SSL 4 - Proverbs 4:11-27 - THE CHOICE
LAST WEEK: In Prov. 3:21-35, Solomon talked to us about the blessings of walking securely in God's wisdom. In vv. 21-25, he explained how wisdom gives life, can even improve health and make us look better, keeps us safer, and make us feel more secure and at peace; in v. 26 he explained how wisdom can steers us clear of the traps and snares of this world; and vv. 27-35 he gave us wise instruction about our relationships both with people and God.
THIS WEEK: In Prov. 4:11-27, we're going to cover a lot of territory. In vv. 11-19, we'll hear a lot of positive and negative counseling-many "do" and "do not" statements where Solomon tells his son to choose the positive path of wisdom and avoid the negative consequences of wickedness. Let's start by defining "wicked." In the Hebrew (rasha) it literally means criminal, a person adjudged guilty of evil. Solomon portrays those guilty of evil as conquered, addicted, and desperate. He concludes the section by comparing the path of the righteous to bright light and the way of the wicked to utter darkness. In vv. 20-27, Solomon focuses on telling his son how to live. He places emphasis on three things: (1) the attitude of the heart; (2) the focus of the eyes; and (3) the direction of the feet.
Read Prov. 4:11-13 - RECEIVE AND TAKE HOLD OF GOD'S INSTRUCTION
11I have directed you in the way of wisdom; I have led you in upright paths.
12When you walk, your steps will not be impeded; And if you run, you will not stumble.
13Take hold of instruction; do not let go. Guard her, for she is your life.
v. 11: "I have directed you in the way of wisdom; I have led you in upright paths" - This proverb lists three lessons for accomplishing the duty of good parenting and teaching: (1) you must teach; (2) you must teach the right things; and (3) you must teach by example. These things, which lead to a life that pleases God and man, are not taught in our schools today-in fact God is mentioned nowhere. Therefore, as parents, it's imperative that we teach godly wisdom and true knowledge at home.
v. 12: "When you walk, your steps will not be impeded; And if you run, you will not stumble" - Consider the proverb: If you learn wisdom, your steps won't be "impeded" as you go through life.
What are impeded steps? Well, it's a hard life that's limited, held back, or blocked from experiencing the best that life offers (we'll get to that). And if you learn wisdom, you won't "stumble" when you run. What's running without stumbling? It's progressing rapidly through life (it's rapid, is it not?) without all the adversity, pain, and trouble that fools suffer in their lives. Everyone meet obstacles in life, but wisdom will guide the prudent person around most of them. The fool will fall flat on his face.
v. 13: "Take hold of instruction; do not let go. Guard her, for she is your life" - You'll notice that when Solomon lists a virtue, he refers to it in the feminine neuter. The proverb is that instruction is your life. Everything you know you've had to learn. Everything you need to know you must learn. Everything right and true that you learn must be held onto securely. Your life depends on being corrected from error and being taught how to live. If you love and retain instruction-and obey it, you will be blessed; if you ignore or reject it, you will be cursed. You can't know anything without being taught, which means submitting yourself to teachers, whether they are God, parents, pastors, or others. And when you find good teachers, learn everything you can from them.
SOLOMON SAYS 1: Learning how to live depends on being taught. You can't know anything without being taught, which means submitting yourself to teachers, whether they are God, parents, pastors, or others. And when you find good teachers, learn everything you can from them.
Read Prov. 4:14-15 - AVOID THE PATH OF THE WICKED
14Do not enter the path of the wicked And do not proceed in the way of evil men.
