Some Blessings of Wisdom, Part 1

Photo by James Lee on Unsplash

This post is adapted from a sermon from Proverbs 3:1-6.  If you’re interested in hearing more, feel free to follow my sermon podcast on Apple Podcasts, Anchor, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Breaker, PocketCasts, RadioRepublic, or other podcast apps.

In this post we continue our study of God’s most practical wisdom book. And in doing so we will be confronted with several themes that permeate both our culture and our human experience. One of those themes we see in our cultures desire for perpetual youth and vitality. Whether we see it in the endless advertisements for cosmetics, or perhaps in the recurring literary theme of the fountain of youth, humans seem to have an innate desire to try and extend their lives for as long as they can.

Another theme we will see, the theme of success. Favor, popularity, and social admiration is another theme that we see in our culture. We desperately want more likes and followers on social media. We watch movies about the outcast or the underdog who struggles his way for acceptance, the Cinderella who goes from slave girl to beloved princess, or the ugly duckling to turns out to the be beautiful swan. Each of us has an innate desire to be seen as lovely in the eyes of others, and Proverbs speaks to that desire.

So let’s jump into our text, and I’ll begin by reading the first six verses of Proverbs chapter 3:

My son, do not forget my teaching,
but let your heart keep my commandments,
2 for length of days and years of life
and peace they will add to you.
3 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.
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.

Before we jump into chapter 3, let’s recall what we’ve seen so far in this book. In chapter one we saw that the beginning of wisdom, the beginning of genuine knowledge, is the fear of the Lord. That is the root and source of all godly wisdom.

We saw also how we have two paths to walk in this world. To competing options. We can choose the path of foolishness and folly, or we can choose the path of wisdom, and there are people enticing us towards each. Sinners and fools seek to entice us down the path of folly. That path promises us rewards, riches, acceptance, and status in this world, and offers us a false sense of security. On the other hand, Lady wisdom calls out for us to join her on the path of righteousness. Her path offers to make the simple ones wise, offers us life, and offers us genuine security, the protection of the Lord.

In chapter 2 we saw the value of wisdom: more valuable than gold or silver or anything this world can offer. Wisdom watches over the saints, guards them from evil men, protects them from calamity, and directs them to the security of God’s promised land. Thus, we move now into chapter 3, which begins with 4 verses that echo the opening of chapter 2 about keeping, storing up, treasuring God’s wisdom. Listen again to the 1st verse of chapter 3:

My son, do not forget my teaching,
but let your heart keep my commandments,

Don’t forget. Keep. Preserve. We could translate it “guard the teachings.” And the word for “teachings” is the word for Law, torah. Don’t let go of my law. Don’t forget it. A wise person remembers. This applies with simple things and it applies in complex things.

How many of us as children were told to make up our beds or brush our teeth before we left for school? And how many of us, when asked by our parents why we didn’t make our beds, answered, “I forgot. I forgot.” Now, forgetting something is not necessarily sinful, but forgetting something that has been given to us as a biblically-permissible command is sinful. We choose not to remember. Forgetting is not an excuse, especially once we move out of the preschool age.

The same skill is necessary for the wise man or woman of God. They learn to remember. They remember what is sinful and what is lawful. They remember what is wise and what is unwise. They remember the things that are temptations and seek to avoid them. The remember what things promote godliness and pursue those things. They actively and intentionally put effort in their pursuit of holiness and the putting off of sin.

But how often do we find ourselves forgetting, rather than remembering?

I forget that proverbs 16:21 says that, “sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness”, and instead so I deal harshly with my family members or my employees to get them to do what I want, rather than pursuing them with the kindness and gentleness with which Christ pursues me.

I forget that in Christ I am fully loved and accepted, fully valued, so I instead turn to doing sinful things in order to get attention and validation from others.

I forget that Proverbs tells me that the path of the adulterous woman leads to death, so I let my eyes lead me where they don’t belong.

I forget. I don’t treasure up God’s words. They don’t stay within me. So, what do I need to do to get them to stay? Look at the next part of verse 1:

My son, do not forget my teaching,
but let your heart keep my commandments,

Let your heart keep my commandments. That’s a strange phrase. Shouldn’t it be let “your mind keep my commandments?” Or perhaps, “let your will keep my commandments”? No, he says heart. The remedy is that we need God’s wisdom to be within us, not merely in our head but down in our hearts, which means down within the very core of our being.

I was asked to speak in Cornerstone’s chapel this week on a topic that is relevant to our discussion tonight. I was asked to address the question, “What do I do when I don’t want to read my bible?” “What do I do when I don’t feel like reading my bible?” In studying to preach that morning I had something that John Piper had written rattling around in my head, and I want expand upon that tonight. To try and begin to answer my assigned question I went to two places in the bible. First, Please turn with me ahead to chapter 22 of Proverbs. Proverbs 22. I want us to see a connection. Proverbs 22:17-18:

Incline your ear, and hear the words of the wise,
and apply your heart to my knowledge,
18 for it will be pleasant if you keep them within you,
if all of them are ready on your lips.

