The Value Of Elbow Grease - Proverbs 10
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The Value of Elbow Grease - 6.05.2022
In the beginning there was nothing. Then the creator God spoke and out of that nothing God created light. Out of the darkness God fabricated our entire universe, the Sun and the stars, the earth – the sky, the land, the water and every single living creature – all brought into existence and held together by his power. The last piece was those made in his image – people. A man and a woman. Humankind was born. And in the beginning they had complete freedom. No rules, no limitations – just complete freedom in the presence of God. Paradise. But true love must be a choice, and so God created an opportunity for obedience. Don’t eat the fruit from this tree. It’s the only rule in all of creation. If you love me, you can show it by listening to me, by obeying me, by choosing me. Of course, we know that story – Adam and Eve ate from the tree and were banished from the garden. Sin, separation from God entered the world, and we have never been the same since. Over time people fell far away from God. If you know your bible you know that there is a long history over thousands of years of God reaching out to his creation, to his people. Slowly revealing who he is and how that connection between God and people could be restored. Always sin has been between God and his people, pushing us away from the one true thing that can actually, fully satisfy the unfulfilled ache of our souls. There is one thing that each and every one of us actually needs – and that’s the presence of God in our hearts. We will never be complete, we will never be satisfied, we will never be whole without it. Reconciliation with God is the great project of humanity. They tried a lot of things - rituals and rules dominated the early years – circumcision, sacrifices, big stone tablets with commandments – lists of do’s and don’ts for us to follow. And with every system, every covenant that came, God’s people found a way to corrupt it. To break it, to twist it. And so finally, when the time was right – God sent his son to settle things once and for all. Jesus Christ came into this world, the messiah. Lived a perfect life, sinless. He brought healing everywhere he went. Took people who thought they were lost forever, people on the margins, the outcasts, and he brought each and every one of them back into a connection with God. He took our punishment as the ultimate and final sacrifice, took our death and separation from God and took it to the cross. He died on the cross, taking the full wrath of God, the punishment for sin was on HIM so that you could live reconciled with your creator. The price has been paid, your sin has been washed away, and you are free. The is the gospel truth.
Now most of us know that story, that’s sort of Christianity 101. Jesus Christ is our Lord and savior. We worship and put our trust in him, and he washes away our sins. We can live forgiven – our sins have been handled. Problem is, for 50, maybe seventy five years, people have gotten up, dusted off their Sunday best, come to church, heard that message and thought to themselves: Jesus is my get out of Jail free card. For so many people, the gospel – the good news of Jesus Christ son of God, savior of the world – was the end of the conversation. We built a pit for ourselves, dug a big hole. Jesus comes along and pulls us out – and we figure, “well that was easy” and then we jump back into the hole. When we accept the gift of grace from Jesus Christ, but it doesn’t change our lives – we are taking grace for granted. We are cheapening a gift of God. Today we are back for part three of our series: 1 coin, two sides. Proverbs is a whole book full of practical wisdom on how to live your life, and what I want us to realize is that the gospel is not just the end of the conversation with sin, it is the beginning of your life lived in Christ. If the gospel is not transforming your life in practical concrete ways, then it is not the gospel.
Now we’re in chapter 10 today, but before we get into it I do have one big disclaimer: a proverb is not the same thing as a command or law from God. The actual definition of a proverb is a “short pithy saying for general use, stating a general truth or a piece of advice.” A couple weeks ago we talked about how the whole book of Proverbs is basically King Solomon’s twitter thread. And as we go through these it’s very important to understand that reading wisdom literature is NOT the same as reading commandments or anything like that. Proverbs are pieces of advice, stating general truth. They are not absolutes, as you’ll see there are lots of exceptions to some of these proverbs. It’s very dangerous to start pulling quotes from Proverbs and turning them into legal codes. For example, a popular saying in our culture is “laughter is the best medicine.” It’s a true statement, a general truth that is saying, “laughter is good for your emotional, psychological and sometimes even physical health.” But if your doctor comes back from your most recent scan and starts talking about laughter – you should get different doctor. Because another truth that’s out there is that medicine is often the best medicine. Proverbs are pieces of advice, touching on general truths. But they lack the authoritative and absolute nature of the laws of God. Proverbs are awesome – and there’s a lot of wisdom and guidance to find, but the big disclaimer at the start is that they are not legal codes.
