Central Presbyterian Church

Massillon, Ohio

 

“READ THE WARNING LABEL”

   Selections from Proverbs

   Job 28:20-28

 

      One day, my parents bought a new brown, vinyl ottoman for the living room.  Underneath it

was that ubiquitous label which warned: “Do not remove under penalty of law.”  I don’t remem-

ber how old I was at the time, but I was old enough to understand what “under penalty of law”

meant.  Shortly after we got this ottoman – which was on casters – I was rolling around the living

room on it.  I somehow managed to get that label on the bottom of the ottoman caught under

one of the wheels, and it tore off.  I was mortified, believing that once my crime was revealed,

the police would show up at my door with an arrest warrant.  After several floundering attempts

to glue it back on, I took the label out to the back yard and literally buried it; then hid myself in

my room.  I was relieved to learn sometime later that such warnings applied only while the pro-

duct was still on the store shelf.  Now to this day, I get a weird thrill ripping those labels off.

           

      It seems that just about anything we purchase comes with some sort of warning label.  I

suppose in this day and age of lawsuits on steroids, manufacturers and marketers need to

shield themselves from those who would improperly use a product to their or another’s harm,

then want compensation – sometimes ridiculous compensation – for their own wrongful use;

for even their own [pardon me] stupidity. 

      Who of us can forget Stella.  She was the lady who, way back in 1992, bought a cup of coffee

at a McDonald’s drive-through; I believe in New Mexico.  She spilled the coffee in her lap, then

proceeded to sue McDonald’s.  She was awarded three million dollars in damages on the basis of

the coffee being not ‘typically hot,’ but ‘dangerously hot.’  I’m not suggesting Stella was stupid,

and I don’t know all the specifics of the case.  At any rate, McDonald’s has since then placed a

warning on their cups reminding consumers that the coffee inside is indeed very hot.  This

lawsuit led to a series of tort reform laws aimed at protecting the seller from the buyer.

      Fast forward to 2019, and notice the verbal warning labels [they’re called “disclaimers:”] on

any number of products and services advertised on television; especially medications.  In fact,

far more time is spent warning about the side effects of a drug than on describing its benefits. 

And along with the widespread fear of litigation have come all sorts of warning labels and dis-

claimers which seem just plain silly.  For example, attached to a hand-held hair dryer I recently

bought was a label which cautioned:  “Do not use when asleep.”  I don’t know how many folk

there are who would blow dry their hair while sleeping, but somewhere along the line, it must

have happened.  A bottle of pediatric cough drops has this warning:  “Do not take while driving

or operating heavy machinery.”  I know kids are growing up fast these days, but…. On a package

of mouse poison is this warning in bold print:  “Caution, may be harmful to small rodents.”  I

hope so.  A new lawnmower has a label dangling from the handle:  “Do not operate indoors.” 

Just this past Christmas, I saw a package of Christmas lights which clearly stated:  “For indoor

or outdoor use only.” 

      The Book of Proverbs – a compendium of wisdom – is right at the heart of the Bible, yet

receives little attention in the preaching and teaching ministries of the church.  And the Pro-

verbs are chock full of warnings; warnings which make a lot of common sense; admonitions as

they’re more often called.  The reason the Proverbs were collected in the first place was to

serve as a convenient moral and religious instruction manual for Jewish youth.  The Proverbs

come from different writers in different times and places; although many of them are credited

to King Solomon who was celebrated as one of the wisest men to have ever lived.  When we

think about it, is there anything like the Proverbs available to youth in America today?  For that

matter, is there anything like Proverbs available to people of any age in America today?  I think

we are sorely in need of such wisdom literature.

