A few weeks ago I started what I hope to be an occasional series on Proverbs. Lately Tricia and I have been talking through them over meals, during long car rides, etc, and it's been a great way to study and apply scripture together. This time I want to revisit 15:17 and show some of the thoughts we had on it, then maybe throw out another one for discussion.
Better is a dinner of herbs where love is
than a fattened ox and hatred with it. (Proverbs 15:17)
The proverb compares two extreme situations, likely meant to be families, although obviously proverbial wisdom extends far beyond that. The first family is poor - for dinner, all they can scratch together is a plate of herbs. They have a barely subsistence level lifestyle. Eating meat is a luxury they can barely imagine; they'd be overjoyed to get some fresh fruit or a loaf of bread. But they love each other, and despite crushing poverty, they have a happy, supportive home. Dad would do anything for Mom, Mom respects Dad despite his lack of wealth, and the kids are committed to serving and helping the family as much as they can.
The second family is rich beyond belief, eating the equivalent of Wagyu beef for an average dinner. A fattened calf was something so valuable, rich people reserved them for special occasions (see Luke 15), yet this family routinely downs them for occasions like "it's Wednesday!" We're talking royal-level material blessing. Problem is, they hate each other. Mom doesn't respect Dad, Dad doesn't even like Mom, and the kids wouldn't mind if their parents just died so they could get their inheritance and move on already. Dinner's considered a success if nobody even talks, because at least they're not yelling or throwing things. They're a family in name only.
These are the extremes - dirt poor with genuine love, and unthinkable wealth without so much as a shred of common courtesy. And Solomon says, given the choice between the two, it's better to choose love than wealth.
Now obviously few if any will come close to either extreme. But purt near all of us will face situations which mirror the choice. We will have to weigh decisions based on "what will this mean for me financially" and "what effect will this have on my marriage/family" - and sometimes we'll find that mo money means mo problems. When making a decision, some factors are a whole lot more important than "how much money will we make?"
OK, so having your marriage and family be a model of Biblical love is better than being rich (it should go without saying that contrary to the absurdities (I won't even dignify them by calling them 'opinions') of the Useful Idiot types (#OWS, Wallis, etc), you can be both). The follow-up question this Proverb begs is, how do you get that type of loving family? This is where thinking of specific choices can bring the wisdom to home - often in the form of a punch to the gut of my past/present idiocy. Some areas we thought of where this proverb could apply:
Dating/Spouse selection. News flash: who you marry will have a significant impact on your marriage and family life. (You can't get insight like that just anywhere, folks!) So what do you look for in a spouse - or what do you train your kids to most desire? Let me put it this way - if one of my daughters ever says anything like "Well, he makes me miserable and I don't really like him, but he's going to be a doctor so we'll at least be financially secure," she may need to stay in a stone tower until her hair grows long enough for an escape. (For further reflection, this.)
Workaholics. In many jobs, your pay will be somewhat proportional to your workload. You can provide better financially by working longer hours, bringing extra work home, etc - but at what cost? Is the extra money worth it if it means burdening your wife and neglecting the kids? Sometimes it would be foolish to take on more work - and sometimes it would be sinful neglect of duty to not work more (1 Tim 5:8).
Going from 20 to 40 hours may be a necessity, from 40 to 50 can provide tremendous financial blessing with minimal effect on the family, but from 50 to 90 can be familial suicide. This proverb warns against working so much to provide insane riches, while driving the family to hate you. Finding the right balance is a struggle that'll be all too familiar for many who read this - including the one writing it.
Contentment. Closely related to the above. Is the increase in lifestyle or net worth going to be enough to justify the effect it will have on the family? Can you be content with what you have, even as your friends or coworkers are making more and flaunting it? Anyone in his right mind would rather eat a fattened ox than salad. But what will it take to get there, and is it worth it?
Unethical/Illegal Behavior. Sometimes the quick path to wealth will be unethical or outright illegal. Guess what? If you become a shyster at work, it'll follow you home. Loan sharks and thieves don't tend to have great marriages or tremendous relationships with their kids. Know why? Because they're the type of men who can be loan sharks and thieves. Depravity doesn't start when you punch the time clock in and stay at the office when you leave.
How about a current-events example? Here in Illinois, we recently had yet another governor convicted on corruption charges. Blago wasn't content with a great salary and pension; he wanted to raise his family as if they had vastly more wealth than they did. He shook down everyone he could for the money to support the lavish lifestyle. Now how much do you think his family will care about the fancy dinners and vacations and expensive clothes and cars while he spends the next decade or more in prison? And how great must it be knowing your father is the type of guy who'd withhold funding from a children's hospital until they pay a bribe? Think that kind of character just may spill over into parenting or marriage, just a little?
Helpmate Suitable. Much of this so far has been primarily at the men, because I are one. So this is for the ladies. How do you best support your man as he tries to provide for the family? How can you best help him balance his duties at work, home, and church, without belittling or berating? Can you be the voice of contentment instead of the voice of more, more, more - especially if your current standard of living is significantly lower than daddy provided? (I will not elaborate on that for now, except to say I've seen that issue far too frequently, and there are few ways to destroy your husband faster than telling him he doesn't live up to your dad.)
So there's where I went with that proverb. Feel free to chime in more applications or expound on these some more.
And for next time, let's think through Proverbs 19:3. "When a man's folly brings his way to ruin, his heart rages against the Lord."
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