You Reap What You Sow

13 Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. 15 This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. James 3:13-18 ESV

Back in chapter one, James encouraged his readers to seek wisdom from God.

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. – James 1:5 ESV

And he added that God is the source of all good gifts.

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. – James 1:17 ESV

Through their relationship with Jesus Christ, the Christians to whom James wrote enjoyed access to the indwelling Spirit of God and the life-transforming truth of the gospel. According to James, a Christ follower is to be characterized by obedience to the word of God. It’s not enough to hear it; you have to live it out in everyday life.

But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. – James 1:22 NLT

And James pointed out that a person who claims to be spiritual but fails to control their tongue is practicing a hypocritical and powerless form of religion.

If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless. – James 1:26 NLT

James described the tongue as a powerful and virtually uncontrollable source of destruction – even within the body of Christ. With his lips, a believer can declare his faith in Christ and then turn around and spread vicious rumors about a fellow Christ-follower. Ironically, the same tongue could be used to glorify God and vilify other believers.

Sometimes it praises our Lord and Father, and sometimes it curses those who have been made in the image of God. And so blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth. Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right! – James 3:9-10 NLT

Now James explains how to determine whether you are operating according to godly wisdom and displaying an understanding of God’s will and ways. It’s all in how we behave. Our outward actions reveal whether we are walking in step with the Spirit of God. The things we say and do are the most accurate barometers of our spiritual health. They provide irrefutable evidence of the condition of our hearts. That’s why James demands that Christ-followers put the wisdom of God into practice through humble obedience to His will.

If you are wise and understand God’s ways, prove it by living an honorable life, doing good works with the humility that comes from wisdom. – James 3:13 NLT

The apostle Paul stressed the non-negotiable nature of the Spirit’s involvement when it comes to living a godly and honorable life.

So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. – Galatians 5:16-17 NLT

And Paul reminds us that the Holy Spirit is the one who provides us with the power to tame the tongue and produce the fruit of righteousness.

…the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. – Galatians 5:22-23 NLT

The Spirit is a God-given source of wisdom and supernatural strength, and His primary role is to guide and empower believers as they navigate the sometimes difficult path from salvation to future glorification. And Paul would have us remember that the Spirit wants to influence every area of the believer’s life – from his attitudes and actions to the words that come out of his mouth.

Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives. Let us not become conceited, or provoke one another, or be jealous of one another. – Galatians 5:25-26 NLT

And James points out how easy it is to try and mask our lack of godliness through deceit and lies. When we fail to live in obedience to the Spirit, our lives inevitably produce a whole range of destructive deeds and Paul provides a shocking but incomplete list of them in his letter to the Galatians.

When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division,  envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. – Galatians 5:19-21 NLT

We’re either living in step with the Spirit of God or giving in to the desires of our own sinful natures. And it’s fairly easy to determine which path we have chosen based on the “fruit” our lives produce. That’s why James warns against attempting to cover up our godless lifestyle through lies and deceit.

But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. – James 3:14-15 ESV

When the wrong fruit appears in our lives, we’re tempted to cover it up by portraying ourselves as super saints and spiritual rock stars. We posture and pretend, trying to convince others of our superior spirituality. But all the while, we are living a lie. Yet we end up excusing and justifying our behavior and, in doing so, we display a form of wisdom that is anything but godly. Driven by selfish ambition and jealousy, we rationalize our behavior and promote a brand of wisdom that comes from the enemy and not God.

Jesus gave a perfect example of this self-righteous but self-deceiving kind of wisdom when He told the following parable to His disciples.

Jesus told this story to some who had great confidence in their own righteousness and scorned everyone else: “Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee, and the other was a despised tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer: ‘I thank you, God, that I am not like other people—cheaters, sinners, adulterers. I’m certainly not like that tax collector! I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.’

“But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’ I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” – Luke 18:9-14 NLT

The Pharisee was self-deceived. He wrongly viewed himself as spiritually superior and worthy of God’s praise. But Jesus declared him to be a self-righteous and pretentious hypocrite whose pride left him unjustified before God. He had lived this lie for so long that he eventually believed it to be true. He went home believing he was fully accepted before God, but he was wrong.

You can attempt to disguise the jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart but, in time, it always makes itself known. And James states that “wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and evil of every kind” (James 3:16 NLT). In other words, those two traits are never alone. They’re always accompanied by other, equally disturbing “fruit” that produce death rather than life. 

But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. – James 3:17 ESV

God’s wisdom, which is available upon request, is capable of producing a host of outcomes that positively impact the life of the recipient and all those around him. It produces a desire for peace rather than jealousy and strife. In place of self-promotion, it displays a heartfelt concern for the well-being of others. It is reasonable rather than contentious and confrontational. It manifests itself in mercy toward others and produces fruit that is for their benefit. Godly wisdom allows no room for favoritism or partiality. It fosters unity and encourages an atmosphere of humility and selfless service to others.

James’ point is clear. Those who seek the wisdom of God will receive it. And when they avail themselves of it and live in obedience to it, it will produce a harvest of righteousness. The wisdom from above is fruitful but it must be cultivated by those whom God has chosen as His caretakers. If we obey His Word and live in keeping with His Spirit’s guidance, we will “plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness” (James 3:18 NLT).

The apostle Paul reiterates this promise of fruitfulness when we choose to avail ourselves of God’s wisdom. But the choice is ours and we must make it every day of our lives.

You will always harvest what you plant. Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit. So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up. Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone—especially to those in the family of faith. – Galatians 6:7-10 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

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.

A Little Folly Goes a Long Way

1 Dead flies make the perfumer’s ointment give off a stench;
    so a little folly outweighs wisdom and honor.
A wise man’s heart inclines him to the right,
    but a fool’s heart to the left.
Even when the fool walks on the road, he lacks sense,
    and he says to everyone that he is a fool.
If the anger of the ruler rises against you, do not leave your place,
    for calmness will lay great offenses to rest.

There is an evil that I have seen under the sun, as it were an error proceeding from the ruler: folly is set in many high places, and the rich sit in a low place. I have seen slaves on horses, and princes walking on the ground like slaves. Ecclesiastes 10:1-7 ESV

There is little doubt that Solomon was a big fan of wisdom. He knew first-hand the value that wisdom could afford a man. But he also knew that wisdom has its limits. In the world in which he lived, there was no one who possessed perfect wisdom. Even he, the wisest man who ever lived, had made foolish mistakes. Despite the vast amount of God-given wisdom he possessed, he had ended up violating the commands of God. During his long life, he had made many unwise decisions that had left an indelible mark on his life and his reign as king.

That seems to be his point in verse 1, where he uses the metaphor of a fly in the ointment. The ointment Solomon had in mind was most likely olive oil, which was used as both a perfume and a healing agent. Like wisdom, the ointment was intended to have a positive effect, acting as a sweet-smelling perfume or a health-inducing medicine. But one dead fly could turn the positive properties of ointment into a diseased-filled, stench-producing product that was of no good to anyone. In the same way, one foolish act can destroy years of wise decision-making. The damaging effects of even a modicum of foolish behavior are immeasurable. It doesn’t take much. And Paul used a similar metaphor when he warned against the impact of false teaching on the church.

This false teaching is like a little yeast that spreads through the whole batch of dough! – Galatians 5:9 NLT

There are two ways we can look at Ecclesiastes 10:1. The first is that a wise person can destroy their reputation for wisdom by making one foolish decision. It can become like a fly in the ointment, quickly nullifying the years of beneficial value established by living a life of wisdom. But it can also refer to the impact one fool can have on a family, community, or nation. All it takes is a single individual making one foolish decision to destroy years of wise counsel and leadership. And interestingly enough, Solomon’s own foolish decisions would eventually reap devastating consequences for the nation of Israel. The kingdom his father David had established would end up divided in half and would never regain its former glory. The book of 1 Kings provides a description of Solomon’s fly-in-the-ointment failure that led to God’s removal of him as king and the division of the Davidic Kingdom.

The Lord was very angry with Solomon, for his heart had turned away from the Lord, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice. He had warned Solomon specifically about worshiping other gods, but Solomon did not listen to the Lord’s command. So now the Lord said to him, “Since you have not kept my covenant and have disobeyed my decrees, I will surely tear the kingdom away from you and give it to one of your servants. But for the sake of your father, David, I will not do this while you are still alive. I will take the kingdom away from your son. And even so, I will not take away the entire kingdom; I will let him be king of one tribe, for the sake of my servant David and for the sake of Jerusalem, my chosen city.” – 1 Kings 11:9-13 NLT

And perhaps it was because Solomon had seen the error of his ways, even if a bit too late, that he spoke so often and so highly of wisdom. He knew that godly wisdom was a deterrent to poor decision-making because it led its adherents down the right path.

But the path of the righteous is like the bright morning light,
growing brighter and brighter until full day.
The way of the wicked is like gloomy darkness;
they do not know what they stumble over. – Proverbs 4:18-19 NLT

Solomon knew that a fool, devoid of godly wisdom, would allow his deceived heart to lead him down the wrong path. And it’s not difficult to spot a fool, because the course of his life gives ample proof that his decision-making is godless and unrighteous.

Even when the fool walks on the road, he lacks sense,
    and he says to everyone that he is a fool. – Ecclesiastes 10:3 ESV

He’s unable to hide his foolishness because his life choices provide glaring evidence of his lack of wisdom. And Solomon provides a real-life example that contrasts the actions of a fool with those of a wise man.

