People of God, we are plunging into the wisdom of Proverbs in this Pentecost Season. One reason we are delving into such a practical book is because Pentecost is all about the Church showing the world what being a Christian is like. Pentecost is the Church consuming the world through wisdom; living wisdom, loving wisdom, sharing wisdom, eating and drinking in wisdom, cultivating wisdom, and exhorting a foolish culture to embrace wisdom.
For the next few weeks in our journey through different portions of Proverbs, we are going to focus our attention on Proverbs 11. I do so because this chapter exemplifies in a profound way the great antithesis, the remarkable contrast between the lives of wise and godly people, and the lives of foolish covenant-breakers. Now, when I speak of antithesis, I am not saying that unbelievers or covenant breakers offer no wisdom at all. They do. Sometimes unbelievers utter more wisdom than immature Christians. I am, however, observing that when unbelievers speak truth or wisdom, they are not reflecting their world-view. They are borrowing from the One who is all truth and all wise, Jesus Christ. Anything that is good; anything that is honorable and just done by covenant breakers is nothing more than a reflection of that common feature we all possess as human beings: we are created in the image of God. Our duty as Christians is to make sure we reflect that image in a more consistent way than unbelievers.
We repudiate in this Church the “us versus them” mentality when it comes to pitting Christian against Christian, but we—like Solomon—stress that when it comes to the worldview of Bible-believing Christians versus the world view of covenant-breakers, haters of the gospel of God, there is a great and inevitable divide.
This is what we see in this fascinatingly useful and modern book, called Proverbs. Proverbs is usually referred to as “ancient wisdom,” but if you consider our world today, Proverbs couldn’t be more modern.
And we see this right at the beginning of Proverbs 11:
A false balance is an abomination to Yahweh, but a just weight is his delight.
Proverbs is echoing the Mosaic Law in Leviticus 19 which stresses that any form of judgment—whether economic or personal—needs to be righteous. And the reason this is the case is because God has been righteous to us by delivering our forefathers from Egypt. God created the standard for economic transactions. When Solomon speaks of a “just weight” he is speaking of “justice in general.” A “false balance” speaks of bad ethical conduct from the part of the seller. This is Biblical Economics 101. If you tamper with the balance you are being deceptive. If you twist the standard you are being unethical. This plays out quite often in our culture.
The seller, who is a specialist in his field, uses his specialized knowledge to defraud a buyer, who presumably is less well informed. The social division of labor, which is a blessing to society as a whole because of specialized production, is being misused by a person who possesses specialized knowledge. This kind of fraud is easy to perpetrate because so few people will recognize it. The seller makes a small profit on every transaction – so small that few people will ever notice it.
Instead of one victim, they defraud thousands of victims little by little.
And this is how the career of deceit begins with the common person. “If I only tamper with the balance or standard in this one area, then no one will notice.” But verse one in chapter eleven says, “Someone will notice.” Yahweh will view it as an abomination. The way towards an unethical society begins one little deceit at a time.
We have all heard of Bernie Madoff and his Ponzi Scheme that is considered the largest financial fraud in U.S. History. But not many people know that the fraud began as early as the 1970’s. In the 1970’s, Bernie Madoff was tampering with the standard. He was using a false balance for his business practice.
This is applicable to businesses, schools, and individual ethics in the area of economics. Economics is not a neutral territory in God’s eyes. He is deeply concerned that covenant people act justly in the sight of man. God wants an honest marketplace, not one based on deception.
The background to these weights go back to the ancient days where “weights were carried in a pouch or wallet in order that the purchaser could check with the weights current among the merchants at a given place. But a deceitful trader carried in his pouch differing weights, a too heavy one for purchase and a too light one for selling. These merchants outwardly defraud their neighbors and inwardly deny God. Solomon says that God is repulsed by these actions.
This ties back to our discussion of hospitality. God is deeply concerned that you use your money wisely for the sake of others. But when someone comes along and takes your money, then that money cannot be used for its righteous purpose. So God condemns these economic actions.
Is there deceit occurring in the way our government uses our tax money? Are they using the fruits of our labors for purposes beyond their limited God-given responsibilities? The answer is all too obvious, and God says it is deplorable and detestable in His sight.
Proverbs tells us precisely what builds and shapes this type of individual and society that takes away the wealth of honest men and women and defrauds and deceives them with false balance. But it also details the end of such people. We see this in verse two:
When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble there is wisdom.
Righteousness towards God is a sign of faithfulness and loyalty, but you cannot be righteous towards God without also being righteous and just towards other image-bearers. Matthew Henry says: “Nothing is more offensive to God than deceit in commerce.” Deceitful men want to buy from people who use a just balance, good business ethics, but then he wants to deal wickedly when he is selling his product to others.
The source of this is nothing more than that devious and damning characteristic called pride. Nothing is more violently detested by God than pride. When we deceive another in business or in our words, we are defacing and disfiguring the image of God in that individual. In fact, God himself says in Proverbs 8:13: “ I hate pride and arrogance.” Pride undermines unity. Jonathan Edwards spoke of the effect of pride on himself: “What a foolish, silly, miserable, blind, deceived poor worm am I when pride works.” We are all prone to it, but when we cease confessing our pride to God we can very easily become that deceitful business man, that disloyal person whose words can never be trusted.
