Sunday, March 29, 2009

Compassion and the Heart of God


I hear so many news stories about crime and violence that I sometimes wonder if there is any compassion and sensitivity left in society. Have dysfunctional family situations, drug abuse, and violent television and video game programming rendered us incapable of functioning as caring and compassionate people made in God’s image? The good news is, no. As an intern at the Houston, TX Memorial Hermann Southwest Hospital recently found out, the news we get over the television and newspapers about crime and juvenile delinquency does not tell the whole story.

The intern was driving in Houston when his car ran out of gas. While sitting at a busy intersection waiting for help to arrive he was surprised by a young high school student asking if there was anything he could do to help. The intern told him help was coming and he could go on to school. A few minutes later the young man returned with eight or nine friends to help push the car two blocks to a gas station.

The intern was so impressed he wrote a letter to Reed Sutton, the school’s assistant principal. He explained that he thanked the young men profusely but wanted to express his gratitude in more concrete ways, like paying for a pizza or ice cream party. He wrote, "I am extremely grateful for their assistance!" He added, "Thank you for fostering such great values to your students!"

In a reply letter to the intern Reed Sutton wrote, "It is our very purpose at Westbury Christian to enlist spiritual warriors that make a difference in the lives of others." (1)

Where Does Compassion Come From?

Where does the compassion come from that leads people to reach out and help others? Do some just have it and some don’t?

Compassion is something we can learn. In fact, God requires it of his people. Exodus 22 says, "If you lend money to one of my people among you who is needy, do not be like a moneylender; charge no interest. If you take your neighbor’s cloak as a pledge, return it to him by sunset, because his cloak is the only covering he has for his body. What else will he sleep in? When he cries out to me, I will hear, for I am compassionate." (Vv.25-27).

What is going on in this story? Two questions to ask of any text are: What does the text call for them (the readers) to do? and Why does the text call for them to do that? (2)

The text calls for the readers to allow care and concern for people to override financial concerns and business deals. If you loan money to a brother and he can’t repay you by nightfall, concern for his physical safety is more important than if you get your money back. Give him his coat.

Why does the text call for them to do that? Because it is the very nature of God to be compassionate. "When he cries out to me, I will hear, for I am compassionate."

There is an important theological principle behind God’s desire that his people show kindness to one another. That principle is that God himself is kind. It is his very nature to be concerned about the needy and to show compassion to them. As we live in relationship with God and grow in likeness to him, his compassion will work through us to others.

The Heart of God

The heart of God is revealed more fully in Exodus. In chapter 33 God assured Moses that his presence would go into the promised land with the Israelites. Moses wanted assurance that God will go, and he wants to see the glory of God revealed.

God sets Moses in a cleft in a rock and Moses gets to see the back of God. Moses sees God and lives! But a glimpse of God’s physical manifestation is not the most amazing revelation of God that day. As God passes in front of Moses he says, "The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin" (34:6-7a) . The rest of verse 7 says, "Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation." God will punish sin and sinners, as numerous stories in the Bible demonstrate. But God prefers to forgive. The destructive wrath of God is alien to his basic nature of compassion and forgiveness (Isaiah 28:21 calls the wrath of God his strange and alien work).

God is compassionate, gracious, slow to anger, loving, faithful and forgiving. This is the revelation in Exodus 34 that matters. Moses saw the back of God. That is an unusual and rare occurrence in the Bible! But that is not the most significant, either. What really matters is that Moses got to peer inside the heart of God.

Psalms and the Prophets

This revelation of God becomes foundational throughout the rest of the Old Testament, even the whole Bible. Exodus 34:6 is foundational in the Psalmist’s understanding of God, and it is the basis of his relationship with him. In Psalm 86, after pleading poverty and need and after crying out that he is under attack from evil men, the Psalmist writes, "But you, O Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness" (v.15). The Psalmist believes he can turn confidently to God in his need because God cares.

The Psalmist again draws upon this verse in Psalm 103. The Psalmist praises God for forgiving sin and refreshing life. He praises God for working "righteousness and justice for all the oppressed" (v.6). How can God do so much marvelous things for people? "He made known his ways to Moses, his deeds to the people of Israel: The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love" (vs.7-8). God loves and forgives, heals and saves, restores and satisfies, because that is his nature.

The prophets also pick up on Exodus 34:6. Even as Joel was announcing destruction because of sin, he was also counseling repentance. "Even now, declares the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning. Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending his calamity" (Joel 2:12-13).

Other prophets show an intense awareness of Exodus 34:6. Amos upbraids the more powerful citizens for reducing the powerless to slavery (2:6), hoarding wealth (3:10) and depriving the poor of justice (5:12).

The Psalmists and prophets viewed God, their lives, their ministries and care for others in view of Exodus 34:6. They studied their Bible. They may have received some new revelation from God, but their hearts and lives were formed on the ancient truth that God is compassionate.

The New Testament

Jesus’ life and ministry embodied the compassionate heart of God. When pressed by crowds demanding attention and care, Jesus "had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd" (Matthew 9:36). Hungry people moved Jesus to compassion (Matthew 15:32). Even as Jesus was recalling the sins of Jerusalem he could not do so without feeling pain for the city. Compassion drove him to exclaim, "How I longed to gather your children together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings" (Matthew 23:37).

Just one more verse. In Ephesians 4:32 Paul writes, "Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you." The similarity of this verse and Exodus 34:6 is more than coincidental. Paul read his Old Testament and knew the heart of God. The language used to describe God in the Old Testament is carried into the New. God still forgives, but now does it through Jesus Christ.

What does Compassion Look like Today?

Kate is a young American missionary in Uganda. Her ministry is as a stay-home mom to almost a dozen orphans. Right now she is potty training several of the children, a task that often consumes her whole day and leaves her exhausted. But, even in her exhaustion Kate does not lose sight of the magnitude of her task: bearing the compassion of God to the world.

Kate writes,

"I begin to think of the children who do not have a mother or a father. Where will they learn love? Who will tell them bed time stories and dance them around the living room? Who will teach them that they are loved and valued and cherished? ... The body of Christ. Each person who calls themself a follower of Christ takes up the responsibility to love and care for the fatherless. It is not some special, specific calling. It is the duty of all who call themselves Christians. There are one hundred forty something million fatherless, motherless, parentless children who are not shown unconditional love by another human being on a daily basis. How will we then tell them that Jesus loves them? I am certain that God did not mess up and create too many children and not enough people to love them ... Please join my broken heart in praying for the fatherless, but more than that please pray about how YOU can be instrumental in loving the fatherless. They are not just in Africa, they are right in your own community." (3)

Kate exemplifies the heart of God and the spirit of Exodus 34:6 in her loving care of Uganda’s needy.

Nine boys on a busy Houston street and Kate in Africa, that is what compassion looks like today. Seeing a need, caring and helping is God’s call for all of us who wear the name of his son. From the earliest pages of the Old Testament through the New Testament we see the compassionate heart of God revealed in his forgiveness, love, mercy and service. And we see the accompanying call that we live out the heart of God.

Kate is right. There are orphans in our neighborhood. There are kids looking for the care and attention we can give them. There are also hungry, lonely and destitute adults. Can we see them with the heart of God?

Warren Baldwin
March 29, 2009

1.This story is told in Steve Hawley’s blog, "What Then Is This Child Going To Be?" at Steve is a Bible teacher and basketball coach at Westbury Christian School in Houston. I like what the title of his blog implies: That the work we do in teaching and mentoring is doing more than imparting information; it is building a life.

2.These questions are part of an exegetical approach taught in class by John Mark Hicks. See

3. From The Journey, at

Friday, March 27, 2009

Heart of a Godly Man Toward His Wife


A godly man searches diligently for a good wife. He knows that having a good wife is not a matter of luck or good fortune. The role of a good wife is too dignified to relegate it to just "luck." A husband’s relationship with a good wife is too spiritual to relegate it to just "good fortune." Having a good wife in one’s life is such a wonderful blessing that the Lord himself takes credit for presence!

"He who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favor from the Lord." (Proverbs 18:22)

A godly man prepares himself to be ready for when a godly woman comes into his life. He seeks God through prayer. He practices discipline and self-control in all areas of his life, especially in his dating relationships. He may date many women before he finally decides on one to be his wife, but in each of those relationships he practices sexual restraint. He is saving his romantic and sexual energy for the woman he marries.

Yet even with all of his preparation and self-control a godly man knows he cannot boast of himself for "finding" a good woman to marry him. God says, "No, I’ll take credit for her."

What Does it Mean to "Find" a Wife?

"Finding" a wife almost sounds trite, but it is not. "Find" means to "pursue diligently." (Waltke 2:95). It means to give our all to the task. We can see what is involved in "finding" something of value when we look at the pursuit of wisdom.

Fools look for wisdom but do not find it. "They will call to me but I will not answer; they will look for me but will not find me." (Prov. 1:28) Why will fools be disappointed in their search for wisdom? "They hated knowledge and did not choose to fear the Lord." (1:29). They do not find wisdom because they do not have the heart for it. Likely, they will not find a good wife, either.

There is an intensity to the search of a good man to find what is good.

My son, if you accept my words
and store up my commands within you,
turning your ear to wisdom
and applying your heart to understanding,
and if you call out for insight
and cry aloud for understanding,
and if you look for it as for silver
and search for it as for hidden treasure,
then you will understand the fear of the Lord
and find the knowledge of God. (Proverbs 2:1-5)

Notice the verbs that characterize the search for wisdom: turn (your ear), apply (your heart), call out, cry aloud, look for, search. Every body part is on this quest for wisdom: ear, heart, voice, eyes, hands. I think a paraphrase of this verse could read, "If you pursue wisdom, integrity and righteousness with every ounce of energy you can muster in your body, heart, mind and soul, God will not disappoint you. He will bless you with a relationship with him."

