SIMPLIFY – Session 3, Strengthen Your Relationships, Book of Proverbs

Session 3: Strengthen Your Relationships, Conversations that Simplify Lifesimplify logo

Wise people think before they act; fools don’t — and even brag about their foolishness. Proverbs 13:16

I. THE EXTERNALS MATTER TOO
For the past three weeks, we’ve been talking about how to simplify our lives: scheduling, finances and work.   Today, we’ll continue our series on that subject—by looking at how to simplify our relational world. Yes, we can…1. Simplify our S
chedules and

2. Simplify our Finances and get our Working World Aligned . But if we don’t simultaneously focus on the externals—specifically, on streamlining our interactions with others—all that inner-world work will fail to satisfy.

Enter this week’s topic: 3. Strengthening our Relationships, by engaging in conversations that simplify life. Before we dive in, let’s pray.

OPENING PRAYER –
[Lord, I pray for your presence to be felt, for his power to be known, and for his provision to be great, as the church wrestles with how to clean up our relational world.  Amen.]

II. TALK TO A FOOL
I’d like to begin by looking at a few proverbs. You all know the book of Proverbs, right? This is a collection of sayings about how to live wisely, written mostly by King Solomon, called the “wisest man” to ever live. He knows what he’s talking about, I think you’d agree.

But instead of reviewing these proverbs in a traditional fashion, today I’d like to offer a few of them in reverse.  Anti -Proverbs, if you will.

Such as this one:

“In your time of trouble, the Lord is nowhere to be found. He’ll always allow your foot to be snared.”

Or how about this one:

“When you have resources that could help someone else, keep them to yourself. Don’t share your stuff. Sharing stuff is bad.”

Or how about:

“Every chance you get, speak perversely. Let corrupt talk flow freely from your lips.”

And this one:

“Love stirs up conflict, but a good dose of hatred covers over all wrongs.”

Now that we’re on a roll, let’s keep going:

Whoever conceals hatred with lying lips and spreads slander is a genius!

The lack of integrity of fools guides them, and the faithful are destroyed by their uprightness.

Only unrighteous people will be rescued from trouble; the trouble will fall on the righteous instead.

A gossip is a lovely person. Try to be untrustworthy at every turn.

Anxiety is great for the heart! Worry as much as you can.

Don’t bother with choosing your friends carefully. A companion of fools has a blast!

Stay close to fools. You may not find knowledge on their lips, but what they say will never fail to entertain.

An anxious heart is what you’re striving for, and envy is your friend forever.

A hot-tempered person is a joy to be around; the one who is patient is a bore.

Who needs life-giving correction? Hang out with people who will affirm your every wrong move.

A cheerful heart is annoying as all get-out, and a crushed spirit is just part of the deal.

When you’re wronged, be sure to seek revenge. Say, “I’ll pay you back for this wrong!”

To do what is right is no fun at all. Who cares what the Lord thinks, anyway?

Always associate with people who are easily angered, so that you can learn their ways and get yourself ensnared.

Speak often to fools. Use coarse language, just like they do.

Pay everyone back for what they do to you.

I could keep going, but I think you get the point. These “reverse words of wisdom” are ridiculous, aren’t they? They’re anything but wise:

         – I mean, we’d never teach our children to adopt one of these proverbs as a life verse, would we? “Little Johnny, I think the perfect life verse for you is Anti-Proverbs 99:6. It says, ‘Gravitate toward the wicked, so that your heart can plot violence alongside them, and so your lips can talk about making trouble.’ There you go, Little Johnny. That wisdom ought to serve you well, all the days of your life.” Of course we wouldn’t do that.


– We’d never buy a T-shirt with one of these “proverbs” emblazoned on the back: “Untrustworthy at every turn!”


– We wouldn’t want one of these adages engraved on our tombstones, would we? “Anxiety is great for the heart. You see where it got me!”


– We’d never knowingly subscribe to this list of craziness, and yet, sometimes . . . sometimes we find ourselves living as if we actually believe they’re true.


– We don’t want to live perpetually plagued by fear . . . and yet, aren’t there times when anxiety sticks closer than a brother?


– We don’t want to associate with fools . . . and yet, don’t we sometimes stick with a toxic relationship far too long and get dragged through the muck and mire as a result?


– We don’t want to be vengeful . . . and yet, haven’t we all thought of the perfect comeback to an enemy’s snide remark, a day or two after the exchange? “Argh! Why couldn’t I have come up with that in the heat of the moment? I really could have put him in his place!”

