Suffer Like It.

18 Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. 19 For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. 20 For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. 21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. 25 For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. – 1 Peter 2:18-25 ESV

There are two ways to approach the content of this particular passage. First of all, as modern Americans, we can become incensed over the fact that Peter addresses slaves, but fails to make any statements regarding the unacceptable nature of the institution of slavery. And among the authors of the New Testament, he is not alone in his silence. He and Paul spoke frequently to slaves, but said very little about the moral nature of the institution of slavery. So, when we read a passage like this, it can come across as a subtle approval of slavery. And when we read the following passages, it would be easy to reach that conclusion.

21 Were you a slave when you were called? Don’t let it trouble you—although if you can gain your freedom, do so. 22 For the one who was a slave when called to faith in the Lord is the Lord’s freed person; similarly, the one who was free when called is Christ’s slave. – 1 Corinthians 7:21-22 NIV

Slaves, obey your earthly masters with deep respect and fear. Serve them sincerely as you would serve Christ. Try to please them all the time, not just when they are watching you. As slaves of Christ, do the will of God with all your heart. Work with enthusiasm, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. Remember that the Lord will reward each one of us for the good we do, whether we are slaves or free. – Ephesians 6:5-8 NLT

22 Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything you do. Try to please them all the time, not just when they are watching you. Serve them sincerely because of your reverent fear of the Lord. – Colossians 3:22 NLT

1 All slaves should show full respect for their masters so they will not bring shame on the name of God and his teaching. If the masters are believers, that is no excuse for being disrespectful. – 1 Timothy 6:1-2 NLT

Where is the moral indignation? Why do Paul and Peter seem to act as if slavery is just a normal part of everyday life? Because it was. Slavery was entrenched in the culture of their day. Even Jews had slaves. The failure of these men to speak out against slavery should not be construed to be some king of tacit approval of it. From our own sordid history as a nation, we know that our ancestors attempted to use the Scriptures to justify their unwavering determination to maintain the slave trade and to rationalize their inhumane treatment of millions of fellow human beings. But the presence of slavery is the result of the fall. It is a symptom of man’s sinful state and has been around since the beginning. It was alive and well when Jesus came to the earth. It was a normal part of the social fabric of the day. But this does not mean it was right or acceptable in the eyes of God.

When we focus on this passage with a sense of social outrage, we miss the point of what Peter is trying to say. He was not speaking into the culture at large, but into the context of the local body of believers. He was addressing Christians living within a non-Christian society where moral, social, and civic codes would be diametrically opposed to their new way of life as followers of Christ. Remember, Peter has addressed them as chosen by God. They are a holy nation. God has called them out of darkness into His marvelous light. That does not mean God has changed any and all circumstances surrounding them. They are still living in a pagan culture. They are still living under the auspices of a pagan government. Immoral institutions like slavery still exist. In fact, some of them are actually living as slaves in that system. Peter’s interest was not in overthrowing the government of his day, anymore than Jesus was out to overturn the rule of the Romans while He was alive. Peter is addressing Christians who find themselves living in a culture that hates and despises them, and he is calling them to be beacons of light in a dark world. Any change that was going to take place in the culture was going to come from Christians living as citizens of the Kingdom of God and emulating the character of Christ among those who were living in darkness.

So, Peter addresses those in the church who had come to faith in Christ while living as slaves. This is an important point that often gets overlooked. The New Testament church was a literal melting pot made up of people from all walks of life. There were the rich and poor, the influential and the seemingly unimportant, women and men, as well as slaves and freemen. Not only that, there were congregations where masters and their slaves attended the same worship services together. This was unheard of. It was antithetical to the culture of the day. But it reveals that the gospel was for anyone and everyone, regardless of their social or economic status. Peter talks to the slaves just as he would anyone else. He did not see them as second-class citizens. He fully understood their situation and spoke into it. He didn’t minimize it, but he also did not offer them the hope of freedom from the current condition as slaves. His concern was that they live our their new identity in Christ, right where they were. Paul addresses this in his letter to the believers in Corinth, including those who happened to be slaves.

