In a world of 8 billion people it is next to impossible to avoid relationships. There are some who have tried to live as hermits, secluding themselves from the rest of society, and trying to avoid the trials and tribulations that come about because of our relationships with others, but the reality is that we were made to relate to others. In Genesis 2, after God created man, He said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” (Genesis 2:18 NIV) We were made for relationships and yet I would guess that relationships are the number one cause of heartache and hurt in your life. Relationships at home, relationships at work, relationships with others in your neighborhood, relationships with people in church, relationships with kids in your school–all of these relationships which God desires to use to bless you and to give you opportunities to bless others, are often experienced as anything but a blessing.
God has designed us to be in relationship with others and He has created us to be a blessing to those He puts in our life. Let me give you an example of what I am talking about. In Genesis 12:1-2 we read about God calling Abram. God was educating Abram about His purpose for his life. Read with me what God was about to do in Abram’s life.
1 The LORD had said to Abram, ‘Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. 2 I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.’ (Genesis 12:1-2 NIV)
God says, “I will bless you and you will be a blessing.” God’s words to Abram are also God’s word to each of us. We were created to be a blessing as we relate to others. In Luke 6:27-28 Jesus was speaking to the people when He said,
27 ‘But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.’ (Luke 6:27-31 NIV)
Be a blessing, even to those who persecute you, treat you badly, and get on your last nerve! Jesus wasn’t asking His followers to do anything that He didn’t do throughout His life.
After Jesus was crucified, buried, and resurrected the Apostle Paul was called to be a spokesman for God, to share the Good News of salvation with those in his day. Paul wrote to the Church in Rome and told them, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.” (Romans 12:14 NIV)
My question is this: “If God created us to relate to others, to bless others, and for others to be a blessing to us as we relate to them, why are relationships so messy?” It really doesn’t take a room full of Ph.Ds in psychology or Dr. Phil to provide an answer for us. The answer to the question is a simple three letter word…sin. Sin divides, sin isolates, sin brings dissension, jealousy, and animosity where peace, serenity, and love are meant to reside. We can see this in the very first instance of human relationships, when sin entered the world. Let me take you to the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve were frolicking among the beautiful creation of God when they decided to do the one thing God told them not to do–eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. We read in Genesis 3 that after they did this they realized that they were naked and tried to cover up. Then in Genesis 3:8-12 we see the devastation that came upon their relationships. Read along with me.
8 Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the LORD God called to the man, ‘Where are you?’ 10 He answered, ‘I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.’ 11 And he said, ‘Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?’ 12 The man said, ‘The woman you put here with me, she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.’ (Genesis 3:8-12 NIV)
Did you notice the changes that took place? Adam and Eve once walked with God in the Garden, but now they are hiding from the One who made them. Adam said he was “afraid” whereas, before he ate from the tree, he didn’t fear a thing. When God asked Adam if he had eaten from the tree, Adam said, “It wasn’t me! It was the woman You gave me. She made me eat it. I told her that we shouldn’t do it, but she forced me. She put me in a headlock and crammed that apple into my mouth.” Can’t you just see Eve standing there with her mouth wide open and her hands on her hips?
Paul wrote in Romans 5 about the effects of Adam and Eve’s choice upon all of us. Paul says,
12 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned. (Romans 5:12 NIV)
Sin is pervasive. Sin is persistent in its march to destroy. Sin not only affects each of our lives as individuals, but it affects our relationships as well. I’m sure I don’t have to work too hard to convince you of this truth. We see sins affects all around us, each and every day.
In our Scripture for today, found in Proverbs 25:16-22, we read about Solomon seeking to educate his son about the reality of messy relationships, the tendency of people to disappoint one another, and the way that his son should respond to those who are lacking in integrity and honesty. Let’s read our Scripture together.
16 If you find honey, eat just enough, too much of it, and you will vomit. 17 Seldom set foot in your neighbor’s house, too much of you, and he will hate you. 18 Like a club or a sword or a sharp arrow is the man who gives false testimony against his neighbor. 19 Like a bad tooth or a lame foot is reliance on the unfaithful in times of trouble. 20 Like one who takes away a garment on a cold day, or like vinegar poured on soda, is one who sings songs to a heavy heart. 21 If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. 22 In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the LORD will reward you. (Proverbs 25:16-22 NIV)
As we begin our study it would appear that verse 16 is out of place. What does eating honey have to do with messy relationships? Let me show you how verse 16 relates to verse 17. When Solomon encourages his son to eat “just enough” honey or he will vomit he uses a unique Hebrew word. The word means, “sufficient or enough.” It is a word that demonstrates to us how we must exercise discernment and discipline in the choices we make. Honey is good, but too much honey will make you sick. You may have heard the phrase, “moderation in all things.” This really captures the sense of the word for us.
