The Bible frequently draws on nature and the natural world in order to present us with spiritual truth. The book of Proverbs is especially keen on this.
Really, the book of Proverbs is something of a biblical zoo. There are all kinds of animals contained in this one section of Scripture.
All of these are presented to us as pictures. They are metaphors which depict God’s truth. And from these critters we are to gain knowledge and understanding. We are to take to heart the lessons that they teach us.
The passage that is before us this morning passage is one of those you come across as you walk through the proverbial zoo. In this passage we are presented with a case study on a bird that has gone AWOL. And Solomon wants us to think about how foul this fowl really is. And he wants us to understand how foul it is when we demonstrate the same kind of restless spirit.
It is my hope that as we work through this lesson today you too will be convinced of how foolish it is when we senselessly abandon the place God has marked out for us by his Providence or rage against the calling that He has bestowed upon us in respects to our different realms we find ourselves in society.
In order to do this, of course, we first need to make sure we catch the principle that God is laying out here in this passage. It’s important that we break down what is being taught here. And once we get the overall lesson, we can then talk about some concrete examples of how it may be applied.
So what is this proverb teaching us? What is Solomon getting at here? Well, simply put he’s talking about how disastrous discontentment can be. To put it another way, he’s attempting to show the folly of radical independence, or what we sometimes call autonomy.
For those of you who are younger, autonomy is another word for radical independence. It is where you seek to live only for yourself and to be free from any outside control. Literally it means “to be a law unto yourself.” So, to be autonomous, you break away from your parents, you break away from the church. You just want to get away (like this little bird). You want to break away from the nest and all your responsibilities and all your attachments.
And Solomon is trying to point out how foolish it is to do that. And the way he does it is by means of this bird that leaves his nest.
Think about birds for a moment. The thing about birds is that they have nests. God has given them a place in life. That place is their nest. That is its home. Birds are so tightly knit to their nests that they are almost synonymous. Wherever you find a bird, you are going to find a nest not too far away. That’s because the bird’s life revolves around its nest. She works hard to build that nest. Then she lays eggs in that nest. When the eggs hatch, she’s always fluttering to and from that nest in order to feed the little baby birds. Sure, she may fly off to scrounge up some worms, but she always comes back. That nest is her life.
The nest is her source of protection too. If a storm comes along, what does that bird do? It hunkers down in the nest, doesn’t it? You don’t see birds flying around much when the wind and rain start kicking up, do you? If you do, it’s probably because the little guy is high tailing it home. He knows that if he lingers too long at the bird feeder, things are going to go well for him. He builds his nest because he knows that it is not just his home, it is his fortress in times of need. It’s his place of security.
No matter how you look at it birds are naturally connected to their nests. God has knit that into the very fabric of creation. You might even say that God has ordained a natural connection between a bird and its nest.
But what would happen if a bird did wander off from its nest? What if that bird rebelled against its calling to tend to that nest and just took off? What is going to happen to that bird?
Let’s say that the bird just decided, “You know what, I just want to see the world!” “You know, life in the nest: It’s a bit of a drag.” Or, perhaps she got tired of all those silly little chicks squawking at her every time she came home, ranting and raving about trying to be the first one in line to get the worm that she brought. She just gets fed up with it and she takes off. She wants to go somewhere calm. She just has a Calgon moment.
You guys remember those commercials? There’s the mother who is surrounded by a chaotic home and she cries out, “Calgon, take me away!” And poof, she’s whisked off all by herself to a luxurious bathtub where she gets this wonderful, peaceful spa-like treatment.
What happens if a mother bird has a Calgon moment? She just takes off and leaves her home without any intent of coming back? Well, that bird is going to die. At the very least, it’s going to have a pretty hard life. She’s not going to have a secure place when the storms come round. She’s probably not going to have a good night’s sleep either because she doesn’t have her bed. And, quite likely, she’s going to be exposed to predators. Some little kitty cat will find her to be an easy target because she isn’t safely tucked away in her nest.
