Emotions: Proverbs (Sermon)
Welcome. I am pastor Rob, the site pastor at the Sawyer Highlands up the street. It is great to be with you this morning.
How are you? We ask that question all the time. When people ask you that, do you ever feel like people don’t care? It is a polite form of greeting. But if you were from another culture, or more was going on in your life, you may think it rude or not want to tell the truth. I had a friend corner me at church years ago and ask, “How are you really doing?” How should I have responded to that? I knew he cared. I can’t remember what I said. There are so many emotions.
Years ago, Mike Bowden shared with the men and women’s ministries the feeling wheel at his retreats. Here is a picture of one I found online.
- The center has general feelings of being fearful, angry, sad, and happy.
- The next ring gets more specific with words like disappointed, frustrated, rejected, bored, excited, and content,
- The wheel further explains those feelings with emotions like revolted, annoyed, nervous, sleepy, thankful, and perplexed.
How are you doing? God cares about our emotions. They are part of life, and God speaks to that part of our lives. So we are finishing our study in the book of Proverbs by looking at the subject of emotions.
Here is the big idea (for those taking notes):
Proverbs teach us that how we deal with emotions and where they are directed matters to God.
Let me say that again. Proverbs teach us that how we deal with emotions and where they are directed matters to God.
We began our study of the book of Proverbs in January. Proverbs, you may recall, was written 3000 years ago by King Solomon, the third king of Israel. The Bible says he was the wisest man of all. He authored 3,000 proverbs. The book contains about eight hundred. Proverbs are lectures and sayings specifically to sons and, by extension, God’s people. Solomon covers topics of parenting, marriage, sexuality, ethics, communication, and so much more. He wants his kids to live a good, godly life. With that as a backdrop, let’s pray before we discuss further what God says about emotion.
Dear God, thank you for your Word. It is a light to our feet and path. We need your help to follow you. Thank you for the freedom we have to study your Word. You are good, and your Word is true. Guide us in Jesus’s name, AMEN.
Again, the big idea this morning is: Proverbs teach us that how we deal with emotions and where they are directed matters to God. If you got our weekly email and read the verses for this week, you will know that Proverbs discusses a wide range of emotions. I want to talk about three of them: fear, anger, and love.
The first emotion mentioned in Proverbs is fear. If you have your Bibles, open to chapter 1, verse 7. (I will be reading from the English Standard Version of the Bible.) Verse 7,
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge;
fools despise wisdom and instruction (1:7).
Solomon wants his sons to move towards a fear of the Lord. He mentions it eighteen times. This fear is not what we typically think of when we think fear.
It’s not like being afraid of the dark or the fear of being left out. It is not like anxiety about relationships or the future. The fear of the Lord is entirely different. Pastor Jeff said last week that it is akin to a feeling of awe and respect for God. It relates to knowledge of God, wisdom, and instruction, resulting in life, riches, and honor. Fearing the Lord is good and something we want more of in our lives.
ANOTHER TYPE OF FEAR: THE FEAR OF MAN
Proverbs also speak of fear differently. For example, look at chapter 29, verse 25.
The fear of man lays a snare,
but whoever trusts in the LORD is safe (29:25).
This verse tells us that sometimes fear is terrible; it lays a trap, it is not in line with trust or safe. What is the fear of man? It is a form of unbelief, and if we contrast this fear of man to the fear of the Lord, in chapter 1, it is not just ambivalence to God. It is animosity to God. Fearing man is backward. It is a type of fear that succumbs to peer pressure, goes with the flow, and short circuits morality because a person is more concerned about what others think than God thinks. I can be so afraid of what others think of me; I don’t do the right thing. That is the fear of man. Perhaps you have seen it or felt it this week.
WHEN FEARING MAN IS GOOD
That may raise the question, “Is it ever okay to fear a man or woman?” Certainly. Proverbs do not talk about every emotion nor every situation. Instead, it gives us general principles to help us make specific decisions. For example, there are times when it is good and natural to be afraid, like when threatened. But even with that fear, we must regulate. At times we need to be bold and courageous amid danger. Remember what Jesus said about men who may harm us for our faith, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul” (Matthew 10:28). When Proverbs speaks of the fear of man, it is a fear that trips up our faith instead of bolsters it. It is a fear that distances us from God instead of draws us near to him.
Proverbs teach us that how we deal with fear and where it is directed matters to God.
How do we deal with fear? How do we direct our hearts to fear of the Lord? The answer is the same for the other emotions discussed in Proverbs. Let’s see another example: hatred. If you are taking notes, we have looked at fear, now let’s look at hatred.
Chapter 1, verse 7.
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge;
fools despise wisdom and instruction (1:7).
The Hebrew definition of despising is to hold something or someone in contempt, think of it or him or her as of little importance. It relates to hating. Proverbs uses the word despise twelve times and hatred twenty-six. Solomon encourages his sons to avoid this despising and hating. Chapter 1 verse 29,
Because they hated knowledge
and did not choose the fear of the LORD,
would have none of my counsel
and despised all my reproof,
therefore they shall eat the fruit of their way,
and have their fill of their own devices. (1:29–31)
There are consequences for anger directed toward God’s ways. This anger drives a wedge between a person and his or her Maker. Not only that, in chapter 10, verse 12, we learn it can result in a division between people. 10:12 hatred stirs up strife,
Remember the big idea? Proverbs teach us that how we deal with emotions and where they are directed matters to God. If that is the case, when is it good to hate? Through Lady Wisdom, in chapter 8 verse 13, God tells us when.
