The Heart of Wisdom | Proverbs 4:20-27

SUGGESTED VERSES FOR MEMORIZATION & MEDITATION

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.
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Do Not Be Anxious | Matthew 6:25-34

Week 11 | Sermon

SUGGESTED VERSES FOR MEMORIZATION & MEDITATION

But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. (Matthew 6:30-34)

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  (Philippians 4:6-7)

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”—yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. (James 4:13-16)

OPENING THOUGHT

The Sermon on the Mount contains some of the most popular portions of Jesus’ earthly teachings, but its primary purpose is teaching His followers about living within the kingdom of heaven. So far we have studied the characteristics that ought to define a citizen of God’s kingdom as described within the Beatitudes, Jesus proclaimed the purpose of His disciples as being the salt of the earth and the light of the world, Christ established how the Old Testament commandments fit into His kingdom, and He informed us of the right and wrong ways of giving to the poor, praying, and fasting.

Last week, Jesus taught on storing earthly treasures or heavenly treasures. This picked up His thought on seeking a reward for our good works from the Father, not from other people. If we seek any kind of treasure on earth, we know that it is temporal, since we and everything on earth will pass away. Thus, Jesus encouraged us to make an investment toward heavenly treasure, which is eternal. For Christ’s followers, it is black and white: we will either serve God and gain an eternal treasure, or we will serve lesser gods and gain a temporary treasure.

Today’s text is immediately tied into the previous one through the word therefore. If our treasure is eternally secure in God Himself, we will truly be able to live a life without anxiety. Or perhaps I should more accurately say, ONLY if our treasure is eternally secure in God will we ever be able to obey Jesus’ command: do not be anxious about your life. Ultimately, Jesus is inviting us to surrender our worries about life over to the Father. Since we know that God upholds the universe by the word of His power, this should be an easy decision, but these verses are just as challenging as they are encouraging. Will we truly surrender control of our life to the sovereign God?

Read verses 25-33 and discuss the following.

  1. After telling His followers to store up treasures in heaven, Jesus then states, “THEREFORE, do not be anxious about your life.” How does last week’s text (verses 19-24) provide the groundwork for conquering anxiety?
  2. Jesus gives two examples, birds and lilies, to illustrate God’s provision and providence. How do these examples point to the futility of worrying?
  3. Verse 33 is a very well-known verse, but what are some ways that we might seek God’s kingdom first? What does “and all things will be added to you” mean?

Read verse 34 and discuss the following.

  1. Here Jesus tells us not to be anxious about tomorrow because each day has its own trouble. In what ways can we practically live this verse? How does it relate to James 4:13-16?

ACTIONS TO CONSIDER

  • Obey. Make a list of things that tend to cause you to be anxious. Recalling Jesus’ statement in verse 27, does your worry over those things ever help?
  • Pray. Following Paul’s instructions in Philippians 4:6-7, bring your anxieties before God in prayer and supplication and ask that God would grant you peace in Christ that surpasses understanding.

The Unity of Ecclesiastes & Philippians | part four

We have now arrived at the Source of a content life. We have discovered that God alone, through Christ, is able granted us the satisfaction that our souls desire. However, if we stop merely at the Source of our satisfaction, then I believe that we will miss an opportunity to see the glory and goodness of God at work.

You see, part of the glorious nature of God’s gift of contentment is the means by which it is given. God, being God, could easily have granted us a form of contentment that offered no level of pleasure. He could have simply given us the ability to be completely satisfied with our lot in life, while also being quite unhappy. Yet, this is not how He chose to operate. God Himself is the Source of our contentment, but joy is the vehicle, the mode, through which His gift is given. This thought gives heart to what was discussed at the beginning: joy leads to satisfaction, which we know now to be because God ordained it as such.

In bringing the ideas of joy, contentment, meaning, satisfaction, pleasure, and happiness full circle, we may once again turn toward Ecclesiastes’ and Philippians’ persistent mentioning of joy and its derivative words.

