Sermon by Pastor Steven R. Key
Randolph Protestant Reformed Church
229 Hammond St.
Randolph, Wisconsin 53956
Scripture: Proverbs 20
Text: Proverbs 20:7: "The just man walketh in his integrity: his children are blessed after him."
My theme, as we consider together Proverbs 20:7, is A RIGHTEOUS PROMISE KEEPER. I take that theme without apology. I am well aware that there is an organization in our day that goes by the name Promise Keepers. As I intend to show from this text, that organization's conception of a promise keeper is something far different from that set forth in this text. But Proverbs 20:7 does indeed speak of a promise keeper. That is exactly what it refers to by this reference to a man who walks in his integrity. It defines that promise keeper very particularly. And it speaks of a rich blessing to the husband and father who does walk in integrity.
The instruction of this text is for men, first of all. But not exclusively for men. Scripture recognizes the truth that women, and particularly wives, need to hear this same instruction, in order that they might give the proper encouragement and spiritual impetus to their husbands. Adam, after all, was not given another man with whom he could hold hands and be encouraged in his daily calling. God gave him a woman, as the helper perfectly fitting for his needs. God knew exactly what Adam needed. And so a Christian husband and father needs above all else a wife who is faithful to God's Word, and who will encourage her husband also in a walk of spiritual honesty and godliness.
But God also has formed us Christians as a body, the body of Christ. In the unity of faith we walk together on the pathway to heaven. As one body we fight the battle of faith, striving together for the faith of the gospel, according to Philippians 1:27. We are called always to admonish and encourage one another, to edify one another. So even though the text that we consider this morning is addressed particularly to men, the whole church must hear this instruction and understand the importance of being spiritually upright and honest. And as we focus our attention upon Bible truth as it applies to marriage and the family, this text comes to us with very pertinent instruction, extremely important instruction in this day when spiritual unfaithfulness is the norm, rather than the exception. So I call your attention this morning to:
I. WHO HE IS
II. HIS INTEGRITY
III. THE FRUITS OF HIS FAITHFULNESS
IN THE FIRST PLACE WE SEE THAT THIS MAN IS NOTED AS A JUST MAN.
And let us understand, that refers to a man who is just in the sight of God. This text does not speak of a man who is righteous only in his own conceit. It doesn't speak of a Pharisee. Such men are no more righteous, than a carved wooden statue is a real man. For Jesus said in Matthew 5:20, "Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven." The just man is one who truly measures up to the perfect standard of the righteous God. And the only man who does that is the man who by faith is one with Christ. That first of all.
The only possible promise keeper, to use that term, is the man who is one with Christ by faith. And, let us be reminded, it is by faith alone that we are one with Christ. The one who will add to faith, the one who will claim righteousness by works, is one who follows an idol, not the Christ of the Scriptures. For the Christ of the Scriptures says through His Apostle in Romans 3:20: "Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin." And so, after explaining that, Paul writes, "Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law."
It ought immediately be a warning sign to us of the Reformed faith, when the organization that goes by the name Promise Keepers receives with open arms those who teach salvation by works, and counts them as one. Not only have Roman Catholics found that organization acceptable, and vice versa, but even leaders in Mormon circles have given their stamp of approval to the Promise Keepers movement. One of the well-publicized cries of the leaders of the Promise Keepers organization is this: "Promise Keepers doesn't care if you're Catholic"¾and, let it be noted, I am catholic, i.e., a member of the one universally gathered church of every nation, tribe and race. But they refer to Roman Catholics. "Promise Keepers doesn't care if you're Catholic, Baptist, Pentecostal. Do you love Jesus; are you born of the Spirit of God?" Under that premise, they would bring together men from all religious backgrounds and break down not only racial but denominational barriers.
But let's examine this a moment. You can ask a man, "Do you love Jesus?" But Who is Jesus to him? Is he a Jesus of his own imagination? Is he a Jesus whose gifts can be earned by us? If you examine the teachings of Roman Catholicism, and especially as they clarified their teachings after the great Reformation with their decrees from the Council of Trent, there is only one possible conclusion that can be drawn. They have no gospel. They do not serve the Jesus in Whom alone is salvation. Their Jesus is no more real than the images with which they adorn their church buildings and their homes. And I do not make these very serious charges simply to attack Roman Catholics. But I call these things to your attention in order that you might realize that those who are ensnared in the bondage of Roman Catholicism need the gospel. They need to be the objects of our Christian witness. They need to be shown the salvation that is in Christ alone, through faith in His name. They teach a salvation by works. They reject the Scriptures as the sole authority for doctrine and life.
