"Diligence in the Basics"
(Delivered Sunday, February 24, 2008 at Bethany Bible Church. Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version; copyright 1982, Thomas Nelson, Inc.)
This morning, I ask you to turn in your Bible with me to God's inspired book of practical wisdom—that is, to the Old Testament book of Proverbs.
In the last few verses of Proverbs 27, we find a very practical word of exhortation from King Solomon. And I'm asking you to give attention to it this morning; because I believe it teaches us an important principle that's vital to our spiritual life.
Proverbs 27:23-27 says;
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"Be diligent to know the state of your flocks . . ." Now; if you're like me, your first reaction to those words is to say, "I already know the state of my flocks! I don't have any!"—and to then move on to something else.
But this passage is meant to teach us something far more than just simply that we should go get some sheep and goats and start looking after them! It's meant to teach us the important principle of diligent stewardship with respect to the basic things of life. It's meant to call us to be attentive to, to prudently care for, and to be industrious and fruitful in our use of those fundamental things that God has given us to help us live life in this world.
The man through whom God gave these words of wisdom was King Solomon. At the time that he spoke them, he was the richest king on the earth. You would certainly think that he didn't have to worry about the condition of his flocks! But in his day, to attend to one's flocks of sheep and goats was to attend to the basic material securities of life. To have sheep and goats was to have a basic source of provisions. The whole economy of the world could go to ruin; and all the luxuries of the world could be lost. But if you had your flocks and herds, you'd survive. You could still feed your household, and clothe your children, and barter and trade with your neighbors.
It would simply be good policy then—no matter how wealthy you may have been in other ways—to prioritize diligent attention to such basic, material provisions in life. It was a matter of prudent stewardship to make sure that your flocks and herds are all present and accounted for, to make sure that each animal was healthy and well-fed, to make sure that they were all safe from loss through preditors or from theft.
The well-being and future security of a man's household literally depeneded on it.
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Look at the details of this passage with me. Consider, first, the basic exhortation Solomon gives in it: "Be diligent to know the state of your flocks, and attend to your herds . . ." (v. 23).
Solomon literally says, "Know the faces of your flock"; which means that a man should give careful attention to the appearance of his sheep. It may even suggest that he should strive to know his sheep so well that he can recognize the condition of each one by just a look in its face. And in the original language, a word is added that gives intensiveness and strength to the exhortation; making it a call to know them "very well", or "carefully", or—as the New King James has it—"diligently".
Similarly, he exhorts the reader—in the same attitude of diligence—to "attend to your herds". Literally, he is saying, "Set your inner-man with a view to the herds". This speaks of more than just a passing visual inspection. It suggests a frame of mind that prioritizes the care and protection of the herds.
And what must have struck the original reader as surprising is that Solomon is not saying, "Give careful attention to the riches you possess; or to the reputation you have; or to the power and influence you can exercise over others." He is not saying, "Don't worry about the little things. Concentrate on the big things." Instead, he is encouraging the reader, "Concentrate on the things that may appear to be little in comparison to the rest of your estate; but that are actually very consequential and basic to life. Certainly don't ignore the other things; but the reality is that you can get by without those other things. But you absolutely cannot live without your flocks and herds! Therefore, give the greatest possible diligence to the condition of your flocks and to your herds."
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This makes even more sense when we look, next, at the reason he gives for the exhortation : "For riches are not forever," he says, "nor does a crown endure to all generations" (v. 24).
In another place in the book of Proverbs, King Solomon says, "Do not overwork to be rich; because of your own understanding, cease! Will you set your eyes on that which is not? For riches certainly make themselves wings; they fly away like an eagle toward heaven" (Proverbs 23:4-5). We need to remember that, when Solomon spoke these words, he himself was the richest king in all the world! He had seen riches come and go many times. "Riches are not forever"; and so he warns the reader to diligently know the condition of that which isn't lost so easily—that is, to his flocks and herds.
What's more, he warns that "a crown"—a symbol of the royalty and power that a king possesses over men—doesn't endure (literally) "from generation to generation". Again, this would be something that Solomon would have known from personal experience. King Saul—the first king of the Jewish people—lost his crown to Solomon's own father David. He himself had watched as other kingdoms changed hands over and over. And Solomon's own son, Rehoboam, would end up losing his rule over ten of the twelve tribes of Israel during his own reign.
These are the things that the men of this world seek security from in life—riches and power. And yet, there are few things more fleeting and insecure than earthly riches and earthly power. Riches don't last. They are easily spent, or wasted, or stolen, or lost. And the crown has rarely proven secure in human history. A son that is set on the throne can easily squander his rule; or another ruler can easily take it away from him.
The wise man doesn't try to lay hold of these things in order to make his life happy and security. Instead, he focuses his primary efforts on something more basic to life. He is diligent to make sure of the condition of his flocks and herds.
