Get Self-Control!

A man without self-control 

is like a city broken into and left without walls.”

Proverbs 25:28

The Bible teaches that we have three great enemies: the world, the flesh, and the devil. These three adversaries have done more damage to the human race than all the communist regimes throughout history. The world, this godless age that we live in, is a prostitute constantly seeking to allure and entice us to commit spiritual adultery on the Lord (James 4:1-5). The flesh, our sin nature that rages against all that’s godly, is consistently seeking the fleeting pleasures of sin (Romans 8:5-8; Hebrews 11:25). And the devil, that fierce nemesis of our souls, is actively tempting us to rebel against God. These enemies are forcefully trying to infiltrate our souls, to corrupt every aspect of our being, and to leave us desolate before God. 

A City Without Walls

And the proverb above teaches us how instrumental self-control is when these adversaries rage against us. You see, when we possess self-control, we can exercise control over our sinful desires and passions. On the other hand, when we lack self-control, we cannot exercise control over our sinful desires and passions. As you can see, without self-control we lie open to our enemies’ every attack. We are “like a city broken into and left without wall” (Proverbs 25:28). A city without walls is a city without a defense. It is easily taken, plundered, and conquered. This is how it is when we lack self-control. We have no line of defense against the world, the flesh, and the devil.

Perfect For Conquering

When we cannot control our sinful passions and desires, every worldly enticement can lead us into spiritual adultery, every fleshly desire can lead us into heinous sin, and every temptation can lead us to rebel against God. Periods of anger have potential to lead to murder (Genesis 4:8). Moments of inward lust can lead to acts of adultery (2 Samuel 11:2-5). Envy and jealousy can lead to gossip, slander, and false accusations (Matthew 27:18). Desire for worldly glory, honor, and power can lead to genocide (Esther 3:1-6). Unrestrained sensual passions can lead to incestuous rape (2 Samuel 13:11-14). A desire for continual pleasure can lead to poverty (Proverbs 21:17). Though more examples could be given, it should be apparent by now that without self-control, the world, the flesh, and the devil arrive at the city of our souls to find it lacking walls and ready to be easily taken over!

Where Do I Find Self-Control?

But how are we to get self-control? And we are not talking about the self-control it takes to wake up early in the morning to go to the gym. We are talking about the self-control it takes to say “no” to sin and “yes” to God — to say “no” to worldly enticements, the lust of the flesh, and the temptations of the evil one, and to say “yes” to righteousness, holiness, purity, and godliness! How are we to get this kind of self-control?

The Spirit of God

First, the Bible teaches that we must be born again by the Spirit of God. Apart from the new birth, we are in the flesh, and we live in accordance with our fleshly desires (John 3:6; Romans 6:5-7). And to be in the flesh and living in accordance with our fleshly desires is to be hostile to God (Romans 6:7), enslaved to sin (Romans 6:15-19), and under the dominating power of sin (Romans 6:6-11). 

However, once we are born again by the Spirit, we are in the Spirit, liberated from slavery to sin, and released from the dominating power of sin (Romans 8:1-11). By the Spirit of God, we are enabled to say “no” to sin and “yes” to God. Simply put, we are enabled to have self-control when it comes to saying “no” to worldly enticements, the lust of the flesh, and the temptations of the evil one, and “yes” to righteousness, holiness, purity, and godliness.

Secondly, as the Spirit of God leads us, we are to “walk by the Spirit,” and to “keep in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16, 18, 25). As we do this, the Spirit of God will increasingly produce the fruit of the Spirit in our lives. And “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22). So, as we “walk by the Spirit,” and “keep in step with the Spirit,” we will progressively have the Spirit empowered ability to exercise control over our sinful desires and passions. Rather than being like a city without walls, we will be like fortified city with impenetrable walls. 

Thirdly, we must know what it means to “walk by the Spirit,” and to “keep in step with the Spirit.” I mean, how are we to live in such a way that the Spirit will increasingly produce His fruit in our lives? And I think J.I. Packer is particularly helpful here, so I am just going to let him teach us:

The Spirit works through means—through the objective means of grace, namely, biblical truth, prayer, fellowship, worship, and the Lord’s Supper, and with them through the subjective means of grace whereby we open ourselves to change, namely, thinking, listening, questioning oneself, examining oneself, admonishing oneself, sharing what is in one’s heart with others, and weighing any response they make. . . . Habit forming is the Spirit’s ordinary way of leading us on in holiness. . . . Love, joy peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control are all of them habitual. . . . ways of thinking, feeling and behaving.

Packer goes on to emphasize that, “Holiness by habit forming is not self-sanctification by self-effort, but simply a matter of understanding the Spirit’s method and then keeping in step with Him.” Essentially, Packer is teaching us that the Spirit works through means. The more we make use of these means, the more the Spirit produces His fruit in our lives. Therefore, if we want to grow in self-control, lets habitually make use of the means the Spirit has promised to bless.

