Honesty in Business and Life (vv. 1-2)
Religion becomes ridiculous unless it shapes the totality of life. To profess to believe one thing and yet to spend the majority one’s waking hours in a way opposed to those professions is nothing but a sham. In such a man’s life, his religion may be a source of intellectual or emotional stimulation. It may provide social or humanitarian outlets. It is not “for me, to live is Christ.” One thing is certain; if our religion does not powerfully influence the most basic activities of our lives, such as our work and our words, we do not love God with all our heart, mind, and soul. Thus, continuing his theme of the destiny of our words and deeds, Solomon turns to commerce, for our conduct in our businesses and callings is a direct reflection of our true selves, often a better indication of what we really believe than what we say on Sunday. We need no long lessons to see what happens when men come to think that business is a non-religious aspect of life, when the rule of the marketplace is dog-eat-dog. Corruption and theft abound, with tyrannical governments sweeping in with their oppressive regulations under the guise of “safety for the consumer.” This is nothing but “government wants its share of the profits and control” hiding behind platitudes, all to deceive and enslave the masses. Stated in ancient terms, a seller’s scale should be straight; his weights should be uniform and just. These were typically in the form of rocks with their weights engraved on the bottom. Merchants, however, carried many different rocks: heavier ones for selling, lighter ones for buying.
Solomon has already said that “the blessing of the Lord” is what brings prosperity (10:22), and as if this were not enough to induce us to establish all our happiness and security in him, he adds that such practices are an “abomination” to him. Clearly, our business practices are carried on before his watchful eyes. Manufacturers, salesmen, and speculators may think this is an area of life in which it is safer to “do unto others before they do unto you,” God says otherwise. “All our ways are before him” (Ps. 119:168). Nothing is hidden from his sight (Heb. 4:13), nothing hid that shall not be revealed (Matt. 10:26). And if he hates all deception and ill-gotten gain in the multitude of commercial transactions that occur each day, we may be certain that all other areas of life come under his jurisdiction. We may escape man’s detection, but he will surely call us to give an account. Thus, commerce and economies are in fact governed by religious convictions; they are governed by God’s word. Even more, they are confessions just as real as the church’s written creeds of a man’s true religion: God or mammon, truth or lies, honesty or crookedness. And lest we think this is an area in which a little fudging is to be expected, indeed, that it is so common that we cannot possibly get ahead unless we cut some moral corners here and there, this “just weight and balance” is nothing other than the Golden Rule (Matt. 7:12) brought very close to home – at the very heart of a man’s livelihood. We are to think and do only what is good and pure (Phil. 4:8). Better to be defrauded or lose out on a sale than to lose one’s soul and do business in such a way that God arms himself against us (1 Cor. 6:7-8). If we would understand the reason for the West’s dwindling prosperity and descent into dark tyranny, we need look no further than all the fake money, manipulation of markets and commodities, and trickery that dominates modern business practices, from the fast talker on the used car lot to the member of the Fed that inflates and deflates already debased currencies to suit his purposes and keep the system artificially afloat.
If the heart is not governed by the fear of the Lord then there can be no restraint upon man’s corruption other than the outward threat of law. This is the reason that tyranny always follows unbelief, individually and nationally. God will not be mocked; he sends many, suffocating demons to punish the man that will not be ruled by his word. This is one example of “when pride cometh, then cometh shame” (v. 2). The Lord has made us for himself, and he will have us to delight in him and serve him in all our ways. If we try to throw off the pleasant yoke of being his servants and disciples of our Savior, he will bring the chains of shame upon us. Babel, Miriam, and Herod show us the consequences of questioning God’s government of the world, trying to escape it, or claiming to be as God (Gen. 11:4; Num. 12:2,10; Acts 12:22-23). In connection with verse one, however, we should bring it much closer to home. Trying to get ahead by defrauding others is not only an abominable deception but also a deadly self-deception. Pride deceives a man into thinking that the laws of kindness and fair dealing do not apply to him, that he can get ahead on his own terms, that his own ingenuity can raise him to the top of the heap. This pride is found in the local office complex and warehouse as much as in the prince’s palace. But it will bring a man low. We cannot escape God. If we will not be humble before him, he will bring us very low: Hamaan, Korah, Nebuchadnezzar, and even Peter bear witness to this inescapable law of God’s dealings with men.