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And finally, look at how Solomon emphasizes the results of following this exhortation : "When the hay is removed, and the tender grass shows itself, and the herbs of the mountains are gathered in, the lambs will provide your clothing, and the goats the price of a field; you shall have enough goats’ milk for your food, for the food of your household, and the nourishment of your maidservants" (vv. 25-27).
It may be that Solomon speaks of a time of harvest—when the hay is mowed from the fields; and the second growth of the crop begins to sprout; and the grain is all bundled and stored in the barn. Or, it may be that Solomon speaks of a time of leanness—when the field is bare; and when the grain is not yet ripe; and when the herbage of the hill country is already gone. In either case, it speaks of a season in life when a man has to wait on God for the produce of the earth. It speaks of a time when the luxuries of life are put on hold; and when future prosperity is uncertain.
But even at such times, the man who has maintained a proper, diligent attention to his flocks and herds will still be secure. He will know that he and his family will never be cold; because his lambs will provide clothing through their wool. He will know that he will never be without harvestable land; because he can purchase what is needed for the price of a goat. And since many people in the middle-eastern world made much of their food from goat's milk, he will know that he and his household will never be hungry or without industry. There will be pleanty of milk for food—both for his family and for his maids.
'Flocks and herds'—these symbolize the basic things that God gives for life on this earth. And so, Solomon—the wisest man on earth, speaking under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit—admonishes that a man should give diligent attention to the care of these basic things. "Be diligent to know the state of your flocks, and attend to your herds."
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Now; very few folks today have any sheep or goats to be concerned with. But an obvious application of this principle in our day is that we, too, should give careful attention to the basic matters that God has given us for the stustaining of life. We need to give diligent attention to God's basic provisions to us; because lean times will come. And when those lean times come—and if we have given proper care to the basics of life—we will not be undone by those lean times. We will be prepared and secure.
This is a principle that is true in everyday, practical life. But it's also a principle that is true in our spiritual lives. There are some basic provisions God has made for the care and nurture of our soul; and we ignore those provisions, and neglect the care of our soul, to our own eternal peril.
Jesus taught this in one of His parables. He said,
Now, here's a man that the people of this world could admire! He had given such diligent attention to his own material provision that he no longer had to worry about what he would eat. He could kick back and relax. He had it made.
But Jesus goes on to say,
The man, it turns out, was a fool. He had given diligent attetion to securing for himself the things of this world—things that he couldn't keep. And in the process, he had utterly neglected the care of his own soul. The time came when God required his soul of him; and he was unprepared. In the end, he lost everything.
That's why I believe our passage this morning has much more to say to us than simply that we should take care of our material provision. It's a call to give ongoing, persitant, diligent attention to the basic provisions God has made for our spiritual lives. If we cultivate this habit now, at the time when we can do so, then we'll be well-prepared spiritually when the lean times of life come upon us, and when the resources of this world fail.
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Let's walk through Solomon's basic principles once more—this time, thinking about their application to our spiritual lives.
First, think about the basic exhortation . . .
1. WE MUST GIVE DILIGENT ATTENTION TO GOD'S BASIC PROVISIONS FOR OUR SPIRITUAL LIFE (v. 23).
Solomon says, "Be diligent to know the state of your flocks, and attend to your herds . . ." And as we've seen, this is because God had given those flocks and herds to men as a basic provision of daily human life. A man may have other things from this world that can come and go; but the security and well-being of every other area of his material life depended on the security and safety of his flocks and herds.
Likewise, there are certain things God has given us that are basic to our spiritual lives. If we give all our attention to securing our physical well-being, and yet do nothing to care for our own eternal soul throught the means that God has provided for us, we will be like the foolish man in Jesus' parable. We will have placed all our diligent efforts in the wrong direction, and will end losing everything in the process!
When I consider this, my mind immediately thinks of what the apostle Peter wrote in 2 Peter 1:2-4. Peter writes;
Think of it! In Christ, God the Father has given us “all things that pertain to life and godliness”. We can be grateful that basic provision has already been made to advance our lives in Christ.
But even though the provision has been made, it's still up to us to make full and diligent use of that provision, and to build upon the foundation of faith God has laid for us. Peter goes on to say;
We must give "all diligence", Peter says, to add to the basic foundation of faith that God has provided. We must give diligent attention to our spiritual maturity and growth in Christ. We must, so to speak, know diligently the state of our "flocks" and attend to our "herds"; because such diligent care is basic to everything else.
And if we do so, Peter assures us of the reward;
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So then; what is the state of your flocks and herds? Have you given proper attention to the basic provisions God has made for your spiritual growth and life in Christ?