Solomon continually reinforces that the only means of lasting value is enjoying life via the free gift of God.  Paul pleads throughout for the Philippians to rejoice in Christ, even in the persecution that they were experiencing. Thus, over the span of a thousand years, Paul and Solomon both urge, through radically different writings and lives, that finding enjoyment and rejoicing in God are the only means to achieving lasting contentment and satisfaction in life, and enjoyment and rejoicing can only come from God Himself.

Therefore, God is the Source, the Receiver of the means, and the Objective that we hope to arrive upon. In short, joy, contentment, and meaning are only in God the Father through Jesus Christ. The circular quest for purpose has but one answer: the One who is, in and of Himself, the Beginning and the End. He is the summation of the very purpose of our lives.

Thus, we enjoy and rejoice because He is good and sufficient, and in Him, we are completely satisfied. It is this biblical line of thinking that inspired John Piper to form this condensed description of his theology: God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him. Being satisfied in Him necessitates enjoying and rejoicing in Him.

All of this is to say that the chief end of both Ecclesiastes and Philippians is that immeasurable joy can only be found in God, which will lead to a content and satisfied life, and a life that is completely joyful in Him will be supremely glorifying to Him.  Let us, therefore, glorify Christ Jesus along with Solomon and Paul, for His glory will also become our greatest joy.

The Unity of Ecclesiastes & Philippians | part three

Yet even if hedonism and religious legalism are both truly dead ends, we are forced to ask once more why people pursue these ends.

Why do we relentlessly chase after the pleasures of hedonism to the degree of ignoring our God-given conscience?

Why practice the asceticism found within religious legalism so that precious little happiness and pleasure is left in life?

Both roads are meant to accomplish the same end: contentment. A satisfied, fulfilled, and purposeful life is the goal to which almost every philosophical outlook aims. Most of us seek to live a life that is full of meaning, a life that has not been wasted.

Solomon, with all of his divinely granted wisdom, was no exception. Ecclesiastes is the Israelite king’s reflection on all of the various quests that he explored to find this contentment, this meaning in life. Though he pursued many possible means toward that end, the thesis of Ecclesiastes is that he only found one path that leads to true meaning and satisfaction in life.

In the twelfth and thirteenth verses of chapter three, Solomon states simply that there is nothing better than for us to “take pleasure” in all of our toil. He would rephrase this idea later by saying that we would do well to accept our lot in life. Thus, we have to wonder if such is the extent of Solomon’s wisdom. The wisest man to ever live, at the end of his life, reaches one conclusion: to find contentment and satisfaction in life, be content and satisfied with life.

Is the answer to the question truly the content of the question itself? Fortunately, Solomon grants us more to guide us than the advice of simply being content. Instead, Solomon reveals to us the Source of contentment. He concludes the verses mentioned above with this tell-tale phrase: “this is God’s gift to man.” From whence can such contentment and purpose in life come? According to Solomon, it can only come from the hand of God, gift to humanity that He alone can give.

Paul’s letter to the Philippian church is not without its parallel in this matter.

Given the apostle’s circumstances, it would be difficult to imagine how he could find complete and total satisfaction with life. He was locked away in prison, knowing that he could be executed at any moment. And this is after most of his missionary journeys, which saw him shipwrecked, beaten, stoned, and flogged. Luke the physician likely stayed by Paul’s side primarily out of necessity. After such difficulties and sufferings, is it possible for Paul to write about having contentment and satisfaction? Amazingly, he does!

In verse eleven of chapter four, Paul declares that he has learned “to be content” in any situation. Even so, this claim will inspire nothing but envy within us unless Paul is able to disclose the Source of his contentment. The thirteenth verse of the same chapter is one of the most famous and quoted verses of the entire Bible, and it is there that the answer is found. It is through “him who strengthens” that Paul finds the ability to be satisfied within difficult circumstances. We understand from the context of the letter and chapter that the “him” is Christ.

Therefore, Paul is making the same claim that Solomon made 1000 years prior. They have both found the same conclusion to one of life’s greatest questions, and the answer is that only God can give us contentment and satisfaction with life.

