Proverbs 18:17

“He that is first in his own cause seemeth just;
but his neighbour cometh and searcheth him”

~ Proverbs 18:17

Though it should not be surprising, sometimes I am struck by how simple and profound Scripture is. Though Solomon refers to the “dark sayings” (Proverbs 1:6) of the wise, Scripture often speaks in very practical common man sort of terms. Consider many of the parables of Jesus; how He spoke of sowing seed, wheat in the field, trees, bread, etc. These plain words transcend culture and time. In modern day America, we have no problem understanding sowing seed even though it was spoken about in the first century by a Jew in Israel.

I am not saying that everyone understands all the spiritual import of such words, but the pictures used are very accessible because they speak to the common human experience. So, the Bible is not some dark, enigmatic ancient writing, though it is not without deep passages (2 Peter 3:16). It is ever fresh and relevant and sufficiently clear. Perhaps some other time it would be good to consider the perspicuity of Scripture, however let us now return to the text before us.

Our text is likewise plain and relevant. It obviously applies to proper forms of due process, e.g. governmental and legal proceedings, judicious proceedings within a church (Matthew 18; 1 Corinthians 6), etc. The verse refers to being careful to hear both sides of an argument. When a man first states his own case and that is all that is on the table, he seems to be right. This is generally true for a number of reasons. A couple of reasons for this are that one side of the story is not usually the whole story and additional information can throw new light on the situation, also a person will typically plead their own case with much pathos and paint themselves in a good light (this is not necessarily with a deliberate intention to deceive).

We must remember that this text is not just good advice from a smart and experienced fellow—this is the inspired Word of God. Scripture is to be applied neither arbitrarily nor unilaterally. Particularly for a Christian in some position of authority, we are to seek justice whether in a civil deliberation on a small or large scale, or within a church body, or within a corporation, or wherever else, and part of seeking such justice means taking all steps to ensure that as much as possible the whole matter is disclosed. To do otherwise is to be a shameful fool: “He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him” (Proverbs 18:13). This was the folly and shame of Potiphar when Joseph was accused before him. “And it came to pass, when his master heard the words of his wife, which she spake unto him, saying, After this manner did thy servant to me; that his wrath was kindled” (Genesis 39:19). He acted on the words of his wife without any other input and did a terrible injustice to Joseph.

The second part of the verse takes the concept further—“but his neighbour cometh and searcheth him.” The neighbor here could be one named in the suit, but that does not have to be the case. He may just be an objective participant or peer. The neighbor’s role is that he “searcheth” the first man’s claims. This word comes from the Hebrew chaquar, which primarily signifies to penetrate, to search, to search out, to examine. This word is used to speak of mining in the earth (Job 28:1-3), searching and exploring a land (Judges 18:2), tasting and trying drink (Proverbs 23:20). William Wilson said of this word, “The general import seems to be, to examine with pains, care, and accuracy, in order to make a full and clear discovery, or a complete, exact calculation” (Old Testament Word Studies, p. 373). The usage of the word here seems clear, when a man states his case, the matter is to be examined thoroughly and discovered, and the claimant is to be subject to cross-examination. If we go back to the example of Joseph, this is exactly what did not take place—the matter was not fully discovered and the accuser was not cross-examined.

A consistent application of this verse would likely curtail many frivolous charges that are put forth today. If a person knew their claim would be judiciously examined and they themselves would be subject to a serious cross-examination, they would be much less likely to make false charges or ones they cannot substantiate. In biblical language, such an accuser is called a false witness. The Lord gave this process for uncovering and dealing with a false witness (Deuteronomy 19:16-19).

Despite the problems of our country’s legal system, this principle is still effective when followed. Additionally, being faithful to this principle in the church would curb many of the problems that are so scandalous before the world and bring a reproach upon the gospel. Unfortunately, in this matter it is often true that “the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light” (Luke 16:8).

There are many applications of this passage but space and time will not now permit delving further into its riches. At least one application would be how we should respond when someone does not “take our word for it.” In other words, we should not be offended when someone wants to hear all sides and not just take action based on our report. In this circumstance, they are being more biblical than we if we are offended that the other side is inquired of.

Hebrews 12:11

“Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous:
nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness
unto them which are exercised thereby.”

