Proverbs 3:1–12 (ESV)
Today, we are in our second sermon in the series we are calling “Living in the Fear of the LORD.” Last week, Daniel introduced this six-week series with that very exhortation. We are merely dipping our toes for a few weeks into the Book of Proverbs. We could have called the series “Six secrets to living a happy, fulfilling, meaningful life” or some other such click bait title. But, instead, we are leading with the punchline. We must begin as Proverbs warns us, with the fear of the LORD. We will be challenged on diligence, the fear of man, biblical parenting, and watching carefully over our heart.
Today, I’ll be preaching from a very famous pair of verses. If you’ve ever memorized any scripture at all, it’s likely that you have memorized these two verses, maybe even in the King James Bible. Like many simple or basic truths that we learn early in our Christian lives, these verses have a rich depth to them that keep them necessary and precious even to the most mature Christian.
If you had an idea of the passage and the main command, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart,” you might have imagined a sermon on how to keep your faith even when circumstances get tough—how to keep holding on. And, though that is one way to apply these verses, I don’t think it’s the main sense of what the writer is trying to communicate. The issue is not primarily one of maintaining faith when times are difficult, but trusting the LORD at all times and in all ways.
The command and warning in these verses, as basic as they are, run headlong into the spirit of the age in which we live. Unsurprisingly, these verses also run headlong into our own natural bent.
The culture is screaming at all of us every day that real meaning in life is measured by how authentically you express yourself. Don’t let anyone else tell you who you are! Demand that everyone else agree with your own self-determined identity. They say it’s impossible to be happy if you try to live by any other imposed standard, morality, or truth.
All of the cultural pressure is to orient your happiness around your personal assessment of reality and value. This is not sustainable as each person’s values get farther and farther apart from others’.
We, perhaps, can still see clearly enough and biblically enough to fight against the world’s attempts to distort and obliterate the created order of sexuality and gender, of male and female.
However, we are still at risk of giving up biblical ground at the very root of the issue. Where do we put our trust to determine value, beauty, truth, and meaning? Do we believe we’ll be the most happy and fulfilled if we “are true to ourselves” or if we “follow our heart?” Have we given in to the pressure to shrink religion and Christianity to the smallest area of our lives—until it’s just about life after death and some outdated ethics which we loosely hold to privately.
Our passage this morning is inviting us to go all in. We’ll hear things like “with all your heart” and “in all your ways.” This is a radical call to submit our own understanding and values to God’s rulership, authority, beauty, and truth.
We have a very simple outline today.
Psalm 37:1–11 (ESV)
We are going to begin with the negative command—the warning, first. Just as a reminder of where we are in the Book of Proverbs, the first nine chapters are really an introduction to the rest of the book. In these first chapters, we read some wisdom poems inviting us to seek wisdom. Many of these sections (like ours for this morning) are addressed to “my son.” In Chapter 3, we are reading the third paternal appeal.
Proverbs 3:5–7 (ESV)
I don’t always read Matthew Henry’s commentary when I’m preparing to preach, but I thought I’d have a look at it this time, and one of the first sentences so helpfully summarized this point.
There is not a greater enemy to the power of religion, and the fear of God in the heart, than conceitedness of our own wisdom. Those that have an opinion of their own sufficiency think it below them…to take their measures from…religion’s rules.
- Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible
This is emphatic—“not a greater enemy to the power of religion.” What would you expect him to say next? We might say, “the power and works of the devil,” or “our love for sinful pleasures.” This isn’t where Matthew Henry takes us. He highlights the danger of our conceitedness in our own wisdom. Our pride and confidence that we see clearly enough not to consult the LORD keeps us in the dark.
The second half of vs. 5 says, “Do not lean on your own understanding.” Don’t imagine this “leaning” to be merely handing out at the farm and leaning on the fencepost, or watching the softball game leaning against the fence. Rather, think of leaning on your crutches because you can’t stand up on your own. Both the CSB and the NET bible translate this as, “do not rely on your own understanding.”