The Unity of Ecclesiastes & Philippians | part two

A belief that I hold is that there are two paths to hell. If eternal judgment is your desired destination, rest assured that you have at least two choices to take: the road of the “sinner” or the road of the “religious.”

You see, the only method of actually securing the eternal wrath of such a loving God is to follow your own prideful heart, to reject His grace and His Son. This is the only means of sealing one’s damnation because we know that anyone who turns from their sins and follows Christ shall be saved.

However,  though pride is the only means of earning a hellish afterlife, such a life plays out in two broad forms, both are methods of proclaiming your own glory instead of God’s. As one could probably guess, both of these views are discussed in Ecclesiastes and Philippians.

First, you can become a “sinner” and adamantly reject the inherent moral compass that God has placed within us. This way of life will almost always become some form of the philosophical thought known as hedonism. This is because, as stated above, pleasure gives us a sense of enjoyment, which we will often relentlessly pursue. When we are centered upon ourselves entirely and deny any real morality, we will seek our own happiness through various means.

In Ecclesiastes, Solomon gives us the very epitome of this “sinner” approach to life. His hedonistic quest is listed in the second chapter and is basically a dream fulfilled to anyone. Is music enjoyable? Solomon hired his favorite singers and musicians to play personally for him, whenever he wanted. How about laughter? He had the best comedians around him at all times. Animals? He had the best farms and his own personal zoo. Money? Solomon made 666 talents of gold each year just for being king. That would be a salary of about $750,000,000 in today’s currency! With all of his possessions included, Solomon is widely considered to be the wealthiest person to ever live. How about sex? He had 700 wives and 300 concubines whose only job was to satisfy any fantasy that the king had. Most men today would have great difficulty building a virtual harem that large, let alone an actual harem! He ordered the building of one of the wonders of the ancient world, the temple in Jerusalem. His philanthropy was also unmatched. Surely all of those activities gave him pleasure!

And actually, it did.

But it was only a fleeting, momentary pleasure. Disillusioned by the inability to find lasting satisfaction in any of those avenues, Solomon gives himself over to despair in the very same chapter! Though he sought joy, the end result is nothing but depression.

Or we could choose to become “religious.”

This route is no less prideful than the “sinner’s” road, though it often appears to be so because of the false humility that likely follows. In many ways, this path is no less hedonistic than the “sinner.” While “sinner” ignores the moral laws and seeks pleasure outside of them, the “religious” accepts morality and hopes to find pleasure in being a good person. Following this route, our satisfaction becomes contingent upon our good works.

In Philippians, we find this other path toward damnation played out. In the third chapter, Paul gives us his religious credentials. Paul was born into one of the more prominent tribes among God’s chosen people. When it came to obeying the laws that God gave to the Israelites, Paul was a Pharisee. This group literally devoted their entire lives to obeying God’s Word, and Paul was quickly becoming one of the best. Another aspect of religiousness is passion, or zeal. Many today will argue that it does not matter what you believe so long as you believe with your whole heart and passion. Paul had unrivaled zeal, displayed in the fact that he killed those considered to be heretics. It is difficult to imagine a greater passion than the willingness to kill for your beliefs. And interestingly enough, Paul does not say that this failed to give him pleasure or satisfaction. In fact, this form of life can certainly lead to a fulfilled existence; however, the end result will not be even remotely pleasant. Jesus informs us that at the end of time many will stand before Him and confidently sight their resume as justification for their entrance into God’s presence. Shockingly, they will promptly be denied. Why? They will be sent away because all of their efforts were for their own pride and glory, not the glorification of Christ.

Nevertheless, Paul does not reiterate Jesus’ words. He does not even state that all of his best efforts were in vain. Instead, he is more concerned with what he has found to be the greatest source of pleasure and meaning, which consequently is the same conclusion that Solomon also arrives to at the end of the second chapter in Ecclesiastes. Solomon’s claim is that the ability to enjoy life is a gift from God, and Paul’s conclusion is that everything else pales in comparison to Jesus Christ. Solomon’s hedonism and Paul’s hedonistic legalism both spring from the sin called pride and its rebellion against God. Yet both also find their hope and true joy in God and the radiance of His glory Jesus Christ.

