In our weekly 2-man "Men's Fellowship" last Saturday at Peet's, Josiah and I looked at Proverbs 19:27.
Cease to hear instruction, my son,Interpretation. In form, this is an ironic command (a concept I develop at length in God's Wisdom in Proverbs, 373ff.; just sayin'). Grammatically Solomon is saying to do something, but semantically he doesn't really mean it. The force is similar to what we do, when we've warned someone not to take a course of action for the thousandth time, and then we give up and say, "Fine, go ahead, do it. Let's see what happens."
and you will stray from the words of knowledge.
Somber backdrop. A factor that saves Proverbs 19:27 from being a bland truism is the grim spectacle of Solomon's own life. The author himself became a wretched illustration of the wisdom and truth of his own words.
It is impossible to read 1 Kings 11 and Proverbs with an engaged heart, and not to ask, "How could this man do that?" Solomon himself answered the question, as if in sad anticipation. We can't read his mind, but we know sin, from wretched and extended experience. How did this happen in Solomon? Inch by inch, probably; neglect by neglect, unchecked pride after unchecked pride.
Pride, I say, because like all believers who sin, Solomon must have thought his sin was different. Otherwise, how could he have read Deuteronomy 17:14-20 and yet gone contrary to it so frontally that some have held that passage to have been written after Solomon as a polemic against him? But there is no need to reject the Scriptural testimony about Deuteronomy's authorship and time frame. We know too well that awareness of a Scriptural prohibition will not eo ipso prevent the sin itself. (Would that it did.)
What a frightening spectacle. Solomon's horrid choices and foolish sins hang him up like a scarecrow athwart the paths of our own straying — or should do so. Could there be scarier warnings?
It gets worse. Of course Judas looms up from the shadows, as someone who stayed with Christ's teaching for all appearances for three solid and difficult years. But he "ceased listening" to Christ's education, and he most certainly strayed... to eternal conscious torment in Hell, according to the only natural reading of Jesus' words (Matt. 26:24; Jn. 17:12).
I don't know if you're getting this yet. Let me try to give you a shake. Think: what do you and I have to do, to run afoul of Solomon's warning, and head in the exact same direction?
Nothing. Not one thing.
It's what we have to stop doing. We have to stop listening, which is to say we have to stop paying attention, stop applying ourselves, thinking, analyzing, breaking down and putting back together, stop making personal application. We have to stop cracking open our Bibles every day and sweating over them, we have to stop attending and attending to Biblical preaching in our local assemblies. Neglect, that's the key. Simply desist.
This isn't a small thing, and I can't stress it enough. Remember what Jesus said is the heart and soul of genuine discipleship:
"So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed Him, 'If you continue in My word, you really are My disciples. You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.'" (Jn. 8:31-32 CSB)Can't we legitimately turn that on its head? I think so:
"So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed Him, 'If you do not continue in My word, you really are not My disciples. You will not know the truth, and that ignorance will leave you as slaves to sin.'" (Jn. 8:31-32 CSB)If that hasn't sealed the deal to you, I direct you to Hebrews 5:10—6:8. The subject of Melchizedek comes up. The writer says he'd like to dwell a bit more on that topic, but he can't. Why not? Because they have become such lazy listeners! By now, they should be able to explain Biblical truths to others, but they can't. In fact, so far from being teachers, they need baby food, they need ABCs, they need Dick, Jane and Spot.
Okay, you're with me, great. But did you read my whole reference? If not, please do. I'll wait.
You see, the spectacle of their backwardness did not move the writer to say anything like...
"But that's okay, of course, because you're just baby Christians, and I want to make it easy for you to stay baby Christians. I don't want to offend you. I don't want you to leave your church. I don't want to challenge you. You just go on, and stay in your delusion, and it's all-good. God is gracious and patient. Just go ahead and put your fingers in your ears when you hear some bit of God's truth that you don't like. Just stay where you are. No need to grow. No need to mature. No need to work your senses out so that you can discern good from evil. No need work on meat. Not one thing to worry about. Look! a balloon!"
So far from comforting them about their failure to grow, he did his level best to scare the life out of them!
And then he talked about Melchizedek anyway (ch. 7).
Goodness. It's more serious than we thought, isn't it?
Sobering thoughts. Mm, but something's lacking, just one thing, what is it what is it...? Oh! I know!
Having said so much, let me now continue to think of the last two kinds of backsliders, and leave out the apostate. Let us first read his name, and then let us read his history—we have both in our text. The first part of his name is, “backslider.” He is not a back runner, nor a back leaper, but a backslider. That is to say he slides back with an easy, effortless motion—softly, quietly—perhaps unsuspected by himself or anybody else. The Christian life is very much like climbing a hill of ice. You cannot slide up, no, you have to cut every step with an ice axe—only with incessant labor in cutting and chipping can you make any progress. You need a Guide to help you and you are not safe unless you are fastened to the Guide, for you may slip into a crevasse.Amen. Hear, fear, and take heed — sheep, and shepherds.
Nobody ever slides up, and if great care is not taken, they will slide down, slide back, or, in other words, backslide. This is very easily done. If you want to know how to backslide, the answer is leave off going forward and you will slide backward! Cease going upward and you will go downward of necessity, for stand still you never can. To lead us to backslide, Satan acts with us as engineers do with a road down the mountains side. If they desire to carry the road from yonder alp right down into the valley far below, they never think of making the road plunge over a precipice, or straight down the face of the rock, for nobody would ever use such a road. But the road makers wind and twist.