But with the humble, God pours His favor. We all know that the problem with humility is that once we know we have it we lose it. Don’t look at humility as some inward capacity to always belittle yourself. Humility is a virtue that God desires of his people. This is the paradox of faith: Wisdom ends in honor and disgrace is the end of folly. “The high is made low and the low is made high.” God does not help those who help themselves. God helps those who humble themselves, and the difference is cosmic.
Solomon then echoes these themes in verses 3-4:
The integrity of the upright guides them,
But the crookedness of the treacherous destroys them.
Riches do not profit in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers in the day of wrath.
The wealth that the subversive accumulate in defiance to God’s authority and standard at the expense of others will backfire and not save them in time of God’s wrath. Of course, we may not see all the Bernie Madoffs punished in this life, but we will see them punished at the last day if they continue to despise Yahweh. God loves straight paths, and Proverbs contrasts the purity of straight paths with the those who choose their own paths. They who desire crooked paths will find the end of the road to be destruction. But the righteous and faithful will be led by his integrity. Integrity is what we should all desire. “This man or this woman simply cannot be corrupted,” they say. The wicked tries day and night and they simply can’t drain his appetite for righteousness. He will be delivered from the wrath to come, but those who thrive in conniving and conspiring against the innocent, they will receive their due punishment. The wrath of God burns, overflows, and sweeps away everything before it. It is a catastrophe that never ends for the wicked. God says that all the wealth in the world produced by evil schemes and false weights and measures will not liberate you from what is to come. God is not just saying: “You can’t take your riches with you,” He is saying : “Your riches never provided you with the security you imagined.”
The lines are drawn and the positions are clear: you either honor God with your money or you dishonor Him with it.
How Now Shall We Then Live?
Throughout history when Israel was too prideful of her status, God brought her low and taught her that she was chosen out of love. Her merits were not sufficient. Greatness is found in humility, not in pride.
Pride comes in many shapes. It is the instinct of man to think more highly of himself than he ought, when Paul said “we are to esteem others better than ourselves.” So the first way to avoid pride is by praising others; by delighting in their contributions. We avoid pride by elevating those actions from others that display this profound gospel we believe. We encourage our young men to serve others. We encourage them to open doors for the ladies and the elderly. We encourage them not to pride in their own strength, but to use it for the sake of the weak. If you are to trace the downfall of a leader, the division of a church, the breakdown of a society, it will all trace back to pride.
And so we need to avoid it.
We need to understand first and foremost that biblical pride is not enthusiasm for something you accomplished, or satisfaction in the fruits of your labor, or the pride of a mother over her daughter’s accomplishments, rather pride is “appropriating glory that obscures the glory of God.” When a parent acts contrary to God’s law he is obscuring the glory of God for his children. When a pastor or theologian diminishes the grandeur of God, he is obscuring the glory of God to his parishioners. When we belittle our fellow saints, so that we would be elevated, we obscure the glory of God. These are all manifestations of pride.
So how can we practically battle pride in our lives?
First, we need to express our dependence on God. We need to begin our day acknowledging our dependence and end our day acknowledging our dependence. Pride comes when we think we may have found a way to work things out outside of God’s commands, or when we think we can solve our problems without His guidance.
Secondly, we need to find ways to serve others. Nothing destroys pride more than serving one another. Find ways to serve your fellow brother or sister.
Thirdly, follow St. Peter’s advice and cast your cares upon him. When we begin to think that our cares belong within me, then we begin to assume this posture of self-assuredness. But the more we give of our troubles and concerns to our God the more we learn to trust in His provisions.
Fourthly, develop a faith grounded in thanksgiving. “Give thanks for all things.” This was quoted in Mr. Leonard’s class last week on Chesterton. Chesterton wrote:
You say grace before meals. All right. But I say grace before the concert and the opera, and grace before the play and pantomime, and grace before I open a book, and grace before sketching, painting, swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing and grace before I dip the pen in the ink.
We are an ungrateful culture. But God calls us to give thanks, and we have plenty of reason to do so.
Finally, live the calendar! Rejoice when it is time to rejoice. Meditate when it’s time to meditate. In Easter, feast! In Lent, meditate! In Advent, expect! Why? Because it allows us to follow in the footsteps of our Lord. Jesus was the one who humbled himself to the point of death. But his humility led him to his ultimate exaltation. Jesus is the paradigm of humility. Jesus endured the mockery of the prideful Pharisees, and quiets them with the simplicity of his answers and the beauty of his life. Greatness is found in humility; in those who abhor the practices of the deceitful man, and who do not trust in his possessions, but look to Jesus, the humble servant who died for our sakes.
In The Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
 The great divide and separation.
 See Gary North, Commentary on Proverbs: God’s Success Manual on chapter 11:1
 Bruce Waltke, Commentary on Proverbs 1-15, pg. 483
 Matthew Henry, On-Line Commentary on Proverbs.
 Humility: True Greatness by C.J. Mahaney, Kindle Edition, Loc 311
 Bruce Waltke, 483
 Paraphrase of Calvin.