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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:Fear God, Love Your Neighbour
Text:LD 40 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic: 6th Commandment (Murder)
 
Preached:2017
Added:2017-08-06
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 113:1,2,3                                                                                    

Hy 2:1,2,3

Reading – Proverbs 14; James 3:1-18

Ps 112:1,2,3,4,5

Sermon – Lord’s Day 40

Hy 63:2,4,6

Ps 133:1,2

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved in Christ, there’s a lot of sin that can come from our interaction with other people. If you’ve been around for a while, you know what I mean. There’s the difficulty of being patient with siblings who annoy us. There’s the envy that can get between you and a sister in the church, and the bitterness when a family member has done you wrong. Other troubles like judging, and gossip, and short tempers—all of them wreck good relations between us. In this department, we face serious challenges to honour God’s law.

Solomon, a man gifted with great wisdom from the LORD, wasn’t naïve when it came to these things. He knew how it could go in the complexity of human relations. That’s why he addresses this important topic in Proverbs; this was something that God's people need to know for living a wise life.

When you read Proverbs, you see that Solomon comments on many different aspects of God’s law. The starting point for this instruction is found in 1:7, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge.” It’s when you begin with God—when you start from an attitude of humbly loving the LORD—that you gain clear direction for the rest of life. And Solomon isn’t just concerned with vertical relations: our attitude and actions toward the LORD. He’s also concerned about the horizontal: what about all the people around us? Remember also how the Catechism summarizes the teaching of the law: it tells us, “how to live in relation to God… and what duties we owe our neighbour” (Q&A 93).

So what’s our holy calling in personal relationships? What attitude does God require of us, toward neighbour and loved one and enemy? What makes a good friendship? What’s the purpose of showing kindness? How far should we extend our mercy and patience? The sixth commandment shows us the way, a commandment that is expanded upon and applied by the book of Proverbs. One verse from chapter 14 gives us our two key points, “He who despises his neighbor sins; but he who has mercy on the poor, happy is he” (v 21). I preach God’s Word to you under this theme:

Fear the LORD in your relationships with other people:

  1. he who despises his neighbor sins
  2. but happy is he who has mercy on the poor

                                                                                                                 

1) he who despises his neighbor sins: One of the key rules for applying God’s law to our life is that when a commandment forbids the very worst offense, every lesser offense is included in that. Let me explain. The sixth commandment says, “Do not murder.” In other words, don’t intentionally end the life of another person in order to bring benefit to yourself. That’s the very worst thing prohibited by this commandment, which Solomon touches on too. Like in chapter 6, “Six things the LORD hates, yes, seven are an abomination to Him: a proud look, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood…” (vv 16-17).

Murder: that’s the very worst—and maybe we couldn’t imagine spilling someone’s blood with a handgun or a kitchen knife. But we need to know that every “lesser” offense on the scale is also forbidden. As the Catechism asks, “Does this commandment speak only of killing?” (Q&A 106). And then that wide range of offenses is described, and it’s painful for us, because it extends all the way to the nasty kind of things that we think about other people.

And the sixth commandment was never meant simply as a call to put away your sword and turn in your firearm. The LORD has always commanded that we have a proper attitude toward our neighbour. Consider our theme verse again, “He who despises his neighbour sins” (14:21). Even “just” the thought that we don’t like someone very much, that we feel contempt for them for this or that reason—that is sin.

We need to talk about that “despising” a little more. Where does it come from, and why is it so wrong? Turn to another Proverb, this time 11:12, where Solomon writes, “He who is devoid of wisdom despises his neighbor, but a man of understanding holds his peace.” That verse is revealing. Solomon says that someone who lacks judgment, or a person who is short on understanding, will despise his neighbour.

Why? Why will someone who is devoid of wisdom hold his neighbour in scorn? Well, we were just reminded that all wisdom starts with the fear of God. True wisdom means that your whole life is being oriented to the LORD. It means that more and more of what you do each day is a response to his greatness. Because of his majesty as Creator and his grace as Redeemer, we revere God, we love God, and we seek to please Him in all things.

So fearing God means that we’ll take into account God’s view of other people. Ask the question: How does God look at all these persons who are coming in and out of my life? What does the LORD think about my friends and relatives, my classmates, the people on our street, and the people in our church? How does God value them? And the answer: very highly indeed!

