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First Quarter 2015 (January–March)
COMMENTARY ON PROVERBS
Week 5: January 24-30
COMMENTARY ON THE BLESSINGS OF THE RIGHTEOUS
Following is a combined commentary on the material included in the Bible Study Guide with references as necessary to the supplemental passages included in the E. G. White Notes for the Sabbath School Lessons.
Note: Unless otherwise stated, all biblical quotes are from the English Standard Version (ESV).
This week’s lesson seems to be primarily one moral lesson after another. The days’ studies walk through the ideas that “righteousness is holistic”; we must watch our words and speak wisely and “life-givingly”; we must be faithful and live with an eye to the future, not just the present; we need to tell the truth; and in the end, righteous people are rewarded.
In the Teachers Comments, however, we once again find the real objective of the lesson: the need for us to be responsible with our gift of free will. Following are some quotes from the Teachers Notes:
“God created humans with free choice so that we can love Him and one another. Without free choice, there can be no love. But if we are free to choose God and His love, we are also free to reject Him and choose selfishness instead. Rather than forcing us to choose Him, in which case there would be no real choice or opportunity for love, God clearly sets out alternatives and their consequences before us so that we can make informed choices rather than being deceived through ignorance” (p. 61).
“The fact that Proverbs presents so many choices shows the importance of our power of choice. God gave Adam and Eve a perfect world, but He also gave them the freedom to choose something else through eating the fruit of the ‘tree of the knowledge of good and evil’ (Gen. 2:17). They did not need it; nor was it good for them, but they could have it if they wanted” (p. 61).
“Proverbs emphasizes that our Creator gives us great freedom of choice, but He has also set up causes and effects that make things work in our world according to our nature. So, violating the relational boundaries that God has made for our good (see Deut. 10:13) is an invitation to disaster as a matter of cause and effect, not because God inflicts arbitrary punishment. Every sane person wants to achieve a sense of well-being, happiness, and success in life; so, Proverbs motivates by appealing to common sense” (p. 62).
“God promised to lavish blessings on those who would faithfully follow Him and receive the benefits of living according to the principles of cause and effect that He has set up. By blessing them, He can attract others to follow Him too” (Deut. 4:6) (p. 62).
“We can forgive others as God forgives us, because we love people as God and His Son love us” (John 3:16) (p. 62).
“Love, humility, and deferring the enjoyment of rewards until the next life are not natural for fallen human beings. Help your class to grasp the big picture of long-range cause and effect so that they are motivated to live by faith in God’s promises and instructions and not just by what they see around them” (p. 64).
This lesson betrays the Adventist worldview that denies the existence of an immaterial spirit that can be alive with the resurrection of life of Jesus or dead in our natural depravity. This lesson is a motivational attempt to create energy in the reader for “choosing the right” (to borrow a Mormon phrase) instead of being short-sighted and indulging one’s feelings.
The thought of an eternal “reward”, however, for right-doing, is not sufficient to cause any natural human to do right.
We are not born with “free choice”. Free choice, or free will, is one of the primary Adventist idols. In fact, Adventists are so committed to the notion of free will that they have adopted a worldview, taught in Ellen White’s great controversy, that puts themselves at the center of human events. Adventists believe God honors their free will (and indeed, that of all His creatures including Satan) so much that He limits Himself to protect their right to choose.
Thus, Adventists believe and teach that we all can choose to follow God. They believe that God must allow Satan to play out his nefarious game plan to its bitter end in order to prove that Satan was wrong and God is right. God, they say, can’t prevent Satan from tempting us and interfering with humans’ lives because God honors Satan’s freedom. He will have to watch his own plan fall apart; God will allow him to figuratively hang himself.
Adventists further teach that humans determine the general time of Christ’s return. God will not come until we have done our part and taken the Adventist gospel into all the world. Moreover, He will not come until finally we perfectly reflect His character.
The notion of human free will, however, is false. We are born with Adam’s sin as our legacy. This fact means we are born spiritually dead:
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind (Ephesians 2:1-3).
In fact, Romans 3:9-18 is explicit, quoting from the Old Testament, that no one can please or even seek God:
What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written:
“None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”
“Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.”
“The venom of asps is under their lips.”
“Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
“Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.”