If the anger of the ruler rises against you, do not leave your place,
    for calmness will lay great offenses to rest. – Ecclesiastes 10:4 ESV

If you find that someone in authority is angry with you, don’t act like a fool and impulsively quit. Instead, respond with wisdom, remaining calm and allowing your superior time to cool off. Use self-control. Don’t allow foolish pride to dictate your response and determine your fate.

This is not a guarantee that the ruler will calm down. It doesn’t mean that your wise response will necessarily produce the right reaction from the one who is angry and acting unjustly. But a wise person will not allow the foolish behavior of another to infect and affect their own behavior.

The truth is, there are sometimes fools sitting in places of authority who wield great power. That seems to be Solomon’s point when he writes, “folly is set in many high places, and the rich sit in a low place” (Ecclesiastes 10:6 ESV). The sad reality is that the undeserving and unqualified are sometimes rewarded with positions of power where they rule over those with greater skills and proven track records of success. Solomon refers to them as “rich”, but the Hebrew word can refer to someone who is honorable and noble. In other words, they are someone of worth and character who finds themselves placed in an inferior position and having to submit to the authority of a fool. Solomon describes this sad state of affairs as an evil under the sun. But it’s just a reality of life.

Like Solomon, we live in a world that is sometimes topsy-turvy, where everything appears to be just the opposite of what it should be. In his day, he put this incongruity in visual terms, describing the disturbing sight of “slaves on horses, and princes walking on the ground like slaves” (Ecclesiastes 10:7 ESV).

This was just further proof of the injustice and inequities that abound in this life. And we see the same thing in our day. How many times have we witnessed the promotion of a less-qualified individual for a position of prominence in our company? How often have we seen the undeserving fast-tracked to promotion while the more gifted and talented are overlooked? We have experienced this kind of injustice ourselves. But the fact that it happens doesn’t disqualify the value of wisdom over folly. It’s simply proof of the pervasive presence of sin in the world. 

The prophet Isaiah provides us with a glimpse into the mindset that permeates our fallen world.

What sorrow for those who say
    that evil is good and good is evil,
that dark is light and light is dark,
    that bitter is sweet and sweet is bitter.
What sorrow for those who are wise in their own eyes
    and think themselves so clever. – Isaiah 5:20-21 NLT

What an apt description of the world in which we live. And it was true in Solomon’s day as well. It is the nature of life in a world where godlessness has produced a pandemic of foolishness. And while wisdom is essential and to be desired above all else, wisdom alone cannot rectify the problem we face in this world. As Solomon so aptly put it in Proverbs 1:7: “Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.”

Without a knowledge of God and a reverence for who He is, humanity lacks the ability to understand right from wrong, truth from falsehood, good from evil, and righteousness from wickedness. Without God, mankind invariably turns to human wisdom, which always proves insufficient and incapable of providing reliable help in navigating through life. The apostle Paul gives us a wonderful description of the difference between worldly wisdom and that which comes from God.

Stop deceiving yourselves. If you think you are wise by this world’s standards, you need to become a fool to be truly wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness to God. As the Scriptures say,

“He traps the wise
    in the snare of their own cleverness.”

And again,

“The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise;
    he knows they are worthless.” – 1 Corinthians 3:18-20 NLT

Surviving in this world requires wisdom, but it must be wisdom that is founded on a relationship with God Almighty. The wisdom we need must be based on who He is and what He desires. Without Him, our wisdom becomes folly. Apart from God, man’s wisdom always proves insufficient and inadequate to comprehend the dangers of a fallen world and a foolish heart.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

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

Learning to Trust the Ways of God

All this I observed while applying my heart to all that is done under the sun, when man had power over man to his hurt.

10 Then I saw the wicked buried. They used to go in and out of the holy place and were praised in the city where they had done such things. This also is vanity. 11 Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed speedily, the heart of the children of man is fully set to do evil. 12 Though a sinner does evil a hundred times and prolongs his life, yet I know that it will be well with those who fear God, because they fear before him. 13 But it will not be well with the wicked, neither will he prolong his days like a shadow, because he does not fear before God.

14 There is a vanity that takes place on earth, that there are righteous people to whom it happens according to the deeds of the wicked, and there are wicked people to whom it happens according to the deeds of the righteous. I said that this also is vanity. 15 And I commend joy, for man has nothing better under the sun but to eat and drink and be joyful, for this will go with him in his toil through the days of his life that God has given him under the sun.

16 When I applied my heart to know wisdom, and to see the business that is done on earth, how neither day nor night do one’s eyes see sleep, 17 then I saw all the work of God, that man cannot find out the work that is done under the sun. However much man may toil in seeking, he will not find it out. Even though a wise man claims to know, he cannot find it out. Ecclesiastes 8:9-17 ESV

In this life, things don’t always turn out the way we think they should. The righteous suffer and the wicked prosper. Good people experience a lot of bad things. And, far too often, bad people seem to come out on top. Solomon is wise enough to know that, in the end, everybody dies. But some wicked people can spend their whole lives fooling others into thinking they were actually good and godly people who lived religious lives. So, when they die, they receive the unmerited praise and honor of men.

I have seen wicked people buried with honor. Yet they were the very ones who frequented the Temple and are now praised in the same city where they committed their crimes! This, too, is meaningless. – Ecclesiastes 8:10 NLT

They lived a lie, and in death, they receive unwarranted admiration. As far as Solomon is concerned, this is just another proof of the vanity and futility of life. At the time of death, good people get forgotten, while the wicked get a parade in their honor.

When Solomon mentions the wicked, he is not just speaking of the godless and immoral. He is referring to those who hurt others, abusing and taking advantage of them. They are the oppressors he mentioned in chapter four.

Again, I observed all the oppression that takes place under the sun. I saw the tears of the oppressed, with no one to comfort them. The oppressors have great power, and their victims are helpless. – Ecclesiastes 4:1 NLT

These people don’t commit their wicked deeds in a vacuum. Their behavior inevitably impacts the lives of those around them. There are always victims involved because wickedness is an equal-opportunity destroyer. And sadly, it is usually the innocent who end up suffering because of the lifestyle choices of the wicked. For Solomon, the actions of the wicked against the innocent are just another example of life’s meaninglessness.

I have thought deeply about all that goes on here under the sun, where people have the power to hurt each other. – Ecclesiastes 8:9 NLT

Prostitution and human sex trafficking destroy the lives of countless individuals every year. The drug cartels line their pockets with cash paid out by those seeking yet another high in a hopeless attempt to escape the lows of life. Abusive husbands have abused wives. Rapists have victims. Con artists have their marks. Bullies have the helpless. Liars have the naive and gullible. The powerful have the defenseless. The list goes on and on. And when the wicked see that they can get away with whatever it is they do, they feel emboldened to do more. Solomon put it this way: “When a crime is not punished quickly, people feel it is safe to do wrong” (Ecclesiastes 8:11 NLT). 

But Solomon introduces a vital point of clarification. Even though the wicked may appear to escape any retribution or justice, he knows that eventually, there will be payback. He has confidence that God’s justice will one day be meted out on all those who have made wickedness their lifestyle.

it will not be well with the wicked, neither will he prolong his days like a shadow, because he does not fear before God. – Ecclesiastes 8:13 ESV

From our perspective, it may appear as if the wicked just keep on sinning, committing evil after evil, with no apparent consequences. It can even seem as if they live charmed lives, marked by longevity and free from accountability. But Solomon knows that it is those who fear God who will prosper in the long run. They may not experience it in this life, but our righteous God will one day ensure that all is made right. In the meantime, we have to live with the incongruous reality that things don’t always add up in this life. It is full of contradictions and apparent paradoxes. This is why Solomon observes:

good people are often treated as though they were wicked, and wicked people are often treated as though they were good. – Ecclesiastes 8:14 NLT

It can feel so meaningless and futile. And trying to make sense of it all is about as productive as chasing the wind. You get nowhere. You expend a lot of energy but have nothing to show for it in the end. So, Solomon simply concludes. “I recommend having fun, because there is nothing better for people in this world than to eat, drink, and enjoy life. That way they will experience some happiness along with all the hard work God gives them under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 8:15 NLT).

Is this advice from Solomon wise? Does it even make sense? It may sound appealing but just because it’s in the Bible doesn’t necessarily mean it’s godly counsel. This isn’t the first time that Solomon has reached this conclusion and passed it on to his readers. He offered up the same basic conclusion back in chapter five.

Even so, I have noticed one thing, at least, that is good. It is good for people to eat, drink, and enjoy their work under the sun during the short life God has given them, and to accept their lot in life. – Ecclesiastes 5:18 NLT

He said virtually the same thing in chapter two, verse 24. He repeated it in chapter three, verses 12-13, and then again, here in chapter five. Eat, drink and enjoy your work. Eat, drink and be joyful. What’s Solomon saying and how should we take his advice?

He is not advising a life of hedonism and self-centered pleasure. He is not advocating unbridled self-satisfaction. But he is suggesting that there are joys associated with hard work and diligent effort in this life. We get to reap the rewards of our work. We can enjoy the warmth and safety of the home our labor helped to we helped to provide. We can take advantage of the many material blessings that God allows us to enjoy as a result of our work. Unlike a slave, who receives no personal benefit from his labors, but must watch the rewards be consumed by his master, we can enjoy the fruit of our effort. We can find joy in a job well done and the benefits it offers. And Solomon would have us remember that “To enjoy your work and accept your lot in life—this is indeed a gift from God” (Ecclesiastes 8:20 NLT).