A City With Walls

This is the key to having ever increasing self-control in the Christian life. And if we are faithful to do this, the world, the flesh, and the devil will show up at the city of our souls to find unscalable, impenetrable, and sturdy walls built around it. These ancient foes will not find a city without a defense. They will find a city aware of their schemes, defended on every side, and ready to make an offensive attack by the power of the Spirit of God.

Don’t Overstay!

Let your foot be seldom in your neighbor’s house, 

lest he have his fill of you and hate you.”

Proverbs 25:17

Just the other day I was meditating on this proverb while I was sitting in my office. As one of our custodians came in to straighten up, I mentioned it to her to see what she thought about this bit of proverbial wisdom. Let’s just say that she was tickled by it. She had no idea that the Bible directed us in such small and seemingly insignificant matters of the Christian life. But this is an amazing aspect of the Bible, isn’t it? The Word of God expounds great and glorious doctrines like the Trinity, and it also give us seemingly insignificant instructions that aid us in our relationships with others.

Enjoyment to Hatred

When the proverb above tells us that our foot should “be seldom in our neighbor’s house,” it is telling us that we shouldn’t frequent our neighbor’s house too regularly. Solomon then gives us the reason for this when he says, “lest he have his fill of you and hate you.” And this idea of having one’s “fill” of something was just used in the prior verse when Solomon said, “If you have found honey, eat only enough for you, lest you have your fill of it and vomit” (Proverbs 25:16). The idea is simple — eating just enough honey brings sweet contentment, while eating too much honey brings disgust. Considering verse 16, it is evident that verse 17 is teaching us not to overstay our welcome.

Though we may think spending significant amounts of time with ourselves is a foretaste of heaven on earth, our neighbor may not think so! In fact, overstaying our welcome may lead our neighbor out of the realm of love and into the realm of hatred. Just as too much honey may lead out of the land of enjoyment and into the land of to vomit, so too much Philip may lead my neighbor from delightful enjoyment of me to an utter hatred for me.

Considering our Neighbor

This wisdom, however, was not given to keep us out our neighbor’s house. God would never instruct us to do something that would halt the flow of neighborly love. Instead, God is teaching us that, in all our interactions, we must show consideration for those whom we are interacting with. 

Our neighbors typically have a spouse that needs to be loved, children that need to be cared for, business that needs to get done, and a good night’s sleep that needs to be enjoyed.  Aside from these, our neighbors may simply want to enjoy the creaturely comforts of being in their home without hosting a guest. Moreover, even the godliest of neighbors still have a sin nature that rears its head from time to time. 

If we frequently enter our neighbor’s house without due consideration of these things, then they may become weary of us —perhaps even degusted with us! However, if we enter our neighbor’s house giving due consideration to these aspects of our neighbor’s life, then we won’t overstay our welcome.

Frequently Come Before God

Though our neighbors may have their fill of us, God will not. Our neighbors have a sin nature and creaturely limitations, but God is a perfectly pure being that has no creaturely restrictions. While God causes the grass to grow, provides food for the birds of the air, and sustains the life of every human being, He can still give undivided attention to all who enter the throne room of grace. Though millions pray to Him at the same time, He can give wholehearted attention to each one with loving care. This led Charles Bridges to say:

Blessed be God! There is no need of this caution and reserve in our approach unto him. Once acquainted with the way of access, there is no wall of separation. Our earthly friend may be pressed too far. Kindness may be worn out by frequent use. But never can we come to our heavenly Friend unseasonably….The more frequent the visits, the more welcome, and the more fruitful.

What an incredible thought! May we never forget that this kind of access to God the Father is only possible through faith in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 3:12; Hebrews 4:16).

Two Hopes

“The hope of the righteous brings joy, 

but the expectation of the wicked will perish.”

Proverbs 10:28

Hope is grounded on the certainty of future blessing. It springs up inside of people as they think about all the good that is going to come to them at a later date. And to some extent, everybody has hope. Everybody expects that, at some point, things are going to get better. . . . either now or after death. Biblically speaking, though, there are only two types of hope — a definite hope and a fabricated hope.

The Definite Hope of the Righteous

For the righteous, those who believe in Christ and are spiritually enabled to walk in accordance with His commandments, our hope is certain. The certainty of our hope is grounded on the very nature of our God. For our God is a God who cannot lie (Numbers 23:19; Titus 1:2), and He has promised His people an unspeakably bright future.

The Bible teaches that our exodus from this cursed earth to a new heavens and a new earth that is filled with the knowledge of the glory of God is right around the corner (Luke 21:28; Romans 13:11). Before long, Christ will descend from the heavens with the sound of a trumpet. At His command, we will receive imperishable resurrection bodies that are raised up in power, honor, and glory (1 Corinthians 15:42).

These future resurrection bodies will enable us to dwell on the new earth with our Triune God forever (Revelation 21:2-3). Sin and its devastating effects will be done away with. As we dwell with God on the new earth, “death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4). The blessed happiness that comes from perfect communion with the one True God will constantly fill our hearts. It will be both euphoric and Edenic. This is why “the hope of the righteous brings joy” (Proverbs 10:28).