Now let’s take a look at verse 17 and see how the wisdom we learned from verse 16 can help us understand this verse. In verse 17, we read 17 “Seldom set foot in your neighbor’s house–too much of you, and he will hate you.” The same discernment that is needed in knowing how much honey to eat without making ourselves sick is needed in maintaining healthy relationships with our friends. Solomon says, “Don’t wear your friends out or they will get sick of seeing you.” Have you ever met someone that you just clicked with? They like the same things you like, they listen to the same music that you listen to, they are fans of the same sports team, etc.? You really enjoy their company, but they are starting to get on your nerves. They call you incessantly. They stop by your house unannounced most every day. You love your friend, but you are starting to understand the old phrase, “Too much of a good thing is not a good thing.”
The powerful lesson I have learned from this section of Proverbs this week is this: God has given us a brain and we are to use it. We must exercise discernment, discipline, and restraint in our relationships. Everyone is different. You may have one friend who loves to be around people, they may even need to be around people, so you can probably spend more time with that friend then you can a friend who is more of a solitary individual. You have to be a student of your friends and know how to relate to each of them. If you don’t exercise discernment then you will end up experiencing messy relationships. Solomon says that your friend will end up hating you. You will lose a friend, and for no other reason than this: you didn’t listen to God’s wisdom. Now let’s move on and learn more about how to manage messy relationships. Take a look at Proverbs 25:18-20.
18 Like a club or a sword or a sharp arrow is the man who gives false testimony against his neighbor. 19 Like a bad tooth or a lame foot is reliance on the unfaithful in times of trouble. 20 Like one who takes away a garment on a cold day, or like vinegar poured on soda, is one who sings songs to a heavy heart. (Proverbs 25:18-20 NIV)
All three verses underscore the same truth: the things we do undermine the relationships we have. In verse 18 we have a person who is a false witness, a perjurer. This person lies, gossips, and spreads rumors about their friend and neighbor. Solomon says that this person is like a “club,” “sword,” and a “sharp arrow.” These tools of destruction were used in battle. The “club,” or as the New Living Translation puts it, an “axe,” was used in close hand-to-hand combat. The “sword” was also a close in instrument used in battle. Last of all, Solomon compares the liar to a “sharp arrow” that was used in long distance battle. What Solomon is seeking to relate to us is that the liar will leave no weapon in its sheath, he will use every device to try and utterly destroy his friend with his arsenal of lies.
Have you ever known someone like this? They come on like a friend, but then you begin to hear stories around school that you told your friend in confidence. You are not hearing the same story you related to your supposed friend. You are hearing parts of your story with new chapters–lies that you never said and stories of things you never did.
You show up to work everyday to get the job done. You are grateful to even have a job and you work diligently and conscientiously to do a good job. Someone in the office dislikes you, she is jealous of you, so she begins to tell lies about you. The rumor mill is running rampant with so many lies that you know in your heart you can never track them all down and correct them. Your supposed “friend” is trying to do you in.
The second kind of person that Solomon describes for his son is the unfaithful person. He writes, ‘Like a bad tooth or a lame foot is reliance on the unfaithful in times of trouble.’ Solomon shifts his thoughts from the liar who will do you in to the fair-weather friend who will let you down. In Proverbs 17:17, Solomon had told his son,
17 A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity. (Proverbs 17:17 NIV)
The friend that Solomon describes for us here in Proverbs 17 is a total contrast to the supposed friend of Proverbs 25:19. A real friend is always a friend. Through thick and thin, in good times and bad, you know you can count on your friend. The “unfaithful” friend described in Proverbs 25:19 is a treacherous, unfaithful person who can’t be counted on. The word translated, “unfaithful” is the Hebrew word which means, “to act treacherously, deceitfully, or deal faithlessly.” The word is used to describe our faithlessness in relationships, our relationship to God as well to others. Let me give you some examples of other places where this word appears. In Lamentations 1:1-2, Jeremiah writes,
1 How deserted lies the city, once so full of people! How like a widow is she, who once was great among the nations! She who was queen among the provinces has now become a slave. 2 Bitterly she weeps at night, tears are upon her cheeks. Among all her lovers there is none to comfort her. All her friends have betrayed her; they have become her enemies. (Lamentations 1:1-2 NIV)
Malachi 2 is another place where we see the word used. Here we find that the priests have forsaken their relationship and responsibility to teach the people about God. Instead of doing what they were supposed to do, to love mercy and to stand for justice among all of the people, the priests were showing partiality to the privileged in society. Malachi says,
10 Have we not all one Father? Did not one God create us? Why do we profane the covenant of our fathers by breaking faith with one another? (Malachi 2:10 NIV)
“Why do we profane the covenant of our fathers by breaking faith with one another?” Why are we so wishy washy in our relationships? Why do we walk away at the drop of a hat? Why do we favor the rich, the powerful, and neglect the poor and powerless?
