People of God, Proverbs is a book of wisdom. It is applicable to our day, it is worthy of our investment, it is healthy to be memorized, it is powerful in counseling, effective in discerning, faithful in its consistency, paradoxical in its diversity, accurate in presenting the antithesis, strong in its denunciation, and bold in its wisdom. And when you consider the nature of Proverbs, it is simply a manual for parents to train their children. In particular, Solomon is discipling his son to be a king, and by implication we know that ultimately this is Jesus training his children to be Kings and Queens in this world.
Echoing my sermon last week, the city is ours because it belongs to our King, Jesus Christ. So we can’t simply go to the Court House and tell the judge that he needs to step down because we have a Christian replacement for him. We cannot simply go on theorizing hoping that leaders of the community will come to our front door and offer us an important seat. There is work to be done. We need to have a faithful presence. Faithfulness is our daily duties. It is by example that our Lord taught us to live. In other words, we need to first change diapers before we can opine about the woes of the world. We need to first take the trash out before cleaning the world. We need to first do the hard work of establishing a good and faithful testimony before the world can look to us and desire what we have and put us in places of leadership.
And I believe this is what Proverbs is doing to us: it is teaching us to be faithful in our callings, and preparing us to assume different roles, which will shape the the dynamics of our society.
Sometimes there is a struggle to reconcile the promises of Proverbs with the harsh reality of our day to day, but we can be certain that the promises of Proverbs are yes and amen. They are not made to give temporary comfort. They are given to declare that at the end, God will put the world to right.
Proverbs is a call to faithful presence. That is, a call to be faithful in whatever field or calling God has given.
I will never forget the conversation I had with a fundamentalist missionary in college. After a conference on missions, he came up to me and asked: “What are you doing after college?” I told him that my intention was to pursue a graduate degree in seminary. I saw his demeanor change immediately. “How can you go to seminary when people are dying and going to hell in Africa?” This man thought that the idea of faithful presence was foolish when the real work is being done elsewhere. This type of mentality has paralyzed the Christian Church. This is the standard “if the ship is sinking why polish the brass” attitude that is so prevalent in our world. Evangelicalism is paralyzed when it comes to our culture. As Doug Wilson has said, “We can’t offer the world a culture that we do not have ourselves.”
With this in mind, we come to Proverbs 11 again. I want to draw your attention to what it means to have a faithful presence in our day. And there are three implications to a faithful presence in this world:
First, faithful presence means good counsel. Second, it means expressing kindness. Finally, a faithful presence means a persevering life.
First, a faithful presence is dependent on good counsel. We have stressed these themes again and again, but in verse 14 Solomon draws a strong contrast to show the importance of this characteristic:
Where there is no guidance, a people falls,
but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.
The word “guidance” can also be translated as “direction” or “counsel.” Solomon says if you are going to display a faithful presence you need to be in a community where counsel and guidance is offered. If you want communal success, “two heads are better than one.” If you want an unfaithful presence, Solomon says, then do it your own way. Follow the Frank Sinatra vision statement. But to be faithful in our communities we need to seek the community’s wisdom. The reason the pursuit of good counsel is important is because good counsel builds healthy communities. But notice what is implied here is that there is a community to begin with. Community begins with the greatest of all communities: the Church. Biblically, there is no such thing as a Churchless Christianity. But there is also another danger: the danger of direction-less Churches. They do assemble, but there is a trivialization of the importance of the community to the individual. Individuals are left wondering each Lord’s Day without ever being invited to partake of a meal, without ever sitting at the feet of wise men and women, without ever confessing their sins to one another, without ever seeing exemplary families living their lives faithfully. And then this individual looks back at his life and wonders: “What did I do wrong?” The answer is: “You rejected the counsel of your community or you situated yourself in a community where there was no counsel.” Churches do not only exist to satisfy your weekly craving for fellowship, Churches exist to provide you direction and guidance. And when Churches fail at that task the people fall. If you want to possess a faithful presence you need to be in a community where good counsel flows from the hearts of God’s people. My prayer is that God would increase this Church with people who can offer– through words and lives –counsel, direction, and vision for others in the body.
Secondly, a faithful presence is established through acts of kindness.