We may not have much, but what we do have, we should appreciate and view as a gift from God. The ability to find joy in our labor is something God supplies, and it comes from having a healthy reverence for God. If you despise your job and resent the time you spend having to work for a living, you are essentially expressing to God your ungratefulness for His provision. Your job is not good enough. The benefits it provides are not sufficient enough. So, rather than joy, you express resentment and disappointment. You begin to look at the apparent prosperity of the wicked and question the goodness of God. This can lead to an unhealthy preoccupation with the past that produces a ledger of God’s failures to provide for you. This can lead to a lack of fear of God. And this can result in a failure to show Him reverence, honor, glory, or gratitude.

A big part of learning to fear God is learning to trust Him. It is coming to grips with who He is and who we are in comparison. He is God. He is sovereign, all-knowing, and all-powerful. He is not wise; He is wisdom itself. He knows what is best. He always does what is right. Moses expressed it this way:

I will proclaim the name of the Lord;
    how glorious is our God!
He is the Rock; his deeds are perfect.
    Everything he does is just and fair.
He is a faithful God who does no wrong;
    how just and upright he is! – Deuteronomy 32:3-4 NLT

Yes, there are many things in this life that appear unfair and unjust. There are paradoxes and incongruities galore. Our circumstances may scream to us that God is nowhere to be found, but the Scriptures tell us something radically different. He is always there. The wicked may appear to get away with murder, both literally and figuratively, but God is still in control. He has a plan. He will do what is just and fair. He can do no wrong. And if we could learn to view life through the lens of God’s transcendent power, glory, goodness, and love, we would be better able to enjoy our lives on this planet – in spite of the seeming contradictions and incongruities that surround us.

Solomon realized that “no one can discover everything God is doing under the sun. Not even the wisest people discover everything, no matter what they claim” (Ecclesiastes 8:17 NLT). God’s ways are not our ways. His sovereign plans are sometimes a mystery to us, but they are always righteous and good. Attempting to judge the faithfulness of God based on the incongruous circumstances of life is a dangerous game to play. The apostle Paul warned against presumptuous behavior.

Who are you, a mere human being, to argue with God? Should the thing that was created say to the one who created it, “Why have you made me like this?” – Romans 9:20 NLT

And Paul borrowed his analogy from the prophet Isaiah.

How foolish can you be?
    He is the Potter, and he is certainly greater than you, the clay!
Should the created thing say of the one who made it,
    “He didn’t make me”?
Does a jar ever say,
    “The potter who made me is stupid”? – Isaiah 29:16 NLT

Both men believed it was ludicrous for a mere man to question the goodness of God just because life had not turned out as expected. For Isaiah, it was ridiculous for the creature to question the Creator. The one who was made had no right to call into question the integrity and righteousness of his Maker.

…can the ax boast greater power than the person who uses it? Is the saw greater than the person who saws? Can a rod strike unless a hand moves it? Can a wooden cane walk by itself? – Isaiah 10:15 NLT

In the end, Solomon recognized his inability to understand the ways of God. No amount of wisdom would ever explain the vagaries of life and the mysteries of God’s ways. And it was the apostle Paul who succinctly summed up the lesson that Solomon was learning.

Oh, how great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his ways!

For who can know the Lord’s thoughts?
    Who knows enough to give him advice?
And who has given him so much
    that he needs to pay it back?

For everything comes from him and exists by his power and is intended for his glory. All glory to him forever! Amen. – Romans 11:33-36 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

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.

Missing the Forest for the Trees

15 In my vain life I have seen everything. There is a righteous man who perishes in his righteousness, and there is a wicked man who prolongs his life in his evildoing. 16 Be not overly righteous, and do not make yourself too wise. Why should you destroy yourself? 17 Be not overly wicked, neither be a fool. Why should you die before your time? 18 It is good that you should take hold of this, and from that withhold not your hand, for the one who fears God shall come out from both of them.

19 Wisdom gives strength to the wise man more than ten rulers who are in a city.

20 Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins.

21 Do not take to heart all the things that people say, lest you hear your servant cursing you. 22 Your heart knows that many times you yourself have cursed others.

23 All this I have tested by wisdom. I said, “I will be wise,” but it was far from me. 24 That which has been is far off, and deep, very deep; who can find it out?

25 I turned my heart to know and to search out and to seek wisdom and the scheme of things, and to know the wickedness of folly and the foolishness that is madness. 26 And I find something more bitter than death: the woman whose heart is snares and nets, and whose hands are fetters. He who pleases God escapes her, but the sinner is taken by her. 27 Behold, this is what I found, says the Preacher, while adding one thing to another to find the scheme of things— 28 which my soul has sought repeatedly, but I have not found. One man among a thousand I found, but a woman among all these I have not found. 29 See, this alone I found, that God made man upright, but they have sought out many schemes. Ecclesiastes 7:15-29 ESV

Don’t be too righteous, but don’t be too wicked. Don’t be too wise, but don’t be too foolish. That sounds like strange advice, doesn’t it? It comes across like Solomon is recommending a life of mediocrity – a middle-of-the-road kind of mentality that avoids the ditches on either side. His assessment is that the righteous die in spite of their righteousness and the wicked succeed in spite of their wickedness. So, he recommends avoiding the extremes and fearing  God instead.

What Solomon seems to be saying is that a man will end up disappointed if he pursues righteousness and wisdom thinking they will provide him with a long and prosperous life, free from trouble and trials. A life of righteousness, marked by wisdom is no guarantee of immunity from difficulty. Good people still suffer and die. Wise people still make dumb decisions. But at the same time, Solomon warns that a life of wickedness may bring you a semblance of pleasure and happiness, but you’ll end up paying for it in the long run. This leads him to conclude: “Pay attention to these instructions, for anyone who fears God will avoid both extremes” (Ecclesiastes 7:18 NLT).

It’s important that we not misunderstand or misinterpret what Solomon is saying. He is not diminishing the importance of righteousness or wisdom. He knows that both are essential and, when pursued properly, honoring to God. He even acknowledges that “One wise person is stronger than ten leading citizens of a town!” (Ecclesiastes 7:19 NLT). A wise person possesses an inner strength that provides protection from the effects of adversity. It provides a form of self-reliance and security that is preferable to dependence upon outside sources.   

But wisdom has its limits. So does righteousness. There is no one who is all-wise. There is no one who is fully righteous.

Not a single person on earth is always good and never sins. – Ecclesiastes 7:20 NLT

That’s not exactly a revelation, but it’s so important that we recognize and come to grips with the truth it proclaims. In this lifetime, we will never experience unvarnished righteousness. We will never be completely holy and sinless. So, while righteousness is a worthy and worthwhile pursuit, we must remember that it will never keep us from suffering. Or to put it another way, no amount of righteousness in your life will protect you from pain and suffering. The righteous and wicked both experience difficulties in life. In fact, sometimes it appears as if the righteous suffer more than the wicked. The prophet Jeremiah took pains to share his frustration with this disturbing reality to God Himself.

Lord, you always give me justice
    when I bring a case before you.
So let me bring you this complaint:
Why are the wicked so prosperous?
    Why are evil people so happy?
You have planted them,
    and they have taken root and prospered.
Your name is on their lips,
    but you are far from their hearts. – Jeremiah 12:1-2 NLT

From our earth-bound perspective, it can sometimes appear as if the wicked are being blessed by God. They seem happy and content. Their lives appear to be relatively free from pain and marked by prosperity. But as the saying goes, “Looks can be deceiving.” Solomon had lived long enough to realize that the righteous and the wicked both experience their fair share of suffering. No amount of wisdom can guarantee a trouble-free life. This was a man who had pursued wisdom in a vain attempt to make sense of the incongruities and inequities of life.

And I applied my heart to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven. It is an unhappy business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind. – Ecclesiastes 1:13-14 ESV

Solomon had been blessed by God with greater wisdom than any other living man. But he had not been satisfied. Instead, he spent years trying to acquire even more wisdom. It became an obsession. For Solomon, the accumulation of wisdom had become the end-game, rather than recognition and reverence for the One who made wisdom possible.

In his commentary on the book of Ecclesiastes, J. S. Wright describes wisdom as “not the knowledge of accumulated facts but the inner strength that comes from a God-instructed conscience” (J. S. Wright, Ecclesiastes). John Piper describes wisdom as “that practical knowledge of how to attain true and lasting happiness. It begins with the fear of the Lord and consists in humbly hearing and doing God’s will perceived both in Scripture and in the unique circumstances of the moment” (John Piper, desiringgod.org, “Get Wisdom”).

Solomon knew and understood the importance of wisdom, so he went out of his way to get his hands on it. But it seems as if he treated it as just another commodity, like gold, silver, horses, houses, chariots, and servants. As John Piper stated, the fear of the Lord is central to getting the full advantage of wisdom. And, of all people, Solomon should have understood that truth. After all, it was he who included the following proverb in his well-known collection:

Fear of the LORD is the foundation of wisdom. Knowledge of the Holy One results in good judgment. – Proverbs 9:10 NLT

But despite his awareness of this truth, Solomon’s self-obsessed accumulation of wisdom left him less than satisfied.

I said in my heart, “I have acquired great wisdom, surpassing all who were over Jerusalem before me, and my heart has had great experience of wisdom and knowledge.” And I applied my heart to know wisdom and to know madness and folly. I perceived that this also is but a striving after wind. – Ecclesiastes 1:16-17 ESV

Solomon had lived a long life. He had accomplished much and enjoyed all the perks that came with his achievements. And while he could put abundant wisdom at the top of his long list of assets, he still found himself operating in the red.

