The Pleasure of God in Public Justice
A false balance is an abomination to the LORD, but a just weight is his delight.
Moving from the Inside to the Outside
We have been moving from the inside to the outside of life in the last three weeks. God takes pleasure in those who hope in his love. God delights in the prayers of the upright. God delights in obedience much more than in sacrifice. Hope is deepest within. It expresses itself in prayer. And then the obedience we spoke of is out in the open. But so far we have confined ourselves mainly to what you might call the religious part of life.
Today we move out one last step to that part of life which is not ordinarily considered religious. You might call it the "secular" part of your life, meaning the part where you have ordinary dealings with the world. You might call it the business part of your life. It includes things like filling up your gas tank and buying antiques and punching a time card and paying your taxes.
Does God have an interest in this part of your life? Does he take delight in the way you do things at the store or the office or the shop or the kitchen? Is any wrong behavior in these non-religious areas so significant that God would even call them an abomination?
The Non-Religious, Business Life
With this concern we have moved out just about as far as we can go: from hope to prayer to general obedience to non-religious, business life. But there is one more step we could take, and I want to take it today. We could ask, Does God have any delight in the behavior of non-Christian people in the non-religious areas of life?
So we really have two areas to examine before us today: the non-religious, business life of Christians and the non-religious, business life of non-Christians. Does God take delight in any or all of this life? If so, why?
The aim, as always, is to clarify the character and nature of God by examining what he loves (remember Henry Scougal's quote! "The worth of a soul is measured by the object of its love"). But I know that this message will also carry much practical counsel for your daily lives, and so I hope that you will listen for both things.
What Sorts of Things Are Included in Our Text?
First of all, let's take both areas together and simply ask what sorts of things are included in our text, Proverbs 11:1. The verse doesn't say whether only believers or also unbelievers are in view. It simply says,
A false balance is an abomination to the LORD,
but a just weight is his delight.
The Specific Picture of the Text
The implications here are very far-reaching. But let's get the specific picture clear in our minds. Suppose you were a merchant in the Old Testament times and you sold corn meal. And suppose that in those days ten cents a pound was a fair price. Someone comes to you and asks to buy five pounds of corn meal. So you reach for your five pound stone and place it in the dish on one side of the scales. Then you take your big bag of meal and start pouring it into the dish on the other side of the scale. You pour until the two dishes swing at the same level. Then you pour the dish full of meal into your customer's container, and he knows that he has been given the right amount of grain. The size of a five pound stone is fairly common knowledge.
But then suppose that during the night you took a very sharp, hard blade and dug a small hole in the side of the stone and worked it around hollowing out the inside until it weighed only four pounds. Then you covered the little hole over with clay the same color as the stone and let it dry. The next day you don't use it on the educated and strong because they might make a fuss over the apparently smaller pile of meal and might even examine the stone. But when the child comes on behalf of his mother, and when the widow who is partially blind comes to buy meal, you use your deceitful stone.
Our text says that this is an abomination to the Lord, but that the full weight is his delight.
Now what sorts of acts in the 1980's are implied in the phrase, "false balances," in Proverbs 11:1? Let me just mention four categories, which are really two different ways of dividing the acts into two categories.
Four Categories of Acts in the Present Day
First, this verse refers to sellers and it refers to buyers:
1. Acts of Selling
It includes acts of selling when the seller does not give goods or services worth the price or the fee that he is charging. You can imagine a gasoline pump that reads a penny more per gallon than it should, or a scale at the grocery store that reads high, or a medicine label that claims too much, or a realtor who doesn't tell a buyer about a flooding problem in the house he is selling, or a college teacher who hasn't written a new lecture in ten years and spends his time remodeling his basement.
2. Acts of Buying
It includes acts of buying when the buyer schemes to pay less than the goods or services are really worth. You can see what God thinks of such an act in Proverbs 20:14—"'It is bad, it is bad,' says the buyer; but when he goes away, then he boasts." This would include paying some poor vendor in Mexico a ridiculously small sum for a quality rug he had made because he is desperate for a sale and you can take it or leave it. It would include not paying the late penalty on my water bill by dating my check back before the deadline.
The other way to categorize the acts denounced in Proverbs 11:1 is this: it refers to acts of deceit and it refers to acts of injustice.
3. Acts of Deceit
It includes acts that involve deceit in transactions with other people. And so the act expresses a lie. For example, in the next several days as you do your tax returns, this verse has something very definite to say about whether your reporting is a delight to God or an abomination to God. Or you might file an insurance claim and lie about the extent of the damages in order to get a better settlement.
