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First Quarter 2015 (January–March)
COMMENTARY ON PROVERBS
Week 6: January 31–February 6
COMMENTARY ON WHAT YOU GET IS NOT WHAT YOU SEE
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.
Day 1: Saturday, January 31, 2015—Introduction
"What should we do then to protect ourselves from these deceptions? Proverbs provides us with basic counsel. We should not trust ourselves, as the fool does. On the contrary, we should trust the Lord, who controls the course of events even when all seems to go wrong. In short, we need to live by faith and not merely by sight, because our sight can be exceedingly deceptive, showing only a small portion of what is real, and then even worse, distorting the little it does show us." (Standard Edition Page 46) [Emphasis added]
Here is the crux of modern theology. The Christian lives by faith and sight. Do your best and God does the rest.
The fact is, Jesus works everything in and through us via the Holy Spirit, or nothing, absolutely nothing, is accomplished. This reality is even more shocking when we realize that the very best we have to offer – adoration, praise, obedience, etc. – is worse than useless. Our righteousness is as filthy rags.
When a belief system is based on Law, there must be a performance orientation. If the law says, "Jump," you must ask, "How high?" And then, having jumped, you must ask, "How did I do?" This cycle is repeated endlessly. There can be no victory, because you always are expected to jump higher than you did last time.
Proverbs is a wonderful book if it is allowed to point to Jesus. If it is limited to "mere" wisdom couplets used to exhort readers to better performance then it becomes a hammer.
There are many useful statements in this lesson, many positive applications, but they are overshadowed by the presumption that we can do something on our own to improve.
This is demonstrated by one of the activities suggested in the Teachers Quarterly:
Have your class members make a list of practical items of advice, sharing what they have learned about the "big picture," such as managing time to open up space in their lives for daily Bible study and prayer, nurturing relationships, resolving conflicts, getting out of debt, and so on. (Teachers Comments, Page 76)
This is behavior modification. It is antithetical to grace. Grace – the Holy Spirit living in you, transforming you and working through you – literally creates new interests and desires within. You can choose, by faith, to allow these to be reflected in your life, or you can choose to continue trying to accomplish them in your own strength. Faith results in joy. Self-effort of any kind is sin.
Day 2: Sunday, February 1, 2015—The Assurance of the Fool
"It's easy to see the traits of a fool in others, but what about in our own selves?" (Standard Edition Page 47)
Sunday's lesson is an excellent problem statement, made even better by making it personal. It is easy to spot foolishness in others, but nearly impossible to spot it in ourselves.
It provides a well-done summary of the "fool" statements in Proverbs 14.
Day 3: Monday, February 2, 2015—The Fear of the Wise
"What does it mean to walk by faith and not by sight? How are we supposed to do that?" (Standard Edition Page 48)
Monday's lesson has another excellent summary of the "wise" statements in Proverbs 14. It is the perfect complement to Sunday's problem statement.
However, the thought question quoted above is too important to have been left hanging. I understand the space and time constraints of a quarterly, but this would have been an ideal place to show how the shadows of the Old Testament are fulfilled in the reality of Jesus, and then to explain New Covenant living.
I don't disagree with what the author wrote. I just wish there had been space devoted to Spirit-led living.
Let me offer a brief summary answer. You are invited to dig into these passages on your own.
Therefore, to walk by faith is to believe both the assurance of things hoped for and the evidence of things unseen (Hebrews 11:1), and then to act in this moment on the basis of these facts.
You cannot exercise faith either in the past or the future, but only in this moment, and the next, and the next.
Remember, God's promises are unshakable facts which have yet to enter your own time line.
Day 4: Tuesday, February 3, 2015—"The Eyes of the Lord "
"On a human level, this awareness should help us to remember always to do good and never evil, for God sees all that we do, even if no one else does." (Standard Edition Page 49)
The author provides another excellent description of God's omniscience out of Proverbs 15.
However, as the quotation above indicates, the author falls for the same temptation offered to Adam and Eve.
Look at Genesis 3. Here is one key part of the story. "For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." (Verse 5 NASB) Satan tempted; they fell for it. Note God's response to their rebellion: "Then the Lord God said, 'Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever'—therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden, to cultivate the ground from which he was taken. (Verses 22, 23 NASB)
Knowing good and evil is God's prerogative, not ours. God is the only one who can deal with good and evil. He did so by sending Jesus to take our sin and punishment at the cross, to provide the means of eternal life at his resurrection, and then to give us eternal life at Pentecost.