– But back to my point: We don’t want to live like fools, even as we often allow foolishness to direct our steps. And if there is one area where foolishness seems to run rampant, it’s in our relationships.

        – We say foolish things. We do foolish things. We elbow right past wisdom to get our own way. Foolishness! We know it’s foolishness. But in the heat of the moment, it somehow looks appealing to us.

III. PROVERBS TO LIVE BY

Well, as you’d expect, the Bible contains beautiful and timely instruction for us, if only we’ll choose to be teachable.

Do you want to be teachable today, as it relates to simplifying your relationships?
I definitely do. May we be found teachable today.
Earlier, we looked at a few anti-proverbs. Now let’s look at some real words of wisdom regarding how to get along well with others. The proverbs I’m going to read are all drawn from The New Living Translation:

Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline. Proverbs 1:7

Follow the steps of good men instead, and stay on the paths of the righteous. Proverbs 2:20-22

Never let loyalty and kindness leave you! Proverbs 3:3-4

Don’t pick a fight without reason, when no one has done you harm. Proverbs 3:30

Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life. Avoid all perverse talk; stay away from corrupt speech. Proverbs 4:23-24

The mouth of the godly person gives wise advice, but the tongue that deceives will be cut off. Proverbs 10:31

The godly are directed by honesty; the wicked fall beneath their load of sin. Proverbs 11:5

With their words, the godless destroy their friends, but knowledge will rescue the righteous. Proverbs 11:9

Your kindness will reward you, but your cruelty will destroy you. Proverbs 11:17

Wise words will win you a good meal, but treacherous people have an appetite for violence. Proverbs 13:2

A mean person gets paid back in meanness, a gracious person in grace.               Proverbs 14:14

People with understanding control their anger; a hot temper shows great foolishness. Proverbs 14:29

A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare.                     Proverbs 15:1

A hot-tempered person starts fights; a cool-tempered person stops them.          Proverbs 15:18

Love prospers when a fault is forgiven, but dwelling on it separates close friends. Proverbs 17:9

Don’t say, “I will get even for this wrong.”  Wait for the Lord to handle the matter. Proverbs 20:22

IV. TAKEAWAY 1:  WISDOM’S THREE THEMES

Friends, I’ve just given you a three-minute litany of wisdom, and yet we’ve barely even scratched the surface. The Bible in general, and the book of Proverbs specifically, contains a stockpile of helpful insights for getting along well with others.

Can you imagine what would happen in our rage-fueled world if even a portion of those who say they follow Christ started befriending wisdom throughout their days? Blows the mind, doesn’t it?

In the verses I just read for you, you may have noticed a few themes.

1. Living wisely—especially in relation to other people—demands that we Trust God. That’s the first theme.  We used this same verse last week…

Proverbs 3:5-6 – Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.

Theme number two: 2. That we Care for Others.

Your kindness will reward you, but your cruelty will destroy you. Proverbs 11:17


And here’s the third theme: 3. Live as a Person of Peace.

Proverbs 1:33 But all who listen to me will live in peace, untroubled by fear of harm.

Proverbs 14:30 A peaceful heart leads to a healthy body; jealousy is like cancer in the bones.
Trust God. Care for others. Live as a person of peace.
Sounds simple, right?
It’s not simple, as you probably already know. But once you choose to live by these themes, oh, how simplified your life can get.  How great our relationships can be!

V. TAKEAWAY 2: LIVING WISDOM’S THREE THEMES

What I’d like to do with the time that remains today is to work through three common relationship scenarios, keeping our trio of themes in mind. How do we actually live out the three themes we find in the wisdom literature of Scripture?

Let’s look at the first scenario: I want to be an Authentic   The Thought in this scenario is, I want to be a great friend, but the truth is too hard to admit.

Jack and Jill have been dating for quite some time, and now there’s talk of marriage. Jack is ready to propose, and Jill is ready to say yes—but Jack is harboring a secret. Jill is totally unaware that Jack has a rampant spending addiction. He sneaks away to buy things without telling her, he hoards items on the top shelf of his closet, and he secretly uses them when Jill is not around.

He wants to let Jill in on this troubling tendency, but he doesn’t know how to tell her. What will she think? How will she respond? More importantly, will she still want to be in a relationship with him?

