Do You Want A Fireproof Life?

Do You Want A Fireproof Life?

Friday’s Column: Brent’s Bent

Brent Pollard

In Proverbs 6, Solomon offers five items of advice. These five protective measures encompass everything from financial decisions to sexual purity. 

In verses 1-5, Solomon advises his sons not to take on someone else’s debt. Please remember that this is not a reference to the compassion God expects from His people. This guidance isn’t even about assisting a family member in need. The crucial distinction occurs in the second verse. According to Solomon, this is an example of speaking before thinking. The victim fell into a trap he created with his own words. One can only speculate why someone would make such a hasty pledge. It could be for appearances or because you believe the other person will do something good for you in the future. 

This warning makes me think of what Paul told the young preacher Timothy. “Do not lay hands upon anyone too hastily and thereby share responsibility for the sins of others; keep yourself free from sin”  (1 Timothy 5.22 NASB1995). We should remember that if we praise someone before we know what kind of person they are, they may hurt our reputation if they turn out to be less than good. “Guilt by association” is something that a lot of people think is true. Think about the damage that someone else’s debt can cause. If they don’t pay, you’ll be on the hook for a debt you never owed in the first place! The person who doesn’t do what he needs to do could ruin your finances. 

Solomon says to go immediately and ask the other party to remove you from the pledge. It would be best if you didn’t go to sleep until the other person lets you out of the promise. Solomon even says that if you have to, you should beg. Then, even though it’s unpleasant, you deliver yourself like a prey escaping the hunter. (This part of Proverbs 6 makes me want to talk about the “entitlement mentality” and how helping others isn’t always best for their personal growth, and how they should live within their means, but I’ll be good and stay on task.) 

In verses 6 through 11, we are told not to be lazy. In this passage, Solomon tells us to look at the ant. Solomon praises the ant’s tenacity in the absence of a leader. Even though ants have a queen and use pheromones to talk to each other, this doesn’t change Solomon’s point. If you’ve ever watched ants, you know that they don’t need taskmasters to watch over them all the time. The ants take charge. Whatever the queen tells them to do, they do it right away. The bigger ant doesn’t crack his whip to make the smaller ones work harder. Even the Greek Aesop noticed this, using an ant as the main character in one of his stories. The ant worked hard to prepare for winter, while the grasshopper (originally a cicada) preferred to play. When winter came, the ants were happy, but the grasshopper came to ask for food. (It’s important to note that the ant showed no kindness in the early versions of the story. The grasshopper, or cicada, got to “reap what he had sown.”) 

Again, the New Testament has a cousin to our text. Paul tells the people of Thessalonica that people who don’t work shouldn’t be allowed to eat (2 Thessalonians 3.10). Laziness creates poverty. Solomon says that if one is “twiddling his thumbs,” poverty appears as a “vagabond.” As an American, I prefer to use the term “hobo” rather than “vagabond” because it conjures a more familiar image for my fellow citizens. I don’t know if hobos still exist today, but there were many of them during the Great Depression. Trains took these (mostly) men all over the country. They would never “hit a straight lick with a crooked stick.” They even made a hieroglyphic language that they left for other hobos. These symbols told you which houses would give you food, which would share food in exchange for work, and which places would give you food if you talked about religion. (In some respects, I cannot help but compare this to the recent “Great Resignation. The hobos decided to take advantage of the economic downturn to abandon society. In some ways, the same is true of those who choose not to report to work after COVID-19 disruptions.) 

In verses 12–15, Solomon tells us to look out for bad people. Solomon says you can find “tells” about these people if you look for them. Most of the time, we use the word “tell” in the context of poker. If someone gets a good hand, he might make a specific face. In the same way, other players know when he has a good hand. The same is true for his facial expressions or body language when he gets a bad hand. The wicked’s body language may show they want to do bad things. Their offensive language can also show who they are. As another implication, tells can also be used to talk to a partner. For example, a bad guy might communicate to a partner how to best ambush you. Solomon has already said we should avoid these situations at all costs.  

Now we get to the part of Proverbs 6 that most of us know: the seven things that God hates (6.16-19). These sins are interesting because they start in the heart and take over the sinner’s actions. A haughty expression means more than just arrogance. It means that a person thinks he or she is better than others. And if he is better than other people, his will comes first. Even his whims are more important than what you need. So, his pride, shown by his eyes, comes out in his lying tongue. People who lie do it to get the upper hand in a situation or avoid getting in trouble if caught. See how arrogance leads to lying! Because people often tell lies to save their necks, the sinner shows that he cares more about himself than his neighbors. So, if he has to shed the blood of innocent people to help his cause, he will.

