The situation in the Arab world has been quite interesting in recent months. In Libya, Yemen, Egypt and Palestine there have been movements for change. It has been interesting to watch the strategies used in these movements. In some cases they have tried to use peaceful protests, which have sometimes been quelled by violence on the part of government forces. In other cases, like in Libya, they have used armed resistance. In Palestine after years of oppression by Israel, and responses of bombings and other violence, Mahmoud Abbas is trying a new strategy by asking the world to recognize Palestine as a state. Which way will win?
Although these events are taking place in the macrocosm of the world, similar concepts also pertain in the microcosm of our relationships with one another. For example, some people believe that the only way they will accomplish what they want is if they push their way forward. That seems to make sense, but sometimes the best way is counterintuitive.
Sometimes we know exactly what the best way to handle a relational matter is but we just don’t feel like doing it. For example, if we have made a commitment to someone, do we keep that commitment even if a better offer comes along? We know that keeping our commitment is the right thing to do, but it is very tempting to break it if it is to our advantage to do so.
In regards to relationships, what are winning ways? As followers of Jesus we are called to obey the Word of God, not only because it is right, but also because God’s ways are winning ways. So when winning ways are counterintuitive or hard to follow, we need to be reminded, as a follower of Christ that it is always wise to follow what God teaches. This morning, we will look at Proverbs 25:6-14 which examines a number of winning ways that have to do with relationships. So let us read the text and listen to what God is teaching us in the text.
I. Humble Ways 6, 7
This chapter is described as a collection of proverbs of Solomon which were collected by the men of Hezekiah. Hezekiah was a king who was faithful to God and ruled a number of years after Solomon. The first few proverbs have to do with winning ways for a king. The word “king” appears 4 times in the first 6 verses. Verse 6 describes winning ways for those who come into the presence of a king but the application makes a lot of sense for us as well.
There are no shortages of talent shows on TV. We watched America’s Got Talent when it was on during the summer. Some of the people who came to perform humbly got up on stage and displayed amazing talent. They won over the judges and the hearts of America by their talent. There were others who engaged in shameless self promotion and basically communicated that America was lucky they were in the competition. Often their talent betrayed them and they were quickly voted out.
That is the kind of relational attitude which is described in verses 6 & 7. It describes the situation in which a person is before a king and pushes himself forward. Although that is the context, the application is much broader and discourages us from engaging in any kind of self promotion. I have known people who have wanted positions of leadership, but they didn’t have the abilities. Sometimes they tried to get into those positions by self promotion. The result was usually unpleasant. On the other hand, I have seen people who had great gifts who were naturally called into leadership. This is one of those situations in which we know the right thing to do, but are sometimes tempted not to do it. We are afraid that if we don’t promote ourselves, no one else will. God invites us to a different way of relating. Earlier in the service we read from Luke 14 where we see that Jesus teaches the same thing. Ross says, “It is wiser to wait to be promoted than to risk demotion by self-promotion.”
The winning way of humility is promoted in Scripture. To be humble does not mean that we pretend that we aren’t able to do anything. Rather, it means that we do what we can do well and faithfully, that we serve willingly and offer what we have to offer gladly. Rather than seeking to be promoted and honored, we choose a humble servant attitude. We can do that because we trust God to guide our life and to bring us to the place he wants us.
II. Peacemaking Ways 8-10
The next few verses describe winning ways in the context of a conflict. These verses do not describe a complete strategy for conflict resolution, but a give us a few things that are helpful in those kind of situations.
A. I Want Justice!
A passion for justice is a frequent plea when a wrong has been done. We hear it when someone gets a sentence that doesn’t seem to fit the crime. We hear it from our government when they speak about getting tough on crime. We hear it from people who have been in an accident and want a fair settlement.
God is a God of justice and one of the things we can be confident about in regards to all wrongs done is that God will pursue what is right and just in every situation. He is famous for being a just God. So, the pursuit of justice, the demand for what is fair is a God-like thing to do.
However, Proverbs 25:8 raises a warning about the pursuit of justice. It warns that we should not bring a matter to court hastily. In other words, in our pursuit of justice, we need to be careful not to be too quick about raising issues.
A few years ago I made a left turn into the far lane. It was a double turning lane and there was a car which was also turning left in the other lane. The other car was a little behind me but speeded up faster and as I was trying to go into the far lane, they were coming up very quickly behind me. I was upset that they were speeding up to come into the lane I wanted and I wanted them to do what was right. I felt righteously indignant because of what they were doing. I made a comment about this and the person who was my passenger pointed out that I was the one who had done wrong, that I should have gone into the near lane first and then signaled to change into the far lane.