21 Are you a slave? Don’t let that worry you—but if you get a chance to be free, take it. 22 And remember, if you were a slave when the Lord called you, you are now free in the Lord. And if you were free when the Lord called you, you are now a slave of Christ. 23 God paid a high price for you, so don’t be enslaved by the world. 24 Each of you, dear brothers and sisters, should remain as you were when God first called you. – 1 Corinthians 7:21-24 NLT

Paul uses that phrase, “remain as you were” repeatedly in his letter. If they were uncircumcised when they came to faith, they were to remain so. If you were married to an unbeliever when you came to know Christ, remain married to that person. Paul makes it clear: “Each of you should continue to live in whatever situation the Lord has placed you, and remain as you were when God first called you. This is my rule for all the churches” (1 Corinthians 7:17 NLT). Their goal should not be to change the circumstances surrounding their life, but to live out their new life in Christ differently in the midst of those very same circumstances. We tend to look for changes in our circumstances, while Peter and Paul are demanding a change in heart, which will lead to a change in behavior – regardless of our circumstances.

And Peter makes his counsel to the believing slaves in his audience very specific and applicable to their situation.

19 God is pleased when, conscious of his will, you patiently endure unjust treatment. 20 Of course, you get no credit for being patient if you are beaten for doing wrong. But if you suffer for doing good and endure it patiently, God is pleased with you. – 1 Peter 2:20-21 NLT

He knew their status as sons and daughters of God was not going to change the way their masters treated them. In fact, it might make things worse for them. They were going to face unjust treatment. After all, they were slaves. It came with their position as slaves. But now that they were believers, their reaction to that unjust treatment was to be different. They were to patiently endure. They were to suffer for doing good. And in doing so, they would have the pleasure of God. That needed to be their focus. They were not out to please their human masters, but God Himself. They had a new motivation and a new incentive for living. And Peter gives them Jesus as their example to follow. He reminds them, “He is your example, and you must follow in his steps” (1 Peter 2:21 NLT). Then, he provides them with a succinct, yet beautiful summary of Jesus’ life.

22 He never sinned,
    nor ever deceived anyone.
23 He did not retaliate when he was insulted,
    nor threaten revenge when he suffered.
He left his case in the hands of God,
    who always judges fairly.
24 He personally carried our sins
    in his body on the cross
so that we can be dead to sin
    and live for what is right.
By his wounds
    you are healed.
25 Once you were like sheep
    who wandered away.
But now you have turned to your Shepherd,
    the Guardian of your souls. – 1 Peter 2:22-25 NLT

That is the model we are to follow, whether slave or free. His example is the one we are to emulate, regardless of our circumstances. Jesus was not born into wealth and comfort, but obscurity and relative poverty. He wasn’t born in a palace, but a cattle stall. He wasn’t highly esteemed, but regarded as a lowly carpenter from an obscure backwater town called Nazareth. When Phillip told Nathanael that he had met Jesus of Nazareth, Nathanael sarcastically responded, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” (John 1:46 NLT). God didn’t send His Son into the best of circumstances. He sent Him into the midst of darkness and sin. He sent Him into a culture mired in moral decadence and spiritual darkness. But Jesus was the light and He lived as a shining example of godly obedience and submission to the will of His Father in the midst of all the moral mess of His day. He didn’t attempt to change the government or fix all the social ills of His day. Jesus described His ministry as bringing Good News to the poor, proclaiming that captives will be released, that the blind will see, and that the oppressed will be set free (Luke 4:18). For Jesus, like Peter and Paul, the problem wasn’t a social one, it was spiritual. Human slavery wasn’t the real issue, slavery to sin was. And nothing is going to truly change in our world until the hearts of men and women are transformed by the message of salvation made possible through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Like Christ, we are going to suffer in this life. But other question is whether we will face our suffering like Christ.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Wash Your Heart.