The divine author is here making a connection between applying our heart and pleasantness, or pleasure, or even joy. First, we must incline our ear. We must listen, we must hear the words of the wise. And those words, either spoken to us or read from God’s holy word form within us concepts or ideas. We gain understanding of something.

But that is not enough. We need more than mere cognition of God’s truth, we need to go a step further. We need to apply our heart to that knowledge. We need that knowledge to be pressed deeper within us, to drive it down from our head and into our heart, the very seat of our being. And if we do that, then we will begin to know pleasantness, the author promises. The heart is the organ of pleasure, and our heart will begin to know joy if we can have God’s word driving deeper and deeper into us.

You might be saying: Great. That sounds great. I want that. How do I get that, because I don’t feel that. I feel nothing now. I used to feel something, but I don’t feel it anymore. Or maybe you’ve never felt that way about God’s word. Well, let me illustrate what it might look like to apply our hearts to something, again using Piper.

Let’s say you’re walking to work one day and you look with your eyes and you see the leaves have changed colors. They are red and yellow, when just a week ago they were green. The leaves are absolutely beautiful, stunning. God’s creative handiwork is beaming all around you.

But all you’re thinking about is the meeting at work, the budget at home, the misbehaving kids, whatever. Your eyes are seeing the leaves, but you’re not seeing them. Your optical nerve is picking up the signals from your eyes. You comprehend but you do not appreciate the beauty. You’re seeing, but you don’t see.

What needs to happen? You need to pause. You need to stop. God’s grace causes you to pause and to press your heart into what you see:

“You look at it and you look at it. You lean in and you say, “Heart, that is orange. That is yellow. They were green and now they are orange and yellow and gold, and the sun is making them bright. And they are waving at you with the breeze, and God is trying to get your attention.” Then you say, “The glory of God is shining here. Look, heart.” And you push the nose of the heart up into the tree.”

That’s what we can do with natural revelation, with God’s glory revealed through nature, and that is what we need to do with God’s special revelation. We need to take our heart and press it into what we see.

Another analogy: if we come home and we’re hungry, and we smell a steak cooking on the grill. We see that it is on the grill, we hear it sizzling, we smell the glorious food. What can we do? What else is there to do? We need to cut off a piece and put it in our mouths and chew it up, and savor every moment of it and swallow it down to our very core.

We need to do the same thing with God’s special revelation to us, with his word. We need to chew, and chew and chew, until we’ve gotten every possible bit of sustenance from it, and we swallow it down to the very center of our beings, to our heart.

What does that look like? To illustrate that I took the Cornerstone students to Psalm 23, you can turn there with me if you want.

[I know this is a long tangent on the heart, but I think this is really important. I’ve had this discussion several times with people this week, and I think that if we are to have genuine, heart-level holiness and love for the lord we need to get this right. We need to know what it is to read God’s word, not merely for head knowledge, but for heart knowledge and the joy, the pleasantness, that comes from it.]

[Psalm 23 exposition]

So, back to our text in proverbs 3. Why are we told to not forget God’s teaching? And why are we called to do all this hard, heart-level work of keeping God’s commandments? Well, verse 2 tells us a first blessing of Wisdom: a long and peaceful life. Listen again to the words:

My son, do not forget my teaching,
but let your heart keep my commandments,
2 for length of days and years of life
and peace they will add to you.

Heeding God’s words will bring length of days and years to your life. Now, we must remember what we’re reading, remember the genre of the bible we are in. These are proverbs, which are short sayings that describe the way things normally work, rather than direct promises or predictions of what will happen. But, the proverb holds true. People that heed God’s word normally have length of days and years of life.

Proverbs 10:27 says that “The fear of the Lord prolongs life, but the life of the wicked will be cut short.” Likewise, the 5th commandment, honor your father and mother, has with it in Exodus the promise of a long and fruitful life in the promised land.

Similarly, we know that the opposite is true too: fools tend to have shortened lives. Those that habitually disregard God’s wisdom and the way that God has ordered this world to normally operate, they will have their lives cut short. We’ve seen already that the covetous sinners in chapter 1 are said to “lie in wait for their own blood.” They think they will rob and kill others, but it is their own life that they are forfeiting. Likewise, chapter 5:22 tells us that the fool will die for lack of instruction, and chapter 7 tells us that he who sins injures himself.

We’ve likely seen this in our own lives. A fool who cannot control himself will become a drunkard or a glutton, and will become addicted to pleasure in such a way as to cut his life short. Or a man that is consistently and habitually angry, will cut his life short with hypertension and heart disease. A reckless young man who rides his motorcycle wildly and without a helmet will likely not live to see old age. Similarly, a fool prone towards violence will likely be involved with many altercations and will die young.

