Character Matters

character-mattersYou can listen to the podcast here.

Last week Solomon told us that it’s tough to avoid issues when there’s a lot of talking. The tongue of the righteous is worth a lot, it’s like silver. If you use restraint in your speech, you’re classified as wise. Our speech really is an incredible indicator of what’s in our hearts. He also told us what’s it’s like to deal with lazy people. It’s nauseating, it’s irritating, and aggravating. This morning, Solomon hits on a topic he’s mentioned before, but gives us some additional insight into what qualities make up a person. Over the next couple of weeks as we look at these series of verses, we’ll see Solomon use the familiar pattern of contrasts that he love so much.

Proverbs 11:1-4 says, “A false balance is an abomination to the Lord, But a just weight is His delight. When pride comes, then comes dishonor, but with the humble is wisdom. The integrity of the upright will guide them, but the crookedness of the treacherous will destroy them. Riches do not profit in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death.”

What is character and why does it matter? Character can be defined as the mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual. Character is who a person is and it’s normally shaped by a person’s upbringing. Honesty and integrity are part of that make up. A lack of honesty and integrity also form that make up. Have you ever asked your kids to lie for you? You probably didn’t call it that when you told them if my boss calls, tell him I’m sick. If so and so calls, tell them I’m not here. Have you ever kept the extra change the clerk gave you? Are you habitually late? Are you generally unreliable? We might conclude these are minor things, but it reveals who we really are and that matters.

So Solomon brings out a business practice, “A false balance is an abomination to the Lord.” Back in the day, balances were used for nearly all commercial transactions. An item was placed on a balance and a stone or stones would be placed on the opposite side and balanced out to give a weight to whatever item was being sold. There was often corruption with merchants that used a false balance. In other words, the balance would not give an accurate weight of the item. This verse can be applied to any fraudulent or unscrupulous business practices. We see this evident today as well. From the guy selling meat and seafood off the back of his truck to the guy selling homemade DVDs of first run movies. From Jay Bans and Foakley sunglasses to the “authentic” Coach purses and Rolex watches found in the straw market in the Bahamas. Locals will remember the Cisco Travel Center at I-95 exit 1 in our little town that gave you 19 gallons of gas for the price of 20. God takes a dim view on crooked businessmen and calls these deceitful tactics an abomination.

Not only do businesses need to practice honesty in their dealings, but so does the customer. It has become quite commonplace for customers to try and swindle businesses. From the fake slip and fall in a store to the stealing of an item with an attempt to then return it, or the girl that buys the prom dress then returns it after prom. God expects honesty in all business dealings regardless of which side you’re on. As is his custom, Solomon offers the contrast that, “A just weight is His delight.” Does it seem strange that time is taken to mention this? It does because honesty is an integral part of godliness. You cannot be dishonest and be godly at the same time, it’s that simple. Perhaps you’ve heard the saying the customer is always right. That’s utter nonsense. Sometimes the customer is right and business owners need to acknowledge that. One thing is for sure, God takes pleasure in seeing people engage in honest business.

Here is it again. Solomon talks about pride once again. This time it’s not in a list of things God hates, but instead refers to who a person is. “When pride comes, then comes dishonor.” The end result of pride, whatever form it may take, always leads to dishonor. Dishonor is a state of shame or disgrace. 1 Cor. 10:12 reminds us, “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall.” Those that are filled with pride will fall at some point. This verse is consistent with a familiar verse found in Pro. 16:18 tells us that pride goes before the fall. When you’re proud, you take your eyes off of what’s important. The focus turns inward, it’s a self serving characteristic. When you read the biblical account of Lucifer’s fall in Isaiah 14, you will see that Lucifer was driven by pride. That passage has several occurrences of the phrase I will. That’s a good tip off to what the root is. This was the same appeal the serpent made to Adam and Eve in the garden. “You will be like God” the serpent told Eve. She wanted to be something she was not and could not be. Pride is a sin. Hold on a minute, you say; I’m proud of my kids, am I wrong? There is a difference in the pride you feel in your children and that which is self centered. No one would criticize a parent for saying I take great delight in my child. When Jesus was baptized in the River Jordan by John, God spoke from heaven and said, “You are My beloved Son, in You I am well pleased.” (Lu. 3:22) It’s the same thing as saying, this is my son, I’m proud of him. Of course, that can lead to a sinful pride where your child does no wrong and is way better than that other kid. The contrast to the proud is the humility of the wise. That’s how we know the pride Solomon is talking about is sinful. The idea is proud people are not generally wise or else they wouldn’t be prideful. Wise people know they haven’t arrived, they know they don’t have everything together, and they don’t pretend to either.

