Biblical Wisdom

Guarding Against Sexual Immorality | Proverbs 6:7-23

And now, O sons, listen to me,
and do not depart from the words of my mouth.
Keep your way far from her,
and do not go near the door of her house,
lest you give your honor to others
and your years to the merciless,
lest strangers take their fill of your strength,
and your labors go to the house of a foreigner,
and at the end of your life you groan,
when your flesh and body are consumed,
and you say, “How I hated discipline,
and my heart despised reproof!
I did not listen to the voice of my teachers
or incline my ear to my instructors.
I am at the brink of utter ruin
in the assembled congregation.”

Drink water from your own cistern,
flowing water from your own well.
Should your springs be scattered abroad,
streams of water in the streets?
Let them be for yourself alone,
and not for strangers with you.
Let your fountain be blessed,
and rejoice in the wife of your youth,
a lovely deer, a graceful doe.
Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight;
be intoxicated always in her love.
Why should you be intoxicated, my son, with a forbidden woman
and embrace the bosom of an adulteress?
For a man’s ways are before the eyes of the Lord,
and he ponders all his paths.
The iniquities of the wicked ensnare him,
and he is held fast in the cords of his sin.
He dies for lack of discipline,
and because of his great folly he is led astray.

Proverbs 6:7-23 ESV

 

Although only nine chapters long, Solomon spends nearly three chapters of Proverbs’ introduction devoted to the subject of sexual immorality. Even if the topic is not popular in many churches, the ancient king obviously saw a serious need for such discussions, and our era is no different. Personified as the Adulteress (or Forbidden Woman), Solomon warns us against falling into the trap of sexual sin, and within these verses, he provides important insight on how we must guard ourselves against it.

A WASTED LIFE // VERSES 7-14

Continuing on from his introduction of the Forbidden Woman, Solomon now makes it clear that he is writing to all of his readers by addressing us as “sons” and warning us not to depart from his words. As the author is prone to do, the following verse (v. 8) immediately shifts to his primary warning, which for this text is to keep away from the Adulteress. The plea to not even go near the door of her house emphasizes the danger that is found with her.

Verses 9-14 give a twofold reasoning for steering clear of the Forbidden Woman, but they build upon one another for greater emphasis. Verse 9 presents the first reason as being the loss of honor and years to other people who are merciless. Verse 10 continues this construction by claiming that strength and labors will be taken by the strangers and foreigners. Both of these verses describe the defining characteristics of masculinity (i.e. strength, labor, honor) being stripped away and given to others. The principle is clear. Although sexual conquest is often viewed as a masculine endeavor, Solomon declares it to be the exact opposite. Sexual immorality steals masculinity from a man.

Of course, let us also remember that Solomon is poetically speaking to all of us as sons here, which means that this warning is not merely for men. The woman is just as much in danger of falling for the Adulterer as a man is to the Adulteress. Last week, we saw that 40 million Americans regularly view pornography, and one-third of those are women. And that is not even mentioning the prevalence of pornographic “romance” novels, television, and movies. Indeed, just as the Adulteress robs a man of his masculinity, so the Adulterer steals a woman of her femininity.

Now there is some question as to who is doing the stealing here. Solomon certainly keeps the language poetically ambiguous, so we should take care not to speak too decisively. A common interpretation is that the Israelite king is warning specifically against the Adulteress’ husband in these verses, since her husband had the right to have the two caught in adultery put to death (Leviticus 20:10). While this is certainly true, because the Adulteress is a personification of all sexual sin, we need not stop there. The word for strangers in verse 10 is the same word used for the Forbidden Woman back in verse 3. We could, therefore, interpret these verses as a man’s strength, honor, years, and labors being given to sin itself. This certainly fits with the New Testament’s teaching that we were slaves to sin before Christ (Romans 6:16-18). Sin, especially sexual sin, has present and physical consequences (i.e. disease, shame, death, etc.), but it also bears eternal consequences. To embark upon a journey into sexual immorality is to venture toward death.

Verses 11-14 provide us with a life’s end lament from the man caught by the Adulteress. The primary cry here is the lament over how is heart hated discipline and despise reproof. Verse 13 reminds us that this man was taught and given warnings about sin’s consequences. He was not ignorant, just willfully negligent. Verse 14 describes the horror of being upon the precipice of complete disgrace before everyone.