~ Hebrews 12:11

Our verse begins with a truth so obvious and universal that no serious objection to it could come from any quarter—“Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous.” Who could honestly object? Who has not experienced chastisement of one form or another? Who could not render credible testimony to the grievous nature of chastisement? No one rightly enjoys the chastisement itself whether it is lovingly or hatefully administered, though the latter does add to its grievousness.

A reasonable question would be: Why state a truth so obvious to any reader? One reason we find is the contrast made in the passage. Here the chastening from God is set apart from all other chastisements. “For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth” (Hebrews 12:6). In the fact that He chastens, He is like many others, but in the nature of His discipline, He is different from all others.

We have all been chastened by our father or some other authority over us, but all of those chastenings cannot be said to have immediately been for our good. “For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure” (Hebrews 12:10). However good or ill intentioned, man’s discipline does not always effect good in the recipient. It is easy for man to take the rod, be too severe, and do great harm rather than good. It may fulfill their design to inflict pain but it is not for the good of the chastened. It is also easy for man to neglect the rod or be too soft and also do great harm, although the harm is different from the physical pain of severity.

However, God is neither too soft nor too severe with His discipline. God’s chastisement is ever tempered by His design, which is expressly “our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness” (Hebrews 12:10). Joseph came under such discipline and rightly discerned the hand of God from the hand of man. He said to his brothers, “But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive” (Genesis 50:20).

You may be surprised that I would allude to Joseph for he suffered wrongfully at the hands of his brothers and how could that be the chastening of God? First, note that I am not attempting a full exposition of the doctrine of God’s chastening. Secondly, we must realize that God’s chastening is not punitive only but also instructive as the Greek word paideia suggests. That word is a broad word that means training, including both correction and instruction. It is used such in Ephesians 6:4 and there rendered ‘nurture’. Regardless of the form chastisement takes, God always designs and administers it for our good.

Here we find a reason for the obvious statement of our text—That we might rightly discern and acknowledge God in our afflictions. In affliction, some are like Pharaoh and ask, “Who is the LORD” (Exodus 5:2). Others complain against Him terribly exclaiming, “Why am I suffering so? I have done nothing to deserve it!” Our response should be more in line with the godly Joseph who said, “God meant it unto good;” or like Job who said, “The LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21); or even as Eli who confessed, “It is the LORD: let him do what seemeth him good” (1 Samuel 3:18).

Finally, the verse provides us with another important contrast. Scripture does not conceal the fact that God’s chastening does involve grief. In this, it is not entirely different, nor entirely the same as other chastening. However, the contrast is seen between the temporary nature of the grief compared to the lasting fruit of His discipline. “Nevertheless, afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.” Our temporal displeasure, discomfort, or pain gives way to the lasting “fruit of righteousness” of our sanctification in Christ. And, that sanctification works to our final glorification in Him. “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).

1 Peter 3:6

“Even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord:
whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do well,
and are not afraid with any amazement.”

~ 1 Peter 3:6

Our verse occurs in a section of Peter’s epistle that deals with submission and subjection of various kinds. All are to be subject to the civil government that is over them: “Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well” (1 Peter 2:13-14). The employee is to submit to his employer: “Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the forward” (1 Peter 2:18). At this point Peter interjects with the greatest pattern of submission and subjection—Jesus (1 Peter 2:21-25)—pointing out that it is our calling to follow Him in all things and be like Him even as He submitted. Peter continues to admonish the wives to submit to their own husbands: “Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives” (1 Peter 3:1).

Another way of looking at the subject of submission is to look at the subject of authority, for there really is no submission without proper authority. Only God has ultimate, unlimited authority and He gives authority to men for various purposes (Daniel 4:35; 2:21). This means that all other authority is limited—it has a proper jurisdiction. For any authority to go beyond its jurisdiction is for that authority to become an unlawful usurper, and in certain cases, disregard of such a human authority is warranted (ref. Daniel 3).