That is the problem with demanding justice or taking a matter to court too quickly. We think that we are in the right, but our perspective may not be accurate and we may in fact be in the wrong. That is the intended direction of the phrase “if you neighbor puts you to shame.” If we are hasty to demand justice or if we are hasty to take a matter to someone for arbitration, we may be surprised that in fact we are the ones who are in the wrong.
It happens in sports all the time when people think they are innocent when they receive a penalty. Often replays show that in fact they were not innocent.
The winning way described here is to have an open attitude about what is right, to recognize that our perspective may not be accurate and that we need to be gracious in approaching other people, making sure we fully understand a situation before we blast away or demand justice. If we think an injustice has been done, the winning way would be to explore the case with humility. Don’t be quick to demand justice until it is clear that there has been injustice done.
B. Speaking Honorably
Verse 9 is also set in a conflict context. When in a situation of conflict, people do some very strange things. Usually the goal we have is to defend ourselves and prove that we have done everything right. Of course as we have these conversations, we gather pieces of information from different people, some of them told to us in confidence. One of the things that may happen in our drive to defend ourselves is that we will quote some of these conversations and perhaps even quote some of the pieces of information which are told to us in confidence. It may seem like a winning way to do so. We may feel that we have strengthened our position and made our point. The problem is that there may be an unintended side effect and that is what this verse addresses.
The winning way which is described here is that we ought never to betray a confidence. What happens when we do is that the person whom we are speaking to suddenly realizes that we are not to be trusted and our case may in fact suffer loss.
Whenever someone says to me, “I shouldn’t say this, but…” I cringe. If you shouldn’t say this, why are you saying it? The information may be helpful, but an unintended result is that the person demonstrates that they cannot be trusted with a confidence.
Winning ways are ones in which even in the heat of argument, we maintain confidences.
III. Winning Words 11, 12
The next section speaks about winning ways with our words.
A. Speaking Blessing
In verses 11, 12, the writer uses some interesting imagery. This is good writing because it engages our imagination and allows us to visualize what is being said.
What kind of a picture comes to your mind with the phrase “apples of gold in settings of silver.” One writer suggests that golden apples are actually oranges and in the picture they are served in a silver basket. The word “setting” is a word which speaks about a sculpture. I imagine a very beautiful sculpture in which apples made of gold are placed into a setting of silver. The intent of the imagery is to communicate the value and beauty of words well spoken.
The word which is translated “aptly” is actually the word “wheels” which implies something along the line of the concept of a “turn of phrase.” Ross says, “The stichos is a wheel, and the sentence consisting of two wheels is a ‘well-turned’ expression.’ The line then would be describing a balanced, ‘well-turned’ saying, a proverb; it is skillfully constructed, beautifully written, and of lasting value.”
What is the point of this interesting saying? It describes how beautiful it is when someone says something that just exactly fits the situation. We have all experienced it when people say just the right word to bless and encourage us. The message is that we want to be people whose words bless other people. How can we say things that will be a blessing to others? Jesus warns us that we speak out of what is in our heart. So the best way to learn to speak words of blessing is to have hearts that are filled with His blessing. If our heart belongs to Jesus and has been changed by Jesus, we will be able to speak things that are also a blessing to others.
B. Speaking and Hearing Rebuke
But a word aptly spoken need not be only a positive word. A rebuke can also be a word of blessing.
Once again in verse 12 we have the imagery of jewelry. What is it about a gold earring or an ornament of fine gold that is attractive? We recognize that it is valuable and it is designed to draw our attention to something good, something beautiful.
The proverb teaches us that rebuke can be a beautiful thing. But in order for it to be a beautiful thing there are two things that are required. The rebuke must come from the mouth of a wise person and it must find a ready reception. Winning ways happen when both of these conditions are in place.
Just a rebuke is not always a good thing. Sometimes a rebuke can be very hurtful. Someone may be speaking the truth, but if what is said comes across as a criticism or with the intent to hurt, it is not helpful. I have learned that there are always numerous ways of saying anything. For some of us, our default would be to just blurt it out and lay it all out there, but that seldom helps. If we give our words a little bit of thought, we can usually find ways of communicating something to someone that will really help them. For example, instead of commanding a child to stop doing something that is not good, we can invite them to consider the consequences of their action.
