Sweet Bitterness

  • By Pastor Boffey
  • on Thursday, November 19, 2009
(Proverbs 27:7) The full soul loatheth an honeycomb; but to the hungry soul every bitter thing is sweet. Solomon here makes a simple but keen observation about life: those who fare sumptuously every day (LUK 16:19) have little use for common fare, even less for something that is only made palatable by sheer hunger. By contrast, a beggar might desire to be fed with the crumbs from the rich man's table (LUK 16:20-21) or fill his belly with the husks that swine eat (LUK 15:16) and find such fare pleasant. One man's garbage is another man's gold and the best seasoning for disagreeable food is hunger. By parallel, the soul that is convinced that it is righteous by its own merits or that it has attained perfection of understanding and conduct---such a soul has little interest in words of instruction that expose its “filthy rag righteousness” (ISA 64:6) or which through naked simplicity condemns its doctrinal error. Those who thought they were whole had no use for Physician Jesus' soul-healing power (MAT 9:10-12); He had “...not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (MAT 9:13). Those who said, “We see” could not even see their own blindness (JOH 9:39-41) and they shut their eyes against the light that condemned them (JOH 3:19-20). The words of the gospel are pleasant words and “Pleasant words are as an honeycomb...” (PRO 16:24), a delicious treat to the soul that is languishing under the burden of the knowledge of its own sinfulness. But they are not so to the soul that is full of itself. In her magnificat, Mary praised God: “He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent away empty” (LUK 1:53); the child she bore would be heard more gladly by the common people than the elites (MAR 12:37) and by the poor in spirit more than the proud. Of his band, it was said that “...not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called” (1CO 1:26); He has “...chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom...” (JAM 2:5). It is a dangerous condition when lukewarm saints falsely think themselves to be in a full condition and are sure that they are “... rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked” (REV 3:17). But “Better is a little with righteousness than great revenues without right” (PRO 16:8). To saints like the Laodiceans whom Jesus was rebuking, the sweet honeycomb of the gospel may have become loathsome and their level of spirituality reflected in the words, “...Prophesy not unto us right things, speak unto us smooth things, prophesy deceits: Get you out of the way, turn aside out of the path, cause the Holy One of Israel to cease from before us” (ISA 30:10-11). Or perhaps they have tired of the spiritual manna as Israel did of their carnal manna: “...there is nothing at all, beside this manna, before our eyes” (NUM 11:6) and so cannot endure their God-given diet of His word (LUK 4:4; 1TI 4:16; 2TI 4:2), exchanging it for fables (2TI 4:3-4) or seasoning it with man-made traditions or pagan customs. They have made themselves emetic to Jesus and He is ready to vomit them out (REV 3:16). Such saints who think they have need of nothing actually have desperate need of something: a bitter dose of rebuke and chastening and then the proper response: zealous repentance (REV 3:19). But to the humble soul who hungers and thirsts after righteousness (MAT 5:6), who knows that Christ alone is his righteousness and so counts all things loss for Him (PHIL 3:7-9), who searches the Scriptures to find Jesus (JOH 5:39) Whose righteousness is therein revealed (ROM 1:17): even the “bitter” portions of the word are succulent to him. When the Scripture exposes him for the inherently depraved sinner that he is, when it counters his treasured traditions, vain imagination and bad conduct, when it asks him to forsake all for Christ and to expect persecution for doing so, he is grateful for it and consumes it gladly: “Thy words were found, and I did eat them; and thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart: for I am called by thy name, O LORD of hosts” (JER 15:16). So said a weeping prophet made by God to be a man of contention to the whole earth which cursed him (JER 15:10). Israel of old ate their passover lamb with bitter herbs (EXO 12:8). God expects no less of us if we would partake of Christ our Passover (1CO 5:7), “...knowing, that as ye are partakers of the sufferings, so shall ye be also of the consolation” (2CO 1:7).

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