loving others today and see that the character you cultivate determines the quality of your relationships.
Before we get there, I want to put this in the larger context, that true godly character is a consequence of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus’ apostle John makes this beautifully clear. 1 John 4:7-11 “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 8Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”
Our goal today is not to study the details of that Scripture, but it is foundational to all that we’ll say. The love of God was poured out in the incarnation of Jesus Christ, who by his death and resurrection paid for our sins and offers cleansing and new life to all who believe. God’s unfathomable love is the foundation; if he so loved us, we also ought to love one another. It’s in our relationships that the consequences of our salvation are worked out and seen. The practical cultivation of love for others and the practical weeding out of hateful and hurtful behaviors determines the quality of your relationships, starting with your family. Many years ago I read an interesting book called What My Parents Did Right. It had brief biographies by 55 Christians showing the benefits they had received from their parents. For example, Jill Briscoe, whose Bible studies and books have greatly influenced women’s ministries, says that the values her parents taught made a huge difference in her life.
“What did my parents do right? First, my sister and I had no doubt they loved us. It was abundantly evident. Second, family was our parent’s top priority. Now that I’m a believer I know this isn’t quite right: God should have had first place. Yet my sister and I were the recipients of great blessings because of that choice. A third thing our parents did was teach us to respect authority. When I occasionally received a letter of complaint from a teacher, I felt real dread as I walked the mile and a half home. Teachers were to be listened to and obeyed. I look on this heritage with thanksgiving, for when Christ became my Schoolmaster, I easily transferred submission and obedience to Him.”
“Another blessing was my parent’s emphasis on commitment. When you committed to something you followed through. This meant that my sister and I knew Mom and Dad would stay married. Differences between them were worked out in the context of the promises they made on their wedding day. There are no perfect parents, as mine would have been the first to admit. But I have a lasting picture of my mother kneeling each night at the side of her bed. Once I asked what she was doing. She answered without hesitation. ‘I pray every night, Jill, that God would make me a good parent.’ I want you to know,” Jill Briscoe concludes, “that God heard and answered that prayer.”
The same love and character displayed by these parents impacts all relationships, in church, with neighbors and in recreation, school and work. Proverbs shows that the character you cultivate determines the quality of these relationships. Our key verse is Proverbs 15:17 “Better is a dinner of herbs where love is than a fattened ox and hatred with it.” This verse reminds us that the most important things in life are relational: to love others and be loved by them. In families and communities where this love is expressed there is peace and contentment. But riches are unsatisfying. It’s better to be poor and living on rice and beans in a home filled with love, caring and commitment, than to have a rich feast but with strife, hatred and bitterness. Proverbs has a lot to say that reinforces this contrast, to fathers and husbands, to mothers and wives, and to children.
We’ll begin with warnings to those who are husbands and fathers. Proverbs 11:29 “Whoever troubles his own household will inherit the wind, and the fool will be servant to the wise of heart.” The Hebrew word translated “troubles,” is used to show the relational or social dimensions of sin. Thus Achan’s sin after the fall of Jericho brought trouble on the whole nation of Israel. Simeon and Levi murdered the men of Shechem and brought trouble on all Jacob’s people. Sin brings trouble on a man’s whole family. This is why one of my favorite Proverbs is 16:32 “Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.” True heroism is more about patience, reason and self-control than power and intimidation.
Proverbs 27:8 Like a bird that strays from its nest is a man who strays from his home. This is vivid. Male birds often provide for the nesting mother and baby birds. To abandon them exposes them to hunger and danger. In the same way a man who strays from home exposes his family to danger. So many men abandon their family for selfish pleasure or to avoid adulting. Studies have shown over and over that fatherless families suffer poverty and failure far more than intact families. But even a father at home can abandon his family in favor of his work, his hobbies or his addiction to media. These things leave your loved ones at risk. They will look for ways to get their needs met apart from you.
Fathers and husbands, you are called to love. Proverbs 30:21-23 is striking: “Under three things the earth trembles; under four it cannot bear up: 22a slave when he becomes king, and a fool when he is filled with food; 23an unloved woman when she gets a husband, and a maidservant when she displaces her mistress.” The earth trembles under . . . an unloved woman who is married. A marriage where the wife is unloved is an abomination. The earth cries out against it. Why? Because biblical marriage is about love. Ephesians 5:25 “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” To not love your wife is to sinfully reject Christ’s example and command.
