The Heart of Wisdom | Proverbs 4:20-27

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Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life. (Proverbs 4:23 ESV)

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:7 ESV)

OPENING THOUGHT

The book of Proverbs is all about learning to live wisely. Unfortunately, biblical wisdom is a term that most people are pretty unfamiliar with, so it is important to know that wisdom is the skill of living life well. Living wisely, according to the Bible, means being able to navigate through life’s twists and turns in God-honoring ways. Wisdom, therefore, is incredibly valuable for everyone.

And graciously, God invites everyone to get wisdom. In fact, God promises that wisdom will be given to everyone who asks Him for it. The problem is that most people are not willing to humble themselves to ask God for wisdom. They refuse to trust and submit themselves to God; instead, they rely upon their own understanding. God calls this foolishness, the opposite of wisdom, and it is also a refusal to fear, love, and honor God.

Within our present verses, Solomon dives into wisdom’s heart. While we have already been given the command to write these words of wisdom on the tablet of our hearts, he now commands us to keep (or guard) our heart vigilantly because from it flow the springs of life. Solomon gives this command because he knows that our heart is the core of our identity. If our heart is wise, our actions will be wise, but if our heart is foolish, everything we do will be foolish.

GROUP DISCUSSION

Read Proverbs 4:20-27 and discuss the following.

  • Which verses stood out most to you as you read Proverbs 4:20-27 this week? Why? What do these verses teach you about who God is? What do they teach you about Jesus?
  • What does the Bible mean when it refers to the heart? Why is the heart important? Why does Solomon tell us to guard it vigilantly?
  • How do the verses surrounding verse 23 teach us to guard the heart? How do the Scriptures guard our heart? How do our actions impact (positively or negatively) our heart? In what ways do you guard your heart with what you say, what you see, and where you go?
  • Why is it impossible to keep your heart with all vigilance? How does the gospel guard our hearts?

PERSONAL REFLECTION

Because all Scripture profits us through teaching, reproving, correcting, and training us, reflect upon the studied text, and ask yourself the following questions.

  • What has God taught you through this text (about Himself, sin, humanity, etc.)?
  • What sin has God convicted or reproved you of through this text?
  • How has God corrected you (i.e. your theology, thinking, lifestyle, etc.) through this text?
  • Pray through the text, asking God to train you toward righteousness by conforming you to His Word.

The Path of Wisdom | Proverbs 4:10-19

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But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day. The way of the wicked is like the deep darkness; they do not know over what they stumble.  (Proverbs 4:18-19 ESV)

OPENING THOUGHT

Proverbs is a book of ancient Hebrew wisdom that is still infinitely applicable for us today. Because wisdom is the skill of living life well, Proverbs repeatedly pleads for us to seek after wisdom. Living wisely means that we understand how God has designed the world to function. Of course, we must also be careful to remember that in this life the blessings of wisdom are generalities. Sometimes a wise person dies young or suffers poverty simply because the world is broken by sin. Fortunately, for God’s people, every blessing of wisdom will ultimately be fulfilled in eternity.

But there is one more thing to remember before diving into our present text. Proverbs tells us that wisdom begins with the fear of the LORD. Fearing God means honoring and respecting God as God, and in order to do that we must understand also that we are not God. He is infinite, while we are finite. Therefore, fearing God means trusting that God knows better than we do. True wisdom cannot begin without this understanding.

Everyone in life is walking down one of two paths: the path of wisdom or the path of folly (or foolishness). The path of wisdom leads to life and being blessed by God, while the path of folly leads to sin and death. Within these verses, Solomon will present for us again the two roads set before us. Although we can continue to discuss the benefits of wisdom, ultimately we must choose to begin obeying God, to begin walking down His path.

GROUP DISCUSSION

Read Proverbs 4:10-19 and discuss the following.