15Avoid it, do not pass by it; Turn away from it and pass on.
v. 14: "Do not enter the path of the wicked And do not proceed in the way of evil men" - Here, Solomon issues a stern "do not," warning his son against evil friends and their way of life. This proverb is simple but crucial, especially for youth because they are so vulnerable to the evil influences of peer pressure. They are more easily influenced by what they see on TV and in movies, and also don't forget the violence depicted in some of these video games, which can be addictive. Young people are also more gullible and can adopt strange ideas-i.e., all these conspiracy theories come to mind-that are promoted by false teaching. Their young minds can be literally poisoned.
v. 15: "Avoid it, do not pass by it; Turn away from it and pass on" - In this proverb Solomon explains how to keep clear of the path of the wicked. Consider the choice of words: When you "avoid" something, you see it and change direction. "Do not pass" means you don't even get close and avoid it by a wide margin. Ps. 1:1 describes a righteous man as one who does not "stand in the way of sinners" but chooses a path going in a different direction. All of us are susceptible to the opinions and influences of others. The type of people we choose to associate with can make us or break us. If you choose carnal, worldly friends, they will pull you down with them, and if you do that, you will not be wise or righteous before God. Be wise-don't over estimate yourself!
SOLOMON SAYS 2: The type of people we choose to associate with can be dangerous. All of us are susceptible to the opinions and influences of others. If you choose carnal, worldly friends, they will pull you down with them, and if you do that, you will not be wise or righteous before God.
Read Prov. 4:16-19 - WHY THE WAY OF THE WICKED SHOULD BE AVOIDED.
16For they cannot sleep unless they do evil; And they are robbed of sleep unless they make someone stumble.
17For they eat the bread of wickedness And drink the wine of violence.
18But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, That shines brighter and brighter until the full day.
19The way of the wicked is like darkness; They do not know over what they stumble.
v. 16: "For they cannot sleep unless they do evil; And they are robbed of sleep unless they make someone stumble" - This section of proverbs is about how to access character-tell good from bad. There are two kinds of people on earth: the righteous and the wicked. Before we began the lesson, we learned that the Hebrew word for wicked (ra-sha) means the same thing as criminal, a person adjudged guilty of evil. It's not always clear because wicked people can sometime perform outward acts that appear good (although they may be motivated by pride or to gain some advantage), while righteous people sometimes do foolish things when they fall into sin. But the lesson here is that there are no neutral people on this earth: There are righteous people who are followers of Jesus Christ and wicked people who are captives of Satan, the ruler of this world. People either base their lives on the inerrant standards of God's Word or they base them on the inherently flawed human standards of a world opposed to God. But understand that we are blessed, not better than them.
v. 17: "For they eat the bread of wickedness And drink the wine of violence" - Solomon is saying that some people feed on wickedness-it's part of their daily diet. Paul gave us examples of "sowing to the flesh" in Gal. 5:19-21: "sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, and orgies." The lesson here is to avoid such people completely. They are dangerous. But remember this: We are no different from these souls cursed by their sin nature. We were born just like them and lived like them until we were saved by the grace and power of God.
v. 18: "But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, That shines brighter and brighter until the full day" - With the "light of dawn," Solomon alludes to the wisdom that god is revealed every day by His visible creation, which to us should be constant confirmation that our God exists with eternal and infinite power. As Paul taught us last quarter in Rom 1:19-20, people who experience the visible creation every day and still deny God are without excuse. The phrase indicating that that the light "shines brighter and brighter," tells us that to those who obey Him, God will provide more and more truth and thus more and more blessings. The lesson: Run with the light God gives you!
v. 19: "The way of the wicked is like darkness; They do not know over what they stumble" - Here, Solomon introduces a contrasting parallelism. As a person learn and applies truth and wisdom, God sheds light on his or her understanding the same way the light of day overcomes the darkness and brings clear daylight to see the straight path. The wicked, however walk in darkness, unable to understand why they keep stumbling and falling. They simply lack the wisdom to see their errors. Last year in Eph. 4:18, Paul said, "being darkened in their understanding, [they are] excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart." They live in ignorance, not for lack of education, but because they just don't know or understand anything about God. Although they have, in fact, heard of God, they remain spiritually ignorant because of they are stubborn and self-righteous. Morally, they refuse to accept any idea of a righteous, all-powerful, and perfect God above them. They want to be lord of their own lives.
