Proverbs 4:20-27 It’s a Slow Fade

My son, be attentive to my words;
incline your heart to my sayings.
Let them not escape from your sight;
Keep them within your heart.
For they are life to those who find them,
And healing to all their flesh.
Keep your heart with all vigilance,
For from it flow the springs of life.
Put away from you crooked speech,
And put devious talk far from you.
Let your eyes look directly forwards,
And your gaze be straight before you.
Ponder the path of your feet;
Then all your ways will be sure.
Do not swerve to the right or to the left;
Turn your foot away from evil.

Humbly Learn & Humbly Teach

Text: Proverbs 4:1-9

Main Point: We want humble learners to become humble teachers who invest in the next generation of humble learners.

I want to tell you a story about a father named Larry and his son, Foo. Foo L. Proudman walks everywhere because he must figure out for himself the best way to travel from point A to point B. Foo has convinced himself that he alone is capable of knowing the best way to move around on this big spinning planet. Foo L. Proudman is sure all these people with their motorbikes, cars, trains, and planes are backwards and old fashioned. Foo’s parents and grandparents have been stuck in the same old ruts of transportation for generations! So Foo sets out to reinvent the wheel, the combustion engine, and discover afresh for himself how to harness flight for the benefit of humankind. Remember, Foo has convinced himself that only Foo knows what is best for Foo. And you guessed it, Foo is very tired and very frustrated but also very proud. Foo is angry and getting nowhere. He thinks his mother is an idiot when she talks to him about the blessings of riding a bus or owning car. What does that woman know about cars anyway? She certainly couldn’t know more than our young Foo. From a position of arrogance and self-reliance, Foo L. Proudman wastes his youth because he refuses to listen to lady wisdom.

Now I want to tell you about Foo’s dad, Larry. Since even before birth, Foo’s dad, Larry Zay-Faire Proudman, has seen Foo as a drain on his life. Just as Larry had to suffer and figure out life on his own, so also Foo must figure out life on his own. From Larry Zay-Faire’s point of view, the sooner Foo leaves home and goes out on his own the better. Larry has convinced himself the best way to make Foo into a man is to let him fail over and over until he either gets it right and moves on or quits and moves on. Either way is a win for Larry because the burden called a child will move on.

What is the problem with these guys? Foo has rejected his place as a humble learner and Larry has rejected his place as a humble teacher. What we see in Proverbs 4:1-9 is God’s good intention for the family. God’s good plan is for wisdom to be passed down from generation to generation. Humble learners become humble teachers who invest in the next generation of humble learners. There is a great blessing here. Let’s seek that blessing together. Read Proverbs 4:1-9.

I. We want multigenerational faithfulness (1-4)

  • Parents teach their children

Parents, teach your children. Tedd and Margy Tripp show the potential of wise parents, “When we speak and live the words of God, we too speak and live with authority” (1 Peter 4:11, page 20). The ministry of the Word is powerful in the church and in the home. Have you noticed how, in the Book of Proverbs, it can be hard to tell when God is speaking, when the faithful father is speaking, or when the faithful father is speaking God’s words? Each parent should be so personally filled with the Word, seeking wise counsel, and following the Spirit’s lead applying the word that we can say to our children, “Let your heart hold fast my words; keep my commandments and live” (v. 4). Parents, be a humble learner so you can give your children God’s Word and help them grow in godly wisdom.

The problem, it seems, is that we parents can be just as lazy as our lazy children. We are no more hungry to learn than our children. Parents, if we roll our eyes at instruction and reject correction then we should not be surprised when our children follow our lead and roll their eyes at instruction and reject correction. Parents, we are teaching our children. The question is what are we teaching our children?

Look at the example of this faithful father in verses 1 and 2, “Hear, O sons, a father’s instruction, and be attentive, that you may gain insight, for I give you good precepts; do not forsake my teaching.”

More than table manners and how to tie their shoes, parents are given children to teach them how to live well in God’s world. Look again at verses one and two, what are parents to do or give? Parents instruct, give good precepts, and teach. The role of the parent is one of teacher, mentor, and counsellor. You, mom and dad, are to teach what is good. Children, teenagers, it is your role to learn from your parents what is good. Youth, look at verses one and two, what does God want you to do? Talk to your parents; pay attention so you learn how to live in God’s world, and do not abandon your parents’ teaching. What do parents do? Humbly teach. What do children do? Humbly learn.

Verse 3 makes an interesting move

  • Children, remember your parents were children once

Solomon was the author of most of Proverbs. He is here teaching his sons and singling out a particular son. Maybe Solomon is teaching his son, Rehoboam. And in verse 3 Solomon makes a reference to his father. Who was Solomon’s father? It was David. Solomon wants his son to think back to the time when Solomon was a boy (1 Chr 22:5). Solomon was tender, inexperienced, and lacking wisdom. Solomon was not yet formed into a wise and godly man. He was the only one in the sight of Bathsheba, Solomon’s mother. Solomon remembers fondly what it was like to be a boy growing up, being taught, and being the delight of his mother.

Children, it may be helpful to remember your parents were once children too. They were once foolish and clumsy unable to tie their own shoes or cut meat with a knife. Your parents were scared of a lot of things, especially the dark, and your parents needed their parents for everything. Youth, it may be helpful to remember your parents were awkward, unsure of themselves, and they wanted to fit in.

Solomon says to his son, Rehoboam, I was a boy once who needed his father and mother like you need me. I needed to be treasured, and my mother treasured me. I needed to be taught, and my father taught me. With patience and humility, we parents are to give our children what we received (or needed to receive) when we were children.

  • We want multigenerational faithfulness

We want multigenerational faithfulness in the home and in the church. We see three generations here in Proverbs 4. The grandfather taught, the father learned, the father now teaches, and the grandson learns. We see the generations in the church in 2 Timothy 2:1-2 and Titus 2:1-5. Turn to 2 Timothy 2:1-2 and follow along as I read.