Once a sinner gets to this point, he plans to do bad things and is willing to put in whatever effort is needed to make them happen. After that, he will tell any lie, even if it means lying about someone else. Lastly, this sinner is ready to ruin other people’s relationships to get what he wants. You’ve probably heard that all seven of these sins were done by those betraying Christ, giving Him to the Romans. It shouldn’t be a surprise. Can you think of Caiaphas? He said that Jesus should die instead of the entire nation of Israel (John 11.47-53; 18.14). Caiaphas, Judas, and the religious leaders of the Jews all do things that are on the list of seven things that God hates. It may take more thought to put the pieces together, but I’m sure other sins will follow the same pattern (e.g., abortion). 

The remainder of Proverbs 6 is devoted to sexual immorality. We’ve already said that young men like the thrill of new experiences that a “strange woman,” like a prostitute or an adulteress, can give them. Solomon spends some time here explaining why adultery is the more expensive of the two encounters. Although he does not condone illicit relationships with prostitutes, adultery is worse than those relationships. Adultery is a sin against God, the lawful spouse, the adulterous woman, and oneself. Prostitution is a sin against God, the prostitute, and oneself. (Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6.18-19 that sexual immorality is a sin against oneself. We don’t always think of ourselves as people who could be hurt.) “Can a man take fire in his bosom and his clothes not be burned?” (6.27). Of course, this is not true. Any sexual sin will hurt him. 

But the young man pays a different price for his extramarital sex. Most English translations use awkward language in verse 26, making it hard to understand what Solomon meant. “…for the price of a prostitute is only a loaf of bread, but a married woman hunts down a precious life,” says the English Standard Version. In other words, a meeting with a prostitute is a transaction, meaning one exchanges goods or money for “services.” Solomon says that the prostitute will only cost you a loaf of bread, by comparison. But how can you make things up to the man whose wife you slept with? Sadly, the answer is that you cannot. The Law said that if the young man stole property, he had to pay back the total amount. But he can’t compensate for what he stole by sleeping with another man’s wife. Maybe this is why God made adultery a crime punishable by death in the Law. 

In chapter seven, Solomon warns his sons about “Lady Folly.” We’ll look at this chapter again next time, Lord willing. 

Illustration from Aesop’s “Ant And The Grasshopper”
Reliable Sources That Boost Your Wisdom

Reliable Sources That Boost Your Wisdom

Friday’s Column: Brent’s Bent

Brent Pollard

Last week, we looked at our syllabus for Wisdom 101. Professor Solomon has outlined the aims of our course. And now, Solomon will introduce us to the “texts” we will be studying. The primary “text” will come as no surprise to the believer. That source is God (Proverbs 1.7). But there is also a secondary “text’ that Solomon encourages us to study. We will examine this more in a moment. 

Wisdom begins with the “fear of the Lord” (1.7). That fear is the primary text. But what do we have in mind when we say “fear?” It cannot mean that God causes an unpleasant emotion making us apprehensive to approach Him. If God were scary, how could we entice another to listen? In their commentary, Old Testament scholars Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsch give a superb definition. Fear is a “reverential subordination” to God.1 In other words, when you recognize the superiority of God, you stand in awe of Him. Who better to learn wisdom from than the One you admire? You should desire to hang on His every word. God, for His part, is glad to impart His wisdom to us. As James reminds us, if we ask Him, He will generously give us wisdom (James 1.5). 

Yet we know not everyone esteems God highly. Those disrespecting God are called “fools” (1.7). But by calling them fools, we are not suggesting that such people lack the intellectual capacity for growth. Rather “fool” demonstrates their disposition. In the original Hebrew, the word translated as “fool’ is “evil.” No, not our English word, evil, but a word transliterated as such from the Hebrew language. Hebrew scholars Francis Brown, S.R. Driver, and Charles A. Bridge observe that the word always denotes one is “morally bad.”2 Confirming this interpretation is the Septuagint version of the Scriptures. The 70 or so Jewish scholars translating the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek used the word “asebēs” for “fool.” That Greek word means “impious.”3 Thus, one who is impious (i.e., morally bad) despises wisdom and instruction. Such foolish persons might echo the pharaoh who asked, “Who is God that I should listen to Him?” (Exodus 5.2). So, if we were to cite a secular maxim to explain this part of our proverb, it might well be that “you can lead a horse to water but cannot make him drink.”   

