Now for our final look at Proverbs. The wise man is known by his approach to life. The attitude that a man has to life tells me whether he is a wise man or a foolish man. And when he opens his mouth there is a reflection of his spirit. It is very interesting that in the thirty-one chapters of the Book of Proverbs, which is speaking of wisdom, there is not one word about going to church or to a meeting. Rather, there is a lot in the book about, for example, how long a person sleeps. There is a lot in the book about a person’s love for life and approach to work. Do you love life or are you bored? Do you love work or do you drag yourself through it? You can tell a wise man by the way that he approaches his work. You can tell a fool by the way that he drags himself through his work. Something else that this book is concerned about is timekeeping. Wherever I go, I notice something very interesting. The people who are out of work and who have all day to get ready for a meeting are the ones who come late to meetings. If you are bored with life; if you dislike work or are not even bothering to find a job; if you sleep a lot or watch a lot of television; if you are late for meetings; then Proverbs says that you are a fool.
There is a difference between human beings and animals. Animals hunt, animals sleep, animals have sex, animals react to life. Man is different. He may do all of those things, but unlike animals he makes choices within life. He does not react to his environment; he acts within it. Animals react; man acts. For man is made in the image of God. And the choice presented to us by the Book of Proverbs is that within our environment we shall act out from God’s wisdom. In this way we shall walk as wise people. As we have noted before, the foolish man is a man of fantasy. He is always dreaming about tomorrow. Many Christians are caught up in the fantasy of what God’s will for the future may be. Proverbs tells us to embrace life at this moment and to receive God’s will for the present. Live life to the full. Many Christians do not have that thrill of acting now in their world, because they are reacting to a fantasy world that does not exist.
Why should we act within our world? I have mentioned before that the wisdom of the Book of Proverbs is written in the view of the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible. That was all that the people of the time had of the revelation of God. And so the whole book of Proverbs is written with that in mind. Now, of course, we Christians operate within the full plan of God: all of God’s revealed purpose as focused specifically in Jesus. But it all relates back to the Book of Genesis where everything began. Why do we need to act within our environment? Many of us may feel that we do not need to work, and that we can exist on welfare. [This may be more true of some societies than of others.] Why does the fool work? Why does the man who is independent of God go to work at all? Well, he might go to work in order to lose himself in work, so that he never has to be alone with himself. That is a workaholic. Anybody who cannot stop working has a real problem with self.
I know how to work hard, and I thank God that I know how to rest hard. I do not need to work in order to run away from myself. Some people go to work in order to release nervous tension, and in that case their working is covering over a very real problem. When they stop work they will probably have some kind of breakdown. Others go to work in order to find significance. They need to have their name on the door or on the desk, so that they can look at it and say ‘that’s me’. It is very important to them, and if they lose their little badge with their name on it, they get all bent out of shape. Still other people go to work for money and possessions. But all of that is totally outside Christian doctrine concerning work, which is based on the fact that we are made in the image of God.
God is the original worker, the original actor. He acted and He created. God externalized Himself. God brought His own person, His essence and His attributes, and He made a world so that we can see who God is. And in so doing He did a perfect job, where everything that He made was declared to be good. It had the stamp of the Good, All Wise, Omnipotent God on every part of it. He did not need to work. He did not need the creation. He externalized Himself, for that is the way God is. Then He made man in His image, and the very first command He gave to man was to get on with the job of externalizing himself and doing a work on the garden. God did not call Adam to have a praise meeting under the Tree of Life. He told him, ‘This garden needs looking after; start work.’ And Adam worked in the Garden of Eden, tending it and caring for it. God did not call the animals to work on the garden. No animal ever works within its environment; only man does.
Man, according to Christian doctrine, must work, because he is made in the image of God. Man was placed within the creation as a priest. The priest takes his creation and offers it to God, and so every act of work becomes an act of worship. Man has gained significance. He is made in God’s image, and therefore when he touches earth he is to bring significance to what he is doing. So a job is not gauged by how much we get paid for it. A job is not a good job or a bad job depending on what it is. All jobs that human beings do are worthwhile. And a job is significant because the priest of all the earth is doing it, and he is lifting it to God as he does it. So you no longer go to work for money. That is a side issue. Now you are going to work to glorify God. You no longer go to work to be significant; you go because you are significant. You gain that significance from God, and you are going to work as a child of God. The Bible is a story-book about people who were workers in their environment, and I think we often miss that. Abraham was a businessman, Isaac was a well driller, Jacob was a rancher, Daniel was a Prime Minister. Even when God became flesh and dwelt among us, He spent most of His life working as a carpenter.
