“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life” (Proverbs 13:12).
The gospel is “I am accepted through Christ, therefore I obey” while every other religion operates on the principle of “I obey, therefore I am accepted.” Martin Luther’s fundamental insight was that this latter principle, the principle of ‘religion’ is the deep default mode of the human heart. The heart continues to work in that way even after conversion to Christ. Though we recognize and embrace the principle of the gospel, our hearts will always be trying to return to the mode of self-salvation, which leads to spiritual deadness, pride and strife and ministry ineffectiveness.
— Tim Keller, “Preaching in a Post-Modern City”
Recently, I attended a service with another local body of believers in PA. They were friendly. The Pastor demonstrated a loving and “pastoral” heart for his people. I believe at this particular service I attended, he was shorthanded and had to fulfill not only the preaching responsibilities but also the music portion, as well. I was looking forward to being challenged by God’s Word and pointed to my Savior.
The Pastor directed our attention to the verse,
Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life (Proverbs 13:12).
My mind raced to possible connections to the Gospel from the first time he read the verse. “Ohh!! This is going to be good! Something I need to hear!” This hope, he said, is not like “I hope it doesn’t rain.” It is a desire for something that will most surely come to pass. It is more like, “I hope to go on vacation next week!”
Suppose I am at the grocery store, and I say, “I hope to get to the cashier soon.” And then there is a person in front of me who has 16 items rather than “15 items or less” AND there is someone who has a product with no bar code on it so a price check is requested. AND there is someone else who drops a glass jar with the words echoing throughout the store, “clean up at register 4!” (ok – I added that last part. You had to hear his descriptions of events). But this is what the word deferred means. It is a delay in receiving what we hope for.
This delay in receiving what we hope for makes the heart sick. I hope to get to the cashier, but all of these things are delaying me! At this point, the pastor described what happened when he was very sick a few weeks ago. He wanted to watch TV, so he got up from his bed (already weak from being sick) and crawled toward the living room. He tired out and rested in the hallway. After a short while, he began to crawl again toward the living room. After a few delays of a sick and weakened body, he finally made it to the couch where he could watch TV.
“Sickness will come!” he exclaimed. “Expect it!” He admonished. “Get up and keep going!” he exhorted.
He then briefly touched on the last portion of the verse, “a desire fulfilled is a tree of life”. When we hope for things and circumstances delay our obtaining them, keep going! Keep working to obtain it! Just like he wanted to watch TV but was delayed because he was sick and weak.
At the end of his sermon, he pleaded for people to come to Christ. He said something to the effect, “If you have not trusted Jesus as your personal Savior, please do so before it is too late!”
One weekend I watched a children’s television program while Owen was playing in the living room. Every so often, when something peculiar happened on the program, he would stop what he was doing and watch. On this particular episode, one of the puppet characters was dejected and lost all confidence of doing anything. The whole program’s point was, “have confidence in yourself because you can do it! You can do anything you put your mind to! Believe in yourself!”
The point of this child’s program was, in essence, “pick yourself up by your own bootstraps and keep going!”
Now, this pastor was exegetically accurate and precise. He conveyed the meaning of the verse fairly well. He was not boring. He was engaging. His love for the people of which he is Undershepherd was compassionately displayed.
But there was no GOSPEL! The pastor’s main point conveyed was, “pick yourself up by your own bootstraps and keep going!”
We may be exegetically accurate and precise. And we may convey the meaning of the text as the original hearers (possibly) understood it, but when it comes down to where the rubber meets the road, it’s still moralism. It’s a promotion of self-salvation. At the very core, both teachings are saying, “Jesus’ finished work is not enough! Go and do! Save yourself!!”
For a preacher of the Gospel, it is sad there was no preaching of the Gospel.
Note: This was originally posted in 2008.