We jump in at the start of the chapter, [read v.2-3]. Right away we’ve got a problem – the lord will not let the godly go hungry? Except I’m pretty sure that there are moments in history where godly people, even Christians, have gone hungry. So then we have to ask ourselves – what could it mean, if it’s not about literal hunger? Look at the verse before it. [read v.2 again]. I think the best way to understand it is to think about wealth and right living. He refuses to satisfy the cravings of the wicked – meaning if you go about gathering wealth in a dishonest way, you’ll never be satisfied. But if your goal is not piling up money, but living the right way – God won’t let you go hungry. Do you see it? AND do you see how much better that is than if I took verse 3 and pulled it out and turned it into a law? (the Lord won’t let godly people go hungry, so if you’re hungry – God must not like you) But a better, more accurate message is that right living is better than tainted wealth. Living the right way is more satisfying, more fulfilling than having piles of tainted wealth, where your cravings will never be satisfied.
There’s an old story about a very rich old man who was completely miserable. He went and visited his pastor and said, “I have more money than a human being could ever need, and yet I am so unhappy. Why?” The Pastor took the old man by the hand and led him to a window. “Look out there,” he said. The rich man looked into the street. “What do you see?” asked the Pastor. “I see men, women, and children,” answered the rich man. Again the Pastor took the man by the hand and this time led him to a mirror. “Now, what do you see?” The rich man replied, “I see myself.” Then the pastor said, “the window is made of glass, and the mirror is made of glass. But the glass of the mirror is covered with a little silver, and as soon as you add that silver – you can’t see anyone else. Suddenly you see only yourself.” Right living is better than tainted wealth.
It keeps going, [read v.4-5]. Oof, yikes – this is one of those passages that makes me cringe. It’s a very simple idea – lazy people get poor, hard workers get rich. Now I have worked professionally with people in poverty for years. And there are so many exceptions to this rule. Some people work incredibly hard, 70-80 hours a week but barely make ends meet. Some people don’t work at all, but they inherit money or whatever. But my cringing at the passage is actually me approaching it the wrong way. It’s not a law, it’s a proverb. It’s a pithy statement touching on a truth. In fact, there is another verse two chapters later in chapter 13, verse 23 that says, [read it]. There is a reality of injustice that can cause poverty even when someone works hard. Of course. Don’t get caught up on exceptions because you’re trying to universalize a proverb. That’s not what it was designed for. Proverbs are designed to give you a bit wisdom that touches on a truth. So what is the wisdom from the idea that, “lazy people get poor, hard workers get rich”? The truth is working hard is a very good thing. That’s how we as human beings are designed! We are designed to work hard and live fruitful lives. And in many situations, with working hard – success and failure is in your hands! There are exceptions, of course, but wow – hard work goes a long ways towards prosperity. Working hard is good.
There’s an old pastor named H.A. Ironside who tells a story from his childhood. When he was a kid, growing up in Scotland – little Harry Ironside’s mom was a widow. So when he had free time, he would go to work to earn some money. And for a while he worked for a Scottish shoemaker, a cobbler, named Dan Mackay. Now Dan the cobbler was a Christian man, and he was very upfront about that. All over the walls of his shop were bible texts and pictures. No matter where you looked in the shoe shop, the word of God was there. He would talk about his faith openly, and always answered any questions people might have about how to know Jesus.
Now as a kid working in the shop, Harry’s chief responsibility was to pound leather for shoe soles. You’d take a piece of cowhide, cut it to the right size, and then soak it in water. Then you lay it out and pound on it with a flat headed hammer. You have to pound on the leather soles until they were hard and dry. It was an endless operation and Harry hated it. What made it worse was that a block away there was another shop. Everyday he would walk past the shop, and in that shop was a cobbler who was not a man of faith. One day Harry Ironside was walking by and he peered into the window. And he noticed that the other cobbler never pounded the soles at all. He took cowhides straight from the water, nailed them on damp. So Harry went inside and asked, “I notice you put the soles on while still wet. Are they just as good as if they were pounded? And the cobbler smirked as he said, “Well, they come back all the quicker this way, my boy.” As a young boy Harry Ironside thought to himself, “well what a clever business practice.” He rushed back to work to explain to his boss that they were wasting time pounding the soles of the shoes they made.