Paul is teaching Timothy with the understanding that Timothy will teach other faithful men who will teach other faithful men. Proverbs has three generations and 2 Timothy 2 has four generations! Our desire is to make disciples, to multiply disciples. Turn now to Titus 2:1-5 and follow along as I read.

Older women, wise women, have a teaching ministry in the church; they are to teach what is good. This is the ministry of the Word in the church. The goal of older women is to teach young women so those women are trained; trained to love, be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive. Just as there is a bent in young men to be silly-minded, undignified, lacking in self-control, weak in the faith, weak in love, and weak in the courage it takes to remain in the family, church, and work, so there is in young women a bent to not love husband and children, to lack self-control, to be impure in thought, word, and deed, to be lazy at home, unkind, and not submissive.

Tim Keller identifies three levels of word ministry that must fill up our world. The first level is the every person level where we all speak the word of God to one another and pass along wisdom to one another. We need everyone to be teaching all day every day. Utilize your home and your phone to share the Word with your brothers and sisters. Next there is the gifted member teaching role; think here of gifted men and gifted women. Think here of our Sunday school teachers and ministry leaders. The next level is preaching; faithful men feeding and leading the church. At home, school, and work every day, in a host of teaching opportunities, and in the gathered church, we need the ministry of the Word to spread so that the immature become mature, the novice become experienced, and the young become wise. We need multigenerational faithfulness therefore,

I. Apply yourself to the task of gaining wisdom. Get wisdom!

With your biological family and with your church family, apply yourself to the task of gaining wisdom.

  • The big picture is remember, obey, and live (4)

Look back at Proverbs 4:4. What did David teach Solomon and what is Solomon teaching his son? “Let your heart hold fast my words; keep my commandments, and live.” Remember, obey, and live. Unlike our culture, the Hebrew culture understood that the person was in charge of his/her loves. Instead of love being a virus you accidentally catch and quickly get cured of, love is a choice and a commitment. So you can set your heart on good things instead of being a slave to every passing emotion or desire. Let your heart hold fast to what is good, right, true, and beautiful. Set your heart on wise words from God passed down from generation to generation. But more than remember the commands, keep the commands, and live.

It is one thing to remember you are supposed to take out the trash. It is another thing to actually take out the trash. It is one thing to remember what God wants you to do. It is another thing to pray for God’s help and do what God wants. And why does this matter? There is life in God’s commands which means there is death in disobedience.

Remember Proverbs 3:2, the father’s commands and teaching lead to length of days, long life, and peace. 3:16, long life is in the right hand of wisdom. 3:18, wisdom is a tree of life. 3:22, wisdom brings life to the soul.

Grandparents and parents, are we giving the generations God’s wisdom that brings life? Are we teaching the Word? Youth and children, are you looking for God’s wisdom that brings life? Are you willing to remember and obey? Do you want to live? Now the call of verse 5

  • Be gritty (5)

Follow along in verse 5, “Get wisdom; get insight; do not forget, and do not turn away from the words of my mouth.” Some parents lack love and grit, so they give up on teaching. Some churches lack love and grit, so they give up on teaching. Some youth lack humility and grit, so they will give up on learning. Teaching and learning can be exhausting. Remember, getting wisdom, getting insight, and knowing how to live well in God’s world do not come because you show up for church and family worship. Like the bum who walks around the gym watching other people workout, so our children are tempted to walk around the church and home watching other people get wisdom. Then like the guy at the gym they will say, “I tried the gym-thing, the Jesus-thing, and it didn’t work for me.”

Listen, if you want the good life, the wise life, you must be gritty. You’re going to get punched, knocked down, and taken advantage of. You must keep humbling yourself, keep asking for wisdom, keep saying you are sorry, keep seeking to restore others who are broken like you, and keep seeking the Lord’s good. Now let me show you the reward.

III. Get wisdom because with wisdom comes great reward

In verses 6-9, Solomon recounts to his son what David taught Solomon when he was young. Look at the wisdom of verse 6, “Do not forsake her, and she will keep you; love her, and she will guard you.” I put it this way,

  • Be good to wisdom and she will be good to you (6)

Solomon teaches his son using two types of women who symbolize two paths in life; there are good women who represent wisdom and there are bad women who represent folly. Like a prostitute, folly promises to give you some good but ends up taking your money and leaving you worse off for it. Doing dumb stuff is like that; dumb stuff looks good and promises good and feels good for a moment but leaves you more dull, more dry, and more angry or more empty.

But wisdom is a good and faithful woman, a good and faithful wife. It is important here to commit ourselves to not speaking poorly of women in general; don’t mock, shame, or demean women. By illustrating wisdom as a woman, the Book of Proverbs rightly portrays the value of faithful women. When the Spirit led Solomon to illustrate God’s wisdom, the Spirit chose to use a faithful woman.

Look at how David and Solomon put it in verse 6, “Do not forsake her, and she will keep you; love her, and she will guard you.” As we read these verses it is hard to tell if we are talking about wisdom or a wife; there are many similarities between the two. For clarity, verse 6, we’re talking about wisdom. If you stick with wisdom, if you are gritty about getting her, she will keep you. If you cherish wisdom, she will guard you. Folly is like an easy woman who laughs at and joins in with your stupidity. But wisdom is like a good woman who is unimpressed with your foolish and selfish heart. Folly is easy but wisdom takes work. And mark this down, wisdom is worth the work.

Wisdom will keep you and guard you. I think of all the pain, trouble, and heartache my wife has protected me from; there is the way of wisdom. Wisdom will keep you and guard you. So, how do I get wisdom?

  • Getting wisdom starts with the commitment to get wisdom (7)

Look at verse 7, “The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight.”

What is the most important thing to you? What would you give your right arm to have? A scholarship, a way out of this town, a promotion, your health or your family back? Solomon chose wisdom. Now, Rehoboam is called upon to make the same decision; choose wisdom. Pursue wisdom above wealth and power and pleasure because wealth, power, and pleasure take life from you. Wealth, power, and pleasure always take more than they promise to give. Look at how Solomon ended his life. Rejecting wisdom, Solomon embraced wealth, power, and pleasure and it destroyed him and brought destruction on God’s people.

