The Way of the Wise

20 My son, be attentive to my words;
    incline your ear to my sayings.
21 Let them not escape from your sight;
    keep them within your heart.
22 For they are life to those who find them,
    and healing to all their flesh.
23 Keep your heart with all vigilance,
    for from it flow the springs of life.
24 Put away from you crooked speech,
    and put devious talk far from you.
25 Let your eyes look directly forward,
    and your gaze be straight before you.
26 Ponder the path of your feet;
    then all your ways will be sure.
27 Do not swerve to the right or to the left;
    turn your foot away from evil. – Proverbs 4:20-27 ESV

All this talk of wisdom, knowledge, and understanding could easily leave the impression that Solomon is obsessed with intelligence. It sounds like he is simply trying to encourage his son to get a good education, learn all that he can learn, and apply all that knowledge to living a good life. But Solomon is wise enough to know that there is more to this picture than increased intelligence or a high IQ. He is talking about a way of life that is based on much more than just book learning. All throughout the Proverbs Solomon contrasts two ways of life or two lifestyles. One is marked by wickedness and foolishness. The other is marked by wisdom and righteousness. But the difference isn’t just about one person knowing more than the other. It is the fact that one knows God better than the other. At the end of the day, this is a heart issue. When Solomon pleads his son, and all young people, to “get wisdom” and “don’t turn your back on wisdom,” he is really telling them to pursue God, because He is the source of all wisdom.

In this Proverb, Solomon repeatedly refers to “the way.” He describes life as a journey that offers a variety of different paths to take along the way. He says, “Don’t do as the wicked do, and don’t follow the path of evildoers. Don’t even think about it; don’t go that way. Turn away and keep moving” (Proverbs 4:14-15 NLT).

He compares the way of the righteous with the way of the wicked. One ends in light, the other in darkness. But then Solomon provides us with the key. He says, “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life” (Proverbs 14:23 NLT). It is our heart that will determine whether we go the way of the righteous or the way of the wicked. It is our heart that will determine whether we seek God’s way or that of the world. So, we need wise hearts, not brave hearts. We need heart knowledge, not head knowledge. God wants to renew our hearts and change the way we think, act, speak, and live.

Without heart change, all efforts to live wisely will be short-lived and end up in nothing more than behavior modification. When Solomon says, “Avoid all perverse talk; stay away from corrupt speech” (Proverbs 4:24 NLT), he knows he is asking the impossible unless our hearts are changed by God. We will gravitate toward perverse talk and corrupt speech without wise hearts. And only God can give us wise hearts. Only God gives us the ability to make wise choices. Solomon closes his Proverb with these words: “Look straight ahead, and fix your eyes on what lies before you. Mark out a straight path for your feet; stay on the safe path. Don’t get sidetracked; keep your feet from following evil” (Proverbs 4:25-27 NLT). Without a wise heart, that is impossible. God gives us the capacity to know right from wrong, good from evil. He equips us with not only the knowledge to make good choices, but the ability to do so. He changes our hearts. Head knowledge is not enough. Heart knowledge is what we need. Wise hearts and brave souls – men and women living life according to God’s terms and in the power of God’s Spirit.

But even those with wise hearts need to be on constant alert because life is not only a journey that features two different paths, but it comes with a wide assortment of dangerous and, even deadly, distractions. Every day, we face circumstances, situations, and even individuals that can easily distract us from what really matters in life. And before we realize it, we can find ourselves on the wrong path and headed in the wrong direction.

There are fires to put out, problems to handle. difficult people to deal with, deals to close, opportunities to take advantage of, and a myriad of other things, both large and small, that can get our eye off of the prize. We can easily lose focus. We can become distracted and even disoriented, losing touch with what really matters. So, Solomon warns us to keep our eyes straight ahead. He tells us to not lose focus and allow ourselves to get distracted by all that life has to offer.

Look straight ahead,
    and fix your eyes on what lies before you.
Mark out a straight path for your feet;
    stay on the safe path.
Don’t get sidetracked;
    keep your feet from following evil. – Proverbs 4:25-27 NLT

And he is speaking from experience. Remember, he was the wisest and wealthiest king that the nation of Israel ever knew. Yet, consider how he describes his own experience with a loss of focus.

1 I said to myself, “Come on, let’s try pleasure. Let’s look for the ‘good things’ in life.” But I found that this, too, was meaningless. So I said, “Laughter is silly. What good does it do to seek pleasure?” After much thought, I decided to cheer myself with wine. And while still seeking wisdom, I clutched at foolishness. In this way, I tried to experience the only happiness most people find during their brief life in this world.

I also tried to find meaning by building huge homes for myself and by planting beautiful vineyards. I made gardens and parks, filling them with all kinds of fruit trees. I built reservoirs to collect the water to irrigate my many flourishing groves. I bought slaves, both men and women, and others were born into my household. I also owned large herds and flocks, more than any of the kings who had lived in Jerusalem before me. I collected great sums of silver and gold, the treasure of many kings and provinces. I hired wonderful singers, both men and women, and had many beautiful concubines. I had everything a man could desire!

So I became greater than all who had lived in Jerusalem before me, and my wisdom never failed me. 10 Anything I wanted, I would take. I denied myself no pleasure. I even found great pleasure in hard work, a reward for all my labors. 11 But as I looked at everything I had worked so hard to accomplish, it was all so meaningless—like chasing the wind. There was nothing really worthwhile anywhere. – Ecclesiastes 2:1-11 NLT

Wow! Talk about distractions. Pleasure, wine, palaces, vineyards, gardens, parks, reservoirs, slaves, flocks, silver, gold, singers – but it was all like chasing the wind. Fleeting, ephemeral, meaningless and, ultimately, unfulfilling. Solomon had allowed himself to look in the wrong places for what he hoped would be the right solution to his problem. Instead of keeping his eyes focused on God, he got sidetracked and, ultimately, sidelined. And Solomon’s lack of focus wasn’t just a short-lived event, but a lifelong obsession that cost him dearly. Take a look at this recap of the last days of his life.

1 Now King Solomon loved many foreign women. Besides Pharaoh’s daughter, he married women from Moab, Ammon, Edom, Sidon, and from among the Hittites. The Lord had clearly instructed the people of Israel, “You must not marry them, because they will turn your hearts to their gods.” Yet Solomon insisted on loving them anyway. He had 700 wives of royal birth and 300 concubines. And in fact, they did turn his heart away from the Lord.

In Solomon’s old age, they turned his heart to worship other gods instead of being completely faithful to the Lord his God, as his father, David, had been. – 1 Kings 11:1-4 NLT

Solomon didn’t listen to his own advice. He refused his own counsel. He failed to look straight ahead and keep his eyes fixed on the Lord. He strayed off the straight path and found himself wandering around in the high weeds along the road of life. And the same thing can happen to us as believers. We too can lose our focus and become distracted by the cares and comforts of life. We can allow the things of this world to entice and entrap us, leaving us ineffective and a far cry from the victorious conquerors God intended for us to be.

So, Solomon warns us to maintain our focus. He encourages us to keep our eyes on the prize. “Don’t let God out of your sights” he pleads. And for Christ-followers that translates into making our pursuit of Christ our highest priority and greatest joy, because nothing else matters in this life or for eternity.

The author of the book of Hebrews provides us with advice that mirrors that of Solomon. He calls us to fix our eyes on Jesus and walk the same path that He walked.

…let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. – Hebrews 12:1-2 NLT

Mark out a straight path for your feet so that those who are weak and lame will not fall but become strong. – Hebrews 12:10 NLT

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