Remember, the word for "finding" wisdom is the same for "finding" a wife. So let’s apply the above paraphrase to the search for a wife. I think we could say, "If you pursue a good wife with every ounce of energy you can muster in your body, heart, mind and soul, God will not disappoint you. He will bless you with a relationship with her."

This intense search to find wisdom is implied in the effort to find a wife. It is not by chance that a good woman comes into our lives and will be our wife and helpmeet. It is by diligent preparation in character building, by patience and self-control, and by the grace of God that we receive a good woman as our wife.

Let’s look at the word "good" for a moment, too. The assumption of this Proverb 18:22 is that God is good and he rewards good men with good things. Notice a few other proverbs on this theme:
"A good man obtains favor from the Lord ..." (12:2)
"Blessed is the man who listens to me, watching daily at my doors, waiting at my doorway. For whoever finds me finds life and receives favor from the Lord." (8:34,35)

The good man receives blessing from God. God blesses the good man with wisdom, with live, and with a good wife.
Remember Genesis 2:18? "The Lord said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.’" Proverbs 18:22 states the positive side of Genesis 2:18 - it is good for a man to have a good wife.

Proverbs 19:14 drives this idea home:
"Houses and wealth are inherited from parents, but a prudent wife is from the Lord."

Think of all the ways your parents bless you. It might not be with houses today, but in ancient Israel, property was passed on from generation to generation. You might actually receive the very house your parents lived in, the orchards they harvested fruit from, and the fields they ploughed. Circumstances have changed. Today, families are far more mobile. Parents often do not have the same house for more than ten years. Children move away and wouldn’t want to inherit the plot of ground their parents spent their last few years on. So, the house may be sold and the proceeds divided among the kids. But this proverb still rings true even today: "... wealth (is) inherited from parents." Our parents pass on to us their accumulated wealth to their offspring.

But the same can not be said of a wife. Even if a father is involved in the process of finding a wife for his son (as Abraham was with Isaac, Genesis 24), God still claims credit for the blessing of a good wife in a man’s life. "A prudent (wise) wife is from the Lord." God is the one who blesses us with a helpmeet.

A Quarrelsome Wife

Of course, it is possible for a wife to not be a blessing. Like a man, a woman can be godly or worldly. She can develop godly qualities of kindness, patience, joy, compassion and faithfulness, or she can choose to live by the worldly attributes of selfishness, meanness, conniving and vengefulness. Such a wife is not good helpmeet, as Proverbs acknowledges.
"Better to live on a corner of the roof than share a house with a quarrelsome wife." Proverbs 21:9 (cf. 17:1)

Living on a roof is not an exciting prospect for how to spend an evening! Yet, it is more enjoyable than living in a house with someone who is disruptive.

What exactly is the problem of the quarrelsome wife? A quarrelsome spirit is disruptive and unnerving. "As charcoal is to embers and as wood to fire, so is a quarrelsome man for kindling strife." (Prov. 26:21). A quarrelsome spirit is wicked. Wickedness is the opposite of righteousness and justice. Whereas righteousness and justice seeks to build relationships with people wickedness destroys relationships.

Proverbs 21 is describing a wicked lifestyle. Verses 4 through 8 says a wicked man is arrogant, proud, greedy, a liar, and violent. The wicked person is selfish, totally unconcerned about other people. He uses others for his personal profit, financially, socially and emotionally. Verse 10 says the wicked man craves evil. He doesn’t just stumble into it, he craves it! The passion of the wicked man is to do more evil. No one in his life, not even those close to him, like a neighbor, receive mercy or considerate attention (v.10b). He thinks only of himself. What kind of community can the wicked man build? He doesn’t. He destroys community.

Set in this discussion of the wicked man who is violently selfish we have this statement about the quarrelsome wife. She is a wicked woman. She does not build community, not even in her own family. She is selfish, argumentative and contentious. There is no peace in her home.

Contrast this woman with the wife of Proverbs 17:1: "Better a dry crust with peace and quiet than a house full of feasting, with strife." The man of this house probably doesn’t make much money. He can’t buy his wife a lot of nice things or take her to the finer restaurants. But, he has this tremendous blessing: his wife loves him. She uses the few ingredients she has to make bread to feed her family. All they have for supper is bread! But this is a happy home. Why? Because this man is blessed to have a sweet, devoted wife. She is not complaining about what she doesn’t have, but makes the most of what she does have, with joy.

I am married to a woman like that. I proposed to Cheryl when I was in graduate school. A lady at the church where I was the youth minister owned a jewelry shop. She let me buy a ring on time. I picked out one of the less expensive rings. I put $30 down and set up payments. Three months later we were married. Guess who helped me pay off that inexpensive ring? Cheryl did. She never a complained about the price of the ring or even about helping me pay for it! Her spirit has brought joy to our home. She is a good wife.

Have you found your good wife yet? Keep searching for her. Search for her through prayer, Bible study and character development. Look for her in good places, such as worship or a Christian group. A good man will look in good places.

I remember a man, almost forty years old, who was in recovery from years of abusive drinking. He was telling me how lonely he was. "I want to get married and have children," he said. "But nothing seems to work out for me. I find a woman, spend a few weekends with her, and then the relationship seems to just fizzle out."

The dating pattern of this man was to spend his weekends in bars drinking and looking for a woman he could spend the weekend with. If it went well with her, he would arrange to see her again the next weekend. A really promising prospect was to spend several weekends in a row with the same woman. But then the disappointing pattern would repeat itself: "It seems like every time I find a woman I really like, in a short time we get tired of each other."

What this man liked about the woman he spent repeat weekends with was not her wisdom or character, his sexual relationship with her. When that went well, he would then explore other aspect of a relationship with her: dreams, goals, personality and character. It was at this stage of the relationship that it always fell apart. "Why?" he asked me.

"You are putting the cart before the horse," I told him. "What kind of character did you have when you were drinking heavily, blowing your money in bars, and picking up women?"

"It was terrible," he answered.

"What do you think was the character of the women who spent the weekend with you? You meet on a Friday night, buy her dinner and a few drinks, and she spends two nights with you. How discerning is she? How moral is she? No more than you were. If the physical relationship is exciting to you, you decide you like her and want to develop something deeper. But when you start digging, you find there isn’t anything deeper in either one of you. You must start to develop your character and moral convictions so you have something to offer a woman of character and moral conviction. Then, don’t pursue a woman’s sexual favors. Instead, pursue her heart, mind and character. If she has the convictions you are trying to develop, you have the chance of developing a wonderful friendship, then a romance. After that, you can marry and the physical part of the relationship will follow. If you keep putting sex first, you will continue to be lonely and frustrated."

Did he understand what I was trying to explain? I think so. Through tears he said to me, "Why, at age thirty-eight, am I hearing this for the first time in my life?"

It is the man who pursues diligently the good things of God who is blessed with these good things, whether that be with wisdom or a wife. For my friend to find a good wife he had to work at being a good mind. He had to give up his weekend pursuit of intense physical pleasure through alcohol and sex and begin to develop his character. He needed to grow in honesty, discipline, respect for women, and control of his mind and body. Until he did, he would continue to dissipate his wealth and health on foolish, deadly activities that were leaving him very lonely and sad. God wants better for us than that.

Look for your wife among the people of God. Remember how frustrated Samson’s parents were because he insisted on looking for a wife among what must have been the exciting women of Philistia? "I have seen a Philistine woman in Timnah; now get her for me as my wife" Samson told his parents (Judges 14:2). What basis did Samson have for deciding this woman was the right one? "I have seen" her Samson said. She must have been good looking!! Later Samson "went down and talked with the woman, and he liked her" (v.7). Up to this point it doesn’t seem like Samson has much invested in this woman! He saw, decided she was the one, then talked to her. Only then did he know that he even liked her! Samson’s parents pleaded with him to use better judgment and wisdom in his selection of a mate. "Isn’t there an acceptable woman among your relatives or among our people? Must you go to the uncircumcised Philistines to get a wife?" (V.3). Samson’s mom and dad knew a prudent young woman would come from among their own people, the Israelites, the people of God. A young woman from among the Philistines might be beautiful, and might even have a sweet disposition, but does she have a heart for God? Has her character been molded from the Word of God? No. Philistia is not a place to look for a wife. Nor is a bar. Look for your wife among the people of God.

Have you already found your good wife? Good! Can you just rest now and be lazy? No! Continue to pursue her! Love can tire. Love can wear out. It can be bruised, hurt and disappointed. We can kill love with harsh and abusive treatment. Willard F. Harley, Jr. identifies five harmful behaviors that husbands and wives can practice on each other that will kill love. The five "love busters" are angry outbursts, disrespectful judgments, annoying behavior, selfish demands, and dishonesty (See Love Busters: Overcoming Habits That Destroy Romantic Love by Willard F. Harley, Jr.).

How Does a Godly Man Treat This Blessing of God in His Life?

One, he is grateful to her. He trusts her. Proverbs 31:11 says, "Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value." This is a high compliment to a wife, since only Gd is to be trusted. The Bible warns against trusting anything else (Psalm 118:8,9). Why does he place so much confidence his wife? Because she is a noble woman (v.10) who fears the Lord (v.30). She is a faithful follower of God.
"Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: ‘Many women do noble things, buy you surpass them all.’" (31:28-29). Even among noble women a husband is drawn to the noble service of his own wife.

Proverbs 31 can place a lot of pressure on a wife. I can hear someone asking, "How can any woman be like the Proverbs 31 wife?" I don’t think it is fair for us to hold our wives up to this chapter to see how they compare. While many take this chapter as a goal for wives to live up to, it actually functions at another level. Chapter 31 is the culmination of 30 previous chapters that discuss wisdom. Earlier chapters talked about "woman wisdom." This last chapter of Proverbs shows what mature wisdom looks like: it is industrious, responsible and community-oriented. (See Dave Bland, "Proverbs" in College Press, pp.282-3). We are blessed if we have a good wife that is modeled even only partially on the Proverbs 31 wife. If we are so blessed, we must honor our wife with praise and thanksgiving.

