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Proverbs by Robert Dean
"Me! Me! Me! It's all about me. You may think it's about you but it's really all about me!" None of us would say this out loud but it's what we think. Listen to this lesson to learn about the enemy of every believer called the sin nature. See how Proverbs teaches that character must be taught from the crib and that no one is born with self control or discipline. Discover how God the Holy Spirit enhances moral values and makes them spiritual values that lead to character transformation.
Series:Proverbs (2013)
Duration:51 mins 23 secs

Wisdom: Developing Good Character. Selected Scriptures


We live in a world that is the devil's world, and the devil's world is characterized by arrogance and deception. It should not be any surprise to us when we look at the way the politicians and leaders of the devil's world deal with the problems that are surrounding us. In the last 15-20 years we have become used to the hyperbole of politicians always speaking about what I believe are pseudo crises. We have a healthcare crisis. We do but it is not the one they identify. It is because of their 'solutions' we are destroying our entire healthcare industry. We have a global warming crisis, a climate crisis. It is a climate crisis but it is not the one they identify because global warming is just another hoax based on the fraudulent hypotheses of scientists who are for the most part are operating on evolutionary presuppositions in relation to their interpretations of meteorological phenomena. We have an economic crisis, a crisis in the Middle East, and we could go on and on. We have all these crises that politicians want to focus on and emphasize so that they can reach their hands further and further into our pockets to take more and more of our money.


So we have one crisis after another, and unfortunately they are all pseudo crises. The real crises are crises that are foundational and fundamental and are the real threat to our whole civilization and life. One of those is a character crisis. It is no new thing for politicians and business leaders and others to succumb to the baser drives of their sin nature to get involved in everything from sexually immoral affairs to financial mismanagement and embezzlement and things of that nature. Because we are all sinners; we all have this problem with an internal enemy known in Scripture as the sin nature, the flesh, and when people do not have the spiritual tools or are not willing to use the spiritual skills to master and control their sin nature, and they yield to the drives or the lust patterns of their sin nature, then these are the things that are going to be manifest.


But when a culture is in spiritual ascendency as western civilization was for centuries, and especially as the English-speaking peoples were over the last 300 years, you see less and less of these kinds of scandals and problems. It is till there; there is no perfect society and you can't make a perfect society. But once you get into spiritual revolt, and western civilization has been in revolt in one form or another for approximately 200 years with the influence of rationalism and empiricism and 19th century liberal scepticism and liberal theology, we see the poisonous fruit of that way of thinking manifest itself in the character of the nation—which is simply a manifestation of the character of the people in the nation. We are living in a time when we have a serious and significant character crisis. And what makes this character crisis so bad is that many, many people—not just atheists, secularists, humanist liberals, but many conservatives, Christians—have compromised so much of their ethical values that they seek to somehow gloss over the serious consequences of sinful behavior.


Just look at what has happened recently in the whole debate over same-sex marriage and the legitimization of sodomy. On the one hand many Christians have gone way too far in trying to treat homosexuality as some sort of extreme perverse sin that is somehow worse than any other sin. It may be worse in some of its consequences but it is always listed in Scripture with numerous other sins—sins of the tongue, mental attitude sins, other sins of sexual immorality. All of these sexual sins and sins of immorality are evil and destructive to a culture because they attack two of the foundational institutions that are designed by God to provide stability to any culture and any nation—marriage and the family. That is why the issue of homosexual marriage is bad. But it is not a unique sin that is somehow unforgiveable.


Today we see political conservatives and Christian conservatives somehow wanting to ameliorate the issue, glossing over it, somehow trying to validate the homosexual lifestyle. That is just one example. There are other examples—politicians, businessmen and pastors who have gotten involved in various sins related to sexual immorality and character flaws—and we have this crisis in our country today. We see everyone from the president of the US to presidents and CEOs of corporations and down to the every-day janitor and worker who believes that his ethical standards can vary from day-to-day; they are based on pure relativism. They often lie, employees steal from the corporation, people claim credit for someone else's work and lie about their own credentials, misrepresent their expenses on expense reports; the list goes on and on. In many cases these things are just normal, they have become accepted as the normative practice in many sub-cultures in this country. The problem is that we have a nation now that has lost its moral compass and people don't emphasize or understand character. 


The writer of Proverbs emphasizes character as part of many things that are emphasized in this book. We have looked at things such as diligence, hard work versus laziness and irresponsibility, righteousness versus wickedness. This time we want to look at the issue of character, both the bad points of character prohibited and warned against as well as the positive character, and just help us think about the importance of developing good character.