The Fabricated Hope of the Wicked

For the wicked, those who are apart from Christ Jesus and living in darkness, their hope is a fabricated hope. They fool themselves into thinking that their future is bright when, in reality, it is unbearably dark. This is certainly the case for religious hypocrites. Though religious hypocrites walk contrary to God’s will, they convince themselves that they are heirs of the kingdom of God (Matthew 7:21-23; 25:11-13). As they perpetually sin against the Lord, they hear words of both promise and warning and say, “I shall be safe, though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart” (Deuteronomy 29:18-19).

This false sense of hope remains with the religious hypocrite all the way to the great white throne judgment. As they stand before Jesus Christ, the Lord of Glory, they will sincerely believe that they are about to receive the blessings of the righteous (Matthew 7:21-23). This will not be the case though. Christ, with blazing eyes of omniscience, will reveal to them that he never knew them in a covenantal way (Matthew 7:21-23; Luke 13:22-30). 

After revealing to religious hypocrites that they had a fabricated hope, Christ will publicly condemn them before the eyes of all. He will then justly sentence them to a life of eternal conscience torment. They will never know the blessed happiness of perfect communion with God. All they will ever know is “the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger” (Revelation 14:9-11). As they perish eternally, their fabricated hope will perish with them.

What A Nuisance!

“Like vinegar to the teeth and smoke to the eyes, 

so is the sluggard to those who send him.”

Proverbs 10:26

Throughout the book of Proverbs, the sluggard is actually portrayed in amusing and pitiful ways. The sluggard is depicted as a person who is perpetually lazy and inactive. He does not have any discipline, self-control, or initiative. He has a hard time both starting and finishing his work (Proverbs 19:24; 21:25; 24:30-34; 26:15). Instead of starting his work, he voices excuses so that he can postpone his labors (Proverbs 19:24; Proverbs 26:15). And whenever he actually does start his work, he has a difficult time doing his work well (Proverbs 10:26).

This humorous and pitiful depiction of the sluggard is not meant to minimize the sin of laziness. Instead, it is to heighten the seriousness of it. God wants us to know that the sluggard is someone that lacks biblical wisdom (Proverbs 24:30). He wants to teach us that laziness is a moral failing (Proverbs 15:19; Matthew 25:26).

An Annoying Employee

With this in mind, in our proverb above we are given a “lively figure of the vexation of the sluggard to his employers!” Those who send the sluggard are those who employed the lazy bones and sought to put him to work. While the sluggard works, though, he is a constant nuisance and hindrance to his bosses. He is pictured as “vinegar on the teeth and smoke to the eyes” (Proverbs 10:26) – both of which are very irritating and agitating!

The sluggard does not “work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men” (Colossians 3:23). While a Christian has the glory of God as his commanding interest in all his labors, the sluggard has no commanding interest. The sluggard’s chief desire is the gratification of his own sinful flesh.

This leaves his bosses constantly concerned about him. They have to constantly ask themselves, “What is the lazy bones doing? Is he doing what he is supposed to be doing? Is he doing it well? Will he ever finish?” As bosses spend countless hours concerned about the sluggard, they find that hiring a sluggard is like drinking vinegar. They find that employing a sluggard is like having smoke constantly agitating the eyes.

Diligence that Adorns

The Spirit filled Christian should not be like the sluggard though. Rather than being like vinegar to the teeth and smoke to the eyes, an employed Christian should be like a well-oiled machine. They should show up to work with an earnest desire to bring glory to God, to labor for Christ, and to love their neighbor. Their reputation for working diligently should allow their employers to rest well knowing that the job is being done in an honorable way.

This type of diligent labor allows Christians to adorn the gospel of Jesus Christ while they are at work. Through their diligent labor, they are sincerely loving their employers. Even more importantly, they are showing their employers that they genuinely believe Christ’s Lordship extends to every aspect of their lives – even to their daily labors.

It’s God’s Fault

“When a man’s folly brings his way to ruin, 

his heart rages against the Lord.”

Proverbs 19:3

In the beginning, God made us upright (Genesis 1:26; Ecclesiastes 7:29). Ever since the fall of Adam, however, we have inherited a sin nature (Psalm 51:5; Romans 5:19). With this sin nature, we live out folly. According to the book of Proverbs, folly is what happens when we act without heavenly wisdom and knowledge – it is what happens when we give full reign to our sinful passions and begin to obey them (Proverbs 5:23; 12:23; 13:15; 14:1). And though living in folly may lead to momentary pleasure at times (Hebrews 11:25), it ultimately leads to ruin (Proverbs 19:3). This is clearly seen in the first three chapters of Genesis.

Adam’s Folly Leads to Ruin

God created Adam and Eve to be vice regents, to rule over the world, and to exercise a god-like dominion over the earth (Genesis 1:28-30). At the outset of their rule, however, God gave them one prohibition. God prohibited Adam and Eve from eating of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:16-17). This prohibition was wisely given by God in order to keep Adam and Eve in their proper place. As they functioned as vice-regents of the world, this prohibition reminded them that they were not THE REGENT of the world. It reminded them that they were always to use their kingly rule in a way that honored the one true king, the Lord God Almighty.