Get a dry erase marker and write on your mirror, “Get wisdom.” Young men, young women, ask good questions. Go to the wise in this church and ask them how they handled the stuff you are struggling with. Sure, when they were young they didn’t have a phone in their pocket like you, but they struggled like you. They had doubts about their faith and often limped after Jesus instead of running. Your life could be so much better if you would humbly learn. Getting wisdom looks like two simple commitments: read your Bible and ask wise people how they handled the problems you face.

Here’s more incentive to read your Bible every day and have some good conversations with wise saints. Wisdom gives good gifts.

  • Seek the better woman who gives good gifts (8-9)

Remember, we are comparing folly and wisdom, the prostitute and the good wife. “Prize her highly, and she will exalt you; she will honor you if you embrace her. She will place on your head a graceful garland; she will bestow on you a beautiful crown.

Now guys, I understand. You probably don’t lie in bed at night wishing for a graceful garland or a beautiful crown. But, if you had been born 4,000 years ago in the middle east you would have. The graceful garland was a sign of peace and the crown was a sign of royalty. Think of a celebration, like a wedding, where everyone and everything is right and good. You long for a good woman to prize and embrace. Pursuing her and being faithful to her, she is willing to become your wife. Getting her is getting a blessing. She exalts you and honors you like a champion’s wreath or a king’s crown. Proverbs 12:4 says, “An excellent wife is the crown of her husband.” Listen, it is exceedingly wise to get a good wife.

One problem we face is we live in a day that is as confused about the good as it is confused about gender. Our culture is as confused about wisdom as it is about what a woman is. Our culture says people on TikTok and YouTube, people making money off of you, know better than your parents and your church who know and love you. When you go online you are being monetized. The question before you today is if you are going to act like the wise and seek help from those who love Jesus and love you.

Mom and dad, grandmother and grandfather, spiritual brothers and spiritual sisters, will you lead the way through humble repentance? Will we go and seek forgiveness from our children for the wrong ways we have led them and for the good ways we have forsaken? Will we work to have conversations with our children instead of yelling at them? Will we ask more questions than we lecture? A good piece of advice from the Tripp’s book, Instructing a Child’s Heart, and from my Wednesday night group is if you only teach when you discipline then your children will soon despise teaching. Instead, live life seeking wisdom and sharing wisdom; playing together can lead to good times talking together. Parents and grandparents, will we seek to enjoy life with God and share that life and joy with the generations to come?

Don’t be like Larry or like Foo. The good news for both the foolish child and the laissez faire parent is there is super abundant grace in Jesus Christ. Wisdom points to Christ so that we can know Him, the One who gives the freedom of repentance and forgiveness. In Jesus we enjoy the better way, the way of wisdom. In Jesus, we see a child submitting to his parents and growing in wisdom; we see God humbling himself under sinful Joseph and Mary. In Jesus, we see a young man hungry to be with his Heavenly Father and talk out important things with the older men in the temple. In Jesus, we see a faithful man teaching the next generation. Christ is our wonderful forgiveness and glorious righteousness. Christ is our example of humbly learning and humbly teaching. It would be wise to repent and follow Jesus.

Discuss Proverbs 4:1-9

  1. What is this text meant to do in parents? What is this text meant to do in children?
  2. What kind of parent or grandparent do you want to become? What priorities does this passage set for you as you invest in the generations coming after you?
  3. Think about a time you rejected your parents wisdom or godly counsel. Why did you choose to go your own way and what was the outcome?
  4. Where in your family do you see humble learners becoming humble teachers who invest in humble learners? How can you encourage this in your family?
  5. Where in your church do you see humble learners becoming humble teachers who invest in humble learners? How can you encourage this in your family?
  6. Each parent and grandparent should be so personally filled with the Word, seeking wise counsel, and following the Spirit’s lead into applying the word that we can say to our children, “Let your heart hold fast my words; keep my commandments and live” (v. 4). What are some practical steps you can take to get there?
  7. What wise things did your mom or dad teach you? What foolish things do you wish your parents would have taught you to avoid? How can you pass this wisdom on to the next generation?
  8. How is it helpful to remember your parents were children once?
  9. What does it look like for a son or daughter to be treasured and taught by his/her parents?
  10. Where are you at concerning multigenerational faithfulness in the church? Are you teaching? Are you being taught? Are you outside of this vital ministry? How do you get in?
  11. Think back over last week. What did your heart go after? If your heart went after wisdom this next week, what would that look like?
  12. What reward does wisdom promise that you most want to have? How will you get gritty and get that reward?

How to Get the Good; Proverbs 3:31-35

Main Point: Our ways bring blessings or curses

Who do you want to be when you grow up? Today in Proverbs 3, the faithful father challenges the son to consider what kind of man the son wants to be. Who are your heroes and who do you want to be like? This dad presents various people and warns the son to avoid those who earn God’s curse and learn from those who inherit God’s blessing. Bound up in both types of people, the righteous and the unrighteous, there is a desire to have power and influence. We all want to be safe and free from the coercion or abuse of evil people. We don’t want to repulse our neighbors or that cute boy or cute girl; we want to have favor with the people around us. We want to be attractive. So, how do we get there and what does God have to do with it?

God tells us in Romans 12:2, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Resist the pressure to be like everyone else and understand you become what you behold. The people you listen to, look at, and admire are shaping you. Our text today should cause us to stop and consider who we admire and what we will get if we become like them.

In Proverbs 3 we get a picture of a crooked life and a righteous life. We get various descriptions and their different ends. God puts a curse on the crooked life but God blesses the righteous life. Yes, let’s be careful not to make sin the cause of every difficulty and let’s not make personal holiness the only way to some good; the righteous often lose and the unrighteous often win, be careful with generalizations. So while affirming not all suffering is caused by sin, we must also affirm the reality that the way to God’s blessing is through obedient faith and not through sin.