To begin this it is helpful to go to something that has traditionally been called biblical psychology, a biblical understanding of the immaterial nature of man. There is a difference between biblical psychology and humanistic psychology. Biblical psychology is the study of what the Bible teaches about the nature of man as a fallen creature and sinner. The makeup of man as being composed of a physical body, a soul—which is comprised of his mentality, his volition, his conscience, his self-consciousness—and a spirit (for a regenerate person). The human spirit is that immaterial element of his nature that enables the elements of the soul to have a relationship with God. The enemy of the spiritual life, the enemy of every human being, is really the sin nature. At the very core the Scripture teaches that at the very core our sin nature, our desires that drive in our life—


even humanistic psychologists realize that we have certain needs and certain drives and they pervert that and put it in a false framework. This is why we always have to be careful when reading any form of humanistic psychology. There is going to be some truth there but it is not any different from the truth that a stopped watch is right twice each day. They live in God's creation and certain things they must recognize and must admit to be true. But how they interpret it and fit it within their framework for understanding life is where it gets all confused


—lust patterns, of which there are different kinds. But the basic orientation of lust is all about me. Every one of us believes that; that is the orientation of our sin nature. We understand that, and scripturally we just go back and read through Isaiah 14:12-14 where we have the reflection Lucifer's initial sin expressed through 5 "I wills." It is that I that is at the foundation of all sin and the sin nature. The lust patterns all have an arrogant disposition. Arrogance is all about the self. We have self-absorption and from the time we are born we are focused on what is going to make me feel better. Whether it is food at the very beginning or sleep at the very beginning, or whether it is more sophisticated things that we develop a taste for as we go through life, it is all about making me feel good and making me feel happy. That in its worst form has become known as narcissism, and we live in a narcissistic culture that feeds and provides a rationale to justify that.


Whenever we have self-absorption it always leads to self-justification. Self-justification isn't based on truth; it is based on deception. Self-justification leads to self-deception. Self-deception leads to a complete self-worship, self-deification. And so we have this pattern that drives us forward.


There are two ways in which lust can manifest itself and we talk about these in terms of human good and personal sins. Human good is a difficult concept. It is a difficult thing for a lot of people to comprehend, especially unbelievers. A good example is the Pharisees in the Bible. They are doing everything right. We tend to look at them through the grid of hypocrisy as they challenge Jesus. They reject His messiahship. But the fact is that if you were going to portray someone who was doing everything right ethically, morally that emphasized all of the great values of character it would be a Pharisee. That is why Jesus said, "Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees…" He is not saying those were just a bunch of hypocrite liars. They were that but so is everybody else. He is saying that externally they look like they are doing it better than anybody else and your righteousness has to be better than that. People would say they couldn't be as good as a Pharisee, so how am I going to ever have the kind of righteousness God expects?


And that was the whole point. All of our righteousness, the Scripture says, is as filthy rags; it is never good enough to acquire God's favor. The righteousness God requires can only be ours if it is given to us by God. That is called imputation in the Scriptures. And it is imputed to us at the instant of faith alone in Christ alone. But while the unbeliever and the believer out of fellowship cannot produce that quality of righteousness they can live a moral and ethical life. Just look at a lot of the religious groups and cults out there that emphasize a works based salvation. The unbeliever can live a good life. It is just not good with a capital G; it is just relative good. They can have a measure of character. Matthew 7:11 NASB "If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children …" That is a recognition that the sin nature can produced relative good. And that is in the area where we are not so easily tempted to sin.


The area of weakness is identified as an area of weakness because that is where we easily succumb to temptation to personal sin—mental attitude sins of worry, fear, anxiety, defeatism; sins of the tongue—gossip, maligning; and overt sins. That is the basic production level that comes out of the sin nature. 


We all tend to trend in one of two directions, and sometimes if you are really complex you can go in both directions at the same time, and you are a bundle of contradictions. If you are like the Pharisee and your trend is toward legalism then this produces moral degeneracy. That is an odd term, because most people think of degeneracy as something immoral or perverted. But morality can be perverted. Just go to a church that emphasizes a works salvation. There are churches and cults that emphasize works salvation and they are moral degenerates. That is the problem that the Pharisees had when they were on the earth; they were moral degenerates. That emphasis on morality in that culture ultimately led to such a divisiveness that the Jews, when Judea revolted against Rome, had fragmented into so many different sub-groups that when the Roman armies were attacking Jerusalem these Jewish groups inside the walls were just as busy killing and fighting one another as the Romans. It was a complete collapse. That is moral degeneracy. They were all people who held to a high level of morality but it led to such a high level of self-righteousness it divided the culture and led to a complete collapse.