More than that, her chicks are going to suffer, aren’t they? They can’t survive without mamma. They are dependent upon mamma. Their lives are very much wrapped up in mamma bird. They need her presence. They need her care. Without mama bird, the little babies will languish away.
If she forsakes the place that God has allotted her, then—in all reality—all hell breaks loose. If she has a willy nilly attitude to her calling in life, then every aspect of that nest life will falter and fail. In a word, “death prevails.”
And Solomon says that is what happens any time one of us skips out on our God’ allotted calling in life. If we put our personal pleasure above our God given place in life, things are not going to go well for us. When we run from the calling God has given us, we are running from God himself. And if you are running from God it means you are running right into hell itself.
God has given us a place in life—each of us has a nest so to speak. God has a home for us, and it’s our job to be content there. It is our job to be faithful to that home and to that calling. If we are not, then we will end up flitting away and, as a result, we’ll bring all kinds of havoc upon ourselves.
Charles Bridges, in his commentary, gives the illustration of Dinah from the book of Genesis. Dinah was one of the daughters of Jacob, and it says in Genesis 34 that “Dinah… went out to see the women of the land.”
Now, this doesn’t mean she went out for a stroll through the neighborhood. It isn’t like she just moved to town and she thought, “Well, I’ll go and meet some of my new neighbors.” When it says that she “went out to see the women of the land” it means that she wanted to hang out with them. She wanted to see them and be a part of them. What she was doing was leaving her home. She wasn’t necessarily physically moving away. But something spiritual was happening. She was attracted to these gentile women and the bond she had to her home and to her father began to break down.
You see, Dinah was called to be at home. She wasn’t supposed to be mixing with these heathen people. And you know what happened? She ended up being seized by a man and sexually assaulted! The moment she forsook her calling to be an Israelite, she put herself at risk.
You can understand what happened there. It probably wasn’t that she up and said, “I’m out of here.” It was probably something that seemed innocent to her. She probably thought, “Wow, those gentile women have such nice clothes. They always seem to be having so much fun.” And she might not have set out to do anything terrible. She probably just wanted to make a few friends.
But what was happening was that she was forsaking the safety of her home. God called her to submit to the authority of her parents. She was called to stay free from the defilement of wrong companions. And you might say she didn’t recognize her place as a girl. She probably should have had a chaperone of some sorts—someone who could protect her from perverts like that.
The thing to note though is that it started with a little discontentment. She wasn’t happy in her home. Life just seemed better with these Gentile women. But once she left her nest, she walked right through the gates of hell.
Now doesn’t Dinah’s story sound like the story of every teenager in America? It is something of the college bound boy and girl, isn’t it? So many kids are discontent at home and they can’t wait to go off to college because they’ll finally be free! No more parents looking over their shoulders. It’s time for them to spread their wings and be independent.
Of course, college isn’t altogether wrong. But it can be a time of radical independence and autonomy. And as a result you can fall into a lot of sin and misery. And you have to be careful that you are not breaking with your home and the God ordained accountability system that we have in your parents and church.
You can see the principle though, can’t you? You can see the disastrous effects of discontent. God’s given you a home. God’s given you a calling. And you are required to be faithful to that calling. You need to seek to please God in whatever situation he has placed you. If you try to please yourself and break free from the responsibility that he has placed on you, no matter how bad you think you have it, you will find you will be worse off than where you began.
And I want you to apply this to your relationships, be they in your home or here in your church home.
I don’t think that I need to elaborate too much on what it is like when a husband or wife become unhappy with their relationship. You know, things start getting a little turbulent in their nest. The two of you were little love birds building a nest together. But kids came along. The love life took a dive. Bills started rolling in. Work had its demands. All of a sudden there is the constant bickering. And it seeks like the best thing to do might be to leave the nest. There will be peace, right? Everyone will be happy, or at least happier, right?
