Dear friends in Christ,

Judy and I were at the airport a few years ago waiting for our flight to board.  Soon we heard continuous applause.  As we looked down the corridor to see where it came from, we saw Muhammad Ali coming down the corridor to board a plane to Louisville. Ali, born as Cassius Clay, was the Olympic light heavy weight gold medalist in 1960 Olympics.  Not long after that he became the professional heavyweight boxing champion of the world.  He converted to Islam and changed his name to Muhammad Ali. 


He was a controversial man.  That began with his conversion to Islam.  He was also drafted into the army but refused to go.  He cited his religious beliefs and opposition to American involvement in the Vietnam War.  Eventually he was arrested and found guilty of draft evasion.  He was stripped of his boxing titles. He successfully appealed to the Supreme Court in 1971.  He returned to boxing and became the heavy weight boxing champion again. If I remember correctly, he did so four times.  


He wasn’t just a boxer, he was a showman.  He had an act.  He promoted boxing like no one else.  Boxing has diminished greatly since he left the ring.  He has since died. “I am the Greatest,” he would brag.  “I float like a butterfly and sting like a bee.” “I’m so smart” and then he tapped his head; “I’m so pretty” and he would stick his head out as if on a statue; “I am the Greatest!  I am the King!  I should be a postage stamp, because that’s the only way anyone is going to lick me!”


He made a fortune with his act and his athleticism.  He died recently. Boxing was the cause of his Parkinson’s disease.  His boasting got under the skin of a lot of people.  Someone said that boasting is the disease that makes everyone sick except the one who has it.  Today we turn to the Proverbs and see pride as the problem behind a lot of sin we do.  It is “Time for A Spiritual Self-Examination.” 1) Don’t let people see me in me all the time, 2) let people see Jesus in me all the time.


Every year in WashingtonDC they have the White House Correspondent’s Dinner.  It is hosted by the president who hosts news correspondents from all kinds of media.  Seriousness is set aside.  The highlight is the president having the opportunity to poke fun of news people and political opponents alike.  It’s a big social event.  The Washington Who’s Who shows up.  C-Span broadcasts long before anyone says anything.  They just turn on the cameras and pan the audience. 2500 show up. Everyone is dressed in their best.  Even Si and Willie Robertson go and are dressed in their best camo tuxes. There on the dais is the president and first lady.  I wonder how they assign seating. 


That’s the kind of scene that Solomon describes here in the Proverbs. Do not exalt yourself in the king’s presence, and do not claim a place among his great men; it is better for him to say to you, “Come up here,” than for him to humiliate you before his nobles.”The king invites people to dinner.  There don’t seem to be name plates.  First come, first serve.  The people flock to be by the king.  Obviously this is not church.  The people feel they deserve to be near him and in his presence.  The sinful nature is all about “me first.”  


It is a call for self-examination.  When there is a single slice of pizza left or a parking space near the front door of the mall, the last jar of peanut butter on the shelf, what do you do?  Is it like two football teams going after a fumble?  Or Black Friday when people push and shove and tackle to be first at the big sale?  Are you one that needs to be first through the door and the first in line?   


Understand here that Solomon is teaching a whole lot more than to be courteous.  The “me first,” the “I am foremost” thinking is a symptom of a spiritual problem.  Remember the Bible story about the Pharisee and the tax collector in the temple.  The Pharisee took his place in front of everyone.  “I thank you Lord that I am not like others or even as that tax collector over in the corner.”  No humility there!  The tax collector wouldn’t even lift his eyes to heaven, but humbly admitted his sin and his undeserving status before God.  “Lord, be merciful to me a sinner!”   This was all about honesty, don’t you think? The Pharisee was overrating himself while the tax collector was honest.  I am a sinner; I need your mercy, Lord.  The sinful nature inside of us all likes to overrate one’s self-worth.   


Look at someone like the apostle Paul. In the book of Acts he bursts onto the scene as a know-it-all Pharisee who even thought it was right to kill anyone who didn’t believe as he did.  Then the Lord got ahold of him.  His life was turned around.  As we observe him through the rest of the book of Acts and in the letters he wrote, we someone quite different.  It got older and wiser, but the real key was that he got closer to the LORD. 


Listen to the following phrases.  “I am the least of the apostles.”  That’s found in 1 Corinthians 15:9.  Probably written in 58-59 AD. “I am the very least of all the saints.” That’s found in Ephesians 3:8, probably written in 63 AD.  “I am the chief of sinners.” That’s found in 1 Timothy 1:15 probably written in 64 AD. Personal pride was replace by personal humility.  Passion and praise for God replaced the arrogance to toot his own horn.  That kind of humility is a characteristic of Godly growth.  A spiritually healthy heart is one that bows down before the Lord in humility but rises to praise and adore the LORD as the Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier of his people. Think about these things in your own spiritual self-examination.  Don’t overrate yourself.  Remember we stand before the LORD.    