Honesty begins within, with a due sense of our need and dependence upon God. The wisest man in the world is the one who is honest with himself, feels his corruption deeply, and is so broken before God that he pleads only mercy (Luke 18:13). This is counterintuitive, for we migrate toward the self-assured, the polished, and the apparently successful. Yet, the Lord says that true wisdom, and in context the one whom the Lord will bless in all his ways, is found only in being humbled before him. Do we not read of our Savior here? None was ever as high as he, being God’s eternal Son, but none was ever made so low and despised. Having all power, he became weak. Being righteousness itself, he became sin for us. Through him the Father called the world into existence, yet he humbled himself unto death. And he is all our wisdom and righteousness (1 Cor. 1:24). If we would trust God as he did – including our support in this life and blessing upon our calling – we must be humble as he was. We must “learn of him, for he is meek and lowly of heart” (Matt. 11:29). Before his cross, we must be made low in repentance and faith, or we shall certainly be made low under God’s judgment. This is not simply a spiritual principle but a business principle as well; indeed, a life principle. The Lord of Hosts exercises a continual war against all human pride, all attempts at success apart from the wisdom of lowliness, of being subdued to teachableness before his majesty, before his love and grace.
Righteousness Our Only Security (vv. 3-8)
Humility breeds righteousness. There is no other remedy for our filth, no other peace for guilty consciences than the righteousness of God in Jesus Christ (Rom. 3:21). How we rejoice to behold the Lamb of God crucified for our sins, risen for our justification (Rom. 4:25), ever living to intercede for us (Heb. 7:25)! Such wondrous love awakens our dead hearts to love him (Rom. 5:8). Loving him, we obey him (John 14:12; 1 John 5:3). True faith and love crave obedience: “O that my ways were directed to keep thy precepts” (Ps. 119:5)! We begin to love God’s commandments; they are no longer burdensome but the delightful path of liberty (Ps. 119:45). Thus, the pursuit of righteousness, the practice of godliness in terms of God’s revealed will in Scripture, is the beautiful fruit of biblical religion. It is not guilt that makes men desire righteousness in life but love, not legalism but grace, not narrow-mindedness but gratitude. For the next six verses, Solomon now shows us the security that righteousness brings to us. How tragic that fallen man clings to his deception, self-fraud, and pride! He chooses this path out of fear. His conscience senses that God is against him. He fears the world, the environment, calamity, others. He knows only one way of survival, one path to prosperity: be his own god. Unwilling to humble himself, hating the light and loving the darkness, he commits suicide: moral, economic, moral, personal and, as subsequent lines make clear, civil.
At the heart of the wise man’s security is righteousness. Righteousness is security because it is living, thinking, and feeling as God has revealed in his holy word. God is secure in his own holiness (Rev. 15:2-4). All the rebellion of man and malice of Satan cannot touch him; he laughs at his enemies, this army of grasshoppers that dares to deny his sovereignty and refuses to worship and serve its Maker (Ps. 2:4; Isa. 40:22). In mercy, the Lord has delivered us from this darkness and brought us into his kingdom of light. We need not defraud others to get ahead. We need not delude ourselves. Our joyful cry is: “Come, see a man, which told me all things that ever I did: is this not the Christ” (John 4:29)? Honest and broken before him, we mortify our flesh and pray for grace to bend our wills to his, as our Savior did. Being transparent before him, we are healed, made whole – the heart and life unified in love and obedience to him. Thus, we come to possess integrity: wholeness. We are delivered from hypocrisy, self-delusion, and pretending. Solomon says this integrity shall guide us (v. 3). This is another way of saying that God’s grace and will shall guide us, for he has made us his holy temple, his dwelling place. This is all his work in us. Having fallen before him and “told him all the truth” (Mark 5:31), he brings us into the light, into the security of holiness. He promises to guide us and perfect his good work in us (Phil. 1:6).