Furthermore, this verse promises not only length of days to the wise man, but also promises peace to him as well. The wise man knows how to deal with people, knows how to treat them with righteousness and justice, knows how to love people with his money and time and energy. And because he treats people with righteousness, because he treats people the way that he would want to be treated, a wise man often can have peace. He is a good neighbor to have, a good friend to have, and he will have many companions willing to help him whenever he needs it.

This is not like the fool, who is selfish, greedy, always seeking to swindle people, seeking to catch people so that he can advance his own career, line his own pockets. The fool always lives in turmoil and chaos. He always has somebody mad at him, somebody begrudging him, somebody that wants to bring him down or pay him back for an offense. Fools do not have peace.

So, thus far we see that the wise man does not forget God’s teaching, but presses them down into his heart. And as a reward, God grants him life and peace. But we have a problem. The problem is true for each and every one of us. The problem is that we don’t always remember God’s word. We don’t always keep his commandments with our heart. We don’t live in righteousness and have peace with our neighbors.

How often do we forget that God has called us to keep his commands with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength? We’d rather do what we want to do, rather than listen to our wise Father. I’d rather go off like the prodigal son and play around in the pig sty of this world, eating the worldly slop. I’d rather roll around in my sin, strut around in my arrogance, and boast in my vain accomplishments.

But the good news is that our heavenly father is a forgiving father. He has provided a way, through the blood of his very own son, that we can be forgiven. We can be forgiven for all of the times that we failed to keep his law with all our hearts. In fact, because Christ was faithful in his mission, we can have brand new hearts. That’s one of the things promised to us in the New Covenant. In Jeremiah’s account of the new covenant we’re promised a new heart of flesh that will replace our old heart of stone. And God’s word says that he will send his very own Spirit to reside in us, and He will cause us to walk in His statues and commandments.

Previously we had a heart that couldn’t and wouldn’t keep his word, but in Christ we have a new heart that can, and we’re filled with his Spirit that gives us the desire to keep is law. Previously we were only and always the fool, destined for no peace, but in Christ, we can be united to the Faithful son, and have peace with God through Jesus Christ our Lord. That’s the good news of the gospel.

Do you have that heart level peace with God? Have you experienced that kind of acceptance before him? If not, then I encourage you to hear the call of Jesus Christ tonight, and know that he stands ready to receive you. You’ll never taste of true, lasting peace in this life, and you’ll have a future of peace-less torment in the next. In fact, outside of Christ your fate is only eternal punishment in hell. So, I urge you this very night to consider your eternal destiny.

And if you have come to Christ, then lean into him. See him as the one that has taken your sin and shame, the one who has given you a new heart that is able, by the Spirit’s help, to keep his commandments and taste of his peace.

Next, let’s look at verse 3 and see another blessing of wisdom. Verse three says:

Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you;
bind them around your neck;
write them on the tablet of your heart.

Let not steadfast love, or it could be translated loyal love or mercy, and let not faithfulness or kindness, leave you. The point is that a wise man is called to have the highest of integrity. He is not merely virtuous occasionally, or when it suits him. He is virtuous and wise all the time. His virtue is so apparent and consistent that is it like a necklace. That’s what we’re called to do, to bind them around our necks.

Where we go, wisdom goes. Wisdom is not hidden, but it adorns. And a wise person doesn’t merely have wisdom adorning the outside, but has taken the time to drive it deep into their heart, to write it on the tablet of their heart, to engrave it on the very core of his or her being, like we discussed above.

And what does this person reap as the reward of such wise behavior? Verse 4:

So you will find favor and good success
in the sight of God and man.

A wise man will find favor. The man that consistently shows love, will be beloved. The man that is merciful to others, will find mercy. Joseph found favor in Egypt because he was a wise man, David found favor in the eyes of Saul. Consistent godliness is a means to favor in the eyes of both God and man. Scripture even connects the favor of the Lord with the favor we have among men. Proverbs 16:7 says that “When a man’s ways please the LORD, he makes even his enemies to be at peace with him.” Such was said of Jesus himself when he was a child, that he grew in wisdom and stature in the favor of both God and man. Godliness begets the favor of others.

Conversely, ungodliness, we can assume, begets disfavor. Wickedness evokes disdain from both God and man. If you live in sin and darkness, you’ll reap mistreatment and opposition. To make it very tangible: if you’re consistently mean to your brothers or sisters, they will not like you. If you’re always cold and bitter, then you’ll end up lonely. If you’re always angry, then you’ll not have the warmth of fellowship around you. Like we’ve discussed previously, what you sow is what you will reap.