  • Which verses stood out most to you as you read Proverbs 4:10-19 this week? Why? What do these verses teach you about who God is? What do they teach you about Jesus?
  • Why does Solomon speak in past tense in verse 11? How does this encourage us to obey God’s Word? How have you practiced obedience lately?
  • Why does Solomon say that our steps will not be hampered when we follow the path of wisdom? How does obedience to God’s commands lead to true freedom? How is sin’s promise of freedom a lie?
  • What is the significance of using light and darkness in verses 18-19 to describe the two paths? Why is the path of foolishness shrouded in darkness? How does the metaphor of dawn’s light describe the Christian’s sanctification?

PERSONAL REFLECTION

Because all Scripture profits us through teaching, reproving, correcting, and training us, reflect upon the studied text, and ask yourself the following questions.

  • What has God taught you through this text (about Himself, sin, humanity, etc.)?
  • What sin has God convicted or reproved you of through this text?
  • How has God corrected you (i.e. your theology, thinking, lifestyle, etc.) through this text?
  • Pray through the text, asking God to train you toward righteousness by conforming you to His Word.

Is God Disciplining Me Through Suffering?

My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline, nor be weary of his reproof, for the LORD reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.
Proverbs 3:11-12 ESV

God loves us so much that He disciplines us.

That is not a fun statement.

It is, however, no accident that discipline and disciple come from the same root word for training or teaching. You cannot be a disciple of Christ without facing the discipline of the LORD because discipline is a means of teaching and training us to follow Jesus.

In fact, Proverbs teaches that disciplining his children is an expression of parental love, while the lack of discipline is equated with hatred.

Consider two proverbs.

Proverbs 13:24,  “Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline.”

Do we think of discipline in those terms? If a father does not discipline his children, he hates them. He does not love his children, and he is setting them up for failure later on in life.

Or Proverbs 19:18: “Discipline your son, for there is hope; do not set your heart on putting him to death.”

That’s saying that without discipline, children are heading for death (maybe not always in this life, but certainly spiritual death).

Discipline is a good thing. Hebrews 12:7-11 also quotes Proverbs 3:11-12 and then offers this commentary:

It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

Anyone who has ever exercised knows the truth presented in these verses. In the moment, the discipline of working out is painful, not pleasant. But in the long run, it produces the fruit of greater endurance for our bodies. Likewise, God’s discipline is a means of training us and growing us in the peace, righteousness, and holiness of God.

Let me make this clear, the discipline of the LORD is NOT punishment. The ultimate goal of discipline is not to punish sin but to correct the heart. Discipline takes us off the path leading to destruction and back onto the path leading to eternal life. It corrects us out of love, calling us toward repentance. Punishment is simply about satisfying justice, but discipline is about teaching, instructing, and correcting. Punishment is an act of righteousness, but discipline is an act of love, mercy, and grace.

In the Bible, there are (at least) two big forms of God’s discipline, and they both center on suffering.

First, God sometimes disciplines us by allowing us to face the consequences of our sin. Remember that we believe that Jesus’ death absorbed all the punishment for our sins; therefore, there is not one ounce of God’s wrath left for us. We have nothing but love, grace, and favor from God our Father. But at times, God allows us to feel the temporal consequences of our sin as a means of discipline. These consequences are meant to show us the sinfulness of our sin and remind us that sin leads to death.

We find God using this form of discipline on Israel in the Old Testament. Coming out of slavery in Egypt, the Israelites were meant to enter the land of Canaan and conquer it by God’s strength. Unfortunately, only two of the twelve spies sent into the land encouraged the Israelites to trust the LORD to give them the land, and the people eagerly sided with the other ten. God, therefore, caused the Israelites to wander in the wilderness for forty years until that present generation died off. God did not permit them to enter into the land of promise because they failed to trust Him. This wilderness wandering was a disciplinary act of the LORD as a consequence of their sin. In fact, at the end of the forty years, God explicitly tells them this in Deuteronomy 8:2-5:

And you shall remember the whole way that the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did you fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. Your clothing did not wear out on you and your foot did not sell these forty years. Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the LORD your God disciplines you.