I would have you understand, it was no light thing that the Reformers declared the Roman Catholic Church a false church. It was a very heart-wrenching move for the Reformers, Luther and Calvin for example, to have to separate from the church of their upbringing. That was not easy. That separation, in fact, made them marked men. But they could do none else when they evaluated things in the light of God's Holy Word. Nor can we do anything else than make the same judgment, not only of Roman Catholicism, but of those apostate Protestants who have returned to the heresies of Rome, and built themselves images of their own man-made gods.
The Scriptures make clear that righteousness comes not by outward religious practices and superstitions. The just are not defined by their religious creed. The just are not defined by their outward religious practices. A man does not become just by going to church, and by partaking of the Eucharist or the Lord's Supper, or by doing the mass. The just shall live by faith. And that faith is not only the bond which unites us to Christ, the bond established by God alone; but that faith is also the activity whereby we lay hold of Christ and all His benefits, as He reveals Himself to us in the gospel.
Now, the Scripture certainly tells us more about the identity of a just man. Not only is the just man one who is free from guilt and declared by God as innocent because of the perfect satisfaction of Christ and the faith connection to Christ. But the just man is one in whom is seen the life of Christ. You see, to be righteous is to have God declare of you that you are in perfect conformity to His Word. I say again, the only hope of that righteousness is that we are in Christ by faith. Christ alone fulfilled God's law perfectly. He did so on behalf of all those for whom He died. When I am justified, I confess that even though my conscience accuses me and my flesh repeatedly fails to keep all the commandments of God, nevertheless, God grants and imputes to me the righteousness of Christ. He does that of grace. But He does that in such a way that He looks at me as if I never had committed, nor ever even had any sin. He declares me innocent, as if I personally had fully accomplished all that obedience which Christ has accomplished for me.
But it stands to reason, as Scripture clearly teaches, if we are one with Christ and righteous before God, we also demonstrate that righteousness in some measure. Chiefly, the just man lives in subjection to the Word of God. That is demonstrated in several passages. Whether you look at Psalm 64:9,10, where the righteous are described as those meditating upon the works of God and considering His doings as revealed in Scripture; or whether you look at Psalm 1, where the delight of the just man is in the law of the Lord and in His law does he meditate day and night; or whether you look at Hosea 14:9, where the righteous man knows the Lord's ways and walks in them, always that just man seeks to live in subjection to the Word of God.
The chief characteristic of the just man, from the viewpoint of how he is seen in the world and by his own conscience, is this: He is a lover of God and of His Word. The just man never scorns the Word of God. He hates the lie, but rejoices in the truth. That is the man of whom Solomon writes in the words of this text. There are other characteristics of this man, as I intend to point out presently. But the fact that he is a just man means, first of all, that he has been declared by God "not guilty" in the promised Messiah, and the Spirit has written in his heart a desire for God and for His Word.
BUT IN THE SECOND PLACE, WHEN WE SPEAK OF THE IDENTITY OF THIS MAN WE MUST NOT FAIL TO OVERLOOK THE FACT THAT THIS TEXT SPEAKS PARTICULARLY OF THE MAN WHO IS A HUSBAND AND FATHER.
That is evident from the fact that this man has children. Solomon speaks of a Godly husband and father. He speaks of a just man who stands before God with a specific calling, clearly spelled out in the Bible. He speaks of a man who stands before God at various times in his life and makes promises. He comes to a time in his life when together with a God-fearing woman, they two stand before God and become one. And this just man promises before God and other witnesses that he will take this woman to be his wife, to love her faithfully, never to forsake her. This just man promises before the face of God that he will maintain this woman as a faithful and pious husband is bound to do to his lawful wife, that he will live in holiness with her, keeping faith and truth to her in all things according to the holy gospel. He promises to have and to hold her as his wife, even through sickness and poverty, if God's will leads that way, until death parts them. That he promises before God.
This same just man, having children, presents those children before God in order that they may receive the sign of the covenant. In obedience to the Scripture, from our New Testament perspective, this just man presents his children for infant baptism. There also he makes a promise before God. In summary, he promises before God that he will strive with all his heart to walk faithful to his calling as a father. And again, that calling is clearly spelled out in the Bible. Repeatedly in the Old Testament, emphasis is given to the calling of fathers in Israel to teach diligently to their children all the things of God. To teach their children from morning until evening is the calling of covenant fathers.