So how do we avoid such opposition? How can we know how to behave in a way that brings the favor of both God and man? Let’s look at verses 5 & 6, which I’m sure you’ve all heard before:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, there it is again, your heart. This verse is the benchmark and orientation of a child of God. Trusting in the Lord. Faith in the Father’s promises, and his providence, and his grace.

The words trust, and lean imply not merely an active choice, but even an awareness of our helplessness without him. The Hebrew word for trust originally had the idea of lying helplessly face downwards, and the word for lean, means not merely incline yourself, but fully support yourself on something or someone else. To trust and to lean then means to wholly cast ourselves on the support of someone else.

A wise person will know God as the object of their trust, even when all around them seems to be breaking loose. And this is not a cold sort of objectivity; not merely a mental affirmation of God’s ability to support you. No, this is a trust of all the heart. It is a child-like faith, an un-wavering hope built upon a sure foundation, a confidence based upon the truthfulness of God’s own word, his faithfulness shown throughout generations, upon the proving of his wisdom again and again, and upon his own love, most clearly seen on the cross of Calvary.

But instead of relying upon his wisdom, instead of trusting in him with all your heart, we instead like to lean on our understanding.
Adam and Eve knew that the all-wise Father told them not to eat from the tree, but they chose to lean on their own understanding and take the fruit that didn’t belong to them.

Abraham knew that the sovereign God had promised him a son, but when he didn’t see that son as a human possibility, he chose instead to lean upon his own understand and take for himself a son by Hagar.

Aaron knew that God-almighty had delivered the Hebrews from the Egyptians, but he chose to lean on his own understanding and create for God’s people a golden calf to worship instead.

David was given a wife by the all-knowing God of the universe, be he chose instead to be discontent, covet his neighbor’s wife, and take for himself the wife of Uriah, showing that he chose instead to lean on his own understanding.

And we do this too. We know that God desires for us to have joy the wife of our youth, but we, leaning on our own understanding, choose instead to desire another wife for ourselves. We know that God calls us to be content with what we’ve been given, but we choose to lean on our own understanding, and covet in our hearts the gifts that he’s sovereign given to others. We know that God has provided for us all things in Christ that we might need, but we instead try to lean on our own understanding and prop up other little idols, little golden calves, in our hearts and worship them instead of our Creator.

So, a question for us is, why can we trust in him instead of leaning on our own wisdom? Why should you lean upon him and not your own understanding? And the answer is the gospel.
The answer is because of his great love with which he loves us. He loves us enough to orchestrate the most fantastic and unbelievable redemption that could be conceived. He sent his own son, the eternal second person of the trinity, to take onto himself the fullness of frail humanity, and to live a life experiencing the curse of this world, to bear the scorn and hatred of mankind, even while he was upholding the universe by the word of his power. Octavius Winslow put it this way: “So completely was Jesus bent upon saving sinners by the sacrifice of Himself, 
He created the tree upon
which He was to die, and nurtured from infancy the men who were to nail Him to the accursed wood.” He endured lashings and a crown of thorns, the injustice of a sham trial, and the execution normally reserved for the vilest of criminals.

And he did all of this for us. He was the perfectly wise son, the one that should have earned the favor of God and man, but instead he was treated with all the disdain of a criminal. He was the faithful son that should have earned length of days and years of life, promised in verse 1, but instead he was treat as a fool that earned a speedy death sentence. He was the one that earned to have his paths made straight, easy paths, paths with no obstacles. But instead he willingly took the path that he knew would have pain, heartache, betrayal, and eventually death. That is the plan of redemption that our God has made.

And why did he do that? Well one reason is so that we might taste of the rewards that the Faithful Son has earned. He earned for us not merely length of days and years of life, but eternal days and eternal life with him in unending bliss to be shared in His presence. He loved us with such a love that he wanted us to find favor in the sight of God, rather than the wrath that we had previously earned. And instead of a treacherous path culminating in an eternity separated from the blessed presence of almighty God, Christ has earned for us a path that leads to peace in this life, regardless of our station, and will ultimately result in the straight path of eternal salvation. We no longer have a blind and rocky path to try and earn our way into God’s favor. We have had a straight path to God blazed for us, a path that requires nothing other than our faith in Christ alone. All we must do is to believe in the Son, in his redeeming work in the place of sinners, in his role as the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, and we too can have our path to God secured.

Have you come to faith in Jesus Christ? Do you trust in him with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding, strength, or righteousness? Or do you cling to an inflated sense of your own goodness? Do you think you’re a generally good person and that God will cut you some slack? Be warned tonight that God’s standard is lowered for no man, and that his benchmark is perfection. Your only hope is to come to him in faith and receive the forgiveness that is offered from him. No other path is offered and no other way is acceptable.


May the All-Wise father grant you length of days, good favor, and straight paths, through a vibrant, heart-level faith in His Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.


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