I have always tried my best to let wisdom guide my thoughts and actions. I said to myself, “I am determined to be wise.” But it didn’t work. Wisdom is always distant and difficult to find. I searched everywhere, determined to find wisdom and to understand the reason for things. I was determined to prove to myself that wickedness is stupid and that foolishness is madness. – Ecclesiastes 7:23-25 NLT

Despite his superior intelligence, the only conclusion Solomon could reach was that wisdom was an antidote to foolishness. It was like a vaccine that protected one against infection from folly.

I searched everywhere, determined to find wisdom and to understand the reason for things. I was determined to prove to myself that wickedness is stupid and that foolishness is madness. – Ecclesiastes 7:25 NLT

To Solomon, wisdom was nothing more than a panacea against a life of foolishness. He even characterizes folly as a seductive woman.

I discovered that a seductive woman is a trap more bitter than death. Her passion is a snare, and her soft hands are chains. Those who are pleasing to God will escape her, but sinners will be caught in her snare. – Ecclesiastes 7:26 NLT

And Solomon was somewhat of an expert when it came to seductive women. He was addicted to them. You don’t amass 700 wives and 300 concubines without some kind of a physical and psychological obsession with the opposite sex. And so, when Solomon attempted to describe the attractive nature of folly and the life of foolishness, he tended to use the familiar allure of a promiscuous woman.

For the lips of an immoral woman are as sweet as honey,
    and her mouth is smoother than oil.
But in the end she is as bitter as poison,
    as dangerous as a double-edged sword.
Her feet go down to death;
    her steps lead straight to the grave.
For she cares nothing about the path to life.
    She staggers down a crooked trail and doesn’t realize it. – Proverbs 5:3-6 NLT

Solomon knew that a life of foolishness could be highly appealing, but also extremely deadly. It was an equal-opportunity trap that ensnared both men and women. In fact, when he makes the statement, “Only one out of a thousand men is virtuous”, he uses the Hebrew word adam, which can be translated as “man” but is actually a generic term referring to both sexes. Foolishness is not a male-dominated trait. Every human being, regardless of gender, class, educational status, or social standing, is susceptible to the allure of foolishness.

Yet, in verse 28, Solomon seems to be saying that only men can be virtuous.

I have not found what I was looking for. Only one out of a thousand men is virtuous, but not one woman! – Ecclesiastes 7:28 NLT

It would seem that his use of the term “woman” in the second half of this verse is a direct reference to the seductive woman in verse 26. He is stating that folly is never virtuous. The individual who pursues a life of foolishness will never discover virtue or righteousness. Wisdom can prevent us from succumbing to folly’s temptation, but folly will never produce wisdom or result in a life of righteousness. This is why Solomon closes out this chapter by saying, “God created people to be virtuous, but they have each turned to follow their own downward path” (Ecclesiastes 7:29 NLT). God created men and women to live righteously. But ever since the fall, humanity has made a habit of following a divergent path, pursuing darkness rather than light.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning or foundation of wisdom. But pursuing wisdom without a healthy reverence for God simply turns it into a commodity to be coveted and acquired. It becomes the objective rather than a relationship with God. Instead of viewing wisdom as a gift from God, designed to help us live in obedience to Him, we make it our end goal. Wisdom becomes nothing more than a tool to make us smarter, wealthier, healthier, and happier.

Solomon had spent decades in search of the meaning of life. And, in his relentless quest, he had tried wisdom and wickedness, viewing both as potential doorways to his desired destination. But God and a healthy reverence for Him were, and still are, the only ways for a man or woman to discover their true purpose in life and enjoy their days “under the sun.”

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

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.

Getting to Know God

1 The words of Agur son of Jakeh. The oracle.

The man declares, I am weary, O God;
    I am weary, O God, and worn out.
Surely I am too stupid to be a man.
    I have not the understanding of a man.
I have not learned wisdom,
    nor have I knowledge of the Holy One.
Who has ascended to heaven and come down?
    Who has gathered the wind in his fists?
Who has wrapped up the waters in a garment?
    Who has established all the ends of the earth?
What is his name, and what is his son’s name?
    Surely you know!

Every word of God proves true;
    he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.
Do not add to his words,
    lest he rebuke you and you be found a liar.

Two things I ask of you;
    deny them not to me before I die:
Remove far from me falsehood and lying;
    give me neither poverty nor riches;
    feed me with the food that is needful for me,
lest I be full and deny you
    and say, “Who is the Lord?”
or lest I be poor and steal
    and profane the name of my God. – Proverbs 30:1-9 ESV

The closing chapters of the book of Proverbs are attributed to two different individuals whose identities remain a ministry. The first is Agur, the son of Jakeh. The second is referred to as King Lemuel. But we know nothing else about these men. Lemuel’s name does not appear anywhere in the list of the kings of Judah or Israel, found in the books of Kings or Chronicles. So, it is unclear where his kingdom was located. Some have speculated that Lemuel was a pen name for Solomon, but without evidence to back up their claim. The names Agur and Jakeh appear nowhere else in Scripture, so we have no way of knowing who they were or when and where they lived. But Agur and Lemuel were considered to be sages whose wise sayings were included in Solomon’s compendium of proverbs.

The first part of Agur’s collection of proverbs deals with man’s relationship with God. The author opens his list of three proverbial statements regarding God by speaking in the third person, describing himself as “weary and worn out” (Proverbs 30:1 NLT). He addresses his statements to God and makes a stunning confession:

I am too stupid to be human,
    and I lack common sense. – Proverbs 30:2 NLT

Agur acknowledges that his lack of wisdom has left him unable to truly know and understand God.

I have not mastered human wisdom,
    nor do I know the Holy One.
Proverbs 30:3 NLT

Agur is not declaring himself to be a fool, but he is simply acknowledging the transcendence of God. Agur’s wisdom is limited in scope and incapable of plumbing the depths of God’s character and nature. That is why Agur asks five probing questions that are intended to reveal man’s incapacity to fully know and appreciate the greatness of God.

Who but God goes up to heaven and comes back down?
Who holds the wind in his fists?
Who wraps up the oceans in his cloak?
Who has created the whole wide world?
What is his name—and his son’s name? Tell me if you know!

It’s almost as if Agur was familiar with the book of Job because he seems to mirror the questioning style found in chapters 38-42. In the book of Job, God confronts the main character with a series of questions that are designed to reestablish His own greatness and Job’s insignificance.

“Who is this that questions my wisdom
    with such ignorant words?
Brace yourself like a man,
    because I have some questions for you,
    and you must answer them.”  – Job 38:2-3 NLT

And God precedes to expose Job’s unwarranted boldness to question His goodness and glory by asking a series of rhetorical questions.

“Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?” – Job 38:4 NLT

“Have you ever commanded the morning to appear
    and caused the dawn to rise in the east? – Job 38:12 NLT

“Have you explored the springs from which the seas come?
    Have you explored their depths? – Job 38:16 NLT

For two solid chapters, God levels question after question to Job. And when He is done, God asks Job, “Do you still want to argue with the Almighty? You are God’s critic, but do you have the answers?” (Job 40:2 NLT). To which Job humbly responds:

“I am nothing—how could I ever find the answers?
    I will cover my mouth with my hand.
I have said too much already.
    I have nothing more to say.” – Job 40:4-5 NLT

Like Job, Agur understands that he has no right to question God. His wisdom is insufficient to comprehend the will and the ways of God. And he is worn out from attempting to gain enough wisdom to know and understand God.

But he has learned enough to know that God’s word is always true. Agur’s God is faithful and can be fully trusted.

In reading the book of Proverbs it would be easy to focus on what appear to be the main themes or topics of the book: Wisdom, knowledge, and understanding. There is a natural tendency to make the gaining of these three things our sole or primary objective. After all, no one wants to be a fool, so it would make sense to pursue wisdom, knowledge, and understanding. But in doing so, we would miss the real objective of the book.

If you recall, in the very first chapter, Solomon stated that “Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true knowledge” (Proverbs 1:7 NLT). In other words, while wisdom, knowledge, and understanding are worthy objectives, they are only available through a right relationship with God. The Message paraphrases Proverbs 1:7 this way: “Start with God — the first step in learning is bowing down to God.”

It all begins with God. In Proverbs 30, Agur confesses, “I am weary, O God; I am weary and worn out, O God. I am too stupid to be human, and I lack common sense. I have not mastered human wisdom, nor do I know the Holy One” (Proverbs 30:2-3 NLT). When we fail to start with God, and we neglect to get to know Him for who He is, we end up worn out, and lacking in the very things we need to survive and thrive in this world: wisdom, knowledge, and understanding.

Yet, when we make getting to know God our objective, we discover the true source of all wisdom. He is the creator of all things. His wisdom and knowledge are beyond our comprehension, yet He makes Himself known to us when we seek Him. He gives us His Word and it is completely reliable and true. Growing in our knowledge of God gives us a greater understanding of ourselves – our weaknesses, limitations, sinful tendencies, and our total dependence on Him.

Getting to know God gives us a new perspective on life. It changes our priorities, which is why Agur could say, “O God, I beg two favors from you; let me have them before I die. First, help me never to tell a lie. Second, give me neither poverty nor riches! Give me just enough to satisfy my needs. For if I grow rich, I may deny you and say, ‘Who is the Lord!’ And if I am too poor, I may steal and thus insult God’s holy name” (Proverbs 30:7-9 NLT).