Proverbs 11:17: “A man who is kind benefits himself, but a cruel man hurts himself.” The word for “kind” is the familiar Hebrew word hesed. It means “merciful.” A merciful person denies himself to help his needy neighbor. He receives the sinner when the sinner is repentant. He showers him with love. This verse is connected with verse 16, which says: “A gracious woman gets honor, but the violent man gets riches.” Those who practice this kindness receive honor. Honor is to be counted as superior to riches. A gracious woman is welcomed in the assembly of the righteous. She speaks words of wisdom. Her words are not harsh. She is rarely misunderstood because even when she exhorts her neighbors know she is speaking in love. This is the type of faithful presence we need in our society. The merciful usually reaps the benefit of his mercy. We do not show kindness for the sake of getting something in return, but Solomon says that the fruits of mercy and kindness is to reap the benefits. Solomon does not describe what these benefits look like, but whatever they may be, it is good and needful. Proverbs is filled with conditional passages, and this is one of them. Show mercy and you will reap mercy.
One point we may overlook when considering verse 17 is that the Hebrew word hesed is always used of God when describing His kindness towards us. When we exercise grace and kindness to others we are imitating God in a profound way. How is man led to repentance? The Bible says that the hesed/kindness of God leads men to repentance (Rom. 2:4). Men come to Christ when they see others expressing and living out this life of kindness towards others. Paul himself says that this is what it means to have the fruit of the Spirit: kindness is a fruit of walking by the Spirit (Gal. 5:16-23).
Finally, a faithful presence looks persistent in the eyes of the world. Proverbs 11:19: “Whoever is steadfast in righteousness will live, but he who pursues evil will die.” We are not talking about faithful presence in a few situations. We are not talking faithful presence only when it suits us, rather we are talking about faithful presence as a way of life. Notice that I am not saying we need to have a perfect presence, rather a faithful presence. This assumes that we will fail at times; that we will sin. But a faithful presence perseveres. As Solomon says: “We are to be steadfast in righteousness.” There is a beautiful imagery given here in this verse which takes us back to Psalm one. If you want to be like a tree that bears good fruit and who is sustained by the waters close by, then righteousness gives life. This is a life or death issue. When our faithful presence is marred, then we persevere to restore that image. When we fail, then we stand up and pursue faithfulness again.
These are a few of the many conditional verses in the Bible. Reward does not come because you say “Jesus is your Savior.” Reward is promised to those who are actively pursuing the good of the city, a faithful presence in every area.
How Now Shall We Then Live?
Is the world noticing us? Not our fashion, or our wit, is the world noticing our faithful presence?
Yesterday, R.C. Sproul Jr.’s daughter, Shannon, who had severe disabilities died at the age of 16. This is a sad time in the life of our friend who lost both his wife and his daughter in a space of a year. R.C. once told the story of how he went to pick up his children from a friend’s house, and when he arrived the host looked at him and said: “I would die to have children like yours,” to which R.C. replied: “That’s exactly what it takes.” Are you willing to have a faithful presence as a teacher, as a parent, as a husband, as a wife, as a parishioner, or whatever area it might be? And if so, are you willing to give your all: hard work, good ethics, love, kindness, perseverance, and good counsel to show the world how the Gospel of Christ changes lives? There is no situation too broken God cannot fix this morning. There is no scenario too complex God cannot put together. But it is the task of faithfulness He is interested in rewarding.
The God of all grace and mercy pours His hesed upon us as an example for how we are to treat others. Our faithful presence is not dependent on wealth, or our vast knowledge of certain subjects, our faithful presence is dependent on the grace of Jesus Christ. He makes us faithful, because He Himself is faithful. He establishes our steps in righteousness because He himself is righteous. He is the gracious man who gets honor from the Father, He is the divine counselor, and He is the steadfast righteous Lord who exemplified a faithful presence that we might follow in his steps.
In The Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
 Bruce Waltke, Does Proverbs Promise Too Much? http://faculty.gordon.edu/hu/bi/Ted_Hildebrandt/OTeSources/20-Proverbs/Text/Articles/Waltke-ProvTooMuch-AUS.htm
 I took this idea from James Davison Hunter’s To Change the World. I have not read the entire book, only perused it. A friend told me that the “faithful presence” motif is good, but the way he fleshes out that theme is not helpful. Still, I find the concept helpful, even though I may disagree with his conclusions.
 See Waltke, 500.
 Waltke, 501