Behold, he comes up like clouds;
    his chariots like the whirlwind;
his horses are swifter than eagles—
    woe to us, for we are ruined!
O Jerusalem, wash your heart from evil,
    that you may be saved.
How long shall your wicked thoughts
    lodge within you?
For a voice declares from Dan
    and proclaims trouble from Mount Ephraim.
Warn the nations that he is coming;
    announce to Jerusalem,
“Besiegers come from a distant land;
    they shout against the cities of Judah.
Like keepers of a field are they against her all around,
    because she has rebelled against me,
declares the Lord.
Your ways and your deeds
    have brought this upon you.
This is your doom, and it is bitter;
    it has reached your very heart.” Jeremiah 4:13-18 ESV

God was demanding change. He called them to repent and expected that repentance to entail more than just an external change in behavior. God knew that their real problem was much deeper than that. They suffered from a heart condition. Which is why God had Jeremiah warn them:

“O Jerusalem, cleanse your heart
    that you may be saved.
How long will you harbor
    your evil thoughts? – Jeremiah 4:14 NLT

The day of their destruction was coming, like a fast-approaching storm, bringing devastation and destruction in the form of war horses and chariots. And if the people of Judah had any hopes of avoiding the inevitable outcome of a Babylonian invasion, they were going to have to cleanse their hearts. But was that even possible? And was God really expecting them to be able to do so? The prophet, Isaiah, who was also sent by God to warn the people of Judah regarding their wickedness and God’s impending judgment of them, had a very similar word from God:

Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
    remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes;
cease to do evil,
    learn to do good;
seek justice,
    correct oppression;
bring justice to the fatherless,
    plead the widow’s cause. Isaiah 1:16-17 ESV

Notice what Isaiah writes. They were to wash themselves. They were to make themselves clean. It was up to them to get rid of their evil behavior and to start doing what God commanded. Their purification was to have external proofs that they had indeed changed. But again, was what God demanded of them even possible? Could they purify themselves? Well, the next verse gives us the answer:

“Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord:
though your sins are like scarlet,
    they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red like crimson,
    they shall become like wool.” – Isaiah 1:16-18 ESV

It was as if God said, “Let’s think about this.” Their ability to purify their own hearts was non-existent. They were incapable of changing their ways – on their own. If fact, later on, in the book of Jeremiah, God makes the following assessment of their ability to change:

You will probably ask yourself,
‘Why have these things happened to me?
Why have I been treated like a disgraced adulteress
whose skirt has been torn off and her limbs exposed?’
It is because you have sinned so much.
But there is little hope for you ever doing good,
you who are so accustomed to doing evil.
Can an Ethiopian change the color of his skin?
Can a leopard remove its spots? – Jeremiah 13:22-23 NLT

Their predilection to sin was ingrained, a part of their DNA. Like every other human being, they had inherited the sin nature of Adam. Disobedience to God came naturally. A propensity toward evil was built into them. They could no more change their nature than a leopard could remove its spots. Like a person’s genetic makeup determines their skin color, the people of Judah had a built-in predisposition toward sin. But God was also telling them that He was willing and able to do something about their condition. He lets them know that even though they have been stained by their sins. He can make them white as snow. He has the ability to wash them clean from all their iniquities and make them pure. Isaiah wrote these words of God to the people of Judah:

“I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake,
    and I will not remember your sins.” – Isaiah 43:25 ESV

God would remove their sins, not because they deserved it, but simply because He wanted to show His grace and mercy. They would not be able to earn His forgiveness through human effort, but God did expect them to turn back to Him and acknowledge their need for Him. Like the great king David, they would have to call out to God and ask Him to do for them what they could not do for themselves.

Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean, wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. – Psalm 51:7 NLT

It is only when we come to grips with our own incapacity to redeem ourselves, that we turn to God as our redeemer. When we finally realize that we are incapable of improving our own behavior and cleaning up our act, that is when we become desperate enough to call on Him. But for some reason, we stubbornly hold on to the idea that we can change ourselves. We mistakenly cling to the hope that we can muster up enough strength to do enough good things that will earn us favor with God and hold off His punishment of us. But just a few verses later, Jeremiah writes this painful assessment of the people of Judah:

“My people are foolish
    and do not know me,” says the Lord.
“They are stupid children
    who have no understanding.
They are clever enough at doing wrong,
    but they have no idea how to do right!” – Jeremiah 4:22 NLT

Once again, the prophet Isaiah makes a chilling assessment of Judah’s complete inability to mend their hearts and change their behavior.

You assist those who delight in doing what is right,
who observe your commandments.
Look, you were angry because we violated them continually.
How then can we be saved?
We are all like one who is unclean,
all our so-called righteous acts are like a menstrual rag in your sight.
We all wither like a leaf;
our sins carry us away like the wind. – Isaiah 64:5-6 NET

Isaiah seems to be saying that God comes to the aid of those who long to do what is right, what God demands. But the problem is that those very same people can’t turn their delight into action. Even their most righteous actions end up looking like bloody rags before God. They are completely controlled by the sin in their lives. They want to do what is right, but lack the capacity to turn their desires into reality. The apostle Paul described having a similar frustration:

I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate. But if I know that what I am doing is wrong, this shows that I agree that the law is good. So I am not the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.

And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it. I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. – Romans 7:15-21 NLT

Paul fully realized that, if left to himself, he was incapable of doing what he really wanted to do. In the flesh, he couldn’t produce the kind of life God demanded. He could desire it, but his sin nature would fight him every step of the way. So, Paul cried out:

Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. – Romans 7:24-25 NLT

Paul knew His hope was external, not internal. His Savior was Christ, not himself. He needed Jesus Christ to do for him what he could not do himself. And the people of Judah would have to reach the same conclusion. They would have to turn to God for their salvation, but also for their cleansing. In fact, they were going to need to desire cleansing more than salvation. While they all wanted to avoid the coming destruction, they weren’t all that keen on changing their behavior. They wanted God’s salvation, but didn’t seem to think they were so sinful that they needed His cleansing. But God wanted them to grieve over their sins. He wanted them recognize their sinfulness and their own inability to do anything about it. Then they would turn to Him for help. King David learned that very lesson after having sinned against God by having an adulterous affair with Bathsheba, then having her husband eliminated so he could marry her. He recognized His sin against God and realized that what God wanted was a broken and repentant spirit.

For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
    you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. – Psalm 51:16-17 ESV

And it was his own brokenness and his recognition of his complete dependence on God to purify him that led David to write:

Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
    and cleanse me from my sin! – Psalm 51:2 ESV

And the sad indictment God made against the people of Judah was that their sin had permeated them to the very core of their being. Their hearts were stained by their wickedness. In fact, their wickedness was a byproduct of their sin-filled hearts. Which is why God said:

“Your ways and your deeds
    have brought this upon you.
This is your doom, and it is bitter;
    it has reached your very heart.” – Jeremiah 4:18 ESV

They would need God to do for them what they could not do for themselves. But first they would need to turn to Him. They would need to rely on Him for the power to cleanse and forgive.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Ephesians 4:17-32

New, Not New and Improved.

