Rev. denHartog is pastor of Hope Protestant Reformed Church in Redlands, California.
For some time now in our Young Adults’ Society in Redlands we have been studying-the book of Proverbs. In my preparations for these studies I am once again deeply impressed with the great wisdom this holy and inspired book of the Word of God contains. I shall use a passage that we recently studied to fulfill my obligation this month for this department in the Standard Bearer.
The book of Proverbs, as you probably know, has as its great theme, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” The reason why this book contains such absolutely perfect wisdom, such wonderful wisdom that is so very relevant for our everyday life, is that the wisdom of which the book of Proverbs speaks is the wisdom of God. It is not the wisdom of the men of this world, which in the final analysis is foolishness. In fact, the wisdom of the book: of Proverbs stands absolutely opposite to the devilish and sensual “wisdom” of this world. Proverbs gives us true, heavenly, spiritual wisdom.
In the course of our study of Proverbs we have noted a number of subjects that appear over and over again in this book. The mere fact of the constant repetition of these subjects ought to give us great reason for pause. One of these subjects is warning against the great evil of covetousness and materialism.
The book of Proverbs is full of contrasts. One of the most powerful devices used in the book is that of contrasting or antithetic parallelism. The contrast in the passages before us is between the evil and foolishness of the love of money, and the great value and blessedness of the fear of the Lord and contentment therewith.
I have borrowed the title for this article, “The Maker and Breaker of a Family’s Peace,” as well as the particular collection of verses, from a chapter in William Amot’s commentary The verses are taken fromProverbs 15:16, 17, 27; Prov. 17:1. “Better is little with the fear of the Lord than great treasure and trouble therewith.” “Better is a dinner of herbs where love is, than a stalled ox and hatred therewith.” “He that is greedy of gain troubleth his own house; but he that hateth gifts shall live.” “Better is a dry morsel, and quietness therewith, than a house of sacrifices with strife.” There are more, similar proverbs that could be added to this collection.
These proverbs speak to the covenant home, to the family. Two contrasting pictures are presented to us. On the one hand there is a picture of the humble cottage of a family where earthly provisions are meager. The meal in this home is of herbs. The family cannot afford to buy provision for a meal of meat and rich delicacy. This is a very poor home. All that there is to eat is a dry morsel. But this home is characterized by the fear of the Lord. The fruit of the fear of the Lord in this home is that love reigns there among the members of the family, the love of God in Christ Jesus. This love brings peace and true lasting joy and happiness.
The contrasting picture is that of a home where there is great riches. This home is a luxurious palace. The meals are rich, the table lavishly spread with abundance of food. But there is no fear of God in this home. In this home there is envy, jealousy, and all the attendant evils. The strife of this family finally destroys this home.
This contrast is real. It is seen in. the world when one visits the home of the truly God-fearing, and the home where its members have forsaken the fear of the Lord. Another feature of the proverbs is that they are so strikingly, obviously, and undeniably true. So it is with the proverbs mentioned above. Yet the proverbs usually present an element that is contrary to the expectation of foolish men. Foolish sinful man imagines that the more that he has the more he will insure happiness and peace in his own life and in the life of his family. On the other hand he forgets that the fear of the Lord is essential to true happiness.
We must understand the contrast presented in Proverbs in the right way. It is not true that every poverty-stricken home will be one that has peace and unity and love. In fact, in the world we see that of- ten the highest degree of strife, crime, and violence are found among the poor. The world does its studies and presents its statistics which show that poverty is one of the chief causes of juvenile delinquency, crime, and violence in our streets. The reasoning is that people who grow up in poverty become bitter and angry, and this drives them to crime. There is no doubt truth in the belief that a life of poverty in the world stirs up evil resentment and bitterness. The solution, according to the world, is welfare, raising the economic standards of the poor, or, more nobly, giving everyone equal opportunity to get a job to support himself. But the history of our own country proves that none of these ideas have worked. Poverty without the fear of God brings strife and wickedness. But riches without the fear of God also brings strife and wickedness.
