Life is liking walking through a minefield. You never know what the next step will have in store for you. However, the book of Proverbs is like having a map showing you where all the mines have been buried; “step here, step there, don’t step over here…” While often overlooked, I wonder if we Christians would actually enjoy life more if we paid close attention to the map contained within the book of Proverbs. Here are five proverbs I pray more Christians will pay closer attention to.
1. “Fools show their annoyance at once; but the prudent overlook an insult” (Prov. 12:16).
We are far too easily offended. Insults are plentiful in a fallen world. It’s worth it to work at not being so easily annoyed by such things.
2. “The one who has knowledge uses words with restraint, and whoever has understanding is even-tempered” (Prov. 17:27).
Did you see that? Use words with restraint. There’s something to be said for not talking too much. See also Proverbs 29:20!
3. “Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones” (Prov. 16:24).
If you do speak, let them be “gracious words” that edify and build up other people.
4. “Choose my instruction instead of silver, knowledge rather than choice gold, for wisdom is more precious than rubies, and nothing you desire can compare with her” (Prov. 8:10-11).
It’s better to be wise than rich. It’s better to steeped in Scripture than to fill your portfolio to overflowing.
5. “In a lawsuit the first to speak seems right, until someone comes forward and cross-examines” (Prov. 18:17).
This has application beyond the world of litigation. We should work at being able to see multiple points of view with equal clarity. We are far too quick to jump to conclusions without first gathering all the data.
Titus 1:1-4 tells us about Paul's ministry patterns and principles. Because we are part of the apostolic ministry, these patterns and principles Paul adopted, ought to be patterns and principles we adopt as we execute God’s game plan for the Christian life.
We’ll consider two patterns of Christian practice we need to cultivate in our lives:
1) Bringing the lost to faith
In v. 1 Paul says he’s a servant and apostle “for the sake of the faith of God’s elect.”
This term ‘elect’ may elicit some strong emotions depending on past conversations. Rest assured, I’m not going to resolve in 30 minutes something that’s been a tension for centuries. Nonetheless, I don’t want to be guilty of avoiding what’s in the text either. So we’ll dip our toe in the water on this, but save the deep end for another time.
Divine sovereignty and human responsibility is a frequent tension throughout Scripture. That tension is present in this passage. Look at the short phrase: “for the sake of the faith of God’s elect”. On the one hand, Paul says there are a group of people out there known as “God’s elect”. But, at least from our perspective, they aren’t saved yet. Part of our responsibility in ministry is to see God’s elect come to faith in Christ. God has elected certain people to become Christians, but that hasn’t mitigated neither Paul’s nor our responsibility to communicate the gospel to them.
To help gain some clarity on the issue, let’s look at a passage from Acts 18:9-10:
"And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, 'Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people’” (Acts 18:9-10).
The context is that Paul has been to the synagogue to reason with the Jews about Jesus being the Messiah. It wasn’t a good experience. The Jews opposed and reviled him, so Paul may have been a bit discouraged by it all. God appears to Paul in a vision telling him these things. The meaning of which is illuminating. God is encouraging Paul to keep communicating the gospel to the people in Corinth. Why? “I have many in this city who are my people.” This is a remarkable statement. God is saying that from his perspective, outside of space and time, there are people who belong to him; people who are, in effect, Christians. But they haven’t heard the gospel yet. They haven't been called to repentance yet. God’s election hasn’t mitigated Paul’s responsibility to communicate the gospel to those in Corinth. God’s election didn’t remove Paul’s responsibility to communicate the gospel to the lost people of Corinth. In fact, in this passage from Acts 18, God is using election as an incentive for evangelism. God is trying to incentivize Paul’s evangelism efforts.
Since studying this passage from Acts 18 several years ago, I have often wondered what effect it would have on me if God was to say to me, “Brian, don’t be afraid. Keep communicating the gospel to the people of Mequon, Cedarburg, Grafton, Thiensville, Port Washington, Saukville, Fredonia, Random Lake, Fox Point, River Hills, Bayside, Brown Deer, West Bend, etc. (Did I get everybody?) Because from my perspective, there are many people in these communities who already belong to me even though they haven’t responded in faith to the gospel yet.”
I think I would be encouraged by these words. I think I would be spurred on by that.
Communicating the gospel to lost people needs to be a pattern in our lives, so let me offer a few practical steps in cultivating this pattern in your life:
Simon Barrington-Ward once wrote, “Prayer is that apparently useless activity, without which all activities are useless." Evangelism is useless without prayer. Pray for that one person in your life you long to see come to faith in Christ. Pray God would grant you the opportunity to begin talking about the gospel with that person. Pray God would soften his or her heart to the things of Jesus.
If you really do care about people, you’ll listen to them. Listening opens up channels into their hearts because as people talk they often reveal their fears, desires, hopes, dreams, and anxiety. Listening intently to people makes evangelism easier.
Randy Newman wrote a book entitled Questioning Evangelism. He looks at how Jesus used questions in doing evangelism. It's very helpful book to read. Don’t be in a rush to move them from non-Christian to Christian in one conversation. Progress is asking questions that get them thinking about something they’ve not considered before.
Depending on where the conversation is going, based on what they’ve said to you, you may want to share a thought with them or invite them to church or some church event or you may want to give them something a book, CD, or brochure.
2) Training the saved for godliness
In v. 1 also, Paul says he’s a servant and apostle “[for the sake of] their knowledge of the truth which accords with godliness”
We might be tempted to see growth in godliness as completely separate from possessing saving faith. They aren’t separate.