The fear of the LORD is hatred of evil.
Pride and arrogance and the way of evil
and perverted speech I hate (8:13).
God is calling those of us who fear the Lord to hate evil. Our God, who is love, hates pride, arrogance, and perverted speech, according to chapter 8 verse 13. If we jump to chapter 13, God adds to the list of things to hate, falsehood—“The righteous hates falsehood” (13:5)—God wants us to hate lies. Hatred, anger, despising, and contempt are not categorically evil feelings; it is what we do with them and where it is directed that matters.
The New Testament backs this perspective up. Ephesians chapter 4 verse 26, for example, teaches, “Be angry and sin not” (Ephesians 4:26). You and I should be angry in some cases but never sin. We should hate it when someone is kidnapped or murdered. It is good to be outraged by injustice. Jesus himself got angry and didn’t sin—Jesus called the Pharisees a brood of Vipers (Matthew 12:34), the sons of the Devil (John 8:44), and threw out the money changers in the Temple calling them thieves and robbers (Matthew 21:12)—Now, you might think, “How can I justify anger? Can I have righteous anger?” All our motives are impure. In most cases, we should not lean into hatred; simultaneously, we can think of cases where it is wrong not to be upset. Remember the big idea? Proverbs teach us that how we deal with hatred and where it is directed matters to God. How do we deal with hatred? Before I answer, let’s look at one more emotion: Love.
The word love is used twenty-seven times in Proverbs. Sometimes Solomon encourages us to love, and other times he discourages it. For example, it is good to love wisdom, truth, discipline, and knowledge (12:1). On the other hand, it is bad to love sleep (20:13), pleasure, wine (21:17), and wrongdoing (17:19). Proverbs teach us that how we deal with love and where it is directed matters to God.
How do we deal with fear, anger, and love? Solomon wrote,
Keep your heart with all vigilance,
for from it flow the springs of life (4:23).
How do you keep your heart with all vigilance, specifically when it comes to emotions that should not be directed where they are directed or acted on the way we are tempted to act on them? How do we temper our tempers? Is there a switch we can turn on or off? How do we move towards the fear of the Lord, hatred of evil, and love of God? The first step is to acknowledge what is going on in our hearts. We can’t address what we don’t see.
I DON’T KNOW WHAT IS GOING ON
For some of us, this is hard. We don’t know how to answer that. We are doers and thinkers, not feelers. We don’t like it when emotion is out of control, so we ignore it and stuff it. Have you ever said, “I am not emotional?” This problem reminds me of the times my wife asks, “Why are you so crabby?” And my first thought is to comment, “I am not.” Sometimes, this has gotten comical. I have gotten upset, denying my upsetness. Finally, it became apparent that I am upset. Has that ever happened to you? What do we do in a broken world where our best efforts to control our emotions even know them are pretty crumby? The first step would be to acknowledge what is going on in our hearts. How?
Let’s try this. What are you feeling? Is there a sense of holy reverence in your heart toward God right now, or are you concerned about what others think of you? Are you angry about something you are not getting or mad about someone’s sin? Are you in love with this world or with God? Take a moment and think about your feelings. Write down an answer to the question: “What are you feeling?” Let us acknowledge our emotions now.
A second step is to hold back some emotions quietly. Proverbs 29 verse 11 says.
A fool gives full vent to his spirit,
but a wise man quietly holds it back (29:11).
We must not be fools and barf on everyone in the name of authenticity and transparency of what we are feeling and thinking. We must learn to hold back from time to time. The New Testament talks about taking our thoughts captive for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:10). Too often, we Christianize our gossip and complaints as verbal processing. Let us be self-controlled, measured, and careful. That is not to say that God wants us to bottle up all our thoughts and emotions and create human ticking time bombs like the Incredible Hulk about to explode at the slightest offense. How do we gain control? You can take a deep breath. Journal. I have found that sometimes I write out an email response with all my passion. And then wait. I never send it but work through my thoughts and feelings before it goes public. The blessing of being a believer is that the Holy Spirit is in us, and one of the results is the fruit which includes self-control. Don’t give full vent to your spirit. Quietly hold back church. Be self-controlled. How? We must acknowledge our emotions and seek some control.
A HORRIBLE, NO GOOD, VERY BAD DAY
So, what do we do when Monday morning rolls around, and we woke up late? What do we do when we notice someone texted us or emailed us an annoying message we have to deal with (I am making this up, mind you). We write a snarky word back that we immediately wish we could undo. What do we do when we get in our car and start down the road? Our gas tank is near empty because the last driver didn’t have the decency to fill it. The car drives like it has a problem, but we ignore it. The warning light on the dashboard goes on. We keep driving because car lights are like Christmas lights. What do we do when we remember that we forgot our wallet but need it. What do we do when we get to our destination and grab our laptop, to have it slip and fall and break the screen? How do we quietly hold back when our day is like Alexander’s Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day? How do we not let out a chain of profanities, kick the dog, or slam the door? How do we guard our hearts above all else?