I find it interesting that the lament comes at the end of the man’s life. He is looking back at his lack of discipline and mourning over his wasted life. Such is the way of sin. Sexual sin, like all sin, promises life but drains vitality instead. Using pornography as the obvious application again, it is interesting how even some secular people are beginning to see this correlation. In many online forums, you can read of non-Christians refusing to look at pornography because they find it robbing them of their enjoyment of actual sex, happiness, and emotions. In short, time given to sin is time wasted, and because time is in short supply, we will look back our time spent in sin with lamentation.

THE WIFE OF YOUR YOUTH // VERSES 15-19

I find it interesting that most of Solomon’s warnings in Proverbs seem to be regarding what not to do, but here he presents a clear command for what we should do. Verses 15-17 present us with an interesting metaphor of springs issuing forth from one’s cistern or well, and he warns that we must not allow strangers (there’s that word again) to partake in them. We should not let our drinking water run into the streets as if it were some common thing (let us remember, after all, that clean water was not a guaranteed grace for much of the ancient world).

What is the meaning of this metaphor? Verses 18-19 explain it plainly: the blessed fountain is the wife of your youth (again, women should apply it as the husband of your youth). Note the tremendous difference between verses 15-17 and verse 18. The wife is called a blessed fountain. Recall from earlier studies that in the Bible being blessed means having the unconditional favor of God. This means that blessed things are also holy things, meaning they have been set apart and are no longer common. What God calls blessed is incapable of ever being ordinary, even if it is treated as such. And God calls a man’s wife his blessed fountain. God-follower or not, a spouse is special grace of the LORD. God designed marriage; therefore, the institution is one of blessing. And to open this union to others (as seen in verses 15-17) is a trampling upon what God has blessed.

How then do we treat our marriage with honor (Hebrews 13:4) as the blessing that it is? Be delighted in your spouse. For centuries, some theologians have argued that Song of Songs is pure allegory in an attempt to keep sex as purely for procreation. The heart that must have been behind this originally is easy to see. With so many deviant forms of sexual behavior, it is easy simply to forbid sex for anything other than baby-making. Yet this is a legalistic contradiction of the Bible’s teaching. Even if Song of Songs is purely allegorical, the context of verse 19 here is certainly not. Solomon is explicitly stating that guard ourselves from sexual immorality by delighting in God-glorifying sex.

The language here is only intensified by the word intoxicated in verse 19. It is often translated as going astray (see verse 23), but also gives the connotation of swaying in a drunken stupor. Thus, intoxicated is a fitting translation. The command is to always be drunk on the love of your spouse. Take physical delight in your spouse. As we discussed last week, forbidden sex is sweet as honey for the moment. No one denies that sin is fun. If it were not pleasurable, no one would fall into it. But here Solomon gives us the marvelous strategy of fight pleasure with greater pleasure.

Too often, we think of killing sin as killing our enjoyment of life, but in reality, we are meant to kill sin by embracing true enjoyment. For married people, this finds an immediate application in your spouse. After all, Paul commands spouses: “Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control” (1 Corinthians 7:5). At her bachelorette party, my wife received advice from a married woman a few years older than her that sex should be used to get a husband to do whatever you want him to do. This is sinful advice that flies against Paul’s words. Sex is not meant to be arbitrarily withheld from your spouse; instead, marital sex should be a reservoir of great delight for both husband and wife. When this is true, the joy of godly sex will guard the heart against sexual immorality.

Of course, there is at least one question more that should be discussed of these verses: do they have any application for those who are not married? It is fine to say that having delightful sex with your husband or wife is a means of fighting sin, but it also does little good if you are not married. Fortunately, the principle behind these verses still stands true. The battle against sin is still a battle for pleasure, joy, and satisfaction, but for those who are single, godly sex does not factor in until marriage. In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul speaks of those not married as having “undivided devotion to the Lord” (v. 35) and that they are “anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord” (v. 32). Therefore, they fight the pull of sexual sin by rejoicing in God. Both married and singles ultimately combat sin by treasuring Christ. Those who are married only have the added benefit of being able to practice godly sex.

