This sermon was preached at Peace Hill Christian Fellowship on April 18th, 2004. There is no audio for this sermon.
PROVERBS 4:1-9 — BUILDING FOUNDATIONAL WISDOM
DO NOT DESPISE BASIC INSTRUCTION.
Listen to a Father’s Instruction: “Listen, my sons, to a father’s instruction…” Most children raised on Christian instruction, after time, become bored with the basic teaching of their youth. Young children love and need repetition of Bible stories and basic instruction. But as children get older, the basics seem elementary and uninteresting to them. However, wise parents recognize that the basic teaching is foundational bedrock for faith.
Wisdom is a matter of recognizing that we never get beyond our need for the teachings we learned as children – because they are foundational. This passage is a call for us to be wise – not by learning some secret and hidden wisdom – but by putting into practice the basic and foundational teachings of our faith.
The Father’s tone, as he calls us back to the basic wisdom of our faith, is almost desperate because his message is desperately important. He is speaking as someone who has gained valuable experience of life – and he is speaking to us as to sons whom he loves. He has seen both the pitfalls of folly and the joys of wisdom, and he knows that these words and commands will be life to us, if we listen.
TURN BASIC WISDOM INTO FOUNDATIONAL WISDOM.
So what are we supposed to do with the basic wisdom we learned – how do we turn what was once basic into what can become foundationally important to life?
Lay Hold of Wisdom w/All Your Heart and You Will Live: “Pay attention and gain understanding… “When I was a boy in my father’s house, still tender, and an only child of my mother, he taught me and said, ‘Lay hold of my words with all your heart; keep my commands and you will live.”
Parents teach their children the basic things of greatest importance – the difference between right and wrong, basic discernment, the foundational stories of faith. As we grow in our faith, we are not to abandon these stories, leaving them behind as unimportant, but rather to gain – to grow in our understanding of why they are important and foundational – deepening our shallow understanding with the insight and experience of age.
An increased understanding of the foundational stories and teachings of faith – of right and wrong – of the gospel – should lead to an increased devotion and obedience. A child can understand the story of Creation in Gen.1, but an adult ought to see and recognize the beauty and order and goodness of God. And that recognition ought to result in worship and confidence in God. A child can read about and be fascinated by Jesus’ miracle of opening the eyes of the blind, but an adult can see in the same miracle how we are all spiritually blind until Christ opens our eyes to see.
What happens as we lay hold of wisdom – as we begin to be confronted – not merely fascinated – by these stories? We come to life spiritually. Unless we lay hold of these basic teachings of Scripture and see how they confront us, they remain just interesting stories that have no connection to our lives. But when we begin to lay hold of them with the understanding of an adult – they come to life and produce life in us.
Get Wisdom! Do Not Forsake Wisdom and She Will Protect You: “Get wisdom! Get understanding! …Do not forsake wisdom and she will protect you” Not only are we to awaken to the foundational wisdom we have been given – but we are to orient our lives around being wise – getting wisdom and growing in wisdom. There are many pitfalls and dangers in the spiritual life. There are many ways to be led astray.
In 1Timothy 1:1-11, Paul writes to Timothy concerning those who have wandered away from wisdom into “…false doctrines” and “myths and endless genealogies”. In other words, these people had left the foundational truths of their faith for things that sounded more sophisticated, teachings that seemed deeper and more interesting than the command of love, “…which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.”
But teaching that “promotes controversies rather than God’s work”, is not deeper wisdom. Wisdom is not some deep and hidden truth that is only attainable to the learned – it is the fear of the Lord. Those who leave the basic teachings of the word – who are looking for some new teaching, are forsaking wisdom.
If we leave behind the foundational wisdom we have been taught for some new learning, we are exchanging the wisdom of God for the wisdom of the world. A wisdom that promotes controversy – and a wisdom that is passing away. It is noteworthy that the teachings about genealogies and myths referred to in 1Tim.1, have faded – because they produced no life and no power – while the basics of the gospel, the commands of love which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith – have lasted up until the present day.