4. Acts of Injustice
And the other side of this is that such acts always do an injustice to another person. A person does not get what is his due. For example, you might stick a person with a lemon of a car by not being truthful about its condition when you sell it. Or you might rush a refugee family into signing a lease for an unseen apartment and charge them exorbitant rent and leave the apartment in poor condition with no improvements.
So I hope you can see that all such things are implied in Proverbs 11:1, "A false balance is an abomination to the LORD, but a just weight is his delight." You can be a deceitful seller or a deceitful buyer. And you can do and injustice to a buyer and you can do an injustice to a seller.
God's Interest in All Our Non-Religious Life
One lesson to be learned from this already is that God has an interest in all our non-religious life. All our business transactions are his concern. God is not so distant or even so "religious" that he only cares about what happens at church and during devotions. Every square inch of this earth is his and every minute of our lives is a loan from his breath. He is much more secular than we often think.
And of course this should make a big difference in the way we live our non-religious lives. Charles Bridges, an evangelical pastor in the Church of England a century ago, asks this searching question: "Is it not a solemn thought, that the eye of God marks all our common dealings of life, either as an abomination or a delight?" Test yourself. Are you being shaped more by the secular spirit of the world or by the spirit of God? The test is this: do you feel that minor business misrepresentations are just part of the game rules of the day or are they an abomination to God?
Now I want to ask the question, Why is a just weight a delight to God in the hand of a believer? And then close by asking, Is a just weight a delight to God in the hand of an unbeliever? If so, Why?
Just Weights in the Hands of Believers
Why is a just weight a delight to God in the hand of a believer? God delights in just and honest dealings from believers because these dealings make their God-honoring faith visible. Just and honest dealings make the saving lordship of God visible. Let me show you one of the places where this is taught explicitly.
God's Instructions in Leviticus
In Leviticus 19:35–37 God gives instruction about just weights and balances, and he gives a motive.
You shall do no wrong in judgment, in measures of length or weight or quantity. You shall have just balances, just weights, a just ephah, and a just hin: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt. And you shall observe all my statutes and all my ordinances, and do them: I am the Lord.
How is God motivating honesty and justice here?
Notice three things in verse 36:
- First, he says, "I am the LORD!" That is, "I am Yahweh!" He uses his personal name that he used with Moses just before he brought the people out of Egypt. And you remember he explained the meaning of that name by saying, "I am who I am." The name implies absoluteness and independence and freedom and sovereignty.
- Second, he says, "I am your God!" In other words, I am for you. I am on your side. My absoluteness and independence and freedom and sovereignty are yours. That is what it means if we can truly say, "Yahweh is my God!"
- Third, he says, "I brought you out of the land of Egypt." This is the specific illustration that demonstrates once and for all for Israel that God is for them. He is their God. He is absolute and free and sovereign—not to destroy but to save his people. For Christians today the death and resurrection of Jesus—the second Exodus—has surpassed the first in value.
The Key Point
Now what does all that have to do with the way you fill out your tax forms in the next two weeks? What does it have to do with just balances and honest weights?
Verse 36 says, "You shall have just balances, just weights, a just ephah, and just hin: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt." Surely the point is this:
- if you really know that God is the LORD—Yahweh, the absolute, independent, free and sovereign God of the universe;
- and if you trust him as YOUR GOD—that he is for you with all his power;
- and if your faith is established and encouraged by the great demonstration of God's love in the Exodus (and the substitutionary death and victorious resurrection of Jesus!),
- then you will not need to fudge on your tax returns in order to make sure that you get the most happiness.
You will believe that your omnipotent God has committed himself with all his absolute freedom and sovereign power to rescue you from Egypt and bring you to a land flowing with milk and honey and care for you every step of the way.
Making God's Saving Lordship and Power Visible
That's what I meant when I said that God delights in just and honest dealings from believers because these dealings make their faith visible. Just and honest dealings make the saving lordship and power of God visible. When a Christian acts with integrity instead of trying to get ahead with deceit, he demonstrates the power and love of the God of the Exodus.
He says, I have a great God to take care of me!
- I have a Lord and Master who promises to meet all my needs according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus!
- I have a pillar of fire to guide me through dark times.
- I have a pillar of cloud to show me the way of joy in the day.
- I have a fountain of living water that never runs dry and always satisfies my thirst.
- How can I lie or deceive as though I were like men who trust in
themselves and in their deceitful ingenuity to make a better life
for themselves than God can make for me through the obedience of
Proverbs 20:17 says,
Bread gained by deceit is sweet to a man,
but afterward his mouth will be full of gravel.