The fourth commandment, in Exodus Chapter 20 Verse 9, says, ‘Six days you shall labor…’. But we always remember the last half of it, to rest on the seventh day. You have no right to rest unless you have laboured for six days. Mark Chapter 12 Verse 30 reminds us that the first and greatest commandment is, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your…strength’. As you go to work, the very output of your energy should be an act of worship. You should be loving God with your strength. Work should not be separated into ‘secular’ and ‘spiritual’. Rather, all of it is spiritual when you, knowing who you are, go to work and externalize yourself. You do it for God’s glory, and there should not be a secular moment in your life. However menial the task, it is all an act of worship. And if you do not have a job you should find one. I mean that very literally: do not lie in bed, but get up and find a job.
God tells us that He will give us food and shelter as we worship Him. God says that we are the only creatures on this planet that can work, and so we should work. And as we work we are worshipping Him. We are recognizing the glory of our humanity and the wonder of our being joined to God. And in return for our work and our worship, God will give us food and shelter. We all pray ‘give us this day our daily bread’, for we see in our very ability to work that God is supplying our food and shelter. This is a beautiful circle. The Levitical priests of the Old Testament lived on worship, and as they worshipped they shared in the sacrifices, and so they ate. They ate because they worshipped. Now that is the background to Proverbs. That is what was in the mind of the writers. God says that we are all priests, and whatever we do we do it for God’s glory. In return we receive food and shelter.
Now, the fool has rejected God’s purpose. The fool wants food and shelter without the involvement of work. But, says Proverbs Chapter 12 Verse 11, ‘He who tills his land will have plenty of bread, but he who pursues vain things lacks sense.’ If you work, God will give you shelter and food. But if you pursue vain things and do not work, you lack sense and you are a fool. That message is taken up a lot in the New Testament, for example in the Epistles to the Thessalonians. As you read those letters you will notice that there were a lot of lazy people in Thessonalica. Those who would not go to work sponged off the Christian Church. So Paul wrote to them, ‘If anyone will not work, neither let him eat.’ [See First Thessalonians Chapter 4 Verse 11; Second Thessalonians Chapter 3 Verses 6 to 13]
If you are cadging money, especially if you are sponging off Christians in the name of Christian love, and you are not working, then for the sake of your own soul stop taking that money and work. Because every time you take money and do not work for it then you are degrading yourself and becoming less that a beast. God says that you are a significant person, and He has called you to go out and take on life. If you will not do that, if you just want food and shelter without earning them, then you are just left to pamper your own appetites.
Proverbs describes the laziness of the fool. Chapter 20 Verse 4a says, ‘The sluggard does not plough after the autumn.’ (It is too cold.) Chapter 22 Verse 13: ‘The sluggard says “There is a lion outside; I shall be slain in the streets!” ’ Of course, any excuse is better than none. ‘It’s too cold to work today’, or ‘It’s dangerous out there’, or ‘You never know, you might get run over’. Chapter 15 Verse 19: ‘The way of the sluggard is as a hedge of thorns, but the path of the upright is a highway.’ If you are lazy, life will be like walking through a thorn patch where everything is catching and pulling you back. It is a fight to get through. It just seems that everything is in your way. But if you are a wise man, and know who you are, and have risen to embrace life and glorify God, then life is like walking down a paved highway.
The fool does not live; he only exists. He is trying to avoid the fact that God made him to act in his environment. He will not rise and embrace life and do it now with all his heart to glorify God. He makes up constant excuses to get out of work. But without activity, his life becomes a drag. He is caught in a miserable tension. He does not wish to work or to get involved. He just wants to pamper himself. And that drags. So now he only has one resort, and that is fantasy. Where else can he go? The Book of Proverbs is telling us that this foolish man is not like the wise man who holds wisdom constantly before himself and plunges into God’s purposes as he sees them unfolding. This foolish man has his eyes ‘on the ends of the earth’. He lives in a fantasy world. He absolutely refuses to become involved in the reality of the present moment. And so over and over again in this book you will find that the sluggard or the fool is seen as sleeping.