When no one is watching, authentic believers maintain their character. “The integrity of the upright will guide them.” Integrity is the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles. I lean strongly to the idea that integrity cannot be learned: you either have it or you don’t. I do believe it can be supernaturally given. I do believe that God can do an incredible work in someone’s heart that transforms the DNA of an individual into something supernatural. When that transformation takes place, that integrity will guide them. The opposite is true, “But the crookedness of the treacherous will destroy them.” In this context crookedness means exactly what you’re thinking it means. It’s their dishonesty, their underhanded tactics, they’re deceit, their overall opposite way of life. Wickedness and treacherous are used synonymously. It is this way of life that will destroy them. It’s a repeat of Pro. 5:22, “His own iniquities will capture the wicked, and he will be held with the cords of his sin.” It’s because it’s who he is. No matter how rich or wealthy you think you are, in the end it just doesn’t matter. “Riches do not profit in the day of wrath.” At death, everyone becomes equal. Royalty is removed, status is removed, position is removed and everyone is the same. On that day, presidents are the same as paupers. Kings are the same as commoners. Death is the great equalizer. Ez. 7:19 says, “They will fling their silver into the streets and their gold will become an abhorrent thing; their silver and their gold will not be able to deliver them in the day of the wrath of the Lord. They cannot satisfy their appetite nor can they fill their stomachs, for their iniquity has become an occasion of stumbling.” The understanding is the day of wrath refers to what will happen to the wicked because there is no relationship with Christ. If there was, there wouldn’t be wickedness or treachery.

“But righteousness delivers from death.” Yes, righteous people die all the time. That’s not what Solomon’s talking about. The death we experience is a separation of body and soul. The physical body dies, but the soul lives on. Some theologians believe Solomon is referring to the second death mentioned four times in Revelation. That’s the death commonly associated with the lake of fire. A person dies first physically and temporarily, but this second death is eternal. Righteousness can only be gained through a relationship with Jesus Christ and that is what Solomon says will deliver us. We will likely still experience a physical death, but not a spiritual death. Our souls will live on in eternity with God the Father, His one and only Son, and the Holy Spirit of God.

In this short passage, Solomon links arrogance and pride to fraudulent or corrupt business practices and links humility to wisdom. Money gained by corrupt business practices will do no good on the Day of Judgment. That corruption is part of the DNA of the wicked, but humility and integrity are character traits that are the best to display in our day to day lives and reflect the power of God in our lives.


Character Flaws

CharacterYou can listen to the podcast here.

Last week Solomon gave us some wise counsel on dealing with others. We’re not to withhold good from people to whom good is due when we have the power to do good right now. He also said we shouldn’t contend with a man unless we have a reason. This morning, Solomon continues with some commands that deal with character traits that are anything but godly.

Pro. 3:31-35 says, “Do not envy a man of violence and do not choose any of his ways. For the devious are an abomination to the LORD; but He is intimate with the upright. The curse of the LORD is on the house of the wicked, but He blesses the dwelling of the righteous. Though He scoffs at the scoffers, yet He gives grace to the afflicted. The wise will inherit honor, but fools display dishonor.”

Are these things obvious? Are you wondering why Solomon seems to tell us things that should be obvious, things that should be common sense? The difference in this passage from vs. 27-30 is that those had conditional clauses attached to the do nots. Don’t withhold good when it’s in your power to do good. Don’t tell your neighbor come back tomorrow if you can help him right now. Don’t be scheming against your neighbor while he thinks he’s safe and secure. Don’t contend with someone without cause if he’s done nothing to you. There’s a shift here that doesn’t include a conditional clause, but includes the reason not to do it. “Do not envy a man of violence and do not choose his ways.” Does Solomon really have to say that? Ps. 73:3, “For I was envious of the arrogant as I saw the prosperity of the wicked.” Paul seems pretty clear in Gal. 5:19-21: “Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” So envying is a deed of the flesh and we’re not to fulfill the deeds of the flesh, but are to be led by the Spirit.