They’re made in his image, after all. James makes this the reason that we should never curse other people: because “they were made in the likeness of God” (3:9). People are precious to God, and each person has a God-given place on this earth. The Lord wants none of them to die, but all to come to a knowledge of the truth. How then can we look down on another person in pride or judgment? How can we diminish their life in any way, when we know that their life is from the LORD God?

We can even say that for other people—sinful humans like us—Jesus Christ was willing to lay down his life. That’s how Paul rebukes the Corinthians, who were living without any love or consideration for one another. He asks, “Because of your knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died?” (1 Cor 8:11). Notice that powerful reminder: this is how highly God regards people, our fellow human beings—He gave his only Son to die for them. If you don’t think about that, if that doesn’t make you pause, then you’re missing the wisdom that comes from fearing the LORD. You’re looking at things from the human perspective, not the heavenly. And the result? You’ll probably despise your neighbour.

The dangerous thing about our attitudes is that they so often lead to action. In 4:23, Solomon urges, “Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life.” We said before that our heart is like a well, or a spring of water—everything that comes out of us can be traced to what’s in the heart—there’s the origin, whether good or bad. For example, if we’ve always thought badly of a person, looked down on them, this is probably going to come out at some point. Maybe we’ll gossip about their failures, or we’ll treat them harshly. It all exudes from the heart. So is our wellspring polluted with despising?

The Catechism talks about these results of despising your neighbour: “envy, hatred, anger, desire of revenge” (Q&A 106). These are ugly things, but they often lay beneath the fine-looking surface of our life. We hide our envy, and put cover-up on our hatred, but they’re still known by the LORD—and they’re all regarded as murder.

Solomon has something to say about each one. In 14:30 he writes, “A sound heart is life to the body, but envy is rottenness to the bones.” He first praises the benefits of a sound or tranquil, heart. How good it is when we’re freed from those gnawing desires for bigger and better, when we’re filled with Christian peace, and humbly grateful before God—that’s like a dose of life to the body!

Problem is, we’re not easily contented. You can have many gifts and blessings, but you still want more. Somehow we can feel discouraged when we see another person’s prosperity and success, and we want what they have—that’s envy. Maybe their looks; their charming character; their good job; their happy family; even their faith—envy knows no bounds. And this kind of thinking can have a consuming effect; like Solomon says, “Envy is rottenness to the bones.” It can make us feel sick inside, to hear of another’s praises, to see them happy. Meanwhile, our own life feels like rubbish.

In a way, envy has an inward focus: this is all about us. But God says that it also dishonours the person we envy. Why? Because of that attitude of despising. We’re not rejoicing with them like we should. We’re concluding they don’t deserve what they have, and we’re asserting that good things are wasted on them, and would be better spent on us. Beloved, how much better is a sound heart: it gives life to the body, and brings blessing to relationships

Someone might admit to envy—but hatred? When we’re young, we’re taught not to say “I hate…” about anything, even food we can’t stand. So maybe we won’t say it out loud, but it can still be there, lurking. Solomon warns about this in 10:12, when He says “Hatred stirs up strife…” Even when hatred is hidden, it can lead to great evil. For hatred keeps alive our resentment, even if it’s more than ten years old. Hatred preserves our envies and suspicions. And then hatred makes us find fault with others, where we’re quick to take offense. Hatred isn’t harmless, but it can be fatal. “Hatred stirs up strife…”

Now, one thing about this life making it hard to be holy is how it’s unpredictable. We can be having a reasonably good day, when we’re surprised by an unfortunate event at work. We’re caught off guard by someone’s bad behaviour. We’re shocked by unkind words over the dinner table. Quickly we feel ourselves losing a grip. That’s dangerous, and that’s why the Catechism also identifies anger as one of the roots of murder.

Solomon cautions against this in our chapter, “A quick-tempered man acts foolishly…” (14:17). Without advance warning, there can be a sudden gust of rage, inflicted on the unsuspecting people around us: children, friends, husband, wife, students, co-workers. When we surrender to anger and we act impulsively, there’s no telling what might happen. One thing is certain, though: we’re likely to do or say something sinful. No wonder James tells us, “Be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to become angry (1:19).