A LACK OF DISCIPLINE // VERSES 20-23

Verse 20 provides the contrast of verse 19. The command to be intoxicated with your wife and find delight in her breasts is now turned inversely upon the Adulteress: why should you be intoxicated with her? Why would you embrace the bosom of the Forbidden Woman instead of delighting in the breasts of your own wife? The final three verses seek to remind us of the foolishness of embracing sexual immorality.

First, verse 21 reminds us that our ways are never hidden from the LORD. But our ways are not merely known to God, He ponders them. It is easy to acknowledge that God, in His omniscience, knows my sin, but we rarely believe that God is actually interest in it. I mean, why would the God of the universe bother to pay attention to me? Omniscience, combined with omnipotence and omnipresence, means that the God Who stands sovereign over all creation gives special care and thought to you. In fact, He ponders your life far more than you ever could. This remembrance that God not only sees but thinks deeply about us should give us incentive to fight sin.

Second, verse 22 informs us that sin is a snare and a trap. We think that exercise in sin is an exercise in true freedom, but Paul tells us that when we sin, we are only free from righteousness (Romans 6:20). Sin enslaves and ultimately kills.

Romans 6:20-23 | For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Third, verse 23 states that a lack of discipline kills. Discipline is not pleasant (Hebrews 12:10). As humans, we naturally rebel against discipline. Many want to lose weight, but few endure the discipline of exercising and eating carefully. Many want to play a musical instrument, but few are willing to put the necessary hours of discipline to do so. Paul Washer often tells the story of a young man listening to legendary trumpet player and afterward said that he would give his life to play like the man. The man replied that he did give his life to play like that. Discipline requires the denial of momentary pleasure in favor of greater pleasure in the future. Sin, however, is the embrace of momentary pleasure at the cost of greater pleasure later. This is how sin kills: by feeding our need for instant gratification.

A CASE STUDY: THE LIFE OF SOLOMON

Perhaps you are reading this and are wondering what gives Solomon the right to write these words. Did he not have 700 wives and 300 concubines? In fact, we should let the Bible tells what happened to Solomon:

1 Kings 11:1-8 | Now King Solomon loved many foreign women, along with the daughter of Pharaoh: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women, from the nations concerning which the LORD had said to the people of Israel, “You shall not enter into marriage with them, neither shall they with you, for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods.” Solomon clung to these in love. He had 700 wives, who were princesses, and 300 concubines. And his wives turned away his heart. For when Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the LORD his God, as was the heart of David his father. For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. So Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the LORD and did not wholly follow the LORD, as David his father had done. Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Molech the abomination of the Ammonites, on the mountain east of Jerusalem. And so he did for all his foreign wives, who made offerings and sacrificed to their gods.

This was the man who was divinely gifted with wisdom. This was the man who had the King David as his father, a man after God’s own heart (Act 13:22). Solomon wrote the book on biblical wisdom! How could he, of all people, fall away from the LORD because of sexual immorality!

First, let us remember that wisdom is not a permanent gift. Like manna, God-given wisdom does not last through the night. We awake each morning fools in desperate need of God’s gracious and loving wisdom. Luckily, the LORD is faithful to answer such prayers (James 1:5).

Second, the collapse of Solomon into sexual sin and away from his faith in God stands as a warning to us. If the author of this text was not himself exempt from them, neither are we. 1 Corinthians 10:12 cautions us: “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” A presumption that sin is harmless almost always leads to harm. A refusal to take a rattlesnake seriously will almost always end in a bite. Solomon is a great warning that no one is entirely safe from the grasp of sexual immorality in this life.

Third, Solomon’s fall into sin and away from God does render his Scriptural writings invalid. Truth remains true regardless of whether the person speaking it believes it or not. This is why Paul was able to rejoice in the preaching of the gospel, even when he knew that it was preached out of selfish ambition (Philippians 1:15-18). If anything, Solomon’s sway off the path of wisdom lends even more weight to his words. The necessity to continuously seek wisdom is accented by Solomon’s descent into foolishness. Solomon’s appeal to fight sexual immorality by being intoxicated in your own wife is doubly emphasized by the king’s failure to do so and the consequences that it brought him.

