Monday, January 5, 2015

Proverbs 3:1- 10 "On Living Wisely!" - Appropriate Words for the Beginning of the Year 2015

I wish  you all a very happy  and fruitful new year, filled with God’s choicest  blessings  for you  that trust in Him with all your heart !

Last week, at the end of  the old year 2014,  we  considered  Proverbs chapter  2  which  speaks  about  the blessings that  God given wisdom brings into our lives.  Here Solomon  speaks  to his son (1:8,10,15 ;2:1; 3:1,11,21 etc.) – perhaps  Rehoboam,  who became his successor. Solomon himself  was privileged to  have received  an unusual  measure  of  the gift  of  knowledge and wisdom from God (2 Chronicles 1: 12).  Thus,  under the supervision of the Holy Spirit he was  able  to write down  such  wisdom from God also  for our benefit.  I remind you then  that this  is not  Solomon’s  own wisdom that is  dispensed here. No!  He  speaks of   a wisdom that is given to Him  from God, and as such it is   absolutely true,   infallible, and  profound. This godly wisdom is a  precious gift. It is  the ability  to see life as God sees it.

As  we face   the year of our Lord 2015  I can think of  no  greater desire on the part of any Christian  but  to  walk in wisdom, making  one wise  decision  after another , and reaping the benefits of wise living  as we walk through this year and through  this  life  on our way  to the heavenly city . Sadly, sin often gets in the way , and for this reason we ought  to be all the more glad  that we have a  Saviour , who not only forgives us all our sin and foolishness, but who calls and enables us to walk  by the Holy  Spirit (Gal. 5:16), whom He has sent  to be  with us and in us (Jn. 14:17)  and to help  us  by means of His inspired Word  - such as this book of Proverbs.

The  contrast  to the wise man  in Proverbs is  the “fool”. We want to avoid his company. Proverbs  13:20 says:  “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.”  The Bible helps us to stay out of harm’s way, if we are  willing to embrace  and live by its wisdom .  Wisdom  doesn’t come easy.  From chapter 2   we understood that godly wisdom (2:6)   comes from  the diligent and  prayerful searching  of the Word of God (the image here is derived from  mining – 2:4). May the LORD give you a heart  in 2015  to desire the company of the wise, and  may you  have a heart to diligently  follow His  teaching  and His commandments. The Bible is a book full of wonderful promises.

With  this in mind let us consider  Proverbs 3 :1-12
In this section we find  5 great promises.  
Just a brief word about  promises.  An unconditional  promise says : “I promise  to  give you a thousand dollars  for your birthday!”  A conditional promise  says, “I will give you a thousand  dollars  for  your birthday, if you do  well in  your school  exams!” 
So , note firstly  that   Bible promises  generally have  conditions (if… then)  attached to them. This is the case also with our text. There are  5 wonderful promises here for you, but they are all attached to  conditions. 

Secondly,  we need to remember that what is promised may not come exactly in those terms. There may be exceptions.  However   the  spiritual reality  that lies  behind the wonderful things such as  long life (3:1,2),  the promise of  a good reputation and success  (3:3,4), the promise of guidance and blessing  (3:5,6), the promise of health and strength  (3:7,8)  and  the promise of wealth and abundance  (3: 9,10)   will generally  come to   those    that obey  the Lord Jesus  Christ.  God is  known to be generous.  This is the promise even of Christ in the gospels   in Matthew  19: 29  where He  promises His disciples  who have forsaken everything to follow Him: “you will receive  a hundredfold, and will  inherit eternal life”. Notice,  however,  that there is a condition attached to their rewards   - they  leave  houses , brothers , sisters, parents, lands for Christ’s sake.  

Thirdly,  we need to remember  that a   believer may experience  a time of ‘leanness’  or apparent lack of blessing . This may be due to sin or disobedience , in which case God withholds  His blessings  for the purpose of chastisement, or  there may be (as in Job’s case)  a time   of divine testing when God intends to teach us  profound lessons. This  may be a time  when the believer is sorely afflicted , His life appears to be totally ‘unblessed’ , but not  for reason of  personal  sin,  but for the sake  of God’s greater glory  ( e.g.  John 9:3 – the man born blind)
We have established  the fact   then  that  God  generally makes  conditional  promises. He   attaches His promises  to our  obedience. John Calvin   said it  like this: “As God  gives Himself to us in His promises, we must give ourselves to Him in duties”.[1]   As we  seek  God’s wisdom and  God’s blessings for ourselves and our families   in 2015,  I pray that we may  understand this and take it to heart. 