Growing in our knowledge of God refocuses our priorities and puts Him at the center of our lives. When we begin to understand just how much God hates pride, we will no longer desire to see it in our own lives. When we see it in others, we are turned off by it. We understand the danger of pride, arrogance, and over-inflated self-worth in our children. A growing knowledge of God will expose the ever-present danger of gluttony in our lives – in all its forms.

We are prone to discontentment and incessantly desire more and more of just about everything, including pleasure, food, attention, accolades, money, and power. Like the leech, we cry out, “More, more!” A person who has an intimate understanding of God is able to see through the facade of temptation and spot the dangers that lurk behind the lure. The fool is simply that person who doesn’t know God and, as a result, lacks wisdom, knowledge, understanding, and basic common sense. Like Agur, they end up weary from trying to live life in this world with nothing but their own human understanding to rely upon. That’s why it pays to start with God. The first step in achieving wisdom is learning is bow down before God. He is the key to life.

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.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

A Leadership Void

15 Like a roaring lion or a charging bear
    is a wicked ruler over a poor people.
16 A ruler who lacks understanding is a cruel oppressor,
    but he who hates unjust gain will prolong his days.
17 If one is burdened with the blood of another,
    he will be a fugitive until death;
    let no one help him.
18 Whoever walks in integrity will be delivered,
    but he who is crooked in his ways will suddenly fall.
19 Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread,
    but he who follows worthless pursuits will have plenty of poverty.
20 A faithful man will abound with blessings,
    but whoever hastens to be rich will not go unpunished.
21 To show partiality is not good,
    but for a piece of bread a man will do wrong.
22 A stingy man hastens after wealth
    and does not know that poverty will come upon him.
23 Whoever rebukes a man will afterward find more favor
    than he who flatters with his tongue.
24 Whoever robs his father or his mother
    and says, “That is no transgression,”
    is a companion to a man who destroys.
25 A greedy man stirs up strife,
    but the one who trusts in the Lord will be enriched.
26 Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool,
    but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered.
27 Whoever gives to the poor will not want,
    but he who hides his eyes will get many a curse.
28 When the wicked rise, people hide themselves,
    but when they perish, the righteous increase. 
– Proverbs 28:15-28 ESV

We have a leadership void. Don’t get me wrong; we have no shortage of leaders in this country. It’s just that we don’t have very many godly leaders. There are plenty of ambitious, intelligent, capable, and sometimes even moral men and women who hold positions of leadership in our nation, but most of them lack the wisdom that only God can provide.

The following verse above paints a pretty bleak picture for a nation that finds itself with a moral and spiritual leadership void.

When there is moral rot within a nation, its government topples easily.
    But wise and knowledgeable leaders bring stability. – Proverbs 28:2 NLT

The Message paraphrases verse two this way: “When the country is in chaos, everybody has a plan to fix it – But it takes a leader of real understanding to straighten things out.”

What an apt description of our own country at this stage of the game. We are in chaos, and everybody has a plan to fix it. We have an abundance of “princes” as the NIV describes them. These so-called leaders and a host of political pundits each offer up solutions to our nation’s myriad problems, but none of them really have a clue as to what should be done about the economy, terrorism, or any other issue facing us. They fail to realize that the root of all our problems is a spiritual one.

A wicked ruler is as dangerous to the poor
    as a roaring lion or an attacking bear.

A ruler with no understanding will oppress his people,
    but one who hates corruption will have a long life. – Proverbs 28:15-16 NLT

Because they lack the wisdom of God, these godless rulers have no way of understanding that the troubled economy is a symptom of a much more serious issue. Raising or lowering taxes is not going to fix what is broken. A larger or smaller government will not be the panacea for our problems. In the very next chapter, Solomon gives us the real solution.

When the godly are in authority, the people rejoice.
    But when the wicked are in power, they groan. – Proverbs 29:2 NLT

In other words, when godly men and women lead a nation according to godly principles and provide wisdom and insight directly from God Himself, the people find themselves living in peace and moral prosperity. Godly leaders make godly decisions. They are not selfish and self-centered. They are not greedy and out to benefit only themselves.

Greedy people try to get rich quick
    but don’t realize they’re headed for poverty. – Proverbs 28:22 NLT

Leaders who lack godly wisdom operate in a spiritual vacuum and are unable to see things from God’s perspective. They are motivated by pride and consumed with the need for recognition. But a godly leader views any power they possess as having been given to them by God, to whom they must report and by whom they will be held accountable.

The trustworthy person will get a rich reward,
    but a person who wants quick riches will get into trouble. – Proverbs 28:20 NLT

What we pass off as leadership today is a far cry from what God had in mind. All you have to do is look at Jesus to see what God views as godly leadership. Jesus came to earth to be the Messiah of Israel. He was to be their King and set up His kingdom on earth. And yet, Jesus claimed that He “came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28 ESV).

Jesus came to give His life away for the sake of others. He was concerned with and consumed by the will of His Father. He was obedient to God to the point of laying down His life. He knew that the world’s problems were spiritual in nature and the solution would have to be a spiritual one. Toppling the Roman government was not going to bring peace to the Jews. Only a Savior could heal them from what ailed them. They needed deliverance from sin, not relief from high taxes. They needed dependence on God, not independence from Rome.

Jesus did not come to tell people what they wanted to hear. He refused to tickle their ears with pleasant-sounding platitudes or comforting words designed to placate their guilt. No, as the apostle Paul makes clear, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners…” (1 Timothy 1:15 NLT). And as this Proverb so powerfully states:

In the end, people appreciate honest criticism
    far more than flattery. – Proverbs 28:23 NLT

Jesus was the ultimate example of a godly leader. After all, He was God in human flesh and as a man, He manifested all the wisdom of God perfectly and completely. Jesus lived to do the will of His Father.

“My nourishment comes from doing the will of God, who sent me, and from finishing his work.” – John 4:34 NLT

“For I have come down from heaven to do the will of God who sent me, not to do my own will. – John 6:38 NLT

Jesus was not a flatterer or glad-hander. He didn’t tell people what they wanted to hear but, instead, He boldly proclaimed the words of His Heavenly Father and demonstrated the attributes of a godly leader. And His example was emulated by men like the apostle Paul.

For we speak as messengers approved by God to be entrusted with the Good News. Our purpose is to please God, not people. He alone examines the motives of our hearts. Never once did we try to win you with flattery, as you well know. And God is our witness that we were not pretending to be your friends just to get your money! As for human praise, we have never sought it from you or anyone else. – 1 Thessalonians 2:4-6 NLT

Paul and his fellow apostles modeled their lives and ministries after Jesus. They fully understood the wisdom found in Proverbs 28:26.

Those who trust their own insight are foolish,
    but anyone who walks in wisdom is safe.

But we live in a day when everyone seems to be doing what is right in their own eyes. Our society is obsessed with the idea of individual autonomy and freedom from restraints of any kind. Everybody wants to be their own king ruling over their kingdom. And yet, when things don’t turn out quite the way we expect, we look to the government or a political leader to bring us relief and restoration. We naively expect a flawed and failed system to deliver us from our self-inflicted predicament.

Yet God has already provided a deliverer in the form of His very own Son. Godly leaders point a nation back to God. They don’t try to act as a substitute for Him. We find ourselves in trouble as a nation, not because of a bad economy, social inequities, or global warming, but because we have appointed leaders who have no respect for God. Without Him, they are helpless and hopeless to lead us because they lack the wisdom required for the job.

We need to pray that God will raise up men and women who know Him, love Him, and are willing to live for Him. But we also need to pray for a spiritual reawakening among the people of God who have become complacent and sometimes even contributors to the moral chaos facing our nation. We lack godly leaders because we have become a godless nation. But the wise see things from God’s perspective and always know there is hope.

When the wicked take charge, people go into hiding.
    When the wicked meet disaster, the godly flourish. – Proverbs 28:28 NLT

In the end, the godly win. The wicked may have their 15 minutes of fame, but the righteous will always come out on top. Those who walk the way of the wise will find that their path ultimately leads to joy, peace, comfort, and blessing.

trusting the Lord leads to prosperity. – Proverbs 28:25 NLT

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.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

It All Begins and Ends with God

1 A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches,
    and favor is better than silver or gold.
The rich and the poor meet together;
    the Lord is the Maker of them all.
The prudent sees danger and hides himself,
    but the simple go on and suffer for it.
The reward for humility and fear of the Lord
    is riches and honor and life.
Thorns and snares are in the way of the crooked;
    whoever guards his soul will keep far from them.
Train up a child in the way he should go;
    even when he is old he will not depart from it.
The rich rules over the poor,
    and the borrower is the slave of the lender.
Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity,
    and the rod of his fury will fail.
Whoever has a bountiful eye will be blessed,
    for he shares his bread with the poor.
10 Drive out a scoffer, and strife will go out,
    and quarreling and abuse will cease.
11 He who loves purity of heart,
    and whose speech is gracious, will have the king as his friend.
12 The eyes of the Lord keep watch over knowledge,
    but he overthrows the words of the traitor.
13 The sluggard says, “There is a lion outside!
    I shall be killed in the streets!”
14 The mouth of forbidden women is a deep pit;
    he with whom the Lord is angry will fall into it.
15 Folly is bound up in the heart of a child,
    but the rod of discipline drives it far from him.
16 Whoever oppresses the poor to increase his own wealth,
    or gives to the rich, will only come to poverty.
– Proverbs 22:1-16 ESV

We live in a heterogeneous world that is filled with all kinds of people from a diverse range of economic, cultural, and ethnic backgrounds. And while technology and transportation advances have made the world smaller to some degree, there are still dramatic differences between the cultures and communities that populate this planet. Yet, despite those differences, Solomon would have us remember that we all share a common bond. We have all been created by God.