The LORD allowed them to feel the consequence of their sin as discipline, not punishment. The entire point of the wilderness was to teach them trust in Him. The humility of forcing the Israelites to rely upon God for their daily provision was an act of love from the LORD.

The second form of discipline is through general sufferings, which are the natural sufferings that come with living in a broken, fallen world. In other words, these are sufferings that are not the consequences of particular sins but instead are the result of living in a world scarred by sin. Paul speaks of these sufferings in Romans 5:3-5:

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been give to us.

Why does God allow us to go through suffering?

Because suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope. And hoping in God means trusting and relying upon Him. Suffering forces us to hope only in God, to trust Him. Suffering conforms us to the image of Christ. Suffering brings into closer communion with the LORD.

All suffering, whether it is the consequence of our sin or simply the product of life, is the discipline of the LORD. For the Christian, this is good news because it allows us to rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that nothing happens to us as a punishment from God. Jesus has already absorbed every drop of punishment for our sins, satisfying the justice of the Father. Therefore, every trial and suffering that we face, even when caused by our own sin, God uses to discipline us, teaching us how to trust Him more and more.

How has God disciplined you through suffering? 

How has your suffering caused you to trust Him more?

The Blessing of Wisdom

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Blessed is the one who finds wisdom, and the one who gets understanding, for the gain from her is better than gain from silver and her profit better than gold. (Proverbs 3:13-14 ESV)

The LORD by wisdom founded the earth; by understanding he established the heavens; by his knowledge the deeps broke open, and the clouds drop down the dew. (Proverbs 3:17-18 ESV)

OPENING THOUGHT

Proverbs is generally divided into two main sections. Chapters 1-9 are the introduction, and chapters 10-31 are the actual collection of proverbs. These nine chapters continue to teach us that wisdom does not come from the proverbs themselves. Wisdom comes from God. The proverbs teach us what wisdom looks like and to turn to God. But wisdom itself only comes from the hand of God.

Let us also remember that wisdom is applied knowledge, the skill of living life well. When we talk about wisdom, it has its root in knowledge and understanding, but wisdom is primarily about living well. When you make good decisions and life goes well for you, you are living in wisdom. And true biblical wisdom is only found in knowing God.

Today we will view the blessings that wisdom has for those who find her. In these verses, wisdom is described as being better than gold, jewels, or anything else we could ever desire. This is because God built wisdom into the foundations of the earth, so that when we find wisdom, we walk away from sin and towards the LORD.

GROUP DISCUSSION

Read Proverbs 3:13-35 and discuss the following.

  • Which verses stood out most to you as you read Proverbs 3:13-35 this week? Why? What do these verses teach you about who God is?
  • Verses 13-18 describe the riches of finding wisdom. How does someone find wisdom? Why does Solomon consider wisdom to be of greater worth than gold or jewels? Do you agree? How have you been blessed by wisdom in life?
  • In verses 19-20, Solomon claims that God founded the world by wisdom. What does this mean?
  • Solomon urges us to do good to our neighbors when we are able. What does this look like practically? How does this relate to what Jesus claims are the two greatest commandments?

PERSONAL REFLECTION

Because all Scripture profits us through teaching, reproving, correcting, and training us, reflect upon the studied text, and ask yourself the following questions.

  • What has God taught you through this text (about Himself, sin, humanity, etc.)?
  • What sin has God convicted or reproved you of through this text?
  • How has God corrected you (i.e. your theology, thinking, lifestyle, etc.) through this text?
  • Pray through the text, asking God to train you toward righteousness by conforming you to His Word.

Trust in the LORD | Proverbs 3:1-12

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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. (Proverbs 3:5-6 ESV)

OPENING THOUGHT

Being a piece of the Bible’s wisdom literature, the book of Proverbs is all about wisdom. Of course, we first need to know what wisdom is before we can study a book of wisdom. Biblically, wisdom is applied knowledge that gives you the skill to navigate through life’s twists and turns well. Just as a craftsman must develop the skill of his work, so wisdom is a skill that enables us to live life well.