Before long, though, the tempter came tempting Eve to disobey this wise prohibition that God had given to her husband (Genesis 3:1-5). I mean, why be a vice regent when you could usurp God’s regency and become THE REGENT? The more Eve thought about this, the more her eyes were captivated by the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. She saw that the forbidden fruit was “good for food” and “desirable to the eyes” (Genesis 3:6). 

Desiring to have this luscious fruit burst in her mouth, she disobeyed God’s command, laid hold of the fruit, and partook of it (Genesis 2:16-17; 3:6). As the juices landed on her palate, she enjoyed the savory flavor. She then took the forbidden fruit and handed it to Adam. Adam, too, acted without heavenly wisdom and knowledge. He foolishly took the fruit from Eve’s hand and began to partake in it himself (Genesis 3:6). Little did they know, though, that their foolishness had already begun to lead to their ruin. Though they thought this would allow them to usurp God’s regency, it ultimately led to their alienation from God.

His Heart Rages Against the Lord

Not long after this the Lord approached them in the garden of Eden in the cool of the day. At this point, it would have been wise for the heart of Adam to rage against itself. After all, it was Adam’s own folly that led to his own ruin. Therefore, he should have expressed displeasure in himself, humbled himself, turned away from his sin, and turned to the Lord. Sadly, this is not what happened.

Rather than raging against himself, Adam’s cold dead heart raged against the Lord . . . . just as our proverb above talks about. Even though he was the very author of his own ruin and misery, he laid the charge against God. When the Lord approached Adam inquiring about what had happened with the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, Adam blamed the Lord for his very own foolishness by saying, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate” (Genesis 3:12). This shows “the foolishness of Adam! First he perverted his way; then he charged upon God its bitter fruit.”

Still True Today

As we saw above, our proverbial teaching is perfectly illustrated in the life of Adam. And even though we are far removed from Adam, this proverbial teaching captures exactly how we are prone to respond when our own folly leads to our own ruin. When we begin to suffer some of the ruin that was inevitable based off the sin we were indulging in, our first sinful inclination is to rage against God. We want to blame and be embittered towards the Lord. This is not the way of wisdom.

When we endure any type of ruin, heavenly wisdom would have us examine ourselves to see if there was any known foolishness that led to this ruin. If we discover that our own folly led to this particular ruin in our lives, we ought to repent of our sin, turn to the Lord, and plead for His mercy and grace. This will keep us from raging against the Lord when we should be sorrowfully raging against our own hearts.

Hear Both Sides!

“The one who states his case first seems right, 

until the other comes and examines him.”

(Proverbs 18:17)

Within our sin nature, that old self that we inherited from Adam, there is a tendency to deceive others. This is especially true when we state our case to other people with the aim of getting them to agree with us about someone that we are not particularly happy with.

In an intense desire to get somebody to agree with us, we passionately pour out our case to others. Our hope is that they will see that we are in the right and that the other person is in the wrong. We want them to join us. We want them to defend us and accuse the other person. We passionately want other people to begin viewing us as the innocent party and the other person as the guilty party.

We Seem Right

However, in doing so, we deceptively and perhaps unconsciously “cast a shade over, or even omit, what might seem to balance on the opposite side.” Because we are so zealous in our effort to get others to agree with our case, we deceptively portray the other person in such a way that those who are listening to us will inevitably agree with us. And because we are the lone person that has stated our case against this particular person, those who listen to us think that we are right. They do exactly what we were hoping they would do – they begin thinking that we are innocent and that the other person is guilty.

Until Cross Examination

Until, as the proverb says, “the other comes and examines him.” Those who are acquainted with both the person and situation come and shed light on everything that we misconstrued and omitted. Perhaps even the person that was originally being talked about comes to give their side of the story.

This reveals to all that we were not as in the right as we originally seemed to be. As Charles Bridges said, “The first tale is good, till the second is heard.” The verdict changes once all the facts are known. Through our deception, they joined us for a while. With increasing clarity, however, they begin to realize that everything isn’t as it originally seemed.

Played Out Everyday

Because this is the inspired word of God that exegetes the sinful nature of man with incredible precision, we see this played out every single day. Cops see this played out during arrests. Judges see this played out in court hearings. Marriage counselors see this played out in sessions with embittered married couples. Parents see this played out with their children. And pastors see this played out within the church. When the first person states their case, there is almost always truth mixed with error – there is almost always just enough deceit to get the other person to agree with them! God is not ignorant of this. This is why Proverbs 18:17 is in the Bible.

Applying This Today

First, if we are stating our case, we must realize that it is very difficult to “state facts and circumstances with perfect accuracy where our own name, or credit is concerned.” More often than not, our sin nature wants to portray facts and circumstances in such a way that we appear to be absolutely right and others appear to be absolutely wrong. We must realize how susceptible we are to this and strive to fight against it. We can do this by distrusting ourselves, examining ourselves to uncover any prejudices that we have, and asking God to search our hearts for any hidden evil that lies within. In turn, this will rid us of deceit and lead us to increasing truthfulness.

