19 August 2011

Grow, or crash (Proverbs 19:27)

by Dan Phillips

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,
and you will stray from the words of knowledge.
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."

In an ironic command such as this, Solomon says, "Tell you what: if you insist on not listening, go ahead, stop listening. And here's exactly what will happen when you do." What will happen? He will stray from the words of knowledge. Period. Sure thing, guaranteed, you can take it to the bank.

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?

As it turns out, yes, there could be. And are.

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!"

No, far from it; indeed, the spectacle of their failure to grow and inability to stomach sound teaching moves that writer to pen what has stood as one of the most terrifying passages of Scripture ever to be written. Had you ever noticed that? That's right: Hebrews 6:4ff., the passage that has given countless tender souls countless sleepless nights, was provoked by people who simply refused to grow.

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.

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.
Amen. Hear, fear, and take heed — sheep, and shepherds.

Dan Phillips's signature


Robert said...

Good post. Thanks for bringing in the Hebrews reference because people in the church should pay more attention to the exhortations that Hebrews contains.

Now let me make use of your advice and get to my daily reading.

Scot said...

A very very providential reminder Dan. I felt my heart sink a little bit when I read the Hebrews warning. Time to head out and do my morning prayers.

donsands said...

Good word this morn Dan. And Charles, if you hear up there pastor. (Just kidding.)

Seems there are periods in my life when I slide a bit, and a good brother seems to come along and grab my spiritual foot, and help me to stop sliding, and another brother comes by and helps me chip away at the ice so I can get my footing once more. And perhaps I have helped others as well.

I would think the worse kind of sliding is when we think we are still climbing.

Have a splendid weekend and Lord's day my brother! Gal. 6:14

Stefan Ewing said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Stefan Ewing said...

Wow. This lesson is so good, so true, and so timely, as I can attest from personal experience. All it takes is to leave off prayer and the Word for even a day—as you (Dan) pointed out, just do nothing instead of something, and just go about our daily business, since there's always tomorrow.

Things may seem fine at first, but your eyes are off the Cross, and it's only a matter of time before the stresses and cares and worries of the world get you down, and you've already drifted off the highway. Go on like that for a few days or even weeks (God help us), and pretty soon you're far out in the wilderness.

Now it's getting to the point where if I stray off the highway for even a day, I'm spraining my ankle on some rock in the desert—and it's painful.

And to switch to another metaphor, Spurgeon's characterization of the Christian walk as climbing a hill of ice is stunningly spot on! Wow! I'd never seen it presented that way before, but man, did he ever nail it!

And praise be to God that though we wander from Him, He is never far from His children, allowing obstacles to cross our path so that we may turn back to Him in repentance, knowing that our sins have been forgiven through the blood-bought covenant of salvation through His Son Jesus Christ, for the sake of His everlasting glory!

Stefan Ewing said...

(Off topic, but I'm not a Covenant Theologian...it's just that the web and woof of the relationship God has with His people is through His unconditional, everlasting covenants: a vital truth we would do well to remember, especially during times of difficulty.)

Joe Meyer said...

Look a ballon.....LOL!

Halcyon said...


Nice thoughts. One question, though:

The Hebrews passage that you reference says that it is "impossible" for those who have "tasted the heavenly gift" and "shared in the Holy Spirit" to repent and return after they "fall away".

That sounds like the author is equating apostasy to irrevocably losing your salvation. Whay say you? I know that you don't believe that salvation can be lost, but then what do you make of the wording of the passage?

DJP said...

My bottom line is that it's virtually an X-ray of Judas. It depicts someone "not far from the kingdom" - but still not in it. Not a loss of salvation (which is a contradiction in terms), but someone well-acquainted with Gospel truths and realities, yet falling short of repentant faith.

Robert said...


When we went over Hebrews in SS, this was a source of much discussion and a lot of people differed in opinion as to the intended audience. I feel that this was meant for a whole church, which would have included believers and unbelievers. The unbelievers in the church can partake of the Spirit by being among the congregation, but don't become filled with the Spirit. You can only imagine the discussions we had as we got to chapter 10...

Back to Proverbs, it saddens and confounds me when I read through Proverbs and Ecclesiastes because we see what happened in Solomon's life in Kings and Chronicles. That should definitely give the rest of us great pause when we consider how wise Solomon was.

Halcyon said...


Sounds good.

In addition to your thoughts, I would say that if it is referencing actual believers, it is in a I Corinthians 3:10-15 sense (the last two verses in the Hebrews passage about the "crop" being burned seems to be similar in meaning to the I Corinthians passage).

James Scott Bell said...

In my view Heb. 6:4ff is definitely referring to true Christians:

These are individuals who have once been enlightened. cf. 2 Cor. 4:3-6. The writer’s only other use of the verb “enlightened,” is Hebrews 10:32, where the reference is to true Christian experience.

"Tasted the heavenly gift" relates to initial conversion (cf. John 4:10; Rom. 6:23; James 1:17-18). The effort to evade this conclusion by seeing in the word “tasted” something less than full participation fails—in view of the writer’s own use of this word (Heb. 2:9)— to describe Jesus’ experience of death. One might also compare 1 Peter 2:3, which quotes Psalm 34:8.

Those "who have shared in the Holy Spirit." The underlying Greek employs again the word metochoi used in Hebrews 1:9 of the “companions” of the messianic King, and in 3:1, 14 of the Christian readers (and is also used in 12:8).

"Those who have tasted the goodness of the Word of God and the powers of the coming Age." Here the thought naturally applies to converts whose instruction in “the Word of God” had given them a genuine experience of its “goodness” and who likewise had known the reality of miracles. The word rendered “powers” (dynameis) in NIV is the usual one in the New Testament for “miracles” and is an apparent allusion back to the experience mentioned in 2:4. In every way the language fits true Christians.

"The effort to see here mere professors of the faith as over against true converts is somewhat forced." (BKC)

DJP said...

Already anticipated and answered, Johnny. Impossible interpretation. Jesus says His sheep will never perish, and they won't (Jn. 10:28).

I hesitated in answering Halcyon for fear of opening a diversion. Now closed. Back to the post

James Scott Bell said...

But the gist of your post is sound. Exercise your faith, or it atrophies.

Tyrone said...

Amen, Amen and Amen!

“Whoever gives thought to the word will discover good.”(Proverbs 16:20)

Halcyon said...


I feel the need to shave my head in penance.

Mia Culpa