The single most important lesson that Proverbs teaches us about wisdom is that begins with the fear of the LORD. This type of reverential fear comes from understanding that God is God and we are not God. And while that sounds elementary, our hearts tend to believe the exact opposite. Until we realize that God knows far better than we do, we can never have true wisdom.

As we enter the third chapter of Proverbs, we are presented with six sets of commands and blessings. These commands urge us to seek wisdom and apply it to how we live our lives. The blessings that follow are abundant. They promise favor, longevity, and prosperity. Of course, we must understand that these promises are generally true in this life, but they will be fulfilled completely for all eternity.

GROUP DISCUSSION

Read Proverbs 3:1-12 and discuss the following.

  • Which verses stood out most to you as you read Proverbs 3:1-12 this week? Why? What do these verses teach you about who God is?
  • Verses 5-8 call us not to be wise in our own eyes but to trust the LORD with all our heart. Would you say that you trust the LORD with all your heart? In what areas of life do you lean on your own understanding instead? Why?
  • Solomon makes many bold claims of how we will be blessed by wisdom within these verses. Are these blessings guaranteed? Do these verses teach a prosperity gospel?
  • The author ends this section by discussing the importance of the LORD’s discipline. Why is the discipline of the LORD good for us? What might His discipline look like? What are examples of God’s discipline from your own life, and what did it teach you?

PERSONAL REFLECTION

Because all Scripture profits us through teaching, reproving, correcting, and training us, reflect upon the studied text, and ask yourself the following questions.

  • What has God taught you through this text (about Himself, sin, humanity, etc.)?
  • What sin has God convicted or reproved you of through this text?
  • How has God corrected you (i.e. your theology, thinking, lifestyle, etc.) through this text?
  • Pray through the text, asking God to train you toward righteousness by conforming you to His Word.

Is Skipping Church Sin?

Although I once gave little thought to church attendance, I now lean toward viewing serial church skipping as a sin against the congregation.

If that sounds a little harsh, here are my reasons why.

Consider for a moment secular organizations.

No one is ever considered a part of a basketball team without having to commit to practice times.

You will promptly get kicked out of a theater production if you only attend every other practice.

Employees are fired from organizations when they fail to come to their job.

Of course, the church is not merely an organization, social club, or team, but that’s also precisely the point.

Too often, we readily accept the necessary commit for worldly matters of lesser importance, while shirking commitment to the things of God, namely being His church.

As a member of Christ’s body, your fellow members expect your commitment to the church; in fact, they need it.

WHY WE MEET TOGETHER

Attending church is not simply for your benefit; it is also so that others can benefit from you. Hebrews 10:24-25 says it like this:

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

Meeting together grants us the opportunity to love and encourage others, while also being loved and encouraged by them. We cannot complete our walk with Christ without this encouragement. Hebrews 3:12-14 emphasizes the importance of encouraging one another (particularly to continuous repentance):

Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.

Notice that the author of Hebrews purposely connects encouraging one another to finishing our lives in faith. The solution for an evil, unbelieving heart is the exhortation  and encouragement of one another in Christ. We need our brothers and sisters to help expose for us the deceitfulness of sin.

Therefore, a Christian without a community is an unbiblical concept. Repeatedly God’s Word reminds us that we need each other in order to finish our race.

Because of this, neglecting to meet together as Jesus’ body is a sin against our brothers and sisters because we rob them of our encouragement and exhortations, as well as our gifts, talents, and abilities.

Of course, everything ultimately hinges upon the heart. Certainly, physical attendance is not required in the case of those who lack the ability to leave their home, and the church should strive to meet with them regularly where they are. Vacations, visits to family, and other such things are also a normal aspect of life.

We cannot be legalists about how frequent attendance ought to be, but we must also refuse to compromise on what the Bible clearly commands. Both extremes are equally damaging to the church.

EVALUATING THE HEART

Since the heart is what truly matters, take time to prayerfully answer these questions, considering and evaluating how you view gathering together as Christ’s church.