To teach them by word of mouth and by example is the calling of this just man toward his children. And involved in that teaching is also the exercise of discipline. We mustn't forget that. In the previous chapter, Proverbs 19:18, Solomon writes: "Chasten thy son while there is hope, and let not thy soul spare for his crying." Later he writes (Proverbs 22:15): "Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him." Positively, we are taught in Proverbs 29:15ff, "The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame....Correct thy son, and he shall give thee rest; yea, he shall give delight unto thy soul." So necessary is that discipline, that we are told in Proverbs 13:24, "He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes." Always the father must be careful in his discipline, that he be not consumed with unrighteous anger. We are warned in Colossians 3:21 not to provoke our children to anger, lest they be discouraged. But discipline and faithful instruction belong to the calling of the father.
And when we are called as fathers to give faithful instruction, we are reminded of that which we read in Ephesians 6:4, "And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord." We are called to nurture and instruct our children in the truth of the Scriptures, nothing less. And recognizing that calling, we stand before God and the congregation when we present our children for baptism, and we say, "Yes, Lord, I promise to the utmost of my power, to commit myself to the Godly instruction of these children Thou hast entrusted to my care, teaching them or helping or causing them to be instructed in the aforesaid doctrine, that is, the truth of the Old and New Testaments as taught here in this Christian Church. Such are the promises made by the just man, who is a husband and father in the church of Jesus Christ.
TO WALK WITH INTEGRITY MEANS, VERY SIMPLY, TO WALK IN OBEDIENCE TO THE HOLY SCRIPTURES.
There is no question but that the calling of this text is urgently necessary in our day. I speak to the church. This isn't merely a moral proverb to be applied to the ungodly. This is applied very specifically to the church. And the church of our day is filled with corruption, and with men who either fail or refuse to walk in integrity before the Word of God. From that point of view we understand very well why the Promise Keepers organization has risen and become exceeding popular. From this point of view we also understand why the Church of the Latter Day Saints (the Mormons) is the fastest growing church in the world. Both organizations have seized upon the tremendous void in the Christian church when it comes to Godly family life. Both emphasize a return to the strong, family structure, in which men take their lawful place as the head of the home. And both of those organizations testify to the failure of the church to preach the gospel with application to the family and to exercise Christian discipline toward those who walk in disobedience to their biblical calling.
The Promise Keepers organization, no matter how one evaluates it, is the condemnation of the broader church world today for their failure to maintain sound biblical instruction concerning the family. The church needs desperately to be called to a return to faithfulness in preaching the gospel, and teaching the children on up the truth of the gospel, also with application to daily living. And the church needs to be called to a return to faithfully maintaining the truth of Scripture by the exercise of Christian discipline toward those who walk contrary to their biblical calling. You and I must live in accordance with the gospel! Our religion must be more than a Sunday, feel-good religion. It must involve more than saying, I love Jesus. It must involve more than saying, I love the truth. Our religion must involve living out of the Scriptures, with integrity.
The word integrity speaks literally of being sound, complete. With reference to our walk, therefore, it speaks of adhering steadfastly to a strict standard. The just man who walks in his integrity is a man who strives to live in perfect harmony with his righteousness. And because, as we pointed out, that righteousness is God's righteousness, this text speaks of the man who walks in obedience to the Holy Scriptures, God's Word of truth. The just man who walks in his integrity is one who is wholly committed to living in righteousness according to God's Word. The desire to be completely under the influence of God's truth is the desire of such a husband and father. Even though he must constantly struggle with the imperfection and sin of his old nature, he will strive with his whole being to live as a Godly husband and father, with eyes fixed upon God's glory.
It is rather striking in this connection that Israel repeatedly was commanded to be a people of integrity. That is, with the inspired writers using the same root word as is translated integrity in this text, Israel was called to be wholly God's, entirely committed to Him. God could not be pleased with anything less than a people wholly committed to Him and to His truth. Israel was not allowed to pick and choose what they might receive out of God's law. It was no option to them, to reject a certain element of the truth, in order to enrich themselves or enlarge their nation. They were to recognize, in fact, that they would always be but a remnant, a small number at any given time, even though over the course of history that number would multiply into a sum like the sand upon the seashore or the stars in the sky. Israel must recognize that they would always struggle against enemies not only on the outside, but also within. They may not set aside even a single element of God's Word in order to appease the carnal element and count them as part of them. They were to be given entirely to God and to God's truth. That would be the only way in which they would honor God, not only, but also the only way in which they would survive as a people blessed by God in their generations.