"What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:14-17).
Faith without works is dead faith. Works or godliness, demonstrates the faith one possesses is alive. Only a living faith saves.
Godliness is evidence the faith one possesses is saving faith. You could say godliness is a continuation of saving faith. Or godliness is the outgrowth of saving faith.
So our second pattern of Christian practice is growing in our knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness.
Notice Paul is not advocating for mere education in the Bible. The goal is growth in godliness. But he sees the advancement of our knowledge of the truth as a means of growing in godliness. Growing in our knowledge of the truth is critical to growth in godliness.
But let me offer a warning. Studying the Scriptures, advancing in our knowledge of the truth doesn’t automatically lead to greater godliness.
A professor of mine in seminary told a story about another professor who’s name was C.H. Dodd. He was one of the last of the old-time polite, pious liberals, and he had a massive knowledge. When he was about ninety, a BBC radio interviewer asked him an intriguing question: “What if, by some fluke, every copy of the Greek New Testament were destroyed? How much of it could you reconstruct?” Professor Dodd replied, “All of it.” His mastery of the scriptural text was impressive, but that knowledge is not the sanctifying work of the Word.
Don Carson, writing on this subject, said this, “...it is possible to think somehow that because we’re spending time studying biblical texts, we’re becoming more holy. But you don’t have to spend too long at a seminary before you realize that sometimes studying all those texts may make you unholy. A certain kind of a pride may set in...Mere education does not guarantee anything. Abstracted from the power and unction of the Spirit of God, a kind of idolatry of learning can appear, even in the scholarly work of believers. Such learning of the text does not guarantee the sanctifying work of the Word.”
Hearing this can cause us to be tempted to swing the pendulum to the other side where there is little or no interest in growing in our knowledge the truth. Personally speaking, my heart has not been prone to shrivel as more knowledge of God and his Word is put into my head. In fact, my experience has been the opposite. I have found putting more knowledge of God and his Word in my head is like put wood on the fire of my worship. Some of the richest times of personal and corporate worship for me were in seminary when I was spending hours each day studying the Scriptures.
Brian Borgman tells a story of a group of women in his church who wanted to start a women’s theology study group. They settled on reading and studying Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology book. This group of women took three years to read this book. One of them wrote a letter to Brian in which she said this:
“Studying theology has brought me incredibly joy. Knowing God better and spending more time in His presence and beholding His beauty and glory make me happy and content in a way I have not known before…studying systematic theology is gradually bringing together into one coherent whole all the strands of teaching and Bible reading of 30-plus years. Everything is making much more sense, both biblically and in life. Hearing the doctrine of God preached has made me mentally and emotionally healthier. I rarely suffer from depression now like I use to. A deep joy in the Lord is mine."
God’s game plan for the Christian life includes some patterns and practices. We’ve looked at two of them today: bringing the lost to faith and training the saved for godliness.
Why do bringing the lost to faith and training the saved for godliness need to be patterns and practices in our lives? Why are they a part of God’s game plan for the Christian life?
The answer is in v. 2: “in hope of eternal life, which God who never lies, promised before the ages began.” Bringing the lost to faith and training the saved for godliness are done in hopes of people one day inheriting eternal life. Eternal life is something God promised before the ages began.
Eternal life is something God promised before the ages began; before he spoke the universe into being. Eternal life was not an afterthought in the mind of God. It’s not as though when Adam and Eve sinned in the garden, God was forced to come up with a plan ‘B’. He didn’t look at Adam and Eve and the human race and think to himself, “Boy, if I don’t come up with something here these people are going to hate life and where it’s all headed. I guess I should bail a few of them out.”
From before the beginning of time, eternal life was always God’s plan. If you are a Christian, it was always God’s plan for you to spend eternity with him. It was not a happy accident. There’s no reluctance on God’s part. From before the ages began, God wanted you.
Victor Hugo put it well, “Life’s greatest happiness is to be convinced you’re loved.” This is what happens when the lost are brought to faith and the saved are trained for godliness. They’re convinced their loved by a God who said before the ages began, “I want you!"
Being in pastoral ministry for almost 13 years now has put me in the tough spot of being pastorally involved in more than a few cases of adultery. Tim Challies has written as clearly as anyone on how an affair really begins. I’ve summarized this below, but wholeheartedly recommend reading his longer version.
Affairs begin when affection in your marriage is eliminated. When you stop pursuing your spouse, you’ll start pursuing someone else.
As intimacy in your marriage is eliminated, you’ll eventually encounter someone else who is attractive to you. There will be something about that other person that draws you in. You may begin to see promises of something lacking in your marriage.
After the initial encounter with that other person, you’ll begin to enjoy being with that person. By enjoying that other person, you’ve now given them an emotional space previously reserved for your spouse.
Enjoyment of the other person will inevitably lead to expediting opportunities to be with them: arranging for your paths to cross; lingering where that person is likely to be; looking for opportunities to text or talk.
At this point, the emotional connection is so strong it will invariably lead to verbal expressions of it: “I really enjoy being with you.” “I wish I could talk with my husband/wife like I’m able to talk with you.” Once the emotional bond is forged, it's only a matter of time before the physical bond follows suit.
This the culmination of everything that’s taken place beforehand. Now the two will find themselves in bed as adulterers experiencing physically what they already established emotionally.
The 17th century Puritan Pastor, John Owen, was right: the smallest sin is but one step to the biggest and most treacherous sin. That one small step of neglecting to pursue your spouse is the first sin which lets loose an avalanche of destruction.