Secondly, a husband with a good wife rejoices in her. "May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth." (Proverbs 5:18). Fountain in Proverbs is one of several water sources that refers to the sexual relationship we share with our wife: "Drink water from your own cistern running water from your own well." (V.15). The fountain being blessed could refer to either children born to the marriage or to the pleasure of the relationship. A husband with a wife who loves him can rejoice in the companionship and love-making he shares with her.

A wife’s love can be captivating: "... may you ever be captivated by her love." (V.19c). To be captivated is to be under the spell of the "inebriation of love." (Murphy, p.32). The King James Version renders this word as "ravished."

The word for captivated actually means to go astray or err. It means to get lost. It is used of sheep in Ezekiel 34:6: "My sheep wandered all over the mountains and on every high hill. They wee scattered over the whole earth ..." "They simply nibble their way to lostness." (Victor P. Hamilton, TWOT; 2:904).

This word is used three ways in Proverbs to describe how men can get lost. One, it refers to drinking too much wine or strong drink and losing control of oneself (Prov. 20:1). Two, those who listen to bad advice or fail to listen to good advice can get lost in life (Prov. 19:27). Three, a man can get lost in his love for a woman. A man can lose himself to a bad woman (5:20) or to a good woman, his wife (5:19c). You’ve heard the expression about being lost in love? Well, it is true. Solomon says that is ok, so long as the woman is your wife!

Thirdly, when a man has a good wife he devotes himself to her. He is faithful to her.
"Why be captivated, my son, by an adulteress? Why embrace the bosom of another man’s wife?" (5:20).
"Do not lust in your heart after her beauty or let her captivate you with her eyes." (6:25).

An important issue in Christian marriage is fidelity, or life-long faithfulness. The unity and endurance of a Christian marriage reflects the nature of Christ’s relationship with the church (Ephesians 5:25-28). Christ loves us with a redemptive, eternal love. Even when the church is acting like a spoiled child or an ungrateful bride, Christ still loves us and is devoted to us. He loved us even when we were unclean (Rom. 5:8). In the same way, husbands are faithful and devoted to their wives even when the relationship may not be has smooth and peaceful as it could be. There is an enduring quality to love.

Romantic Love vs. Enduring Love

Our society is enamored with romantic love. Romantic love is what inflames us and drives us to our spouse. "Rejoice in the wife of your youth" and "may you ever be captivated by (or lost in) her love" refer to romantic expressions of love. But there has to be a deeper quality to love than just the romantic. What happens when the sexual dimension of love declines because of ill health or injury, age or hurt feelings? A devoted love is what will see us through.

"Romantic love seeks intensity, not continuity." (Stanley Hauerwas, A Community of Character, p.192). A faithful, devoted love gives marriage its continuity and endurance.

Proverbs 5:20 and 6:25 are concerned with the endurance of a relationship. "Don’t let anyone else side track you from devotion to your wife!" Romantic love is about intensity and excitement. I think of it as a sprint. Devotion is about long term faithfulness. It is the language of a marathon.
When we "find" our wife, when we are blessed by God with her presence in our lives, we are grateful to her, we rejoice in her, and we are devoted to her.

Bruce Waltke says that, "When a man has a competent wife, he praises God, not himself." (Waltke, 2:108). God is the source behind the special woman who has come into our heart and is making the life journey with us.
"He who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favor from the Lord." (Proverbs 18:22)

"The vast majority of men have wives who want their husbands to win. She is on your team. When a man begins to understand that, he views his wife in a new way. Gentleman, your wife is a strategic gift to you! She has eyes that see what you don’t, a mind that assimilates information from a different perspective, a heart with sensitivities you do not possess, and a personality with strengths that offset your weaknesses. That’s a built-in protection for you. That’s why you must tap into her perspective as you lead your family. When she offers a constructive criticism, learn to listen to her with an open mind." (Point Man, P.174)

Guys, when God wanted to meet the most deep and personal needs in our lives he blessed us with our wives. We honor her because she is God’s gift to us, she completes us, and she deserves it.

Warren Baldwin
November 2006

Thursday, March 26, 2009


Ben Witherington wrote, "Worship is not about giving people what they want and crave, its about giving God what he desires and requires. "

Worship is humbling ourselves and honoring God. It is about taking ourselves off the throne and recognzing God's rightful place there.

Ben has a good article about worship at:

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Never Satisfied

Robert E. Lee is supposed to have made the following comment about Christmas: "Postal officials tell us that before Christmas, tons of letters are delivered to the post office to Santa Claus, but after Christmas, very few letters of thanks are written to him! From childhood onward, human beings seem to be characterized by thanklessness." (21st CC Nov/Dec 2008, P.24)

I hope Robert E. Lee is wrong, but my suspicious would tend to agree with him. One of the reasons is my own life experience. I’ve never written a thank you letter to Santa Claus.

As a kid I loved Christmas, Easter, Halloween and birthdays. I loved that each one of these special days brought special gifts with them. But how long after one of these days does it take for us to begin thinking about what we would like next Christmas, next Easter, next Halloween, or on our next birthday?

Financial fortunes in our country are made every day. Some industries are still booming and have not yet felt any of the financial reversals. I hope they don’t! I hope we have some strong industries that can carry us for awhile until others are developed. I certainly hope for that. But it doesn’t hurt to keep a few ideas in mind.

One, every blessing we have is from God. Whether it be the blessing of a new car or a new bicycle. Every meal we eat is a blessing from God, whether it is a plump turkey or a lean ear of corn. Deut. 8:10-14; 18.

Two, thanksgiving and gratitude is always a proper response to God, no matter how much or how little we may actually have. "Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name." Psalm 100:4

Three, even a little with the Lord is better than an abundance of material things without him. "Better a little with the fear of the LORD than great wealth with turmoil." Proverbs 15:16. "Better a meal of vegetables where there is love than a fattened calf with hatred." Proverbs 15:17

Notice how these proverbs focus on the importance of relationship with God, relationship with others, and the importance of spiritual values over and above having things of this world.

Four, at some point in life it is appropriate for us to say, "Lord, thank you for everything you have given me. I have enough." I don’t know what that point is. Even as I say this I’m thinking about a sports jacket I would like. Do I really need it?

Do you have older people in your family who say, "Don’t give us anything for Christmas, we have enough? What a place to be in life, content to say "I have enough. I'm satisfied. Thank you Lord."

Do you have enough?

Warren Baldwin

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

When Foundations Fall


"In the Lord I take refuge. How then can you say to me: Flee like a bird to your mountain. For look, the wicked bend their bows; they set their arrows against the strings to shoot from the shadows at the upright in heart. When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?" Psalm 11:1-3.

This passage challenges how we perceive the major events in our lives should flow. These major events are the foundations of life.

I expected my mother and father to stay together until death did them part. No where in my mental, emotional, spiritual or social programming did I have even a little room for them to not make it together in life. From before I was a baby until I was into my forties my mother and father were together. Their stability gave me stability, a foundation.

I expect the same tenacious spirit to prevail in my marriage to Cheryl. There is no room in my mental, emotional, spiritual or social programming for us to not make it together in life. I can’t envision one of us saying to the other, "Good-bye." As in the case of my parents, and Cheryl’s parents, it will have to be death that causes us to part.

I expect my country to be moral, upright, and to have concern for the citizens of the country. Politicians should honor their promises, lower taxes, curb spending, and promote industry at home. My kids should have as much of an opportunity to get a college education, a good job and a decent retirement as I have had.

I expect Christianity to always be the spiritual and ethical force that drives our culture. Jesus should be honored in the movies, the Nativity scene should be displayed in the town square, and the Ten Commandments should be displayed in the nations’ courthouses. Above all, the Bible should be upheld in our churches as the supreme source of our preaching and teaching.

These things I’ve named are foundations for life. The strength and stability they offer allows us to live, to gain confidence in ourselves, to make wise choices, and to live wholesome lives. These foundations are life. We expect them to follow a certain course. But do they?

As essential as these institutions are, marriages do fall apart, national leaders do work for their own selfish agendas, and communities and churches can dishonor Christ and the Bible. What do the righteous do when these foundations no longer support their faith and life?

Someone suggests to the Psalmist, the writer of the psalm, "Flee like a bird to your mountain. For look, the wicked bend their bows; they set their arrows against the strings to shoot from the shadows at the upright in heart." The Psalmist rejects the advice to panic, run or hide. But he does admit, "There will be times in life when the foundations do fall, and the wicked intentionally seek to undermine your faith, your family and your future. What can you do?"

He says, "The Lord is in his holy temple, the Lord is on his heavenly throne" (V.4). No matter how bleak the scenario in your home, community, church or nation, nothing is bigger than God. Earthly foundations may crumble but the throne in heaven never does. Our ultimate foundation, God, is still at work preserving the faithful. So, when the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do? We can live in peace and confidence, knowing that our path is secure in God’s power in our lives.

Warren Baldwin

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Baptism Part 1

Baptism Part 1
Acts 2:32-41

I was six years old when my parents were baptized. I watched them be immersed, completely submerged in water, a function the word itself implies. After the service a number of folks from church came to our home and visited with us. They were congratulating my parents and welcoming us into the family of God. I knew there was something special about baptism.

Baptism has always played a significant role among the people of God. Jesus was baptized and later commissioned his disciples to teach and baptize people (Matthew 28:19,20). The early church taught and baptized (Acts 2, 8 and 10) in the name of Jesus Christ. Today, we still proclaim the Gospel of Christ and baptize in his name. Several important things happen to the life of a person who submits himself to baptism in the name of Jesus.