Second, we must not establish a verdict too quickly when we are listening to someone make their case. We must hear both sides before we come to a verdict. This is something we have heard since we were children, but it is something we still need to hear today. It is always wise to postpone the casting of a verdict until both sides have been heard. This will keep us from being deceived and led astray. This will also keep us from viewing a particular person wrongly. Therefore, when somebody makes their case, be sure to search for another person that can shed further light on both the person and situation being talked about. Perhaps even approach the person that was being talked about directly to get their side of the story. This will ensure you have all the facts before you cast a verdict.

Applying this proverb in these two ways will allow us to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord. For in seeking to apply this proverb in these two ways we ensure that we are loving our neighbor well. I’ll end with some advice from Charles Simeon. The more he aged in wisdom and grace, the more he sought to abide by these rules that he laid down earlier in his life.

The Day Riches Won’t Profit

Riches do not profit in the day of wrath, 

but righteousness delivers from death.”

Proverbs 11:4

The great temptation in our day is to cast aside the biblical doctrine of the wrath of God. Some preachers have simply discarded it as an archaic doctrine that carries no weight for our contemporary culture. Other preachers mention divine wrath so infrequently that their hearers know nothing about it. This leaves many Christians sincerely believing that God does not burn with righteous anger against both sin and the sinner. Biblically speaking, however, “the idea that God is not angry with sinners belongs neither to the OT nor to the NT. God is a personal moral being who is unalterably opposed to evil and takes personal actions against it.” 

Because the God of the Bible is the thrice holy God, he is absolutely opposed to sin and evil (Psalm 5:5; 11:5). The culminating display of this holy opposition that God has to both sin and evil is his wrath. Though modern ears do not like hearing this, the wrath of God is the only appropriate ethical and moral response that an infinitely pure and holy being can have towards evil. Therefore, as our proverb above says, there will most certainly be a day of wrath. It is more certain than the rising up the sun tomorrow morning.

Days of Wrath

We see days of wrath all throughout the Bible. Early on in the book of Genesis, God justly judges the world by sending a flood that wipes out all but eight of the inhabitants of the earth (Genesis 6:5-8). Later in Genesis, God justly judges the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah by causing fire and sulfur to rain down upon them, thus killing the occupants (Genesis 19:23-29). In Exodus, God judges the gods of Egypt along with those who worship them through a series of ten disastrous plagues (Exodus 7-11). Afterwards God judges Pharaoh and his army by causing the Red Sea to overwhelm them (Exodus 14:26-29). And space does not permit us to talk about all the other times God’s wrath consumed those who sinned against Him. 

The Day of Wrath

These days of wrath serve as microcosms of THE Day of wrath that is spoken about in Scripture. In a way, these displays of God’s wrath are meant to prefigure THE Day of God’s wrath (Matthew 24:37-39). They are minor depictions. This is not meant to lesson our view of these days of God’s wrath. It is meant to heighten our view of THE Day of God’s wrath.

One Day, both the great and the small, both the rich and the poor, and both the intelligent and the unintelligent will stand before the Lord Jesus Christ in order to give an account of their lives (John 5:27; Revelation 20:11-15). On that Day, the Lord will render to each one according to what he has done in the body (Matthew 16:27; Romans 2:6; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Revelation 20:12). For those who persist in wrongdoing, who perpetually live in ungodliness, and who constantly seek their own self-interest, there will be wrath and fury (Romans 2:8-9). For the “cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur” (Revelation 20:8).

The lake that burns with fire and sulfur will never quit burning (Luke 3:17). The ungodly will be forced to drink “the wine of God’s wrath” (Revelation 14:10). For all of eternity, they will be “tormented with fire and sulfur” in the presence of both angelic beings and the spotless Son of God (Revelation 14:11). Of their suffering there will be no end. Of the wrath of God there will be no end. This Day of wrath will exceed all other days of wrath.  It will be wrath unlike anything the world has ever seen. 

Riches Won’t Deliver You

As the Day of wrath approaches, our hearts are stirred to seek refuge. We want to know what will profit us on that day – what will keep us from the wrath of Jesus Christ. And because our hearts are sinful, they are drawn to riches as a source of refuge. “Somehow,” we think to ourselves, “these riches will keep me safe and secure.” And as we seek to accumulate wealth, we begin viewing our riches as an impenetrable city and as an unscalable high wall (Proverbs 18:11). “If anything can deliver me from the wrath of God,” we say, “surely it is vast amounts of wealth.”

Our proverb above, however, teaches us that riches will not help us on the Day of wrath (Proverbs 11:4; Zephaniah 1:18). Jesus Christ is a just judge that shows no partiality. He is not like worldly judges that are enticed to show favor to the rich man. No, Jesus Christ is much different. The Lord Jesus Christ has a heart that is not wooed by worldly wealth. As he judges the world, riches will not keep him from rendering a righteous judgment. 

