“Oil and perfume make the heart glad, and the sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel.” Proverbs 27:9 (ESV)
When I was still dating the young woman who would become my wife, I somehow stumbled upon a breed of roses that were both beautiful and fragrant, called “Sterling.” They were deep lavender in color but had the strong perfume of rose that I had never smelled in most other roses that could be purchased from the florist.
I’m not a rose expert by any stretch of the imagination, but I know what a rose should smell like. Most roses today that you can purchase either don’t have any smell, or worst, have a musty smell that to me smells of mildew. Perhaps it is because of the process of breeding to get larger varieties that last longer, or maybe it is some other reason, but I had stumbled across a rose that was both beautiful to look at and had a perfume that was deep and rich.
These sterling roses instantly became my wife’s favorite for the reasons I have just mentioned. But over time this particular breed of rose became harder to find and even now are almost impossible to buy anywhere without a special order from a flower shop. I’m not sure why this is the case, but they are rare. The rarity and perfume of the sterling rose reminds me of Proverbs 27:9.
Indeed the perfume of flowers make most people’s heart glad. Thousands of romantics and lovers can attest to this fact. But this proverb takes that reality and applies it to the sweetness of a real, deep friendship.
Whereas the sterling rose finds its sweetness in its perfume, the source of a friend’s sweetness is found in his “earnest counsel.” Although the translations vary, the main meaning seams to be clear enough—a friend’s counsel is sweet like perfume and for the wise person who accepts it, it is not an offense, but a welcome joy.
Unfortunately, like my wife’s sterling roses, the acceptance of the fact that counsel from a friend is sweet, is becoming more and more rare. It only takes losing a friend, finding your counsel received poorly, a relationship ending in awkward silence, or even a response of heated anger to realize that it might be better to just keep our counsel to ourselves.
But this isn’t the way of Christ. As Shakespeare has written, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” so too godly, loving counsel that is repugnant or refused by a foolish friend is still sweet perfume that honors the Lord when spoken. But this Sort of friendship is like the roses that we have today—large, deep in color, beautiful to look at in a vase, but when you go to this rose and take a good, deep smell—the stench of mildew fills your nostrils!
We live in a world where the path of least resistance is the path well travelled. Why bother, when it seems that no good comes from risking the loss of a good relationship? But with the loss of these good, honest conversations comes the loss of the sweetness of earnest counsel and truly deep friendships. And it is this sweet speech that is not only needed by our friends, whether they want it or not, but it is the true beauty and sweet perfume that this world needs to see right now.
Friendships without honest and loving counsel are like roses that smell of mildew. They look good from afar, but they do not carry the perfume that should accompany their beauty. May the friendships of Christians both look and smell beautiful.
“Moreover, Jehoshaphat said to the king of Israel, “Please inquire first for the word of Yahweh.” Then the king of Israel gathered the prophets together, about four hundred men, and said to them, “Shall I go against Ramoth-gilead to battle or shall I refrain?” And they said, “Go up, for the Lord will give it into the hand of the king.” But Jehoshaphat said, “Is there not yet a prophet of Yahweh here that we may inquire of him?”” (1 Kings 22:5–7 LSB)
As I was reading the passage above, I noticed something I hadn’t seen before in my previous readings in 1 Kings.
King Jehoshaphat requested that King Ahab first inquire about the will of God before agreeing to go to war with him. Ahab obliged by calling 400 so-called prophets who told him that the Lord approved of the war.
But Jehoshaphat was not fooled. Something didn’t sit right with the message these prophets gave. The text doesn’t tell us why, but Jehoshaphat didn’t accept these 400 prophets as speaking from the Lord. As a matter of fact, this is what caught my eye.
Again, it says in verse 7, “But Jehoshaphat said, “Is there not yet a prophet of Yahweh here that we may inquire of him?”” It is almost as if the king told Ahab, “Yes, yes, I have heard the popular opinion of all these men, but…don’t you have any actual prophets of Yahweh, or only these fakers? I’d actually like to hear what Yahweh has to say.”
Ahab doesn’t seem to be confused because he knows that his sleight of hand trick hasn’t worked. He knows that he has been keeping the good stuff in the back and hasn’t brought out the real prophet of Yahweh. Ahab wasn’t looking for truth, only for a confirmation of his preconceived plans.
You know, some people claim to want the truth, but they want their truth, as the current foolishness of our day would say. But the truth is a stubborn thing. Something is either true or it is not. And the number of people you get to back a lie doesn’t increase its truthfulness. A lie is always a lie no matter how many false prophets can lip-sync in unison the siren song of the culture or popular opinion.
We need to ask ourselves this as well. Do I really want to know the truth, or am I wanting to fit in, to follow with the cool crowd (whoever the “cool kids” might currently be)?