Do you find a lack of faithfulness in the relationships you have today? Do you find that at the first sign of a disagreement you walk away from your friend? Do you find yourself roaming from friend to friend with a trail of broken relationships following you throughout your life? Faithlessness in friendships is widespread today and Solomon wants his son to know that he can’t rely on a faithless friend any more than he can rely on a broken tooth to chew his food or a lame foot to carry him through life.
The last kind of person that Solomon portrays for his son is the insensitive person. He has shown us the liar, the unfaithful, and now he wants his son to know about those friends who are insensitive in the way they relate to their friends. Solomon writes,
20 Like one who takes away a garment on a cold day, or like vinegar poured on soda, is one who sings songs to a heavy heart. (Proverbs 25:20 NIV)
Each of these three actions demonstrate an act of insensitivity. Why would you take away someone’s coat on a cold day? God had instructed his people in Exodus 22:25-26 how to deal with their poor neighbors. God said that if you took your neighbor’s cloak as a pledge for the money you loaned him that you were to return it to him by sunset. Why should you do this? Verse 27 tells us,
27 because his cloak is the only covering he has for his body. What else will he sleep in? When he cries out to me, I will hear, for I am compassionate. (Exodus 22:27 NIV)
It just doesn’t make sense to take a person’s coat when it is cold outside. It doesn’t make any more sense than pouring vinegar on soda. This phrase probably doesn’t make any sense to you, but let me give you some background on the verse. The Hebrew word for “soda” means, “natron, nitre, soda, or carbonate of soda.” The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament says,
It was the name for the material collected from the alkaline lakes of Egypt. This valuable ancient chemical was widely used in ancient times in the embalming process, as a cleansing agent and as an ingredient in ceramic pastes, where powdered quartz paste combined with the soda solution to make an attractive glazed surface (sodium silicate with other silicates makes glass). It is as a cleansing agent that Jeremiah mentions it in Jeremiah 2:22. The reference, in Proverbs 25:20, to vinegar on soda with its violent effervescence and release of carbon dioxide is a perfectly reasonable figure of incompatibility.
“Nitre” or “Soda” served its purpose when used properly, but if you poured vinegar on it then you destroyed its intended effect, it became useless. And so it is with those who sing songs of joy and delight to those who have heavy hearts.
In the Bible there are songs that stir the emotions and bring great joy to the heart. In Ecclesiastes 2, Solomon tells us about his pursuit of everything that he thought could bring meaning and happiness to his life. He says,
8 I amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces. I acquired men and women singers, and a harem as well, the delights of the heart of man. 9 I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me. In all this my wisdom stayed with me. 10 I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my work, and this was the reward for all my labor. (Ecclesiastes 2:8-10 NIV)
A beautiful voice and a moving song can touch us like nothing else, but these are not the only kind of songs that are sung. When Josiah was king he led the people back to God and went throughout the land getting rid of all of the places of idol worship. Josiah was a great king. We read, in 2 Chronicles 35, about Josiah’s death. Listen to how Jeremiah responded to the great king’s death.
23 Archers shot King Josiah, and he told his officers, ‘Take me away; I am badly wounded.’ 24 So they took him out of his chariot, put him in the other chariot he had and brought him to Jerusalem, where he died. He was buried in the tombs of his fathers, and all Judah and Jerusalem mourned for him. 25 Jeremiah composed laments for Josiah, and to this day all the men and women singers commemorate Josiah in the laments. These became a tradition in Israel and are written in the Laments. (2 Chronicles 35:23-25 NIV)
The people sang songs at the death of Josiah. They sang laments, songs of sorrow and heartache, not songs of joy and jubilation. We are to be sensitive to the sorrow of others and share their sorrow.
A heavy heart can be brought about by a myriad of reasons. Some people’s hearts are heavy because of a chronic illness that seems to plague them at every turn. Others suffer heavy hearts from a broken marriage or problems with their kids that seem to suck the life out of them. Some kid’s hearts are heavy because they have been abandoned by a parent. Some people live with sorrow because they’ve lost a loved one and the grief seems intolerable. There are so many reasons why our hearts become filled with sorrow and heavy. There are many folks today who are tactless, insensitive, and some are just plain mean. Evidently this isn’t a new phenomenon because Paul instructs the brothers and sisters in Rome by saying,
15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. (Romans 12:15 NIV)
Paul instructed the believers how to respond to those around them in an appropriate way. Those who are filled with sorrow need someone to encourage them, weep with them, and share in their sorrow as they try to comfort them. Paul wrote to the people in Corinth and gave them similar advice concerning the Body of Christ and how we are to relate to one another. Read along with me from 1 Corinthians 12:26.