The rich and poor have this in common:
    The Lord made them both. – Proverbs 22:2 NLT

Regardless of our financial status, country of origin, religious affiliation, or ethnic makeup, we are all the handiwork of the same Creator-God, whether we recognize and honor him as such. Denying His existence does not alter the fact that He is the one who has given life to all humanity. And while the wisdom sayings collected by Solomon have stressed the stark differences between the foolish and the wise, there is an underlying theme that highlights our similarities.

All men long to live their lives in relative peace and security. They desire to get the most out of life during their relatively short time on this earth. But along with a common source of origin, we also share the mark of our sinful natures.

As the Scriptures say,

“No one is righteous—
    not even one.
No one is truly wise;
    no one is seeking God.
All have turned away;
    all have become useless.
No one does good,
    not a single one.” – Romans 3:10-12 NLT

For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God… – Romans 3:22-23 ESV

So, if Paul is right and no one is righteous or wise, how does anyone achieve a “good name” (verse 1)? If no one is seeking God, how can they ever expect to receive a “reward for humility and fear of the Lord” (verse 4)? What hope does anyone have to exhibit “a pure heart and gracious speech” if no one has the capacity to do good (verse 11)?

The answer to these perplexing questions is found in the One who made mankind in the first place. The Creator-God is also the Redeemer-God. He alone has the capacity to make the unrighteous righteous. The all-powerful God who formed the universe out of nothing can transform a sinful man into “a vessel for honor: sanctified, useful to the Master, and prepared for every good work” (2 Timothy 2:21 BSB).

God made mankind in His image and He deemed His creation as being very good. But sin marred what God had made and created an inseparable barrier between the Creator and His creation. Because of their decision to disobey God, Adam and Eve were cast from the garden He had made for them, and their progeny continued the pattern of transgressing His laws and distancing themselves from His presence. And the downward nature of their moral trajectory is recorded in the book of Genesis.

The LORD observed the extent of human wickedness on the earth, and he saw that everything they thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil. – Genesis 6:5 NLT

God made the decision to destroy all mankind and begin again. He brought a devastating flood upon the earth, but spared one man and his family because “Noah found favor with the LORD” (Genesis 6:8 NLT). And Noah found favor with God because he “was a righteous man, the only blameless person living on earth at the time, and he walked in close fellowship with God” (Genesis 6:9 NLT).

God started over with Noah and his family. But by the time we get to the days of Solomon, the spiritual state of humanity was no better than before. Not much had changed. Even among the Israelites, the chosen people of God, sin and unrighteousness remained a serious problem. Man, when left to his own devices, had an insatiable appetite for disobeying God and living according to his own sinful desires.

Throughout the book of Proverbs, Solomon points his readers back to the source of their existence: God Almighty. He wanted them to understand that any hope they had of experiencing God’s covenant blessings would have to begin with dependence upon Him. The wisdom necessary for living a full and meaningful life was only available from God. And that wisdom was only accessible to those who showed reverence and respect for God. Unlike oxygen, which exists in the atmosphere and is freely available to all, godly wisdom is impossible to access without God’s help.

And without godly wisdom, any desire for a good name, riches, honor, and wealth will all remain out of reach. Of course, there are those who seem to experience these “blessings” without maintaining a fear of the Lord. This world is filled with excessively wealthy people who have no regard for God. There are plenty of people who enjoy good reputations and are honored for their achievements, yet they fail to give God the time of day.  And despite what Solomon says, not all “Corrupt people walk a thorny, treacherous road” (Proverbs 22:5 NLT). Some of them seem to have found the fast lane to fame and fortune.

So, what does Solomon mean when he states that “True humility and fear of the Lord lead to riches, honor, and long life” (Proverbs 22:4 NLT)? Does this verse contain the secret to success? Yes, it does, but we tend to put the focus on the wrong end of the verse.

We focus on the promise of “riches, honor, and long life.” We assume that because we believe in God, we have the first part of the verse down and automatically receive the “promises” it offers. As God’s people, we somehow believe that we are guaranteed the good life. And we even define what riches, honor, and long life should look like – all according to our perspective.

But the real point of this verse is contained in the description, “true humility and the fear of the Lord.” Those two things are critical and non-negotiable to receiving any blessings from God. They describe the life of the person who has a right relationship with God. They reveal the heart of the individual who loves God and shows Him the proper awe, reverence, and fear He deserves as the Almighty God of the Universe.

The humility spoken of in this verse is based on an understanding of who God is. In the face of God’s power, majesty, magnitude, intelligence, holiness, and complete righteousness, a humble person responds with an awareness of their own sinfulness, weakness, unfaithfulness, powerlessness, need, and unrighteousness. That awareness produces dependence. It results in a growing reliance upon God for ALL things, including not only salvation but our daily sanctification. It drives out self-righteousness and any thought that we somehow deserve the blessings of God. Humility is our response to God’s majesty and glory. It is “true” humility, not some kind of false self-abasement designed to impress others. It is real and the result of a growing awareness of just how great God really is.

Humility goes hand-in-hand with the fear of God. In Proverbs 9:10, Solomon reminds us that “Fear of the Lord is the foundation of wisdom.” When we learn to fear God, we grow in wisdom. We begin to realize just how much we need Him and all that He offers. We need His help in order to live the life He has called us to live on this fallen planet. We need His wisdom to navigate all the issues that face us each and every day. We need discernment, knowledge, discretion, and good old common sense – all of which come directly from God.

What Solomon is telling us is that any degree of riches, honor, and long life will come only as we learn to humble ourselves before the mighty hand of God. They will only come about if we learn to fear Him, honor Him, worship Him, and show Him the awe He so rightly deserves. But if we begin to worship riches, honor, and long life, we will miss the point altogether. We can easily make idols out of the blessings and miss the One who alone can provide them. That is NOT the fear of God.

We can find ourselves expecting God to give us happy homes, great jobs, good incomes, solid marriages, successful careers, obedient kids, and a host of other blessings. The problem is that many of us know nothing of true humility and the fear of God. We almost demand that He bless us, like the prodigal son who demanded that his father give him his inheritance. We display no love, no respect, no honor, and no fear.

In Proverbs 9, Solomon stated that the fear of God is the foundation of wisdom. In other words, it is the starting point, the very beginning of our quest for wisdom. It all begins with the fear of God. So, not until we fear God will we receive the wisdom we need that can help us succeed in life, marriage, parenting, work, and every other area of our lives. Proverbs 22:4 is not some kind of magic mantra that guarantees success. It is a reminder that the fear of the Lord is what should be the singular focus of our lives. Don’t obsess over the gifts, focus on the Giver. Make Him your highest priority. Make getting to know Him more important than getting things from Him. Then You will have true success.

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.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

The X-Ray Vision of God

1 The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord;
    he turns it wherever he will.
Every way of a man is right in his own eyes,
    but the Lord weighs the heart.
To do righteousness and justice
    is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.
Haughty eyes and a proud heart,
    the lamp of the wicked, are sin.
The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance,
    but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty.
The getting of treasures by a lying tongue
    is a fleeting vapor and a snare of death.
The violence of the wicked will sweep them away,
    because they refuse to do what is just.
The way of the guilty is crooked,
    but the conduct of the pure is upright.
It is better to live in a corner of the housetop
    than in a house shared with a quarrelsome wife.
10 The soul of the wicked desires evil;
    his neighbor finds no mercy in his eyes.
11 When a scoffer is punished, the simple becomes wise;
    when a wise man is instructed, he gains knowledge.
12 The Righteous One observes the house of the wicked;
    he throws the wicked down to ruin.
13 Whoever closes his ear to the cry of the poor
    will himself call out and not be answered.
14 A gift in secret averts anger,
    and a concealed bribe, strong wrath.
15 When justice is done, it is a joy to the righteous
    but terror to evildoers.
– Proverbs 21:1-15 ESV

As human beings, we can be the masters of deceit and deception. Over time we can learn the art of spin, controlling what others think about us and manipulating how they perceive us. In fact, how we’re perceived by others can become the most important thing about us. Our external persona becomes our pseudo-personality. Perception becomes reality. After a while, we can even begin to believe our own PR. We can convince ourselves that the facade we’ve erected is real, not imaginary – that the aura we give off is authentic, not self-manufactured and fake.

But while we may fool others and even ourselves with our Academy-Award-winning ways, God remains unconvinced and unimpressed. He looks right past our plastic facade and sees into the very recesses of our souls. He examines our hearts.

Every way of a man is right in his own eyes,
    but the Lord weighs the heart. – Proverbs 21:2 ESV

The Hebrew word that is translated as “weighs” is actually a term for measuring, as in a balance scale. God places our hearts on one side of the scale and measures its real worth based on something of equal weight or worth. He doesn’t take into account any of the excess exterior trappings we’ve spent so much time creating and cultivating. He goes right to the heart of the matter – literally. God takes a look at the condition of our hearts and determines who we really are. If we allow Him. And sadly, we quickly discover that, rather than being the measure of all things, we are being measured by a holy and righteous God.