Chapter 19 Verse 15a says that ‘laziness casts into a deep sleep’. That is so true. Have you noticed that when you do not want to do something you get tired? If you do not want to live, you find that the best alternative is sleeping. Chapter 20 Verse 13a says, ‘Do not love sleep, lest you become poor.’ Poverty in Proverbs is not only cash poverty; it is mental poverty and spiritual poverty, which relate to sleep. Chapter 13 Verse 4a speaks of another kind of sleep: ‘The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing.’ Instead of embracing life in the present, he sits back and thinks of all that he would like to do. He is back in the world of fantasy. He might actually exert himself a little bit, but when the real hard work comes he sits down and dreams about it. Chapter 12 Verse 27a says, ‘A slothful man does not roast his prey.’ He eventually gets up and goes hunting, but when he shoots the beast, that is too much to cope with. He goes so far and then he cannot be bothered. He dreams about it while somebody else roasts the animal and eats it.
Now, I want you to really examine your life. Proverbs sees the slothful man, the fool, as always being asleep or living in a fantasy world. I want to ask you how many hours a day you watch television. Do you realize that television is a packaged fantasy? With television, you get instant dreams. That is truer in some parts of the world than in others. But if you want to get to the heart of what the Book of Proverbs is saying, then every time you see the word ‘sleep’ substitute the word ‘television’. And so in the light of what you are studying I ask you very seriously how many hours a day you watch television. Similarly, how much of your time is spent watching movies or reading fiction novels? All of that is a ready made packaged dream, which fits exactly what the Bible understands as happening to the foolish man. He excuses himself from doing a job by saying that he has a TV programme to watch. When you watch a soap opera because you do not want to do housework, what are you doing? Exactly what we have read in Chapter 19 Verse 15: ‘Laziness casts into a deep sleep.’ You are rebelling against the purposes of God and so you fall into the instant sleep of television. You do not have your life under control, and so you read novels and watch movies of people who do. As we have read, ‘the soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing’. It is a dream.
The fool cannot face life. The fool cannot be alone with himself. And so the fool is always retiring into a world that is not there, and building his castles and dreaming his dreams and living his life in some future dimension. Look at Chapter 24 Verses 30 to 34, one of the little parables of Proverbs:
- I passed by the field of the sluggard, and by the vineyard of the man lacking sense; and behold, it was completely overgrown with thistles, its surface was covered with nettles, and its stone wall was broken down. When I saw, I reflected upon it; I looked and received instruction. “A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest”, then your poverty will come as a robber, and your want like an armed man.
Did you receive instruction? The writer of the parable saw an overgrown vineyard and a broken down wall, and he wondered how it had got like that. The owner just slept, even a little at a time, when he should have been working. ‘So’, says the writer, ‘your poverty comes like an armed man. You may as well have been robbed in broad daylight. You brought the disaster on yourself because you would not walk into life but you withdrew from life.’ That is the result when there is no motivation.
Now what about the wise man in all this? Turn back to Chapter 6 Verses 6 to 11, probably the most famous of the Proverbs:
- Go to the ant, O sluggard, observe her ways and be wise. [She] having no chief, officer or ruler, prepares her food in the summer, and gathers her provision in the harvest. How long will you lie down, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep? “A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest” — and your poverty will come in like a vagabond, and your need like an armed man.
The writer gives the same quotation at the end, but this time he is giving advice. He is seeking to turn the fool into a wise man. He says, ‘Learn a lesson from the ant. The ant gathers food in the summer time so that it will have enough in the winter. And when man does his harvesting, the ant is there to pick up what it needs for the long months when there will be no food.’ That ant is motivated! Who motivates the ant? It does not motivate itself. The Creator motivates it. The ant moves by an impulse, which we call instinct. If the ant, instinctively plugged into the Creator, has motivation, how much more motivated should we be, we who are made in the image of God and can understand who we are. We get our motivation from the same source as the ant does — from God. But unlike the ant, we turn to our environment and begin to act within it by choice. The ant does it by instinct; we do it by choice.