We’ve all been in Jack’s shoes, haven’t we? Maybe not with spending, but with something. We hide the fact that we’re overeating, or overdrinking, or oversmoking, or overcommitting. We hide our true feelings, our true beliefs, our true fears. We hide the reality about our finances or our spiritual confusion and doubts; or our job satisfaction; or our physical pain—all because we’re afraid of what the people who love us will think, or what they will say, or what they will do.

Let’s revisit our three themes, shall we?
First:  Trust God.  Before you spend another moment wracked by fear, go to God in prayer. Trust him to hear you, to see your situation, and to guide you in your next steps. Say, “Heavenly Father, you know the pain I’m carrying these days, and you know how it can be relieved. I want to lay down this heavy burden and pick up your light burden instead. Will you help me? Will you take this burden from me and give me your peace instead?”

Second: Care for others as you take the steps God has asked you to take. Jack needs to consider Jill’s feelings. Consider her needs before your own. Be true to your word. Be kind.  Keep this proverb on your mind and heart:

“Never let loyalty and kindness leave you! Tie them around your neck as a reminder. Write them deep within your heart.” Proverbs 3:3

Never let loyalty and kindness leave you. . . . Isn’t that a great relational goal?

Third: Live as a Person of Peace that will exist once you’ve been courageous enough to confess the hard truth.  Once Jack is an authentic person before Jill he will be a person of peace. 

Let’s look at a second scenario: This is about Handling Toxic  Relationships.  The thought here in this scenario is… As much as I hate to admit it, a key relationship of mine has become toxic.

Mark and Paul have been friends for years. They used to work together and share similar recreational interests—golf, skiing, boating, rock climbing. Their wives are friends, and their kids are the same ages. Their families have even vacationed together over the years.

But now Mark senses tension in the relationship. He has been growing deeper in his intimacy level with Christ and as a result has changed some of his ways. The rough language and off-color jokes have faded away, as has his propensity to drink a little too much on the golf course. Without really trying to, he has become more invested in his relationship with his wife. He listens better when she wants to talk. He’s more tuned in to how to help relieve her stress when her job and home responsibilities collide. He’s a more responsible employee, now that he’s realized that conscientious work affords him greater flexibility to work from home and not travel as much.

He has tried to talk to Paul about some of these changes—even encouraging him to consider making the same changes in his life. But he gets the brush-off. Paul isn’t at all interested. Mark knows that continuing to spend so much of his discretionary time with a guy who isn’t as committed to spiritual things, who struggles to practice kindness with his wife, who drinks too much and curses like a sailor when someone upsets him, isn’t a great idea.

But what’s he supposed to say? How do you undo a decade of close friendship, now that the friendship isn’t as close anymore? This is tough stuff, wouldn’t you agree? To have to put the brakes on a key friendship . . . to say good-bye to someone you love? Not easy, ever.

Before I address this scenario, I want to make sure we’re clear on something: Scripture is full of exhortations to look outside our holy huddles and enfold in community those who are far from Christ. So I’m not suggesting we should surround ourselves only with shiny, happy people who live for Jesus every minute of the day. There is a definite place in our lives for engaging with those who don’t believe in God, those who are angry with the church, those who curse like sailors and drink too much and even are mean to their wives. These people need the light of Jesus, don’t you think? When we’re living in darkness, we need the light.

But I am saying that we cannot deny the scores of sayings in God’s Word about being careful in selecting the people we yoke ourselves to. In other words, when you’re picking your inner circle—the people you do life with, the people to whom you look for spiritual guidance and encouragement and care—be very careful about those choices.

Okay back to Mark and Paul

First: Trust God. Pray for wisdom. Pray for insight. Scour the Scriptures for guidance. Keep an ear open heaven’s way. Lay out the entire situation before God, and then listen, listen, listen for cues. Does God want you to say something to the other person? Does he urgently want you to remove yourself from the situation? Does he want you to do nothing? Ask him for direction, and then wait for his response. Don’t take a single step he doesn’t explicitly direct you to take.

Second: Care for others. Sometimes the most caring thing we can do for another person is to say, “It looks like we’re headed in different directions in life, and while I wish you well along the path you’re choosing to take, I’ve got to take a different path.”

Once God gives you marching orders, follow them to the letter. But be sure to follow them with kindness at hand. We’re told in the Bible to speak truth, but we’re told very clearly to do so in love.