Mr Mackay stopped his work and pulled out his bible and read from Colossians, “Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” Dan Mackay looked at Harry and said, “Harry, I do not cobble shoes just for the 50 cents or 75 cents that I get from my customers. I am doing this for the glory of God. I expect to see every shoe I have ever repaired in a big pile at the judgment seat of Christ, and I do not want the Lord to say to me in that day, “Dan, this was a poor job. You did not do your best here.” I want Him to be able to say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Some men are called to preach, Dan Mackay was called to fix shoes, and only as he did this well would his testimony count for God. As long as it’s not unethical, it doesn’t matter what thing you do in this world to earn money – what matters is that you work hard and do you best. Proverbs teaches us that working hard is good – it’s not just a job. It’s the testimony that we leave from our life.
It keeps going, [read v.7-8]. Alright, now this is sort of the same message we got last week – right? If you’re smart, you’re glad when someone calls you out and is trying to help you. Babbling fools fall flat on their faces. It’s not always fun when someone tries to help you improve, but if you know they’re on your team – that they love you and they treat you with kindness and loyalty – that is so much better than just ignoring the advice of others. Challenging someone means investing in them, which can be a sign of love. [read v.9-10]. One more time I want to highlight how we read a proverb. Verse 9 says if you have integrity you walk safely, and if you follow crooked paths you will slip and fall. You can’t take that verse, pull it out and make it law. Oh yeah – bad people fall down and good people know how to walk good. It’s a pithy saying that touches on truth, often using metaphors. The truth here is that integrity is the better way to live your life. Live your life with integrity, even when you slip on the sidewalk. You see it? I hope it’s obvious what I’m doing here. I don’t have the time in my little 20 minutes on a Sunday morning to go through every single piece of Wisdom Solomon wrote down. I’m trying to give you the framework, the tools, so you can go back and read this stuff for yourself.
The good news that I have for you this morning is that the gospel is only the beginning. The gospel is the END of your sin, but it is just the beginning of your life with Jesus. God has set you free from sin to do good work in the world. The wisdom Solomon is giving us this morning is that hard work is a very good thing. No matter what you’re doing with your life – work hard. And this isn’t about wealth or gathering up tainted money – this is about having purpose and meaning in your life. For some folks, that’s making shoes, for others like me – that’s preaching the gospel, running a non-profit organization, for some it’s being a doctor, or a barista, construction worker, teacher, financial advisor, or whatever. Hard work is one of the secrets of financial stability and prosperity, but it is also one of the secrets to living a meaningful and purposeful life. God designed you to do good work in the world. The gospel is not a get out of jail free card, it is the beginning of your life outside the prison of sin.
So, if hard work is a really good thing and if the gospel is not the end of the story, but rather the gospel is only the beginning – the application should be really obvious. Work hard in your life. Fill your life with good things that you can be proud of doing. Now, I know what you’re thinking – Pastor JJ, look around. There’s a whole bunch of people in this church who are retired. They graduated! They don’t need hear this nonsense about hard work – they’re all done. Don’t worry, I didn’t forget. Actually this message is just as important for retired folks. Did you know that a lot of people, when they first retire, they experience almost depression-like symptoms when they retire? Hard work is good for building wealth and having financial stability, but it is also important for having meaning and purpose in your life. Even in retirement, if you don’t need to earn a paycheck, filling your life with good things to do that you can be proud of goes a long way for emotional health. We are designed by God to benefit from working hard. Maybe that means earning a paycheck, and maybe that means volunteering at the women’s shelter, visiting the sick in the hospital or spending time mentoring the younger generation. The gospel is the end of your sin, but just the beginning of your story with Jesus. Whatever you do to live your life as a Christian, fill your life with good things that you can be proud of doing.
You know that thing, when you’re growing up – maybe when you’re a teenager and your parents are just the dumbest people on the planet? Right? Like, you in your infinite teenage wisdom, you know everything – and those silly parents have no idea what they’re talking about. But then you grow up a little bit, and you hit a point, it’s a horrible moment in life, but you hit this point where you realize – Oh no, my mom was right about everything. Even though you don’t like it – you realize that your parents or grandparents were actually right about all that stuff that you ignored when you were young? That’s the vibe I’m getting from Proverbs. It’s full of all that stuff I didn’t want to hear when I was younger, but now I wish I’d paid attention earlier. Right living is better than tainted wealth, working hard is actually wonderful and fulfilling and helps us have financial stability, receiving correction is actually a good thing and if done in the right spirit, it can mean someone really loves you and is invested in you. And so I’ll leave you with this – May you remember that God has set you free from your sins through the gift of grace that comes from Jesus Christ. But that’s not the end of the story. May we never forget that the gospel is only the beginning. The beginning of a life lived with Jesus. And may your walk with Jesus be filled with hard work, the kind that brings meaning, purpose and even financial prosperity to your life. Amen