The truth of God is the foundation upon which the Church is built by God in the line of continued generations. The truth of God's Word is the foundation upon which Godly husbands and fathers are formed and exercise their calling in faithfulness. And for that reason, the just man who will walk in his integrity is a man who seeks the truth of Holy Scripture. One reason why you ought to be here today, if you examine your own conscience and motives, is that you desire to grow in the truth, in order that you may more faithfully exercise your calling as a Godly husband and father. That is not the chief reason, of course. The chief reason is that we have a God Who deserves to be praised by us and glorified in truth. But I speak now with reference to ourselves and the effects of the truth on our lives. The truth is the foundation for Godly living.
It is right here, however, where the organization called Promise Keepers is so dreadfully wrong, and where in fact it ultimately will not build up men in their calling, but will tear them down. For all its emphasis upon promise keeping in marriage and in the family, Promise Keepers is weighed and found wanting. And the reason is that it destroys the very foundations of truth upon which alone a man can keep his promises before God. Among other purposes their own stated purpose as an organization is to break down denominational barriers. Let us understand, however, that denominational barriers are theological barriers. They are barriers erected because of departures from the truth of Holy Scripture.
The organization called Promise Keepers, therefore, very forthrightly, has little use for God's truth, except selectively. Promise Keepers is strongly influenced by the Charismatic movement. That is no secret. They have also received openly Roman Catholicism. That stands to reason. Both the Charismatics and Roman Catholics hold to extra-biblical revelation and authority. Both also are fierce enemies of the biblical truths of sovereign grace. They are enemies of the Reformed faith. They are enemies of the truth of God's covenant of grace, the truth which is the foundation stone of Christian marriage and Godly family life. I say again, for their opposition to the truth of Scripture, the Promise Keepers organization is not a solution to the problem of men breaking their promises before God, nor can it be. Faithful instruction and solid growth in the knowledge of the truth, and prayerful application of God's Word to your own life is the only solution. Will you be a righteous promise keeper?
WHEN THE TEXT SPEAKS OF THE JUST MAN WALKING IN HIS INTEGRITY, THERE IS SOMETHING IMPLIED HERE THAT WE OUGHT NOT OVERLOOK.
Implied here is the fact that there are just men who do not walk in their integrity. There are men who are indeed righteous in Christ, objects of the wonder work of God's sovereign election and irresistible grace, and who know their righteousness in Christ Jesus, but who yet fail to walk in harmony with what they are. The truth is, of course, that we all fail frequently to walk in our integrity. Repeatedly we find ourselves on our knees before God pleading for forgiveness for our failures as husbands and fathers and begging God for mercy in not laying our sins to the charge of our children. That points out all the more urgently the need that we continually be built up spiritually and grow in the grace and knowledge of God's truth and gospel. We must know our calling and strive for excellency in our walk as husbands and fathers. But I say again, there are men who are righteous in God's sight, for the sake of Christ alone, and who yet fail to walk in their integrity.
The classic example in Scripture is probably Lot. You read the history of Lot as recorded in the Book of Genesis, and you are hard-pressed to find any indication that he was truly a child of God. It is clearly evident that his life was very much one with the world. His focus was on the things of this world, even to the degree of compromising God's truth for the sake of earthly gain. I say, from the history recorded in Genesis, Lot looks like a worldly man who yet claims to be of God. But we are told in no uncertain terms in II Peter 2:7-9 that Lot was indeed a just man, whose soul was vexed with the wickedness of his neighbors.
Lot is the classic example of a just man who yet failed to walk in his integrity. His calling was to live with Abraham, the father of the faithful. He separated from Abraham. Lot's calling was to separate from the ungodly. He did not. His calling was to bring up his children in the nurture of the Lord, instructing them that they may have no fellowship with the unbelieving and ungodly, that they may marry only in the Lord. His calling was to provide them with an environment in which they could have fellowship with other brothers and sisters in Christ. Instead, he settled among the wicked, made his own fellowship with the wicked, and watched helplessly as his own family was consumed by the ways of the wicked. Lot failed to walk in his integrity. That is recorded for our sakes. That is recorded as an example of what happens when one does not live with spiritual consistency, in harmony with his own knowledge of righteousness and of his calling before God. Lot himself was saved. He was a just man. But for his lack of integrity, for his worldliness, he saw his own family go lost.