Fourth, our hope is in Jesus, not Solomon. Our only hope of escaping sin (and healing its wounds) is in the One Who is greater than Solomon. King Solomon’s wisdom was so great that a great queen came from afar to listen to his teachings. Using this account, Jesus said this about Himself: “The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here” (Matthew 12:42). Even with all his wisdom, Solomon was a type and shadow of Jesus and His wisdom. We, therefore, look to Jesus even in the midst of our sin.

1 Corinthians 10:13 promises that “no temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” Even as we read these warnings against sin, we must always remember that our is solely in the faithfulness of God. He is faithful even when we are not. He forever upholds His covenant with us, even when we break it against Him. Praise be to God that He is forever faithful to His Bride, even when we give our hearts, time, and bodies to lesser things.

This is the great truth of the gospel. We are faithless, but He is faithful. We sin and, therefore, deserve the just wrath of God, but Jesus took every bit of the Father’s wrath upon Himself in our place. We would do well to remember that Christ did not merely die for “small” sins (as if those really existed); rather, He died for ALL sin. He even said so Himself: “Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemes they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin” (Mark 3:28-29). All sin is included under that canopy of forgiveness except for blaspheme of the Holy Spirit, which John Piper describes as follows in an episode of Ask Pastor John titled What Is the Unforgiveable Sin?:

The unforgiveable sin is when you have resisted him so decisively that he has forsaken you and you can no longer repent. You try to repent and you can’t repent. You can’t be genuinely sorry for your sin or turn away from it. That is a horribly frightening situation to be in. But any listener who is now broken-hearted for his sin and does not despise Christ can be forgiven for every sin, no matter what he might have said to the Holy Spirit or however long he might have resisted Him. He can be forgiven, because the Bible holds out that promise for him. Whoever believes will be saved (John 3:16; Romans 10:13). It’s the inability to repent and believe which marks one as having gone over the line.

Tradition says that Solomon repented toward the end of his life and wrote the book of Ecclesiastes. We will not know the truth of this tradition until we enter eternal life with the LORD, but I pray that it is. There is certainly more than enough grace in the cross of Christ to cover the sex-driven idolatry of Solomon. Likewise, the grace of God in Christ is sufficient for all your sins. Embrace Him in repentance today; we are not guaranteed the ability to do so tomorrow.

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Discipline Is More Than the Rod

In Ephesians 6:4, the Apostle Paul commands fathers to raise their children in the discipline and instruction of the LORD.

Correct them.

Teach them.

What’s so hard about that?

Proverbs, particularly and repeatedly, reminds us of the corrective role in parenthood through the rod. “Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him” (10:24). “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him” (22:15). “Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you strike him with a rod, he will not die. If you strike him with the rod, you will save his soul from Sheol” (23:13-14). “The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother” (29:15).

The Bible clearly affirms and promotes the “rod” as a means of disciplining children. With my daughter, I now also see the practical benefit of a quick and physical response to disobedience. It provides a sharp reprimand of behavior, which I then follow by reemphasizing why that behavior is not permitted and with an assurance of my deep love for her. And life moves on. She is often playing full-force again within the next few seconds.

The rod of discipline is a prod to keep children from veering off the appropriate path, and as such, it is an essential component of discipline, which even the LORD does not withhold from us. Yet discipline is so much more than the rod.

While conversing about discipline in adulthood, people rarely consider physical correction; instead, they think of things like waking up or going to bed early, training and practicing a skill, exercising, and exerting self-control. We rightfully consider discipline to be how we shape ourselves, little by little, into the molds of who we would like to be in the future. Discipline means actively cultivating our lives into how we desire to live them. Sometimes physical correction plays a role. For example, if I want to continue losing weight but I also want to eat desserts, I’ll need a significant amount of exercise in order to maintain a caloric deficit. Yet in general, I gradually come to realize that limiting desserts and regularly doing moderate exercise is the easiest path to shedding the extra pounds. As a whole, being disciplined is nothing less than how we are choosing to live our lives.

Why is it then that we often have such a narrowed lens for understanding how we discipline our children? Of course, with young children physical correction has a prominent place, especially as they repeatedly push against and thereby discover what constitutes socially appropriate behavior. Yet the role of parents in childrearing is to discipline and instruct in the LORD’s ways, to show and guide them in the path of wisdom, which has its beginning in fearing God. By strength and grace of the Spirit, we are called to shape and mold their lives into a biblical pattern, a Christ-glorifying cruciform design.