God X-rays our hearts and reveals what’s really going on under the shiny surface of our lives. He exposes our pride, anger, and arrogance. He shows us our selfishness and self-centeredness.

Haughty eyes, a proud heart,
    and evil actions are all sin. – Proverbs 21:4 NLT

He exposes to us our fears, faithlessness, spiritual adultery, and embarrassing weaknesses.

The Righteous One knows what is going on in the homes of the wicked;
    he will bring disaster on them. – Proverbs 21:12 NLT

But like a doctor examining a patient, God’s goal is not just to expose sickness. He wants to bring about healing. He desires to refocus our attention away from the surface issues of life and on to the hard reality of our heart health. God longs to heal our hearts so that we might truly be what He desires for us to be.

Whoever pursues righteousness and unfailing love
    will find life, righteousness, and honor. – Proverbs 21:21 NLT

We can pursue wealth, pleasure, popularity, and a host of other things, but they will never deliver what we need. We can attempt to ignore our hearts and live in a fairy tale land of false identity and fake reality, but we will never find joy, peace, and contentment. So, God examines our hearts and then gives us the results. But He also provides us with a prescription and a remedy for healing. As the Great Physician, He knows how to heal our hearts and restore our souls. But it begins with a thorough examination and a correct, sometimes shocking diagnosis. Once we accept His assessment and place ourselves under His loving, capable hands, healing can begin. Our hearts can be made whole again. The facade can come down, the false identity can be removed, and the man or woman God designed us to be can begin to reveal itself – from the inside out. And a heart that is in the right condition can begin doing what God has deemed as right.

The Lord is more pleased when we do what is right and just
    than when we offer him sacrifices. – Proverbs 21:3 NLT

But sadly, a lot of us spend a lot of time trying to keep God pleased. We view Him as some kind of divine Santa Clause, who’s making a list, and checking it twice. He’s gonna find out who’s naughty or nice. So, if we want to keep Him happy, we better get busy doing nice things. And that can translate into everything from having a quiet time to memorizing Scripture, or doing acts of service and going to a Bible study or on a short-term mission trip. We can even believe that giving more money to the church will put us in good standing with God. And while there’s nothing wrong with any of these things, we can easily turn them into actions that we believe will earn us brownie points with God. And in doing so, we miss the point. When we make them personal sacrifices we offer on behalf of God in the hopes that He will notice and reward us favorably, they lose their meaning and we lose our focus.

King David understood this concept very well. He wrote, “You do not desire a sacrifice, or I would offer one. You do not want a burnt offering. The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God” (Psalm 51:16-17 NLT).

While God had commanded the people of Israel to offer sacrifices, what He was really looking for was an obedient heart. Jesus had harsh words for the religious leaders in His day.

“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore the more important aspects of the law — justice, mercy, and faith. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things. Blind guides!” – Matthew 23:23-24 NLT

These men were adept at keeping the law and of making the proper sacrifices, but their hearts were not right. They were skilled at keeping the letter of the law but were oblivious to the real point behind the law: Doing justice, mercy, and faith.

It wasn’t supposed to be about their ability to keep laws, but about the motivation of their hearts. They were doing what they were doing out of a sense of self-righteousness and in the hopes that what they did would somehow earn them credit with God. But as we read in Proverbs, God is more pleased when we do what is right and just than when we offer Him sacrifices. He is more focused on our hearts than our efforts. In the verse right before this one, Solomon writes, “People may be right in their own eyes, but the Lord examines their heart.”

God is able to see our inner motivation. He knows when we are doing what we are doing out of some sense of duty or simply in the hopes of earning His approval. The book of Micah contains these sobering words:

No, O people, the LORD has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God. – Micah 6:8 NLT

God’s desire is that our outer efforts be motivated by an inward transformation that He alone can bring about. As we submit to His authority over our lives and listen to the Holy Spirit’s direction, we begin to understand what it is that God would have us do. We begin to desire what He desires, love what He loves, and see the world as He sees it. We learn to walk in humility, not pride. We understand that our best efforts are never enough to earn points with God. He doesn’t need our sacrifices. He simply wants our hearts. And as He changes our hearts, we begin to do what is just and right. We act in ways that are in keeping with His heart and in accordance with His will. And He is pleased.

So much of what the book of Proverbs deals with has to do with outward conduct.

The way of the guilty is crooked,
    but the conduct of the pure is upright. – Proverbs 21:8 ESV

But it all begins in the heart.

The soul of the wicked desires evil;
    his neighbor finds no mercy in his eyes. – Proverbs 21:10 ESV

Ungodly behavior can show up in a variety of forms, from a wife who likes to quarrel to a husband with a lying tongue and an arrogant attitude. The wicked are everywhere. And they all share the same problem: They each have unhealthy and unholy hearts. And that is an ailment only God can heal.

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.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

Good Kids Gone Bad

17 Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord,
    and he will repay him for his deed.
18 Discipline your son, for there is hope;
    do not set your heart on putting him to death.
19 A man of great wrath will pay the penalty,
    for if you deliver him, you will only have to do it again.
20 Listen to advice and accept instruction,
    that you may gain wisdom in the future.
21 Many are the plans in the mind of a man,
    but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.
22 What is desired in a man is steadfast love,
    and a poor man is better than a liar.
23 The fear of the Lord leads to life,
    and whoever has it rests satisfied;
    he will not be visited by harm.
24 The sluggard buries his hand in the dish
    and will not even bring it back to his mouth.
25 Strike a scoffer, and the simple will learn prudence;
    reprove a man of understanding, and he will gain knowledge.
26 He who does violence to his father and chases away his mother
    is a son who brings shame and reproach.
27 Cease to hear instruction, my son,
    and you will stray from the words of knowledge.
28 A worthless witness mocks at justice,
    and the mouth of the wicked devours iniquity.
29 Condemnation is ready for scoffers,
    and beating for the backs of fools.
– Proverbs 19:17-29 ESV

A rebellious child. Nobody plans for one. But they don’t just happen either. At the same time, there is no magic elixir or five-step strategy that can guarantee you won’t have one. And while we must do all we can to discipline our children while they are young and attempt to raise them in a godly atmosphere, there is no assurance that our children will never stray, never disappoint us or never become an embarrassment and a public disgrace (Proverbs 19:26 NLT).

Solomon was a big proponent of godly discipline and instruction in a child’s early developmental years. One of the most frequently quoted and misunderstood verses in the entire book of Proverbs is found in chapter 22:

Train up a child in the way he should go;
    even when he is old he will not depart from it. – Proverbs 22:6 ESV

This verse is not meant to be a scriptural panacea, offering the guarantee of a godly child if you follow God’s prescribed parenting plan. This proverb simply teaches that, while our children are young and pliable, we must do all we can to teach them the truth of God’s Word and model for them the life of wisdom and righteousness that God desires. But as children grow older, they also grow increasingly more independent, until they reach that inevitable point at which they must determine and decide their own faith and fate. They will have to decide what they are going to do with all that they have been taught. What happens at that point has as much to do with their personality and temperament as anything else. Two children raised in the same home by the same parents and under the same set of rules can turn out completely different from one another – solely based on their personality profile.

That’s why Solomon provides the following admonition: “Discipline your children while there is hope. Otherwise you will ruin their lives” (Proverbs 19:18 NLT). The day may come when your adult child will no longer accept your instruction or submit to your discipline. It will be too late.

Every day, countless parents ask the pain-filled, guilt-ridden questions, “Where did we go wrong?” “What could we have done differently?” “How could we have prevented this from happening?” No doubt, those questions have answers. There are inevitably some things they could have done differently, better, or not at all. None of us are perfect parents. We all make mistakes. We sin against our children and, when it comes to their sins, we overlook some and overreact to others. We are inconsistent and non-perfect parents.

And there are those times when our children turn out differently than we had hoped or dreamed; not so much because of our shortcomings as parents but because of the choices our children made along the way. That’s why Solomon cries out to his sons to listen to his instruction. He begs them to listen to what he is trying to tell them about wisdom and the life of righteousness.

If you stop listening to instruction, my child,
    you will turn your back on knowledge.  – Proverbs 19:27 NLT

Get all the advice and instruction you can,
    so you will be wise the rest of your life. – Proverbs 19:20 NLT

But ultimately, every child must come to the point where they begin making their own choices and deciding what it is they believe. They must choose to listen to all that they have been taught and begin obeying it, not because they have to, but because they want to. Their faith must become a choice of the will, not an act of submission to their parent’s wishes.

Watching your son or daughter reject the faith you have tried to instill in them is a painful thing to endure. It is gut-wrenching. The word “violence” in verse 26 is meant to shock the reader. The Hebrew word means “to devastate, ruin or violently destroy.” This pictures a son or daughter who has done some serious damage to their father. It could be financially, physically, or even just emotionally. They have devastated their father. Their actions have brought him down and knocked the props out from under him. And they have managed to alienate and drive away their own mother. She wants nothing to do with her own child. This loving mother and father now find their child to be an embarrassment and a public disgrace. All their friends can stand back and watch as their adult child lives an ungodly and unrighteous life right in front of their eyes. And the fingers point, the gossip spreads, and the pity is poured out on these two poor souls who obviously failed at parenting. But that is not Solomon’s point. He is not condemning those whose children have rebelled and rejected the way of wisdom. He is simply stressing the vital importance of godly wisdom and instruction in their early years. It is a warning to remain steadfast and committed to godly parenting “while there is hope” (Proverbs 19:18 NLT).