In the first gospel sermon Peter makes a bold claim about Jesus. "God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said, ‘The Lord said to my Lord: Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.’ Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ." (Acts 2:32-36).

Three important affirmations are made about Jesus in these verses: He was raised to life from the dead, he was exalted to the right hand of God where he rules over his enemies and Jesus is Lord and Christ, meaning he is the chosen one of God.

Peter preached that Jesus is the one God sent to be Lord, ruler and savior of all men. In verse 21 Peter said, "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." What did the people do with this lord, ruler and savior that God sent to the earth? They killed him. "Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ." (Verse 36)

How would you respond if you helped kill a man that you thought was only a common criminal, but he turned out to be the Lord of the universe? Would that shock you a bit? The Bible says, "When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’" (Verse 37)

I’m not surprised they were cut to the heart and cried out, "What have we done?! What can we do?!" To be cut to the heart means you experience a searing emotional pain deep in your heart, a pain that is not easily extinguished or forgotten.

A Confederate soldier was engaged with the Union enemy when he heard the approach of horses behind him. Thinking he was being hemmed in by approaching enemy soldiers he turned and shot. His lead found a home and the rider fell from his horse. When the Confederate soldier approached the fallen man he found it wasn’t a Union soldier lying on the ground. No, it was Stonewall Jackson, a Confederate General. Can you imagine the stabbing sensation in the heart of that young soldier? "I didn’t kill an enemy! I killed one of the greatest leaders of my own country! What can I do?! Where can I hide?!"

That might be what the people felt when Peter told them, "You know that itinerant preacher you killed? The guy in common clothes who ate with tax collectors and sinners? Well, he is the Son of God exalted to the right hand of the Father."

When they said, "What can we do," I don’t think they were asking a question of salvation. I think they thought they were doomed. The south never recovered from the loss of Stonewall Jackson. I wonder if these men thought Israel would ever recover from the loss of the leader they killed.

Peter replied to the men, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." (Verse 38).

Repentance and baptism are not new terms to these people. The Jews practiced baptism in the first century for cleansing from sin.1 They would be familiar with John the Baptist: "He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins." (Luke 3:3). John preached that repentance and baptism were for the remission of sins, meaning the forgiveness of sins. Sin is what separates us from God (Isaiah 59:1,2) and condemns us (Romans 6:23). These sins are washed away in repentance and baptism.

Some controversy hinges on the meaning and interpretation of the word, "for." The word here is Eis, meaning "for" or "into," as in, "for the remission of sins" or "into the remission of sins." Our baptism is so that we may receive the remission or forgiveness of sins.

Some people understand baptism to occur after salvation. They translate Eis as "because of," as in "because of the remission of sins." They believe we are saved when we ask Jesus into our hearts and following that "experience" we are baptized as a sign of our salvation, "because of the remission of sins" which is already ours by virtue of the believer’s prayer.

It is interesting to compare Acts 2:38 with Matthew 26:38 where Jesus says, "This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins." Would anyone interpret this to say that Jesus was going to offer blood because of the remission of sins?

Here are the two statements side by side from the Greek:
Acts 2:38 - Eis aφεσιν τäν aμαρτιäν ßμäν - for (or into) remission of your sins.
Matt. 26:28 - Eis aφεσιν aμαρτιäν - for (or into) remission of sins.

Matthew 26:28 would not make sense understood as "because of." Why would Jesus shed his blood if we already had remission of sins? "For" makes more sense here, understanding Jesus’ blood as the cleansing agent for sin. Consistency would lead us to translate Eis as "for" or "into" salvation in Acts 2:38.2

There is another perspective in Acts 2:38 to consider. It is the statement, "in the name of Jesus Christ." Repentance and baptism find significance for us only if they are experienced in the name of Jesus Christ. Why is that significant?

John’s baptism lacked something. In Luke 3:16 John said, "I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire." John’s baptism lacked the active agency of the Holy Spirit. John’s baptism was of God. It had efficacy - effectiveness - for remissions of sins. But it lacked the power of the Holy Spirit that the baptism of Jesus would have.

Peter says, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." This is the baptism of Christ: "In the name of Jesus Christ." It is in his name that we confess and are baptized. It is in his name we receive the forgiveness of sins. It is in his name that we receive something those baptized by John did not receive: the Holy Spirit.

There is great emphasis in Acts chapter 2 on the Holy Spirit. In ...
- 2:4 the Spirit comes upon those in the house and they began to speak in tongues.
- 2:5-12 Jews who spoke other languages were amazed because they understood what the Apostles were saying.
- 2:17 Peter quotes from the Old Testament about how God will pour out his Spirit on all people.
- 2:33 Peter says Jesus has poured out the Holy Spirit on the worship service at Pentecost.
- 2:38 the Bible says if the people will repent and be baptized, they will receive the forgiveness of their sins and the Holy Spirit.

I think the Holy Spirit is doing two things in this story and in other conversion stories in Acts. One, He is confirming the preaching of the Gospel. The Holy Spirit confirms God’s means of salvation for all. Two, He is empowering the Apostles and other Christians for the life of transformation and preaching they will be called upon to live for Christ.

The apostles were living in difficult days! They were living in days of rebellion, unrest and war. Soon Israel would be in a war against Rome. Men’s emotions would be pulled in two directions: national defense or extending the kingdom. How would they survive the pulls and tugs on their faith that society imposes? The Holy Spirit.

These men had to be saved from two things, just like we do. One, they had to be saved from their sins. Two, they had to be saved from their own corrupt society. Look at verse 40: "With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.’" Repentance and baptism usher in the cleansing of God, and the Holy Spirit keeps us in safe territory. It had to be a stirring day.

On the day a soldier found he killed General Stonewall Jackson there could be nothing but frustration and sense of tremendous loss. Cry all day, "What shall I do?!" and there would be no answer. But on the day the men in Acts 2 found out they killed the Christ there was more than frustration and sense of loss. There was salvation. "Those who accepted the message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number." (Verse) 41). Praise God!

On the day we discover we are dying in sin, suffocating by personal choices and a culture that lives in rebellion against God, we feel frustration and loss. But there can be more. "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."

Warren Baldwin

1.See Allen Black, "Mark" in The College Press NIV Commentary (Joplin, MO: College Press, 1995), pp.42-43.
2.Other verses mentioning baptism for washing away sin and salvation are Acts 22:16 and 1 Peter 3:21. Cf. also 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 and Titus 3:3-5.

Baptism Part 3

Baptism Part 3


A 40 year old friend who lived in open rebellion for years started going to church. He was an alcoholic in the early stages of recovery but his family life was suffering due to his neglect and abuse. He was in a last-ditch attempt to keep his family together. He hoped church would help.

After attending services and studying my friend decided to get baptized. I did a lesson on Jesus’ baptism and temptation, showing how soon after Jesus was baptized the devil assaulted him but Jesus still emerged victoriously. My friend heard the part about the devil assaulting Jesus but not the part about Jesus’ victory. He told me, "If the devil is going to attack me more AFTER I am baptized like he did Jesus, I don’t know if I want to get baptized. The devil has attacked me enough already. I can’t handle any more."

The devil has an established reputation for attacking God’s people. Satan asked God, "Does Job fear God for nothing?" (Job 1:9) and then mounted his attack against the righteous man. If Satan attacked Jesus and Job, we can expect that he will assault us when we follow Jesus.

In Acts 8 the Ethiopian Eunuch is reading Isaiah the prophet and Philip comes to study with him. After some discussion the Eunuch asks, "Look, here is water, why shouldn’t I be baptized?" Philip submerges the Eunuch and he comes up clean and whole. The story ends with the Eunuch going on his way rejoicing ( Acts 8:39).

But does the story does not end here. The Eunuch was happy at that moment because he was washed clean of sin. He felt the euphoria we do at our baptisms. But the story couldn’t have ended here because he goes back home. He would go back to his job. Frustrations would overwhelm him. He would get angry. Unbelievers would mock him. Greed, lust and selfishness would make their presence known. The devil would attack. The Eunuch would discover that even though he was cleansed from sin, sin was not done with him. Sin would find him. There would be a struggle. Sin would not easily give up its hold on the rejoicing Eunuch.

We know that struggle, don’t we? Paul addresses that struggle in Romans 6:1-4. "Shall we continue in sin?" Why would someone even ask that? Because of a misunderstanding of grace.

"Where sin increased, grace increased all the more" (Romans 5:20). Some people think Paul is saying that the more sin there is the more grace there is to cover that sin. So the more we sin, the more grace there is. Since grace is good, let’s go ahead and sin more so we’ll have more of the presence of God! Sounds like a great idea!

Think about cleaning up a mess on your kitchen counter. Tomato sauce, melted chocolate and ice tea have stained the white counter top. You spray a cleaner and wipe. After a little while the counter top is clean again. Imagine when you are finished someone coming in to the kitchen and saying, "Hey, I can’t believe the difference since you have cleaned! That cleaner works! The bigger the mess the more cleaner you need and the greater the cleaning job looks. Let’s spread some more sauce, chocolate and tea around, and even get some on the stove and floor, so you can really clean up. If a little cleaner is good, a lot of cleaner has to be very good." That is what some people are saying about grace in Romans five and six.

But Paul says, "No way! We have died to sin; so how can we live in it any longer!" (6:2) Dying to sin means it no longer dominates us. Sin is no longer an important factor in our lives. We now identify with Christ and live for him so we don’t dream of or live for sinful encounters. Living for fun and pleasure is something we left. We now live for Christ.

Randal is an example of someone who died to sin. Randal was a rock-n-roll musician. His band played in bars. Feeling empty, he started looking at spiritual things and was eventually baptized. Soon after he quit the rock-n-roll band and music. Why? Because he didn’t like music anymore? No. He knew that for him music was a tie in to a lifestyle he died to: the rock music, the bars, the crowd. Today Randal preaches.