How many times did you miss church over the past three months? What were your reasons for missing those Sundays?

Sometimes we simply do not take the time to consider how often we might be missing church. Reflecting upon our number of absences may help reveal any unhealthy patterns.

Do you regularly attend church? What is regular attendance for you? Would your fellow members agree with your definition?

Do you delight in meeting together with your brothers and sisters, or is going to church more of an obligation?

Here is the BIG question to ask because this gets to the root of the matter. We can attend church every week, but still fail to biblically meet together. If church is not a time of revitalization and encouragement, then we likely have an incorrect view of the church.

How would attending church during vacation make you feel? Why?

Like the previous question, this one hits the heart of the issue. Reluctance to attend church on vacation probably indicates that we view church as life-draining, not life-giving.

What would you consider valid reasons for missing church? Why?

Everyone has a line in the sand on this issue. Where is yours? Is hospitalization the only thing that keeps you away? Is catching up on laundry a sufficient reason for not meeting together? What about sporting events? Extra-curricular activities of our children? Exhaustion?

CONCLUSION

My heart with this post is not stamp SIN on everyone’s head; instead, I want encourage deep self-evaluation (and if necessary, repentance) on this topic.

As a pastor, I am almost never absent on Sunday mornings, but the battle between delight and obligation is always raging. It is far too easy to view the worship and sermon as “work” rather than being soul-feeding fellowship with my brothers and sisters in Christ. Viewing church as a restful activity is often difficult, but it is restful. Jesus commands us to come to Him for true rest (Matthew 10:28), and we know that Jesus is found in the presence of His people (Matthew 18:20).

Gathered together, Jesus ministers to us through our church family.

We desperately need each other.

Do you believe that?

The Value of Wisdom | Proverbs 2

SUGGESTED VERSES FOR MEMORIZATION & MEDITATION

My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you, making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding; yes, if you call our for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God. (Proverbs 2:1-5 ESV)

OPENING THOUGHT

Primarily written by King David’s son, Solomon, the book of Proverbs is a unique one in the Bible. Most known for his wisdom, Solomon became wise through a supernatural blessing from the LORD. It should be no surprise then that Solomon is the primary author of this book of wisdom.

Thus far, we have studied the first chapter, which very nicely sets the stage for the remainder of the book. There are two big thoughts that we need to keep in mind going forward. First, we should also keep in mind the thesis of the book: the fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge and wisdom. Second, remember to pay attention for the main literary devices of these first nine chapter: paternal speeches (where Solomon speak to us like a father teaching his son) and Lady Wisdom’s poems (in which wisdom is personified as a woman speaking to us).

After hearing the first cry of Lady Wisdom, we arrive now at the second paternal speech in Proverbs. In many ways, Solomon repeats here Lady Wisdom’s plea for us to embrace her and become wise. The primary structure of this chapter involves if-then statements, wherein Solomon lists the blessings that will befall us if we seek after wisdom with our whole heart.

GROUP DISCUSSION

Read chapter 2 and discuss the following.

  • Which verses stood out most to you as you read Proverbs 2 this week? Why? What do these verses teach you about who God is?
  • The first four verses encourage us to listen to, ask for, and seek after wisdom. Do you do that? Where should we listen to and seek after wisdom? How often do you ask for wisdom?
  • God uses wisdom to guard us against the consequences of sin. How does wisdom help us to defeat our sin? Why does Solomon mention the sin of adultery specifically?
  • This chapter promises many blessings for those who follow wisdom. How can these promises be true when many Christians suffer greatly?

PERSONAL REFLECTION

Because all Scripture profits us through teaching, reproving, correcting, and training us, reflect upon the studied text, and ask yourself the following questions.

  • What has God taught you through this text (about Himself, sin, humanity, etc.)?
  • What sin has God convicted or reproved you of through this text?
  • How has God corrected you (i.e. your theology, thinking, lifestyle, etc.) through this text?
  • Pray through the text, asking God to train you toward righteousness by conforming you to His Word.