The word ‘eulogy’ means to speak well or praise someone. We generally ‘eulogize’ those who have just recently passed away at a memorial service, but we can also speak well of people at special times. What do people say about you? What will they say when your end has come? What are you communicating to others by your life?
We write our eulogy because each of us is doing that each day by the kind of life we are living. Is it a praiseworthy life? Tony Dungy is an incredible individual. A former Super Bowl winning coach with the Indianapolis Colts, he is eulogized by those who know him.
Amid the deafening roar surrounding the machinery of earthly glory, the spiritual man leaves quiet footsteps of inspired faith- Jim Irsay, (Owner of the NFL Indianapolis Colts). ‘In the twenty-one years I’ve known Tony Dungy, I have consistently found him to be a man of integrity, sincerity, and openness. As a man of faith, no matter what trials or tribulations he’s faced, he has embodied the Scripture found in Proverbs 16:32- ‘Better to be patient than powerful; better to have self-control than to conquer a city.’- Jim Brown (Host of NFL Today, CBS Sports).[i]
In his book, ‘Quiet Dignity,’ Tony Dungy shares how his faith in Christ was far more important to him than winning football games. He explains how doing the right things is as important as achieving significant goals in life. After many years of coaching, he finally arrived to play in the Super Bowl, which is the goal of every NFL football player and coach. He shared these insights:
For me, it wasn’t even the Super Bowl itself that was uppermost in my mind. It was the thought of the journey and the way we had persevered through it all. Not giving up. Staying the course. …through all those years, I had believed that the principles I was holding to were right, that the way I wanted to build a team and win was good. …All along, my focus had been on doing things the way I thought was right-walking where I felt the Lord was guiding. Sure, I absolutely wanted to reach the Super Bowl, but I always tried to keep that goal in its proper place in my life. With the Lord beside me, I felt certain that whatever was supposed to happen was going to happen. He didn’t call me to be successful in the world’s eyes; He called me to be faithful.[ii]
As a society we are trying to avoid or deny that there may be consequences to our actions. Blaming others rather than taking personal responsibility for what we do seems to be a growing practice among many people. Proverbs, chapter 21 deals with the issue of consequences for our actions and it teaches the necessity to make wise choices. There is a contrast between those who are wise or righteous and those who are fools, or morally deficient.
The majority of Proverbs 21 seems to focus on the nature of the wicked and their behavior and consequences, though we also see the contrast with the righteous and a picture of God’s sovereignty. It is God who ultimately determines outcomes.
Jesus points out, like the wisdom literature, that there are only two paths in life in the Sermon on the Mount.
Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road [path] that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.
But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.[iii]
What Jesus is saying is that we should expect that the majority of people are walking this broad road or path and it ends in terrible outcomes as we’ll discover from our texts. Jesus is saying that the way to wisdom as Proverbs would describe it or the way to the abundant life that Jesus promises is restricted to those who discover God’s path. Unfortunately only a minority find it and walk in it. Jesus is saying something very significant. The majority are not in the right, but what is even more terrifying is that they are walking on a path that is leading to destruction. In John’s gospel Jesus said that he was both the gate and the path. “Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me (cf. John 10:10).”
What we are about to see in Proverbs 21 is both a warning and an encouragement to avoid the one path and embrace the other. We are going to evaluate the characteristics and nature, as well as the outcomes of those who walk on the one path versus the other. We will restrict ourselves to looking at the characteristics of the morally deficient. These are the people that evidence by their behavior whether they truly have ‘the fear of God.’ What the wisdom writers are pointing out is the relationships between our actions and the consequences of our actions. One caution needs to be mentioned before we begin. These proverbs are principles, which means that they are general outcomes that happen primarily in one’s lifetime, though some may only be experienced in the life to come. The other caution for a believer is to dismiss what is being said as entirely non-applicable. However, even believers can manifest wrong behavior at various points in their lives and experience some very painful consequences. So let us ask God’s Spirit to search our hearts and reveal to us areas that we may need to address in order to move forward spiritually. This brings us to our first warning or identification of the thinking and ultimately the actions of the morally deficient.