Ephesians 4:17-32

Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy. – Ephesians 4:23-24 NLT

Jesus Christ didn’t die on the cross so that you could enjoy a slightly new-and-improved version of the old you. And yet, that’s exactly the view held by a lot believers today. The term used to explain this version of salvation is “behavior modification.” It basically means that by coming to faith in Christ, we have been given a capacity to change the way we live by making a few alterations to our daily habits and attitudes. The formula goes something like this: More good behavior + less bad behavior = holiness. So we try to stop doing some things and start doing others things – all in the hope that it will make us more acceptable to God. But Paul pulls on the emergency break when it comes to that kind of mindset. Why? Because it’s unbiblical and not helpful. Yes, he tells us to “throw off our old sinful nature and your former way of life,” which sounds a whole lot like removing bad behavior. Then he tells us to “put on your new nature,” which sounds like he’s recommending that we add some good behavior. Paul goes on to give a pretty comprehensive list of things to STOP doing. Stop telling lies. Stop letting anger control you. Stop going to bed angry. Stop stealing. Stop using foul or abusive language. Stop grieving the Holy Spirit with the way you live. Stop being bitter, raging, using harsh words, and slandering one another. As a matter of fact, stop all types of evil behavior.

But is Paul simply giving us a list of things to stop doing? Is it all up to us? Is he providing us with some helpful self-improvement tips for a better and more holy life? I don’t think so. Paul is reminding the Ephesians that a life in Christ is a life marked by incredible change, both inside and out. Our new life in Christ should be characterized by new behaviors. We have been given a new nature by God that is designed to be like Him – holy and righteous. Lying, stealing, slandering, hating, cursing – all reflect our old nature. So when they show up, they are evidence that we are living according to our old nature and not our new one. Those things are not godly, holy or righteous. But when we live under the influence of our new, God-given nature, the results are markedly different. Rather than stealing, or taking what doesn’t belong to us, we will work hard and give generously to others. Rather than allow words that abuse and tear down to come from our lips, we will say those things that are good, helpful, and encouraging. Instead of grieving the Holy Spirit by living according to our old nature, we will please Him by allowing Him to control our actions and attitudes. We will live lives that evidence kindness, compassion, and forgiveness. And those things are not self-manufactured, they’re the evidence of the Spirit’s work in our lives. He produces them. The love He produces in us isn’t just our human capacity to love on steroids. It’s a completely different kind of love. It’s selfless rather than selfish. It’s sacrificial rather than self-centered. It’s divine, not human. It’s impossible and non-replicable. In other words, you can’t manufacture this kind of love on your own. It’s humanly impossible. In fact, this entire list that Paul provides is impossible if attempted on your own. The key is found in verse 23: “Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes.” It all begins in the mind. That’s the battleground. And the renewing of our minds involves a change in the way we think and perceive. When we come to Christ, we receive the Holy Spirit and, along with Him, a new perspective on life and eternity. He begins in us a slow, steady process of internal transformation that works its way out in outward behavior modification. So selfishness gets slowly replaced with selflessness. Self-centeredness gets replaced with sacrifice. Love of self gets replaced with love for others. As our minds are renewed, our behavior begins to change. And that renewal is the work of the Spirit in conjunction with the Word of God. Paul told the Romans, “…let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think” (Romans 12:2 NLT). He goes on to say, “Don’t think you are better than you really are” (Romans 12:3 NLT). God gives us the capacity to look at ourselves honestly and realistically. His Spirit and His Word combine to provide us with a new way of seeing and thinking about life. And it should change the way we live our life.

God is out to radically change and transform us, not just slightly improve us. A slightly improved version of the old you is still not good enough. So God gave you a new nature and a new power to live differently and distinctively in this life. We can “throw off” our old way of life with all its sins, habits and hangups. We can daily put on our new nature, which has been created by God to mirror His own character of holiness and righteousness. Simply trying to change our behavior is like putting a new set of clean clothes on top of our old, dirty ones. It doesn’t change anything. It’s a facade, a cover up – that only hides the reality within. God wants to change us from the inside out. So He begins with our thoughts and attitudes. As we learn to think differently, we will begin to live differently. We will understand our need for the Spirit’s presence and power each and every day of our lives. We’ll understand our need to know the will of God by spending time in the Word of God. We will come to recognize the difference between the deeds we perform in our own flesh and the fruit that flows through is as a result of the Spirit of God’s work in us. And the new, God-designed version of us will be far more successful than the slightly improved version could ever be.