But Proverbs also shows that one who is a wife or a mother also has a responsibility for godly character in the family. Proverbs 19:13 “A foolish son is ruin to his father, and a wife’s quarreling is a continual dripping of rain.” We’ve had enough rain in the last month to make that image painfully real to us. A wife who allows herself to be characterized by quarrels, by anger and by constant or extended harping will have the same impact on her loved ones as Chinese Water Torture. Verse 14 “Houses and wealth are inherited from fathers, but a prudent wife is from the Lord.” The dictionary says a prudence is “marked by wisdom or judiciousness in the managing practical affairs” Prudence is “skill and good judgment in the use of resources.” Things go better when we are reasonable, use good judgment and develop competence in daily life.
When Gail and I were young the stereotype of a wife was Lucille Ball, a ditz who was governed by impulse, emotion and excess. In more recent years the image was replaced by the feminist woman who leaves her husband in her dust as she drives her Mercedes to her corporate destiny. But Proverbs says it’s good when a wife lives prudently for her family. Relationships trump riches. Even if a wife does work outside the home, her prudence and judgment are focused on family relations, just as we saw for husbands in previous verses.
Wives too are called to moral strength. Proverbs 12:4 “An excellent wife is the crown of her husband, but she who brings shame is like rottenness in his bones.”
The word excellent refers to strength and moral substance, noble character. It’s used of David’s “mighty men of valor,” men of moral courage as well as physical strength. It is used in Proverbs of the strength of character women bring to their relationships. This is not limited to marriage, but if you are a mother or a wife God wants to give you strength for the sake of your family. The alternative is to be disgraceful, one whose moral failure that brings shame on herself and her family. This shame might be sexual, but it can also be due to anger, pride, selfishness, or any sin that cripples your influence in the lives of others. A woman who wants to be blessed by family relationships develops the strength of character wrapped up in these two words, prudent and virtuous.
Finally, many families also include children. It will be no surprise that Proverbs has a lot to say on this subject. Proverbs 14:26, NIV, “He who fears the Lord has a secure fortress, and for his children it will be a refuge.” We looked at this verse last week. Parents have a great motivation to fear God because our fear of the Lord, our awe and respect and especially obedience to him, makes our homes a safe place for our children. If fathers and mothers humbly fear the Lord, their children will see the family as a refuge, but those who do not fear God hypocritically tear down the spiritual, emotional and psychological security of their children. If you want to bless your family, sincerely fear God.
Finally, parents are called to cultivate godliness in our children. Proverbs 22:6 “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” Todd is going to explore this next week, but suffice to say that the Hebrew word for training is about the initiation or beginning of something. So when this verse says train a child, it really means, give a child a good start, initiate the child into life by setting him or her off in the right direction. A great illustration is teaching your child to ride a bicycle. If you run along and support them as they start, they’ll discover that the momentum and physics of the bicycle will keep them upright and moving in the right direction.
And children, your job is to be teachable. Respond to instruction. Proverbs 13:1 “A wise son hears his father’s instruction, but a scoffer does not listen to rebuke.” It’s easy, because parents are imperfect, for you to begin to think your parents’ guidance is useless. It’s better and safer to remember that your parents, even though imperfect or maybe even hurtful, do love you and want to guide you into wise choices, satisfying lives. You blow that off at your own deep risk.
Worship expert Robert Webber, tells a story in What My Parents Did Right about leaving college because it was too hard. He had messed up both his studies and his behavior. But when he got home he heard no lectures from his parents, just sadness and a desire to help.
Webber couldn’t find peace or a satisfying direction, and he finally asked his father “what do you think I should do?” “I think,” he said tentatively, “the best thing is to go back to the university. You need to learn that life isn’t easy. You’ll always have to work with people you don’t agree with. Besides, you ran from a difficult situation. That could start a bad pattern.” I knew he was right. I called and the dean said “We all breathed a sigh of relief when you left.” But the school had a policy that “we will let a student return on the strength of his father’s character.” “I told the dean of my father’s advice and was allowed to return.” A wise son or daughter takes seriously their parent’s advice.
What will be the result? Joy. Proverbs 23:15 “My son, if your heart is wise, my heart too will be glad. 16My inmost being will exult when your lips speak what is right.” There is no parent who hasn’t experienced, on some level, the unique joy of seeing their children make right choices. John says in his epistle that he has “no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” He’s talking about spiritual children, but it’s even more true in a family. This relational joy far surpasses any pleasure given by our children’s success.
