Read Proverbs 20:16-30
One ago and far away in the age of bumper stickers and wall posters, there was one that said, “The beatings will continue until morale improves.”
What better way to improve morale than to keep on beating people. The sentiment is amusing because it seems to be a backwards, gallows sort of humor. We believe that morale improves when you treat people better.
But this last proverb of the 20th chapter isn’t about feeling good, or moral, or even self esteem. It is about right living. The proverbs are full of consequences for foolish or wicked living and almost seem to be deterministic.
That is to say, a fool is a fool and there is nothing to be done about it.
But this single proverb says that severe disciple can help bring the wayward back home.
We are told that the Lord disciplines those that he loves. We recite, spare the rod and spoil the child, while simultaneously looking over our respective shoulders for the government agency coming to take us away or the lawsuit in the making.
The proverbs remind us that not to discipline our children makes us a willing party to their destruction.
But this 30th proverb of the 20th chapter is talking about severe discipline and does not seem to be confined to the domain of children.
I spent a little time as an addiction treatment counselor for a Level VI treatment program. This was a program for hard core addicts and those with severe thinking problems. They had no real awareness that their thinking was so far from society’s acceptable norms. The executive summary here is that these were hard cases.
Much of the treatment involved what many would call abuse. Sanctions for violating program rules included such things as sitting in a designated chair to contemplate being kicked out fo the program without much hope of another chance. The chair was labeled the PROSPECT CHAIR as the person assigned to it was to consider the prospect that he would not be given another chance.
Most of the sanctions were given by other inmates—peers called to bring others to awareness of their hopeless state. Now if someone had to sit in the Prospect Chair for a few hours there was some discomfort and surely a good deal of humiliation.
Had you been a fly on the wall, you might have heard grown men pleading not to send them to “the chair.” To hear only these words you might have thought that a death row appeal had been denied.
But more so than time in the chair was wearing a sign. Some read:
I have a profanity problem.
I don’t accept authority.
I am still in denial.
I won’t ask for help.
The list went on and on and there were so many signs that one cell was dedicated just to store the signs until they were needed, but there was one sign missing. I couldn’t believe that no one had made it before.
I assigned an inmate to make a sign using the tag line that made Motel 6 famous. The sign read, “We will leave the light on for you.” The client had to walk around the pod—a triangular cell block—and if anyone asked him what he was doing, he was required to reply: “I’m picking out my cell for when I come back to prison.”
I reserved this sign only for those who were nearing release but had not committed to change the way they lived.
I doubt that I could get away with having a client wear a sign in today’s super-sensitive world—much less that sign. But severe circumstances called for severe measures.
We live in a time in which school systems are afraid to use corporal punishment, parents feel vulnerable if they take away their kid’s cell phone for more than a day, and one in which our youth have become street smart and say, “I’ll call DHS on you.”
In the time of the proverbs, people accepted physical punishment as a way of life. Today, almost any form of punishment seems contrary to the norms of society.
What does this mean?
There is risk, sometimes much risk, in helping those at risk and on their way to destruction. But we are made in God’s image and our God is a creative God and so too are we creative beings. Our challenge in the 21st century is to finds ways to discipline those we love.
Three millennia ago, beatings were the way. I don’t think anyone would want to bring back public flogging, but severe discipline for those whom we love must not be discounted.
There is a dichotomy that is presented here. How much risk are we willing to take to bring someone back from a path leading to destruction? We balance risk and love.
After dealing with what I have called, Throw Away Kids, I have often remarked that I would like to haul their parents out behind the church building and beat some parenting into them. I say this tongue-in-cheek but there is something that says severe measures are needed. We need to do something beyond the norm in these extreme cases.
We are blessed to live in an age when we are not at our wits end when dealing with severe circumstances. We have God’s own Spirit that walks next to us. God’s Spirit can bring about more repentance in the human heart than a thousand beatings.
So let’s not give up on our children when they get way out there or even with people that we know who seem to have pulled into the fast lane to destruction. When they seem to have reached that point that is more than we can deal with, invoke God’s own Spirit. Call God’s Holy Spirit to come and do what we cannot do—reach the innermost depths of the human heart.
This pericope contains some familiar sounding quips of wisdom. One reminds us to put prudent means in place when someone vouches for another person, especially one not known to us.
Take the garment of one who puts up security for a stranger;
hold it in pledgeif it is done for an outsider.
If you come and see me and say that you need to borrow $20, I will probably loan it to you and you will have to remind me why you are giving me $20 a few days later. We have a trust that exists between us. It is something special. It doesn’t apply to just anyone.
But if a third party not known to anyone needs a loan and you vouch for him, the wisdom of the proverbs says that you need to put up some collateral. This benefits you as it requires you to do a sanity check and ask yourself, “Is this an impulsive decision? Is God leading me to do this? Have I thought this through?”
We must discern if we are following in the way that God has set for us or embarking up what appears to be the primrose path.
It benefits the party providing the provision or loan or release in that the risk has been transferred to the person who has vouched for the stranger. If you want further understanding, just spend the afternoon with a bail bondsman.
Realize that this has to do with legal or business dealing not with being merciful or generous. If God is telling you to go pay for a two-night stay in a motel for a stranger or to feed him for a day, just do it. Don’t make this is loan or a gift given with conditions. Just be God’s love in action.
In matters of law and business, wisdom says that collateral is a good—a wise—thing.
We see more admonishments against fraud and deceit and the proverbs remind us that:
Food gained by fraud tastes sweet,
but one ends up with a mouth full of gravel.
Getting something for nothing or by deceit or dishonest measure might feel good for a while, but there is a cost in the end. The author here uses a nails dragged across a chalkboard analogy, but since the there no blackboards to speak of in this time, a mouth full of gravel sufficed to make the point.
In a similar vein, words spoken out of turn or stories we hear that we have no business hearing, will come back to bite us in the end.
A gossip betrays a confidence;
so avoid anyone who talks too much.
If someone is gossiping to you, you can bet they are gossiping about you in other settings. This is not new material. Walk away from gossip. Confront it if needed, but do not become a participant.
How do you know what is gossip and what is just good ole girlfriend stories?
Ask the question: Am I betraying a confidence?
Consider whether the person telling me the story has betrayed a confidence or even has the facts straight.
It is the difference between sharing that Joe has a problem with pornography or Sue has an eating disorder that she doesn’t want you to know about and I have to tell you this story because it makes me laugh so much. I will share this story with the person I am talking about and with my grandkids. It’s is just one of those that adds real spice to life.
It makes you love the subject of the story even more.
We should enjoy sharing experiences about this wonderful thing we call life, but never at the expense of hurting or demeaning another person.
Let’s look at one last piece of wisdom in this section. This one has an interesting purpose. It calls us to think, ponder, and even meditate. Some folks would rather endure physical beatings that be asked to think.
What exactly are we called to think about?
A person’s steps are directed by the Lord.
How then can anyone understand their own way?
What is the meaning of life?
How much free will do we really have?
What is the point of knowledge and wisdom?
Did someone say, “Providence?”
It is a good question to ponder: How then can anyone understand their own way?”
I challenge you to spend some time searching to answer this question. After you have done this to your heart’s content—be that 10 minutes or 10 months—I challenge to go read another proverb and see if your understanding of both proverbs has increased.
What other proverb? Proverbs 3:5-6
Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.
We have considered severe discipline, collateral, ill gotten gain, gossip, and a challenge to understand God’s direction and our own free will and have left a few of these proverbs for your own meditation.
Considering all of these things that call us to walk in the narrow way, I leave you with these 3 thoughts.