“There is no fear of God before their eyes.” (Romans 3:9-18)
We are not endowed with far-reaching power of choice, nor are we limited by the laws of cause and effect. To be sure, we have inherited spiritual death as the effect of Adam’s sin, and that spiritual death has made us UNABLE to choose. Oh, we can make choices of a temporal nature, choices of taste and even of will power, but we are not able to make choices that are life-giving or selfless unless we are transferred out of our natural domain of darkness. As long as we are spiritually dead, we can make absolutely NO choice that has eternal consequences. Our eternal state is already decided unless we are born again.
When God gave Adam and Eve the tree of the knowledge of good and evil as the one thing they were not to eat in the Garden, God was not giving them something around which they were to exercise their powers of choice. Rather, God was asking them to trust Him. The test of that tree was not a test of will power or a test of wise and foolish choices. It was a test of trust. Would they believe God when faced with the temptation to eat, or would they discuss God’s word to try to figure out what He might have meant?
Eve, and then Adam, chose to act on the basis of distrust. They knew God’s commands; they knew the consequence for eating: death. Yet they ate that fruit. Instead of trusting God and submitting to His word when Satan tempted them, they considered Satan’s arguments instead of summarily dismissing them and trusting God’s word.
Their subsequent spiritual death, which is their legacy to each of us, resulted not because they exercised their power of choice unwisely. It resulted, rather, because they distrusted God and moved away from His Life.
Proverbs is not appealing to our “common sense” as the lesson says. Rather, Proverbs is illustrating the difference between a life that trusts God and a life that distrusts God. A person who trusts God and His word will act with wisdom, not as a willful act and a “take charge” attitude that chooses the right. Instead, a person who trusts God will make decisions that flow out of surrender. A truly wise person will surrender to God his desires, dreams, and doubts and act on the basis of God’s promises and His word.
Moreover, God doesn’t reward wise and righteous people so others will be drawn to serve Him, too. We’ve already seen from Romans and Ephesians that no one is able to choose to serve God on his own. In fact, no one can come to Jesus unless the Father draws him:
No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last dat (John 6:44).
Belief in Jesus comes from hearing the simple biblical gospel and believing it:
So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ (Romans 10:17).
Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God (1 Peter 1:22-23).
No one can be born again without hearing the word of God, the truth of the gospel of the Lord Jesus who died for our sins according to Scripture, was buried, and was raised on the third day according to Scripture (1 Cor. 15:3-4).
Only when we are born again are we able to have freedom to choose. When we have been brought from death to life, we then have a choice when we are tempted. Instead of fighting against temptation, endlessly rationalizing and self-abnegating, we can surrender the temptation to the Lord Jesus and allow Him to give us His wisdom and direction at that moment. The spiritually dead person cannot surrender to Him; he has no choice but to struggle with doing the right thing. The born again person, however, can submit to the Lord Jesus, give up his “right” to whatever it is he desires to have or do, and allow the Lord Jesus to be his all-in-all. He can defer to the Lord Christ’s wisdom. Romans 7 and 8 describe this new reality.
One last comment must be made: on page 62 the writer makes a clear distinction between God and His Son: “We can forgive others as God forgives us, because we love people as God and His Son love us” (John 3:16) (p. 62).
This phrase betrays the unorthodox view of the Trinity that Adventism has. Adventism’s “trinity” is that of a tri-theism. They do not believe Jesus is of the same substance as the Father. In other words, they believe there are three separate persons who are united in purpose, but they are not united as a Being. They do not have the same substance.
This view is heretical and is a variation of the heresy of Arianism that was address in the church during the third century. It definitely reflects the founding Adventists’ view of the Trinity. Never, in spite of “cleaned up words”, has Adventism endorsed the classic Christian Trinity.
Without an acceptance of Jesus as being exactly like the Father, possessed of every attribute (including omnipresence) that the Father and the Spirit have, they are teaching an incorrect Jesus. They are teaching a weak and fallible Jesus who is not truly God Almighty, as EGW said.
In short, this week’s lesson is not about our freedom of choice and the need to exercise it properly in order to be righteous. On the contrary, the proverbs covered this week reveal the fundamental differences between those who trust God and those who don’t. Without the Lord Jesus, we cannot please God. With Him, we are counted righteous because He credits His own personal righteousness to our account when we believe in the Lord Jesus and His finished work of atonement (see John 5:24; Romans 3:20-27).