How did Randal die to the sin in his life? How do we die to the sin in our lives? Romans 6:3-4 answers that. "Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life."
In baptism we share in Christ’s death and in his resurrection. Our old man dies in baptism; we rise to live a new life. That new life will be complete at the final resurrection.

Galatians 6:6-7 makes very clear the relationship we have to sin now that we have been baptized:
- Our old self was crucified.
- The body of sin was done away.
- We are no longer slaves to sin.
- We have died, so we are free from sin.

You may be thinking, "Hey, I still struggle with sin so how can I be free from it?" Even though we are Christians sin isn’t finished with us yet. It wants to find a chink in the spiritual armor and exploit it. Sin wants to win.

But Jesus isn’t finished with us, either. "If we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him" (6:8). "Count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ" (6:11). There are two opposing wills vying for our attention: sin and Christ. We are dead to sin and alive to Christ.

Notice how Paul brings this to a close in verses 12 to 14:
- "Do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires."
- "Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God ... and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness."
- For sin will not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace."

These three verses say that the lust for pleasure no longer rules us. We now have a reason and the strength to say, "No." Whether it is gambling, lying, partying, viewing pornography, cheating, gossiping, harboring anger, nursing resentment, being jealous or envious, all of these sinful attitudes and behaviors are now repulsive to us. There is no way we can engage in any of these attitudes or behaviors and feel good about them. Guilt overwhelms us. Even as we lie or cheat we know it is wrong. Our conscience condemns us.

These three verses also combine to say that we offer our bodies to righteousness. Randal could no longer take his body into a bar where there was entertainment that could endanger his soul or others’. His conscience condemned him so he quit and instead took his body and mind to prayer, Bible study and worship. He dedicated himself to his wife and family. He gave all of his love and energy to serve people in a healthy way. Randal is alive to Christ. He has been and is being transformed from a man of the world to a man of God.

How does this happen? How can we work to keep sin at bay and live faithfully for Christ? One, realize the power of God that is at work in your life and body. You are saved and sustained by grace. Secondly, remember that you live a new life. Jesus died so you no longer have to be a slave to sin. Finally, remember that sin is disgusting and hateful. It will condemn us eternally. We want to be rid of it. So don’t desire in your heart to go back to it.

Our needs are met in Christ. A great part of our victory is found in trusting that truth.

Warren Baldwin

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Enemy


"If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the LORD will reward you" (Proverbs 25:21-22). This proverb is probably better known because of Paul’s quotation of it in Romans 12:20 than it is known and appreciated in its original form in Proverbs. Before this verse became a guiding principle for the Christians in Rome to apply to their lives and unity in the church, it was important in the wisdom tradition.

Enemies are a fact of life. I would like to think that we could live so kindly, so compassionately and so selflessly that we could have all people like us and enjoy our company, and so eliminate enemies. That will happen one day, in heaven. But until then, enemies are a fact of life and a reminder that we live in a fallen world.

One question Solomon doesn’t raise directly is, "Who is my enemy?" Just who am I supposed to give food and water to? Mention the word "enemy" and most people conjure up images of armies arrayed on either side of a battle line, each raining bombs and bullets against the other side. That is one sense of enemy, and in this sense an enemy is someone we are against, someone we probably don’t like, and someone we are actively seeking to harm, even kill. This traditional sense of enemy pits "us" against "them."

But in Proverb 25:21-22 Solomon doesn’t give us the prerogative of not liking someone. This passage is about someone who does not like us. The enemy is literally "the one who hates you."1 This understanding of enemy doesn’t limit the discussion to the battlefield; it moves it into our personal lives. An enemy in this realm is anyone who harbors attitudes of ill will for us or who engages in behavior that is dangerous to us. As we will see in a moment, an enemy could be anyone who is deceitful toward us, angry, full of hate, a gossip or greedy. An enemy is someone who disturbs and disrupts peaceful life in the community of family, church, work, or anywhere else that people gather.

The real issue in the discussion of "enemy" is the heart. Proverbs doesn’t just address people’s behavior. It penetrates deeper, to the heart. The heart is the seed bed of future behavior. In the heart are hidden people’s motives, drives and inclinations. If we could peer into a person’s heart we could find there the stirring of their emotions and convictions that will lead to a person’s future actions, whether good or bad. This is why Solomon cautions us to "guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life" (Proverbs 4:23).

What causes trouble among friends and brothers? A common word in Proverbs for disrupted relationships in community is "dissension." Dissension is brawling, contention, discord and strife.2 I think of dissension in relationships as a mountain stream or river. I’ve lived in Wyoming where there are streams, rivers and even irrigation ditches that flow down a mountain. These are not calm, inviting waters. Rather, these waters are rapid, tumultuous, even violent. The rapid force of the water creates a churning that can capsize a boat. Where the land levels off and the water pools the surface might look calm, but underneath the surface the water can still be excessively turbulent, so much so that a man can not even stand in three feet of water. The pressure of the water below the surface can knock a man off of his feet and drag him into the fury caused by the speed and pressure of the water cascading down the mountain.

Dissension in relationships can be like that. It can have the churning and fury of water crashing down a mountain or it can even have the illusion of calm on the surface with all the fury hiding just beneath the apparent calm. Some people or relationships carry all the tell-tale evidence of fury: a fierce some scowl, glaring stare, a drawn and tight jaw. They are ready for some dissension! Others mask their fury with a smile, but underneath the surface they are hazardous to your feelings and to relationships.

Disruptive Behaviors

There are at least five behaviors Solomon discusses in Proverbs that contribute to causing dissension and disrupting kinship and friendship.

The first cause of dissensions is deceitful and manipulative behavior. "A scoundrel and villain, who goes about with a corrupt mouth, who winks with his eye, signals with his feet and motions with his fingers, who plots evil with deceit in his heart-- he always stirs up dissension." (Proverbs 6:12-14). "A scoundrel plots evil" (16:27). "As a scoundrel, he works to undermine the solidarity of the community for the sake of his own benefit."3 The scoundrel’s "behavior and speech create discord in the community ... their deeds and speech cause harm to others."4

The picture of this villainous scoundrel is one who cares only for himself and works only for his own selfish pursuits. He has no higher allegiance than his own appetites, and all of his work is to satisfy them. His appetites may be physical or material, such as for sex or monetary gain. Or, his desires may be emotional, enhancing his own esteem by belittling you . In either case, he is being selfish, but he isn’t an honest selfish. No, the bodily descriptions of his behavior indicate that he works on the sly: he winks with his eye (10:10; 16:30), signals with his feet and motions with his fingers. The scoundrel is being deceitful and manipulative, communicating with his partners in deception in "plotting perversity" (16:30).

Solomon advocates honest hearts that speak with candor and truth: "Better is open rebuke than hidden love" (27:5). Honest people share their plans openly, they reveal the content of their heart, they show their true hand. If they try to recruit you for a project, they are open about what they need and how you can help. If they are selling a product, they point out the benefits of their product but will also be careful to not oversell and not misrepresent what they are trying to get you to buy. But a deceiver and manipulator will conceal their real plans and will misrepresent the intent of their heart. They are not seeking to meet any needs but their own. If they have to lie they will. They use cunning, even employing the assistance of other crafty men with whom they communicate with covert body language.

Because of their deceit and manipulation, scoundrels are disruptive to families, churches and even the work place. They cannot be trusted or depended upon. They will work one person in the community against another. They will gossip against members of the fellowship, separating close friends (16:28). They work behind the scenes, recruiting people who are on the margin of the group, and use them to bolster their own position within the community. Even if their goals are honorable, their surreptitious methods negate any positive outcome. They are disruptive and destructive, and Solomon says the consequence of their behavior is destruction (v.15).

A second behavior that creates dissension is anger. "A hot-tempered man stirs up dissension, but a patient man calms a quarrel" (Proverbs 15:18). "An angry man stirs up dissension, and a hot-tempered one commits many sins" (Proverbs 29:22). Anger is the seed-bed of hatred (discussed below). Anger that is not repented of and is allowed to fester can become a dangerous force for destruction: "Anger is cruel and fury overwhelming ..." (Proverbs 27:4). Normally calm and gentle people can become dangerous and violent if the anger takes a hold in their hearts and is allowed to germinate.

Even the anger of God has a destructive force to it. Isaiah writes of the anger of God: "Therefore the LORD's anger burns against his people; his hand is raised and he strikes them down. The mountains shake, and the dead bodies are like refuse in the streets. Yet for all this, his anger is not turned away, his hand is still upraised" (Isaiah 5:25). The anger of God, however, unlike that of most of us, ultimately has a redemptive purpose to it (Isaiah 43:1). God acts out in anger against his people at times to awaken their hearts and move them to repentance.

But the anger that most of us experience toward someone is not redemptive in nature. Our anger is generally not expressed to awaken spiritual need in sinners and urge them toward repentance! When we express anger it is generally a venting of our own hostility!

I heard psychologist Lynn Jones say that anger is the result of unmet expectations. We have certain expectations for how other people ought to behave. When their behavior does not meet our expectations, we get angry. If we don’t deal effectively with that anger, in gentle confrontation or personal confession, we will either vent, suppress or repress that anger. Anger that is vented is anger that is "let out." It lashes out at others and hurts them. Anger that is suppressed or repressed is "stuffed" in the heart and mind, building in intensity and fervor until it explodes in uncontrolled fury. The anger may explode outwards against others, or in the case of some people, it may be turned inward and wreck havoc against the individual harboring the anger in the form of depression, heart problems or even cancer.5

"A hot-tempered one commits many sins." A hot-tempered man is not the one who occasionally gets annoyed at people or circumstances. A hot-tempered man is one who carries past grievances with him, well past the point of when he should have dealt constructively with them. Now, he lives with his nerves on edge, his fuse short, his emotions a "time bomb." The slightest provocation could cause him to unleash the present anger and the anger he has stored up for years. Often, his explosion is way out of proportion to the incident that caused him to be upset. He may speak words that are cutting and hateful, or he may even commit acts of violence. "A hot-tempered one commits many sins."

