The sluggard says, “There is a lion outside! I shall be slain in the streets!” (Proverbs 22:13).
I think we can assume that, in this proverb, there is no lion in the streets, for, one, the refusal to go out and encounter a lion would seem to be wise. (Besides, the proverbs deal with characteristics of people, rather than isolated instances.) If so, we are left with two options. The sluggard may be saying that is a lion in the streets, even though he really doesn’t believe there is one. In this case, the sluggard is simply making an excuse for staying home and getting out of work. For those who want to avoid work, excuses are legion. We can always find reasons not to do what we don’t want to do.
On the other hand, perhaps the sluggard really believes that there is a lion in the streets. If that is the case, the proverb sheds interesting light on laziness, for it suggests that sloth is perhaps not simply a matter of unwillingness to work, but, at least in part, of fear. With a little thought, this makes sense. Fear paralyzes. Fear of failure, fear of what others might think, fear of personal harm or injury, even the fear of death, which we are told brings people into lifelong bondage (Hebrews 2:15).
God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of love, power, and self-control (2 Timothy 1:7). Part of what it means to live diligently and well is to deal with our fears, that we fear only what we ought to fear, and to believe that our times and our lives are in the hands of the One who is our refuge and our strength. In the end, whether out of indolence or fear, the sluggard does not plow in the autumn; he will seek at harvest and have nothing (Proverbs 20:4).
Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:7).
There is a crucial but easy-to-miss detail given in the description of the rebuilding of the Temple: the materials were donated by the people. This is interesting, for one might expect that a tax might be levied in order to pay for the construction of the house of God, especially since the Temple was for all. But, just like in the construction of the Tabernacle in Moses’ day (Exodus 25:1-9), it appears that the Temple was built with what people gave freely.
God has always loved a cheerful giver, one who gives freely without compulsion (2 Corinthians 8—9). Which makes sense, especially when building the house of God. For the Temple was meant to honor God, to display something of His glorious character. How much more glorious would the Temple be having been built with what the people gave freely, rather than built with what the people were constrained to give?
Years ago, fearful and troubled in spirit, I was sitting at night out on the sidewalk in front of my grandmother’s house, praying. A man walked by as I sat there with my head bowed and asked if anything was wrong. I looked up and told him that I was praying. He smiled and said (something to the effect of) “then you don’t have a problem.”
The psalms are tremendously instructive concerning prayer. Consider Psalm 27. What is David doing? To whom is he talking? Notice through the psalm that he appears to speak to himself at least as much as he speaks to the Lord. He begins with a question—to himself: “the LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?” He ends with an exhortation to himself: “Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!” And in between David speaks both to himself, as he remembers who the Lord is, and to the Lord directly, asking for His mercy and help as one who has been cast off by everyone else.
The Lord doesn’t need our prayers to do us good, for He knows our needs before we ask Him. But we need to pray. From whence does courage come? From believing in the goodness of God, even when things appear to be falling apart, and there are adversaries all around. And this believing will require two things—going to God directly, asking for His blessing and help as a child does a father, and determining to believe that “I shall look upon the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living!”
I didn’t immediately understand the deep wisdom of that man that night as he assured me that all was well as I sought the Lord. But he was right. The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?
Proverbs 20:9, Romans 16:17, Psalm 26:4-5
Avoid them (Romans 16:17).
In looking through the lessons for today, I was struck in three of them by the repeated and explicit exhortation not to associate with certain kinds of people:
- Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets; therefore do not associate with a simple babbler (Proverbs 20:19).
- I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them (Romans 16:17).
- I do not sit with men of falsehood, nor do I consort with hypocrites. I hate the assembly of evildoers, and I will not sit with the wicked (Psalm 26:4-5).
The reasons for refusal to associate with the wicked are not stated directly, but are perhaps implied in the above passages. Associating with the wicked, especially those who teach false doctrine and cause division is to be avoided, for it strengthens the harm they do, and compromises the witness of the church. Associating with the wicked also confirms such people in their sin. By its very nature, association implies a kind of agreement or acceptance. For example, the one who associates with talebearers and gossips, even if he does not gossip himself, confirms by his listening the gossiper in his sin. Finally, association with the wicked endangers one’s own faithfulness. To return to the example of gossip, we entertain it at our peril: “the words of a whisperer are like delicious morsels; they go down into the inner parts of the body” (Proverbs 26:22). Community is powerful, for good or for ill, and therefore we are careful concerning with whom we associate. “Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12).
How to carry out the Scriptures’ exhortations to be watchful over our associations is a matter of prayer, wisdom, and sober humility. One thing bears considering: a person walking in integrity will not be welcomed by men of falsehood, evildoers, the hypocrite, or the wicked. In other words, to the extent we are faithful and walking in integrity, people set in their sin will break fellowship with us, for those committed to darkness will seek themselves to avoid the light.