He will judge the world in complete righteousness. He will render authoritative judicial verdicts based off ALL the evidence. Then, once he reveals all the evidence, his wrath will consume the wicked in “the fire of his jealousy” (Zephaniah 1:18). And on that Day, the wicked who are rich will fare just like the wicked who are poor.

Righteousness Will Deliver You

In light of this Day of wrath and fury, what will deliver us from Christ’s righteous judgment? And the overwhelming biblical teaching is that righteousness is the only thing that will deliver us from the looming righteous judgment that is about to happen. Our proverb above says that “righteousness delivers from death” (11:4). It is those “who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality” that will receive eternal life (Romans 2:6). Those who do good are the ones that will receive “glory and honor and peace” (Romans 2:10). All that matters on the Day of wrath is righteousness. Everything else will be consumed by unquenchable fire. Righteousness alone will deliver.

But where is a sinner to go to get righteousness? How can a sinner who is both positionally and practically unrighteous become both positionally and practically righteous? And the Bible answers this with the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Through Christ’s active obedience to the law of God, and through his passive obedience in enduring the curse of the law due sinners, unrighteous sinners can be declared positionally righteous by God, and be made practically righteous through the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

When a sinner turns away from sin and lays hold of Jesus Christ through faith, they are gifted with the free gift of righteousness (Romans 1:17; 3:22; 4:5; Philippians 3:9-10). Since God the Father gifts us with the righteousness of Jesus Christ, we sinners have been gifted with the very righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21). Since God the Father has graciously united us to Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ has become our righteousness (1 Corinthians 1:30). And being found in Christ Jesus, we are now positionally righteous before God.

And just as a branch derives life from its union with the vine, so we, as redeemed sinners, derive spiritual life from our union with Jesus Christ (John 15:1-8). Though formerly we were slaves to sin, now we can live out a life of practical righteousness before God (Romans 6:12-14; 1 Peter 2:24). The Holy Spirit of God works within us to empower and enable us to live righteously (Romans 8:12-17). So, in Christ Jesus we are not only positionally righteous, we are also endowed with spiritual strength so that we can practically live righteously before God.

This is why union with Christ through faith is the only way that anybody will be able to stand on judgment day. If you stand before Jesus Christ without the righteousness that he procured for sinners in his atoning death, then you will endure wrath and fury. However, if you have been united with Christ through faith, then you are positionally righteous before God. Not only that, through the Spirit of God you have at least some practical righteousness as well. Therefore, the Day of wrath will not be a day of wrath for you. Just as Noah found safe refuge from the flood within the ark because he was righteous before God (Genesis 7:1), so you will find safe refuge from the wrath of God because you are positionally righteous in Christ Jesus, the very ark that delivers sinners from the impending wrath that is to come.

Favoring the Reprover

“Whoever rebukes a man will afterward find more

favor than he who flatters with his tongue.”

Proverbs 28:23

To rebuke a man is to inform him that he is in sin – that he is guilty of falling short of the standard of Christian conduct as revealed in the Bible. In a sense, a rebuke is like a verbal spanking. Just as a parent spanks their child in order to let their kid know that he has disobeyed the standard of household conduct that the parents have established, so a rebuke is a verbal spanking that lets a Christian know that he has fallen short of the standard of Christian conduct that God has established in sacred Scripture. And though rebukes are never pleasant, they are greatly needed in the Christian life.

Since a gentle rebuke is so profitable, those who give godly rebukes should “afterward find more favor” in the eyes of the ones whom they reproved. Sure, the ones receiving the rebuke may have their pride hurt at first, but they should eventually see the spiritual good that came from the rebuke. Once they see that the well timed reproof served to remind them of the dangers of sin, the value of their souls, and the importance of living in a manner worthy of the gospel, their hearts should favor the reprover. I found this proverbial teaching perfectly illustrated when I read Iain Murray’s short biography on John MacArthur.

The Reprover Finds Favor

During the early years of John MacArthur’s ministry, a flustered lady from his church informed him that her husband had left her in order to go live with another woman. MacArthur knew that this was a spiritually grave situation, so he obtained the house number of the woman this man went to go live with. Upon calling the number, the husband that was messing around with adultery actually answered the phone himself. MacArthur then said to him, “This is John from Grace Church. I’m calling in the name of Christ for you to move out of this woman’s place before you sin against God, your wife, and your church.” Needless to say, the man was utterly shocked. He told MacArthur that he would go right back to his wife. 

On the following Sunday, the man approached MacArthur, embraced him, and said, “Thank you! I didn’t want to be there. I was tempted, and I thought no one would care about that.” Though he did not think that anybody would care about his flagrant sin against God and his willful betrayal of his wife, MacArthur cared enough to actually call and rebuke him about it. Because of this, the man’s affection for MacArthur increased. In light of this stinging rebuke, MacArthur found more favor in this man’s eyes.

