By: Dan Seale
Sunday morning as I was preaching at the 8:30 am service, I realized I made a rookie mistake. I had too much material. So, while I was preaching my mind was also considering what changes I needed to make which impacted both the content and the delivery of the sermon. Thankfully, I know God uses His Word by His Spirit no matter what, so while frustrated, I was not too discouraged. That has not always been the case. It can be very difficult to wrestle with feeling that you not only failed your people but that you also failed God in handling a passage of Scripture. I had one pastor friend who would just disappear into the basement of the church after he preached a bad sermon. By God’s grace, the Lord has taught me to be resilient after many perceived failures and trust Him more. However, I used the time between the two services to reorganize and adjust my sermon for the 11 am service. I also texted a few people to pray for my rewrites, for my heart and for the second service. I think my second sermon was greatly improved in organization and delivery, but again, the effectiveness of the sermon is ultimately up to the Lord not me.
So why share that experience? For the small number of people who heard both sermons, it will explain the changes I made – assuming anyone but me noticed. Also, we all fall short of our own and others’ expectations at times in our work; and how we deal with that can help us or hurt us. We need to learn to be resilient and lean into the Lord in our failures and be humble and grateful for any wins we experience.
And here is the rest of the story of Proverbs 3 that never made it to either sermon.
First, a quick review. In verses 1-12 we saw that if we want to experience life to its fullest, we must trust the Lord, with our whole heart and our whole life.
These poetic couplets of commands for us followed by the benefits of wisdom lay out for us a compelling call to pursue wisdom and obey God’s commands.
v. 1 - Keep my commandments v. 2 - Life & peace (shalom)
v. 3 - Don’t let go of steadfast love and faithfulness v. 4 – Favor & success before God & people
v. 5 - Trust the Lord v. 6 - straight paths – get you to your goal
v. 7 -Fear the Lord v. 8 - healing and refreshment
v. 9 - Honor the Lord v. 10 - more wealth to use for Him
Don’t despise discipline v. 12 - It’s a sign of His love
We are commanded to know God’s Word, to know His love, to trust Him, to know ourselves, and to worship him with our best. When we fail to do that, he will lovingly discipline us to bring us back to him (Hebrews 12:1-11).
The next section, Proverbs 3:13-20, speaks of the beauty and value of wisdom. The person who finds wisdom and gets understanding about how life works has greater wealth than all the gold, silver or jewels they could own. Wisdom creates a culture of life in this world that is filled with so much death. Wisdom enriches all who find it, not just in their length of days but also in the quality of those days (3:16).
The reference in verse 18 to the tree of life is very provocative. This causes us to think of the tree of life in the garden of Eden. This image suggests more than long life but eternal life, being in the presence of God. As long as you embrace the tree of life you live. In order to prevent Adam and Eve from extending their lives in judgment in perpetuity, they had to be ejected from the garden. This removal provided the opportunity for God’s plan of redemption to be fulfilled ultimately in the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, the promised seed of Eve (Genesis 3:15). Now through Jesus, who is our wisdom, we have contact with the tree of life, and can look forward to a future day where we will be with God again in a glorious garden in the new heavens and the new earth.
3:19-20 shows us again that wisdom matters to God and was used in creation (Proverbs 8, John 1). Creation is ordered. It is not random. The fact that God created all things is why we are able to discover the logic and wisdom of how things work in the world in the realm of science and medicine. Recognizing wisdom in creation should make us want to pursue this wisdom and to study creation. In the past Christians were often leaders in medical and scientific discoveries, and I believe we need to encourage believers to pursue being the best scientists and researchers.
The last section, Proverbs 3:21-35, unpacks what it looks like to trust God with all your life. God’s wisdom provides personal safety (3:21-26). Ray Ortlund writes, “As we grow in wisdom God protects us from the land mines that sin has hidden in the world.” In addition, v. 26 reminds us the Lord will be our confidence and companion protecting us. This idea is throughout the Bible and culminates in the incarnation of Jesus who is with us no matter what we face (Matthew 28:20, Hebrews 13:5).
In Proverbs 3:28-35, we see the marriage of worship and ethics. How we treat others is a prime indicator of how we view God and of who/what we truly worship. 1 John 4:20 says,
“If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ but hates his brothers, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.”
This proverb calls us to love our neighbor. Ray Ortlund has a helpful summary: We are to help our needy neighbor, protect our innocent neighbor, and avoid our violent neighbor. In a culture of life where wisdom is valued people will help each other as much as possible. We will protect and trust our neighbors. Trust is the glue that holds relationships and communities together. When trust is broken it can take a long time to rebuild the trust that was lost. Lastly, wise people steer clear of trouble makers and violent people. It can often seem like violent or evil people are getting ahead in the world which can tempt us to follow their behavior. The psalmist often cried out about this apparent success. But 3:34 is translated this way in the Septuagint (the Old Testament written in Greek and quoted in James 4:6 and 1 Peter 5:5):
God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.
Wisdom fosters an abiding trust in the Lord that emboldens us to love others.
Wisdom fosters a proper humility as we know and fear the Lord in all his beauty and holiness and understand our own limitations and tendency to self-trust and self-reliance.
If we want to experience life to its fullest, we must trust the Lord, with our whole heart and our whole life and only the wise will do so.