Father, I want to be radically changed by You each and every day of my life. But I know I have to have my way of thinking radically changed through time spent in Your Word and through submission to Your Holy Spirit’s leading. I don’t want superficial, non-sustainable change. I want to real thing. And only You can produce it in my life. Continue Your inner transformation of my heart and mind, so that my outer behaviors will give evidence of all that You are doing in me. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Proverbs 26d

Confusing Counsel.

“Don’t answer the foolish arguments of fools, or you will become as foolish as they are. Be sure to answer the foolish arguments of fools, or they will become wise in their own estimation.” – Proverbs 26:4-5 NLT

It’s hard to read these two verses and not be a bit confused by them. They appear to be in direct contradiction of one another. Which is it? Don’t answer the foolish arguments of a fool, or be sure to answer the foolish arguments of a fool? First of all, we need to establish just what kind of fool these verses are talking about. Because, in the Book of Proverbs there are five different types of fools described, not just one. There are five Hebrew words used when speaking about fools and this one is the word kecîyl – which refers to a fool, stupid fellow, dullard, simpleton, or arrogant one. The best way to describe him is that he is a sensual fool. This is the individual who rejects the discipline of his parents or any and all authorities in his life. He is determined to make the wrong choices, regardless of any counsel provided. He tends to focus on that which brings him immediate pleasure, never planning for or thinking about the future. It isn’t that he has a mental deficiency, but he simply chooses to reject the wisdom of God, and glories in that of which he should be ashamed. This kind of fool is unreasonable and unteachable. His motives and methods are subtle and he should be avoided.

The reason it is important for us to know what kind of fool this Proverb is talking about is that we tend to lump all the verses about fools together. And when we do that, it can become very confusing. These verses are not talking about a simple fool (pethîy). The Hebrew word used for the simple fool describes a child who lacks discernment, has no ability to recognize cause-and-effect, is immature, gullible and intensely curious. This kind of fool is to be corrected, disciplined, and counseled. But the fool described in these verses is one that has become stubborn and set in his ways. The issue addressed in these verses is not whether you can or should answer a fool. This kind of fool will likely remain a fool regardless of whether you answer him or not. It is really about the common sense you need in determining how to answer a sensual fool. If you answer him in the hopes to convincing him he is wrong, you will only become embroiled in an argument that leaves you looking as foolish as he is. But if you answer him with the intent of exposing his foolishness, pride, and arrogance, you can walk away knowing that you have done all you can do. It is not your job to change him. You will never argue this kind of fool into seeing reason. These verses are warning us to go into the situation with our eyes wide open, knowing just what kind of fool we are dealing with. One of the big takeaways has to do with our intent. Arguing with a sensual fool is a waste of our time. Exposing a sensual fool is sometimes all you can do, in the hopes that it will help them see their own pride and foolishness. But someone who has reached this stage of foolishness will most likely remain just as they are. Their problem is not a lack of knowledge or cloudy thinking. It is pride, arrogance, and a lack of wisdom. Their hearts are not in love with God. And until that changes, no amount of discussion will change their situation.

Father, there are so many sensual fools in the world. And I have found myself falling into that category at times over the years. Give me the wisdom to know how to answer this kind of fool. Help me recognize them for what they are and realize that only You can change them. I have an obligation to expose their foolishness and pride, but I have to understand that I will never argue them out of their foolishness. Only you can change their hearts. Amen.

Ken Miller

Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Proverbs 4


“Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.” – Proverbs 4:23 NLT

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 mere intelligence or 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, to 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 refers to “the way” multiple times. He describes life as a journey and we have choices regarding which path we will take as we live our lives. 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 and 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 the world’s. 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.

Father, give us wise hearts. Change us from the inside out. Don’t let us be satisfied with head knowledge. I don’t want to just know about You, I want to really know You so that I might live in a way that pleases You. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men