In other words when we use false balances or lie on our tax returns or misrepresent the facts in our dealings, we are declaring that the fleeting sweetness of sin is more to be desired than the everlasting peace of God. This is no honor to God and therefore no delight to his heart. "A false balance is an abomination to the LORD, but a just weight is his delight."
Just Weights in the Hands of Unbelievers
Now what about unbelievers? There are unbelievers who order their business lives in honest and just ways. Is this a delight to God?
The answer is no and yes, because God looks at the honesty of unbelievers in two different ways.
Inasmuch as They Express the Inner Life of Unbelief
When God looks at their honesty and justice as an outworking of their inner life of unbelief, he does not delight in it because it is sin. Romans 14:23 says, "Whatever is not from faith is sin."
Honest unbelievers are like a rebellious teenage son who rejects his parents and everything they stand for, and goes to another city. But to make it in the real world, he decides to play by some of their rules. So he gets a job as a cook at a restaurant. Months later his parents happen to visit that city and go to that restaurant. Without knowing that he is there they order one of their favorite delights (called "just balances" or "honest scales"). And without knowing it their own son makes their meal. But back there in the kitchen he is as rebellious as ever. He is not doing it for their sake at all. And so even this act of fixing what they have ordered is an expression of rebellion. And if his parents could be told the truth, they would not rejoice and say, "Oh, how wonderful, our son is now a delight to us, because he made our favorite meal!"
So God does not delight in the honesty and the justice of unbelievers when he sees it as an expression of their rebellious and unbelieving hearts. Acts done without any trust in his grace or any love for God's glory are not a delight to God.
Inasmuch as They Reflect God's Character and Work
But there is a sense in which God does delight in the just balances and honest weights of unbelievers, namely, when he looks at their honesty and justice as fragment of his own divine work.
I get this from Proverbs 16:11:
A just balance and scales are the Lord's;
all the weights in the bag are his work.
I think this means that wherever you find just scales and a bag of honest weights, you find the work of God. Justice is God's creation. Honesty is God's design. Integrity is the work of God—even in unbelievers; just like their head and heart and hands and feet are his work.
Theologians call this common grace. It isn't saving grace. It doesn't get a man to heaven. It is the same grace that makes the sun come every day on the good and the evil and sends rain on the just and the unjust (Matthew 5:43–47). It is the grace that keeps a society from sinking into anarchy. And when God sees the work of his own common grace holding the world back from premature ruin, and giving at least some outward expression to his purposes of justice and honesty, he delights in what he sees.
Like a Seashell Washed Up on the Beach
The honesty and justice of unbelievers is like a seashell washed up on the beach. There's no life in it. But it does have a kind of beauty. There is some sturdiness to it and symmetry and order. Life is more enjoyable because this shell exists. It has its uses: you could plant a flower in it; or you could use it to stud your rock wall; or you could teach things from it at school.
So it is with the integrity of unbelievers. It is the leftover shell of holiness. The vestige of the image of God. The residue of something glorious and beautiful in the heart of God. And the very work of his grace preserving and keeping his fallen humanity back from the precipice of anarchy and chaos.
And when God looks on the honesty and justice of his unbelieving and rebellious creatures in this way, he delights in their justice and takes pleasure in their honesty. It is the work of his own hands, and the gift of his grace.
Be a Wilberforce or a Wesley
Of all the lessons that we could draw out of these truths, let me close with just one, and hope that you will make others to your own heart.
Since external conformity of unbelievers to God's designs of justice and honesty does in one way delight the heart of God, it was right of William Wilberforce to devote 20 years of his life in Parliament to the abolition of English slave trading, even though the great majority of those merchants who gave up the trade did it under constraint and not for any holy reasons at all. It was the work of God's grace that rid England of the barbarisms of the African slave trade. And therefore the Lord looked down with delight February 22, 1807, when the House of Commons passed the decisive bill.
He delighted most in the living power of holiness in the life of Wilberforce and Henry Thornton as they embraced one another and frolicked in the snow like schoolboys outside the chamber.
And, in a different and mysterious way, God also delighted in the shell of holiness that took shape in English society when it was purged of the slave trade once and for all. For he delights in the work of his hands.
John Wesley, the great evangelist, wrote to Wilberforce to strengthen his hand in God. He said,
Unless God has raised you up for this very thing, you will be worn out by the opposition of men and devils, but if God be for you who can be against you? Are all of them together stronger than God? Oh, be not weary in well-doing.
There are battles to be fought today in America against manifold injustices and indecencies. May the Lord give us wisdom to know whether we are called to fight like Wesley or to fight like Wilberforce.