That’s what a lot of people think. But it’s not true. There is never peace. I’ve not met one couple who has separated who could say they were better off now than if they had just worked out their problems together. And its not just you, but the baby birds in your nest are affected too. What happens to the chicks when a couple separates? They experience all kinds of problems! Not only are they susceptible to higher rates of divorce, but studies say that they have problems well into their adult years. They tend to have trust issues, they have trouble articulating their emotions, they experience more bouts of fear and anxiety, among other things.
Rather than seek that autonomy, it would be much more profitable for all parties involved to repent and work out the problems as God has called you to.
The same goes for your relationship with the church too. A local church is our spiritual nest, you might say. Each of us is called to be a part of a church home so that we can serve Christ, worship, and be edified by the means of grace. That’s what the early church did all the time. The Christians gathered together in a fellowship under the authority of elders. That’s why you could write to Philemon and the church in his house.
And it is important that we don’t sever that relationship for light and frivolous reasons. Do you know how detrimental it is when someone will not take his covenant with a church seriously? It has huge ramifications, for yourself, your family, and the wider body of Christ.
Now, granted, there are times to leave a church. But that’s after you’ve exhausted the God given path for that. But let’s admit it: most people who leave churches do not do it for biblical reasons. Or they are just jumping ship without following the due process.
At my former church, when I would do the new members class, I would actually give the prospective members a complaint form as part of the materials that I handed out. I wanted people to complain in our church (at least, complain in the right way). I gave them a piece of paper that helped them spell out their problem and present it to us. If someone had a beef with me or something that the elders did, they had a way to call us out and start the process of reconciliation. And if we didn’t respond properly to their complaint, it would be the presbytery’s job to take up your cause for you.
Church hopping is more of the norm today though. Typically people are not willing to put forth the effort that is required to maintain the peace, purity, and unity of the church. People are not content to deal with the problems in a Biblical way and they up and leave the nest without much thought or effort. And that is foolish.
You know, that’s the essence of autonomy. And the whole nest is affected by it. Everyone associated with that church ends up suffering, from the missionary who doesn’t get as much financial support to the guy sitting next to you in the pew who doesn’t have the opportunity to benefit from your gifts and graces. And you too, no matter how spiritual you may be, no matter how well you may “feed yourself” (as they say), there is nothing like the edification that Mark spoke of last week.
In speaking of the body of Christ Paul said, “If one member suffers, all suffer.” That’s how closely knit we are together. And we need to do everything we can to preserve that body. We need to be faithful to that nest.
Imagine if Jesus took that same kind of attitude. I mean, if anyone could have been discontent with his lot in life, it would have been Jesus, right? That cross that he bore wasn’t the nicest thing in the world. And when they taunted him by saying, “If he is God, let him come down off there and save himself.” Don’t think that thought hadn’t crossed his mind. He would have been tempted every moment to leap off that thing.
But God the Father had called him to give up his life. He was called to die so that our sin might be atoned for and the church might be presented spotless before him. Jesus never left the nest—so to speak. The only nest he left was the one he had in heaven—and that was because the Father called him to it. And it was so that he might bring you back to the Father with him.
Well, I could give about a thousand other instances and applications. We could go through every calling God has given us. We could go on to talk about work home and how we have responsibility to be content in our sphere of labor and how we shouldn’t just ditch our commitment to work without the proper planning and such.
We could go on and on. But the thing that we must remember is that this is ultimately pointing to our home with God. In some way or other, we have all played the part of the prodigal son who was not content to live with his Father. Somehow or other we have flittered away from the Lord. And some of you might be in that situation right now. You might be living in rebellion to God and you are not content to serve him. You are more content living your own way than following Christ and obeying his law.
Well, let me just remind you that when you fly from God, you embark on the path that leads to death. The Bible says that the wages of sin is death.
But the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. And if you turn from your sin and return to make your home in God, the Lord promises that you will have life and have it to the full.
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.