AFTER PRAY GET PERSPECTIVE
Well, take a deep breath. Acknowledge the reality before you, gain some composure, and thirdly, gain perspective. Ask yourselves, “Why are you feeling the way you feel? What are you wanting but not getting? What are you afraid of happening or not happening? What are you despising and hating? Drill down deep to the root of why does it matter?
Go back to the feeling you put on paper. Think about what you wrote. Why were you feeling that? Are you tired because you didn’t sleep? Are you hungry because you didn’t eat this morning? Are you angry because you have a conflict with someone? Part of perspective understands why we are the way we are. However, there is another part of our perspective that is important also. What do we know about God from the Bible that helps us handle the thoughts and feelings in life? We need to get God’s perspective as well as self-awareness. God’s perspective anchors us in a world of hurt and pain, and disappointment. So when we face weariness, insults, and threats, we can trust God will take care of us. If we have faith in Jesus as our Savior, though we die, no one can take him away from us, and we will rise again. If we find people are not giving us what we want, we can remember God has given more than we can ever ask or imagine. If we are not respected or listened to, we cannot forget that God is our refuge and strength in times of trouble if our world falls apart. He cares, hears, and is with us by the power of the Spirit. Start with what we know about ourselves, but then move towards what God’s Word says about him to root out the lies and ground us in truth.
I played guitar this week with a friend from church. Pulling out guitars, it sounded like this. [Play] If we played without tuning them, our songs would sound awful. How does one tune an instrument? How do instruments adjust to each other? It was not by themselves, but another. We turned to a note from my phone. We had to align our sounds to a common source, and we sounded way better. In the same way, God in his Word speaks to us helpful words we could not come up with by comparison or a pool of common sense. God reorients us. He can give us an alignment to what is good, right, true, and excellent (Philippians 4:8).
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN WE STILL CAN’T GET THERE?
What happens when we still can’t get out of our funk? Where is there help? Solomon wrote:
Who can say, “I have made my heart pure;
I am clean from my sin”? (20:9)
He answered his rhetorical in another book he wrote, “Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins” (Ecclesiastes 7:20). No one can make his heart pure or clean. We can’t fix ourselves or do this perfectly. Solomon calls his sons to action, yes, but ultimately he wants them to hope in the Lord. We know Solomon and God’s people offered sacrifices yearly to purify themselves from sin. Their sacrifices and hope were only shadows of what Jesus did years later. Jesus died to give us hope and freedom and forgiveness and wisdom. So we hope in his blood and the power of Spirit at work in us.
LOVE AND DELIGHT
Why would God care so much for us? Chapter 3 verse 12,
The LORD reproves him whom he loves,
as a father the son in whom he delights. (3:12)
God loves us. He cares and teaches us through life’s circumstances. He has orchestrated the details of our days as a training ground to know him and his love, thus loving him with whole hearts.
He delights in us. Can you picture him opening up heaven to tell you, “Hey, you are my delight.”? That can be hard for us to imagine because we know we haven’t been self-controlled with our emotions, thoughts, and actions. We aren’t perfect. But the Bible teaches that if you trust Christ to have died for your sin, which is the only way to heaven, God delights in you. He smiles when he sees you. He wants to have a vibrant relationship with him as your heavenly Father. We must train our minds in difficult times with this perspective.
So, if you are struggling today with deep emotion and pain, acknowledge, seek control, gain perspective, and finally pray. In chapter 30, we see a prayer that I think we could all say. The author is worn out and doesn’t think he is wise after all these chapters calling for wisdom. He knows he needs help. Look at chapter 30, verse 1.
I am weary, O God;
I am weary, O God, and worn out.
Surely I am too stupid to be a man.
I have not the understanding of a man.
I have not learned wisdom,
nor have I knowledge of the Holy One.
Who has ascended to heaven and come down?
Who has gathered the wind in his fists?
Who has wrapped up the waters in a garment?
Who has established all the ends of the earth?
What is his name, and what is his son’s name?
Surely you know! (Proverbs 30:1–4)
God knows who ascended to heaven and came down. He knows who controls the wind, water and made the Earth. He knows the Son, Jesus. We do too. So we know God is our only hope and help in times of trouble when all of life, including ourselves, seems out of control. If our feelings are going haywire, take a moment to do what the author did: Pray. Tell God what we are feeling; tell him we are worn out and weary. He won’t hear anything he didn’t already know. He invites us to do this for our benefit. We can do that in our hearts right now, and no one has to know. We are in good company. God wants us to share with him the good, the bad, and the ugly. Give full vent to God. Process with him. He won’t be shocked or surprised. In the New Testament, it calls this casting our cares on Him (1 Peter 5:7). So in the flash of emotion, let’s be honest and acknowledge that it is there; let’s gain some self-control and perspective, and let us pray. Let’s pray now as we close.
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