This means so much more than simply having well-behaved children; we should want well-disciplined and well-instructed children after God’s commands. God’s commands, of course, is the key phrase. Far be it from us to only desire miniature clones of ourselves! Rather, our aim must be to equip them for living as God designed and intended, to be a disciple of Jesus. After all, parenting is a long-term act of discipleship.

And just as Christ demands every facet of our lives, may we discipline and instruct our children in every facet of their lives as well. Let us be faithful to correct them away from fits of behavior that are not loving to their neighbors. Let us be faithful to instruct them well in the basics of the faith. Let us be faithful to show them by example how the spiritual disciplines grow our love and obedience to the LORD. Let us be faithful to teach them how to steward the gifts that God has given them: their bodies, their time, their finances. Let us show them by our everyday interactions the love, grace, consistency, discipline, and gentleness of God through how loving, gracious, consistent, disciplined, and gentle we are with them.

If this all sounds overwhelming, it is. The biblical demand upon parents goes beyond safekeeping our children. We must raise them in the discipline and instruction of the LORD, which demands our constant intentional effort. Of course, even our greatest efforts will be found wanting, but thankfully we can trust that God’s grace will more than work in spite of, and even through, our weaknesses and failures. But grace isn’t an excuse for us to stop applying our effort; instead, grace provides us with the confidence of knowing that we are simply called to faithful, while God Himself will provide the fruit.

Disciplining our children requires much more than the rod; it requires the outpouring of ourselves. May we gladly follow Christ’s example in this, since He did far more for us.

Biblical Wisdom

The Cost of Adultery | Proverbs 6:20-35

SUGGESTED VERSES FOR MEMORIZATION & MEDITATION

For the commandment is a lamp and the teaching a light, and the reproofs of discipline are the way of life, to preserve you from the evil woman, from the smooth tongue of the adulteress. (Proverbs 6:23-24 ESV)

FURTHER READINGS

http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/i-would-rather-die

http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/husband-lift-up-your-eyes

http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/will-you-cleave-and-leave-your-man

OPENING THOUGHT

Wisdom is the skill of living life well. Since our world is broken by sin, we know that trials and suffering are unavoidable, but with wisdom, we can navigate difficult situations well and, if possible, even avoid unnecessary pain and suffering. Obviously, possessing this wisdom is extremely beneficial, which is why the Bible has an entire section of books devoted to it. One of these books, and our text of study, is the book of Proverbs.

Although most people think of Proverbs as being little more than a collection of proverbs, this collection actually begins with a nine-chapter introduction to the concept of wisdom. For this series, we are focusing upon these chapters. The most important thing to remember before continuing on is that wisdom is found in God; thus, to get wisdom, we must submit to God and His ways fully.

For the first half of chapter six, Solomon took a break from warning against sexual immorality to focus on three other sins, but now he returns to his pleas against the Adulteress, who is the poetic representation of all sexual sin. Here we find the ancient king warning us of the great cost that sexual immorality exacts upon its victims and learn to seek refuge in God’s Word.

GROUP DISCUSSION

Read Proverbs 6:20-35 and discuss the following.

  • Which verses stood out most to you as you read Proverbs 6:20-35 this week? Why? What do these verses teach you about who God is? What do they teach you about Jesus?
  • Why does Solomon begin by discussing the importance of the Scriptures? Why does Solomon continue to allude to Deuteronomy 6:4-9? What benefits does he describe for those who hold fast to the Bible?
  • What is the primary command of this section of verses? What reasons does Solomon give for avoiding sexual immorality? How are sin’s consequences self-inflicted wounds?
  • Why is verse 24 so frightening? What hope do we have as sinners against the holy God? How do the Scriptures preserve us from evil? In what ways are you daily saturating yourself in God’s Word and in the truth of the gospel?

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?

Biblical Wisdom

Trust in the LORD | Proverbs 3:1-12

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.

Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you;
bind them around your neck;
write them on the tablet of your heart.
So you will find favor and good success
in the sight of God and man.

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.
Be not wise in your own eyes;
fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.
It will be healing to your flesh
and refreshment to your bones. 

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.

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. 

