Constructive Criticism (Proverbs 3)
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Constructive Criticism – 05.29.2022
One of the all time greats in baseball was Babe Ruth. His bat had the power of a cannon, and his record of 714 home runs remained unbroken until Hank Aaron came along. The Babe was the idol of sports fans. But in time age took its toll and his popularity began to wane. Eventually the Yankees traded him to the Braves, and in one of his last games in Cincinnati, Babe Ruth began to falter. He played really poorly – he struck out and made several misplays that allowed the Reds to score five runs in one inning. As the Babe walked towards the dugout, chin down and dejected – there rose from the stands an enormous storm of boos and catcalls. Some fans actually shook their fists – they were heckling him. Then a wonderful thing happened. A little boy jumped over the railing, and with tears streaming down his cheeks he ran out to the great athlete. Unashamedly, he flung his arms around the Babe’s legs and held on tightly. Babe Ruth scooped him up, hugged him, and set him down again. Patting him gently on the head, he took his hand and the two of them walked off the field together.
Today we are going to talk about what it means to be on the same team, when you are trying to help someone grow. We are diving into the book of Proverbs, and we got started last week in chapter 2. What we found in the beginning of the book is that the line between good and evil is not usually between us and them – but rather it is a line that runs straight down the middle of our hearts. There is a need for each and every one of us to have self reflection and to pursue wisdom. And so now in our scripture for today we’re going to move into the next chapter and see what wisdom we might find.
Verse 1 says, [read it]. Now before we get into the meat of the chapter, I want you to notice the framework. He starts with the words “my child.” The way God approaches giving us wisdom is the same way that a loving father gives wisdom to his children. Now I would say that most of us have probably been children at some point in our life, and some of us even have had children, and so we can understand this framework personally. We try to give wisdom to our children because we love them and want them to prosper. And you’re going to see that in the text – every time Solomon gives a teaching or command it’s often paired with a line talking about how it will benefit you. Parents love their children and want good things for them, that’s why we do this “teaching wisdom” thing. Raising Kids is not just about keeping someone alive until their 18 – you want to cultivate them, help them grow and flourish, and the same thing is true of God with his children. God wants you to grow and flourish into the greatest Christ-like Christian you can be. So that’s the starting point, God has a parental love for his children – and gives us wisdom out of a desire to help us grow.
Verse 3 [read v.3-4]. Never let kindness and loyalty leave you. That’s the teaching, and he pairs that with, “if you do that, you’ll have favor with God and people AND you’ll have a good reputation.” Do you see how the teaching is tied up with the positive benefit? Like a Father raising his children because he wants them to prosper and thrive. Two things we need to hang onto in life are kindness and loyalty. In fact, what we’re going to find is that those two features – used together – gives us the tools for loving accountability. When you need to help someone, guide someone, maybe even correct someone – if you let kindness and loyalty be your guide you’ll be far more successful.
It keeps going, [read v.5-8]. Now there’s two pieces there – first, again you hear that “do this smart thing, positive benefit in your life” framework, right? Like a parent who wants what is best for his children, so to God gifts us with wisdom. But the other thing we get out of these verses is that God is smarter than you. Trust in the Lord and do not lean on your own understanding. Seek his will, don’t be impressed with your own wisdom. Now I want you to hear me, you are lovely and wonderful and created by God, but your God who made you – knows more than you, and knows what’s best for you. God is smarter than you. And I know that sounds obvious but you wouldn’t believe how many of our problems in the world come down to us trying to go OUR way instead of listening to God’s way. Here’s an example from my life. When I was a kid, I used to play soccer. We’d have practice twice a week – Tuesday and Thursdays and games on Saturdays. Now I was not a cautious child when it came to getting messy. If there was mud on the field, I set a personal goal to bring as much of it as humanly possible home with me smeared on my shirt. My mom used to make me strip down in the garage before she’d let me in the house. And I also played incredibly hard, so I would come home all sweaty and disgusting. Another thing about me as a child, I did not like taking showers. So now just imagine the muddiest, stinkiest little guy – it’s not hard to picture, just imagine one of the four little versions of me running around – imagine me, standing there with my arms crossed, “I will NOT get in the bathtub.” Now my father, not the one in heaven, but the one who lived in my house – he was far wiser than I was, he knew more information about germs and the fact that no-one is going to sit with you if you smell like that. He would patiently try to explain to me, “you have to get in the tub.” Now he was a lot bigger than I was at that age, and so what I would do is stand on the fourth or fifth step going upstairs, I would stand halfway up the staircase so I could be at eye level and scream at him, “I’m not taking a bath. I didn’t even get that dirty, I don’t smell that bad.” Beloved Church I cannot explain to you how bad I truly smelled. Wow. That’s what it looks like when we argue with God. A dirty, stinky little kid trying to seem like he’s bigger than he is, screaming because he doesn’t want to get clean. Proverbs says, “don’t lean on your own understanding, but trust in the Lord with all your heart.”
