Word of Advice

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This verse today comes from the beginning of Proverbs 31 and is a lovely bit of wisdom from the queen mother of King Lemuel. She had taught this wisdom to him from the time he was a child at her knee. Here in Proverbs, King Lemuel has come to understand that what she had passed on to him was advice on how to rule his people rightly, nobly and justly. It is good advice for each one of us as well.

The lesson begins this way:
“Listen, my son! Listen, son of my womb!
Listen, my son, the answer to my prayers!” (Verse 2)

She goes on to tell him how he should conduct himself as the king and what he should avoid. She advises him to avoid, “spend[ing] his strength (or wealth) on women.” Then she counsels him not to drink wine or beer. Why? Is she simply a prude condemning these things out of some pious extremity? No. She is passing on real wisdom here. Remember she is counseling her son on how to be a good king. Why, then, should he avoid the excesses of these purely sensual desires? Because a king has greater responsibilities toward the people than he does toward himself. A king ought to be able to sacrifice his selfish desires for his own immediate gratification in order to commit himself fully to his rightful responsibilities to promote and to protect the common good of his people. A good king does everything on behalf of his people. He acts as a noble example to his people, showing them by his words and his noble and generous deeds, what the people ought to be doing for one another as well. The queen mother knows that when a king becomes self-absorbed, concerned only for own pleasures, he forgets his duties and responsibilities toward his people. In the words of Proverbs here, when he becomes habituated to mere sensual pleasures he, “forgets what has been decreed, and deprive[s] all the oppressed of their rights.” Indeed he no longer sees their anguish, or their poverty, he is no longer able to be sensitive to their misery.

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The queen mother then moves from telling Lemuel what he ought not to do as a leader of his people, to giving him some positive advice as to how a good and noble king ought to think of his people, and how he ought to behave toward them. She says: “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” (verses 8-9) One cannot do this if all of one’s attention is focused endlessly on the self alone.

As 21st century Christians, we recognize that this advice is just as true for each one of us as it was for Lemuel. We recognize that this advice is proper to all of us, no matter our positions in this life. It is especially true and good advice for those of us who are fathers and mothers. We ought always, and in all ways, to conduct ourselves nobily toward our spouses and toward our children. We ought to be mature enough to turn away from all selfish desires and pursuits and to give our fullest attention to serving the good of our spouses and our children. In our daily conduct, we ought to be teaching our children how to live good and noble lives in this world. In other words, we need to be good examples for our spouses and for our children by imitating Jesus. If we want to love our children properly, we ought first to love our spouses properly. This means that, as true Christian men and women, we must be willing to let go of all selfish things. We need to “sell” those things so that they will no longer get in the way of our ability to serve others with true compassion, real generosity, and effectual love. It is only in this that we will “gain treasures in heaven.” This is what it means to follow Jesus. (Mark 10:21)

Lord, help us to rid ourselves of all selfish desires. Give us this day our daily bread, so that we may be strong in faith, hope and love. We know that the world is too much with us and that we need your graces in order to live the noble, just, and gracious lives you have called us to live in this world. We ask these prayers believing in the power of your most holy name, Jesus. Amen!

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Dan Doyle is a husband, father, grandfather, Vietnam veteran, and retired professor of Humanities at Seattle University. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology, and writes regularly for The Veterans Site blog.