This is the third article in this thirty-one day series in which we will examine the book of Proverbs. Today our text is the third chapter and it opens with an exhortation which continues through the first twelve verses. As with many passages in this book, they are framed in the context of a father providing instruction to his son. “My son, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments, for length of days and years of life and peace they will add to you” (1,2). The word given here as “teaching” is otherwise translated “law” and while it is not to be confused with the Mosaic Law, yet we see that wisdom’s instruction holds the same authority. When God provides His wisdom to us, we are not to shrug it off or to regard it as optional. Rather we are to keep His commands with our hearts, meaning we are to store them in our hearts, to treasure them, and to let that wisdom show itself in our actions. As we learned previously, Proverbs acknowledges no difference between head knowledge and heart knowledge.
These verses provide what are the standard reasons within Proverbs as to why we should heed God’s wisdom. Length of days, prosperity and peace are considered the normal expectation for those who live in wisdom’s ways, for they will live under God’s blessing. Verse 4 promises “you will find favor and good success in the sight of God and man;” verse 8 “it will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones;” and verse 10 “then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine.” Perhaps all this is best summarized by the word “peace,” used in verse 2. The Hebrew word shalom (peace) refers to more than the absence of war, but a “general well-being, a harmony of relationships, wholeness and health.” In an Old Testament context this was seen primarily as blessings in this life, but as those who live after Christ and can refer to the whole canon of Scripture, we know we can look forward to the ultimate fulfillment of these promises in heaven.
Verses 5 and 6 are some of the most precious in the entire Scripture. “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.” These are verses that many believers have memorized and stored in their hearts. As I was writing I glanced over to the calendar hanging on the wall beside me and noticed them printed there. They provide encouragement, exhortation and such promise! We are to trust God, relying on the wisdom He teaches through Scripture. This will necessarily help us see that our human understanding is so fatally flawed that it provides none of the certainty and authority of God. When we acknowledge the wisdom of God, trusting Him and storing His wisdom within our hearts, we have the promise that He will make our paths straight. As we learned yesterday, attaining wisdom is both a task we need to work towards and a blessing that God gives. While God provides wisdom that will help us make godly decisions, this passage does not tell us that He will provides a direct means by which He will answer any question or provide guidance on the day-to-day decisions of life. So we must make decisions, but we can do so through His wisdom and with confidence that He is guiding us in that way. And all the while we can trust that His providence is greater than our ability to make mistakes and to choose poorly.
Christians make much of whether we, who live in the New Testament era, are still required to tithe to the church or whether we have been given freedom to give what we feel is good or necessary. Verses 9 and 10 provide guidance. “Honor the LORD with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce; then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine.” Everything belongs to the Lord and our joy and duty is to give back to him the first and the best. We should not bring our gifts to God after we have paid our bills and after we have rewarded ourselves for our hard work. Instead we are to bring the firstfruits of our labor to Him as an acknowledgement that He controls everything and that all we have is a gift from Him. We ought to give out of gratitude for what He has given us, not out of duty or under duress.
“My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the LORD reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.” Just last night while we lay in bed my wife and I were speaking of the Lord’s discipline and how He uses it as a necessary tool to shape and mould our lives. In our most rational moments we know it is true that God must chasten us, for which of us would raise a child with no discipline? Discipline is necessary if we are to be conformed to His image. But as when we discipline our children, we do so motivated by love and with confidence that we do so for their good. In that same way we can have confidence that when God chastises us, He does so for our benefit and not out of sick pleasure.
It is true that God chastises us. We know this is true for it is taught clearly in both the Old Testament and the New. While we all acknowledge this, I am not so sure that we really understand how and when this takes place. The difficulty, I have found, is in knowing when God is chastising us and when my own sinful decisions have led me into pain. How am I to know when God is chastising me and when I am paying the penalty for my own stupidity? Perhaps there is no difference. Perhaps God uses earthly punishments as one of his means of chastisement. If God seeks to chastise me for being reckless on the road, perhaps He does this through a hefty ticket courtesy of the police, or perhaps through a car accident caused by my own negligence. I suppose that when we see our lives through an eternal perspective it will become clear how and when God disciplined us and that we will be thankful for His diligence in doing so.