On the other side are people who just want to party all the time. This leads to immoral degeneracy. Licentiousness simply means that it is a license to sin. Lasciviousness means that it gives rein to our baser sexual lusts and antinomianism, a Greek word meaning a rejection of any kind of laws or standards or rules of behavior.


This is a problem that we have because this is the default position of every human being: sin nature control. None of us gets away from this. Until we are saved there is no other option. We are going to sin because that is the only nature that we have. If you are born without parents who provide discipline and training and teaching as a young child then the only character that is developed is bad character. It is character that gives rein and expression to the baser elements and values of a sin nature. This is seen in Proverbs 18:1 NASB "He who separates himself …" That is, isolates himself from the values of Scripture or the society. "… seeks {his own} desire [self-absorption], He quarrels against all sound wisdom [wise judgment]."


There is so much that can be said about this proverb. In the first line it talks about the basic orientation of anyone who is giving rein to their sin nature. If they are living in pure narcissism and self-absorption then what is going to happen when they are confronted with truth? This is just an Old Testament version of Romans 1:18ff which talks about the unbeliever who rejects and suppresses the truth in unrighteousness. This is the self-absorbed person in the first part of Proverbs 18. What happens when they are confronted with wisdom? First of all they probably don't understand it objectively as you intend it to be understood. They just take it as this is somebody telling me I can't do what I want to do. And whenever we have somebody preventing us from doing what we want to do the automatic response to that is always anger. When we don't get our way we get angry. 


So Proverbs 18:1 emphasizes this, that self-absorption that is given free rein leads to a foundational emotional orientation of the sin nature of rage and anger. We live in a culture today that as we see paganism reign in the culture—a pagan culture give more and more reign to moral relativism and the reign of the sin nature, part of what happens is that all the values get reversed and everyone is going what is right in his own eyes, and eventually that leads to total cultural fragmentation. What this produces is a culture of wrath, which manifests itself in a culture of abuse. Whether it is verbal abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, or any other kind of abuse it goes off the charts because there is no character control from self-discipline on the sin nature.


The Scripture emphasizes the value of wisdom and the value of character. This always runs against this base narcissistic value of the sin nature. 


Proverbs 26:12 NASB "Do you see a man wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him." A fool is hopeless. So this is an exaggeration here that if somebody thinks that they have all of the answers and they are truly self-absorbed, then there is no hope for them. They are so locked into their own self-absorption and self-deception that they will never come out of it, apart from the grace of God. 


Proverbs 26:16 NASB "The sluggard is wiser in his own eyes Than seven men who can give a discreet answer." The writer is using hyperbole or exaggeration here in order to point out the dangers of thinking you are wise in your own eyes.


Proverbs 28:11 NASB "The rich man is wise in his own eyes …" You would think that somebody who had accumulated a lot of wealth through hard work would have developed a sense of humility. But when there is a culture that promotes narcissism and self-absorption and gives free rein to this people get to a point of success and think they know it all and don't need to listen to anyone. "… But the poor who has understanding sees through him." It is not your economic circumstances, it is your humility. The poor person can have understanding and a grasp of reality that gives him discernment in all things. That is the point of the second line.


Proverbs 25:27 NASB "It is not good to eat much honey …" In other words, don't be self-indulgent. "… Nor is it glory to search out one's own glory." To seek one's glory is not glory. Don't be self-absorbed.


Proverbs 30:12 NASB "There is a kind [generation] who is pure in his own eyes, Yet is not washed from his filthiness." We live in a culture and are part of three generation that think that they are above the law, above ethical standards for the most part. That doesn't apply to everybody but that is a general characteristic that holds true. In other words, what the writer is saying is they think they are right but they are so wrong. They are so blinded by their self-absorption and self-deception that they can't see how wrong that they are. That is the problem with pride. It blinds us to the reality of our own flaws and our own faults.


A correction. How do you learn character? Character has to be learned from the crib. Character isn't something that is apparent that you start teaching when that child is old enough to understand everything you are trying to teach it. Some parents might wait a little too long to teach things like good manners, self-discipline and self-control. If you wait until they can understand it you are not instilling it early enough. The role of parents is to start instilling right behavior, to teach these core values of integrity, honesty and hard work from the cradle, not just when they get a little older.