The Flatterer Does Harm

Whereas a rebuke does a great deal of spiritual good, flattery does a great deal of spiritual harm. To flatter someone is to insincerely complement or praise them out of self-interest. Instead of rebuking someone over a particular sin, the flatterer will generally encourage them in their sin so as not to lose the advantageous nature of their relationship. Before long, though, it becomes apparent that the flatterer never had the spiritual well-being of the one whom they flattered in mind. They only had their own self-interest in mind. In light of this, the flatterer should lose favor in the eyes of the one whom they flattered.

So, this proverbial teaching is clear: the reprover should find more favor than the flatterer. Too often though, “the flatterer finds more favor than the reprover.” One reason for this is because “few people have the wisdom to like reproofs that would do them good, better than praises that do them hurt.” This is a sad reality. May we all seek to have godly wisdom that welcomes the reprover. And if we give a rebuke, may we give it in the spirit of our gracious Master, Jesus Christ. When he wounds his beloved children through rebuke, he then pours healing balm in the wound.

Brighter and Brighter

But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, 

which shines brighter and brighter until full day.”

Proverbs 4:18

The Bible is uncomplimentary of those who are outside of Christ. The non-Christian is dead in trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1), under the enslaving powers of sin (John 8:34; Romans 6:20), without hope and without God in the world (Ephesians 2:11-12), and hostile to God (Romans 8:7; Colossians 1:21). Their way of life is like deep darkness (Proverbs 4:19). They stumble and fall as they live wickedly on this cursed earth (Proverbs 4:19; Ephesians 5:11). Indeed, it is shameful to even speak about the things ungodly people do with their built-up enmity towards God (Ephesians 5:12).

The Light Shines in our Dark World

While it is plain that the Scriptures are unflattering in their portrayal of non-Christians, it is also unmistakably clear that the God who inspired the Scriptures is incomprehensibly merciful and gracious to unbelievers. While the world dwelled in darkness, God sent Jesus Christ, the true light, to be born of virgin (John 1:9). Christ’s purpose was to shine into the darkness and to bring life to those who were dead in sin (John 1:4-5). This God given mission could only be accomplished by destroying the works of the Devil, the prince of darkness (Genesis 3:15; 1 John 1:8). Through His obedient life, substitutionary death, resurrection from the dead, and ascension into heaven, Christ crushed the head of the Evil One.

The Light Shines in Our Dark Hearts

After Christ’s earthly ministry, He filled His church with the Spirit and sent them to take the gospel message to this dark and evil world. As they preached the gospel, the “light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” penetrated deep into “our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:4-6). Now that God has mercifully given us a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, we have been delivered from Satan’s domain of darkness and transferred into the bright and radiant kingdom of Christ (Colossians 1:13). Instead of being darkness, now we “light in the Lord” (Ephesians 5:8). Rather than being dead in sin, now we are alive in Christ Jesus. By the grace of God we now belong to those who, through faith in Christ, are righteous (Romans 1:17).

The Light Grows Brighter and Brighter

Because of God’s sovereign grace, we are now new creations in Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:17). This new spiritual life we have brings about incredible results. As Archibald Alexander says, “The implantation of spiritual life in a soul dead in sin, is an event, the consequences of which will never end.” In light of this God wrought spiritual life that He has given us through the indwelling Spirit, we no longer walk in darkness. As the proverb above says, the Christian life is “like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day” (Proverbs 4:18).

Like the sun at the break of dawn, we as Christians begin to radiate with holiness and good works. This does not happen all at once. Much like the sun at the break of dawn, it is rather faint at the beginning of our Christian journey. We die to some sins. We eagerly obey God in certain areas of our lives. As time goes on, though, we get brighter and brighter. 

Through the ministry of the Spirit, we begin to be further conformed into the image of Christ, the Sun of Righteousness (Malachi 4:2; Romans 8:29). Just as the sun progressively makes its way to noon day, the Christian, by the grace of God, progressively makes his way to complete conformity into the image of Christ. Nevertheless, though many of our graces will be strengthened a great deal by the end of our lives, we will never reach complete conformity into the image of Christ on this side of heaven.

The Light is Brightest at Full Day

God has ordained that our complete conformity into the image of Christ will happen at the second coming of Jesus. We are promised that “when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2-3). It at the second coming of Christ that we will shine like the sun at full day. Even our Lord Jesus promised this when he told his disciples that on the New Earth “the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Matthew 13:43). This is the great hope that we have as Christians. Until the second coming of Christ, though, let us cast off the works of darkness and pursue righteousness that we may shine brighter and brighter in this dark world (Romans 13:12-14).

The Outward Varnish of Religion

“I had to offer sacrifices, 

and today I have paid my vows.”

Proverbs 7:14

Ravi Zacharias is a well-known Christian apologist, speaker, and evangelist. His books have been widely read, his YouTube videos have been widely watched, and his conferences have been widely attended. As one listens to him, he seems to exude Christian humility and gentleness. However, ever since his death in 2020, there has been an extensive investigation into Ravi Zacharias’ sexual misconduct. And just last week, the twelve-page report that reveals the findings of the independent investigation into his sexual wrongdoing was released (you can also find the latest Christianity Today article here). Ravi’s sexual misconduct has been made manifest now, and it has become apparent that he was a sexual predator.