THE FIRST AREA OF IDENTIFICATION OF THE MORALLY DEFICIENT PERSON IS THEIR SELF PERCEPTION.
How we see ourselves shapes what we do. We can say this is true of all of us. Yet, we also need to understand that none of us fully know ourselves. We see ourselves imperfectly. What we think and what God thinks may be very different. While we think we are doing the right thing, God knows our motives. “A person may think their own ways are right, but the LORD weighs the heart (Proverbs 21:2).” We are often blind to our own faults. In the Johari window which was a designation given to this phenomena of ability to either recognize or dismiss how we and others perceive our lives, we need to understand four elements regarding what we know or don’t know about ourselves.
a. The first window or quadrant is what we know about ourselves that others don’t.
b. The second window is what both we and others know about us.
c. The third window is what others know about us that we don’t.
d. The fourth and final window is what neither we nor others know about ourselves.
I would add that in this window, only God knows what is really transpiring in our hearts and minds. One of the dangers of the Christian life is to become like many of the Pharisees in Jesus’ day. These were the very religious people who created external standards of behavior but left the inward aspects of motivation unchecked. Jesus constantly exposed their hypocrisy. The Pharisees gained a false sense of well-being at the expense of being authentic and honest with themselves and others.
It is true that many create a system of external behaviors that can be conformed, rather than deal with the real issues that are more significant. There are internal issues that because of wounds and brokenness, are damaging us and negatively affecting our relationships. In theological language we simply are dealing with a sinful nature. In psychological terms we speak of dysfunction. Lawrence Crabb in his book, Inside Out challenges the superficial understanding we have developed regarding our understanding of what the gospel or Christianity is actually advocating. We often promise in the now what only the future can ultimately provide.
Modern Christianity, in dramatic reversal of its biblical form, promises to relieve the pain of living in a fallen world. …Complete satisfaction can be ours this side of heaven. …the point of living the Christian life has shifted from knowing and serving Christ till He returns to soothing, or at least learning to ignore, the ache in our soul.[iv]
Crabb points out that we long for utopia, that only Jesus will provide ultimately, called heaven.
Yet, having in some sense deferred that concept, Christianity promises a joy to help a follower of Christ through even the most challenging situations of life with joy. In Peter’s first letter he describes the Christian faith as an inexpressible joy available to us that can support believers through life’s uncertainties, sorrows and difficulties (cf. 1 Peter 1:8). Unfortunately, some teach that all of these things can be eliminated if only we will do the right things.
What Crabb argues, and rightfully so, is that this life is not all there is to it. We have a hope that one day we will experience the elimination of all these things that come upon us, but that is yet ahead, either when we go to be with the Lord, or when he comes back to earth to rule and reign.
What we are identifying is not just wrong thinking, but it’s a state of self-deception about our soul. The fool as described here does not see room for improvement in their own lives. They see themselves as right. There is an unrealistic understanding of their true condition and a lack of openness to correction from God’s word or other believers. Earlier in Proverbs we were reminded that we should not think of ourselves in this manner. “Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and shun evil (Proverbs 3:7).” Notice it is not so much what we think that matters, but what God thinks. He sees the actual motivation of the heart. He sees why we are doing what we are doing. Are our actions driven by fear rather than faith? Do we act out or self-interest alone, or is there a genuine heart concern for others? The question we need to reflect on is why we do the things we do. Proverbs 21:2 is restating what was expressed earlier: “All a person’s ways seem pure to them, but motives are weighted by the LORD (Proverbs 16:2).”
Here human self-perception is judged in the light of Yahweh’s perception. The proverb speaks to our ability to deceive ourselves concerning our righteousness. Proverbs often denigrates those who are wise (or clean) in ‘their own eyes.’[v]
‘Do you see a person wise in their own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for them (Proverbs 26:12).”
THE SECOND AREA OF THE MORALLY DEFICIENT PERSON IS THAT THEY HAVE A WRONG UNDERSTANDING OF THE GODLY LIFE.