When humans deal with good and evil they make a complete hash of the situation. Why? Because, in Adam, all of us were born spiritually dead. Because the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was on the death side of the life/death equation, and Adam and Eve chose to go there, everything we do in our attempts to minimize evil and maximize good takes place on the death side of the life/death equation. All activity in this realm is, by definition, sin. It is worthless and hopeless, and it bears the putrefying stench of Satan.
The only thing we are called to do is fix our eyes on Jesus. He is our only victory. He is our only means of reasonable behavior, because only the indwelling Spirit can renew our minds, help us choose wisely and use our bodies for good, true good.
All obedience flows from God (Father, Son and Spirit) into us, then through us. We are wholly dependent on him. No one ever can do good things in his or her own strength. It is all by grace through faith!
Day 5: Wednesday, February 4, 2015—The Joy of the Lord
"This is why faith in God is so important; this is why it's so crucial that we know for ourselves, from our own experience, the reality of God and His love."
"Joy comes more from what we give than from what we receive. It is the good word shared with others that will bring joy to the giver." (Standard Edition Page 59)
The quotations above demonstrate the cognitive dissonance inherent in the theology of most churches. On the one hand is a call to experience for ourselves the reality of God and his love. On the other, is an attempt to gain for oneself what can only be given by the Spirit.
As I hope you saw in the Galatians 5 passage from Monday's commentary, joy is a fruit of the Spirit. It is not something we gain because we've been generous with others.
Here the author had an excellent opportunity to demonstrate how the Old Testament looked forward to Jesus, how Jesus fulfilled all the shadows and how we, on this side of the Christ Event under the New Covenant, are the recipients of what OT saints had been promised. Instead, we are exhorted to behave better to feel better.
In fact, salvation always has been by grace through faith, even in the Old Testament! Israel never was rewarded for good behavior. They never had any good behavior to reward. But many of them looked forward by faith to the promised Messiah, and they were counted as saints.
Day 6: Thursday, February 5, 2015—The Sovereignty of God
"As we seek to understand why things happen, how does the reality of the great controversy help us work through some difficult issues regarding why things happen as they do?" (Standard Edition Page 51)
Thursday's lesson is a good summary of God's sovereignty. He does give us the freedom to think and plan for ourselves, but the only sensible approach within this freedom is to submit our plans right back to him.
This is not unlike submitting an article or book to an editor for proofreading and correction. A good editor sees things the writer missed, whether by commission or omission. Having an excellent relationship with one's editor ensures a much better final product.
If this is true in our limited scope, how much more important is God's "editing" of our lives!
Things were going well in this section, and then the author brings up the Great Controversy. Actually, using this motif to explain why things happen is more a guarantee of confusion than of clarity.
At its core, the Great Controversy is about two equal adversaries duking it out in the court of heavenly opinion. On one hand, we have Satan saying, "Is so." On the other, Jesus retorts, "Is not."
There is no controversy, great or otherwise, in the Bible. Satan rebelled and brought his rebellion to earth. Adam and Eve fell for his lies. Satan's plan is to take as many of us down with him as possible. This is a fact.
By contrast, Jesus, very God and very man, crushed Satan's head. There was no contest. The Godhead perfectly anticipated Satan's schemes. Our failure required Jesus' death and resurrection in order to save us. This is exactly what he did!
This is why he is able to work all things together for our good. (See Romans 8:28) This working together for our good is a very usable definition of God's sovereignty.
Again, we have a choice. We can fix our eyes on Jesus, walking by faith in his finished work and our guaranteed future, or we can walk by sight, trying to figure out the difference between good and evil while Satan gleefully slaps us silly.
Leave the great controversy in the dust bin of bad ideas. It will not help you walk by faith.
Day 7: Friday, February 6, 2015—Further Study
The usual appeals to Ellen White for proof that this week's lesson properly represents Adventist theology. (Standard Edition Quarterly, Page 52)
Trust Jesus. Bet your life, literally, that he is who he claimed to be. Bet your life that he defeated sin and death. Bet your life that the Holy Spirit, once received, will never leave you. Bet your life that no sin can separate you from the love of God in Christ. Bet your life that in him you are a new creation. Bet your life that this degenerating body will be replaced faster than you can blink when Jesus returns. Bet your life that he is returning.
Bet your life that Satan is defeated. Bet your life that he does not and cannot have a claim on you once you've accepted Jesus. Bet your life that, whatever Satan does to your body, he cannot touch your soul and spirit.
In reality, these are not bets at all. They are sure things. They are incontrovertible facts. They are the basis of our faith, because they are yes and yes again in Jesus.