I have shelves in my office full of books written by people that are a whole lot smarter that I am. And from time to time when I am really struggling with a passage, or a thought I go and look through these books and commentaries trying to find a little help. But it doesn’t take very long to realize that even really smart folks often disagree.
For example Psalm 137:9 is a pretty difficult passage. It says “Happy is the one who takes your babies and smashes them against the rocks!” Which is a pretty difficult verse that doesn’t sit well with our understanding that God is a God of mercy, and love. So I went to my bookshelf to try and figure it out. The problem is that different authors think this means different things. For example one author says that this is figurative, the author is not advocating that we take little babies and smash them against the rocks. Rather this means that each reader needs to adapt the psalm to their individual situation. Which is vague enough to make the passage palatable.
Then in another book says that the passage needs to be taken literally. The Psalm is talking about God’s enemies, and the psalmist is appealing for God to administer His judgment. These people hate God and God’s people, so the Psalmist calls out to God to wipe them off the face of the earth and to show His power. So who is right? That’s a good question. I don’t know for sure, even though I have my opinion. But it just goes to show that even with the Bible, not everyone agrees. We all have different views, different opinions, and offer different advice.
So what does that have to do with the text we are looking at this morning? Everyone of us here this morning and watching on the livestream has a desire to be respected, to be valued, to have a good reputation. But not everyone of us know how to find the respect that we crave. If you were to ask 10 different people how do you get respect, you will get 10 different opinions. So who’s right? As we have been doing throughout this series we are going to look at what Solomon has to say about finding respect.
Let me reread our text for this morning, but this time I want to read it from the Complete Jewish Bible: Rather than wealth, choose a good reputation, esteem over silver and gold. (Proverbs 22:1) While that might be a little strange to our cultures way of thinking, self worth is more important than net worth. There's this myth that associates wealth with respect. If you have a lot of money, if you are rich, then you're going to be respected. That’s why we tend to respect to athletes, billionaires, and people from Hollywood. It has become our cultural norm to equate net worth with self worth. But Solomon is warning us that’s not exactly true. Rather, the key to a good reputation is based on your character not your image.
Your reputation is based on what other people say and think about you, while your character is based on who you really are. Character is what you have left when there's nothing else left. It's those inner attitudes and motives and desires and drives that make you … you. The Bible says that man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks on the inside. And we get so fixated on our image that we pay very little attention to our character. But in our text this morning Solomon says that it is our character that produces respect.
There are three prevailing characteristics that Solomon says will bring you the respect that you crave. If you are willing to add these characteristics to your life then you’ll have a healthy self esteem, feel good about yourself, and find respect.
The first characteristic we must cultivate is integrity.
Your personal integrity is a major theme in the book of Proverbs, and Solomon warns that integrity is much more important than image. It's the foundation of everything else. Solomon writes in Proverbs 17:7 Respected people do not tell lies. We are wired to be attracted to and admire people who are honest, who have integrity. In school we teach our children about the great Americans like Honest Abe Lincoln and George I can never tell a lie Washington. We want people who we can trust what they say, even when their words are difficult to hear.
Our ability to trust is the bedrock of faith. That’s why Jesus claims to be the personification of truth. He claims I am the way and the truth, and the life. Jesus doesn’t say I have the truth, or I speak the truth, His claim is that He is the truth. But integrity involves more than honesty, it’s more than what you say. Being a person of integrity means that we not only tell the truth, but we live the truth, it can be seen in your actions. Integrity involves dependability. It’s not just talking a good game, saying all the right things, it’s living your life in a way that keeps your words honest.
A few weeks ago our shepherds asked you to fill out involvement sheets, the idea is to allow our members here to volunteer your gifts and talents in the work we are trying to accomplish in this community. When we were talking about these sheets, I cautioned them that in some of the congregations I have worked with in the past is that people will fill out these sheets, check areas that they are willing to serve, but no one even volunteered to be in charge. You see I can check the box that says I will help out, I’ll participate, but when the time comes to actually step up and teach a class, or cook a meal for someone who is sick, my calendar is full. Subconsciously we make promises that we we really have no intention of keeping. While I would tell you that I am going to be there, I am going to do my part, the truth is that I am not really committed. We don’t intentionally mean to separate ourselves, but our integrity takes a hit.
Solomon says that a person who has a good character who has integrity walks securely (Proverbs 10:9). People who have a strong character can be relied on in not just what they say, but that they will do what they say. Here’s a bit of southern wisdom I’ve picked up: When you have integrity you don't have to have a good memory because you never have to remember the lies you told.
Do you want to be respected? Today might be a good day for you to do a little personal evaluation. Are you a person of integrity. Are you honest with your spouse? Your kids? Your time? With God? If you really want to be respected, you must have a foundation of integrity.
The second characteristic we must cultivate is service.
I grew up in the middle of the me generation. Before we did anything, we were conditioned to ask, what’s in it for me? In every relationship we were conditioned to ask, What have you done for me lately? The basic approach of life was, what can I get out of this? We never asked what we could give. Not how can I help? Not how can I serve? but, What can I get? That attitude was seen in the way that we viewed our relationships with each other, our jobs, and even our relationship with God. We picked our churches based on what we could get, what could the church offer me, and we never considered how we could use our time and gifts to serve the church.
