Getting My Most Important Relationship Right

 

Week of May 5, 2013

 

Bible Verses:  Proverbs 3:5-8,13-18,31-35.

 

Lesson Focus:  This lesson can help you to trust in the Lord, which will help you reorder and re-prioritize your other relationships.

 

Trust God with All Your Heart:  Proverbs 3:5-8.

 

[5]  Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. [6]  In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. [7]  Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil. [8]  It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones.   [ESV]

 

[5-8]  Here are perhaps the most familiar and best loved verses in all of Proverbs. We encounter an exhortation [5-6a] and, then, a promised reward [6b]. The exhortation is given in three lines. The first line calls us to trust in the Lord with all your heart. This trust is the sense of security and safety that comes from being under the care of another more competent than ourselves. This trust is to be total: with all your heart. The heart represents the totality of one’s inner being: mind, emotions and will. Everything we are and all we have must be rested upon the Lord as our security. The second part of the exhortation is cast negatively: we are not to lean on your own understanding. The root of the verb means to support yourself on something, to lean with your entire weight upon something. We are not to take our own understanding as our support. Understanding is a word that is generally given a positive spin by Solomon, but here is seen negatively. Here it is that human wisdom worked up from our natural selves as compared to the divine wisdom that God gives to those who seek Him. This does not mean to imply that there is nothing to be trusted in common sense, but simply that you do not use it as your sole, or even primary, support in life. Rather, we should bank our all on God and the wisdom of His ways. His ways are above ours, and must be chosen when they seem to contradict our earthly, human wisdom. The third line of the exhortation is found in verse 6: in all your ways acknowledge him. The verb acknowledge means simply ‘to know’. Such knowledge is more than acquainting yourself with God, but describes a deep experiential knowledge. The fact that this is to be in all your ways drives deeper still the level of intimacy intended. Finally, the reward is stated: and he will make straight your paths. The straight paths of the wise contrast with the crooked or perverse ways of the wicked [Prov. 2:13,15; 3:17; 10:9]. The reward is more than the promise of simple guidance. It includes the removal of obstacles from the path of the wise and the surety of arriving at one’s destination. When you abandon yourself to God in trusting obedience, finding your entire support in Him and striving in every avenue of your life to know Him more intimately, He guarantees that the path before you will be clearer and smoother than otherwise it would have been, and that He will keep you in His will. Again, we meet an exhortation and its reward in verse 7. Note the connection with the preceding verse: the one who is wise in his own eyes is the one who leans upon his own understanding. We are called to recognize that wisdom does not come from within, but from without – from God [Prov. 2:6]. Fools say, “Just let me think! I can figure this out if you will just give me time!” God says, Never be wise in your own sight [Rom. 12:16]. Do you see a man wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him [Prov. 26:12]. Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and shrewd in their own sight! [Isaiah 5:21]. God honors and helps the one who admits he does not have the wisdom he needs and who seeks it from Him [James 1:5]. The opposite of being wise in one’s own eyes is fearing the Lord. This is the theme of Proverbs. When we put God in His rightful place and reverence Him appropriately, we will turn away from evil. One who is wise is cautious and turns away from evil, but a fool is reckless and careless [Prov. 14:16]. To love God is to hate what He hates [Ps. 97:10; 119:104,128; 139:21]. The fear of the Lord is hatred of evil [Prov. 8:13]. By the fear of the Lord one turns away from evil [Prov. 16:6]. You cannot love and fear God and turn toward evil. To turn toward evil is to belittle God and hate Him. In verse 8, It refers to a lifestyle that reverences the Lord and turns away from evil. This lifestyle will bring healing to your flesh. This should come as no surprise, since Scripture clearly reveals the negative effects of unconfessed sin on the human body [Ps. 32:3-4]. It should follow that righteous living will have a positive effect upon the body. Refreshment comes from a root word that is often used to speak of giving drink to humans or animals. It is also used of irrigating or watering parched ground to make it fertile. Here, the idea of moisture to the bones gives that same sense of refreshment or renewal to the body. Bones are the framing structure of the entire body, so this also is a metaphorical reference to the whole of the body. The moisture for the health of the bones is contrasted by the consequences of sin on the bones. All of this tells us that righteous living and a clean conscience is one of the avenues through which God brings a good health to us. Our spiritual well-being and our physical health are intimately connected. This is not a promise of good health at all times but a statement that is generally true, all things being equal.