We must walk with integrity as husbands and fathers in the midst of God's covenant. And, yes, the truth of God's covenant is essential to such a Godly walk. We must know what it is to live in covenant fellowship with the living God. It is exactly the truth of the covenant that gives us sound reason to be promise-keeping men in God's church and in the midst of our homes. For we who live in fellowship with the living God, want also to see that fellowship enjoyed in those institutions which He has established as the earthly pictures of that covenant life. So marriage is the reflection of that unspeakable mystery of the relationship between Christ and His Bride, the Church.
One visible evidence of a man who walks with integrity is seen in that man who upholds the biblical truth of marriage. We must be churches of promise-keeping men! We must be men who give ourselves to loving our wives even as Christ loved His Church and gave Himself for her. Divorce will be unheard of among us, when we walk in obedience to God in this area of our lives. And remarriage is simply out of the question as unbiblical, an unacceptable violation of the unbreakable bond of holy marriage.
But the emphasis in this text is on the relationship of a father to his children. As fathers we are called to walk in our integrity. We are to walk in faithfulness to the calling God has given us in the Scriptures. We are to be faithful heads of the home. We are to be spiritual leaders in the midst of our families, showing our children also by our own example that our fellowship is with the people of God, that our life is the life of a child of God, that our love is for the truth of God and our desire is for His Holy Word.
We read in Proverbs 4:18, that "the path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day." Our pathway, as just men, is to be a pathway seen as a shining light to our children, a shining light pointing them to the things of God's kingdom and to heaven. That means that we follow higher standards than the standards of the world. And the things of God's kingdom and the spiritual welfare of our families come before any earthly pleasures. Our jobs may not be used as excuses by us which rob us of our calling as fathers. Nor will we be governed by the standards of our prosperous world in thinking that our children must always have the best. The best, for us, are the things of God and the fellowship of His people.
Furthermore, as fathers we are called to take seriously the promises that we make when we present our children for baptism. We have seen from Deuteronomy 6 and Ephesians 6:4 that an inescapable calling of a faithful father is to teach his children the truth of God from morning until night. In the Baptism Form we promise faithfulness to that calling. We do so this way: We promise that we will see these children "instructed and brought up in the aforesaid doctrine, or help or cause them to be instructed therein, to the utmost of" our power. That is our promise before God. You cannot interpret that promise as saying merely, "I promise to bring my children to church and to see that they come to catechism." That clearly isn't enough¾not in the light of Deuteronomy 6. This involves a promise that we will see to it that our children are instructed in the aforesaid doctrine as that doctrine applies to every aspect of life.
Thus our Reformed fathers understood clearly the need for covenant, Christian education. A visible evidence of a faithful Protestant Reformed promise keeper is a covenant Protestant Reformed Christian school, where fathers fulfill the promises made in their baptism vows. No, that doesn't mean that just because we have a school and send our children there, we are being faithful promise keepers. There is much more involved in being faithful husbands and fathers, even as I pointed out earlier. But all these things belong to our calling, men. And all these things are governed by our love for the truth revealed to us in Holy Scripture.
WHAT AN IMMEASURABLY BLESSED PROMISE! "HIS CHILDREN ARE BLESSED AFTER HIM."
Notice how sure that promise is set forth. "His children are blessed." Oh no, that is not a promise that every child of a faithful promise keeper will be saved. God never owes us saved children, even when we are faithful promise keepers. We know from Scripture that the line of election and reprobation cuts right through the church. But what this text tells us is this: God saves His elect children in the way of faithful integrity on the part of just men. God is pleased to use the efforts of faithful husbands and fathers, and to bless them with children who follow in their footsteps of godliness. And we may live in confidence that when we walk faithful in our calling as husbands and fathers, we will experience God's blessing.
THIS IS A PROMISE SPOKEN REPEATEDLY IN SCRIPTURE FOR OUR ENCOURAGEMENT.
We are also warned. That is the reason for the historical record of Lot. A grievous record, preserved for our warning.
But God is pleased to gather His Church from believers and their children. So the psalmist also is inspired to sing (Psalm 92:12): "The righteous shall flourish like the palm tree: he shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon." The branches of his generations shall be seen after him, the heritage of the Lord in the line of his continued generations. And so Psalm 107 is concluded with the promise: The Lord "maketh him families like a flock. The righteous shall see it, and rejoice: and all iniquity shall stop her mouth. Whoso is wise, and will observe these things, even they shall understand the lovingkindness of the LORD." God help us to be just men, who walk in our integrity, that we may see our children's children, and peace upon Israel.