Yes, God can boost your wisdom, but you must desire to sit at His feet, develop a relationship with Him, and learn from Him those words leading to eternal life (John 6.68). But since I used the plural form of source in our title, you know there must be at least one other source. Indeed. You have probably heard of Wikipedia. Wikipedia is essentially an encyclopedia that anyone can edit. It is supposed to be an unbiased source of information, but a quick perusal of hot-button topics often reveals the bias of Wikipedia editors and publishers. At best, though, Wikipedia is a tertiary source of information. The word “tertiary” is from the Latin tertiariesmeaning “of or containing a third.”4 So tertiary is a fancy way to say that Wikipedia provides third-party information (i.e., information twice removed from its source). But what sources come before the tertiary one? The educational field gives us a clue by using the terms “primary” and “secondary” when describing its schooling. Primary is the category coming first and takes youth through to the age of 12, or 14, depending on the country. Following primary education, a child enters secondary education. Secondary schools will see the child through graduation from high school, the highest level of compulsory education. From there, a young person may elect to pay for “post-secondary” education in college or university.  

So, for the believer, God is the primary source of wisdom. And though we can learn wisdom elsewhere, before listening to those tertiary sources of wisdom, Solomon reminds us of our secondary source of wisdom in Proverbs 1.8. “Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and do not forsake your mother’s teaching.” Note that God makes parents the secondary source of wisdom. Hence, parents become the secondary “text” for Wisdom 101. Recall the first institution created by God in Genesis 2.18-24. That institution was the home, the family.  

Despite causing great harm to the family by signing the so-called Great Society Legislation, Lyndon Baines Johnson nevertheless stated that “the family is the cornerstone of our society.”5 Indeed, Johnson’s “reforms” helped break the home. He bolstered single-parent households and turned birthing children out of wedlock into a cottage industry. The State stepped in to fill the vacancy left by the absent parent, and education became the responsibility of the public-school educator. This innovation was never the intention of God.  

Solomon was aware of the Law given to Moses. Fathers were to instruct their children at every opportunity (Deuteronomy 6.1-8). What we observe today in our society is that which played out countless times in Old Testament history. First, you would have a faithful generation that failed to impart wisdom to the next generation. God’s people would then enter a decline, followed by apostasy. God would then punish them using the military might of their pagan neighbors until they repented and cried out for mercy. Finally, God would bring a deliverer who would lead the people into a new righteous era. This period would persist until a new untaught generation arose, and the cycle would begin again. 

Though we are not a theocracy, righteousness still exalts a nation (Proverbs 14.34). And this democratic republic is buoyed by the faith of its citizenry. As a result, we have noted prosperity resulting from periods of “goodness” (e.g., the post-WWII boom). And times of difficulty that seem to result from times of “excess” (e.g., the “Roaring Twenties” and the Great Depression). One wonders where we are within our cycle of apostasy and renewal when he hears news stories of public-school teachers confusing children about being oppositely gendered or talking openly about their perverted lifestyles. There is a significant disconnect between what parents would teach their young and what some teachers teach in schools. That was, at least, one blessing from the COVID pandemic shutdown. Parents overheard what teachers were teaching their children and would have none of it.  

So, what happens when you have children who do not have a trustworthy secondary source of wisdom (i.e., parents)? Tertiary sources step in and instill man’s wisdom, which arises from man’s dark heart (Romans 1.21ff). The children worship the creature rather than the Creator. And these progenies ignore all authority: God, parents, and even the civil government (Romans 13.1ff). There can be no substitute for the wisdom mom and dad are to instill. You cannot even delegate instruction over to the faithful brethren of the church. The Bible school teacher can be a trusted tertiary source, it is true, but he or she does not have the amount of time with the child given by God to parents. Christian parents must stop abdicating God’s role in their children’s lives.  

And the result from having the proper primary and secondary source for wisdom? Wisdom becomes one’s attractive accessory, like a graceful wreath upon one’s head or a necklace around their neck (Proverbs 1.9). We observe this in Peter and John. We trust the secondary wisdom imparted to them by their parents was adequate but take note of the primary wisdom they received spending time with Jesus. As they stood before the Sanhedrin, the Jewish leaders noted the confidence with which they spoke. They concluded these men had been with Jesus (Acts 4.13).  

So, what are the reliable sources you have that boost your wisdom? First and foremost, it is the fear of God. The second source is the godly instruction you receive from your parents. But wherever you are in your journey to find Lady Wisdom, whether one who is still learning from his parents or who may soon be the secondary source of wisdom for a child or grandchild, remember the words of our Lord to those feeling deficient. “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened” (Matthew 7.7-8 NASB1995).   

Sources Cited 

1          Keil, Carl Friedrich & Delitzsch, Franz. “Commentary on Proverbs 1”. Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kdo/proverbs-1.html. 1854-1889.   

2          “Strong’s Hebrew; 191.” Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon, Unabridged, 2006, biblehub.com/hebrew/191.htm.   