 

Discover the Benefits of God’s Wisdom:  Proverbs 3:13-18.

 

[13]  Blessed is the one who finds wisdom, and the one who gets understanding,  [14]  for the gain from her is better than gain from silver and her profit better than gold.  [15]  She is more precious than jewels, and nothing you desire can compare with her.  [16]  Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honor.  [17]  Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace.  [18]  She is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her; those who hold her fast are called blessed.  [ESV]

 

[13-18]  Verse 13 marks the beginning of a new section of the chapter, a portion in which the writer poetically extols the virtues of wisdom [13-18]. This poem is set off as a separate section because its first and last words are from an identical root word in the Hebrew meaning “blessed” or “happy.” Between these two uses of the same word, we find a series of clauses intended to motivate the reader to pursue wisdom. Blessed is the one echoes the psalmists’ frequent cry of joy and reminds one of Jesus’ beatitudes. This blessedness describes a state of being that derives from walking rightly with God and having His seal of approval upon you. It describes not so much a subjective condition of happiness as it does a state arising from having an objective verdict pronounced upon us by God. it is not so much emotional as it is factual, though the fact of God’s blessing surely affects one’s emotions. No great distinction should be made here between wisdom and understanding, as they are used in poetic parallelism. To find these jewels is a prized experience and to get such insight is precious indeed. The benefits of wisdom are enumerated in verse 14. Wisdom is here counted of more worth than silver or gold. This same estimation is made elsewhere of the commands and precepts of God [Ps. 119:72,127]. The profit and gain of wisdom is better than anything worldly wealth can afford. Riches make an unstable foundation upon which to build one’s life [1 Tim. 6:17], and the reckless pursuit of them opens one up to a world of evil influences [1 Tim. 6:6-10]. The words gain and profit are descriptive of one who invests with a view to a good return. The best long term investment one can make is the pursuit of God’s wisdom and understanding. The dividends it yields far outweigh any gains made by the pursuit of gains in capital. The jewels spoken of in verse 15 were probably red corals of some kind and were regarded as extremely valuable in the ancient world. But, more desirable than the finest gem is the wisdom of God. Surprisingly, we meet the second person you in the second line of this verse. This is the only occurrence of the second person in this poem, indicating the personal nature of the search for wisdom. Suddenly, the value of wisdom is pressed home and made personal. Nothing you can desire will ever compare with the value of wisdom. The human capacity for desire is vast, but the exclusivity of wisdom’s worth sets her apart as unique among all others [Ps. 37:4; 73:25; 103:5]. The mention of the right and left hand together signifies wisdom’s generosity and readiness to give. Nothing held in wisdom’s embrace is withheld from the one who will seek her. In her right hand, her hand of strength, comes the most precious gift of long life. In her left hand, she holds forth the lesser, but still valuable, gifts of physical resources. The one who embraces wisdom will live long, have plenty to sustain himself throughout his many years, and will be respected and praised by those in his network of relationships. Solomon knew whereof he spoke. This was not mere instruction. It was personal testimony. When he asked God for wisdom, God promised it would be his. Yet, because Solomon asked for wisdom and not other more selfish prizes, God promised He would also give him what he had not asked for: riches and honor [1 Kings 3:12-13]. That these rewards are grace gifts and not guarantees in this world should be obvious. The wicked often prosper and live long lives, but theirs is illegitimate pleasure and there is no peace with it. Likewise, the righteous often die young, poor and in obscurity, yet they die well and the riches of eternity await them. Wisdom’s virtues continue to be extolled in verse 17. Ways … paths describe the direction and substance of one’s life as he makes his way through this world. Walking in the ways of wisdom is pleasant. Ways which are pleasant are those upon which one discovers what is agreeable to the inner and outer man, and which it does good to enjoy. In verbal form, it means to be pleasant, sweet, delightful and beautiful. As a noun, it is goodness, charm, loveliness. In addition, to tread the paths of wisdom is in itself peace. This peace is more than the absence of turmoil, but includes the broader condition of entire well-being, health, and being satisfied and fulfilled with one’s lot. It is a pernicious lie which says to walk the ways of wisdom is to be condemned to boredom, emotional restraint and a bland existence. Nothing could be further from the truth. Rather, these describe the character of earthly wisdom [Col. 2:23]. It is true that God’s ways may not be easy. They may not be frivolous. They certainly do not follow the path of least resistance. Yet, they are anything but bland. You have made known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore [Ps. 16:11]. Tree of life refers to wisdom personified as the source of life itself. The image of the tree of life began in Eden [Gen 2:9] and it continues through the pages of Scripture until the closing picture of the new heavens and the new earth [Rev. 2:7; 22:2,14]. The tree symbolizes the long and fruitful life already spoken of in verse 16. Blessed is the promised outcome of those who embrace wisdom. It also represents the conclusion of the poem which started in verse 13. The verb here is in the intensive form, stressing that such a one will be made happy in the deepest understanding of the word. As it was in our ancestors’ idyllic state, and as it will be in the eternal, perfect state, so even now, in measured portion, we may come to God’s tree of life and eat of her fruit and be renewed and take of her leaves and discover healing for the ravages of sin and foolishness. This reward does not come automatically, however. The tree of life is stationary. We must go to it. Wisdom may call to us, yet she does not force her understanding upon anyone. We must lay hold of her and hold her fast. The first expression means to take hold of or seize something. The second expression refers to grasping something securely. It is most often used metaphorically of laying firm hold of moral matters or spiritual truths. Entering into the joys of wisdom’s blessedness requires our diligent pursuit and a firm grip upon her precepts. To lay hold and hold fast are metaphorical expressions describing the determined obedience of the wise man or woman in the face of the ongoing enticements of foolishness and sin. We must be vigilant in our application of God’s wisdom!