Do you want to know the secret of motivation? A principal of a school said to me once that if I could tell him how to motivate people it would be worth ten million dollars. But motivation, and the lack of it, is a spiritual thing. If you are bored, there is something wrong with your spirit. I mean that. If you are bored with life, if you are retreating into packaged sleep, then there is something terribly wrong with your spirit. When you understand who you are, you become motivated. You cannot sell that thought to schools; they would not pay ten million dollars for it. When you know who you are; when you know that you are made in God’s image and that the Spirit of God, the eternal energizer, lives in you; then you can be motivated. Motivation comes from knowing that the task in front of you is to be done at the present time to the glory of God and in the power and energy of the Spirit. It does not come from waiting for tomorrow’s fantasy.
‘Go to the ant, O sluggard.’ Motivation in the ant comes from the Creator, just as your motivation comes from the Creator when you look to Him by choice and realize that you are made in His image. There was no task too small for Him: He even made ants. And there is nothing to menial for you, when you know who you are. You can walk out and embrace life when you know that you are a child of God and a human being too. You are a human being made in God’s image: that is the first act of celebration. The second one is that He redeemed you and gave you His Holy Spirit. When you know who you are and can find your significance from the Creator, that is when your motivation comes.
Why does Proverbs say ‘do not sleep’? You say that you sleep and live in fantasy because you do not want to face reality. You run to Proverbs to see what wonderful spiritual experience it is going to promise you, and it just says ‘don’t sleep’. And that is your answer. You need to become motivated by grasping life and living it to the full, knowing who you are and then acting as if you are enjoying being who you are. And do not sleep, but do work for God’s glory. Have you noticed how, when you have done something that originally you did not want to do, you are glad that you did it? God does not give you super experiences to catapult you into action. He just requires you to know who you are, and that you are made in His image. What greater motivation can there be? So now do that job as a child of God. Bring to your work the order that is reflected in the God of order. Start getting up on time. Start walking out into life as if you meant to live it. Stop dragging your body through a thorn bush and just existing. God wants you to act as if you are choosing to act. When you do that, you will find the throb of life. And you will begin to want to do it.
Let us look back over what we have said about the wise man. He craves for wisdom more than anything else, searches for it as for hidden treasure, counts it as the number one priority in life. He restrains his tongue, lets his heart tell his lips what to say, avoids gossip as though it was a deadly bomb. He does not fantasize and retire to a world of sleep, but walks out to embrace life and live it to the full. That, says Proverbs, is the spiritual man, a man of true wisdom. Proverbs does not say that this man praises God in a meeting. He probably does, but most of the time he is out in the world. And the way that he lives and talks shows you that he is a spiritual man, a wise man.
In my talks I did not set out to challenge you. We set out to study Proverbs, and any challenge comes through the study. I should not want you to go away under bondage and condemnation, thinking that after all you may be a fool. If you think you are a fool, that may be the best thing that you have ever discovered. All the wise men of Proverbs know that without God they are fools, and all the fools think they are wise men. So if you go away with a low profile image of yourself, that is good. That is the first step to becoming a wise man. The next step is to begin to seek after wisdom actively. In all your ways acknowledge wisdom and begin to live in wisdom. Monitor your words in the light of that wisdom. And always recognize that if you let your independent self-destructive self have its own way, then you are a fool.
It may be that you have a little fear of being a fool. But rest in the wisdom of God, for God says that He will pour wisdom into the person who wants it. All you have to do is want it. You do not earn wisdom; God gives it. Do not come with a bag of money or good works. As long as you know that you are a fool; as long as you want wisdom more than you want anything else; as long as you ask of Him who gives and gives and gives; then you will be a wise person. Of course the advantage to all this is that if you fall into foolishness, at least you will know that it is foolishness. At least you will know that you acted foolishly because you acted independently of God. It is one thing for a fool to be foolish because he thinks he is wise. But when a wise man is foolish, he knows that he is foolish and he can turn round and repent. Maybe you and I have got some repenting to do. But if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. And Jesus Christ can become to us the wisdom of God that He really is.