Appeals to “science” or straw man arguments, or the number of books written or Instagram followers may sway those who want to affirm their own preconceived notions, but popularity and doctrine don’t equal truth. Whether it is the cultural doctrines of gender politics, abortion, or feminism, or the theological doctrines of eschatology, pneumatology, or ecclesiology. Memes don’t prove the truth. Mic drop blog posts and Facebook rants bring more heat than light.
What we need is to hear a true prophet of Yahweh speak. God has spoken, and He has done so perfectly in His Word. So, instead of gathering polemics and talking points from Fox News, CNN, Twitter, or YouTube, for those of us called out by Christ, let’s open our Bibles and listen to God speak.
For the last few days I have been reading the book of Judges, and I have particularly been thinking about the life of Samson. Although Samson often stirs up images that are more like the cover of a romance novel than a Bible character, it is the tragedy of a life thrown away that draws me in.
Even before his birth, expectations were high for Samson. His mother and father were visited by the angel of the Lord and told that their son would be used by God, but that they needed to raise him as one under the vows of a Nazirite. Normally, a person took on this vow for short while, but Manoah and his wife were told that this would be a lifelong commitment that he would need to make. No eating of any products derived from grapes—wine, juice, raisins, or even the grape itself. Along with this, Samson was not to cut his hair- ever. All of these things, in addition to the normal restrictions placed upon the Jewish people, were meant to demonstrate that Samson was set apart for a special purpose by God. Samson would be a sort of redeemer for his people, helping to free them from the oppression of their enemies the Philistines.
The problem was that Samson himself was not free. He may have had supernatural strength, but he was enslaved to his lusts. He may have been able to overpower a gang of men, but he couldn’t win victory over himself. He was his own worst enemy. Following the short life of this man, it quickly becomes apparent that when Samson sees something he wants, he will do whatever it takes to get it. He repeats a refrain that is seen often throughout the book of Judges, and he personalizes it-every man did that which was right in his own eyes.
It was not simply the cutting of his hair that caused this mighty warrior to fall. It was his lust for women, his raging anger, his disdain for purity-both ritual and spiritual, and his selfish drive to please himself. All of these came crashing down upon him like the building that took his life. Even Samson’s final (and only) prayer to God was laced with astonishing selfishness. This is the tragic result for not only Samson but for any of us that choose the foolish path of “following our heart.” Don’t do it. To follow your own heart is like cutting off the rudder on a ship and allowing the wind to blow the sails in whatever direction it gusts. A sailor that follows that practice will end up shipwrecked or lost at sea.
I’m not writing as one who has never followed his own heart. On the contrary, I have all too much experience in living the same way that Samson lived. I seek my counsel, and I go my own way. But it doesn’t take long before the initial satisfaction of my selfishness wears off and my foolishness reveals painful consequences. The only comfort and solution that I have found for avoiding this is to sail by a north star that is not within my own heart. The Bible gives me the wisdom and counsel that I need, not what I want. It speaks truth to my stubborn and deceptive heart. It points out the painful consequences and it shows me the true joy that can come if I will only trust the One who loves me more than I even love myself.
Samson’s life ended in tragedy, but my life won’t. My compass is set by Jesus Christ, and He will bring me home. I may put aside the compass now and then in my foolishness, but in the end, Christ will bring me into my heavenly port.
If you’d like to read about Samson for yourself, his story can be read in Judges chapters 13-16.
“As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet.” (Matthew 11:7–9, ESV)
Christmas and Easter are the two holidays that cause a jump in attendance at churches all across the United States as people attend who don’t normally darken the door of the church. Many come to “feel close to God” during these precious Christian holy days.
But for those “churches” and “pastors” that are enamored with nickels and noses when people come into their buildings, Christmas and Easter are opportunities to “wow” their audiences with a spectacular show that will hopefully get them to stay and “experience” all that this type of church has to offer.
I don’t mean to disparage those churches that see the infrequent visitors as a mission field to whom they can minister to and share the wonder of the incarnation and resurrection with. We would be remiss as Christians not to take advantage of this opportunity. But there is a definite philosophy that loses the baby Jesus with the bathwater when productions, lighting, and stage histrionics take the place of the power of God vested in the gospel.
I point to Jesus’ words above from Matthew 11:7-9 as sobering truths for all of us. We need to ask ourselves, “Why do people come to our church?” In doing so, we reflect this time when Jesus asked the disciples why the crowds went out to see John the Baptist. Did they go out to see a reed shaken in the wind, or as we might say it today, a man taken by the latest fads and opinions of men? No, the people didn’t go out to see that.