Love Wisdom and She Will Watch Over You: “Love her! And she will watch over you. Wisdom is supreme, therefore get wisdom! Though it cost you all you have, get understanding!”
On the flipside of not forsaking wisdom, we are also to love wisdom. Just as holding on to wisdom and not forsaking her protects us – so a love for wisdom watches over us – these two ideas go together, stating the negative and positive sides of the command.
We are not only to grow in from basic wisdom to foundational wisdom – not only to hold onto it – but we are to love wisdom. We are to learn to love the foundational wisdom of our faith because it is the solid, life-producing bedrock of what we believe.
We are not driven by mere knowledge of these things. While understanding is important, wisdom is more than knowledge – it is a love for the truth.
If we will love wisdom, if we will love the foundational teaching of our faith – wisdom will watch over us – will protect us from soul destroying teaching and controversies, as we have seen, but will also keep us from soul destroying lifestyles and practices.
Embrace Wisdom and She Will Honor You: “Esteem her, and she will exalt you; embrace her, and she will honor you. She will set a garland of grace on your head and present you with a crown of splendor.”
Finally, make wisdom your own. This is what it means to embrace wisdom. Let these foundational teachings become the foundation of your life. Conform your way of life to these basic teachings of Scripture – allowing yourself to be shaped by them.
Those who live by this wisdom will be honored by God. Note the progression of the promises – From Life, to Protection, to Honor. This is what God desires for those who embrace the basic and clear foundational teachings of Scripture. God desires, as a father, to give his children good gifts – to honor them. If we continue in the foundational truths of our faith, God will set a “garland of grace” – his own beauty, on us (an image which should be understood in its NT sense as the righteousness of Christ in place of our sin and falleness), and a “crown of splendor” – the splendor of glory in eternal life.
This sermon was preached at Peace Hill Christian Fellowship on May 9th, 2004. There is no audio for this sermon.
PROVERBS 4:10-19 — THE JOURNEY OF FAITH
This section of Ch.4 is filled with all of these references to “the path” of life. We are encouraged to walk along “straight paths”, to be guided in “the way” of wisdom. The speaker promises that if we hear him we will “run” and “walk” without “stumbling”. This is the controlling metaphor of the passage: That life is a journey and that we must choose who we are going to travel with and the path that we are going to walk on – whether that of the world or that of faith.
So how are we to make this choice? The choices are laid out by the proverbist.
PUT YOURSELF IN A POSITION TO RECEIVE GRACE.
Be Willing to Listen and Accept: “Listen my son, accept what I say and the years of your life will be many. I guide you in the way of wisdom and lead you along straight paths. When you walk your steps will not be hampered; when you run you will not stumble. Hold onto instruction, do not let it go; guard it well for it is your life.”
The first choice that is set before us, by the Father, is to be willing to receive instruction (to listen to the voice of the Father), and to learn accountability and submission (to accept). Very often, we are willing to hear instruction, but we are not willing to be accountable to others or to submit ourselves to anyone. The fear of the Lord and the beginning of wisdom (we are still in the beginning chapters of this book), is to understand that we cannot and should not try to live the Christian life outside of God’s grace by our own effort or intelligence.
Part of our confession of sin is to recognize that our hearts are deceptive – they deceive us. Our own way of hearing and interpreting and understanding is, in different ways, flawed. Unless we are willing to hear instruction from others, to accept correction and even rebuke, as well as encouragement, we will continue to be hampered in our walk with God – we will continue to stumble in the same ways. Until we recognize the deceitfulness of our own hearts – that our sin and our stumbling is a matter of our unwillingness to confess our sin and submit to God, we will continue to fall in the same ways over and over again.
DO NOT PUT YOURSELF IN A POSITION TO STUMBLE.
Do Not Put Yourself on the Same Path as the Wicked: “Do not set foot on the path of the wicked or walk in the way of evil men. Avoid it, do not travel on it, turn from it and go on your way.”