26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. (1 Corinthians 12:26 NIV)
Finally, in the book of Hebrews, the brothers and sisters are encouraged to identify with those who are suffering as if they themselves were suffering. Take a look at Hebrews 13:1-3.
1 Keep on loving each other as brothers. 2 Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it. 3 Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering. (Hebrews 13:1-3 NIV)
If we have friends who are going through a tough time then we need to be empathetic towards them. We are to try and encourage them, let them know that we care about them, and refuse to use simple cliche’s to try and pull them out of their troubles. Anything less than this and we are simply being insensitive.
In our last section of Scripture for today we find godly counsel about how to deal with our enemies. Because of the context of this Scripture we can come to the conclusion that our enemy is our friend or neighbor. Solomon writes,
21 If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. 22 In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the LORD will reward you. (Proverbs 25:21-22 NIV)
We are not to return evil for evil. If there is someone in your life who dislikes you, has lied about you, been unfaithful to you, or insensitive to you when you were hurting then you are to be kind to them. If he or she is hungry then give them something to eat. If they are thirsty then give them something to drink. Solomon says that by doing this “you will heap burning coals on his head.” Here is where you’ve got to be careful. To heap burning coals on your enemies head doesn’t mean that you are getting them back or that you are setting their hair on fire. There is no place in Scripture where we are taught that vengeance is ours. And certainly God would not reward us for seeking vengeance against our enemies. What does Solomon mean by this phrase?
Augustine and Jerome, two preachers from long, long ago said that good deeds done towards an enemy would heap “coals of guilt and shame” upon the head of their enemy. The shame and contrition would then turn the enemy around as he or she thought about the how badly they had treated the one who returned their evil with a good deed. The reward from God would come to the one who had worked to bring about reconciliation between the two parties who at one time were enemies.
We see a great illustration of this in 2 Kings 6 where Elisha heard about the plan of the King of Aram to attack the Israelites. He told the king of Israel which made the king of Aram even more angry. When the king of Aram sent his men to attack Elisha in Dotham the Lord blinded the troops. In 2 Kings 6:21-23 we read what happened.
21 When the king of Israel saw them, he asked Elisha, ‘Shall I kill them, my father? Shall I kill them?’ 22 ‘Do not kill them,’ he answered. ‘Would you kill men you have captured with your own sword or bow? Set food and water before them so that they may eat and drink and then go back to their master.’ 23 So he prepared a great feast for them, and after they had finished eating and drinking, he sent them away, and they returned to their master. So the bands from Aram stopped raiding Israel’s territory. (2 Kings 6:21-23 NIV)
Did you notice what happened after Elisha fed his enemies a great feast? They stopped raiding Israel and the people were at peace. I’ve got news for you. The greatest way to get your enemies off your back is respond to them like Elisha. Jesus said, “Love your enemies.” You may say, “That’s insane! I’m not going to forgive and show kindness to someone who has treated me so badly. I’m going to thrash my enemy and show him that he’s messing with the wrong person.” All you will do is escalate the animosity and anger until it finally explodes.
Am I just talking crazy or being a pacifist? No way. Those of you who laugh at Solomon’s counsel, I know how you feel. When somebody does me wrong the last thing on my mind is loving them, but I can’t be led by how I feel. I have to be led by God’s Word. God’s Word teaches me that I was once an enemy of God and yet God found me, His enemy, and made me His child. Our precedent for how we are to relate to our enemies was set by God’s response to our rebellion. Take a look at Romans 5:7-8 with me.
7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:7-8 NIV)
While we were enemies of God, Jesus died for us. He paid the price to bridge the gulf that separated us from God. How can we refuse to extend that same love and forgiveness to others?
In Colossians 1:21-22 Paul explained to the brothers and sisters in Colossae how they had been reconciled to God. It was not by any good deed they had done, but it was through the death of God’s own son. Take a look with me.
21 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. 22 But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation. (Colossians 1:21-22 NIV)
As we close here this morning let’s forget about all of our relationships this morning, but one. Are you reconciled with God? If there are wedges between you and someone else in your life, then I have to ask, “Have you accepted what God has done on your behalf?” Have you accepted Jesus into your heart? If you have then you must pass on the forgiveness you have received to others. If you have never accepted Jesus as Lord of your life and not experienced His wondrous forgiveness and grace then the invitation is before you. Won’t you invite Him in?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
December 11, 2012