Proverbs 3:1-12 ESV

 

We are now in week five of our study through the first nine chapters of Proverbs, and as I’ve said, Proverbs is generally divided into two main sections. Chapters 1-9 are the introduction, and chapters 10-31 are the actual collection of proverbs. So almost one-third of the book is spent giving us a proper introduction to prepare us for reading the actual proverbs. If the book spends so much time introducing us to wisdom, then it probably means that we should pay careful attention.

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.

In fact, Proverbs teaches that there are only two kinds of people in the world: the wise and the fools. Each of us are simple-minded who will, given the right circumstances, fall into either category. We will either be wise or foolish. The Bible defines the fool as saying in his heart that there is no God, but wisdom begins by fearing God. Therefore, we need God to give us wisdom.

Here is a quick word about how these twelve verses are structured. There are six pairings of thoughts. The first verse will give us a command to follow, and it will be followed by a blessing that comes from obeying that command. This general structure will be guiding our study.

PEACE & LONGEVITY // VERSES 1-2

The first command: “My son, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments.” Notice that he is essentially saying the same thing, once positively and once negatively. “Do not forget” “but let your heart keep”.

Now comes the blessing: “for length of days and years and peace they will be added to you.” Well that’s an interesting promise. If we remember the commandments of the LORD, He is promising us peace and longevity. Is that true? Yes, in a general sense. Wisdom after all is about making wise decisions. Thus, living in a wise, godly manner will generally lead to us having a longer life. If I have the wisdom to understand that riding my bicycle off the roof, my life is more likely to continue on further (and with less pain). Foolishness often leads to premature deaths. How tragic to read about people dying from drinking and driving! They are killed because of foolishness. They set themselves up for having their lives cut short. Thus, if we do abide in wisdom, generally our lives will be longer than if we make foolish decisions. Sadly, there was a young college-age missionary who was recently taken to ICU after his car getting totaled by a tornado. He was about to lead a team to fulfill the Great Commission but was hospitalized instead. Unfortunately, the world is broken by sin, so pain and suffering still happen. But ultimately, this will be complete in its final form in heaven. If we live in the wisdom and fear of God, we will have eternal life with the LORD.

THE TABLET OF YOUR HEART // VERSES 3-4

The second command: “Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you, bind them around your neck and write them on the tablet of your heart.” These two words, steadfast love and faithfulness, are covenant words used throughout the Old Testament. Steadfast love is essentially the Hebrew equivalent of agape in Greek. It is not a passionate, feeling, or infatuated love; instead, it is based upon commitment. It is a love that declares, “I will love you. Period.” But this love is often paired with faithfulness, which is interesting because together they form a redundancy. Faithfulness is a crucial aspect of steadfast love. Faithfulness is what makes steadfast love steadfast. God is doubly emphasizing to us that His love for us knows no end. His love will not run dry, and it will not go away when our actions rebel against it.

Not only are those covenant words, but the commands also allude to the Mosaic Covenant. Binding them around your neck alludes back to the Shema of Deuteronomy 6:4-9. We have already discussed this in week two, so I won’t dive into it again here. Writing it on the tablet of your heart is a callback to the tablet of the ten commandments. Just as the ten commandments were written on tablets of stone, take God’s steadfast love and faithfulness and write them upon the tablet of your heart. Interestingly, many centuries later, the prophet Jeremiah would use this same imagery to describe the New Covenant that God would establish with His people.

The blessing that comes from obeying this command is favor and good repute with both God and man. Favor is the Old Testament equivalent of grace in the New Testament. Good success could also be translated as a good reputation. Thus, if we stick to the love and faithfulness of God, we will find favor and good repute with God and men.

FEARING GOD // VERSES 5-6

The third command: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart. Do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make straight your paths.” This is, I believe, one of the most popular verses in the Bible, and rightfully so. Proverbs 1:7 is the thesis of Proverbs, but these verses are the heart of the book. In fact, I would argue that these verses describe what it means to fear the LORD.

Let us begin with the blessing first. What does it mean to have a paths made straight? We’ve seen that Proverbs continues to use the imagery of life having two paths: one leads to wisdom and God, while the other leads to death and foolishness. Jesus takes this imagery and applies them in the Sermon on the Mount. He states that the wise path is difficult with a narrow gate, but it leads to eternal life. The foolish path, however, is a easy road with a broad gate that leads to death and destruction. Few will find the narrow gate, but many will find the broad gate. The straight path here in Proverbs means that God will keep us on the wise road with the narrow gate. The reward of following these commands is that God will keep us on the difficult path that leads to eternal life. That is tremendous blessing, especially when Jesus tells us that only a few will find the narrow gate!

