2–8 June 2019.

Proverbs 16 (click to read).

In the church we spend a lot of time talking about right behaviour. We all want people to do what is right, and to avoid doing wrong. In principle, that’s fine. It’s good that we have high expectations of ourselves and of others; it’s good that we want to promote right behaviour. But in practice, actually doing this can be very difficult.

The core problem is that people rarely ever think they are really doing something wrong. Society may say something is wrong, God may even tell us that a behaviour is sinful, but in the moment when we act we usually convince ourselves that what we are doing is really ok. We know we shouldn’t steal from others, but then we tell ourselves that the person we’re stealing from doesn’t need what we are taking, so that makes it ok. We know we shouldn’t lie about others, but then we tell ourselves that the person we’re criticizing is horrible to us and so they deserve having someone gossip about them. We know that Jesus tells us not to commit adultery, but then we tell ourselves that it’s only one time and no one will ever find out, so that makes it ok. And God even commands us not to kill, but then we tell ourselves that the people our government is executing are so-called “bad people”, so that makes it ok. Over and over again we see this same terrible problem: No one ever really thinks they are doing evil, because in the moment when they act they convince themselves that in this context, in this “special situation” their behaviour is perfectly fine.

The writer of Proverbs knows how dangerous this problem is. That’s why Proverbs 16:2 gives us a clear warning: “People may be pure in their own eyes, but the Lord examines their motives.” Sure, we can convince ourselves over and over again that we have good reasons to sin, we can justify and defend our actions to ourselves and even to others, but none of that makes our actions right. Even a so-called “necessary evil” is still evil. We may fool ourselves into thinking that our actions are fine, but we cannot fool God.

Because our hearts are so open to this temptation, and because we are so willing to fool ourselves, it is important that we have good friends who can keep us honest. We often think that a good friend is someone who will always defend us regardless of the right or wrong things we do. But that’s not true. The best friend we can have is the one who speaks to us honestly and gently and tells us when we are doing wrong, even when we have convinced ourselves we are right. I hope we can all have a friend like that. And I hope we can be that honest friend for those around us.

Pastor Stephen Lakkis