What about the most basic starting point of all? Have you made sure—absolutely sure—that you are in a relationship with God through faith in His Son Jesus Christ? Have you personally trusted Him as your Savior? If you haven't, that's the place to start! If you're not sure that you really have trusted Jesus Christ as your Savior, and that you have placed your faith on His sacrifice on the cross alone for your sins, then don't wait! Do it today!
And if you have trusted Him as your Savior, do you go on from there to cultivate and maintain a daily walk in fellowship with Him? Do you talk to Him about your problems and concerns in life? Are you getting to know Him better, and growing to love Him more? Is He your first love in life?
What about the provision God has made through His written word? Do you read daily from the Scriptures? Do you put in the necessary work that it takes to understand what the Scriptures say? Do you ask God to help you understand what His word is calling you to do? Do you seek daily to apply and obey the Lord's instructions in His word?
What about the provision He has made for the forgiveness of your daily sins? Do you acknowledge your sins to Him and confess them to Him? Do you daily renew your trust in the cross of Jesus as the payment for those sins? Do you forget what is behind, and reach forth to what is ahead? Do you seek His help continually to turn away from the sinful habits of the past? Do you seek to live a fully integrated life before Him—being a devoted follower of His who is the same everywhere you are: at home, at church, at work, and in private?
What about the provision He has made for you through the body of Christ? Do you give yourself whole-heartedly to His day once a week—prioritize the time of gathering together with other brothers and sisters who seek to follow Him and to learn from His word? Do you join in with them in sincere worship? Have you publically testified of your faith to the body through baptism? Do you eagerly join with the body of Christ in the celebration of the communion meal? Do you put your spiritual gifts to work in serving your brothers and sisters in Christ, as well as allowing yourself to be served by their spiritual gifts? Do you draw close enough to them to allow yourself to be accountable to them for growth? Do you join in the effort with the body of Christ to share His gospel with others?
In short, do you diligently give yourself over to building on the foundational basics that God has given you in Christ; adding to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love?
If ever there was an area of life that appropriately demanded "diligence", it would be to the care of your own soul. And so, above all else, give diligent attention to the basic provisions God has made for your spiritual life in Christ!
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Now; we can appreciate why it's important that we do so, when we next remember the reason for this exhortation . . .
2. BECAUSE THE THINGS OF THIS WORLD WILL FAIL (v. 24).
"For riches are not forever," as Solomon reminds us, "nor does a crown endure to all generations." If all our diligence has been extended toward securing material things for ourselves through the means of this world, and if we have neglected the basic provisions God has made for our soul in the process, we will lose everything.
Jesus has told another parable that touches on this. It's found at the end of His Sermon on The Mount. After He taught the people and gave them His instructions, He closed with these words:
Both men in Jesus' parable experienced the storms of life. The rains descended on both, the floods came upon both, and the winds blew and beat upon the houses of both. The times of trouble came to both—and they will come to you and me as well. But one man was wise. He heard Jesus' words and did what He said. He built his house on the rock—that is, on the provision God had made of the teaching of our Lord. And as a result, his house stood.
The other man was foolish. He heard the same teaching and did nothing with it. He built his house on the sand—on that which cannot last and that is sure to be swept away in times of trial. His house was demolished.
The lean times of life will come. The things of this world will fail. Riches will not last. The crown will not endure. And the only thing that will stand in the storms of life is that which is built diligently on the provisions God has made for our life before Him.
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And finally, consider the promised result; that . . .
3. THOSE BASIC PROVISIONS WILL SERVE US WELL WHEN THE TRIALS OF LIFE COME (vv. 25-27).
"When the hay is removed,” Solomon says; “and the tender grass shows itself, and the herbs of the mountains are gathered in, the lambs will provide your clothing, and the goats the price of a field; you shall have enough goats’ milk for your food, for the food of your household, and the nourishment of your maidservants" (vv. 25-27). And just as the man who looked diligently after his flocks and herds was secure in the lean times; so will we be when we properly build on the provisions God has made for our soul.
The apostle Paul was a living example of this. He was able to say that he had learned in whatever state he was in to be content:
The prosperous times didn't distract him; and the lean times didn't undo him. In all the whirl and swirl of life, he remained constant and secure. What was his secret? What was it that he “learned”? He tells us . . .
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"Diligence" is to be a way of life for the believer. We're certainly to be diligent in the practical business of everyday life. But we're to be particularly diligent in the things that are basic to our eternal life. We're to be diligent—above all else—in the care of our inner-man before God. "Keep your heart with all diligence", Solomon says elsewhere; "for out of it spring the issues of life" (Proverbs 4:23). We must give diligent attention to the basic provisions God has made for our spiritual life; because, difficult times in life will come!
And when they come, and if we have given proper attention and care to those spiritual basics, we will stand strong. They will have taught us to trust Christ; and we will prove—in real-life experience—that we really can do all things through His strength.
And so, dear brothers and sisters; "Be diligent to know the state of your flocks, and attend to your herds."
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