In our passage today, a faithful father exposes the temptation to use violence to get your way and to mock those who chose the way of righteousness. The big picture is our choices bring blessings or curses. Let’s dig in to Proverbs 3. I’ll start reading in Proverbs 3:21 and unpack verses 31-35.  

I. Sometimes the wicked win

Why does a father need to tell his son, “Do not envy a man of violence and do not choose any of his ways”? Sometimes the wicked win, and when you chose the path of righteousness and lose, the temptation is to give up on good and give in to the evil. So,

  • Know who to avoid

Don’t become like him. Let’s look through these five verses to get the categories in our minds and then we will define them. Who’s ways do we need to avoid in verse 31? Avoid the man of violence. Who do we need to teach our children to avoid in verse 32? Don’t be like the devious person. What about 33; who do we need to not imitate? Do not imitate the wicked. Verse 34? Do not sit in the seat of scoffers. Verse 35? The fool gets disgrace, do not be like her or go with her.

Who are these people? The man of violence is as simple as a bully on a playground, as wrong as a rapist, or as far reaching as a tyrant. The man of violence or the woman of violence is a person who holds power and influence through intimidation, threats, abuse, torture, or murder. Instead of using strength to help and protect others, the person of violence uses strength to take advantage of others.

The devious person in verse 32 is crooked in his or her ways. Think about a straight line heading toward good, the crooked person goes off trail by going away from God. The King James translates it as froward meaning contrary and willfully disobedient. New King James uses perverse. Instead of planning how to go after God and his good, the devious person plans how to do wrong and often works to bring others along with her.

To be wicked is to be ungodly, a law breaker. But notice how the reference in verse 33 is not to just one person but to the house of the wicked. Think here of how one person influences and often brings a curse on a family, business, or church. The wicked person rebels against God’s wisdom, earns God’s curse, and that curse is spread to others. Your choices effect more than just you; no person is an island.

We’ve seen the scorner before in Proverbs 1:22, he is the scoffer. Proverbs 1:22, “How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge?” The scoffer is a person who makes fun of the good and the godly. The scornful roll their eyes and laugh at the thought of sacrificing what they want for the good of others. The scoffer would rather cut you down than build you up. Virtues such as charity, chastity, and modesty are a joke to the scornful.

Last in our list of those to avoid is the fool. The fool will not listen, and the fool will not seek to understand. The fool assumes he is right and safe and good, so he presses on the trail he wants to make for himself. Like a young cook who rejects the offer to apprentice to a master chef, the fool cannot imagine that others could have more knowledge, skill, or insight than he.

Do not go the way of the violent man, the devious person, the wicked, the scornful, or the fool. You need to

  • Know what to avoid

The man of violence uses his strength for selfish gain, like the mafia or gang member who through extortion and abuse preys on the weak. The person of violence can also be the abusive spouse, church bully or the big brother or sister who threatens and takes. Listen to these wise words, “Do not envy a man of violence and do not choose any of his ways.” God made you stronger to help others not to take advantage of others. Don’t be an abuser.

The crooked person is devious in speech, and this can be lying, making bribes, being dishonest, withholding what is true, slandering, or gossiping. What you say and how you say it matters. Your words will either build up and encourage others or tear down and discourage others; your words, positive or negative are shaping others. Listen to these words of wisdom, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Eph 4:29). Say only what builds up and helps others.

Looking back at verses 27-30, living a life of love means avoiding selfishness. Be quick to do the good you are able to do, don’t take advantage of people’s trust, and don’t pick fights. When we are in relationships, it is obvious that these are the basic rules of engagement. We want people to help us when they can, not put us off, don’t double cross us, and don’t hurt us. But there is a reason we reject these ways more than living that way makes relationships hard.

  • Know why you should avoid the wicked

Looking back at verses 31-35, why should a young man or a young woman not choose the ways of the violent? Our answer is in verse 32. Do you see it? The easy wins of the violent man must be avoided because this person is an abomination to the Lord. The Lord is disgusted by the devious person. Speaking in human terms, the devious person turns God’s stomach; our selfishness makes God sick (Lk 16:15). Abuse of others makes God want to puke; it’s disgusting. And the Lord doesn’t just sit there feeling sick but doing nothing. Look at verse 33. The Lord puts a curse on the house of the wicked.

What does this curse look like? Throughout Scripture, the Lord’s curse takes many different forms. We can summarize the Lord’s curse on a house as physical sickness, turmoil in relationships, difficulty in business, being attacked by other evil men, drought on the land, and even being taken into slavery. Abusers are under a curse. God injects a wasting disease like gangrene into the house of the wicked.

Verse 34 tells us that God will treat the scorner with scorn. The one who mocks and rejects God’s rule, God’s good, and God’s help will be rejected by God (1:24-31). It is scary to think God will treat us according to what we believe about him. Those who believe God is a joke, will find God making a joke out of their lives. Those who mock God’s good ways will eventually find themselves unable to get or enjoy what is good.

The last incentive listed here to choose the good paths is found in the end of verse 35. What is it? “Fools get disgrace.” The last twenty years have popularized the idea of being on the right side of history; the idea is you want people 100 years from now to think you did the right thing. You don’t want to be counted a fool and be disgraced by those who come after you. And this is true, but our culture’s instruments are not calibrated to what is right. Remember Luke 16:15, “what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.” You will get disgrace from someone, and you must choose from whom you want it. Do you want the disgrace of 21st century America or do you want the disgrace of the eternal God who judges perfectly? Who’s side are you on?

Know this, sometimes the violent and the wicked win but the true God has put a curse on them. Do not choose their ways because rot has already set in and in time their house will be ruined. Choose instead the way of Christ. Choose to walk the righteous paths but do not be derailed

II. Sometimes the righteous lose

The fact that the wicked win and the righteous lose causes great confusion. Tremper Longman summarizes it well when he writes, “This proverb recognizes that there is a surface attraction to those who use power to get what they want” (143). The mindset of I want what I want and I want it now often leads us to doing awful things. Like in Psalm 73, it can be incredibly discouraging to sacrifice and suffer for righteousness while watching evil people easily gain the good. We need to spot this struggle in ourselves and in one another. Who do you know that is weary and tempted to give up on God? We need to help one another. We need to know who to avoid and who to imitate.

