Proverbs 21:3 – False Dichotomies

Some great stuff from Dan Phillips on trying to twist what the Bible is actually saying.

To expand on that a little, I have heard this same idea expressed by Christians in many false dichotomies. For instance:

  • It is more important to be loving than to be orthodox
  • It is more important to be loving than to be truthful
  • It is more important to care about people than to care about ideas
  • It is better to walk with Christ than to attend church
  • It better to be kind than to be right
  • It is better to live the Gospel than to tell it
  • Etc. ad infinitum et ad taedium

On the surface, who could argue with any of these statements? The problem is that, unfortunately, they are usually used to evil ends, and they’re diabolically clever. Disagree with any of them, and you seem to be arguing against love, practical Christian living, caring, kindness, Gospel living, Mom, puppies and everything wonderful. Who wants to do (or be accused of) any of that?

However, what all of these statements have in common is that, if pressed, they form false dichotomies.

Going back to Proverbs 21:3, liberals in years past have taken such statements in Proverbs and in the prophets as indicating an anti-Temple faction. One can only get there, however, if one rejects the canonical ascriptions of authorship, which requires (at least de facto) rejection of the inerrancy and authority of the text.

Accept the authority of the text, and we go in another direction: the intent is to help readers/hearers evaluate and identify what most matters to God. One knows at the outset that God cannot be saying “Don’t do sacrifice,” because it was He who enjoined sacrifice in the first place. Likewise, no Bible-believer can imagine that God wants us to reject the teaching of His word in doctrine and theology, or to disdain wrestling intensely for the faith or casting down ideas that oppose themselves to the knowledge of Christ, or refuse to attend church — because it is God Himself who commands that we do such things; and, if we believe Him, we do them, to the best of our ability.

Perhaps we can understand Solomon’s wording and thought better if we can get a better idea of the soil from which this proverb was brought, by God’s Spirit. What lay behind the composition of this particular proverb? Did Solomon have in mind the narrative of Saul, who disobeyed God, then tried to smear the whole over with a gaudy religious act of sacrifice (1 Samuel 15)? Very possibly.
If so, then Solomon is saying to us what God told Saul through Samuel (1 Sam. 15:22-23):

And Samuel said, “Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.  For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, he has also rejected you from being king.”

…only he said it in a single, pointed, pithy proverb.

Wisdom, and its balances, is hard.

Guess that’s why there’s a whole book in the Canon devoted to it, and to grounding it in the fear of Yahweh.

Almost three years ago I wrote something on a similar vein.

Now in context we see that the Golden Rule is relegated to second place in relationship to another rule which is “the great and first commandment” – to love the Lord your God with everything that you are. Suddenly we are presented with a higher regard than simply the effect of our actions on our neighbours. Jesus only presents such considerations as secondary to the primary concern that your life should be handed over to God in all that you think and say and do.

So the real issue is, what does it mean to love the Lord your God with all your heart etc? Well, Jesus very clearly says “If you love me you will obey my commandments” (John 14:15). A love of God is a life that lets itself be lived the way God intends it – it is a life that sells its wants and desires and follows Jesus and his path (Matthew 19:16-22). It is a life that realises that simply doing something that doesn’t harm other human beings isn’t enough – the prior question is whether it is something that God would want us to do in the first place. Our ethical decisions aren’t just to be based in anthropomorphic concerns – they have as much to do with God as they do with our fellow human.

What say you? Is there more to following Christ then just “love”?

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