Even facing death, or the troubles and calamities leading up to it, we shall be delivered (v. 4). Surely this life is a veil of tears. The more we understand human nature and its pitiful and perverse history, the more our hearts are touched by all the suffering that man has brought upon himself by his rebellion, the more we shall grieve for lost men. And yet, there is joy in our Savior’s kingdom, for there is righteousness. There is also hope, hope that as we walk with God in obedience to his word, he will direct our paths (v. 5). He is the Good Shepherd who walks with us, guides us, carries us, and in our Lord Jesus, died for us (Isa. 40:11; John 10:11). Since we made the Lord our dwelling place (Ps. 91:9), even in times of trouble, we may depend upon his faithfulness to deliver us (vv. 6,8). In all our afflictions – and who can feel his wondrous identification with us as deeply as he ought – he is afflicted (Isa. 63:9). Did not our Savior enter personally and vicariously into the “affliction of the afflicted” (Ps. 22:4)? In the time of trouble, he “hides us in his pavilion,” even in the Most Holy Place of his covenanted presence with us (Ps. 27:5). He is our strength in times of trouble (Ps. 37:39) and our deliverer (Ps. 41:1). At death, our hope does not die, as the wicked (v. 7), but is transformed into life possessed, righteousness perfected, holiness our delight, fellowship with God unbreakable and consummated. Hearing these blessings, should we not, first, flock to our Savior, that we may be made righteous by his obedience imputed to us and restored to the paths of righteousness in which God himself walks, guides, protects, preserves, and brings us finally to heaven? Then, we should pursue righteousness in life. It is a sad commentary, no, it is an almost-obituary upon the state of much of western Christianity, that those encouraging obedience to God’s word are ridiculed as boring and criticized as enemies of grace, freedom, and joy. We have imbibed romantic views of man and God; we have made emotional frenzy, hyper-individualism, and psychological satisfaction the hallmark of genuine religion. For our perversity and faithlessness to God’s word, we have lost righteousness: concrete obedience to him in the details of life. As a reward, we forfeit security.
To encourage us to return to righteousness, indeed, to seek the Lord with our whole hearts until he “come and rain righteousness upon us” (Hos. 10:12), let us tremble before the doom of the wicked. Their crooked dealing shall destroy them (v. 3). Consider all the wars based upon power-grabs, covetousness, and lies; consider pyramid economies based upon paper and promises; consider the grieved conscience of the businessman who profited through fraud, misrepresentation, exaggerated claims, promises he could never keep. Even if he prospers in this life, it is but a vapor. The day of reckoning fast approaches. There is no greater proof of fallen man’s self-delusion than the idea he harbors of getting away with it all. Let him bring all the wealth of the world in all ages before the throne of God. His holiness will consume it in an instant. Anticipating that dread day, how many have lost everything they so assiduously labored to acquire when God’s wrath exposed them on earth? The wicked shall fall by his wickedness (v. 5). We live in God’s world; we cannot escape the consequences of our actions. Fraud, lies, self-deception – none can shield a man from the holy gaze of God. Should this not comfort the righteous? We are often poor, oppressed, struggling, and vexing our soul daily for our sins. We must bring before our minds the certainty of judgment, the holy God under whose watchful eyes every single man lives, works, and breathes! Transgressors shall be taken in naughtiness, in engulfing ruin and destruction (v. 6). How dreadful is the cry in hell at this moment, and that without the body! Souls perishing in guilt and grief, ruin and despair, all their sins and God’s judgment feeding upon them. Let us flee to wisdom, to the cross, to Christ the wisdom and power of God! Let us seek from him the wisdom we wholly lack in ourselves, the righteousness he alone can work in us by his indwelling Spirit! For there is no hope after the wicked man dies (v. 7): none. Imagine an eternity without any hope of relief, any drop of water, any sense of mercy. On earth, at least, there were recreations, pleasures, and distractions to ward off any thought of accountability and hound the conscience into an uneasy silence. Not there. All the covetousness, the lusting, the hatred will be present with nothing to gratify. Thus, all the trouble that we endure in this life, the hardships we think will overwhelm us, it is not we who love and fear the Lord who are in trouble, but the wicked. They will receive all the trouble; by unspeakably wondrous grace, we shall receive all the eternal weight of glory, life in Christ, the liberty of God’s sons, joy unspeakable.
Society Blessed by Righteousness (vv. 9-15)
Integrity means that a man’s words and ideas are a reflection of his true self, that he lives what he says, that he is not trying to pull the wool over your eyes. If the public life is separated from the private life, preachers, politicians, and philosophers will often dupe us with their charisma, promises, and high-sounding intellectualism. Pull back the curtain a little and look at how they treat others, live, and talk. You will often see such gross inconsistencies, even flagrant contradictions that they are seen to be nothing but charlatans. This is the reason Solomon insists that public life is a reflection of the true condition of our hearts. Righteousness and wickedness cannot be kept private. Our true selves will not only “come out,” but they will also shape social life. A community of men is simply a reflection of the hearts of those men lived out. The same is true of families, congregations of believers, and nations. We may think we can keep who we really are private, but as we have seen in the various scandals that rocked banking houses, White Houses, and church houses, it is impossible. We cannot split ourselves in half. Falseness will reveal itself. It will negatively impact the community. And the great danger is that when we believe this lie of two persons living in one man and the ability to keep them separate, we undermine public morality, to be sure, and lose hope that there is any such thing as a private one. Thus, as in this country, morality itself becomes a joke, suspicious, something to sneer at, an impossible dream.