So when we’re offended or insulted, we’re faced with a choice. Do we take a deep breath? Do we try to carry on? Answer with love? Or do we foster what the Catechism calls, “a desire of revenge?” (Q&A 105). Here’s the warning of 20:22, “Do not say, ‘I will recompense evil’; wait for the LORD, and He will save you.” There’s that basic human urge for payback; we want someone to regret what they did to us. But when we cherish plans of revenge, we’re just keeping the wound open. Even if we never act on our desire, it can burn fiercely on the inside. In our mind, we might murder someone a hundred times over.

Once again we’re directed to take the different perspective, the heavenly one: “Do not say, ‘I will recompense evil.’ Wait for the LORD, and He will save you.” That’s the wise response to any offense or insult, because it’s the response that bows to the LORD. We know that vengeance is the LORD’s—He’s the ultimate judge of all people and whatever they do—so we should lay these problems before him. If someone has spoken to you unfairly or treated you badly, put it into God’s hand. Pray to Him that your bitterness doesn’t grow. Pray for an ability to forget. Don’t make revenge your project, but wait for the LORD when you’ve been hurt. Don’t despise your neighbor, but have mercy on the poor.

 

2) but happy is he who has mercy on the poor: Earlier we said that not fearing God leads directly to the hatred of one’s neighbour, “He who is devoid of wisdom despises his neighbor.” If we don’t really care how God views other people, then we’ll look at them whatever way we please, and that way is going to be wrong and harmful.

But the opposite is also true. As the rest of that verse goes, “But a man of understanding holds his peace” (11:12). Solomon says that in order to be a person of love and mercy, you need to have right understanding. Again, this is an understanding of God’s perspective. How does He look at someone? How much does the Lord value a person? When we “get” that, we’ll pursue peace. We’ll cherish good relations, because we know how much they’re worth to God.

And this too is an attitude that comes out in word and deed. Our verse speaks of having “mercy on the poor.” That little word could make us think of those in our midst who don’t have a lot of money, or perhaps those in this country who live below the poverty line. And it is a Christ-like thing to show mercy to those who suffer. But then we should broaden our vision.

Because in a very real sense, we’re all poor. In God’s sight, not one of us has anything to claim for himself, but we’re all desperate sinners. How small is the distance between us and our fellow creatures, compared to the infinite space between us and God! Yet we know how God treats the lowly, how He treats us. He raises the poor from the dust, He lifts the needy from the depths, and God makes us part of his heavenly household. God has richly exalted us, crowning us with love and mercy in Jesus Christ. He’s been so good to us—so what do we do in answer?

Consider what James writes, “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom” (3:13). The meekness, or the humility, of wisdom is when we thankfully receive God’s free gift—when I recall the amazing grace of God shown to me, a sinner. That understanding makes it most appropriate that we show mercy to others!

Let’s just connect that to the section of the Catechism in which this Lord’s Day is found: the section concerning our thankfulness. Because God in Christ has graciously delivered us from our sin and misery, because He’s had boundless mercy on us, the poor, we ought to live every day in a spirit of genuine gratitude before God.

And how does that come across in this particular commandment? The Catechism explains that God “commands us to love our neighbour as ourselves, to show patience, peace, gentleness, mercy and friendliness toward him” (Q&A 107). When we consult Proverbs, Solomon again has something to say about each of these.

We mentioned the danger of anger before—contrast that now with the blessing of patience. It says in 19:11, “The discretion of a man makes him slow to anger.” Discretion means that we step carefully. For example, say you’re aware of your own weakness and your short temper. Discretion means that in prayer and self-control you’ll guard yourself against bursts of anger. Discretion also means you’ll take time to carefully weigh the offense or the annoyance. Ask yourself, “How much of a reaction does this really need? In my sin, haven’t I done similar things in the past?” Truly, “The discretion of a man makes him slow to anger.”

The same idea comes out in 17:27, “He who has knowledge spares his words, and a man of understanding is of a calm spirit.” In a situation of conflict, silence can often be a proof of wisdom. And calm patience is often a sure proof of humility before God. We want to be patient, just as God is patient with us.

Exercising a calm spirit like this so often leads to peace. Our God is a God of peace; He doesn’t delight in hostility or strife, but gave his own Son to bring about reconciliation between Him and us. Therefore as his believers—if we’ll truly be godly, if we’ll really fear God’s Name—then we must work toward peace in all our human relationships.