 

The Unity of Ecclesiastes & Philippians | part one

Back in 2012, I taught through the books of Ecclesiastes and Philippians together, attempting to show how they both present that true joy is only found in Christ. Below is part one of an essay I wrote to explain this connection. I pray that you will find it illuminating and helpful.


The nature of joy should not be mysterious to us, yet it often is. C. S. Lewis claims, in the book Surprised by Joy, that pleasure, happiness, and joy share a commonality. This common trait, Lewis remarks, is that after one has experienced them he or she will spend the rest of their life searching for them again. However, though they share this link, joy is significantly different from pleasure or happiness. For instance, the alluring aspect of happiness and pleasure is that they are both enjoyable, yet that very enjoyment of happiness and pleasure is meant to be found within the context of joy. The word “enjoy” means, after all, to find joy in something. Thus, joy is the means by which and the purpose to which we are meant enjoy pleasure and happiness. We often seek happiness and pleasure themselves as sources of joy, but if we sought joy first, then we would already have the context for accepting pleasure and happiness. Joy should be given primacy. Happiness and pleasure could best be described as momentary glimpses of joy, whereas joy is a state of being that transcends throughout the emotional spectrum. Thus, we can be joyful and happy, but we can also be sorrowful and full of joy.

The lasting appeal of joy, I believe, derives from its interconnection with satisfaction. When we are joyful, we are satisfied. Or, it could better be said that when we are satisfied, we are joyful. As Moody notes, “if man is dying for want of bread, and you give him bread, is that going to make him gloomy?” Most, if not all, of our negative emotions can be traced to an outcome that deviated from our original desire. I will not enjoy a meal fully if it is Chinese food and my desire was for Mexican. When our desires are fulfilled, we find joy and satisfaction.

The implication of this thought is enormous because most people strongly desire to live a satisfied life. We often long, deep within our souls, for a joy that gives us true satisfaction and contentment, and we are best able to find that joy by seeing our desires fulfilled. However, if our greatest desire is to achieve joy and satisfaction, then such joy can only be found by finding… joy. And it is within this vague cycle of sought-out meaning that many throw away their search for joy. They become lost in the quest for satisfaction and, as a result, pursue one source of fleeting pleasure after another. Instead of finding lasting joy, they do their best to be satisfied with lesser things, with mere hints of the meaning and contentment that could be had.

This triviality is not lost on God nor on His chosen people throughout history. In fact, there two books within God’s Word that search out and answer how we might find a meaningful and satisfied life. The first of these is the book of Ecclesiastes. Written by Solomon, the king of Israel after succeeding his father David, Ecclesiastes is traditionally believed to be his dying thoughts. After living a life of unparalleled wealth, pleasure, and wisdom, Solomon wrote what many consider to be the most hopeless and depressing book of the Bible.

It is easily understood how one can arrive at such a conclusion. The bulk of Ecclesiastes is Solomon presenting various avenues of hope only to describe their shortcomings. However, the overarching vanity in life is not Solomon’s ultimate purpose for the book. Instead, Solomon hopes to reveal the Source of lasting joy and satisfaction, but he does this primarily by showing how other methods fail to offer such joy. In fact, the Israelite king repeatedly states that there is nothing better in life than to enjoy what you have been given by God.

Wait.

Surely the search for lasting joy cannot be that simple.

Are we meant to simply have joy?

Well, Solomon does give an answer for the Source of joy: God. The conclusion of Solomon’s life is that enjoyment, and thus joy, only comes from God. Nothing else gives such lasting satisfaction. Therefore, we must understand that Ecclesiastes is, at its core, about joy and the Giver of joy.

The second book is the widely hailed epistle of joy: Philippians. Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians was written towards the end of his life as well. Over the course of his letter, Paul primarily urges the church in Philippi to rejoice (another word derived from joy), despite the church and Paul himself experiencing persecution. In fact, Philippians was written while Paul was imprisoned for declaring the gospel of Jesus. But even though Paul was sitting in prison awaiting his death, he wrote with supreme confidence that he had found the complete and total meaning of life: “to live is Christ.” Furthermore, Paul’s central focus upon Christ gives contentment and joy in any situation and grants him the ability to view death as gain. The joy of Christ delivers unparalleled joy and satisfaction, while stripping away the sting and fear of death.