  • Know who to imitate

Let’s go back through these verses and identify the faithful. Verse 32 tells us the upright are in the Lord’s counsel. The opposite of devious is true or trustworthy and the opposite of crooked is straight. The picture here is one who does not deviate from God’s path but keeps following God with eyes, ears, and heart locked on him. Imitate the upright, the faithful. Be upright and faithful.

Who do we imitate in verse 33? The Lord’s blessing is on the dwelling of the righteous. The righteous is the one who is in covenant with the Lord and walks with the Lord in faithfulness. To be righteous is to be obedient. Imitate the righteous, by learning from them to follow the Lord.

How about verse 34? God gives the humble favor. The humble can be the afflicted, lowly, or oppressed. Where the violent man puts himself first and pushes others down, the humble man puts others first and builds others up. The mindset of the violent is “I’m going to take what I want no matter ow badly it hurts you.” The mindset of the humble is “I’m going to give what is mine no matter how badly it hurts me.” We see this most wonderfully in Christ who possesses infinite power yet is gentle and lowly. Imitate the humble and, verse 35, imitate the wise.

The wise are those who know how to live well in God’s world. The wise have skill in choosing the best words to say and the best ways to go; choose wise friends! There is our list of qualities to prioritize when choosing a role model. When you choose someone to mentor or disciple you, choose this type of person. Spend time with the upright, the righteous, the humble, and the wise.

Now, what are you doing as you seek to imitate the wise?

  • Know what to imitate

The best answer is imitate Jesus. Find someone who is learning from Jesus and learn from that person. Look for a person who uses his strength for the good of others. Find an upright woman who is committed to following Christ no matter the cost. When you come across a righteous man, faithful and steadfast, seek to learn how he thinks and how he prays. Learn from the humble woman who is not easily offended; talk with her and become like her. Imitate the wise man’s hunger for God and ask him lots of questions. Again, what qualities should mark God’s people? God’s people live an upright life, God’s people hunger and thirst for righteousness, God’s people are humble, and God’s people seek wisdom. That is what you should imitate, now the why.

  • Know why you should imitate the wise

The upright choose the good because of love for the Lord. Michael Fox frames this truth from the opposite angle, “A sense of what disgusts God is essential to the fear of [the Lord]” (167). Bound up in love is the desire to please, and the opposite of pleasing those we love is doing what disgusts them. Part of loving people is knowing what pleases them and going after that thing for the good of those you love. So Jesus says, “If you love me you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). Out of love and appreciation for Jesus, we trust his heart, know his presence, and therefore obey his commands. The wise listen to God, and we love God, so we want to imitate the wise.

Besides love, why else should we not envy a man of violence or choose any of his ways? Look at verse 32, “the upright are in the Lord’s confidence.” The Lord counsels the upright. The Lord brings the upright into his assembly, into his circle of trust. As I read and studied this verse this week I kept saying to myself, “I want that. I want to be in the Lord’s confidence. I want to be led by the Spirit.” This desire turned into a prayer, “God bring me into your confidence.” Here’s the help I received from this verse, if I want the Lord to direct my life then I must seek to live an upright life. The devious are not in the Lord’s confidence; the upright are in his confidence. The way we get God’s counsel is by studying God’s word and following the Spirit’s lead. So the Christian life is not lived by seeking God only for big decisions. No, the Christian life is lived seeking God’s help so we can live wise and upright lives everywhere and with everyone. So, why do we imitate the wise? It is so the Lord will counsel us, lead us, and direct us.

Now let’s ask the why question of verse 33. Why imitate the righteous? Because the Lord’s curse is on the house of the wicked, but he blesses the dwelling of the righteous. Verse 34, “to the humble he gives favor.” I don’t think I can say this better than David Hubbard, listen, “The text seems to say that what we wrongheadedly thought we could gain from a neighbor by greed, deceit, quarrel, or violence—namely, power, wealth, and status—are attainable only as gifts of God and then only on His terms of uprightness and humble dependence” (79). God puts a wasting disease on the violent and crooked, but he puts a blessing on the humble and upright. This favor can be understood as grace; it is in some sense what makes a person truly attractive.

What makes a person attractive? Let’s leave behind our elementary culture and go beyond physical looks. Think instead about the desire to be friends with someone, partners in business, fellow members in a church, and part of the same community. Yes, if your desire is merely for wealth and power then you will link up with the violent and the crooked. But, if your desire is for a full and satisfying life, then you will need to be in community with those who have God’s favor. Who is that? It is the humble. Now, don’t seek out the humble to take advantage of them; that’s what the man of violence does! The best of relationships is when all people are committed to humility, committed to giving good to one another. The wisdom here is seek out the humble while seeking to be humble. Imagine a family, a church, or a business that experiences God’s favor. What are you imagining? You are imagining a humble people.

What’s next? Verse 35 says the wise inherit honor, but fools get disgrace. A fool earns disgrace but the wise are given honor as an inheritance; honor is passed down to the wise from those who attained it. A fool bribes the judges to win; the wise work hard and trust the Lord for the results. This is our goal, be upright, be righteous, be humble, be wise.

This passage drives us to Jesus. When we look into our hearts and examine our ways, we find crookedness, wickedness, and foolishness. We want to win; we want to be attractive and sought after. We want power, safety, and influence. We want to be envied and at our worst we use our power to abuse others. Like the apostle Paul, we see how off we are, and we cry out, “Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24). Our deliverer is Jesus.