How can we do this? Consider 17:14, “The beginning of strife is like releasing water; therefore stop contention before a quarrel starts.”  Strife really is that destructive; it’s like releasing water from a dam: one provoking word brings on another. Think of how this can happen between a husband and wife, between parents and children, church members and neighbours—suddenly a quarrel erupts. Every angry word widens the gap, and a flood of evil can pour out.

But God’s grace teaches us to hold back so that we prevent evil at the beginning: “Stop contention before a quarrel starts.” It’s much easier to preserve the dam than repair it. Consider if this is really something worth arguing over. Sometimes it is—but knowing the human heart, be ready to admit that an issue is not worth breaking fellowship over. So pursue peace with all people! Cultivate the self-denying spirit of Christ our Saviour.

If our Saviour was known for one thing above all, it may have been his gentleness. Think of how He always received sinners, and restored the broken. He showed himself to a gentle person—and so we must be. For example, Solomon says, “A soft answer turns away wrath” (15:1). So many words get thrown in our direction in a day: they might be complaints from our boss, or questions from our students, or demands from our children, or criticisms from someone else. There’s not one pre-set answer we can give to each one. But in our relations with others, we begin well with gentle words, and gentle actions.

God also commands that we show friendliness to our neighbour. “Friend” is a word that has lost some of its meaning because it’s been used so loosely. But Scripture speaks of friendship in a substantial way. A real friend is faithful and constant. Writes Solomon in 17:17, “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” Strive to be such a friend: one who doesn’t change when circumstances do, but a friend who stays at a person’s side, and is ready to help, even in times of adversity.

Know that a true friend also gives good counsel, “As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend” (27:17). God created us for companionship, and it’s in interaction with others that our strengths and abilities are increased. Walk through life with those godly friends who can help you in weakness, in trial, and in temptation—and walk alongside others, and be prepared to help.

Before we finish, we need to come back to mercy. We should contrast it with something we mentioned before, the “desire of revenge.” Instead of wanting to get payback, we’re called to show mercy: not returning evil for evil, or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead. The second half of 10:12 shows the better way, “Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all sins.”

Love can be such a powerful thing when it’s put into practice in our interactions with each other. Love means that when there’s a doubtful matter, we don’t jump to conclusions about someone. Love means we don’t delight in exposing another person’s faults. Love means we don’t keep bringing up the past, even if it was painful and hurtful. God says in 17:9, “He who covers a transgression seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates friends.” A lack of mercy only divides, but forgiveness unites.

Recall what Solomon said before, “The discretion of a man makes him slow to anger, and his glory is to overlook a transgression” (19:11). Focus on that last part. It’s our glory to overlook a sin! We sometimes feel that overlooking an offense or forgiving a wrong shows weakness and a lack of courage. But the Spirit says that mercy is actually the path to glory. For when we act like this, we’re resembling the LORD God himself.

For what is our brother’s very worst offense against us, compared to the way we’ve treated God? How can we, who need the covering of a massive debt—even billions of dollars, if it could be measured that way—how can we hesitate to forgive a few pennies? Here again, we need to put on the Spirit of Jesus, showing a long-suffering love: “forgiving one another, just as the Lord forgave you.” It’s this kind of mercy that shows the real triumph of God’s grace in our life. Beloved, may we learn to overlook transgressions.

We began this sermon by acknowledging that a lot of trouble can come out of our interactions with other people. We’ve all experienced this. We know how envy is a “rottenness to the bones.” How hatred causes strife, how anger leads to trouble, and how desire of revenge only prolongs a struggle. The Lord shows the better way, and teaches us how to live in true wisdom. Like James explains, “The wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy” (3:17). God doesn’t want us to struggle for the rest of our life in the unrest and misery of bad relations, but He wants us to live in the joy of faith and love.

Such relations are the path to God’s blessing. Listen again to that verse, “He who has mercy on the poor, happy is he.” Making peace, and showing love, and practicing forgiveness, are rewarded by the LORD with dividends of joy and freedom and grace. Just as the Spirit says  in 21:21, “He who follows righteousness and mercy finds life, righteousness, and honor.” That’s God’s way for our relations with other people—may we follow it every day!  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
The source for this sermon was: http://frcmn.org/sermons/

(c) Copyright 2017, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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