At the end of the day, we must place our children in the hands of God. The psalmist reminds us that “Children are a gift from the LORD; they are a reward from him” (Psalm 127:3 NLT). And God views parents as stewards, not saviors. He does not expect us to produce godly children because only He can bestow righteousness. All we can do is teach them the truth of God’s Word and model for them a life of faith and godliness. Ultimately, they will have to choose for themselves. They are free-will creatures who must one day choose God and accept His will for their lives. Many do, but some do not.

That is why Solomon repeatedly stresses the positive outcomes of a godly life. He wants his own children to understand that way of wisdom has real benefits.

Loyalty makes a person attractive.
    It is better to be poor than dishonest. – Proverbs 19:22 NLT

Fear of the Lord leads to life,
    bringing security and protection from harm. – Proverbs 19:23 NLT

Get all the advice and instruction you can,
    so you will be wise the rest of your life. – Proverbs 19:20 NLT

Yet, not all children will heed Solomon’s advice or their parents’ instructions. They will choose the wrong path and, like the prodigal son, decide to waste their inheritance and their life. But like the father of the prodigal son, we must continue to pray for them and hope for their ultimate return. We must turn them over to God and ask Him to do what only He can do. He alone can soften their heart and convict them of their rebellion. Because their sin, while painful to us as parents, is ultimately against God. They are rejecting Him, not us. And only God can restore them to a right relationship with Himself. Nothing is impossible for Him.

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.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

The Way of God Lived With God

1 The plans of the heart belong to man,
    but the answer of the tongue is from the Lord.
All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes,
    but the Lord weighs the spirit.
Commit your work to the Lord,
    and your plans will be established.
The Lord has made everything for its purpose,
    even the wicked for the day of trouble.
Everyone who is arrogant in heart is an abomination to the Lord;
    be assured, he will not go unpunished.
By steadfast love and faithfulness iniquity is atoned for,
    and by the fear of the Lord one turns away from evil.
When a man’s ways please the Lord,
    he makes even his enemies to be at peace with him.
Better is a little with righteousness
    than great revenues with injustice.
The heart of man plans his way,
    but the Lord establishes his steps.
10 An oracle is on the lips of a king;
    his mouth does not sin in judgment.
11 A just balance and scales are the Lord’s;
    all the weights in the bag are his work.
12 It is an abomination to kings to do evil,
    for the throne is established by righteousness.
13 Righteous lips are the delight of a king,
    and he loves him who speaks what is right.
14 A king’s wrath is a messenger of death,
    and a wise man will appease it.
15 In the light of a king’s face there is life,
    and his favor is like the clouds that bring the spring rain.
– Proverbs 16:1-15 ESV

Notice how many times Solomon mentions a man’s ways, works, or plans.

We can make our own plans,
    but the Lord gives the right answer. – Proverbs 16:1 NLT

Commit your actions to the Lord,
    and your plans will succeed. – Proverbs 16:3 NLT

When a man’s ways please the Lord,
    he makes even his enemies to be at peace with him. – Proverbs 16:7 ESV

We can make our plans,
    but the Lord determines our steps. – Proverbs 16:9 NLT

Wisdom isn’t just about what you know, but it also entails what you do with what you know. Even a man blessed with great wisdom can end up living like a fool if he fails to put all that knowledge to use. Wisdom is meant to be applied to daily life so that impacts our attitudes and actions.

While this Proverb appears to be a collection of disjointed one-liners that cover a variety of topics; on closer examination, there are two themes that run throughout the entire Proverb. One has to do with the path of our life and the plans we make to get where we think we’re supposed to go.

The other theme has to do with our speech or the words that come out of our mouths, and the impact they have on our lives and the lives of all those around us. The path we walk will end up affecting our speech and conduct. Throughout the Proverbs, life is pictured as a journey. It has a beginning and an end. There is a destination to life. And we are always thinking about where it is we’re going, how we’re going to get there, and why are journey is not turning out quite as we expected.

We make plans for our lives and those plans are ALWAYS influenced by something going on the inside as well as outside of ourselves. Jealousy, pride, self-centeredness, and the longing for power, possessions, and prominence can lead us down the wrong path. And choosing the errant path can have a huge impact on the way we live and the words we say.

This Proverb talks about wise speech, kind words, gossip, destructive words, righteous lips, and honest speech. The content of our speech is directly related to the conduct of our lives. Where we go will influence what we say. Foolish life choices will result in foolish words. But following the wise path will result in wise words.

So, who gets to decide the path of our lives? According to Solomon, we spend a lot of time trying to make arrangements and plans for the direction of our lives, but at the end of the day, God is the one who determines our steps.

A man may make designs for his way, but the Lord is the guide of his steps. – Proverbs 16:9 BBE

We may think we know what’s best for our lives, but only God truly knows how to get where we really need to go. In verse one, we read, “The intentions of the heart belong to a man, but the answer of the tongue comes from the Lord.”

This verse reminds us that we may arrange the contents of our minds and plan out all our thoughts, but it is God who gives us the capacity to put our thoughts into words. Plans become deeds. Thoughts become words. And both are related to the path we have chosen for our lives. We can choose to live our way or we can decide to live God’s way, to follow His path for our lives.

Commit your actions to the Lord, and your plans will succeed. – Proverbs 16:3 NLT

Turn over the direction for your life to God. Allow Him to determine your path and you will discover it always leads in the right direction. Following His path not only leads to the right destination, but it also produces a life marked by godliness, wisdom, and righteousness. When it comes to choosing the right path for our lives, most of us have a lousy sense of direction.

There is a path before each person that seems right, but it ends in death. – Proverbs 16:25 NLT

We need a GPS system. We need navigational assistance, and only God can provide it. Our way may seem right, but it will always turn out wrong. God’s way is the best way.

The highway of the upright is to turn away from evil; the one who guards his way safeguards his life. – Proverbs 16:17 NET

But there is more to life than simply choosing the right path. If we’re not careful, we can end up believing that, as long as we follow God’s will, all will be well. If we do things God’s way, we’ll never have to experience any trouble, trials, or tribulations.

“Unfailing love and faithfulness make atonement for sin. By fearing the Lord, people avoid evil.” – Proverbs 16:6 NLT

The entire book of Proverbs is like a compendium of sins, providing a running list of character traits and actions that flow from a life lived apart from God. It’s easy to read the book and simply walk away thinking that it’s up to us to choose a life of sin or a life of righteousness. It’s our responsibility to make the right choices and not the wrong ones. But NOT sinning will NOT make us righteous in God’s eyes. Not only that, according to the Scriptures, attempting to do righteous things will not win us brownie points with God either.

We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags. – Isaiah 64:6 NLT

The apostle Paul reminds us, “As the Scriptures say, “No one is righteous— not even one” (Romans 3:10 NLT). And where did he get that idea? From the pen of Solomon’s father, King David.

Only fools say in their hearts, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, and their actions are evil; not one of them does good! – Psalm 14:1 NLT

We can try and live a life marked by righteous deeds. We can attempt to say no to sin. But if we leave God out of the equation, we will inevitably fail. Man is incapable of living a righteous life on his own, and any attempts he makes to sin less will produce less-than-positive results. As is always the case throughout the book of Proverbs, the fear of the Lord is the key to avoiding sin and pleasing God. It all begins with our relationship with Him. In verse 6, we’re told that if we want to avoid sin, we have to fear God. It’s not about keeping a list of dos and don’ts. More good behavior and less bad behavior do not equal righteousness. That is NOT the formula for living a truly righteous, God-honoring life. But in this verse, we do get the answer or key to living a life that pleases God and allows us to avoid sin.

By fearing the Lord, people avoid sin. – Proverbs 16:6 NLT

But what does that mean? The NET Bible translates the first part of this verse, “Through loyal love and truth iniquity is appeased.” The word translated as “appeased” or “atoned for” in this verse means that God’s anger against sin is turned away and God views him as though he had not sinned.

God’s holiness and righteousness demand that he punishes sin. He is required by law to deal justly with sin, and the penalty for sin is death. But this verse tells us that if we come to God, expressing unfailing love and faithfulness to Him, which is another way of saying that we are repentant of our sin, the anger of God is appeased. Genuine repentance, demonstrated by loyalty and truthfulness, appeases the anger of God against one’s sin. But there is not a person alive who can truly atone for their own sin. Without the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross, any attempt to atone for our own sins would be incomplete and insufficient to satisfy the just demands of God. Yet, because Jesus died in our place and took all our sins upon Himself, He was able to satisfy or appease God’s righteous wrath, so that God is now able to see us as righteous and sinless. Our sins were credited to Christ’s account and His righteousness was credited to ours.

Now, when we sin, we can repent by turning back to God in love and faithfulness, knowing that He will forgive any sin we commit because the debt has been paid in full by His Son on the cross. We can enjoy unbroken fellowship with God the Father simply by repenting of our sins and returning to Him. This attitude of humility and willing submission to Him is the fear of the Lord lived out in daily life, and it helps us avoid additional sin. Staying close to Him keeps us far from sin. When we stray from His presence, we get off the path He has determined for our lives and become easy prey for the enemy.

The Proverbs is not a list of righteous requirements we must keep in order to remain on good terms with God. It is a reminder that a life of holiness begins and ends with God. It begins and ends with a relationship with Him. He alone can make us holy. Recognizing our sins and repenting of them is how we show God we fear Him and acknowledge how much we need His help for staying on course. By fearing the Lord, people avoid sin. It all begins with God.

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.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.