This sounds vague. What does it mean? It means, do not chase after the same things, have the same goals, keep the same company, build your life around the same things as those who are chasing after the things of the world. Do not build your life around money, your achievements, your dream home, on how many people you can get to tell you how wonderful you are. Do not run after these things. Build your life around a group – a community of God’s people – a community of faith. This is not merely a better option for the proverbist, it is essential – not a neutral choice. To spend our lives chasing after affluence, comfort or self-importance is, in the mind of the proverbist – to step onto the path of the wicked.
Do Not Make the Sacrifices of the Wicked: How do you know whether you have done this? Look at the sacrifices you are making. Where are you making those sacrifices? Where does one area of your life compromise another area of your life? These are like choices – turns in the road or forks – to sacrifice one thing in order to serve the other is a choosing of one path over another.
We don’t tend to think in this way. We tend to think that we can sacrifice our family or gathering to worship or our witness for the sake of work or school now because later we will be able to work ourselves into a position to share our faith or to make our own schedule, or to bless our family. This is a denial of the basic wisdom that life is a journey. Later on we will have traveled down the road and will be in a different place altogether – we will not have the same decisions but different ones. Now is the time to choose – each sacrifice leads us in a direction on the path – towards grace or away from it.
What is the Father’s advice? (1) Stay off of the path that evil men are taking, don’t set foot on it, avoid it altogether, (2) If you find you have been thinking of living your life this way, stop – do not travel down that road, (3) If you have begun to go down that road, turn from it and get off if it – go your way.
RECOGNIZE HOW YOUR TRAVELING COMPANIONS INFLUENCE YOU.
The Communion of Our Community Will Influence Us Profoundly: “For they cannot sleep till they do evil; they are robbed of slumber till they make someone fall. They eat the bread of wickedness and drink the wine of violence.”
We should understand, here, that the Father is not saying that we should have no dealings with those who do not believe – rather we should not choose them as traveling companions – those whose influence and counsel guides us. We should not travel with them where they are going – the decisions they are making in life – the direction their lives take.
Why is this so important? The choice is one of being in relationships where the central interest is receiving and living in the grace of Jesus Christ – where we learn to listen to others, to submit to spiritual authority of others, to encourage and build up others – versus – being in competition with others and demanding our own way, where the central interest of life is anything else.
Both choices feed our souls in a kind of spiritual communion. On the one hand, believers eat the bread of grace and drink the blood of forgiveness – elements that expose our neediness and the goodness of God. We are learning to delight in the grace and forgiveness of Jesus – to see that as our best good, our greatest joy, the defining truth of life.
On the other hand, those who commune with the world, eat the bread of wickedness and drink the wine of violence – elements that expose a life enslaved to appetites and self-seeking power. They are learning to delight in having things, achieving their goals, having their way, and justifying themselves in the eyes of others. It is a poisonous, soul-destroying communion. To travel along with these companions is to take in a poisonous diet –and one that will weaken and eventually kill faith.
Time and Experience will Bear Out the Truth of These Choices: “The path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, shining ever brighter till the full light of day. But the way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know what makes them stumble.”
So what have we said so far? That faith is a journey we make with important turns and choices. That we need to put ourselves in a community of faith where we are learning to submit our wills and listen to instruction, because we are sinful people, prone to self-deception. That we should avoid building our lives around the things that unbelievers build their lives around. That we should not choose those who do not know and love God as traveling companions.
There are a lot of sacrifices being called for here. How can we be sure what the Father is saying is true? We know friends and acquaintances who are building, or planning on building their lives around success and wealth and the things the rest of the world chases after. They seem like good, moral people. Is the Father being unreasonable? Maybe we should take this teaching with a grain of salt.
The Father, anticipating this argument, illustrates the truth of what he is saying with the same metaphor he has been using throughout. He pictures two men preparing to take a trip – a journey. Both of them start out with the same amount of light, however, the first starts out a dawn, and the second at dusk. What will happen as they make their respective trips? One will be able to see more clearly as the light increases to the full light of day – the other will soon run out of light and get lost in the pitch darkness.
It is a picture of the effect of traveling on either path. Those who choose to walk by faith as part of a community of faith, will be able to walk gradually and increasingly with more sight and clarity and safety. Those who chose to live as part of a community that is running after the things of the world will gradually and increasingly walk in darkness and confusion until they cease to see and understand at all – they will stumble and fall.