The teaching of the above quoted proverbs is that where the fear of God is, God’s people can and do live in peace and love even when there is little of this world’s goods.
On the other hand, it is also true that not every home where there is wealth, good food, and expensive decor is devoid of the fear of the Lord. Generally the rule of the Lord in calling His people is that: “Not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world, and the things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and the things which are not, to bring to nought the things which are: that no flesh should glory in His presence” (I Cor. 1:27-29—striking passage of God’s Word!). Nevertheless there are some exceptions, as this passage itself indicates. Sometimes God also gives material riches to His people on earth. And some who have these material riches continue in the fear of the Lord and enjoy the love and peace of God in their families.
But the above-mentioned proverbs are given to us to warn us. Striving after riches can lead to disastrous consequences when this is done at the expense of the fear of the Lord. There is in our sinful nature a strong desire to accumulate the wealth, the luxury of the world and the glory that is associated with it. We are tempted by the ungodly world in this, especially in our modem day through the power of the media and advertising. We easily imagine that we must have as much as or more than our ungodly neighbor.
The more riches that we obtain, the greater the temptations of sin become. This is true in the first place because the lust for riches cannot be satisfied. Though we might imagine that if we could only attain to this or that standard of earthly wealth or be able to purchase this or that newfangled luxury then we would be happy, this will never happen. are manifest in envy and strife and confusion in the home. In this way the father described above, rather than bringing happiness to his home, has greatly troubled his home. In many instances, children in the homes of fathers who are always lavishing presents on them grow up to despise their fathers and to live lives of unbridled lust, selfishness, and sin. You often see examples of this in the world.
The same course of action is followed by many women and mothers in our day, and, sad to say, too often even in our own churches. God gives them children and has given to them the special responsibility to be keepers of the home, to raise their children in the fear of the Lord. Instead they forsake their homes and God-given calling to pursue a career in the world. They justify themselves by contending that their motivation is to be able to afford a more affluent life-style for their children. But by such a course of action these mothers will most certainly in the end trouble their own house. God’s Word says this.
One of the greatest dangers for modem-day Christian homes is that parents become troublers of their own house because of a desire for material wealth. For most of us there is little danger that our children will not have enough to get them through life in this world. There is a far greater danger that they have too much and that they are not taught to use the material abundance of our age in the fear of the Lord.
One of the greatest spiritual lessons we should teach our children is that of contentment with what the Lord gives them, even if that be little. How hard it is in our age of material abundance to teach our children the grace of contentment.
Listen to the clear and powerful words of the above proverbs. “Better is little with the fear of the Lord than great treasure with trouble therewith.” “Better is a dry morsel, and quietness therewith, than an house full of sacrifices with strife.”
There is one other reason for the great urgency of listening to these proverbs. God’s people in this world are called to make great sacrifices because of the principles of the fear of the Lord. Often they will need to suffer financial loss because they refuse in their business practices to compromise the law of God in any way in their life. Times will come for many that they will have to pass up lucrative job opportunities because taking these would require moving away from the true church or compromising the truth of God in another way. The temptations at that time will be very great. We are going to be faced with these kinds of scenarios more and more as the end approaches. We are living in the days of the rise of the Antichrist and in the time when those who refuse and mark of the beast will not be able to buy or sell anymore. We need to prepare our children for these times. Our children will have to be satisfied with less than the neighbors’ children because mom and dad need to pay the high cost of Christian school tuition and supporting the church budget. By doing this we as parents will be a concrete example to our children of the fear of God. Even if our families are reduced to only a dry morsel of bread (and that is really low), as long as we continue in the fear of the Lord we shall have greater riches than all the world. Financial sacrifices made out of the motive of the fear of God will not breed bitterness in our covenant children. We need not be afraid of that. Rather, by the grace and Spirit of God it will instill in our children the great benefit of the fear of God and the right evaluation of the things of this world. It will yield the Lord’s blessing of peace and love in our homes.