I can imagine some of you asking, like I did, “But, I thought we were supposed to have understanding. Isn’t understanding a good thing?” The answer is, “yes, by all means.” Understanding is a good thing. Proverbs commends it many times—the word is used 44 times. The real question is where the understanding comes from. The warning in verse 5 is that we do not lean on our own understanding (i.e. apart from God). Many of the other passages with regard to understanding in the book of Proverbs have to do with how we acquire wisdom.
Proverbs 3:13–15 (ESV)
This understanding is received; it is not inherent.
Or, look back to chapter 2.
Proverbs 2:1–6 (ESV)
True knowledge, understanding, and wisdom come from the Lord. But, we often take a shortcut and attempt to arrive at wisdom without seeking it like silver and searching for it like hidden treasure. Often, we simply come to our own conclusions and rely on our own insights in any given situation.
There are at least three reasons we should question our own understanding.
We can so easily accept premises, arguments, or conclusions that come from a godless philosophy, or a secular culture, or a tainted tradition.
Perhaps we do have a habit of going to God’s word to understand a particular relationship, issue, or situation. This doesn’t get us off the hook of leaning on our own understanding because our natural responses in many situations are greatly affected by our own weaknesses, sinful impulses, or desires.
It’s not enough to know what God’s word says. We still have to battle the fleshly impulses of our own hearts.
The third reason we should be hesitant to lean on our own understanding is that our knowledge is so limited. In my experience, one of the most difficult counseling situations occurs when two people are attempting to work through a conflict, and one or both of them is convinced they know the heart motives of the other person. This is true in interpersonal conflicts, business conflicts, and political conflicts. As human beings, we quickly jump to confident conclusions about why people do what they do. We can see and hear what people are doing and saying, but without additional knowledge, which we most often don’t have, we can’t know why a person is doing it.
We are often trying to make judgments in situations with way too little knowledge.
One is a fool to rely on his thimble of knowledge before its vast ocean or on his own understanding, which is often governed by irrational urges that he cannot control (26:5, 12, 16; 28:26a; esp. 30:1–6; Job 38:4–5).
- Waltke, Bruce K. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament.
None of these arguments means that we shouldn’t try to understand or respond rightly in a situation. But, they should give us enough humility to be slow to speak and quick to listen, and to ask for and seek God’s wisdom.
This gets at his point in verse 7.
Proverbs 3:7 (ESV)
Again, the writer is NOT telling us we should not actually be wise, but rather that we cannot be wise without God’s help.
Wise in your own eyes denotes not merely proud of your own wisdom but self-sufficient in it and therefore not feeling the need to refer things to God (no doubt a besetting temptation for people committed to finding wisdom).
- Goldingay, John E. New Bible Commentary.
I heard a conservative political commentator just this week talking about the dangers of basing the morals or policies of a society on the values or desires of the younger generation, which has very little experience in the real world. However, this danger is not limited to the young among us. We are all tempted to live as if we are the wisest person in the room—that our insights and assessments are the most trustworthy—that our motives are the most pure.
This is a familiar theme in the book of Proverbs.
Proverbs 12:15 (ESV) — The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.
Proverbs 16:25 (ESV) — There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.
Proverbs 28:26 (ESV) — Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered.
Proverbs 26:12 (ESV) — Do you see a man who is wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.
In order to trust in the LORD more, we must decrease our confidence in ourselves.
The goal in trusting ourselves less is not to become more passive or cynical or more agnostic in the world. The point is to humble ourselves and put more trust in God himself.
Let’s hear our verses again.
Proverbs 3:5–7 (ESV)
What are replacing our trust in ourselves with? Is it trust in humanity? No. Trust in democracy? No. Trust in fate or luck? No. Trust in science? No. These things have their place, and can be helpful, but they are not sufficient to rely on without the wisdom that is from above.
To trust in the LORD is also not simply belief in some higher, unseen, powerful force. We are not deists, we are theists. We trust in a personal God, a Trinitarian God—Father, Son, and Spirit—who is actively involved in the world and personally involved in your life.