Do a spiritual self-examination to see how you react when wronged.  The writer takes us from the king’s banquet hall and puts us into a courtroom.  “Do not bring hastily to court, for what will you do in the end if your neighbor puts you to shame? If you take your neighbor to court, do not betray another’s confidence, or the one who hears it may shame you and the charge against you will stand.”  We live in a sue-happy society.  One of our presidential candidates has been in 3500 cases of litigation.  That doesn’t sit right with me.  Instead of saying let’s work things out, people find it very easy to say, “I am going to sue.”   


The apostle Paul wrote about a situation in Corinth.  Someone in the church was suing another member of the church.  “If any of you has a dispute with another, do you dare to take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the Lord’s people?  Or do you not know that the Lord’s people will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases?”  If two parties who are brothers and sisters in Christ are having difficulty with each other in the church, the inspired apostle says we should bring the matter before a group of fair-minded fellow Christians rather than taking it to a court where the judge might not have a clue about the love of Jesus.  Think how people who are skeptical of Christianity in the first place might conclude, “You Christians are supposed to be all about love, and you can’t even settle matters among yourselves. What good is Christianity after all?”  


There is a different way that Christians loved and forgiven by Jesus work things out.  Jesus says in another place, “Let your “yes” be “yes” and let your “no” be “no.”  When we talk to each other we don’t need to be taking oaths and swearing asking God to be a witness to the truth.  Why?  Because Christians ought to be able to take it for granted another fellow Christian is telling the truth.  So it is with handling matters that we dispute with our fellow Christians.  We work it out in love.  If you need some help, don’t go to the court system where you might have an unbelieving judge or even some unfair law. Talk it out, or call on fellow Christians to help you through the matter.  Solomon adds, “Do not betray another’s confidence, or the one who hears it may shame you and the charge against you will stand.”  Don’t gossip.  Keep matters private. 


Maybe the solution to the problem is simply putting your ego aside and let the love from and to Jesus show through.   


Self-examination also includes the question of how humble Christians choose the words we say.  Solomon says, “Like apples of gold in settings of silver is a ruling rightly given.”  This is the most recent revision of the New International Version. Other translations seem to agree with mine. I translated “As apples of gold in settings of silver is a word rightly spoken.”  This is more literal.  Ill-chosen words usually start disputes, when words used were never intended to be like gold apples in settings of silver.  Like fine jewelry.    


Imagine taking your children to the top of a hill and breaking a feather pillow open on a windy day.  Imagine telling your children to collect all the feathers again.  Your children will probably want to trade you in for a new parent. The feathers go in all kinds of directions. So it is with words.  Taking them back is impossible to do.  The damage is done.  The damage is permanent.   


Yet the words said well can be so powerfully good, words that come from a humble and kind heart.  There was Jonathon who spoke well of his best friend David when his father, Saul, thought that David was public enemy number one.  The Jewish elders commended the Roman centurion whose slave was ill.  They told Jesus, “This man deserves to have you do this (heal him), because he loves our nation and built our synagogue.”  No Jew said that about any Roman.  No Roman did such good things for Jews, but this one did. 

Words can destroy, but they can also heal.   

There is more.  “Like an earring of gold or an ornament of fine gold is the rebuke of a wise judge to a listening ear.”  When someone’s soul is in danger because of impenitence, the words of a friend can save. What kind of friend are you if you don’t say something to someone who is caught in a web of sin?  What kind of friend will let someone simply go to hell by their silence?  Words of rebuke that lead to a contrite heart and repentant heart are the kindest words of all.   


Words coming from a humble loving friend are so valuable. “Like a snow-cooled drink at harvest time is a trustworthy messenger to the one who sends him; he refreshes the spirit of his master.” A person has to be careful because melting snow can carry   bacteria, but I have had ice-cold water from a mountain stream.  It refreshes the hiker or mountain climber.  So do good godly words. 


Many years ago when one of the first communication satellites was launched into space. A learned scientist addressed some of his colleagues.  After describing how the satellite worked and what went into the construction and launch of it, he said the world would be its audience.  But he asked this question, “But what are we going to tell it to say?” The scientists didn’t know.  How about this one?  “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”  No words can beat those words.  Those are always good words to say, because they are always good words to hear.   




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