We look to Jesus believing he took our crookedness, wickedness, and foolishness upon himself on the cross. Because of Jesus, made righteous by faith, we no longer turn God’s stomach, but we bring God glory. Forgiven and restored in Jesus, the Father, Son, and Spirit rejoice over you with gladness (Zeph 3:17). I plead with you today, do not envy the violent man and do not choose any of his ways. Instead, trust Jesus to give you his Holy Spirit so you can walk in Jesus’ ways. Choose Jesus’ ways. God expects all those who are united to Christ to live upright lives because we are counseled and directed by the Lord. I plead with you today to trust and follow Jesus. Choose this day whom you will serve. As for the church, we will follow Christ. We will choose his ways. Won’t you come go with us? Commit with us to live wise lives full of righteousness and humility following Jesus.

Discuss Proverbs 3:31-35

  1. How did God comfort, challenge, or correct you today?
  2. Why are we drawn to violent people and why are we often enamored with watching violence?
  3. How have you seen God’s curse play out on the house of the wicked?
  4. When is power good and when is power evil? What power do you have and how can you use it to help others?
  5. Why is sarcasm attractive to our culture and why is sarcasm dangerous for the Christian?
  6. Out of this list of the violent person, the crooked, the sarcastic, and the fool, who are you most tempted to be like?
  7. For all of us, either the world will count us a disgrace or God will count us a disagree. Looking at the way you think, talk, and act, who’s approval are you trying to gain?
  8. Who do you know that is upright? Who is righteous? Who is humble? Who is wise? How can you learn more from them?
  9. How is a sense of what disgusts God essential to the fear of the Lord?
  10. Think of the last time you disgusted God. How does this fuel humility and dependence on Jesus?
  11. How do you see God’s blessing playing out on the house of the righteous?

Not the Babylon Bee

I almost laughed out loud when I read this comment.

A spokesperson for China’s foreign ministry accused the US of abusing state power to suppress foreign firms.

“We firmly oppose those wrong actions,” spokeswoman Mao Ning told reporters during a news briefing on Tuesday. “The US government should respect the principles of market economy and fair competition, stop suppressing the companies and provide an open, fair and non-discriminatory environment for foreign companies in the US.”

Read the BBC article here

Discuss Baptisms and the Lord’s Supper

  1. In what way did God comfort, challenge, or correct you today?
  2. What are the benefits of baptism and how is it different from the Lord’s Supper?
  3. Which of Jesus’ roles do you find the most encouraging at this point in life? Jesus is the perfect prophet who speaks God’s word, the perfect priest who intercedes for the people, and the perfect king who rules over the people.
  4. Use a tree planted in the earth, a branch grafted onto the vine, a sheep joining a shepherd, or an organ working in the body to describe what it means for you to be united to Jesus.
  5. How does baptism proclaim a person’s union with Christ? Where do you see death, burial, and resurrection?
  6. What are the benefits of the Lord’s Supper and hos is it different from baptism?
  7. Read 2 Peter 1:3-8. Use these verses to describe the Christian life.
  8. How do you draw strength from Jesus so that you become year after year more virtuous, wise, controlled, steady, godly, affectionate, and loving?
  9. Which of these qualities listed in 2 Peter 1:5-7 would you like to grow in the most over the next year? What do you need to stop doing and what do you need to start doing so you can grow?
  10. Why does eating the Lord’s Supper as an individual go against the nature of the Lord’s Supper and in fact change it into something other than the Lord’s Supper (see 1 Cor 11:20-22)?
  11. In what ways did thinking about the categories of head, heart, and hands help you celebrate the Lord’s Supper with the church?
  12. What can you do to better engage your head, heart, and hands the next time we celebrate the Lord’s Supper (March 26, 2023)?

Building Strong Communities

The Blessed Obligation to do Good

Text: Proverbs 3:27-30

Main Point: Jesus frees us to love our neighbors and seek their good.

Last week, from Proverbs 3:21-26, we saw how wisdom shapes, protects, and blesses the individual. We listened in as a father instructed his son to keep his eyes on the prize of wisdom. Sound wisdom and discretion, the dedication to continually seek out the best way forward with God, is the better bling than gold. Wisdom produces security, stability, fearlessness, and sweet sleep. Now, in Proverbs 3:27, this faithful father transitions from focusing on the son as an individual to the son as a member of the community.

What makes a community safe, strong, and satisfying? What makes for a safe, strong, and satisfying church? What makes for a safe, strong, and satisfying family? What makes for a safe, strong, and satisfying business? Proverbs 3:27-30 gives us evil to avoid and good to go after. A community will be safe, strong, and satisfying when each member of the community gladly pursues the blessed obligation to do the others good.

We are seeing the fragmentation of families, churches, and our country because so many of the members of these communities have adopted a self-centered approach to community. Instead of building community by fulfilling the blessed obligation to do good, so many people destroy community by putting self first over community. Self-love and self-care are celebrated while sacrifice is viewed with suspicion. Gospel-community, devoted to the good of one another, stands in opposition to the autonomous individual who is devoted to personal freedom. To be in community, to be in a relationship, is to give up your freedom. Safe, strong, and satisfying relationships are built on mutual sacrifice. Let’s make Christ’s view of community clear.

2 Corinthians 5:14-15 says, “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.” There is our obligation to do good. Christian community is built on Christ who gave himself up for the good of others. Finding the love of Christ for us and fueled by the love of Christ for us we go out and love. We no longer live for ourselves but for Christ, for the good of others. That’s the obligation to do good. Now, the blessing.

The obligation to do good to others is a blessing. Listen now to John 13:13-17. Jesus says, “You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.” We have a blessed obligation to do one another good. So, what does it look like for us to do one another good? Let’s read Proverbs 3 and get some help. [read Proverbs 3:21-30]

From these verses, if you want safe, strong, and satisfying relationships then be quick to do good and work to be a peacemaker. Let’s take the first,

I. Strengthen community by being quick to do good (27-28)

One of the most destructive tendencies in any relationship is the refusal to love the other. Since love is a commitment, this refusal to commit to the good of the other often shows up as the refusal to serve the other. We keep score of the good we have done and we keep score of the wrongs done to us and this tempts us to reject the other. Listen,

  • With community comes the obligation to do good

The way to strong, safe, and satisfying community is through the commitment to do good to all regardless of the perceived worth of the other. Look back at verse 37, “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it.”