Many of the people in this category think of themselves as Christians. They have a form of godliness but they are trying to manipulate God by doing what they think God desires in order to achieve their own ends. Their service to God is really about themselves. This is a danger for people who profess faith in God. We may be serving God simply for what we think will cause God to do what we want. In other words, we are trying to make God fulfill our will rather than allowing God to transform our hearts and desire His will. We need to come to that place where we realize that we were created to serve God, on his terms. It is significant when we begin to live under the idea that life is about God’s will and not our own. How many can see that this is a major paradigm shift? “To do what is right and just is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice (Proverbs 21:3).” This proverb speaks to the issue of doing what is right in opposition to strictly religious ritual.
One puts on an external form of piety through observation of religious ceremony. While such ceremonies are not of themselves evil, they matter little to God in comparison with the true devotion of an obedient heart. This proverb once again subtly alludes to God’s ability to discern the intentions of the heart.[vi]
One of the classic examples of this idea of trying to manipulate God by religious actions is found in the life of king Saul. Saul had attacked and defeated the Amalekites but had not carried out God’s instruction. When Samuel confronted Saul, his justification sounds spiritual. The animals were spared in order to sacrifice them to God.
But I did obey the LORD,’ Saul said, ‘I went on the mission the LORD assigned me. I completely destroyed the Amalekites and brought back Agag their king.
The soldiers took sheep and cattle from the plunder, the best of what was devoted to God, in order to sacrifice them to the LORD your God at Gilgal.
But Samuel replied: Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.
For rebellion is like the sin of divination and arrogance like the evil of idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, he has rejected you as king.[vii]
Hosea expresses this sentiment years later when he was exposing this same faulty thinking that revealed the corrupt condition of the hearts of the Israelites who had an outward religious expression of piety, but their lives were a moral mess and they were actually living lives filled with idolatry- which is the worship of other gods. “For I desire mercy and not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings (Hosea 6:6).” The word translated mercy here is that amazing Hebrew word, hesed. In Holman Christian Standard Bible, the word is translated loyalty. It is the idea that God desires for us to be faithful and loyal to him, not just outwardly practicing religious actions. He wants us to know him and have an inner desire to please him. We need the scrutiny of God’s word and Spirit to reveal to us the true condition of our hearts otherwise we will be living in self-deception. Then there are some who knowingly use a disguise of being ‘spiritual’ to deceive others. They are using religion to advance themselves.
THE THIRD AREA OF THE MORALLY DEFICIENT PERSON IS THAT THEY ARE ARROGANT.
There is a lack of humility in those who do not fear God. This is the self-directed life, rather than the life submitted to God. “Haughty eyes and a proud heart- the unplowed field of the wicked-produce sin (Proverbs 21:4).” Regarding Proverbs 21, Old Testament scholar David Hubbard summarizes this attitude of pride:
A dozen sayings drive home the truth that arrogance is self-deceptive, demeaning of neighbors, and abhorrent to God. It is the essence of folly because it disregards our creatureliness, our commonality with other human beings made by God, and our utter dependence on God’s grace and goodness for all that we are and have. Nothing should push us more to seek, cherish, and practice wisdom than a clear recognition of our inability to discern God’s ways without God’s help.[viii]
When we think of ourselves as better than others that is dangerous attitude. We should all be aware that we are who we are simply by God’s grace. He rescued us from sin. It is God’s mercy and amazing sacrifice that has produced a transformation in our hearts and we owe all that we are to him. The more I reflect on my own spiritual journey, I’m humbled by how God has ordered not only my life, but all of our lives. God creates us with certain traits and gifts. He places us so that we would be shaped by the countries, the time in which we were born, the community we grow up in, the neighbor, the people, the teachers, the family who nurtured us, the challenges, the difficulties have all played a part in fashioning us. Then God gives us various opportunities. One of the great deceptions common to our thinking is that we are somehow wholly responsible for what our lives have become. Granted, God does hold us responsible for our actions and allow consequences to be experienced in our lives, but our lives are expressions of His amazing grace and mercy to us. Life itself is a gift from God and all that we have has been given by His hand. Oh, to be filled with gratitude for His graces in our lives. The ultimate grace is the working of His Holy Spirit in making Christ known to us. King David reflected the right heart attitude when he considered all that God had done for him.