Third: Live as a person of peace. If God directs you to sever ties with a friend, choose to speak well of that person when questions arise. And they always seem to arise! You might confide in a spouse or accountability partner the truth of the situation; but, for the most part, decide in advance how you will characterize the separation, and then stick to your guns when asked.

All right, a third scenario and then we’re done. This one is perhaps the toughest of the bunch its about Tough Forgiveness  the THOUGHT  in this scenario is, I’m not sure how to get past the fact that I’ve been horribly wronged.  How can I forgive the horrible treatment?

On the morning of October 2, 2006, a thirty-two-year-old truck driver, named Charlie Roberts, entered a tiny, one-room schoolhouse in the Amish community of Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania. He was heavily armed, and so his demand that the men and boys leave immediately was followed without question. Mr. Roberts then began tying up the women and girls and told them to stand in line in front of the blackboard. One by one, he shot them in the head, execution-style. By the time the police were able to storm the small building and take control of the situation, four girls, ages six to thirteen, had been killed, along with the gunman, who had turned his gun on himself. Later, a fifth young girl also died, and five other girls were injured by gunshots. They would survive the attack, but not without lasting effects. The youngest, and also the most severely injured, of the survivors, was Rosanna King, age six at the time of the incident. Her wounds would leave her wheelchair-bound, unable to walk or talk ever again.

We’d all agree that this was a tragedy. Of course we would. And yet the community that had been wronged decided not to let the story end there. As was well publicized in the weeks and months following the shooting, men, women, and children from Nickel Mines made a point of forgiving Mr. Roberts for his wrongdoing. They embraced the parents of the gunman, Chuck and Terri Roberts, who were horrified by their son’s actions that day. Terri Roberts, after being so well loved by the family of young Rosanna King, over time became close friends with Rosanna, showing up at the little girl’s house every single week, to read Bible stories to her, sing to her, and read beloved children’s books aloud, such as Anne of Green Gables.

Was it a tragedy? Yes. But was it also a triumph? Yes. It was a triumph for the ways of Christ.

But then the moment we are wronged, instead of reflexively choosing grace and forgiveness, we rush down the path paved by swift justice: “Somebody’s got to pay!”

Let’s revisit wisdom’s words on this front, shall we?

Don’t say, “I will get even for this wrong.”  Wait for the Lord to handle the matter. Proverbs 20:22

People with understanding control their anger; a hot temper shows great foolishness. Proverbs 14:29

Love prospers when a fault is forgiven, but dwelling on it separates close friends. Proverbs 17:9

Your kindness will reward you, but your cruelty will destroy you. Proverbs 11:17

In a community our size, I guarantee there are people in this room who can relate. They too have been badly hurt. They have been profoundly, deeply wronged.

For others, maybe the wrongdoing didn’t cut quite as deep, but still it left a mark. A physical mark. An emotional mark. A financial mark. A spiritual mark.

I want to prepare us for what we’ll find as we revisit our themes once more, this time related to the subject of what to do when we’re wronged.

What does it look like to trust God, to care for others, and to be a person of peace when we’ve been wronged? Regardless of the level of pain caused by the wrongdoing, Jesus’ advice to us is clear: forgive.

Jesus was deeply wronged. The wrong done to him was deeper than any wrong you and I will ever know. And yet his response to his wrongdoers was quick and genuine: He chose from his heart to forgive.

First: Trust God. Pray for wisdom. Pray for His strength to forgive.  Pray for God’s heart.

Second: Care for Others. Embrace those who need to be forgiven.  Forgive whether they accept it or not. 

Third: Live as a Person of Peace. Amish people made a point of forgiving Mr. Roberts and embracing his parents.

We’re learning to simplify our lives, remember? As it relates to relationships in general, and to being wronged in particular, there is no clearer path to stress-free relational simplicity than forgiveness— quick, sincere, and full forgiveness.

This third scenario is a powerful story of forgiveness extended by the Amish families That dramatic act of mercy reminds me that because I have been forgiven much, I can forgive much when I’ve been wronged. No matter the wrong. No matter the pain. Forgiveness can be our course.

Impact we have to become people who live out WISDOM’S THEMES
This week, we have an opportunity. In each of our relationships, we can choose to practice the three themes we’ve looked at today—trusting God, caring for others, and living as people of peace—or we can choose instead to go our own way.

Friends, as people talk with us this week, let’s ensure they don’t talk to a fool. Deal? Let’s let wisdom have its way in our lives, in our hearts, in our minds, in our speech.