And so we note  firstly  that the  wise son   does not forget the teaching of his father (he listens!) : [3:1] My son, do not forget my teaching (“torah”), but let your heart keep my commandments,[2] for length of days and years of life and peace they will add to you.  To  such a son is promised  length of days … and peace (“shalom” – a sense of rounded wellbeing).  Obedience  to parental teaching that is based on the Word of God leads to blessing .  This fact is even  entrenched in the 10 commandments : “Honour  your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.” (Ex. 20:12). God’s Word is given to us fallen people  to give us hope and a future. Ultimately it points us forward to eternal life ( life without end) in heaven . The condition is that we need to trust in the Lord Jesus Christ  with all our heart.  May  your year  be filled  with obedience to God’s Word , and  may you be of long service and blessing to this earth  and  God’s to  church.  

Secondly, Solomon  says:  “Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you; bind them around your neck; write them on the tablet of your heart. [4] So you will find favor and good success in the sight of God and man” (3:3).   The wise son  is furthermore exhorted  not to let  steadfast love  and faithfulness  forsake him. These are two keywords  in the OT  vocabulary  of the Bible.  Steadfast love  (Heb. hesed) and  faithfulness (Heb. 'emet)  are  both attributes  of God. This is how God  deals with  His children. Now  if we  understand this , and if  we   make this  a way of life  (wear this as a symbol around our neck ; better still  - have this truth engraved upon the tablet of our hearts)  then we must not be surprised   that we find ourselves loved by God and man on this account. This  unstable , unfaithful world  sits up and takes notice  when they see a steadfastly loving  and faithful man and woman. Such people are shelters  to a hurting society. We miss them sorely when they are taken from us.     May  we be committed to  a life of steadfast  (principled, consistent) and faithful love in 2015 , and may the LORD be pleased  to bless many other through  your consistent life!

Thirdly, [5] Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. [6] In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. The wise son  learns to trust in the Lord , by  listening  to  his father’s  sound teaching , embracing this teaching   for life, always  remembering  and imitating the character of God.  To  “trust in God”   and to  "not lean  on your own understanding"  is  an important  distinction.  The one is the wisdom of God and the other is the wisdom of man.   
To trust God with all your heart  means firstly   that  there must be  personal  faith in God. Faith  is the key to the fulfilment of every promise - Jesus was always looking for faith when He healed people.  Secondly,  to  trust God means  that we  are not to lean on our own understanding. We are  not  to live by  our own conventional wisdom. Thirdly we are  to acknowledge Him in all our ways  - in every way (all  the details of our life). Be consistent  with all  your life . What you are on Sunday at church you ought to be at home and at work in the week.      The promise here  in Proverbs 3:6b  is that He will direct your path. One of the  wonderful facts of the Christian life is that even though it is  not always easy to be a Christian, it is generally  straight forward path.  God’s ways are straight and clear. “The steps of a  man are ordered by the Lord, when he delights in his way; though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong, for the Lord upholds his hand.” (Psalm 37:23,24). May your walk with God in  2015 be characterized by clarity and not  by confusion  as you actively trust the Lord with all your heart. 

Fourthly , [7] Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil.[8] It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones. Here we learn that the wise son  understands three things: humility (a correct  concept of the character of God),  the fear of the Lord  (a pervasive sense of the presence of God)  and holiness (obedience - a constant awareness of our  obligation to God). The promise  connected to this  act of obedience and understanding  is  that  of healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones. It is true of course that Christians  will become ill  and die at some stage , but the point here  is that a humble Christian, who fears the Lord  and obeys him, will have  a settled and quiet heart. Therefore they will be less prone  to stress, high blood pressure  and all the stress related diseases  that come upon us  when  we ignore these three  things . I pray  that 2015   will have less health issues for you,   as you  make your theology  (what you believe about God)  count. There can be no  doubt that  our modern society  is stressed out  and over medicated. Could it be that  reviewing  your life according to God’s Word would bring healing to your bones? 

Fifthly, [9] honour the LORD with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce; [10] then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with  wine.” The principle of honouring the Lord with our material  substance is  well established in the Bible (e.g.  Prov. 11:25; 19:17;22:9; 28:27 ; Malachi 3:10ff ; 2 Corinthians  8  & 9) . It is one great way in which we  firstly acknowledge in thankfulness  all our belongings as from His hand and  secondly  we  invest  that which we give  in  His kingdom . The more  people become true Christians  the  more livable and prosperous our society becomes.  The application  of this is   what we read in Matthew 6:33 . May  you be enabled to be generous  in your giving in 2015, and in turn be not surprised  when God  prospers you  in turn.

We have  seen then that God’s blessings are attached to  obedient living . As you prepare for this year  resolved to obey God  (and this means spending  much time in His presence) my prayer  is that you will be able to sense that you are engaged in wise living ! Secondly, my prayer  is  that as we live wisely so  our society  will  benefit  from our God given  wisdom. We desperately need a reformation of morals and manners  in our day. May God be pleased to do this through you wherever  you live and work. Amen !

[1] Gary Brady : Heavenly Wisdom , p. 75 ,  EP Press 

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