Then King David went in and sat before the LORD, and he said: ‘Who am I, LORD God, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far?
And as if this were not enough in your sight, my God, you have spoken about the future of the house of your servant. You, LORD God, have looked on me as though I were the most exalted of men.[ix]
What was David communicating? That what God had done for him was God’s expression of grace. He did not merit these things. Oh! that we would have a deeper grasp and understanding of God’s love and grace toward us. It’s amazing how much healthy parents can love their children simply because they are their children. It’s amazing how much a loving parent will give up in order to enrich their children. Folks, we have yet to fully plumb the depths of God’s amazing love for us. We have yet to fully grasp the awful love of Calvary, where Jesus gave himself up for us. Oh, God give us all a fresh grasp of Calvary’s love. May God fill us with a humble, grateful heart.
THE FOURTH AREA OF THE MORALLY DEFICIENT PERSON IS THE DISHONESTY AND CRUELTY THAT RESIDES IN THEIR HEARTS.
How sad it truly is that we can be so dishonest with ourselves and equally so with others to the point of taking advantage of others for our own selfish purposes.
A fortune made by a lying tongue is a fleeting vapor and a deadly snare.
The violence of the wicked will drag them away, for they refuse to do what is right.
The way of the guilty is devious, but the conduct of the innocent is upright.
The wicked crave evil; their neighbors get no mercy from them.[x]
We become what we desire. Here we see that the wicked actually crave evil. No one is safe from such a person. Here we see the warning that if we succeed through dishonesty, we can be assured that it will not endure and ultimately will be what destroys us. So what is the outcome of the wicked? God will address the evil that has been perpetrated by allowing the natural consequences of evil to come upon the evildoer. “The Righteous One takes note of the house of the wicked and brings the wicked to ruin (Proverbs 21:12).” God will ultimately have the last say on such a life. What a person sows, they will ultimately reap.
We may easily dismiss these warnings here and see them strictly as the path that the morally deficient are walking on, but what we need to understand is that these are pitfalls in this journey called life. These are things we need to overcome and avoid. “Whoever strays from the path of prudence comes to rest in the company of the dead (Proverbs 21:16).”
Notice how Jesus warns us in the parable of the sower, where the seed of God’s word falls on different types of soil. In explaining that parable to His disciples, Jesus is warning about our heart condition and how we receive God’s word.
“Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them (Mark 4:15).” How many people who attend church, grew up in the church but their hearts were unreceptive and did not receive the benefits of these life-giving words and their hearts remained unregenerated? With a heavy heart, I can think of young people who were a part of this church family, but today are far from God because they rejected the words of life and embraced the broad path and as a result, they are struggling with life.
Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy.
But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away.[xi]
Then there are those who rather than suffer and endure under pressure quit and conform to the standards of our culture. In other words when it really costs something, they are not willing to pay the price. As long as serving God seemed beneficial they were on board, but when it became difficult they abandoned ship.
Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.[xii]
What tragedy. The tests of life reveal the true condition of our soul and in these hearts other things took precedence over Christ and the kingdom of God. We can only know the true condition of our soul by how we respond to the opportunities and challenges presented to us. So, what kind of a eulogy are you writing with your life? The choices we make are made as a result of the values we embrace.
[i] Tony Dungy, Quiet Strength, (Carol Streams, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2007), ii.
[ii] Ibid, 288-289.
[iii] Matthew 7:13-14 New International Version of the Bible, 2011.
[iv] Lawrence Crabb, Inside Out, (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1988), 13.
[v] Tremper Longman III, Proverbs, Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006), 328.
[vi] D. A. Garrett, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of songs, Vol. 14, (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1993), 179.
[vii] 1 Samuel 15:20-23.
[viii] David A. Hubbard, Proverbs, The Communicator’s Commentary, 15A, (Dallas, TX: Word Books, Publishers, 1989), 314.
[ix] 1 Chronicles 17:16-17.
[x] Proverbs 21:6-8, 10.
[xi] Mark 4:16-17.
[xii] Mark 4:18-19.