The hypocrite destroys his neighbor (v. 9). He says one thing to his face; behind the scenes, he is saying and doing something else entirely. Sadly, this is a way of life for politicians, social engineers, and the whole economic system under which we languish. When a people lose faith in their leaders, their system, in one another, whole societies can only look forward to the day when the system crumbles, when the wicked perish (v. 10). Then, men can rejoice again, but only if the one devil is not replaced with seven worse devils; only if righteousness replaces lies, pride, and hypocrisy. These evils destroy whole civilizations; words destroy nations (v. 11). The evil in their hearts will be expressed in their words. They hate their neighbors (v. 12), and they will look for something, anything to make him look bad, get an advantage over him. Sometimes this is through a very common sin: tale-bearing (v. 13). The internet is alive with this, or dead with it, depending upon your perspective: gross escapades make front page news, now with pictures and videos that expose men to tawdry scenes better buried than shared, thus lowering further the moral standing of an entire city. Distrust and disdain create the impression that we must find our own way; everyone must be selling something, tricking someone. So, we ask for no counsel (v. 14), but retreat into private worlds. At least we are loved there, not confronted there, not told we are not good enough or beautiful enough or popular enough. In our own thoughts and worlds, we are the gods! Do not these lines perfectly encapsulate the modern psyche? Disconnected from others, having trust and loyalty broken too many times, we lack the closeness and trust of community to thrive and be happy, to grow through confrontation and be secure through accountability. Verse fifteen is aptly placed here. In such a setting as Solomon describes, even the marketplace becomes impersonal: like co-signing a loan for a complete stranger. Do not banks function in this way? Banking itself is in some ways a reflection of the breakdown of trust, the attempt to profit from the isolation and helplessness of others. This is what happens when the lines of family and community, trust and honesty break down, when righteous flees far away from us. Estranged from God, we become estranged from ourselves – and from others.
Righteous in word and deed is the joy of society. The just man is saved through knowledge (v. 9). He knows God; he knows himself. Thus, he is willing to face the truth. Light has scattered his darkness; he is no hypocrite. Christ is the light in him! When he prospers, it is not through lies and fraud but the Lord’s blessing. In his prosperity, he gives and benefits others through his wealth. The whole city rejoices when the righteous prosper, for his success was through righteousness, not through bringing others down to advance himself (v. 10). His community is blessed through his blessing (v. 11). How diligently, even in these evil times, we should seek to be a blessing to others through a godly life, righteous words, giving as we have been given, sharing with open-hearted generosity to all. Then, we can bear witness to our Father’s love and kindness, sharing with others the chief blessing we have found: life in Christ. The righteous blesses his community because he holds his peace; his tongue is restrained (v. 12); he conceals rather than spreads evil (v. 13). His goal is not to bring others down by telling all the bad he knows about them but to bring them up by being as silent as the grave with respect to evil. By God’s mercy to us, we are constrained to believe the best about others as long as we can, to grieve over evil we cannot deny, and hold our tongues from sharing evil about them. Does this not rebuke the secret delight we often take in the downfall of fellow-sinners?
The wise man is not shut up in his own private world. We are, of course, realistic about the nature of man, especially the men near us. We have been disappointed and frustrated by their failures. This does not make a connoisseur of the follies of others, however. We still seek out godly counselors, knowing that we are not sufficient in ourselves (v. 14). We need good advice, accountability, even correction. This is an interesting thought. With all the folly around us, especially in modern-day cities, the tendency is toward isolation and self-dependence. If we are wise, we will fight against this, for however wise and right we think we are, none of us possesses all the truth, all the wisdom. Even in the church of our Savior, the very reason we have been placed in a body is because we are needy. We need checks and balances against the individualism and self-reliance that constantly creep into our soul, especially in dark times. Integrity before God leads to openness to one another. We are not afraid of being wrong – not in arrogance but in an honest realization that we are wrong about many things. This is the reason we must diligently labor to establish open, honest relationships of trust between one another in the body of Christ. We need men and women before whom we can live out the broken life before God that we profess to live in private. Sadly, we are often strangers to one another. Does this not show itself even in something as seemingly mundane as finances? Why should we be surety for a stranger, or seek strangers to be surety for us? Even our earthly needs should be met within the body of Christ, with those who know and love us, with those who can help us distinguish legitimate need from the covetousness that characterizes those who try to live on private islands of meaning and vanity.