A wise person’s rebuke will contain certain things. It will be the truth, it will be spoken with words of blessing, and it will be given with the intent of lifting another up. It will be a care soaked correction spoken in such a way that the hearer understands the intended correction and is not hurt.
But even if a rebuke is spoken well, that does not mean that it will land well. The person who is hearing the rebuke must also have a listening ear. It isn’t always easy for us to hear correction. If we have a low opinion of ourselves, no matter how well something is spoken we may not hear it. If we have trouble hearing what is intended to help us because of pride we will not get it.
When both of these things come together and a rebuke spoken by a wise person is received by a person willing to listen, it is a beautiful thing. Keil and Delitsch write, “It looks well when two stand together, the one of whom has golden earrings, and the other wears a yet more precious golden necklace – such a beautiful mutual relationship is formed by a wise speaker and a hearer who listens to his admonitions.” This is a winning way. It is a good path for anyone who wants to follow God’s way.
IV. Trustworthy Ways 13, 14
The final verses we will look at describe the winning way of being a trustworthy person.
A. A Trustworthy Person
Upon first reading of verse 13, any farmer may be somewhat troubled. I remember well the feelings and attitudes of my farmer friends who were not finished harvest in early October one year when there was a major blizzard. Fortunately that year the snow melted and they were able to complete their harvest, but I know that the snow was not welcome.
Fortunately that is not what the saying is talking about. We need to remember that this was written in ancient times in a Middle-eastern context. At that time, their tractors did not have air-conditioning; in fact they did not have tractors at all. All the work had to be done by manual labor which took a long time. Harvest time was also usually a time of dry heat, just like it often is here. Can you imagine working physically all day in the dust and the heat and then not having any way of cooling down? All the water available to drink was warm. If in the midst of that kind of a harvest season, a breeze would come down from the mountains in the northern part of Israel, which do have snow on them; it would have been a very refreshing feeling. This saying may refer to such a breeze. It may also refer to a drink of cool water. It may have happened, that someone would go up to the mountain and bring down a load of ice and snow in an insulated container and use it to cool the water, how refreshing that would have been.
The proverb says that a person who faithfully delivers a message is refreshing like that. In other words, it declares the blessing of someone who keeps an obligation.
When Carla was in high school and I was in university, my brother, who attended the same high school as Carla, was a messenger between us. We didn’t call him UPS, rather, we called him UMS, which stood for “Unreliable Messenger Service.” We would send a message through him and later in the day find that it had not been delivered. What a blessing when he actually delivered the message.
Faithfulness is a precious commodity and one of the most important things we can do as followers of Jesus is to adopt the winning way of being someone whom others can count on. The best way to do that is to make a note of our obligations and care enough to fulfill them.
B. An Untrustworthy Person
Some of you will remember 1988. It was a hot dry summer, much like this past summer. The only problem was that the heat and the dry began already in April. Farmers had to sow their seeds deep, few of them came up and they did not fill out well because it was so dry. When the weather forecast came, we were always excited when we were told that there was a 70% chance of rain. The only problem, at least that summer, was that most of the time, no matter what the percentage chance of rain, no matter how the clouds rolled and the wind blew, it did not rain. There was a promise of something greatly needed, but the promise was never fulfilled.
Some people are like that. They make promises, but they don’t keep their promises. How empty, how disappointing! Are you that kind of a person? I hope not because keeping promises is another winning way for a person who is a follower of Christ. We must be people who keep the promises we make.
So there are a variety of sayings we have looked at today. They vary, but they all have to do with how we relate to one another. They all describe winning ways, which are the ways in which God wants us to do things. The winning ways are that we not be self promoting, but rather humble; that we not enter quickly into disputes or betray a confidence in the midst of a dispute, but rather be people who seek peace and pursue it. That we speak words of blessing and learn both to give rebuke wisely and accept rebuke with a willing ear. And that we be people who can be counted on.
How do we walk in these winning ways?
To walk in winning ways requires that we have a heart changed by Jesus. We can learn and memorize and discover winning ways by trial and error and we need to do that. How much more powerful if we learn winning ways because our heart has been change by God!
To walk in winning ways requires that we make good choices. Seeking God, seeking God’s wisdom, seeking help from others are ways in which we can make good choices and if we learn to do that, we will be able to walk in God’s way.
The third way in which we can learn to walk in winning ways is to be humble enough that we are aware that we may have blind spots and to always be on the lookout for them so that we can correct them.
May we honor Christ by walking in winning ways!