The question is left for us – the “sons” to decide. What path are you on now? What sacrifices are you making or getting ready to make? What turns in the road? Put yourself on the path of grace with other believers. Be willing to listen, to submit, to hold on to the wisdom and grace of God and delight in it.
This sermon was preached at Peace Hill Christian Fellowship on May 16th, 2004. There is no audio available for this sermon.
PROVERBS 4:20-27 — GUARD THE GIFT OF THE FATHER’S GRACE
PAY ATTENTION TO THE FATHER’S WORDS OF LIFE.
Listen to the Father To Hear His Voice: “My son pay attention to what I say; listen closely to my words.” This is now the third time in this hymn about wisdom that the Father has pleaded for us to pay attention to what he is saying: Vs.1 – “Listen my sons to a father’s instruction; pay attention and gain understanding” – Vs.10 – “Listen, my son, accept what I say and the years of your life will be many.” – and now Vs.20 (see above).
The point of this three-fold emphasis on listening is that wisdom is as much or more a matter of hearing the Father’s voice as it is learning. Have you noticed that Proverbs has not given us principles or platitudes – but that throughout it has been the voice of the Father, or of Wisdom, speaking directly to us as children. These are not merely ideas to be studied – God the Father is calling you. He wants to speak directly to you in his word. The Holy Spirit wants to bring the word to life for you as you look into it – it is a living word – so that you can meet and know the Father. This is what inspiration of the Scriptures means.
The greatest tragedy would be that we would study the word of God all our lives and never meet the Father Himself, or hear the voice of Jesus. This is what Jesus said to the Pharisees – “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scripture that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” (Jn.5:39-40).
Fix Your Eyes on His Word: “ Do not let them out of your sight. Not only does the is the Father calling us to listen, but he is also calling us to keep his words before us. The Father wants us both to meet him in his word – and to hear what he has to say. He is longing to lead us into joyful, full lives, but like children, we are prone – not to reject the Father’s words outright – but to forget his words.
We tend to lose sight of the Word. We may sit down and study it or hear it preached – but somehow, when we get up and go outside or to work, we are prone to lose sight of what we heard, what we believed. And so we live as though the Father had not met or spoken to us – as though we were alone, orphaned in the spiritual life with no one to help us. The Father wants to keep our attention. He wants us to keep his word before our eyes – to be considering it and responding to it everywhere we go.
Let His Word Sink Down to Your heart: “ Keep them within your heart” Not only does the Father want us to hear his voice, and to keep his word before us, but also he wants us to keep his word within our hearts. God wants us to look at wisdom, the beauty of the way he made us to live – and measure our own hearts against that wisdom – to see the corruption and inconstance of our hearts. The Father wants us to come to him in order to have life. He wants us to (1) see the corruption of sin in our hearts, (2) to come to him for forgiveness, (3) to come and receive the grace to change and live new lives.
The Father’s Words are Life and Health: “… for they are life to those who find them and health to a man’s whole body.” This is the Wisdom the Father has been offering to those who are simple and rebellious and to those who have wandered. The Father has the wisdom and grace that will renew and change our lives. This is the gospel in the OT – that the Father is calling us to know him and to come to him for wisdom, and to listen to his word and to let that word sink down into our hearts and to change us.
GUARD YOUR HEART.
Understand How God Made Our Hearts. “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” As important as hearing and responding to the voice of the Father, and receiving grace, is the idea of guarding the gift of that grace in our hearts.
The Father tells us that our hearts are well-springs. What is a well-spring? It is an underground spring or stream that keeps a well filled with water. The heart – your heart and mine – are described here as well-springs. The picture here is one in which my thoughts and ideas and desires and actions are bubbling up out of my body from a well down inside of me, which is fed by a spring. Obviously, then, whatever is filling the well-spring of my heart is going to have a profound effect on my life. I need to be aware of what is flowing into my heart and how it is affecting me.