      For us preacher types, it is a challenge to exposit the Proverbs for two reasons.  First, unlike

other books of the Bible, the passages in Proverbs are very short, and don’t lend themselves to

in-depth theological analysis.  Second, unlike so many other writings in the Bible, they are quite

clear in what they say.  Frankly, the Proverbs don’t need us preachers muddying them up with

all our theological gobbly goop.  So what I’d like to do for the remainder of this message is

something I’m not in the habit of doing, which is keeping my commentary to myself.  Rather,

we’ll let the Proverbs speak for themselves.  I’ve chosen them on the basis of their plain com-

mon sense wisdom, the relevance of their warnings, and their gentle humor.  So for a few

moments,  I’m going to get out of the way, and let the wisdom of God be clearly communicated.

“A wise child makes a glad father, but a foolish child is a mother’s grief.”

“The wise of heart will heed commandments, but a babbling fool will come to ruin.”

“Whoever heeds instruction is on the path to life, but one who rejects correction goes astray.”

“Like vinegar to the teeth, and smoke to the eyes, so are the lazy to their employers.”

“When pride comes, then comes disgrace; but wisdom is with the humble.”

“Whoever belittles another lacks sense, but an intelligent person remains silent.”

“To guarantee loans for a stranger brings trouble, but there is safety in refusing to do so.”

“Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout is a beautiful woman without good sense.”

“Some give freely, yet grow all the richer; others withhold what is due, and only suffer want.”

“Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but those who hate to be rebuked are stupid.”

“Anxiety weighs down the human heart, but a good word cheers it up.”

“Wealth hastily gotten will dwindle, but those who gather little by little will increase it.”

“Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools suffers harm.”

“The simple believe everything, but the clever consider their steps.”

“A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”

“Better is a dinner of vegetables where love is than a fatted ox and hatred with it.”

“Sometimes there is a way that seems to be right, but in the end it is the way to death.”

“The appetite of workers works for them; their hunger urges them on.”

“One who forgives an affront fosters friendship, but one who dwells on disputes will alienate

  a friend.”

“Better to meet a she-bear robbed of its cubs than to confront a fool immersed in folly.”

“The beginning of strife is like letting out water; so stop before the quarrel breaks out.”

“A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing personal opinions.”

“One who is slack in work is close kin to a vandal.”

“The one who first states a case seems right, until the other comes and cross-examines.”

“Some friends play at friendship, but a true friend sticks closer than one’s nearest kin.”

“Many seek the favor of the generous, but everyone is a friend to a giver of gifts.”

“Bread gained by deceit is sweet, but afterward the mouth will be full of gravel.”

“A gossip reveals secrets; therefore do not associate with a babbler.”

“Make no friends with those given to anger, and do not associate with hotheads, or you may

  learn their ways and entangle yourself in a snare.”

“Do not eat the bread of the stingy; do not desire their delicacies; for like a hair in the throat,

   so are they. ‘Eat and drink!’ they say; but they do not mean it.”

“Who has woe?  Who has sorrow?  Who has strife?  Who has complaining?  Who has wounds

   without cause?  Who has redness of eyes?  Those who linger late over wine, those who keep

   trying mixed wines.  Do not look at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup and goes

   down smoothly.  At the last it bites like a serpent, and stings like a adder.  Your eyes will see

   strange things, and your mind utter perverse things.  You will be like one who lies down in

   the midst of the sea, like one who lies on top of a mast.  ‘They struck me,’ you will say, ‘but I

   was not hurt; they beat me, but I did not feel it.  When shall I awake?  I will seek another

   drink.’”

“Like somebody who takes a passing dog by the ears is the one who meddles in the quarrel of

   another.”

“Like a maniac who shoots deadly firebrands and arrows, so is one who deceives a neighbor

  and says, ‘I am only joking.’”

Last, but certainly not least:  “Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life.”

 

Lord our God, Author of all wisdom and Giver of all common sense, in this day when common

sense and wisdom are in short supply, we offer our deep gratitude for Your written word,

which guides; which instructs; which calls us to clear thought and responsible behavior.  May

we this day, and every day, hear Your word, know Your word, and live in accordance with Your

word.  Amen.