Solomon is specifically talking about envying a man of violence. So we have to figure out what a man of violence is, and we need to understand it in the context of what he just said. Even though this may look random, Solomon is still talking about taking care of your neighbor from the verses we looked at last week. He’s talking about benevolence and justice. He’s talking about a person that uses violence to get ahead in life, to get what he needs to prosper. This person uses whatever force necessary to gain the advantage over someone that has something he wants. That’s why criminals carry weapons; so they have an advantage over you. Don’t envy this type of person. It doesn’t matter how rich they are or seem to be. It doesn’t matter what they have. How could any Christ follower envy someone like this? I cannot answer that, but it seems God knew there would be a draw to ill gotten gains. Have you ever been not totally honest on your tax return? Ever not give back the extra change? Ever play cops and robbers and everybody wants to be the robbers? Ever play Robin Hood? Ps.140:1 says, “Rescue me, O LORD, from evil men; preserve me from violent men.” Back in Proverbs, Solomon says, “Do not choose any of his ways.” This gives us an indication that there is a choice. If you were brought up in an environment of criminal activity or other ungodly or unlawful behavior, you don’t have to continue in it. The power of the Gospel can break that cycle.

The conclusion God draws is that, “The devious are an abomination to the Lord.” So the man of violence is also devious. Devious means skillfully using underhanded tactics. This man is dishonest and deceptive. Think about the stereotypical used car salesman. Think about those rent to own places. They are an abomination to the Lord. Is that too harsh? Abomination means inspiring disgust from God. These deceitful, devious, and dishonest people draw God’s disgust. But the contrast is that God, “Is intimate with the upright.” The opposite of the man of violence is the upright, the righteous, the authentic child of God that walks by faith. God has a close relationship, a fellowship, an intimacy with the believer because of what Christ accomplished on the cross. Just to make sure you get the separation between God and the unrighteous sinner, Solomon says, “The curse of the Lord is on the house of the wicked.” This is hardly consistent with those people that wrongly conclude that God is a God of love and that we’re all God’s little children. Apart from Christ, there is no possibility for a relationship with God and those that reject Christ have a curse placed squarely on their house. The word curse in this form surprising only occurs five times in the O.T. Why the hard line on this? Deut. 28:20 says, “The LORD will send upon you curses, confusion, and rebuke, in all you undertake to do, until you are destroyed and until you perish quickly, on account of the evil of your deeds, because you have forsaken Me.” Because you have forsaken God. That’s why you do the anti-God things you do. The flip side is, “He blesses the dwelling of the righteous.”

“Though He scoffs at the scoffers, yet He gives grace to the afflicted.” He gives back what is given Him. Scoff at God and He scoffs back. Scoff means to speak about something in a derisive or contemptuous manner. But grace is given to the afflicted. I don’t want you confused on this. God’s grace is lavished upon every human being, but you can’t disrespect Him, scoff at Him, curse Him, shake your fist at Him, mock Him, curse Him, and have no use for Him and then expect His judgment to be withheld. That is conditional based on our relationship with God through Christ. The assumption is that if you are an authentic child of God, you’d never do those things. James 4:6 quoting Ps. 138:6 says, “He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, “GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE.” Grace will take you to the throne room of God and enable you to be an overcomer. The final contrast is, “The wise will inherit honor, but fools display dishonor.” Who is wise? The one that finds understanding. The one that is lowly or afflicted tying in with the preceding verse. Honor is also translated glory. It is given as an inheritance because of who you know. Once again, the foolish are totally opposite.

True wisdom is from God. The one that finds it is blessed. Don’t be envious of people that seem to be getting ahead in the world from ill gotten gains or from cheating, lying, or stealing. Remember Solomon said that wisdom is far greater than riches and more precious than jewels. Don’t sacrifice the eternal for the temporary.