If you follow your footnotes you will see the literal translation is do not withhold good from its owners. The idea here is not “do good to the deserving” or “he scratched your back so you must scratch his back.” Instead, Proverbs 3:27 is a deeper call to faithfully fulfill your commitment to your community. Being a member of a community is not a matter of demanding good from others but committing to do good to the others. To be in community is to seek the good of the others. Jesus said it this way, “love your neighbor as your self” (Mt 22:39). To be in community is to seek the good of the community; the relationship forms the obligation.

Here is the transformation of relationships and communities. Instead of demanding that others serve us and do us good, we must rush headlong into serving others and doing them good. Think for a moment about how we hobble relationships when we make excuses refusing help those in need, share our good things, weep with those who weep, or rejoice with those who rejoice. To be in community with others creates the obligation to do good to those in the community. Those with whom we are connected own our good because we are connected to them.

Proverbs 3:27 calls for great sacrifice. If you have the power to do some good then you should do it. If it is in your hand, in your ability or power, then you should do it. This means we are free from all obligations that we are unable to meet. Do not let yourself feel guilty for the good things you cannot do. Instead, devote yourself to doing the good you can do. By doing good to your community, you will strengthen community. To do good is to love and

  • Love is an indispensable condition of community

A shared commitment to accomplish some goal is not enough to keep community together. The goal of a community is not enough to keep a community together. How many promising business partnerships have been torn apart by keeping score and holding on to offenses? How many churches committed to making disciples have been torn apart not by the mission but by hurt feelings, misunderstandings, and the refusal to forgive? Someone gets hurt, someone starts to hold back, and the relationship begins to weaken. Look around at us and understand what is required of you. You must commit to loving us as we must commit to loving you.

What quality did Jesus establish as necessary for the world to know that we are a church? Are Jesus’ disciples marked by excellent preaching or passionate singing? Jesus said they will know we are his disciples by our love for one another (John 13:35). The world won’t know we are Jesus’ disciples by our work. The world will know we are Jesus’ disciples by our love. So,

  • Be ready to share (1 Tim 6:18)

Look again at Proverbs 3:28, “Do not say to your neighbor, ‘Go, and come again, tomorrow I will give it’ when you have it with you.” Galatians 6:10 says, “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” 1 Thessalonians 5:15 says, “See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone.” 1 Timothy 6:18 says, “The rich are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share.” Ephesians 4:28 says, “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.” You get the point. The expectation, whether you are rich or poor, is that you will devote yourself to doing good to others (Titus 2:11-3:2).

         Luke recorded Jesus’ parable about neighbors in Luke 11. A neighbor has unexpected guests arrive needing a meal; it’s late and the neighbor has no bread. So, what do you do when you live in community? You go to your neighbor and ask for bread. A loving neighbor, who has the bread, will not tell his neighbor to go away and come again tomorrow and get the bread. A loving neighbor, who has the bread, will get out of bed, and give the neighbor the help he needs.

         Consider for a moment how much harm we do to community in the name of busyness. How much harm do we do to community because we are tired? Proverbs 3:28 does not give any loopholes to the tired or busy. Love compels us to give what we have to those who are in need.

         So, what does readiness to share look like? What would your life look like if you were ready to share? For me, readiness to share looks like building in margin. I love routine, schedule, and getting stuff done. One who knows me and loves me says I try to kill five birds with one stone. This means, just like I have to budget money for missions and generosity so also I have to budget time and energy so I am ready to share. Think about it like this, do you have time in your everyday schedule to weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice? A good place to start would be scheduling a visit or a phone call every week.

         You and I are called to do the good we can do and be quick about it because this display of love builds strong communities. What else strengthens relationships?

II. Strengthen community by being a peacemaker (29-30)

Jesus said, “blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called sons of God” (Mt 5:9). Solomon said, “Do not plan evil against your neighbor, who dwells trustingly beside you. Do not contend with a man for no reason, when he has done you no harm.” So, while we are consistently encouraged to do good…

  • We are also consistently warned about the contentious person

Don’t be contentious and do not allow others to be contentious. Don’t pick fights and don’t let others pick fights. Don’t tear people down and don’t let others tear people down. This reality is so important to a church that Paul told Titus, “As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned” (Titus 3:10-11). Church discipline is for the divisive. Paul told the church in Rome, “I appeal to you, therefore brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine you have been taught. Avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive” (Rom 16:17-18).

If you are a part of a family, community, workplace, sports league, or club you probably have come in contact with a contentious person. Generally this person wants to be in charge but is not and so he/she sows discord and doubt and complaints among the members of the community. Among the weak, the divisive person divides with compliments. Among the strong, the divisive person divides with complaints. The divisive person must be stopped so the community can be whole. I’ll say it positively now,

  • Trust is an indispensable condition of community[1]

Look again at Proverbs 3:29, “Do not plan evil against your neighbor; who dwells trustingly beside you.” The worst abuse of trust is seen when the powerful take advantage of the weak in the community. The weak are often the widow and the orphan. Those who are most in need of help are generally those who are the most susceptible to being wronged. Child abusers do this by grooming the gatekeepers and searching for the vulnerable in a community. Scammers do this by winning your trust and then taking advantage of that trust. A simple version of this selfishness is the hateful saying, “finders keepers, loosers weepers.” Do not plan evil against your neighbor, who dwells trustingly beside you.

Instead, what should you plan to do to your neighbor? You should plan to do your neighbor good. I’ll say it another way, “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works” (Heb 10:24). I should be planning how to get you strong. You should be planning how to get us strong. I should be asking, what do my wife, my children, my church, and my community need in order to be in a place to do good to the community? Help the thief get a job, help a mother with young children do her work, help the wealthy move beyond making money to doing good with that money. Help the bully understand God’s purpose for his strength.