 

Stay Focused on God’s Ways:  Proverbs 3:31-35.

 

[31]  Do not envy a man of violence and do not choose any of his ways,  [32]  for the devious person is an abomination to the LORD, but the upright are in his confidence.  [33]  The LORD's curse is on the house of the wicked, but he blesses the dwelling of the righteous.  [34]  Toward the scorners he is scornful, but to the humble he gives favor.  [35]  The wise will inherit honor, but fools get disgrace.  [ESV]

 

[31-35]  Here we find the fifth in a series of exhortations that all begin with Do not [27-31]. This final exhortation introduces a key truth that the remaining verses of the chapter then explain. Verses 32-35 present four reasons why this truth should be embraced. Each of the reasons is stated in the form of a contrast. The first line of verse 31 tells us not to wish we were like the violent. The second tells us not to be like them. Scripture recognizes that it is easy to envy the wicked [Prov. 23:17; 24:1,19; Ps. 73:3-5]. It may appear that might is right and that power wins the day, but we ought not to be duped into thinking that crime pays. The Hebrew word used here for envy describes a powerful emotion that all but takes possession of a person once initially entertained. Such emotion, once stoked, can cloud the mind and impair judgment. The word for violence can mean wickedness of any kind, but is often used to describe physical brutality as it does here. The connection of violence and envy is not incidental. Violent behavior might tip us off to an inner struggle with envy. Similarly, envy may warn us that violence may be among the next steps taken to satisfy that envy. The second line warns us against putting the inner fantasy into action. We do well to remember that God’s reason for destroying the world in Noah’s day was its violence [Gen. 6:13]. In the day of increasing violence in our world, what could be more timely than this exhortation? Note now the reasons why we ought to be counter-cultural in this regard. The first reason not to envy the violent or imitate his ways is the relational distance it creates between God and yourself [32]. The point is here made by way of a contrast set off in two lines. The devious person is one who has twisted and perverted his ways so that they do not conform to the straight-edge of God’s character and revealed will [Prov. 2:15; 14:2]. He is contrasted with the upright. The upright are not perfect, but have chosen to live in conformity to God’s will. The first man is an abomination to the Lord. An abomination is an attitude or action that is repugnant to the Lord and which He cannot endure. Because God loathes these things, they come under His judgment. Things elsewhere listed as an abomination to the Lord include idolatry [Deut. 7:25], homosexuality and other sexual perversions [Lev. 18:22-30; 20:13], human sacrifice [Deut. 12:31], occult activity [Deut. 18:9-14], ritual prostitution [1 Kings 14:23], dishonest business practices [Deut. 25:13-16], and sacrificing unclean or defective animals [Deut. 14:3-8; 17:1]. The second man, however, finds himself on intimate terms with the Lord. Literally, the second line reads “But with the upright is His intimacy.” The word for “intimacy” describes an intimate and confidential relationship, sometimes involving secret discussion of policy and thus a position of trust. The Old Testament prophets were men to whom was granted this kind of intimacy with God. God promises to all who walk with Him an intimacy of relationship that includes the making known of His mind and will. This is not tasteful to those who are fully immersed in our cultural worship of tolerance. Even the most morally stout among us often water the hatred of God down to a platitude about God hating the sin, but loving the sinner. Yet, that is not what this verse teaches. God hates the one who commits the sin and He loathes the one who turns from Him. We should let the extreme to which this truth goes on the one end inform our understanding of how far the promised intimacy of God with the upright projects in the other direction. Thoughtful reflection on the possibility of this level of relationship with God should create in us revulsion at the ways of the violent rather than envy over the short-term outcome of their ways. A second reason not to envy or imitate the violent is advanced in verse 33. His hand confounds their precarious prosperity. The Lord promises that His curse will rest upon the home