I suppose there could be a healthy debate about which book of the Bible is the most practical. For example, it might be said that Romans is the most practical because there is nothing more practical and important than salvation from sin. Another might choose Genesis as the foundation of the rest of the Bible. Or someone could say that since we are living in the last days, Revelation is the most practical. And then people simply have their favorite books.
Taken from the standpoint of day-to-day life and the attacks upon it by the sins of society, some would insist that Proverbs must be the most practical of all the books of the Bible. Solomon seems to go from one temptation to another in successive verses. He briefly exposes one sin and immediately jumps upon another. “An hypocrite with his mouth destroyeth his neighbour,” introducing us to the common sin of hypocrisy. And then, still speaking of those two men he says, “He that is void of wisdom despiseth his neighbour.”
I am not trying to be thorough in these devotionals. After all, this is Wednesday night and most of us are weary from three days of hard work or trips to the hospital. But the Lord is putting these practical subjects before us, so I feel obligated to address them, even if it is only lightly. But maybe I shouldn’t use the word “devotional,” because this isn’t particularly light, uplifting material. Solomon is meddling once again – “He that is void of wisdom despiseth his neighbour.”
Who is my neighbor?
Don’t we have neighbors and then other neighbors – neighbors of different degrees? Judy and I live in a community where people live so close to us we can hear them talking through the walls of our house. And we know our closest neighbors – Andy and Tim on one side and the Gray family on the other – Matt, Leslie, David and Abigail. We know the woman who lives immediately behind us – Erica and her son Jonas. But we aren’t as close to Erica as we are to the Grays or Andersons. And beyond Erica, are those people really our neighbors? What does the Bible teach us about neighbors?
To answer that question Christ gave us the parable of the good Samaritan. But it speaks more about us as neighbors than the people next to us. ‘Which now of these three (the priest, the Levite and the Samaritan) was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves?” What defines a neighbor or a neighborhood? Proximity? Socio-economics? Language? Political agreemen? In this case, it had nothing to do with racial relations, similar religions, clothing styles or money. The neighborly relationship was created by the act of mercy which the despised Samaritan bestowed upon the injured Jew.
Who is my neighbor? It would have to include the ultra-Roman Catholic who lives two doors down, and the single mother on the corner with the Down’s syndrom child. The troublesome, noisy teenager who used to live across the street, and the grumpy man who walks his dog down the street. I think Christ would include the man with the Sikh religion and his turban, who I see at the gym every now and then. Would it be incorrect to say that anyone living in Post Falls is my neighbor in some fashion? They all have needs, and in Christ I have the solution to their needs. Doesn’t Solomon say that if I despise them because they have needs I am void of understanding?
Why are so many of our neighbors despised by us or other neighbors?
Is it because that Sikh who comes to the gym, never smiles at anyone, and when he gets on the stationary cycle he closes his eyes and mumbles his prayers or mantra or whatever it is? The truth is, at 6 am., most of the people at the gym never speak to anyone else, no matter what they have on their heads. What makes a Muslim less a neighbor than a Mormon, a Jehovah’s Witness or a grumpy old atheist? Despite the fear of being labeled a liberal – I don’t think we should we despise our neighbor because his skin is a shade darker than ours. As far as that goes, “he that is void of wisdom despiseth” his liberal neighbor.
Why did the Jews and Samaritans despise one another? The problems were so rooted in history that for the most part it had been forgotten. Weren’t they trained from birth to despise their neighbors? On the other hand, don’t most children accept their neighbors without prejudice until they are taught prejudice?
Solomon says that the man who despiseth his neighbor void of wisdom. Why is that so?
What is the opposite of “void of wisdom”? Let’s be kind and simply say, that person is “foolish.” “The man who despises his neighbor is a fool.” Why is he foolish who despiseth his neighbor?
Because at our roots there are more similarities between neighbors than there are differences. As I said the other day, the number of bones in most human beings is the same. Only what is placed upon those bones make us look different. And the color of the blood in each of us is the same, even though the blood type may vary. And more importantly, the heart in every person is essentially the same – almost interchangeable. And every heart is corrupt, sinful and depraved in the sight of God. The omniscient God doesn’t look at the heart of the Samaritan and see something radically different from the heart of the Jew or the white, anglo-saxon American. Only a foolish person can look at two new born children and say they are spiritually different.
If it is not foolish for US to despise our neighbor, why do we think he is foolish if HE despises us? I suppose Jesus’ parable might have lost some of its impact, but what if the rolls were reversed? What if it had been a Samaritan who had been robbed and nearly beaten to death? It might not matter to the lesson, who saw him and passed by. But what if it was a Jewish traveler who took a wounded Samaritan and saved his life? Why were you born in the United States of America and not in Somalia or Iraq? The grace of God? If you were a Christian in Saudi Arabia, you would probably be despised by your neighbors. Why were you raised in a “Christian” country and not a Muslim or Hindu country? The grace of God? Aren’t we as “void of wisdom” when we despise that Hindu or Sikh, just as he would be if he hated us? Oh, I am not saying that we should love his sin or his heresy. But Solomon doesn’t mention anything about the theological position of this neighbor of ours. He is talking about the man per se.
Why is the man who despiseth his neighbor void of wisdom? Perhaps it is because he thinks he knows the mind of God, when that is an impossibility. Can anyone be sure that Mormon is not one of God’s elect, and he will never be converted to Christ? Assuming that man is chosen by God to salvation, can we be sure that he is not already loved by God? Can any Christian afford to despise someone whom God loves? Shimei and many others hated David, the chosen of God. Shemei was clearly void of wisdom. But in that case it was obvious that David was a saint of God, so Shimei’s foolishness was vivid. Is there no foolishness involved when we are ignorant of God’s will and purpose?
Do we have any Biblical commands to despise our neighbors? Again, I’m not talking about our neighbor’s sins – what about our neighbors themselves. Keep in mind that we were once obnoxious sinners, who deserved to be hated by both God and man. When we despise that foolish sinner, we are actually despising a shadow of ourselves. “Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But (Christ says) unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven.” If Jehovah had despised us when we were in our sins, where would we be?
I am sure that if we wanted to develop a full-scale sermon out of this theme, we could find other arguments highlighting the foolishness of despising our neighbors. But in closing, I want to consider briefly one more point. Let’s return to the word “wisdom.” . “He that is void of wisdom despiseth his neighbour.” I’m not sure that you’d agree with my logic, and I’m not absolutely sure that even I fully agree. But in the Book of Proverbs, isn’t “wisdom” almost synonymous with God’s gracious salvation? Could the Holy Spirit actually be saying, that it is the unsaved man who “despiseth his neighbor?” He who possesses God’s wisdom does not despise his neighbor. Should despising our neighbor be one of the characteristics of a true child of God? The Pharisee was quick to despise others, but I’m not sure that we can say the same thing for the Christian.