[read v.11-13]. Our passage for today bookends by bringing it home to that parental framework. The Lord corrects those he loves, just as a father corrects a child in whom he delights. But verse 11 really is the key verse for us this morning, [read it again]. I truly believe that we could dramatically improve the world if we could get everyone to read this verse and figure out what it means. There is a false teaching in our culture that in order to love someone, you must agree with everything they do. If you love me, you’ll let me do what I want. Here’s a silly example. Let’s say your husband or your wife makes you dinner. And it doesn’t taste very good (so let’s say it’s the husband). They try really hard, and they make a dish, but maybe they put too much salt, or not enough and it tastes bland. And so your husband asks you, “what do you think?” And you, fool that you are, tell him the truth. Well, it’s a little bland. And your husband throws the dinner plates into the garage and flings himself down on the couch – you hate me, I knew it! Trying to help someone improve, disagreeing, correcting – this is not hatred, it’s actually love. Let’s go back to the toddler example. My father, fascist dictator that he was, insisting that my muddy sweaty 8 year old self takes a shower is actually a way of loving me. It felt like he was rejecting me because he wasn’t listening to what I wanted. You don’t really love me, or you wouldn’t make me do something I don’t want to. But, and I really want you to hang on to this, it is possible to disagree with someone and still love them.
Don’t reject the Lord’s discipline, and don’t be upset when he corrects you. The truth is there are things that you do in your life that, as a Christian, you probably shouldn’t do. There is always room for growth and improvement, and if you let the Holy Spirit into your life, one of it’s first jobs is to CONVICT you. If you study God’s word, you’ll see where your life doesn’t line up with God’s path and you’ll feel guilty. That’s a good thing! That is a gift of grace to be able to see where you are and where you could be. Don’t reject discipline, it can help you grow! But correction is not rejection. Lovingly guiding someone is not the same thing as hatred. We have to stop pretending that people disagreeing with us is a form of hatred. You can love someone and disagree with them.
And do you know what the difference is? Do you know how to make correction loving instead of hateful? We heard it at the beginning of our passage. Loyalty and kindness. When you are in a deep relationship with someone, when you are in a loving community with someone – and you approach them with loyalty and kindness, they will feel that discipline as loving, as opposed to hatred. They need to know that you are in their corner. Let’s see if I can explain it like this. Imagine there’s a guy standing on the side of the road holding a sign that says, “turn or burn” or maybe it says, “Hey Harold, you put too much salt on dinner.” Or “Hey 8 year old JJ, you smell bad and you’re covered in mud.” Because I don’t know that guy, I am not going to feel like that is loving discipline, or helpful correction. But when it comes from my loving Dad, JJ you stink – that is discipline that helps me grow. I know it’s a silly example, but I hope you can see what I’m saying. I’ve been in this church for four years, a lot of that’s been pandemic, but I feel like we’ve been through a lot together – but I think even after four years we’re just starting to really get to know one another as pastor and congregation. But as we go along, I hope you realize that I am invested in this community. I care about you all and I love you. I want what is good for you. So I say you need to change something in your life, I’m not just some random guy with a signboard on the side of the road. I’m a brother in Christ, coming to you with loyalty and kindness trying to help because I’m on your team. How much moreso is God, your Father in heaven, in your corner when he comes to you with correction and discipline?
The good news this morning is that God corrects you. God disciplines you. And that is not hateful, that is loving. God disciplines you, because he corrects those he loves. Last week in chapter 2 we saw that there is potential for good and evil within each of us, this week we see that God calls out that evil. He calls us to what is good, and sometimes we’re not going to like that. The good news is that God corrects you, God disciplines you. Now you might be thinking, “oh no, no – God would never discipline me. He would never be mad at me for the things I do – he loves me too much.” And my response is simply, “Yes! Yes, that’s exactly it. God loves you, he knows what is best for you and he wants to help you get there.