SOLOMON SAYS 3: The wicked stumble around in darkness because they lack the wisdom to see their errors. These sinners live in ignorance, not for lack of education, but because they just don't know or understand anything about God. Although they have, in fact, heard of God, they remain spiritually ignorant because they stubbornly refuse to accept the idea of a righteous, all-powerful, and perfect God above them and want to be the lord of their own lives.
Read Prov. 4:20-22 - PLEASE HEAR WHAT I SAY
20My son, give attention to my words; Incline your ear to my sayings.
21Do not let them depart from your sight; Keep them in the midst of your heart.
22For they are life to those who find them And health to all their body.
v. 20: "My son, give attention to my words; Incline your ear to my sayings" - Proverbs is a book of wisdom, designed to teach understanding. Since all of us arrive in this world as helpless and ignorant infants, we undergo a huge learning curve as we progress from mother's milk and diapers to being functional adults. Solomon understood this and knew the keys to understanding were humility (admit you need help) and a willingness to learn from parents and teachers. Very simply, to achieve understanding, we must listed and learn. The expression, "incline your ear," repeated 39 times in the OT, not only means to listen attentively but to be receptive to what's being taught to you. This is the secret of acquiring wisdom-listening, learning, and applying. The more we listen, the more we learn, the more we learn, the more we understand, and the more we understand, the wiser we are.
v. 21: "Do not let them depart from your sight; Keep them in the midst of your heart" - Solomon knew that the eyes and hearts of young men (and women) are easily distracted with foolishness. The "them" Solomon is commanding his son to keep in "sight" are wisdom and discretion. This isn't our physical sight, but the metaphorical eyes of our minds with which we direct our lives and set our priorities-our vision of life. Solomon is telling his son-figuratively-to focus his "eyes" on one object: God's wisdom. Jesus said it this way: "The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness." (Mt. 6:22-23a). This connects with what Solomon said about darkness in v. 19. We'll cover the importance of the "heart" when we get to v. 23.
v. 22: "For they are life to those who find them And health to all their body" - We might call this one Solomon's wellness program. According to him, a person who lives a life according to sound wisdom and discretion will not only have a wonderful life but better health. What is "life to those who find them"-wisdom and discretion? True wisdom and discretion lead to a happy and successful (by spiritual standards) life rather than a miserable, confused, and destructive life. Wisdom and discretion keep you from making disastrous mistakes, and while it's not guaranteed, will help you lead a less stressful, more peaceful life and a physically-disciplined lifestyle that might increase your lifespan. Discipline can include things like a healthy diet, exercise, and good sleep habits.
And what about discretion? It directly relates to the fruit of self-control. Using sound discretion knows what words or actions are best for whatever situation you're facing. It knows what, when, where, and how to do anything, and do it right. It is the self-control that holds a person back from foolish and impulsive behavior. It is the discipline not to say the first words you that pop into your mind and the foolish actions likely to follow them. It's using careful and discerning judgment to determine the best approach or solution to any given situation.
SOLOMON SAYS 4: Wisdom + Discretion = L I F E. True wisdom and discretion lead to a happy and successful (by spiritual standards) life rather than a miserable, confused, and destructive life. Wisdom and discretion keep you from making disastrous mistakes, and while it's not guaranteed, will help you lead a less stressful, more peaceful life and a physically-disciplined lifestyle that might increase your lifespan. It can include things like a healthy diet, exercise, and good sleep habits.
Read Prov. 4:23 - PROTECT YOUR HEART
23Watch over your heart with all diligence, For from it flow the springs of life.
This proverb is central to the whole chapter because our hearts truly rule our lives. Whether you experience blessings or misery in life will depend upon training and ruling the desires of your heart. "Diligence" is a key word here. In the practical sense, It means accomplishing tasks carefully, thoroughly, and on time. In my profession, it means making sure my work is 100% correct under applicable law-that I haven't overlooked anything. In the context of this proverb, the "heart" represents the inner part of us that directs our will, mind, consciousness, emotions, and understanding. This is critical because it defines our moral character and strength of mind.