of the wicked. How foolish the lie many a sinner tells himself: “No one need know. This need not affect my family.” God Himself assures us that no sin remains hidden for long and that the effects of rebellion in one heart will be experienced by the whole family. But, as in all four of these reasons [32-35], there is a contrasting side. God’s blessing rests upon the dwelling of the righteous. When God is honored in the heart of the home’s head, the whole family resides under the sunshine of God’s promises, providence and peace. God makes sure that the entire family lives, and moves and has it’s being in the atmosphere of His grace when the head of the home seeks Him. The contrasting blessing and cursing was woven into the very fiber of God’s covenant with the nation of Israel [Deut. 11:26-28]. This principle of cursing and blessing continues still today in the age of the New Covenant. The blessing promised is surely not uninterrupted bliss and the removal of all problems, for many a godly family faces difficult days. Nor does the curse imply that all happiness will be obliterated, for often times the wicked do prosper materially. The blessing and the cursing here describe the fact that, by the choices of the family members, the entire household may find itself either cooperating with God and His providence and power in bringing about His will or they may set themselves against His will and struggle against His omnipotent hand. The former will, for the most part, find that life in this world goes well for them, while the later will, ultimately, find frustration as they struggle to impose their will upon God’s world. The third reason not to envy or imitate the violent is presented here. The principle of divine judgment is that you get what you give [34]. God will respond to us based upon our response to Him and others. Scoffing will draw not His indifference, but His scoffing at us. Even the strongest man who shakes his fist at heaven draws heaven’s laughter and derision [Psalm 2:1-5]. On the other hand, God promises to extend grace to the humble. Literally, the word means ‘he who bends himself.’ Such bending low could be the result of inner humility or outward affliction. Either thought would provide a different, but valid, parallel to the violent man who started this section [31]. The Scriptures consistently present God in this light. He gives us the first word, but, according to what we say, He finishes the conversation. The fourth reason not to emulate or envy a violent man is now given in verse 35. The wise receive honor as their reward whereas the fool gets disgrace, the dishonor of a life wasted. The contrast between the ultimate honor of the wise and the dishonor of the foolish is seen throughout the Scriptures. So then, the chapter concludes with an exhortation not to envy or emulate the violent. Four reasons are given: God will be far from you [32]; God will be against you [33]; God will scoff at you [34]; and God will dishonor you [35]. These reasons have been given in contrasts, so, positively stated, they are: God will draw near to you [32]; God will bless your home [33]; God will give grace to you [34]; and God will bestow honor upon you as the prize for a life well lived [35]. What powerful motivation to go against the grain of human nature and the current culture and live a life of godly wisdom!

 

Questions for Discussion:

 

1.         Verses 3:5-6 contain an exhortation and a promised reward. What are the three parts of the exhortation? What impact would following these three exhortations have on your life? Think about a recent situation where you did not follow these exhortations. What difference would it have made in this situation if you had followed these exhortations? What is the meaning of the promised reward: make straight your paths?

 

2.         Verses 3:13-18 continue the theme of wisdom found in 3:5-8. Based on these verses, how would you define wisdom or understanding? Where do you find this wisdom? Why is this wisdom so valuable? How can you lay hold of her and hold her fast?

 

3.         What key truth is introduced in 3:31? What four reasons are given in 3:32-35 for embracing this truth? Note how each of these reasons are given in the form of contrasts, with the but clause indicating the blessing received by those who do not envy a man of violent.

 

References:

Proverbs, Charles Bridges, Crossway.

Proverbs, Tremper Longman III, Baker.

Proverbs, John Kitchen, Mentor.