As a matter of fact, Jesus asks if they went out into the wilderness to see a man dressed in soft clothing. But John was famously known to wear a rough-cut animal skin with a strip of leather for a belt around his waist. He ate what he could scavenge out there in the wilderness–locusts and wild honey. John wasn’t a skinny-jeans wearing, cappuccino-sipping, bearded hipster having “dialogues” with the people. He must have looked like a wild-eyed madman compared to the refined religious leaders of the times. Instead John looked like an Old Testament prophet of God, most notably, like the prophet Elijah. His sandals weren’t Birkinstocks, and his beard wasn’t oiled with shea butter and lavender. They knew if they wanted to see a man in soft clothes that they wouldn’t go out to the wilderness.
So why did they go out to see John? Because they wanted to hear from God. And to do that, they needed a prophet. Not a fancy boy who spends his days taking selfies in a mirror to gain more followers. Not a politically correct parrot who takes the temperature of the world to adjust his message to fit the popular opinions of men. They needed a faithful messenger who would speak the truth–unvarnished and true.
So, the next time you are considering what you can do to polish up your look, your sermon, or your church’s “stage,” remember John. People came out to hear a word from God. And if they want to hear something else, there are plenty of false churches and false teachers that will accommodate them.
“I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” (2 Timothy 4:1–5, ESV)
Although the tradition of Thanksgiving is being attacked like every other tradition in our land, it is still generally recognized that the holiday points back to the celebration of the pilgrims in the New World in 1621. The official holiday didn’t come about until a proclamation was made by President George Washington in 1789, although it was later discontinued. It wasn’t until 1828 that a campaign was begun to restore Thanksgiving as a national holiday, and formalized when it was proclaimed in 1863 by President Abraham Lincoln to be the official National Thanksgiving Day on the fourth Thursday of November. What a roller coaster!
But even this wasn’t the first thanksgiving. We could go all the way back to the time of King David, found in 1Chronicles 16 to see another Day of Thanks that came far before Lincoln made his proclamation.
Israel’s King David had finally found peace from the homicidal Saul and his foreign enemies. He moved into Jerusalem and had built a house for himself. Life was good for the king! He had finally brought the Ark of the Covenant into the city and placed it into a special tent made especially for the worship of the Lord.
In a spirit of great thankfulness and gratitude, David offered up burnt offerings and peace offerings to His God. He distributed gifts of food to everyone in the nation of Israel, and along with these national festivities, David brought in musicians and singers to offer songs of praise to the Lord. This song, written by David is also found in Psalm 105.
As we begin to prepare our hearts for this season of thanks, I wanted to take the first five verses of this song of praise (vv. 8-12), and direct your heart, dear reader, to worship the Lord, as David sought to direct the hearts of his people.
As Christians, we are to have a thankful heart on a daily basis, and David would have agreed. But Thanksgiving in the U.S. is a special day set aside so that we might dedicate our hearts heavenward, because of all the people on earth, we as sinners saved by unmerited grace should be the most thankful for his electing grace and mercy.
In today’s post, I’d like to share with you Five Ways Which We as Believers Can Show Thankfulness in Our Lives
1. Depend Upon His Strength For Your Needs (v. 8a)
“Oh give thanks to the Lord; call upon his name;”
Part of giving thanks is recognizing that the Lord’s past gifts are a reminder of His future provision. It is interesting how quickly we forget the Lord’s past provision as we grow anxious about our future. Israel struggled with this as well. Look at Exodus 15:11 in what is called the Song of Moses. It says, “Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?” Later, in verse 22 it says, “Then Moses made Israel set out from the Red Sea, and they went into the wilderness of Shur. They went three days in the wilderness and found no water.”
Did you see how long has passed? Three days! Verses 23-24 continue, “When they came to Marah, they could not drink the water of Marah because it was bitter; therefore it was named Marah. And the people grumbled against Moses, saying, “What shall we drink?” What happened to the great God they sang about only a few days earlier?
And we are the same sometimes, aren’t we? We gather on a Sunday and sing “A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing, our helper, he amidst the flood of mortal ills prevailing.” And then we go home, and a few days later crumble in despair over our situations, trials, and circumstances.
We need to understand that our thanks and praise must not only look backward, but forward. We must thank the Lord and praise him for what he will do in our unforeseen future. Give him thanks for future grace–those blessings and the strength that you have not yet received, but like manna, we will receive in due time according to his perfect will.
2. Declare How He Has Answered Your Prayers (v. 8b)
“make known his deeds among the peoples!”
We ought to start thanksgiving in how we talk with one another, shouldn’t we? Part of stirring one another up in the community of saints is to share not only our needs but also the glorious ways in which the Lord answered our prayers. We have seen the miraculous deeds of God over and over again. Our living Savior has heard our prayers and satisfied our needs repeatedly. We should have words of praise and thanksgiving constantly on our lips.
But in this song, David was speaking primarily about our testimony to the unbelieving world. “The peoples” is a reference to the nations outside of Israel, the pagan world. Spurgeon wrote, “Let the heathen hear of our God, that they may forsake their idols and learn to worship him.”
