10 If you faint in the day of adversity,
your strength is small.
11 Rescue those who are being taken away to death;
hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter.
12 If you say, “Behold, we did not know this,”
does not he who weighs the heart perceive it?
Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it,
and will he not repay man according to his work?
This verse hit me like a ton of bricks today. Some thoughts:
- The “if” at the beginning presupposes that a day of adversity will come.
- This day of adversity isn’t our day of adversity, it is someone else’s trial that we are present to witness.
- The strength mentioned in verse 10 is meant to be used for the directive in verse 11.
- Because “rescuing” is the nature of the purpose of our strength (why we have it in the first place), then God is right in judging us according to verse 12.
- God’s grace does not excuse us from using our strength to save the lost, any more than the sky can be excused from being blue. Rescuing the lost or hurting is the reason we have strength.
- Verse 12 mentions the heart and the soul before it mentions our external work, suggesting that these are heart matters, not external strength or works. God is exhorting us to be strong of heart and soul so that we can fulfill the commands of verse 11.
- God is exhorting us to be true to the (new) heart that is within us. This “heart” language is all throughout proverbs as the seat of the character of a man, and the wellspring of his actions. This calls to mind Ezekiel 36:26 (“I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh). The intended use of this new heart is to rescue people who are lost and endangered.
Clearly, then, the “strength” of verse 10 is not the strength of our actions, or physical strength, but rather the strength of our heart…our convictions, our theology, our maturity. This calls to mind the idea of Luke 12:48, (to whom much has been given, much will be required). This passage in Luke is not talking about money, talent, intelligence, or anything like that, however. Jesus is talking about the same kind of issue raised in Proverbs 24: people who have been given a gift intended to help others.
Jesus tells the story about servants who are put in charge of the estate when the master is gone. Some are good stewards and give food to the other servants at the appointed time. Others, when they hear that the Master is delayed, begin to beat the other servants, and then get fat and drunk on the food and wine that is supposed to go to everyone.
Jesus said that the servants in charge (who know what to do, yet refuse to do it) will be treated more harshly than those who never knew what to do while the Master was gone. To quote Jesus, the Master will “cut him in pieces and put him with the unfaithful.” Because of his actions? No, because of his heart.
There are many implications in this parable regarding the Kingdom ethic of the Emergent movement, but I think the clear indictment is for those responsible for sharing what they know with others, namely, pastors, teachers, evangelists, and Christians everywhere.
Our actions (or non-actions) toward those in need of rescue belie the true condition of our heart. Let us not have “weak” strength, but rather build up our nerve, our theology, our convictions, our maturity so that when that day of adversity comes (for us, or for those around us) we can be faithful to administer the Master’s food and drink to those who need it, until he returns.