So what have we seen? Character is cultivated in family and godly character will allow husbands and wives, parents and children to enjoy loving and satisfying relationships. As we each focus on having the character qualities God desires for us, faithfulness and love and wisdom and virtue and fear of the Lord, we’ll find ourselves able to participate fully in these blessed relationships. But of course, relationships also extend beyond the home. Home is a school where relational skills are learned and character qualities cultivated that go with us into our various communities of church, neighborhood and work.
Let’s look at how practical love is lived out beyond the home. Proverbs 28:20 “A faithful man will abound with blessings, but whoever hastens to be rich will not go unpunished.” As believers we’re given the opportunity to imitate God’s faithfulness in our dealings with others. Just as we learned in our families, we do this by truthfulness and integrity, by not being focused on material gain.
Proverbs applies this to friendships. Proverbs 27:10 “Do not forsake your friend and your father’s friend, and do not go to your brother’s house in the day of your calamity. Better is a neighbor who is near than a brother who is far away.” We are to be faithful to our friends and look to them for help in time of needs. It’s not that family is being put down, but often we are physically or emotionally far from family. Faithful friends are near when trouble comes. Gail and I have seen this over and over in the decades since we moved from our families. But we’ve learned that we also need to try to be that kind of friend. It’s the quiet decision to be a friend that forges connections in our lives and our church.
Proverbs 17:17 “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” Here the brother might be a birth sibling or a brother of the heart, but the point is that this person loves you at all times, in the hard times and the adversity as well as the good. This is what we talked about at the beginning: love is from God, and his loving rescue of us leads us to love others. All the time. Even in adversity. Love is the character quality that makes relationships work. All the fruits of the Spirit: joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness and self-control are elaborations of what it means to love one another as God has loved us.
This faithful love is deeply relational. Proverbs 18:24 “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” If all you have is acquaintances, or Facebook friends, no deep personal friendships, no openness of heart with anyone, then when times get tough you may find yourself alone. Surface relationships don’t cut it when you’re in crisis. It takes heart relationships. Are you cultivating those? Do you have friends to turn to? And who are you ready to stick with, even if they are making bad choices or responding badly to crisis? Would you share enormous amounts spiritual and emotional energy, of time and money, without grumbling? God’s people need webs of relationship so that each person has others to come alongside in need.
One of the specific things Proverbs calls us to in friendship is honesty, especially in rebuke and instruction. We’re going to look at specific verses later in this series, but for now let’s just consider Proverbs 27:17 “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” This is a key verse for men’s ministries because men, I think, are less likely to form close relationships and share stuff than women. But if we have relationships in which, as brothers, we’re accountable to each other, we can ask each other the hard questions, hold each other to God’s standards. Then we sharpen one another. I think both men and women need to be doing this not just in small group, but one-on-one, or maybe in a group of three where a level of real honesty and transparency can be achieved.
All of this reflects true biblical love for one another, the fruits of the Spirit. As a final example, Proverbs has a lot to say about one of those fruits, kindness. Proverbs 11:16-17, again NIV, “A kindhearted woman gains respect, but ruthless men gain only wealth. 17A kind man benefits himself, but a cruel man brings trouble on himself.” The great thing about kindness is it’s universal. You can display it in the family, in church, at school, in the neighborhood and the workplace. You can display it to believers and those who have not yet trusted Christ. It is almost universally appreciated. The dictionary defines kindness as sympathetic, with a helpful nature, forbearing, giving pleasure or relief. So we’re called to be sympathetic and helpful in our communities - reaching out and caring for others. That great question: how can I help?
There are two words for kindness in this verse. The first is the Hebrew word for grace or graciousness, giving when it’s not deserved. The other is chesed, God’s unconditional loving-kindness toward his people. We imitate God in being gracious and showing unconditional but practical love to those around us. Note again that relationships trump riches: ruthless men gain only wealth, but the kind person gains respect and enjoys godly relationships. Cultivate these character qualities in the family, carry them into the community, and you will have relationships that reflect God’s love toward you.
The teaching of Proverbs is remarkably close to the teaching of the New Testament. The character qualities we’ve seen in Proverbs are similar not only to the fruit of the Spirit, but to the character of Christ and to the aspects of love listed in 1st Corinthians 13 and other places. So today we need to ask ourselves “am I characterized by love for others, in my family and beyond, by faithfulness to them, by practical and moral strength as I care for them, by the fear of the Lord, by godliness and teachability, by kindness?” These are the things Proverbs teaches us to cultivate. By them our relationships will be blessed.