Do you remember the name Dr. Kent Brantly? He was the Samaritan’s Purse doctor who recovered from the deadly Ebola virus that he had contracted while working with Ebola patients in Liberia, Africa. In 2015, Dr. Brantly and his wife published a book of their account, and Time Magazine wrote a short story about it. Listen as Dr. Brantly declares how God answered his and many others’ prayers:
“I know that some consider it controversial for me to claim that God saved my life when I had received an experimental drug and some of the greatest medical care available in the world. I can see how these two realities appear to contradict each other. I also feel the dissonance with claiming God saved my life while thousands of others died. These issues are not clear-cut for me. I wrestle with these tensions… Some may call it a grand coincidence, and I couldn’t argue against them. But when I see the unlikely and highly improbable events that occurred—not only during my illness, but also for decades preceding the Ebola epidemic in West Africa—I see the hand of God at work, and I give him the credit.” [http://time.com/3965989/ebola-survivor-brantly-book/]
Most of us won’t ever get that sort of stage to declare the glory of God to the world. But we have a small stage of unbelieving family, friends, and co-workers who are watching and listening. We need to declare to them how God has been working in our lives, so that as Spurgeon said, “that they may forsake their idols and learn to worship him.”
3. Direct Your Praises to Him Alone (v. 9)
“Sing to him, sing praises to him; tell of all his wondrous works!”
Now, this might mean that we need to make sure that we don’t do what Israel did in Exodus 32, in redirecting our worship from God to something else, like a golden calf. This can happen the way it did for the Corinthians in 1 Cor. 3:3-5, where there were different factions in the same church, who weren’t really worshipping Christ, but their favorite teachers. That is a real danger for some.
But there is another pitfall that we need to avoid. We can see it in Jesus’ parable in Luke 18:9-12, where Jesus speaks about the Pharisee and the tax collector. Although this is called a parable by Luke, this scenario probably was enacted many times right before the people who frequented the temple. The godly-looking Pharisee prays with arms extended, speaking in pious tones, while the tax collector stood off in a corner looking as guilty as he was before God. To the casual observer or even the so-called worshipper, this looks like thanksgiving and praise. But it isn’t, is it? It’s self-worship and congratulations.
We need to be aware that when we sing or pray or speak about the Lord that we aren’t twisting worship to God into worship of self. We see this when a musician is all about himself, absorbing all the attention and praise–as he supposedly sings to “the Lord.”
Instead, we need to focus all our attention and praise on the Lord alone. Listen to Spurgeon again, “Bring your best thoughts and express them in the best language to the sweetest sounds. Take care that your singing is “unto him,” and not merely for the sake of the music or to delight the ears of others. Singing is so delightful an exercise that it is a pity so much of it should be wasted upon trifles or worse than trifles. O ye who can emulate the nightingale, and almost rival the angels, we do most earnestly pray that your hearts may be renewed that so your floods of melody may be poured out at your Maker’s and Redeemer’s feet.”[C. H. Spurgeon, The Treasury of David: Psalms 88-110, vol. 4 (London; Edinburgh; New York: Marshall Brothers, n.d.), 336.]
4. Delight Yourself in God More Than Just His Gifts (vv. 10-11)
“Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice! Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually!”
Notice the focus here, “Glory in his holy name….those who…seek the Lord (2x)….seek his presence.” Today we will find ourselves giving thanks for many blessings and gifts, and we should. But our love and the thanksgiving that accompanies it, should be more for God and not only for what he can and has given to us.
Remember what it says in Habbakuk 3:17-19? “Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places. To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments.” (Habakkuk 3:17–19, ESV)
Our ultimate joy and thanks should be for receiving Christ as our Savior and Redeemer. That is the best gift we have ever or will ever receive. Everything else is simply grace upon grace. Jesus said, “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul?” (Mark 8:36–37, ESV).
5. Dwell on What the Lord Has Said and Done (v. 12)
“Remember the wondrous works that he has done, his miracles and the judgments he uttered,”
Our struggle with being discontent is usually a memory problem. The root of our discontentedness is most often found in our unwillingness or inability to recall all that the Lord has already said to us and done for us.
I always think it’s a perfect sign of the self-centered world we live in that the day after “Thanksgiving” we have the biggest shopping day of the year. We are thankful, but we must have more! And we as Christians can get sucked up into that same attitude. Instead of dwelling on the eternal blessings and gifts given to us, we look at the flashy bobbles everyone else seems to have and we want to know why we don’t have them. We want to know how we can have them. And it’s not just tangible “stuff” that we crave. We crave prestige, power, influence, friends.
But listen to the prophet Jeremiah: “Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.”” (Jeremiah 9:23–24, ESV)
Our greatest riches are not from the Lord: our greatest riches is the fact that we know the Lord. Let us give thanks for this most magnificent gift!