Solomon's main point is that whatever is in your heart will be reflected in your life. If your heart is full of good, godly things, then your life will show that goodness; however, if your heart is full of sinful desires, your life will show them. The outcome of the many tests and decisions all of us face in life are dependent on our hearts, and it even includes the small choices we make hundreds of times a day. The challenge of this proverb to you and me is to ask yourself where your heart is. Are you working diligently to keep it pure? Are there any sinful influences still in your life that you should remove? Examples like sinful entertainment in TV, movies, or music, sinful associations or friends, etc. Instead, we should be filling our hearts with Scripture reading, a dedicated prayer life, godly form of entertainment, and maybe most important, the friends we choose (local EAA story?).
SOLOMON SAYS 5: Whatever is in your heart will be reflected in your life. If your heart is full of good, godly things, then your life will show that goodness; however, if your heart is full of sinful desires, your life will show them. The challenge of this proverb to you and me is to ask yourself where your heart is-today.
Prov. 4:24-27 - STAYING ON THE RIGHT PATH
24Put away from you a deceitful mouth And put devious speech far from you.
25Let your eyes look directly ahead And let your gaze be fixed straight in front of you.
26Watch the path of your feet And all your ways will be established.
27Do not turn to the right nor to the left; turn your foot from evil.
v. 24: "Put away from you a deceitful mouth And put devious speech far from you" - In this section of proverbs, after telling us to rule our hearts with all diligence, Solomon turns to the issue of controlling our (1) speech, (2) eyes, and (3) feet. It's nearly impossible to have godly and gracious speech without a pure heart, because the content of the heart supplies the words of the mouth. It's easy to identify a good heart by the kind, thoughtful, and honorable words you hear as compared to the harsh, foul, or even obscene speech that comes from a darkened heart. A good way to practice godly speech is to cut your words in half and listen instead. James said it this way: This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger. (Jas. 1:19). Solomon's advice in a nutshell: Rule your speech, watch your tongue, and evaluate your words.
v. 25: "Let your eyes look directly ahead And let your gaze be fixed straight in front of you" - Your eyes select objects and direct your attention to them (or away from them), but it is your heart and mind that gives and receives the feedback from your eyes, so your heart and eyes can't really be separated. What does Solomon mean by fixing our gaze "straight in front." Very simply, he's telling to stay focused on God, His kingdom, and His righteousness. If we keep that focus, it will steer us around the obstacles and traps of sinful distractions, which are many, yes? The apostle Paul often analogized the Christian life as a race (I Cor. 9:26). He stressed that to win, runners must look straight ahead without being distracted by competitors or other things. Is anything distracting your vision or interfering with your progress? If so, put on God's blinders and keep running towards His heaven.
v. 26: "Watch the path of your feet And all your ways will be established" - The key to this proverb is establishing your ways. Solomon is saying that wise people don't just let life to happen to them but act with careful thought and sober deliberation. They plan and manage their lives. They choose wise, realistic goals, and carefully formulate the means for achieving them. And as they move forward in life, they evaluate their progress towards them. Other than the rare acts of God they can't avoid, they control and direct their circumstances to serve them, not vice versa. Becoming debt-free and living within your means is one of the wisest choices a person can make. So ask yourself, where am I going? Are you doing more than simply growing older? Consider the path of your feet.
v. 27: "Do not turn to the right nor to the left; turn your foot from evil" - This proverb is Solomon's finale: Do not wander through life. The way of wisdom-God's road to righteousness-is straight as an arrow. Do not turn from it even a little to the right or left and never modify God's commands to vary your direction. Ignore the sinful temptations (like billboards) you encounter along the way.
SOLOMON SAYS 6: Wise people don't just let life happen to them. Wise people plan and manage their lives. They choose wise, realistic goals, and carefully formulate the means for achieving them. Other than the rare acts of God they can't avoid, they control and direct their circumstances to serve them, not vice versa.