Though Solomon and Paul were separated by roughly a thousand years, the central theme of both Ecclesiastes and Philippians remains eternally tied together. These two godly and wise men present to us a thousand year, Spirit-inspired look at humanity’s quest for meaning, satisfaction, and purpose in life. But even more importantly, they present the answer to that quest; therefore, over the next couple of posts, we will explore the connections and relations between these two beautiful, but challenging, books.

Leah & Rachel | Genesis 29:31-30:24

Week 6 | Study Guide & Sermon

SUGGESTED VERSES FOR MEMORIZATION & MEDITATION 

When the LORD saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb, but Rachel was barren. (Genesis 29:31)

And she called his name Joseph, saying, “May the LORD add to me another son!” (Genesis 30:24)

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:11-13)

OPENING THOUGHT 

Continuing the legacy of his father, Isaac raised two sons, Esau and Jacob, and even within their mother’s womb, the twins wrestled with one another. The conflict only escalated when Jacob tricked Esau out of the birthright and blessing of the firstborn. Knowing that Esau was in a murderous rage, Jacob then fled to the homeland of his mother to find a wife and let his brother’s wrath cool down. In Haran, Jacob did find a wife among his mother’s kinsmen, yet after working seven years to marry Rachel, Jacob was tricked into marrying Rachel’s older sister, Leah instead.

Our current text picks up where the previous left off. Jacob is now in a polygamous marriage to two sisters. He loves one and does not care for the other. The familial conflict that arises contains all the drama and craziness of a soap opera. Leah has four kids, hoping that they will cause Jacob to love her. Rachel is barren, so out of jealously, she has Jacob impregnate her servant girl in her place. Leah considers Rachel’s strategy to be good enough, so she gives her servant to Jacob as well. Leah then bears a couple more kids herself, and Rachel finally gives birth to one.

The narrative contains all the drama one would expect from a polygamous marriage. As with all things, the Bible is brutally honest about the damaging effects of sin, and there is much sin to learn from here. Jacob certainly does not behave like the leader of his household; instead, he silently follows Leah and Rachel into sin. Leah and Rachel are both discontented and covetous of each other. Leah wants the love Rachel has from Jacob, and Rachel wants Leah’s multitude of children. Discontentment and envy are able to destroy families and friendships faster than almost anything.

Read verses 31-35 and discuss the following.

  • God sees that Rachel is loved and Leah is hated, so He opens Leah’s womb and closes Rachel’s. This is an example of God showing mercy to the afflicted. What are some other examples (biblical or otherwise) of God defending the afflicted?

Read verses 1-13 and discuss the following.

  • After seeing her sister give birth to four sons, Rachel is extremely envious of Leah. In her desperation for children, Rachel orders Jacob to impregnate her servant Bilhah, that she might have children through her servant. She then believes that God was pleased with her actions. Similarly, what are some ways that we might misrepresent God?
  • Fearing her sister, Leah follows after Rachel’s sin, ordering Jacob to impregnate her servant Zilpah. She names Zilpah’s second son, Asher, which means happy. Leah was happy because women called her happy. Why is it both unbiblical and unwise to base our happiness upon how others think of us?

Read verses 14-24 and discuss the following.

  • God finally opens Rachel’s womb, allowing her to give birth to Joseph, but Rachel’s immediate prayer is for another son. Why is discontentment such a dangerous sin?

ACTIONS TO CONSIDER

  • Obey. Take a moment to consider the destructiveness of Rachel and Leah’s discontentment. Consider areas of life where you are similarly discontent. Bring them to the LORD in prayer, asking Him for contentment with the blessings that He has given.
  • Pray. The only true antidote for discontentment is a heart of thankfulness. Make time each day to pray a prayer of thanksgiving to the LORD for His many blessings.