3          “Strong’s Greek; 765.” Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, 2011, biblehub.com/greek/765.htm 

4          “Tertiary English Definition and Meaning.” Lexico Dictionaries | English, Lexico Dictionaries,www.lexico.com/en/definition/tertiary.  

5          Johnson, Lyndon B. “Lyndon B. Johnson Quote: ‘the Family Is the Corner Stone of Our Society.”.” Quotefancy, Quotefancy, quotefancy.com/quote/1017793/Lyndon-B-Johnson-The-family-is-the-corner-stone-of-our-society

Finding Refuge

Finding Refuge

Friday’s Column: Brent’s Bent 

Brent Pollard

There are days when one must turn off the news and go to the prayer closet. Current events sometimes make us uneasy, and the “if-it-bleeds-it-leads” type of yellow journalism permeates the twenty-four-hour news cycle. And while I sit here and write, the big story is the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Putin’s pretense is that Ukraine is committing genocide against the “ethnic Russians” living in Ukraine. There has been no evidence produced supporting this claim, of course, but there is evidence that pro-Russian militants have committed crimes, some violent, within Ukraine. 

In 2014, for example, Pro-Russian militants seized the building housing the Bear Valley Bible Institute of Ukraine in Horlivka. Armed men gave the brethren of the congregation assembling in the same building as the Central church of Christ three hours to remove those contents from the building the members wanted. Thankfully, no one was injured.1 But as I think of the location of the current branch of the Bear Valley Bible Institute of Ukraine2, about 50 miles southwest of Kyiv, I cannot help but be concerned for my Christian brethren impacted by the specter of war in Ukraine. After all, Russia has already bombed the Ukrainian capital.  

Then there are the less important factors than human life that produce potential anxiety. For example, what is going to happen to the price of petroleum? Authorities say it is going up. WSB in Atlanta reported that “experts” believe that the sanctions placed on Russia will cause gas prices to increase to a national average of $4 a gallon by March or April.3 Higher gas prices lead to higher transportation costs, which causes the costs of goods to increase. In a country already hit by the highest inflation in 40 years, we might view such painful side effects from trying to rein Putin as too much. 

Plus, one wonders if we now hear the renewed drumbeats of global war. Some pundits lay the blame for this at the feet of the current U.S. President, whom they claim looks weak to foreign leaders. Thus, neither Putin nor Xi Jinping may refrain from acting upon imperial ambitions. Ukraine is one thing, but what if Putin desires to reconstitute the former Soviet Union? Eventually, that would mean that Putin would invade a NATO country. We would be obliged by treaty to intervene.  

Meanwhile, soon after Putin invaded Ukraine, nine Chinese fighter jets violated Taiwan’s airspace.4 This is not the first Chinese incursion into Taiwanese airspace, but the timing is unsettling. China still believes that Taiwan belongs to China. Since 1954, we have been in a bilateral treaty with Taiwan.5 Therefore, if China invades Taiwan, we would be obliged to respond to China’s actions. Granted, we are assuming that the United States will keep the word that it has given to its treaty partners. Possibly, our leaders may try to do so economically rather than placing boots on the ground.  

During this time, when the waters of the sea roar and foam and the mountains shake, it is marvelous to know that God is our refuge. This truth is the assurance the sons of Korah provide in Psalm 46. Commentators believe the author wrote the psalm when the Moabites, Ammonites, and Edomites moved to attack the kingdom of Judah (cf. 2 Chronicles 20.1ff). King Jehosophat prayed for God’s intervention, and God replied by confusing Judah’s enemies. Those enemies ended up killing one another. When Jehosophat rose to face them as God commanded, he found every one of them dead. Thus, God was Judah’s refuge. 

Turning our attention once more to Psalm 46, we note three quick points. First, God is our place of refuge when everything around us seems insecure (1-3). Thus, we are told not to fear (2). When we look at the boisterous sea rather than our Lord, we will quickly sink as Peter when he joined Jesus walking on the Sea of Galilee (Matthew 14.30). Therefore, we must increase our faith (Matthew 14.31). So, there is no reason to feel insecure when the God of peace is with us (Romans 15.33). 

Second, God provides us with a walled city (i.e., stronghold) secured by a flowing river of life  (4-7). There is debate whether this is a picture of Heaven. Indeed, Heaven has its River of Life. But it was a tactic of siege warfare to cut a walled city off from food and water sources. One such siege by Sennacherib led Hezekiah to construct a tunnel to bring water to Jerusalem (2 Kings 20.20; 2 Chronicles 32). Despite Sennacherib’s bravado, Hezekiah knew that his people would not cry out from thirst. Providence would spare them. Martin Luther, reading Psalm 46.7, was moved to pen the hymn “Ein Feste Burg ist Unser Gott” (“A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”). Yes, we find in God that bulwark that is never failing.  

