19 August 2014

The sting of sending a sluggard: Preaching a single verse from a chiasm in Proverbs

by Dan Phillips

I'm coming to the end of preaching the first ten chapters of Proverbs verse by verse, hoping to help my folks be able to win any ¿Quien es mas macho? competition among pastors. Well, that, and other things.

So as I shared, Duane Garrett helped me see that the last section of the chapter (10:19-32) breaks down into a chiasm. That helped me a lot in figuring out how to preach it. First, I preached on the first four verses, focusing on speech; then on the next four verses, dealing with security. So much for Section A and Section B.

But what to do with the single, lone verse making up Section C? What of verse 26, dealing with Sloth?

Obviously, there were three main honest choices (skipping it is not an honest choice):
  1. Group it with the preceding section, on security.
  2. Group it with the following section on, once again, security.
  3. Preach it all by its lonesome.
At first glance it made the best sense to pick 1 or 2... except when I thought about it. It would either be, "This about security, and this about security, and this about security, and this about security... oh, and a thought about the sluggard." Or it would be "A thought about the sluggard. Now, to four verses about security."

Against the law? Immoral? Heretical? No; but awkward. And not really doing justice to the genius and intents of Solomon, nor to those of the inspiring Spirit.

But could this single verse bear the weight of a whole sermon? I'd already preached very emphatically on the sluggard from chapter 6; what to add? It is a moral crime to make the Bible boring. How to avoid that?

I also was pressed by the fact that Solomon had emphasized this verse. He was the one who did a cluster on speech, a cluster on security; then a mirror-cluster on security and a mirror-cluster on speech — and put that one long verse on sending a sluggard in the middle. Wasn't he emphasizing it?

So, out of respect for Solomon (and the Spirit who inspired him), I looked more closely, prayed, thought, listened closely to my smarter friends. And it came to me.

At first read, it seems painfully simple, to the point of banality. No one likes smoke in his eyes or acidic drink on sore gums, and it's like that to send a sluggard. Sending sluggard = bad. Got it. Thanks.

But as I've said beforeevery time Solomon seems banal it's a signal to look closer.

So: why did Solomon pick vinegar and smoke, and why a sluggard? Why not vinegar and smoke, and a fool, for instance? What's special about a sluggard?

Then I started realizing: as a rule, nobody wants smoke, and nobody wants sour wine (which is what "vinegar" usually means in the Bible). In the first case, what one really wanted was fire; and in the second, a nice drink of sweet, refreshing wine. Ah, but ouch and yuck, instead he got smoke stinging his eyes, and acidic sour wine stinging his gums. What a disappointment. What a failed promise. What a letdown...


And there it was. The sluggard specializes in being a disappointment, a letdown. He majors in staring opportunity in the face, and taking a nap, or manufacturing excuses, and otherwise letting it go to ruin.

And that's bad enough when it's only himself he effects (which, strictly, is never); it's worse when it's my message, or my job that he's letting go to ruin.

That seen, it all opened to me. The first application of this proverb, and a host of other applications: to Solomon, to Israel, to Christ, and to each and every one of us.

And there I had scorcher of a sermon.

The key was respecting the text and its signals, and seeing the mind of God revealed in its formation.

Dan Phillips's signature

16 comments:

Paul Reed said...

"It is a moral crime to make the Bible boring. How to avoid that?"

My answer: Just read it, and read it face value, and skip the "sophisticated", "intellectual" exegesis that tries to sanitize parts people won't like. The Bible is inherently very interesting because it's offensive to just about everyone's moral outlook. It's anything but boring. Since you're in proverbs, try this verse: Proverbs 23:13

philbaiden said...

Dan,
I'm really appreciating this insight into your sermon preparation. As one who has to resist the inner sluggard this post had the added extra of being a spur to stop lazing about and get on with things.
Thanks.

philbaiden said...

Dan,
I'm really appreciating this insight into your sermon preparation. As one who has to resist the inner sluggard this post had the added extra of being a spur to stop lazing about and get on with things.
Thanks.

Jim Pemberton said...

"The key was respecting the text and its signals, and seeing the mind of God revealed in its formation."

It's not like I have a lot of people seeking my insight on what the Bible says, but there are a few people that marvel at the occasions that I utter some insight that a) isn't typically taught and b) is faithful to the text. Most faithful Bible teachers I know are good redacters. Truly there is no new teaching from the Bible. But I'm convinced that every generation and every teacher needs to struggle with the text of scripture. Dan, you've discovered something that's only been there the whole time that those who haven't struggled with it have missed.

DJP said...

Thanks Jim.

And just to be as clear as I can, when I call it a "scorcher of a sermon," I'm not patting myself on the back. I'm just saying it scorched me! Still throbbing, as a matter of fact.

Dana~Are We There Yet? said...

I read the post, listened to the sermon, and now I shall limp my way through the next...what? Week? Month? Lifetime?

"Thanks, Brother" seems hardly adequate, but it's all I can manage.

Dana~Are We There Yet? said...

I read the post, listened to the sermon, and now I shall limp my way through the next...what? Week? Month? Lifetime?

"Thanks, Brother" seems hardly adequate, but it's all I can manage.

Frank Turk said...

I'd just like to say that it's a shame when the first comment on a post like this one misses the point of the post so narrowly.

I mean, missed it by || this much.

Michael said...

It is a shame, Frank. But I had a good laugh from comment # 1. Two for the price of none. A very good insight into the text, which I didn't know, and a belly laugh- all in one.

Michael Coughlin said...

1. EXCELLENT POST. WELL DONE ON THE POST AND THE SERMON.
2. Frank is right, but
3. So is the other Michael.

DJP said...

Maybe if I understood the first comment, it would bother me more. It quotes from the post... but the rest is an unrelated thought with which I have no argument. No clue as to the connection, but no argument. Yeah, preach the Word! Amen. In all its depth, richness, power.

Michael said...

I think Mr. Reed is proposing there be no preaching of a sermon in church. Simple reading of the text by congregants asked to come up and read a portion is all that is necessary to expound the Gospel. And if a person reads poorly, the elder (if there is need of one) may use the rod, I suppose.

DJP said...

Oh. Okay, then.

Brad Mason said...

I disagree with the first cat in that I really am often bored by the proverbs. But it is for exactly the opposite reason! My sin dulled intellect just thinks, "duh, Solomon", until someone less sluggardly than I lays it bare.

Michael said...

Bingo, Brad. Most of us see repetition and seemingly simple aphorisms and get sleepy. We should pray for the spirit to open our eyes to the important beautiful deep guidance. But we also need pastors to kind of break the ground and show us there is more, much more there than meets the eye at first. These men want to be motivators even before they want to be explainers I'd guess!

DJP said...

Dana, sorry for the delay; your comment got lost and stuck somehow. But thanks!