I Am Not Alone: A Sermon on Proverbs 18:1

A man, when he is isolated, continually seeks his own desire; He quarrels with all wisdom. ~Proverbs 18:1

Jesus often went by himself alone to pray.  He encouraged his disciples to do the same.  This is a good reason to separate ourselves from others.  We pray in Church
together and when we have Bible studies, with our families at mealtime and during devotions, but we should not neglect to find a quiet room to be alone, away from everyone, to pray to our dear Father, whose ear is always open to our prayer, and who promises to answer us richly, so that we know that we aren’t alone.

But the Hebrew for “isolate” in Proverbs 18:1 means separating yourself because you despise others.  People don’t know what “despise” means.  They think it is merely a synonym for “hate.”  But it means to look down on someone, to consider someone not worthy of your company or attention.  So we “despise preaching and God’s Word” by separating ourselves from Church, from devotions, from Bible reading.  We consider it not worthy of our attention or time.  We despise it.

But there is another isolation that we see so often today.  It is an isolation from Christians.  The beautiful description of the new-born Church in Acts seems an elusive or unattractive dream to many Christians today, when the baptized continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship.  There is loneliness all around us, and it is our own fault.  We are, as God says, seeking our own desires, and ignoring wisdom.

Husbands and wives are distracted by social media or hobbies or entertainment.  They seek their own desires and separate themselves from each other.  They don’t talk with each other as they should or comfort each other as they should, bodily and spiritually.  They don’t have devotions, but find something else to do that they enjoy.   In so doing they quarrel with wisdom.  They may not think they are quarreling.  But their ignoring each other is actively quarreling with sound advice.  When they seek their own desire over learning God’s Word, they argue against having devotions whether the thought comes into their hearts or not.  If the thought doesn’t enter into their minds, it doesn’t reveal mere ignorance, but their despising wisdom.

And the young learn this from their parents.  Parents hand over the problem of loneliness almost entirely to schools and activities outside the home.  Our young are surrounded by so many people every day, but they are so lonely. Parents separate themselves from their children for “socialization” or a host of other things, and in so doing, they teach their children to end their loneliness in a host of activities that separate them from the home, where God wants wisdom to be taught.

But look at the young who aren’t involved in all the acceptable activities our schools and culture offer to the youth.  They spend hours by themselves playing video games, surfing the internet, often without supervision.  They are allowed to follow their own desires and they grow, by their parents’ negligence, to seek their own desires and to quarrel with wisdom.

Parents quarrel with wisdom when they hand over smartphones to children to do with them as they please, to spend hours on them talking about nothing or bickering or gossiping, or seeing God forbid what.  They give their children gifts that are not generous, but selfish, because all these things do is increase the loneliness and isolation of their family.  Everyone is “connected,” but everyone is disconnected from real love and healthy relationships.

It is, I suppose, normal for teenagers to get emotional and argue with their parents, but it is not acceptable.  The more they have been taught to separate themselves to seek their own desires, the less willing they will be to accept sound wisdom and advice and instruction from their parents. “A man, when he is isolated, continually seeks his own desire; He quarrels with all wisdom.” And parents wonder at what became of their children, ignoring that they learned to isolate themselves by observing their father and mother who separated themselves from their children.

Young men and women in their late teens and twenties are not radically changing their behavior when they stop going to church and enjoy the things of the world in their young adulthood.  They are simply following the path of isolation, of loneliness that the world taught them, the path their parents unwittingly, but actively pursued.

Dear God, we are so lonely!  Please teach us this, so that we may not ignore our loneliness or the loneliness of others with worldly distractions.  Teach us to sing with David, “Turn Yourself to me, and have mercy on me, For I am desolate (lonely) and afflicted.” (Ps. 25:16)

Because only God can end our loneliness.  Sin separates us from God’s favor and love.  It is our unbelief that we inherit from Adam.  It dominates the flesh, this desire to be like God that only leads us off to be by ourselves, as pride and the quest for glory always do.   The flesh desires against the Spirit. We need God’s Spirit to desire against the flesh. (Gal. 5:17)

And God’s desire is against our sin, but for us.  Only God can separate the sin from the sinner, and He did so by sending His Son, who is One with Him, into our world of loneliness, to claim our flesh and blood as his own.  He never left the Father, and the Father never left him, and yet Jesus truly experienced the loneliness that we have brought upon ourselves.  We became lonely to seek our own desire.  Jesus became lonely because He desires us.  We left holiness for lonely wickedness.  He brings His holiness to be alone with all our wickedness.

When we say that Jesus bore our sin, or carried it, we are saying what God says.  “Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows, yet we esteem Him stricken by God, smitten, and afflicted.”  (Is. 53:14)  We all went astray like sheep, turning to our own lonely way, but God has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.

He carried our sinful desires in His body.  But He had no delight in it.  Instead, he took only the pain of it, and this pain was the punishment that brought us peace.  See in Jesus all the isolation, the loneliness, the desolation of man, the reclusive husband, the neglected wife, the abandoned children, the desires that kill us and destroy families, the desires the leave us thirsting for more of what will only hasten our final isolation in the grave – look and see the Son of God forsaken and lonely for us, and you will find God near to you now.