Jesus is Our Well-Spring: The image of the well-spring is picked up in the NT in Jn.4:13-14. Jesus tells the Woman at the Well, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”
Like the woman at the well – we are supplying our hearts with life from relationships, possessions, dreams of things we want to have – and these things become the water of our soul. The actions and desires and words that they produce are in keeping with and flow out of the well-springs of our hearts.
But hear the Father here in Proverbs – we need to guard our hearts – the well-springs of our lives. We need to recognize and receive the gift of God – forgiveness and grace to live a new life through Jesus. Love for God who loved us needs to be the well-spring that is filling our lives. Thankfulness for the salvation we have in Jesus needs to be our well-spring.
GUARD YOUR HEART BY GUARDING YOUR SPEECH – WHAT COMES OUT.
Our Speech is a Gauge for Our Hearts: “Put away perversity from your mouth; keep corrupt talk far from your lips.” – Jesus told his disciples that what comes out of a man’s mouth makes him unclean because it comes from his heart. Things like: evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, and slander (Matt.15:16-20).
One way in which we are to guard our hearts, is to listen to them – to listen to our words recognizing that they are exposing the thoughts and desires of our hearts. Words that attack and tear down other people, words of bitterness, quarreling and argumentativeness, expose the fact that we do not love people as God does – that our hearts are being fed by anger and competition.
Perverted and crude speech that degrades life, exposes the pollution of a perverse and degraded spring. Speech that is accusing reveals a well-spring which is accusing us.
To pay attention to our words, to hear ourselves, is to guard what is going on at the well-spring of our hearts.
Our Speech Confirms What is in Our Hearts: But speech also has an effect on us. To speak something out loud is to own it, to confirm that we believe or think it. People identify what we are like by hearing our speech – and we ourselves take our identity – we form it – through our speech. Speech is like a confession of faith. This is why we say the great confessions out loud. This is why we pray out loud.
James 3:8-12 – James says that out of the mouth of believers come both pure and impure water. He asks – “Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring?” The answer is obviously, “No”. To guard our speech is to guard our heart. We should not confess and confirm the crude or slanderous, or bitter thoughts of our hearts. We should reject them. Perverse speech does much more than degrade a situation or set an evil or perverse tone – it proclaims who we are at the core – it give expression to the soul and the heart.
GUARD YOUR HEART BY GUARDING YOUR EYES – WHAT GOES IN.
Eyes Are the Window of the Soul: “Let your eyes look straight ahead, fix your gaze directly before you..” Jesus said, the eye is the lamp of the body (Matt.6:22). Clearly, then, what we choose to look at enters into us. The Father is speaking here to a son who is walking down a street – or in a world – full of enticements. To turn and look from side to side is to wander – where the eye looks the body follows.
Consequently, we cannot take the position that what we look at – what we gaze at – remains outside of the body. It enters into the body. What they eyes drink in feeds into the wellspring of our souls.
Eyes Have Choices: It is also true that the way we understand the world and our lives is shaped by what we choose to look at. We can cast our eyes only over those things which fill us with discontent or anger – or we can choose to look elsewhere. We can choose to look at the glory of forgiveness, the love that sent Jesus to the cross, the wonder of eternal life, or we can choose to look at those things which disappoint us or fill our hearts with evil desires. Either way we are feeding into the wellspring of our souls.
GUARD YOUR HEART BY GUARDING YOUR FEET – WHERE YOU GO.
Be Careful Where You Walk: “Make level paths for your feet and take only ways that are firm. Do not swerve to the right or the left; keep your foot from evil.” Finally, guarding the gift of grace in our hearts means being careful of where we go – as Paul says, “make no provision for the flesh”. Sometimes we are called to “stand firm” against temptations – but with many temptations, we are told to flee – to get away. Guarding our heart takes a recognition that there are some things which we cannot handle – which pull us away from grace and the love of God. Scripture tells us specifically that we should flee sexual immorality, but there are other sins that we know that we personally cannot handle – places we know we should not go – people we know we should not spend time with. Guarding our hearts means to be careful what situations we put ourselves in.