Listen, if God was only interested in hateful judgment. If God’s discipline was only punishment, no transformation – just wrath, then the life of Jesus Christ doesn’t make any sense. But God so loved the world, that he gave his only son. Jesus came into this world, and he didn’t come to bless everybody and say, “hey you’re doing a great job, keep it up.” And he didn’t come to condemn everybody and say, “I can’t wait to drop you all into a pit of burning fire.” No, Jesus came and invested in a relationship with God’s people. He brought healing and transformation every where he went. He died on that cross, and he took God’s wrath so that you could live corrected. God disciplines you because he knows everything about you, he knows what’s best for you, and he has a better plan for you than your life of sin. And this is not some guy on the side of the road with a sign, this is the all knowing creator God who came into this world to walk with his people. That’s loyalty. That’s kindness. That’s grace.
When I was in high school I had a dear friend of mine, we’ll call him John. His parents let him do anything he wanted. In the meantime my parents were super strict. They always wanted to know where I was, who’s car I was in, and I had the earliest curfew of any of my friends. I used to be so jealous of my friend, who had all this freedom and could do anything he wanted. I found out later that he actually resented the fact that his parents let him do anything, and he was jealous of me. I had parents that were always checking in on me, demonstrating their love through their discipline. Forcing me to do stuff I didn’t want to do, that ended up making me a better person. It actually caused him to feel like his parents didn’t care what happened to him. They never disciplined him, he never got in trouble and by the end of high school he wasn’t sure if they really loved him. It actually kind of messed him up. Now I’m sure they did love him – but what I’m trying to show you is that discipline is actually a sign that you actually care what happens to someone. Discipline, from someone invested in your life, is a sign of love.
So I have two challenges for you coming out of this teaching. First, accept the Lord’s discipline. Don’t reject it. Don’t reject God’s challenging, transforming love. I want you to realize that all that stuff he did with Jesus, putting on a human life and living amongst us – this is not some far off cold and distant God waiting to judge us. This is a loving Father who knows what’s best for his children and is invested in their lives. God is on your team, God is in your corner. God is rooting for you. So when God is giving you correction – when you feel that tug of the Holy Spirit in your heart that what you are doing isn’t right, don’t reject that correction. Remember how much God loves you, and how he knows more than you do and accept the Lord’s discipline. Change your life to match God’s will.
Now this works vertically between us and God, but it also works between people. My second challenge to you is to cultivate a “same team” mentality in the family of God. This is something I teach every couple that gets married in this church. Part of the counseling that couples have to go through in this church is the teaching that it’s not his family or her family, it’s their family. For me and my wife Sara, it’s not “team JJ” and it’s not “team Sara” – it’s “Team Mannschreck.” You can’t approach a brother or sister in Christ and try to help them, to correct them, unless they know you’re on their team. If they feel like you are attacking them, they’re not going to accept correction. But if they know you love them, if they know you are rooting for them, you want what is best for them – they are more likely to listen to you. With your loving encouragement, help the people around you realize that you are on the same team. Proverbs says, “the Lord corrects those he loves,” and we can do the same thing. Now you might be asking yourself, how? How can I show someone that I am rooting for them? How can I demonstrate that I’m on their team and I want what’s best for them? We’ve heard it twice in this sermon so far… loyalty and kindness.
There’s a lot of superficial community in our world. People who connect on social media, people who sit next to one another on Sunday but barely know each other, People who are neighbors or fellow parents but you never dive deep. You never really invest in one another’s lives. Superficial community, superficial faith makes it impossible to accept or offer correction. But real growth comes when you realize just how much God loves you and accept his discipline as a sign of that love.
Babe Ruth was one of the greatest baseball players of all time, but when he lost a step the fans turned on him. But in one of his final games, towards the end of his career a little boy ran out onto the field and showed him kindness and loyalty. I can’t imagine what that meant to him. Loyalty and kindness are such a game changer. I think we all know, even when we don’t like to admit it, God knows more than we do – and as our loving father in heaven he wants what is best for us. And so I’ll leave you with this. May you accept the correction of God as a sign of his investment in your life. May you remember that Jesus came, lived, died and rose from the grave because of how much he loves you. He’s in your corner. And may you provide that same investment and love to the people around you and create a truly deep, Christian community. Amen.