One of the things I am so excited about with the millennial generation is that they seem to be more interested in being involved in the community and serving others that the previous generations. After years of apathy, this upcoming generation is volunteering more than ever. I read an estimate that last year Millennials in the US volunteered 19.5 billion hours. And while that’s exciting, we are noticing that they are not necessarily using their time and talents working in churches. Instead they are finding other places to serve helpless and downtrodden.
Church has become less of a place to serve and more of a place to merely attend. And that’s a bit scary because New Testament Churches are based on Jesus. In John 13 is eating a meal with the disciples, who were having their own struggle with respect. They thought the way to get respect was to sit closest to Jesus at the table, to in essence be the greatest in the Kingdom. While they were having that discussion Jesus got up, wrapped a towel around His waist and began to wash their feet. While everyone else was looking for a little respect, Jesus took on the role of a servant. Jesus never condemns them for wanting to be great, He doesn’t tell them that looking for respect was a fleshly, selfish desire. Jesus merely showed them how to find the respect they so deeply wanted. He flips it upside down.
To be great is to be the servant. Jesus said, If you want to be great you learn to be the servant of all. He introduces the idea that servanthood is how you change the world. The disciples must have been stunned by both His example and His message; honestly so are we. But when you call yourself a Christian you are claiming the name of not only your creator and redeemer, but someone who lived His life serving the hurting and lost.
Solomon writes in Proverbs 16:3 Whatever you do, do it as service to Him, and He will guarantee your success. You might not feel very successful in your life right now, but understand that you are exactly where God wants you in this life. We must remember that we were not put here to only be concerned about our own needs. The secret to finding respect, is to be a person who see’s a need and is willing to serve. It’s having our heart pointed towards Christ.
In Port Arthur, Texas there is a school built by Bob Hope, for adults with disabilities. Hanging in that school was a plaque that credited Bob Hope for saying, if you don't have generosity in your heart you've got the worst kind of heart problem. He’s right. Servanthood is built on people who are willing to generously give of themselves.
Finally, if you want respect you must cultivate the characteristic of Humility.
Solomon writes in Proverbs 3:34 God treats the arrogant as they treat others, mocking the mockers, scorning the scornful, but He pours out His grace on the humble.
In a few days there will be another political debate and once again the stage will be filled with men and women who are wearing power ties, power shoes, power accessories, because we have bought into this idea that power brings respect. Our current society is built on image, and if you project the wrong image on social media, then you can lose any chance to be successful and respected. Yet, God says if you want to be truly respected, if you want to be successful you need to cultivate the characteristic of humility. Which means that everyone of us must take the first step and be honest about the fact that we are not perfect, that we don’t have it all together.
We like to pretend we're perfect, we have the perfect job, we have the perfect wife or husband, we have perfect kids, we have the perfect little home. Yet we never realize how many people are turned off by our arrogance. To be humble is to realize how weak we are, how helpless we are to change the course of our lives in our own power. Humility seeks God for forgiveness and trusts in His guidance.
We live in a culture where humility is seen as a weakness. Just think about your own life. How often do you hear someone around you admit they made a mistake? When was the last time you admitted that you were wrong? Yet God says it is humility that is attractive, humility that gains respect. I know that it’s easy to be humble when everything is falling apart and we are living in the ashes, but what happens when we find a little success? Proverbs 27:21 says, Fire is the way to test the purity of silver and gold, but the character of a man is tested by giving him a measure of fame. So every time you are successful, every time you win, every time someone complements you, Solomon says be careful because it is a test. Every time someone recognizes one of your gifts or accomplishments it’s easy to leans on the gift and forget the one who gave you the gift in the first place.
The basic law of relationships is that we tend to become like the people we spend time with. If you spend time with grumpy people, you get grumpier. If you spend time with happy people, you get happier. I have a pretty bad habit of picking up accents and phrases of the people that I hang out with. When we lived in Guin Alabama there was another young couple that worked with our church who became our friends. Junior was from Detroit, Alabama and talked with a thick southern accent. I could go and eat lunch with Junior and Trista would know exactly who I have been hanging out with. It was never intentional, it just happened. It happens to all of us, we might not pick up their speech patterns but we will become like the folks we surround ourselves. That’s why, if you want to grow in your humility then you need to spend time with Jesus.
Jesus spoke with integrity, served with intensity, and loved with humility. And if you wear His name then God expects you to be like Him. He wants you to be a servant. Jesus said, I came to serve not to be served. Which is the exact opposite of a society who asks what's in it for me?
The problem for many Christians is that we don’t mind being a servants of God, we just don't want to be servants of anybody else. We don't mind serving God, that’s a noble thing. But serving other people is a different story. We forget that we can’t serve God without serving people. As a member of the Upside-down Kingdom of God we need to make a radical change in our lives. Our society wants to know, What's in it for me? Our society says that they are going to do my own thing. But if you want to be truly respected you need to be focused on serving others. Give your life away, Jesus said, to find it.
I hope that this week every member of this family would find some area of service in this community that desperately needs Christians and get involved at no personal profit. There are a lot of areas that need your help out there in the world. Jesus said, I came to serve, not to be served. I challenge you to give your life away and as you do that you find meaning and purpose and significance and self esteem and respect. We will end this morning where we started, Rather than wealth, choose a good reputation, esteem over silver and gold. This morning make the choice to speak with integrity, serve with intensity, and succeed with humility.