The Eastern Orthodox make a big show of denying that God poured His wrath down on His Son, that he forsook him, since, they say, the Son can’t be separated from the Father.  But it is no contradiction that Jesus was forsaken by the Father and yet remained one with Him.  It is a mystery, for sure, but it is a mystery we need.  We can’t figure out our loneliness.  A husband and wife can love each other and cling to each other and be one flesh, and still be lonely.  God joined us in the shame of loneliness and in so doing did not divide Himself.  The Son obeyed the Father’s will.  His obedience led him to be forsaken by God (Ps. 22:1), and even then the Son was still in the Father, and the Father still in the Son. (John 14:10).

And this is so very important for us when we feel God’s wrath against our sins; when we feel the loneliness that our sin has brought, and the Law’s demands don’t give us hope, but only further explain why we feel all alone.  Then it is that the Holy Spirit’s desire against our flesh is made clear in the sufferings and death of God’s Son become our Brother.  See the cause of all your isolation from God and man there on Jesus and not on you.  You may feel alone, but how can you be alone when God has joined Himself to your flesh and blood?  How can you be alone when he has taken all your desire that makes you lonely upon himself until it died in His death, and was left powerless when Christ rose again to the glory of the Father?

The Father was with Jesus even in His suffering, even when he forsook him.  Let reason bash its head on this and remain lonely in its own desire and worldly wisdom.  We have found here the wisdom of God, Christ crucified, who tells us we are not alone.  God is with us to forgive us, to comfort us, and to give us new desires, new strength, and hope in the midst of all of our suffering and loneliness here on earth.

This wisdom isn’t known to the wise of this world.  The wisdom of this world creates kingdoms, social programs, institutions that alleviate loneliness, for a while, but ultimately doesn’t bring us one step closer to God or to each other.  The unity of this world doesn’t end loneliness.  It’s a pact, a give-and-take that breaks as soon as the giving ceases.

But God never stops giving.  He never ceases to draw near to the broken-hearted.  He has given His Son, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.  And clinging to Christ is clinging to true wisdom and thus the end of all loneliness.  It is receiving from God an unending fountain of mercy and truth that joins us to God Himself, and makes us partakers of the divine nature, bound to an eternal friendship, a holy communion that neither death nor life nor anything in creation can separate.  It is the Holy Christian Church, where God makes us holy, separates us from the world and joins us to His Son as his own flesh and bone.

What shall we say to these things?  If God is with us, how can we be lonely?  It is a lonely way, clinging to God’s Word, seeing the loneliness all around us and being tempted by this or that solution the world offers to deal with the loneliness we must feel in our dying flesh and blood.  But we are not alone.  We have the living God and so we live.  God is with us.  He is Emmanuel.  And so it is with Christ, in whose body we live as branches to the vine, that we leave the lonely haunts of sadness and meet our husband or wife, our children, our friends and enemies with the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.  We are not darkness, secluded and hidden to cover our desire.  All our desires are before God, who forgives us of what is sinful and fills us with what is good and holy.

You husbands, cling to your wives, not only in body, but in the Spirit.  Read the Scriptures.  Talk about God, however clumsily, and God will increase your joy in the Spirit.  You wives, encourage your husbands to pray with you, to read the Bible to you, to apply God’s Word to your life.  Ask the simple questions, “What is God’s will in the Bible?”  Delight yourself in wisdom and God will give you the desires of your heart.  You parents, teach your children with all joy, even if you have failed to in the past, even they cause you grief.  You have the joy of Christ who is with you in all of your duties.  Speak with authority from God’s Word since that is the cure for your children’s loneliness.  You children, beg your parents not for bread that perishes, but for the bread that endures to enteral life.  Look for joy in Word of God that gave you life in the first place.  Say with young Samuel, “Speak, O Lord, Your servant listens!”

You young men, leave the haunts of your rooms, where you hide your sinful desires or wallow in games better left to boys as a short distraction.  Don’t seek the company of women who merely give you pleasure.  That is just as lonely as being alone in your room, if not lonelier.   You young women, don’t seek comfort and security in men who know nothing of the Lord whom you love, who alone can ease your loneliness with his pardon and mercy.

All of you young men and women, seek each other’s company out in holy places, where God’s Word is.  Go to Church. Go to Bible Class.  “Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion.”  “And let me find good friends / For counsel and correction.”  Abhor what is evil, including the gluttony of binging on entertainment that only leaves you craving for more of what you know makes you lonely.  Cling to what is good, which is singing, praying, laughing and weeping with members of the body of Christ.  Remember that you are not alone even when you feel that you are.  God’s Word is stronger than your feelings, and truer than your opinions.

You pastors, get away from your computer, away even from your books for a while.  Talk theology with your wife and children.  Visit your members.  Teach with all patience, and God will soon let your eye see the fruits of your labors.

And in all of this, take time to be alone.  It seems kind of funny.  An entire sermon based on avoiding loneliness, and I tell you to take time to be alone.  But God tells you to.  Your time to be alone is time to pray and meditate on God’s Word.  Then you know you are not alone.  Then you know that it is Our Father you are praying to.  God is with you.  Christ is with you always, even to the end of the age, and with Him is His body, saints above, and saints below, and the angels of God are ascending and descending on Christ whom you claim as Your Lord when the Holy Spirit moves your heart to cry out in every need, in all loneliness and affliction, in all guilt and shame, “Abba, Father, Daddy,” and you learn to believe more and more, and to confess at all times what your true Father teaches you to say, “I am not alone.”  Amen.

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