Proverbs 8:31 and Philippians 4:8
Humanity Standing Side By Side
As Humans Created Together
1. The Israelites were placed aside associations with peoples of different countries typically having strange religions and cultures. In the period of King Solomon foreign trade with the various nations around them went off full blast, and internationalization advanced rapidly. After King Solomon, the kingdom split and soon after the northern kingdom was demolished by Assyria, and the southern kingdom was demolished by Babylonia. The Israeli survivors lost their own realm and were put under the rule of a major pagan country. Thus, the Israelites lived for quite a time under the dominions of Babylonia, Persia, and Greece. So with associations with different nations or even as a people placed under the dominions of different foreigners, the most important thing above all was for Israel to maintain its identity. They had to always remember who they were.
2. Therefore, the Bible speaks on the forefathers of Israel: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The Bible speaks on Israel's exodus from Egypt. The Bible speaks on the covenant with the Lord at Mt Sinai. The Bible speaks on the law given to Israel. The Bible speaks on Israel's coming messiah. Among all these [factors their being] "the chosen of God, the elect of God" is spoken as very important. Israel is different from the other races of people. Israel is not to forget that it is Israel and must not forget it is different from the other races.
3. Well, in the same way the church is also in the world and is placed in associations with peoples with different sorts of religions and cultures. In our country Christians continue to be few in number hardly making up one per cent of the entire population. Almost all the citizens in the regions in which the church is placed are not Christian. The people with whom we live out our daily lives and with whom we work are not Christian in most every case. As the church existing in such a country it is extremely important for us as the church to preserve our identity as Christ's church.
4. Therefore, we will keep our eyes on Christ. We will keep telling the stories of Christ. We will keep telling forth of Christ's incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, dominion, and second visitation in the parousia. We will respect [the ordinances of] baptism and communion. We will express that we are part of the body of Christ. The church is the body of Christ; Christians belong to that body. The world is not the body of Christ. There is a distinction between the two. We do not say that both the world and the church are the same. The church must always have a spirit of itself as the church. Christians must keep themselves aware that they are Christians.
5. However, on the other hand, we mustn't overlook the stories from "Proverbs" contained in the Old Testament. Proverbs is also included in the same Bible, in the Old Testament scriptures which speaks on the election of the Israelites, their mission, and the special revelation given unto Israel. For two months now we have been reading this book and I wonder if you noticed it, that there is no mention of Israel at all in Proverbs. (The one exception is at the beginning of 'The Proverbs Of Solomon, Son Of David, King Of Israel.' But, this is a caption.) Proverbs focuses its attention on humanity and the world and not on Israel. What has been written in Proverbs is not fundamentally something that just has to be remembered because one is an Israelite. They are words to which [everyone] ought to listen as [part of being] a human being living in this world.
6. For example, there is the proverb of "Don't boast of tomorrow; for, we do not know what may come up within one single day," (27:1). In regard to this, it has nothing to do with whether one might be of Israel or not. This is something that can be said about me here in Japan or even about you. Actually, included in Proverbs are even "words of warning which King Lemuel of Masa had received from his mother," (31:1). Based on Chronicles, Masa is thought to be a son of Ishmael (First Chronicles 1:29), and Masa is one of the tribes from Arabia. Therefore, there are some who think that this section is a citation from an Arabian proverb compilation. Also, [scholars] have been discussing it currently and even eighty years ago that [the biblical] "Proverbs" has a close affinity to "The Instructions Of Amen-em-Opet," which is ancient Egyptian wisdom literature.
7. So that's how it is believed that a number of proverbs were imported into Proverbs, not coming up out of the context of the traditions of Israel but instead coming up from within countries outside of Israel. For the Israelites to have proverbs held in common with foreigners and joining hands with proverbs that came up from foreign lands was no big deal to them. Why could that be so? Because in Proverbs the focus is not put on "salvation" by God but on "creation" by God.
8. For example, as I read you already, in chapter eight and verse thirty-one, the text goes as follows: "I celebrate with the people on this earth whom the Lord has created and I take pleasure with the children of man." "The Lord (Yahweh)" is the God who has led Israel out of Egypt. He is the God who has revealed himself to Israel. But, to believe that the Lord is the creator of heaven and earth is also to say that "the people on this earth whom the Lord has created (translated literally as 'the world as God's earth')" come included within the faith field of vision. It is also to say that the relationship between the Lord and "the children of man" have entered into that field of vision and not the relationship of the Lord and Israel. When we look at it like this, it is only natural then that the attention will be focused on what is shared between people rather than on the differences between Israel and other peoples. The Israelites and the various different races of people stand on the same level ground as human beings created by God.