Third, God will provide us with what man cannot (8-11). Sometimes we try and solve things on our own. When we feel exasperated, we might even look to our fellow man for answers. It seems that we look around everywhere but to where we should. To this practice, God tells us, “Stop!” The NASB1995 renders it, “Cease striving and know that I am God” (46.10). God will be exalted! And indeed, we see His mighty works that attest to His great power. The sons of Korah tell us in conclusion that God is with us. 

Our world feels like a crazy place now. I recently commented that it feels more like 1938 than 2022. In 1938, Adolph Hitler annexed Austria to reabsorb the “ethnic Germans.” In the United States, Americans were still struggling to overcome the Great Depression. So, current events do seem comparable. But, by God’s help, we survived that turbulent time, and we will also live through an uncertain future. God is in control, and He tells us that He will provide us with refuge. So, we must cease our striving and enter it.  

Sources Cited 

1                     Tryggestad, Erik. “Church Building Seized (Updated).” The Christian Chronicle, The Christian Chronicle, 25 May 2014, christianchronicle.org/pro-russian-militants-seize-church-of-christ-building-in-eastern-ukraine-during-sunday-worship/

2                    “Ukraine.” Bear Valley Bible Institute, Bear Valley Bible Institute of Denver , www.wetrainpreachers.com/ukraine.  

3                    “Experts Say to Expect Gas to Hit at Least $4 a Gallon over Ukraine Invasion.” WSB, Cox Media Group, 25 Feb. 2022,www.wsbtv.com/video/local-video/experts-say-expect-gas-hit-least-4-gallon-over-ukraine-invasion/9fa41005-9f2f-400e-a20f-5ce2a25d2b75/

4                    Olson, Wyatt. “Chinese Fighter Jets Sortie into Taiwan’s Air Zone on Heels of Ukraine Invasion.” Stars and Stripes, Stars and Stripes, 24 Feb. 2022, www.stripes.com/theaters/asia_pacific/2022-02-24/taiwan-fighter-jets-airspace-chinese-aircraft-ukraine-russia-5134525.html

5                    Ward, Alvin. “67 Countries the U.S. Is Obliged to Go to War For.” Mental Floss, Mental Floss, 7 Feb. 2015,www.mentalfloss.com/article/65816/67-countries-us-obliged-go-war

Crisis

Crisis

Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words

Gary III

Gary Pollard

  • 1918 had the Spanish Flu pandemic that killed at least 675,000 people in the United States and 50,000,000 worldwide.
  • 1929 birthed the Great Depression, a multi year period of societal upheaval and economic collapse.
  • 1941 ultimately led to our involvement in a world war after the attack at Pearl Harbor.
  • 1963 saw the dramatic assassination of JFK.
  • 1986 put a damper on the excitement of space exploration with the tragedy of the Challenger explosion.
  • Violent crime rose dramatically from the 60’s to the 90’s, enough that most people no longer left their houses unlocked and were less likely to trust their fellow people.
  • 2001 marked the beginning of a global war on terror with an awful display of evil.
  • 2008 saw the Great Recession, the aftermath of which may be one of the causes of our great political division.
  • 2020 was a train wreck we need not discuss further.
 
This is by no means an exhaustive list! It covers some major events that affected Americans in the last 100 years, but much more could easily be said about the negatives of our history.
 
This is important: Immunity was attained after two years of the Spanish Flu pandemic. Lifespans increased by a few years during the Depression and led to a hearty generation of folks who helped to win the Second World War. That war, as horrible as it was, led to many incredible breakthroughs in medical and other sciences, not to mention historically unprecedented economic prosperity. The 1960s at least exposed the ungodly, ugly nature of hatred and racism, leading to some positive changes that were long overdue.
 
Even in the worst of times, good happens. But even if it doesn’t, hope is invulnerable! For a Christian, these issues are simply the result of a fallen world and they’re temporary. The end of life for us is the beginning! We have one important thing that no crisis can destroy: hope. We are absolutely certain that death will be the moment we get to live in a perfect world with our creator (see also II Peter 3.13ff; Matthew 19.28; Ephesians 1.18ff).
 
Nothing can or should dampen our faith in God, our hope for a better life, our mission to pull people out of darkness, our attitude, our love for each other, our dedication to spiritual growth, our responsibility to take care of people, our resilience in difficult times, and our critical compulsion to emulate Jesus in every possible way while we still breathe.