Proverbs 3:29 rules out taking advantage of others, abusing others, or using others. Husbands, are you planning some evil against your wife? Maybe you are planning to stay late at work because you know it makes her life harder and your life easier. Maybe you short change a customer who isn’t paying attention. I have heard of other churches where members withhold their offerings to hurt their pastors. Like Robert the Bruce in the movie Braveheart, we promise to help the weak and then sell them out to gain safety and position for ourselves.

Proverbs 3:30 builds on this, “Do not content with a man for no reason, when he has done you no harm.”

I am grateful for the youth guys helping me understand this verse more clearly. Talking with them about this passage, I came to see how easy it is for us to fall in the trap of opposing people for no reason when they have done us no harm. What does it look like? It looks like tearing down the successful because they have the success we want. We mock the athlete who puts in extra practice because he wants to get a scholarship all the time knowing we are jealous of his ability. We mock the student who stays after and asks for help so she can master some concept we don’t understand. We tear down those who are successful to make us feel better about our lack of success. This ruins the community; we are to seek the advantage of the strong and the weak.

We contend with the weak when we reject someone who asks for help. We fight against the needy when they look to us for strength and protection, but we dodge them, mock them, or shame them. How many of us have laughed at a person when we should have helped him/her? Has someone shared a secret with you and you weaponized it against them? Social media makes this evil easier because it only takes a few seconds to video someone’s embarrassing moment and share it with the world. You can screenshot someone’s difficulty and shame the poor soul who trusted you or had done you no harm. Here is the wonderful new way that will make the church shine like a light in this increasingly hateful generation.

  • Community is built on the shared commitment to advance the other

If you stop planning evil against your neighbor and if you stop picking fights to make yourself look good then you will likely find you have energy to go visit a widow in her affliction or invest in a child who is struggling alone. This change will be costly. You don’t get cool points from the world or climb the corporate ladder by taking care of people in need. But a community full of members committed to advancing the other is safe, strong, and satisfying. Strong community is one of the results of the power of the gospel.

And what is the gospel? The gospel is the good news that the Son of God left his place of glory to sacrifice himself for your salvation. Jesus embraced the blessed obligation to come and do us good. For the joy set before him Jesus endured the shame of the cross (Heb 12:2). And Jesus didn’t come because we are worthy or deserving. Jesus came because he loves us. So, Jesus is the example and the fuel for us as we seek to build community. As you go deeper into Christ’s sacrifice and the good he has done to you, the more you will find yourself fueled to sacrifice and do good to others. Strong community is built by those who rejoice over and rest in Jesus.

Listening to CS Lewis’s Mere Christianity this week, I came across two helpful pictures as we think about community. The first picture is Beauty and the Beast. Building strong churches, marriages, families, and communities often means loving a beast. Transformation comes through loving and seeking the good of the other regardless of their perceived worth. So, do you want strong communities? Love the beast and seek the good of the other.

The second picture from CS Lewis is an ugly man who wears a handsome mask and discovers after years of wearing the mask that his face has conformed to the mask, and he is actually handsome. There are seasons of life when putting on Christ feels like putting on a mask, but listen, this is only hypocrisy if you refuse to admit this is what you are doing. It is faith, not hypocrisy, to ask for help to obey Jesus when you don’t feel like obeying Jesus! So, where are you as you look at this community, this church? Do you need to pray for the faith to put on Christ and act like Christ and love us? Trust him; Jesus will make you more and more like him as you follow him. Do you find us, or some of us beastly? Pray for your love to abound more and more with knowledge and discernment so you can invest in us and so your love will bear fruit among us. This is your obligation, and it is a blessed obligation to do good. Let’s seek the Lord’s will together. Let’s seek the blessing of safe, strong, and satisfying relationships as we love one another.

In our time of response today, I want you to pray for someone sitting near you. Pray that God would cause your love to abound more and more with knowledge and discernment so you will know how and be ready to do us good. Pray for love and commit to doing good.

[1] McKane, Proverbs, p.300

Discuss How to Strengthen Community

  • In what way did God comfort, challenge, or correct you today?
  • What do you think is required for a community to be safe, strong, and satisfying? Think about church, family, business, and neighborhood.
  • Discuss how the gospel creates the obligation to do good to others and how the gospel fuels the good we do for others.
  • In what ways has your own refusal to love and do good to others hurt your relationships? What would it look like for you to trust Christ and change?
  • According to Proverbs 3:27, what needs are we obligated to meet and what needs are we not obligated to meet? How do we live this out in a media-connected world?
  • What quality did Jesus establish as necessary for the world to know that we are a church? See John 13:35. How can you strengthen your love for other members of the church?
  • What does it look like, or what would it look like, for you to be ready to share what you have with your neighbors?
  • How does constant complaining or fault-finding poison community?
  • List your neighbors who trust you. What would doing them wrong do to your relationship?
  • In what ways does social media help us disobey Proverbs 3:19-20? What is a better way and what are good rules for sharing on social media?
  • How would you encourage a church member who thinks others members are beastly?
  • How would you encourage a church member who feels like even going to church is an act of hypocrisy?

Discuss Proverbs 3:21-26

  1. How did God comfort, challenge, or correct you today?
  2. How is the Holy Spirit leading you to respond to God’s word?
  3. Think back to a recent foolish decision. How did that decision drain your life? What costs did you have to pay because of your foolish decision?
  4. How would you teach a friend to get wisdom from God’s word? What practices are helpful here?
  5. How would you teach a friend to get wisdom from God’s people? What practices are helpful here?
  6. What does it mean that wisdom gives life to your soul and how have you experienced this in your life?
  7. What type of person do you want to be? Why should being wise be one of your top priorities?
  8. According to Proverbs 3:21-26, what is an answer to sleeplessness?
  9. What is the connection between worship and wisdom? How does worship serve as the foundation for wisdom?
  10. Christ is our wisdom (1 Cor 1:29). Work back through Proverbs 3:21-26 and note the ways Jesus our wisdom provides these blessings in your life. Or, how should you start seeking Jesus for these everyday blessings?