As I read through the evidence in the report my stomach churned, and my face cringed. Ravi’s sexual sin is deplorable and sickening. One of the worst parts is that he seems to have used his ministry as a cover for sin. He utilized his Christian faith to his advantage in manipulating and coercing young ladies into certain sexual acts. In light of these recent revelations, this week I wanted to write on Proverbs 7:14 to reveal that the Bible actually talks about this evil tactic of using religion to coerce and seduce someone.

Proverbs 7 – The Adulteress

Within the book of Proverbs, chapters 5-7 deal extensively with sexual sin. In each chapter, there are warnings against the sin of adultery (Proverbs 5:9-14, 21-23; 6:26-35; 7:22-27) and the enticing allure of the adulteress (Proverbs 5:3; 6:24-25; 7:5, 10-21). Though these chapters present a wealth of wisdom, I want to focus on the fact that the adulteress in Proverbs 7:14 presents herself in the garments of religion in hopes to entice the simple man to drink the poison of sexual sin with her.

When the adulteress launches her attack in Proverbs 7, she is “dressed as a prostitute” (7:10), “loud and wayward” (7:11), and waiting for a man whom she can satisfy her sinful lusts with (7:12). Once she discovers her next victim, she lays hold of him and “kisses him” (7:13). Though this is a bold sexual encounter in and of itself, she wants to go further. It is at this point that she uses religion as a means to coerce and entice the simple man to bring this initial sexual encounter to its full consummation. She says to him, “I had to offer sacrifices, and today I have paid my vows” (7:14).

Most translations translate “sacrifices” as peace offerings. The peace offering was a unique sacrifice because it was one of the only offerings where the offeror was given a large portion of the sacrifice so that they might return home and partake in it in a celebratory way with both friends and family (Leviticus 7:11-21). And in our passage, the adulteress has just offered up peace offerings at the temple, the dwelling place of God. She is now headed back home to feast on the remaining parts of the sacrifice.

While she’s headed home, she invites the simple man to come along with her. She wants him there so that he might partake in the rest of the sacrifice with her . . . . as well as some carnal love. It seems like she believes that, because of her sacrificial offering, God is rewarding her by satisfying her sinful passions (Proverbs 7:15-20). At the end of the day, it is apparent that the adulteress is covering up the sexual mischievousness of her heart with the outward varnish of religion.

Sadly, the simple man falls prey to her carnal passions that are robed in religious garments. He follows her “as an ox goes to the slaughter, as a stag is caught fast” (Proverbs 7:22), and “as a bird rushes into a snare” (Proverbs 7:23). The simple man of Proverbs 7 is seen as another casualty in the adulteress’ hunt to satisfy own her fleshly appetite (Proverbs 7:26).

Ravi – The Adulterer

Like the adulteress of Proverbs 7, Ravi Zacharias also used his religious garments to help him fulfill his sexual passions. Because Ravi had significant backpain, he would frequently go to receive a massage. While he was receiving these massages from young ladies, he would strike up casual conversations with them. 

One massage therapist said that these conversations led her to think of Ravi as a “father figure” to her. He would speak to her about spiritual things and would inquire about her financial situation. Upon hearing that she was struggling financially, he secured ministry funds to help her out. Shortly after this, he elicited sex from her. In recounting this time in her life, the lady said that Ravi would use “religious expressions to gain her compliance.” He would make her pray with him. He would call her his “reward” from God because of his faithful service to the Lord. Indeed, Ravi drove home the point that “the Lord understood what he had sacrificed” and implied that “their sexual exchanges were God’s way of rewarding him.” He then warned her not to speak out against him because that would “damage his reputation” and lead “millions of souls” to hell.

Another lady said that Ravi groomed her in a similar way. Throughout their conversations, Ravi “gained her trust as a spiritual guide, confidante, and notable Christian statemen.” As she began to see Ravi as a spiritual authority in her life, he started using his influence “to exploit her vulnerability to satisfy his own sexual desires.” Though Ravi and this lady were never physically intimate, intimate photos were shared. 

As you can see, Ravi was enslaved to sexual sin and he used his ministry platform to coerce young ladies. With his worldwide Christian ministry, he groomed women to respect him. This was all, of course, so that he might gratify his flesh with them. Then, with his worldwide Christian ministry platform, he warned the women to stay silent about it. At the end of the day, Ravi abused the Christian faith as a means to fulfill his godless passions. In doing so, he betrayed his wife, victimized many women, delegitimized his worldwide ministry, and dishonored the name of Christ.

Since seemingly godly people use the Christian faith as a means to satisfy their sinful lusts, may we all learn to “beware of any voice, though from the most revered quarter, that manifestly encourages forbidden indulgence.” And may we, those of us that have a ministry platform, learn to leverage our authority and influence for the edification of the church rather than the indulgence of the flesh. For we serve a God that will one day wipe away the outward varnish of religion and expose us for who we truly are.