Because of his many sins the angry, hot-tempered man is a detriment to community. People are afraid of him. They withdraw from him because they don’t want to be hurt. People who are scathed by his burning anger may even withdraw to the point of leaving a church, changing jobs or skipping Thanksgiving dinner at home.

For the one struggling with this kind of internalized anger, it is very important to acknowledge its presence in your life, openly confess it and repent of it before God, apologize and make amends to anyone you have hurt, and learn to process angry situations as they arise. Processing includes acknowledging your anger, identifying the unmet expectation that led to the anger, and then challenging the unmet expectation. Was your expectation realistic? Should you change the expectation if it was not realistic? Do you need to communicate openly (and calmly!) with the person you are angry at?6 When Paul tried to develop a greater sense of community among the Ephesians he taught that they would need to learn how to properly process their anger: "In your anger do not sin. Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry" (Ephesians 4:26).

A third cause of dissension hatred. "Hatred stirs up dissension, but love covers over all wrongs" (Proverbs 10:12). Hatred is the opposite of love, which is also discussed in this verse. Love "covers over all wrongs." "Covers over" could refer to ignoring an offense (Proverbs 12:16; 19:11 and Eccl. 7:21) or to forgiving the offense (James 5:20). In either sense love works to alleviate hard feelings and fractured relationships. It will go so far as to bear a hurt, overlook an offense in the interests of relationship, and even forgive the offender. Love is forgiving, healing, and community-building.

Hatred has just the opposite effect of love. Where love seeks to repair and rebuild, hatred seeks to tear apart and destroy. To harbor hate for someone is to desire ill-will for them, even to seek to do them harm. Hatred is both an attitude and a behavior. It is an attitude of ill will7 in one’s heart that finds expression in acts of ill will that hurt another. In the Old Testament God had cities of refuge built for a man to flee to who had "unintentionally, without malice (hatred) aforethought" killed his neighbor (Deuteronomy 19:4). The neighbor’s death was an accident, but the man responsible for the death was still in grave danger of being killed by the "avenger of blood." The city of refuge was a place the man could run to and wait in safety while passions subsided and an investigation into the cause of death could ensue. But the city of refuge was not a place for a murderer to hide out. God stipulated that "if a man hates his neighbor and lies in wait for him, assaults and kills him, and then flees to one of the these cities," he is to be taken from the city and given to the avenger of blood who shall punish the murderer without mercy (Deut. 19:11-13). Here, an attitude of hate led to the action of hate: murder. Jesus said it is not enough to say that you haven’t murdered anyone. If you harbor anger in your heart, a disposition that can turn to resentment and hate, you are already in danger of judgment (Matthew 5:21-22).

One of the anomalies of hatred is that it makes us blind to the destructive nature of our own behavior. Hatred becomes a defense mechanism to cover our own sins. Amnon was a young man who burned with lust for his half-sister Tamar. With the aid of his evil cousin Jonadab, the two devised a scheme for Amnon to rape Tamar. After he had violated his half sister, "Amnon hated her with intense hatred. In fact, he hated her more than he had loved her." Instead of showing any compassion to the woman he brutalized and hurt, Amnon yelled at her, "Get up and get out!" (2 Sam. 13:15).

Amnon demonstrates that hatred is such a powerful force it has the ability to destroy not only those whom the hate is directed at, but even the one who does the hating. Hate destroyed Amnon by hardening his heart and continuing the despicable treatment of his half-sister. Instead of having compassion for her pain and humiliation, his vile heart led him to hate her even more! Hatred became the cover for his sin, and also led to his inability to repent. Ultimately, hate destroyed Amnon because it led Absalom, Tamar’s brother, to kill Amnon in retaliation (2 Sam. 13:28-29). Hatred breeds hatred.

Hatred, like deceit and manipulation, is a selfish attitude that destroys. It destroys families, churches and business. It even destroys the one who does the hating. Hatred ultimately destroys community.

Gossip is another cause of dissension. "A perverse man stirs up dissension, and a gossip separates close friends" (Proverbs 16:28). A perverse man is one who cannot or will not live at peace with other people. His inability to function with others may come from low self esteem or sinful attitudes he is harboring. He is not at peace with himself so he can not be at peace with those around him. His inner disposition of discord and disharmony is projected outward toward others. One sinful behavior he projects outward toward others is gossip, a major cause of tearing apart relationships.

"A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy man keeps a secret" (Proverbs 11:13). This verse is best understood when read with the last part of verse twelve: "A man of understanding holds his tongue." Solomon doesn’t provide all the details we would like to know about what the "man of understanding" is silent about. Is he withholding a critical judgment about someone? (See 12:a). Is he keeping a confidence? Is he refusing to sling mud about another person’s character? It may be all of these suggestions. What is implied about the man of understanding is that he is showing restraint in what he says about others. He is contributing to a positive moral climate rather than rob from it. Verses 12 and 13 set in sharp contrast the character of those who "conceal" and those who "reveal" matters that need to be kept in confidence. The character of those who practice restraint contributes to good feelings and positive interaction among people; the character of those who reveal, the gossips, contributes to feelings of betrayal and hurt. Good friends can be separated by the pernicious speech of the gossip.

What exactly is the "work" of the gossip? One word for gossip means slanderer. Interestingly, this word is a derivative of a word that means "to go about." Leviticus 19:16 says, "Do not go about spreading slander among your people."8 The picture is of one who goes from house to house bearing tales about other people (cf. 1 Timothy 5:13). Another word for gossip is murmur or whisper.9 In Isaiah 29:24 this word appears as "complain."

Looking at these various terms together, Proverbs presents a picture of the gossip as one who is unhappy about something or someone (maybe himself!). He expresses his unhappiness in murmuring and complaining. But there is a dishonesty to this murmuring and complaining: instead of confronting the one he is unhappy with, the gossip goes about from house to house offering his complaints to others in hushed, muffled tones. His speech is like a whisper, not meant for others to hear. He will say one thing in this house then may go to another house and say something else.

You can see why Solomon says, "a gossip separates close friends." No one can be in long term intimate communion with this person! Today you might be the recipient of this person’s talebearing about someone else, but tomorrow you may be the target! Since the gossip betrays confidences, can you be comfortable revealing anything about yourself to him? Not unless you want your personal life to become the subject at someone else’s table. "A gossip betrays a confidence; so avoid a man who talks too much" (Proverbs 20:19). The man who talks too much is not showing restraint. He is not like the "man of understanding in 11:12b who shows restraint by withholding judgment and keeping silent. The gossip has no restraint. He speaks about things and people in an uncontrolled manner. He speaks foolishly (RSV). His speech tears down the reputation of other people and pits people against one another by stories he tells.

The gossip has serious character flaws of self-control, honesty and integrity that must be addressed in his life before he can reign in his loose tongue. Until he address them, his speech will continue to light fires in relationships (Proverbs 26:20) and disrupt community. People will become angry at others simply on the basis of the gossipers talebearing! To limit the effectiveness of the gossip, everyone else in the community (family, church, work, etc.) must band together and refuse the prattling of the gossip lest the community suffer (2 Corinthians 12:20).

A final determining factor in creating dissension is greed. "A greedy man stirs up dissension, but he who trusts in the LORD will prosper" (Proverbs 28:25). Greed is the desire for more and more. Greed can be more than just a desire; it can become a burning passion. Greed can be as subtle as someone who habitually won’t pay his full share of the lunch bill or it can be as pronounced as someone who is never at home because he is always working or who cheats at business to make more money. At the lower extreme a greedy person can be annoying but at the more advanced stages greed can be devastating. "A greedy man brings trouble to his family ..." (Proverbs 15:27).

The basic character flaw in the greedy person is that he trusts in "things." The man set in contrast to the greedy person is the man who places his confidence for security in God: "A greedy man stirs up dissension, but he who trusts in the LORD will prosper" (Proverbs 28:25). The desire to acquire more and more betrays a confidence in that which one possesses. Money may give one a sense of security about the future; possessions may give one the feeling that they belong to a certain community or social group; a new and bigger home may give the assurance that one "has arrived." These are all an illusion. We know that money or possessions can not offer us any security or hope in end. We will leave this world without those things and they may certainly disappoint us while we are still alive. But a driving concern to acquire material things can lead a man to neglect his family and spiritual life, compromise his personal integrity, and disrupt the lives of those around him. A greedy person who takes advantage of family and friends for the sake of gain is a person we get weary of having around! This may be the man of Proverbs 28:24: "He who robs his father or mother and says, ‘It’s not wrong’ - he is partner to him who destroys." The greedy man is certainly described in verse 26:"He who trusts in himself is a fool ..." The greedy man thinks he can acquire what he needs on his own to be satisfied, safe and secure. That is foolish.

The opposite of the greedy man is one who trusts in the Lord. Proverbs promises that he will prosper. While it is possible that Solomon has material gain in mind (cf. Proverbs 12:14 and 14:23), he likely has in mind relational concerns. The man who trusts in God does not need to use other people for selfish gain. He can enjoy the company of other people simply for the pleasure of their company. A man who trusts in the Lord and has a godly character has a spirit of community and genuine concern for others so they will enjoy and benefit from his presence: "... goodwill is found among the upright" (Proverbs 14:9; cf. 14:26). His speech and behavior builds goodwill and goodwill builds a sense of togetherness.

