Not By My Works… Lest I shall Boast!

This is my Birthday Weekend (Oct 22). Thanks for your well-wishes

Proverbs  18:10-11 is a relatively short passage, but is profound, and yet allows for a very simple, almost linear analysis.  Using the comparison style, the two subjects are identified.  The first is the “Name” of the Lord.  The second is the “wealth” of the rich. These two are being compared against each other, not because of their differences, but because of their similarities. We are not comparing good and evil.

The similarities begin with their purpose, and the use to which they are put. They are both places of refuge.  They both provide recourse in the time of trouble and in times of crisis. And this is not necessarily an irrational position. I grew up hearing the saying, “money makes the mare go round”. Another one is “put your money where your moth is”.  And even without these quaint sayings and philosophical musings, we all know that money is the social currency of value.  We need it for food, clothing, shelter, health-care and even many forms of recreation.   It follows that a man or woman who has lots of money, no doubt for which he or she has worked very hard, is entitled to feel secure

But there is more. For not only are people entitled to feel great about the money that they have diligently accumulated, but Jesus, recognizing the power and influence of money and wealth, went out of His way to identify it as His competitor. This is how Jesus puts it in Matthew 6:24 – “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

This was demonstrated in the story of the rich young ruler in Mark 10:17-27. When Jesus, in answering his question, told him to sell all his possessions and give it to the poor, we get this telling statement in Mark 10:22 – “At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth”.

To begin the comparison, it is instructive to note that they are both perceived to be “fortified”.  I will not at this time attach undue significance to the difference between “tower” and “city”. Instead, focus on the fact that they are both described as being “fortified”.    But wait a minute… not so fast. The righteous run to the name of the Lord and ARE safe.    The rich IMAGINE that they are safe in their fortified city. The Caribbean, some parts of Mexico, America and other countries are just beginning to recover from the effects of a vicious series of hurricanes. Once again “mother nature”, aka “Father God” has demonstrated that in a moment fortified cities, entire islands and just about anything on earth can be wiped out by a single disaster. In moments such as these, it is instructive to observe that people flee for their lives and think nothing about the wealth they are leaving behind. So we know, that the “high walls” of our fortified cities are not too high to be scaled.  We know that what cannot be destroyed from an attack on the ground, can be decimated by an attack from the air, or even from under the ground. In short, what the rich “imagine” has been proven to be untrue time and time again.

And we ought not to be surprised.  What we are in fact comparing is the Eternal, Immortal God with “idols made of hands”.  For to many rich, and even some poor, wealth has become an idol. The Name of the Lord is nothing short of The Lord. He was in the beginning. He is the Alpha (beginning) and He is the Omega (end). He is the First and the Last. And the last time that I checked, that is the description of a continuum that conceptually, has no beginning and no end.

The analogy of a “tower” could be instructive and at least, worthy of reflection.   A tower is a vertical structure, and is appropriately symbolical of spanning the gap between God and man.  But note that the Name of the Lord is a fortified tower that He has built, and in this case, He built that tower from up to down. Compare this with the Tower of Babel that man built from down to up. Observe that in building the Tower of Babel, their motivation was to reach God in heaven. But man’s attempts to reach God could never succeed, and rather than allow them to become frustrated eventually, God frustrated them initially, and put a halt to their human efforts at building a tower to reach him (Genesis 11:1-9). He is the One that does the reaching. We are the ones may choose to do the accepting.

It is built into our DNA to satisfy our ego that we are the architects of our own salvation.   Not only, “I did it my way”, but also, if possible, “I did it alone”.   Moses warned the Israelites that after they became beneficiaries of houses that they did not build and vineyards that they did not plant, they were very likely to take all the credit to themselves.   In response to that perceived tragedy, we read in Deuteronomy 8:18, “But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today.”

The Seventh Day Adventists and all other religious groups who attempt to rely in whole or in part on performing the works of the law in order to achieve and/or maintain a saving relationship with Jesus Christ are in fatal error. And the same principle is at play. We like our fortified cities because we have built them. The name of the Lord on the other hand received no help from us, and our sole responsibility is to “run” to it.   And then we realize that the distance we have to run to reach The Name of the Lord is no distance at all… “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the message concerning faith that we proclaim: If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.” (Romans 10:8-10).

Among many other passages, Galatians 3:1-14 stands out for its bluntness and sarcastic, thinly veiled condemnation of stupidity for those who try to reach God by doing the works of the law. Paul asks, “Who has bewitched you?” In the Caribbean, and certainly in Jamaica, we would ask, “Who obeah you?” Paul goes on to state the two diametrically opposed options. All those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. All who rely on the works of the law are under a curse.  As hard as it is for some of us to accept, we play no part in our own salvation, except, theoretically, to accept it. It is only after we are saved, that our works count… and these works are unrelated to the works of the law which represent our futile attempts to save ourselves.  Paul puts it concisely in Ephesians 2:8-10. We are not saved by our good works. We are saved to do good works.

The Name of the Lord is a strong Tower… Let us run to it and accept the salvation and eternal security that He provides.

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