However, submission is not a prerogative. Subjection to human authority is qualified or limited in the same sense that that authority is limited, but it is required. Notice though, how that submission is not qualified. We are to submit to our civil government. We may not like the government; the government may be corrupt in many ways; the party in power may not be the one we voted for, etc. Nonetheless, we are to submit to their authority. The employee is to submit to the employer; not only when he likes the boss, agrees with him, etc. Whether he is “good and gentle” or “forward,” he must submit to his jurisdiction. A wife is to submit to her own husband and not only if he is godly, humble, nice, right, etc. Peter specifically here addresses the wife with an unbelieving husband. She simply may not say, “Well, my husband is unsaved. He is ungodly. I don’t have to submit to him.” As a Christian in this situation, she should be all the more careful to submit for they may “be won by the conversation of the wives” (1 Peter 3:1).

One reason for our qualified/unqualified submission is that God is the ultimate authority. Since God is the ultimate authority, all authority is derived from Him, and ultimately, all of our submission, though it is to human authorities, is actually unto God. Paul said, “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord” (Ephesians 5:22). Employees submit to their employers “Not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart; With good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men” (Ephesians 6:6-7).

Now, let us return to our text and consider the first phrase, “Even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord.” Sarah is given as a real-life example of faith operative in a Christian wife. First, she obeyed her husband. “Obeyed” here is translated from the Greek word hupakouo, which means:

to hear under (as a subordinate), i.e. to listen attentively; by implication, to heed or conform to a command or authority (Strong’s Concordance).

This word is used 21 times in the New Testament. It is used in such ways as the wind and sea obeying Jesus (Matthew 8:27); the evil spirits obeying Jesus (Mark 1:27); obedience to God (Romans 6:16); obedience to the gospel (Romans 10:16); children are to obey their parents (Ephesians 6:1); servants are to obey their masters (Colossians 3:22); Abraham obeying God (Hebrews 11:8); Sarah obeying Abraham (1 Peter 3:6), etc.

Secondly, Sarah called her husband, “lord.” The word here translated is kurios. This word signifies one having power or authority. This word also speaks of possession or one who has the disposal of something. The word is translated variously in the New Testament as ‘lord’, ‘master’, ‘owner’, etc. It is a descriptive title given to one to whom submission is due. It often was used of civil rulers, emperors, kings. The word can also be used in a very general sense as a title of respect like our English ‘sir’ or ‘Mr.’ However, given the context of our verse, the general meaning is not in use here. Note the connection here with obedience giving the word its normal authoritative signification.

Sarah here had a proper confession—she called her husband lord. She is not the exemplar merely because she called him lord, but rather because she submitted to him and called him lord. Her words were meaningless if not accompanied by the proper submission. I have left many things unsaid at this point, but it is not my purpose to dwell on the husband/wife relationship specifically. We have in our text a great statement about lordship and it will be profitable for us to consider it applied to Jesus for a moment.

The term ‘Lord’ is used so freely and easily today that it probably does not have the impact on us it should. The word is not a formality or mere convention by which we refer to Jesus. This title carries with it the full weight of Divine, Sovereign, and Ruler. It points us to the absolute, ultimate authority of God. We are to confess and acknowledge His lordship, which brings us to some unpacking.

In our example, Abraham’s lordship, though neither ultimate nor absolute, required submission. He was a master/owner and his servants were to submit to him. He was the head of a house, which he commanded (Genesis 18:19), and they were responsible to obey. Even in the human realm, lordship is inseparable from obedience/submission/subjection. Remember the man with two sons whom he commanded to work in his vineyard. The first said he would not, but later repented and went. The second said he would and called his father “sir” (lord, kurios), but did not go. Jesus asked, “Whether of them twain did the will of his father?” (Matthew 21:31). The answer was obviously the first son.

If this is required in human lordship, what must be required in the Divine lordship? It is not surprising that confession of Jesus as Lord also requires submission to His rule. Jesus asked, “And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46). Paul wrote, “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved” (Romans 10:9). Confessing Jesus as Lord is not a formula to be simply repeated. It is not a mere movement of the mouth. It is also a bending of the knee, a submitting to His rule. “Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11).

Let us all then be like Sarah who obeyed and confessed. May the title “Lord” never fall from our lips in vain. Let us be as the first son and repent, abdicate, and submit to the Lord. Finally, let us rejoice in the Lord. “Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice: and let men say among the nations, the LORD reigneth” (1 Chronicles 16:31).

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