The one who fears God has no need to fear what the greedy man fears: "Have no fear of sudden disaster or of the ruin that overtakes the wicked, for the Lord will be your confidence ..." (Proverbs 3:25&26). The greedy man cannot trust in God for his confidence, but the one who fears the Lord can. God is his stability, and the values of God serve as his ethics for life.

Greed can be overcome like any other sin if one will acknowledge the futility and the foolishness of "trusting in himself." Until then, the greedy person will continue to be a hazard to himself, his family and anyone else around him.

What can we do with people like this in our lives? "If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the LORD will reward you" (Proverbs 25:21-22). My first thought upon reading this passage is to say, "No way! There is no way that we can respond to those who disrupt our lives with this kind of generous spirit!" My next thought would be to wonder if there are any examples in the scripture of people of God responding in this kind of charitable fashion to people who are mean to them. The answer is: yes.

In 2 Chronicles 28 there is a story about Ahaz, a young kind of Judah. In one battle Judah was defeated by Aram. Many of the soldiers of Judah were taken as prisoners to Damascus. In another battle with their northern brothers, the Israelites, Ahaz and Judah were defeated again. The Israelites took men and women of Judah back to Israel as slaves. But as the returning Israelites reached Samaria, they were met by a prophet of God who exhorted them to release their prisoners or else they would incur the Lord’s wrath. The soldiers of Israel listened and obeyed, releasing their prisoners. But they also took care of them.

The men designated by name took the prisoners, and from the plunder they clothed all who were naked. They provided them with clothes and sandals, food and drink, and healing balm. All those who were weak they put on donkeys. So they took them back to their fellow countrymen at Jericho ... (2 Chronicles. 28:15).

Recorded for us in the Word of God is a story of battlefield enemies showing mercy and compassion to their defeated foe. It may not have happened very often, but the fact that it happened at the instigation of the prophet of God shows God’s concern for the proper treatment of enemies.

But the enemies Solomon is writing about in 25:21-22 may not be this battlefield variety. The enemy here is likely the woman at work who gossips about you, or the greedy in-law who never offers his house or food for family gatherings, or the co-worker who is envious and angry that you got the promotion and not them. These are the enemies we will likely face. And rather than responding to them in a similar odious fashion, Solomon counsels a compassionate response (cf. Proverbs 24:17,18).

How to Respond to our "Enemies"

Bearing in mind that our enemies are those who don’t like us, what can we do when confronted with people who are abusing or misusing us through their deceit and manipulation, their anger, their hatred, their gossip or their greed? How can we fulfill the kind and generous spirit of Proverbs 25:21-22 toward them?

First, I think we must tend to our own heart. Remember Solomon’s advice to "guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life" (Proverbs 4:23). Do we harbor any ill will ourselves? Are we truly above reproach in the dissension we are in and the negative attitudes and behaviors being directed toward us? Have we flaunted a success in the face of a friend, co-worker, or a member of our family or church and given them cause for envy? Do we try to steal the limelight and help produce the anger in another?

Have participated in murmuring, complaining and gossiping against someone else? Do we harbor even slight anger or resentment toward another? Any of these sinful attitudes or behaviors could prompt another to respond in kind toward us, or they can color our perception of another’s behavior. The deceitfulness and envy we see in other people may be but the reflection of our own deceitfulness and envy!

Secondly, we must approach tense and troubled relationships with prayer. Jesus urged us to, "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." (Matthew 5:44). We can’t pray like this unless we have first tended to our own heart and life and identified any inappropriate attitudes or behaviors of our own. We can’t expect someone else to live by God’s principles of appropriate relational behavior if we aren’t willing to as well: "If anyone turns a deaf ear to the law, even his prayers are detestable." (Proverbs 28:9). When we are trying to live by the law we expect another to uphold, we can then pray for forgiveness, for God’s presence in the dissension, and for the good of our "enemies."

Thirdly, we must seek the good will of those who dislike us. "Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when he stumbles, do not let your heart rejoice, or the Lord will see and disapprove and turn his wrath away from him." (Proverbs 24:17-18). Everyone is sad when the starting quarterback sprains his ankle ... except for the backup quarterback. One man’s misfortune is another man’s opportunity. A counselor or preacher who experiences a moral slip has a lot of people who grieve his actions, but he also has some who say from the shadows, "I figured he’d get his someday. See if he’ll act so holy now." Ah, we all know the joy of seeing an enemy stumble, don’t we? But Solomon warns against gloating when that happens. Who knows, the stumbling of our enemy may well be God’s action in his life! But if we take pleasure at another’s misfortune, God may respond to our own sinful spirit by removing the source of misfortune from the one we are gloating over!

Fourthly, we must NOT seek revenge. "Do not say, ‘I’ll pay you back for this wrong!’ Wait for the Lord, and he will deliver you.’" (Proverbs 20:22). Revenge is such a sweet emotion to experience! To see our "enemy" receive the pain and discomfort they have caused us to experience is a gratification that knows few rivals. But revenge is not our right. God reserves the right of vengeance for himself: "Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay.’" (Romans 12:9). Our purpose in life is to be a blessing to the lives of others, not evil: "Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called ..."(1 Peter 3:9). How can we crawl into the trenches of insult, gossip and revenge and not get contaminated by the moral filth we descend into? Our own hearts will get sullied in the process of evening the score.

Fifthly, we must seek reconciliation. Since Adam and Eve God has been at working reconciling relationships. God seeks the reconciliation of his children to himself, and he seeks the reconciliation of his children among themselves. God doesn’t just demand reconciliation of us; he seeks the reconciliation. God sought out Abraham, Joseph and others to lead God’s people in covenant relationship and communal living. God sent Jesus to be the means of reconciling all people to himself and each other. Today, as we live out the demands of covenant life, we emulate the work of God and Jesus by seeking reconciliation between people, including people we are estranged from! We take the lead. We step out in faith. We "work out our salvation in fear and trembling" (Philippians 2:12), not in the sense that we earn salvation, but we work for the reconciliation of brothers.

Efforts made at reconciliation may be successful. We may win a brother back into warm fellowship. But, even our best efforts may be met with rejection and disappointment. We can’t control that. All we can control is our own attitudes and behavior. We must remember that "In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps." (Proverbs 16:9). God is the ultimate author of reconciliation, and if it fits his schedule, God will allow the healing of wounds and the mending of friendship.

Warren Baldwin, 2006

1.Dave Bland, "Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs" in The College Press NIV Commentary (Joplin, MO: College Press, 2002). p.229.

2.James Strong, "mâdôwn" in Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2001).

3.Bland, p.89.

4.Leo. G. Purdue, "Proverbs" in Interpretation (Louisville: John Knox Press, 2000), p.125.

5.Lynn Jones, Marriage Matters, St. Charles, MO, Feb. 20, 2000.


7.Gerard Van Groningen, "śane‘" in Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, ed. R. Laird Harris, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980), 2:879-880.

8.William White, "rakal" in Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, ed. R. Laird Harris, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980), 2:848.

9.William White, "r~gan" in Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, ed. R. Laird Harris, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980), 2:832).



Parenting isn’t easy. My dad often told me that the toughest job I would ever have would be to be a parent. It is a task we will be studying and re-evaluating the rest of our lives. Just when we think we have mastered a certain aspect of parenting, our kids throw us a curve. In fact, children have a way of throwing us curves on a daily basis!

It is freeing to me to think that there is not a list of "Seventeen Things You Must do to be a Perfect Parent and Have Your Children Turn Out Well." Even if someone were to write such a book, our children won’t read it! So, they won’t know how they are supposed to respond when their father or mother does point number seven or point number fourteen! Of course, there are principles of parenting that God revealed thousands of years ago in his Word and we can read and apply today. Good parenting involves familiarizing ourselves with these principles and applying them as best we can in our family context. Principles of parenting offers freedom for the parent to respond to the need of each child within the framework of God’s will. A list of seventeen or any other number of rules for perfect parenting is not really parenting; it is manipulation. Parenting is a relationship built on trust; manipulation undermines that trust and foils relationship.


Moms and dads generally approach parenting from two different extremes. One extreme is freedom or liberty for the child to speak and behave. Generally, this approach believes that a child’s personality and creative bent can be hindered if restraints are placed upon him. A child needs to think, explore and experience all different kinds of things, and from these experiences he learns what is right and wrong and what he likes and doesn’t like. He is also forming the building blocks of his personality, character and future career choice. Any limiting of the child’s desires or actions could interfere with this development.

I understand the concern of these parents. But I am also concerned about what such liberty will do to a child in a negative way. I knew a college professor who taught psychology and who held to this freedom-approach to parenting. He believed it was wrong to restrain children through any means other than reasoning with them and, when that failed, pleading with them. "Ok kids, please clean your rooms. Please. Please?!" Or, "Kids, don’t yell at your mother, and don’t call her stupid. Your mother has a right to her opinions, too. Please kids, be nice to her. Stop that." This man allowed his kids freedom of speech and behavior. One day, one of their sons who was about eight years old at the time got very belligerent toward the mother. When he stepped out onto the front porch she locked the door to keep him out. When found he was locked out, he became extremely angry, yelling at his mother and demanding to be allowed back in! When his mother didn’t allow him entry, the boy literally kicked the front door in. No parental action was taken against the boy.

In my opinion, this approach to parenting produces monsters. Children raised with too much liberty in decision making and behavior begin to think that everyone and everything else exists for their enjoyment. They become abusive verbally and physically. They do not learn internal discipline. Later on, as older children, teenagers, and even adults, they will act out against anyone who tries to restrict them. They never learn to respect parental authority, so they never respect any other authority, either teachers, policeman or God. Furthermore, these children never learn the principle of behavior having consequences. If they are allowed to hit their little brother or sister and never get in trouble for it, then why should they get in trouble if they hit another child at school a few years later? Or, when they are adults, if they speak harshly toward a co-worker on the job, why should they get reprimanded for that? Or, if they steal candy bars or cars, why should they get in trouble with the law? The permissive style of parenting never prepared them to understand the principle of actions having consequences.