As People Standing Side By Side Together
9. Well, as I mentioned earlier, it is important for the church to hold on to its spirit as the church and for Christians to keep being conscious that they are Christians. However, if the church thinks of only the church alone and ends up with that alone as its business, that would be a bad form of churchmanship and an extremely unhealthful way to be. - Because the church was sent into the world. God the Father of Jesus Christ sent Jesus Christ into the world, and the church too with Christ as its head exists in this world as a [group of people] sent out into the world. As proclaimers of God's word, the church will be face to face with the world. Christians are sent as evangelists to go out and preach, and they stand directly facing the other people of society.
10. But, that alone is not enough. Proverbs is telling us of another way we ought to stand. While God the Father is the God of salvation who has sent Jesus Christ, we believe that he is the God of creation who has created all the universe. So with that the people and the world God created enter into our field of vision. With that the focus will be directed upon that which we hold in common as human beings created by the Lord rather than on the differences between the church and society or the differences between Christians and non Christians. As Christians we don't just face opposite each other but we stand side by side with them all the while as we empathize with them as the same [created] human beings. In all reality, isn't that why Christ came to us? As a human being [himself] Christ stood on the same level ground with us. Therefore, when the church is sent into the world and Christians are sent into society, they are sent as one human being to another.
11. The other verse that we read today which gives us a reminder by way of its connection to "how we ought to stand" which this Proverb has been telling us is from the words of Paul in The Epistle To The Philippian Disciples in chapter four and verse eight. "Finally, o brothers, everything true, everything noble, everything righteous, everything pure, everything beloved, everything honorable, and if it worthy of virtue and admiration, please keep them in your minds," (Philippians 4:8).
12. The virtues of "true," "noble," "righteous," etc which are given in this text are all found in the list of virtues that come from the Greek idealists. In particular, the word "arete, areth" which is translated as "virtue" originally meant a physical asset and a natural excellence. For example, it is like the soil of the field, the good stuff from it, what the sword cuts clean. "Arete" can be thought of that way in regard to individual human beings. This was a major word when it came to Greek morality and thought. In any case, it is clear that Paul is not talking here of the inside of the church but has in mind the pagan environment in which Christians are being born and raised and the pagan society into which the Philippian church is placed. Wherever you find arete/virtue in it, he says to remember what it is.
13. Paul's words have great significance for us. I say that because unconsciously we become more and more haughty and proud. Some time ago, during an overseas study, Kanzoh Uchimura, who had participated in a preacher's conference, wrote the following about the condition of overseas preaching at that time. "Actually, some people imagine that the underlying principle of missions can be affirmed only in the outlining and comparing of the darkness of heathen disciplines over against the brilliance of Christian practices. So they make a bar chart that shows pagan ways on a completely black histogram and Protestant ways in pure white. Missionary and religious magazines, reviews, and newspapers, whatever even, are busting over with stories of the ungodly superstitions, depravity, and curse upon the heathen believers, and stories related to their high nobility, holiness, and extremely Christlike character hardly ever show up on those same pages. ...," ('How One Becomes Christian In Faith'). That's not just something we hear about only in overseas missions. In evangelism and missions close to home, we too may be turning out to be just like these "some people" [that Uchimura described]. For anyone with missionary fervor it's so easy to get that way.
14. As I mentioned earlier, the people with whom we live with on a day to day basis and with whom we work are in most cases not Christians. There [we] are with unbelieving husbands, unbelieving wives, unbelieving peers and friends. In those places it is important for us to meet with each of those persons as Christians. Often times it may just be more important that we stand side by side with them as persons created by God, as human beings same [as they are]. And as Paul says we are to look for and remember all the true things, all the noble things, all the righteous things, all the pure things, all that deserves to be loved, and all that is honorable, and that has value for virtue and admiration, which is within all these people close to us. By standing side by side as equal human beings like that, it indeed will lead to the sharing of the blessings of Christ's salvation that has been given to humanity.
15. Thus, we have it. The Book Of Proverbs, which we have been reading in our worship services now is a book that has taught us as the church and as Christians how we [are to] stand in this world.