You can check out the podcast for this message here.
Last week Solomon laid out some principles that will help us sail smoothly through life. Righteous people are delivered from death where the wicked take their place. A very important principle Solomon introduced is the value and wisdom of godly counsel. Smooth sailing does not mean there won’t be issues or trouble in this life, but the righteousness of the godly provide the tools necessary to glorify God and remain steadfast in His will. This morning, Solomon provides us some principles that apply as we engage in activities typically associated with the community.
Grab your Bible and read Pro. 11:15-21.
The first principle we’ll look at today has been said before and the question remains, who would do this? Back in 6:1 Solomon used the conditional clause, “If you have become surety for your neighbor.” That verse was generally directed at debt and it was conditional. The principle comes full circle when Solomon says, “He who is a guarantor for a stranger will surely suffer for it.” The answer does not have to do with sin, but with wisdom. There is no prohibition against cosigning a loan for someone. Insert the word someone for stranger and you get the application for us. Since we’re talking about wisdom and not sin, you need to evaluate the circumstances. Solomon is saying when you act as surety for someone, as a guarantor for someone, you “will surely suffer for it.” Not everyone that has served in that capacity has suffered for it. He’s speaking in general terms. And what kind of suffering are we talking about? The word used here for suffering means to be affected by something. Even if that person you act as a guarantor for pays back the loan, you still had that responsibility hanging over your head. You take on the responsibility for the loan because you know the person, you know his circumstances, you know their habits, and their values. You believe it’s safe. When you get involved in the financial affairs of others, it’s generally painful. That’s what Solomon is saying. “But he who hates being a guarantor is secure.” If you don’t cosign this loan, I won’t be able to buy that car, house, boat, etc. There is no scriptural mandate to take on the responsibility of someone else’s debt. When you have a general aversion to this, Solomon says you are secure. There’s nothing in the back of your mind, you don’t think about it, nothing hanging over your head. You free up brain cells because it’s one less thing to think about.
Our second principle tells us, “A gracious woman attains honor.” I love that word gracious. I think of the ladies of Downton Abby with their proper manners, their decorum, their sophistication, their elegance. Of course, it’s easy to do all that when you have someone else that gets you dressed and feeds you and takes care of all the chores. Gracious here means courteous, kind, and pleasant. You do not have to be wealthy to be gracious. He’s talking about the beautiful character of a gracious woman. Families and communities honor such women. I think of women like Barbara and Laura Bush, Margaret Thatcher, Condoleezza Rice, Jacqueline Kennedy, and Princess Diana. Of course those are all famous women. I also think of my wife whom I absolutely adore. It’s not just because she’s gorgeous, she is a true woman of God. In the context of Proverbs, I think graciousness and godliness go hand in hand. We’re not talking about perfection, but a passionate pursuit of Christ.
What’s very curious is the contrast Solomon uses next. “A gracious woman attains honor, and ruthless men attain riches.” It’s good to be ruthless in business, right? We have shows like the Shark Tank and the Apprentice that demonstrate the ruthlessness needed to get ahead in business. Being ruthless is how you get rich in business. It means showing no compassion. Cut throat, eliminate the competition, work harder and smarter than the other guy. We even have corporate espionage. This is the only place in Proverbs where Solomon makes a comparison of this type between a man and a woman. He compares a kindhearted or gracious woman and a ruthless man. That ruthless man wants to get ahead and he’ll get ahead by any means necessary. They seek respect and honor by what they do, but the gracious woman gains honor by being nice. It seems that grace is better than strength and honor is better than wealth. If you let that verse stand alone, it can easily be misunderstood. When you take v. 16 with v. 17, the whole picture becomes clearer. “The merciful man does himself good, but the cruel man does himself harm.” Look at the pattern of the people in these two verses: kind woman; ruthless man; merciful man; cruel man. It seems mercy has a medicinal quality to it – someone that practices mercy makes himself good. When you are cruel, you end up hurting yourself so don’t be cruel.
Here’s a familiar principle. Vs. 19-20 says, “He who is steadfast in righteousness will attain to life, and he who pursues evil will bring about his own death. The perverse in heart are an abomination to the Lord, but the blameless in their walk are His delight.” We see a pattern here as in the previous two verses. Solomon talks about wickedness, righteousness, righteousness, and wickedness. Those exact words may not be used, but they convey the same idea. Solomon is driving home the point of the results of wicked behavior. “The wicked earn deceptive wages.” Those wages are deceptive because they are fleeting. Those riches are left behind and all are made equal at death. The wealth of a person is not taken into consideration at judgment. Paul said it this way, “The wages of sin is death.” (Rom. 6:23) If you’re thinking that’s not the same thing, Solomon goes on to say, “But he who sows righteousness will attain to life.” That life will be long, healthy, and prosperous. The opposite is true, when you pursue evil, you will die. You can’t blame God when your evil ways, your evil behavior, and your evil manner of life leads to your death. Paul’s next thought was, “But the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Righteousness and wickedness are incompatible. Goodness and evil are incompatible. Those qualities may have been part of your character, but God changes you through Christ. That’s where true freedom lies. The wicked earn deceptive wages, but the righteous are paid in wages that are eternal. That’s what verse 19 is saying. When you are consistent and persistent in righteousness, you attain life. Steadfast means dutifully firm and unwavering. If you are truly a child of the King, this quality is supernaturally infused into your DNA. That’s why I get so weary with people profess to be Christians and the only evidence to support that is occasional church attendance and some don’t even do that. Pursuers of evil bring about their own death. To close out this section, Solomon gives us another contrast and it has to do with judgment.
Verse 20 says, “The perverse in heart are an abomination to the Lord.” Perverse means an obstinate desire to behave unacceptably and in context, it’s from God’s perspective. Perverse is translated “froward” in other versions which means hypocrisy and double dealings. Justice is pretended, but wrongdoing is what’s in store. Notice that it’s the heart – the seat of the soul. What’s in the heart comes out. You can pretend with other people, you might even fool yourself, but you can’t hide it from God. “. . . .but the blameless in their walk are His delight.” I’m sure you know why this is. It’s a no brainer really. Walk refers to manner of life. It refers to who a person is . . . . really. I think people spend a lot of effort pretending to be something they are not. People pretend they have a relationship with God, but without a corresponding lifestyle of godliness. Its often veiled in false spirituality where the words lead, led, feel, moving, etc. are used to put people into an incontestable position to do what they want to do. I always find it amusing that this leading rarely is to a place of deeper commitment, devotion, or duty, but rather to places of limited accountability and lower expectations. God takes great pleasure in His children that are willing to follow Him in directions they were not expecting.
Just to be sure you know exactly where Solomon is coming from, “Assuredly, the evil man will not go unpunished, but the descendents of the righteous will be delivered.” I think we all know that evil will be dealt with, but the second part is not so clear. Do not read that to say if you are a child of God, your children have a place reserved for them because of who you are. Don’t equate deliverance with eternity. Deliverance does not mean salvation. The idea is that your behavior affects not just you, but your children and your grandchildren too. Sometimes God sees fit to deliver because of their godly ancestors. The Old Testament is filled with examples of this.
In these verses, Solomon speaks of the affect of our lifestyle on our community. That lifestyle, whether godly or wicked impacts people. As the behavior and thinking of the people move away from godliness, the morality of the society declines. I think we would agree that we can see this happening all around us. The answer is not for us to shrink away from godliness, but to boldly live our lives as an example of Christ’s transforming power in our lives.