One of the worst examples of this I personally witnessed was a teenage boy who was driving recklessly. He passed me on a country road going at a high speed. A few miles further along I came upon a horrible wreckage: this boy had struck a van being driven by an older man. The collision projected the boy out of his jeep onto the grass. He was relatively unhurt. The man was killed. A few weeks later I was talking to a friend of this boy, and asked how he was doing. The friend told me he was doing ok. In fact, his parents bought him a brand new vehicle so he wouldn’t feel so badly about the "accident." "Do you think that is teaching the boy a good lesson?" I asked. The friend became very defensive of his high school classmate, and said there was nothing wrong with what the parents did for their son. "But what about learning about consequences for his criminal behavior?" I followed up. The thought didn’t seem to register with this friend or with the parents of the reckless driver. So, I doubt it had much opportunity to register with the driver. Drive too fast, pass recklessly, kill someone, get a new car. This young man was being trained with a permissive approach that was preparing him to view life as his playground where everyone else existed to satisfy him.

There are parents who have seen this liberal approach to parenting and have naturally recoiled from it. They have seen the monsters and don’t want to raise any themselves. So they run to the opposite extreme, and in the attempt to avoid permissiveness they can become too authoritarian. Their approach is to so dominate their children that they will not have bad desires or behavior. They will not rebel because they won’t be allowed to! They deny them any opportunity to make decisions and explore their little domains.

This approach works for a while, but it too has its pitfalls. For one, people will submit to that level of control for only so long. When children are little they must be thoroughly controlled for their own safety and health. But as they get older they want to question, examine and explore. Under the watchful eye of concerned parents they can pursue their curiosity in safety and within limits. As they grow older and more mature, the limits on their behavior can be expanded to allow even more freedom, still under the control of the parents.

But if a child is denied any liberty to question and make decisions on his or her own, he or she will eventually rebel against that. It may not happen until they are eighteen and leave home. At that point they have total freedom to choose! And often times they make very destructive decisions. Even though they may never have engaged in destructive behavior while they were younger, they did not abstain because they were taught to or were mentored to develop character or the ability to show restraint. In an authoritarian home they simply were not allowed to participate in destructive behavior. But, they likely were not given the insight into why they should not participate and were not given the discipline to refuse participation. So, went they got out on their own they were not prepared for the freedom and they abused it.


The two extreme styles of parenting moms and dad can gravitate toward are permissiveness and over-control. Neither extreme is helpful to the children. A better approach to navigating these extremes is to find a balance between them. James Dobson says, "Healthy parenting can be boiled down to these two essential ingredients: love and control ... Any concentration on love to the exclusion of control usually breeds disrespect and contempt. Conversely, an authoritarian and oppressive home atmosphere is deeply resented by the child who feels unloved or even hatred." [James Dobson, The New Strong-Willed Child (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 2004), p.103.]

Neither permissiveness, which is sometimes misconstrued as love, nor authoritarianism, which is sometimes misconstrued as legitimate parental oversight, are healthy for a family. Neither extreme fosters respect for the leadership role of the mother and father. The leadership role is one of authority, not to be confused with authoritarianism. Authority means you are in control, yet respect the rights and dignity of those you lead. Authoritarianism means you rule with an iron-fist, and do not respect the rights and dignity of those you lead. An authoritarian spirit crushes those it rules over. This may be something of the spirit Paul warned against in Colossians 3:21 when he wrote, "Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged."

You might think also of an umpire in a baseball game. He is in charge of the game. He makes decisions that you can argue, to point!, but not change. The umpire alone has the authority to change his mind about a call and alter it. An umpire may call a runner out, and even though everyone else saw the play differently, the umpire’s call is the one that stands. You can argue with him as vehemently as you choose, but when the argument is over, the umpire will still be in the game while you may be removed from it!

How does an umpire establish his authority? From the very beginning the umpire’s authority is established by his equipment: he wears a uniform that sets him apart from everyone else, he has protective gear, such as a face mask, a brush for the plate and a counter to record statistics by each inning. An umpire’s authority is further established by his demeanor on the field. He does not have to walk out onto the field barking orders. He can walk out straight and confident, and everyone picks up on the fact that this man is in charge of the game.

I have seen umpires behave beneath the dignity of their position. I’ve seen umpires lose control, erupt in anger and get in arguments with fans and yell at coaches, "Shut your mouth!" Such umpires are trying to impose an authoritarian flavor on their role, but they are not winning the respect or confidence of the players, coaches or fans.

In the same way, parents can act in anger and assert an authoritarian posture. They can threaten, holler, and, when they totally lose self-control, beat their kids (as distinguished from spanking). These parent may force certain behavior at a specific time, but they are not securing the confidence and respect of their children. A consequence of this is that they are not planting their values and ethics in the child. Only when their values and ethics become a part of the fabric of the child will those values and ethics guide the child in his or her life.

As parents, we want our children to respect us and to obey our voice. When they are young that means we want them to clean their rooms, not jump on the sofa, pet the dog gently, not throw temper tantrums, stay out of the road. When they are older, respecting our authority means they will not engage in dangerous behavior (e.g., drinking), will date someone who reflects the family’s ethics, will go to college and eventually get a job. We can’t force those behaviors over the long haul. All we can do is train and discipline consistently over time, with authority, and allow this kind of character and ethic to be planted, take root, and grow within them. It is the action of a secure parent that produces this kind of long term goal, not the anger of a parent who is insecure in his or her position, or is too permissive, and whose temper erupts when the child has disobeyed.

"Anger does not influence behavior unless it implies that something irritating is about to happen. By contrast, disciplinary action does cause behavior to change. ... How much better is it to use action to achieve the desired behavior and avoid the emotional outburst." ( The New Strong-Willed Child, pp.78&80).

It is a constant, ongoing challenge of parenting to balance love and control, to discipline with consistency, and to act out of commitment to firm action and not anger.


Ultimately, I think the goal of good parenting is to provide our kids with roots and wings. Roots are the orientation we give our children to the family values and ethics. Roots are the family traditions that we incorporate our children into, traditions of Thanksgiving and Christmas at grandma and grandpa’s, visits with the "Cookie Lady" (one of my great-grandmothers, who always brought cookies with her when she came to visit us), church, work and other important family activities that function generation after generation.

Roots are what give our children identity when they are away from us. When our son or daughter is in a new environment, and they are free to create the identity that they want with their new group of peers, roots are what direct them to uphold the values and traditions they were raised with. Even in a new environment, without any external constraint to behave a certain way, roots will direct them to be honest and moral. Roots will take them to worship, work, and back home for the holidays. Roots are the voice that whispers in their ear: "Remember who you are. Remember how you were raised. Live right, don’t break your parents’ heart."

We need to give our children roots, so that when they are raised and have left our home and formed their own, they will continue to pass on to their children the same values they received from us. But giving them roots is only part of what they need from us. We also need to give them the freedom to leave us. The freedom to leave us means they might experiment with a lifestyle we don’t approve of, or they may even leave our lifestyle altogether. But the freedom to leave us means they are also free to choose to live as they were raised. The freedom to leave means they have wings, and we give them those wings. The roots we have given them means they will always be oriented to the values of their upbringing, and the wings we give them means they are free to go off and use those wings to form their own lives and families.

After his prom, a high school graduate was invited with a group of his friends to another student’s house for a party. He’d never been to one of the groups "parties," and decided to go for a little while. This evening was a celebration of his graduation. His parents gave him permission to be out later than usual. He was about thirty miles from home. This new graduate had a lot of "freedom" to fly on his own that night.

At his friends house all the students gathered in one room, many of them sitting on the floor around the room. Soon, several guys began carrying in the coolers filled with beer. In just a moment he was the only one sitting there without a drink. "Come on, don’t you want one?" "No, I don’t think so. Not yet anyway." Several times he was invited to participate in the party rather than just watching it. Each time he said, "No thanks, not yet." Then, he suddenly stood up, thank his friends for the invitation and said, "I really must be going," and before anyone could object to his departure, he promptly left the house.

The ride home took half an hour. All the way home he wondered what it would have been like to join in what looked like so much fun. "Would I have gotten drunk off only one or two beers? Would it really matter, just this once? Would it really kill my Christian witness? Would it permanently mar my "record" of trying to make good choices?"

At the same time, the student was glad he didn’t compromise at that house. There was another time or two when he caved in and had a drink, but not this time. He said, "No," and he left when it kept getting harder to stand by his conviction to not drink.

His thirty-minute ride home that night was a long one. He was home by 11:30 on the night of his prom and banquet. Every one else in his family was already in bed asleep, and soon he was, too. The next day was, well, just another day. A day without regret, without worries, without any negative ramifications. But in another way, it was a day of victory.

He didn’t realize it at the time, but years later he realized that the roots his parents had given him kept him secure that night in his family values. At the same time, the wings his parents had given him that night to choose his own course were directed by his roots. The young man did make his choice that night, without his parents or anyone breathing down his neck. There was no authoritarian, "You better do what I say!" bearing down on him. There was no angry threatening from a parent that he better choose well! Instead, there was the confidence of the mother and father in this young man that their years of training and nurturing him would pay off. His parents trusted that when he took his flight that night, he would fly well. That thirty-minute drive was one of the most important of his life.

No child will choose well every time, either when they are but small children in our home or when they are older and venturing out on their own. But what we work and pray for is the proper direction. If their course is in the direction of heaven, their flight will go well.

Principles of Parenting: (Use Proverbs)
1) Balancing love and control
2) Using action instead of anger in disciplining.
3) Disciplining with consistency, firmness and love.
4) Patience
5) Kindness
6) Teach-Discipline
7) Family bonding (Prov. 4)
8) Teaching responsibility

Warren Baldwin July 2006