First, we must trust in the LORD with all our heart. Notice that if we have God’s steadfast love and faithfulness bound around our necks and written on the tablet of our hearts, it becomes a little easier to trust Him. When we have His Word, promises, and faithfulness deeply engrained within us, it becomes easier to trust God. Also notice that the command is not to trust in the LORD with all your spirituality. It is not to trust in the LORD with all your religion. Nor is it trust in the LORD with all of your Sunday (and maybe Wednesday night). No, trust in the LORD with ALL your heart. This means that every aspect of your life is submissive to Him. We trust Him with our children. We trust Him with our careers. We trust Him with our recreation and free time.

Trusting the LORD means that we will not rely on our own understanding. We will know that His ways are higher than our own, that He knows better than us. We must have a refusal to be self-reliant. This is difficult though because we love the idea of the self-made man, the hero who pulls himself out of the mire by his own bootstraps. We love this idea because we love giving glory to lesser gods. And the only thing we love more than glorifying false gods is being one of those gods. But the wise God-fearer knows the limit and fallibility of his own understanding; therefore, he trusts God.

But we cannot simply trust Him and not ourselves, we must also acknowledge Him. Too many believers have the idea of preaching the gospel at all times and using words when necessary. Unfortunately, that typically means that we try to live good, moral lives and hope that we never have to actually share the gospel because that gets really uncomfortable. Acknowledging means verbally declaring that everything we do is for the glory of God. It means being like Paul who said that he would boast in nothing except for the cross of Christ. Whoa, Paul. What about when I get a promotion, don’t I get to boast in my hard work and success? No, boast only in the cross of Christ. Does your zeal and passion for the glory of God come out of your mouth?

WISE IN YOUR OWN EYES // VERSES 7-8

“Be not wise in your own eyes, fear the LORD, turn away from evil, it will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones.” In essence, verse 7 is restating what we saw in verses 5-6. When we do not trust the LORD, rely upon our own understanding, and fail to acknowledge Him, we are being wise in our own eyes. We are not fearing the LORD; instead, we are fearing ourselves. We turn ourselves into gods. We delight in evil instead of turning from it. But if we refuse to be wise in our own eyes, if we fear the LORD, and if we turn away from evil, it will heal and refresh our bodies.

One of the most difficult concepts for me to believe is that God’s way is more restful than sin. Often we look at the Bible and see command after command. But Jesus says, “Come to me all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” That is difficult for me to believe. I would rather go anywhere else for rest. Netflix, YouTube, etc. But Jesus says, “Come to me.” When the commands of God are etched upon our hearts, they are not burdens but joys. We understand that God is loving Father who longs for us to live as we were designed to live. Following after God is healing, refreshment, and rest. Do we believe that?

WISDOM & PROSPERITY // VERSES 9-10

“Honor the LORD with your wealth, and with the firstfruits of all your produce. Then your barns will be filled with plenty and your vast bursting with wine.” What does it look like to honor the LORD with your wealth? He clarifies with the second phrase: giving Him our first fruits. This meant that the first of any crop was given to God as an offering of thanksgiving. The heart of this is not God taking our stuff; rather, God gave us our wealth. Especially when considering farming, we remember that farmers can plant and water, but God must cause the seed to grow. God gave the growth of seeds. Therefore, produce came from the hand of God. Likewise, the LORD grants us everything that we have. Our ability to work and jobs come directly from the grace of God. Everything we have is blessing from God. Therefore, what we give to the LORD is out of thanksgiving for His grace. Do we thank the LORD for all the money in our bank accounts?

This generosity leads then to prosperity. But is God promising prosperity here? Yes, just maybe not now. Do you believe that God has truly promised to bless you as His child, if only in the eternity to come?

THE DISCIPLINE OF THE LORD // VERSES 11-12

Command number six: “My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline or be weary of this reproach, for the LORD reproves Him who He loves as a father the son in whom he delights.”

God loves us so much that He is willing to discipline us.