This involves correction. Proverbs 22:15 NASB "Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child …" That is because their sin nature reigns supreme. "… The rod of discipline will remove it far from him." This is not an authorization for beating children within an inch of their life. Harsh correction, corporal punishment is the last resort. There are a lot of other ways to teach up to that point, but what the Scripture is saying is emphasizing the stubbornness of self-absorption. That is our base orientation. A baby is nothing more than a sin nature wrapped up in the flesh. It is up to parents to train them to be wonderful productive mature adults. And it takes energy and diligence and patience. It demands a real understanding of the role that a parent has in training that child.


When we look at Scripture it not only emphasizes the negative of self-absorption but also what the correction is. These are seen in a number of other proverbs.


Proverbs 29:23 NASB "A man's pride will bring him low …" If you want your children's pride and arrogance to destroy them then let them get away with everything they want to get away with. Otherwise you need to correct them and teach them genuine humility. "… But a humble spirit [genuine humility] will obtain honor." If we are living in a self-absorbed narcissistic culture then the Scripture say that becomes a dishonorable culture of dishonorable people. Which is what we have. And our government is loaded with these kinds of people and the leadership in the business world is loaded with this kind of people, and the only correction that we have in this country is not just getting people saved but you have to get people to deal with their sins and their sin nature. It is not enough just to get them regenerate.


Proverbs 11:2 NASB "When pride comes, then comes dishonor, But with the humble is wisdom." Humility has to do with submitting our thinking to the authority of God's thinking. Jesus humbled Himself in obedience by going to the cross. Philippians 2:5-11 emphasizes that He is God, created in the likeness of humanity, but He was obedient in the things that He suffered, by going to the cross.


Proverbs 17:27 NASB "He who restrains his words has knowledge, And he who has a cool [calm] spirit is a man of understanding." Self-control. There can be self-control and self-discipline on the part of an unbeliever or a carnal believer but it is also a fruit of the Spirit. God the Holy Spirit produces self-control as part of the fruit of the Spirit. There is this emphasis on self-control. Parents need to establish some boundaries and some goals in terms of self-discipline to teach children these things.


Proverbs 25:28 NASB "{Like} a city that is broken into {and} without walls Is a man who has no control over his spirit." In other words, there is no defense. Anyone's defense against the baser drives of the sin nature is self-discipline, learning to say no to the things you should say no to. 

Proverbs 29:11 NASB "A fool always loses his temper, But a wise man holds it back." Character involves self-discipline, being able to postpone gratification, deny gratification in certain areas or ways.


In Proverbs we are talking about ethics and values and virtues that are related to the Old Testament system of spirituality where the Holy Spirit was not involved. The believers and the unbelievers were basically just in a system of self-discipline. But when we come into the New Testament we learn that for Christians we move from character values that can be emulated by anyone to specific Christian values and virtues. These are identified in passages like Galatians 5:22, 23 NASB "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law."


God the Holy Spirit enhances those moral or ethical values and virtues that we can develop and makes them spiritual virtues and values. This is the result of a previous verse: the command to walk by means of the Spirit, Galatians 5:16. If we don't walk by the Spirit then these Christian virtues are not developed in us. But the Christian life is a life of character transformation. God the Holy Spirit is focused on transforming our character from the fallen character that has been the manifestation of the sin nature to the character is Christ. He is conforming us to the image of Jesus Christ. When we walk by the Spirit God the Holy Spirit is constantly working, using His Word to challenge us, to remind us of the truth, to rebuke us, to direct us in terms of development of these character qualifications.


It involves volition. There is always that two-fold relationship: the work of the Holy Spirit in us and our own decision to do what the Word says to do.


Ephesians 4:31 NASB "Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice." The verb is an aorist passive imperative. It is a command but it is a passive voice, meaning that we receive the action from outside of us. That is the work of the Holy Spirit. We are letting the Holy Spirit transform us and remove these things from our life. So we have to be responsive to Him. 

Colossians 3:8 NASB "But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, {and} abusive speech from your mouth." There is a slightly different emphasis here. The "you" means you yourself. The Holy Spirit doesn't decide for us. He will help in making the decision, but we have to make the decision. We are to put off all of these things—middle imperative. The middle imperative emphasizes that the person who receives the action also performs the action for his own benefit. So it doesn't let us off the hook. We are to put off these things. We do it under the power of the Holy Spirit while we are walking by the Spirit. That is how character is developed. We have to study the Word and understand what the Holy Spirit is doing.