That’s not a fun statement. Can we go back two verses and hear about prosperity again? 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, of training us to follow Jesus. In fact, Proverbs does teach that a father should delight in disciplining his children.

Listen to just 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 these two verses 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.

In the Bible, there are two big forms of God’s discipline. First, God sometimes allows us to face the consequences of our sin. Take note that we believe 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. We believe that. But at times, God allows us to feel the temporal consequences of our sin in order to impact and affect us as a means of discipline. These consequences are meant to show us the truth of our sin and what it costs.

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 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 (Deuteronomy 8:2-5), God explicitly tells them so:

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 sin scarring the world. 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, meaning it causes us to trust and rely upon the LORD. Suffering forces us to hope only in God, to trust Him. Suffering conforms us to the image of Christ.

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 our sin caused it, God uses to discipline us, teaching us how to trust Him more and more.

But we must also make one more point of observation here. Notice that God disciplines as a father disciplines his son. Here God is like a father, but He is not a father. This kind of language is true of the Old Testament where viewing the LORD as our father would be unthinkable. But Jesus does the unthinkable, He tells us to pray to God as our Father. Jesus takes the father-son analogy away from being a figure of speech and into reality.

JESUS‘ PERFECT OBEDIENCE

It is good news that God is our Father because although we have seen six commands here and the blessings that flow from obeying them, we are incapable of upholding them. We know that we must trust the LORD, but we fail to do it each day. We repeatedly rely upon our own understanding. We constantly use our wealth for selfish gain instead of honoring the LORD. We often despise God’s discipline. We regularly delight in sin rather than turning from evil. This is a problem. If we cannot obey the commands, we cannot reap the blessings that follow. In our disobedience, we constantly veer off the straight and narrow path.

Fortunately, our blessing is not dependent upon our own obedience but upon the faithful work and obedience of Another. Jesus is the only human to ever perfectly embody the commands listed in these verses; therefore, He is only one deserving of the blessings as well. But the good news of the gospel is that Jesus took the penalty of our disobedience upon Himself and graciously gave us the blessings of His obedience instead. The Christian, therefore, has claim to each blessing in these verses, not because of his or her obedience, but because of the gracious imputation of Jesus’ righteousness.

I Quit the Internet

As far as 2016 is concerned, the internet and I are taking a break from one another.

Allow me to explain further.

I don’t have an irrational fear or hatred of the internet; in fact, quite the opposite, I unintentionally devote copious amounts of time to digital halls of seemingly endless information. So I am certainly not attempting to become Amish or anything like that.

To be honest, there is a fairly significant caveat to my virtual monkish seclusion. I still have on my iPhone numerous apps that are useless without an internet connection. Likewise, the internet is essential for a few programs on my office computer. And if you are taking the time to read this, obviously I took some length of time to post it online. Quitting the internet might, then, be slightly hyperbolic of me to say.

But my intention, nevertheless, is to do just that. Except for my ESV, Logos, Podcast, and SermonAudio apps, my phone is now restricted to being essentially a dumb phone. It calls and sends texts, and I can read or listen to books from it. Gone are games and browsers that have consumed more time than I care to admit, and I’ve banished Netflix and YouTube to join them behind an ever secure passcode, created and known only to my wife. She alone holds this key, and in the event that my willpower breaks down, she will faithfully remind me that fail videos will still exist in 2017.

Joking slightly aside, I don’t write any of this to point out how disciplined or pious I am. Really, it’s the exact opposite. Though I don’t think that my time spent watching cats being strange or people hurting themselves is sinful, I’ve wasted enough time that I need a shake up in my life. There’s too many dead guys’ books to read, too many people around me to love, and too many things I should be doing to waste time on silly entertainment.

So more than an exercise of discipline, this is a life experiment.

Will I be more productive, intentional, and present without the full force of the internet in my life?

I don’t know the answer; I’m just beginning the journey. I pray that this experiment will be effective, but who can say?

On Sunday evenings, I will take a few moments to schedule blog posts for the remainder of the week, so over the course of the year, I may or may not give an update as to how my online “fast” is going.

If you think of it, pray that I will be conformed ever more to Jesus Christ through this time, and I hope, with my schedule cleared of much frivolous entertainment, to spend more time praying for you all as well.

In Christ,

Cole