To trust means to put your full confidence in, to feel safe. This Hebrew word is often used in its negative sense. Don’t put your trust in man or in princes or in Egypt for deliverance. Rather, put your trust in the LORD.
And though God is worthy of our trust even in some blind, unearned way. That is not the situation we find ourselves in. Our trust in the Lord is not in a vacuum. Look back at verses 1-4.
Proverbs 3:1–4 (ESV)
Did you see the reasons here that we can put our trust in the LORD? God has given us his commandments, his Torah, his instruction. God is not silent. Our trust in him is not a leap in the dark; he has spoken to us. Secondly, we trust him because he has already demonstrated his steadfast love and faithfulness. The Proverb tells us to bind God’s steadfast love around our neck and write them on the tablet of our heart. We must actively remember and recount the LORD’s past faithful deeds to help us in the present and in the future.
If this sounds familiar, there are lots of similarities to this section of Proverbs and several different passages in Deuteronomy. Here are some verses from Chapter 4.
Deuteronomy 4:7–8 (ESV) — For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the LORD our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? And what great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today?
Moses is reminding Israel that God is near (personal) to them, and that he has spoken to them.
If you’ll allow one more extended quote from Matthew Henry:
We must have a continual regard to God’s providence, must own and depend upon it in all our affairs, both by faith and prayer. 1. By faith. We must repose an entire confidence in the wisdom, power, and goodness of God, assuring ourselves of the extent of his providence to all the creatures and all their actions.
We must therefore trust in the Lord with all our hearts (v. 5); we must believe that he is able to do what he will, wise to do what is best, and good, according to his promise, to do what is best for us, if we love him, and serve him.
We must, with an entire submission and satisfaction, depend upon him to perform all things for us, and not lean to our own understanding, as if we could, by any forecast of our own, without God, help ourselves, and bring our affairs to a good issue.
Those who know themselves cannot but find their own understanding to be a broken reed, which, if they lean to, will certainly fail them. In all our conduct we must be diffident of our own judgment, and confident of God’s wisdom, power, and goodness, and therefore must follow Providence and not force it.
- Henry, Matthew. Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume. Peabody: Hendrickson, 1994.
The Proverb is not only a call to put some trust in the LORD, but to put all of it.
Trust in the LORD with all your heart.
This phrase sounds so familiar to me, so I was a bit surprised when I realized this is the only place in the Bible where this exact phrase is found. There are a few commands throughout the Bible that involve “all your heart.” Here is a sample, and most of these have more than one occurrence.
Deuteronomy 4:29 — But from there you will seek the Lord your God and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul.
Deuteronomy 6:5 — You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.
Deuteronomy 10:12 — “And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul,
Deuteronomy 26:16 — “This day the Lord your God commands you to do these statutes and rules. You shall therefore be careful to do them with all your heart and with all your soul.
Deuteronomy 30:10 — when you obey the voice of the Lord your God, to keep his commandments and his statutes that are written in this Book of the Law, when you turn to the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.
Interestingly, of the seven “all your heart” commands, only two are not found in Deuteronomy directly. One is our passage this morning, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart.” The other is found in Zephaniah.
Zephaniah 3:14 — Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem!
In each of these commands, “with all your hear” means that you do not hold back, you do not play it safe, you do not second guess. The LORD is worthy and deserving of our seeking, loving, serving, obeying, returning, trusting and rejoicing.
We said earlier that “trusting” means “feeling safe” and “putting your full confidence in.” Don’t, however, think that this is entirely passive. It is an active pursuit.
We see that in verse 6 and 7.
Trust is not just waiting, and not only a feeling; it means in all your ways acknowledging him. Literally, this would be translated, “in all your ways know him.” It is personal; it is relational. It is knowing the LORD is present. It is having fellowship with him.
What is the context for this acknowledging, this knowing? In all your ways. This is not limited to church or religion or ethics. We must acknowledge God in all our ways—in our speech, our work life, our relationships, our hobbies, our financial planning, our parenting, our hospitality, our politics, our media consumption, our suffering, our private thoughts. The LORD cares about every aspect of our lives. He is calling us to submit every single area of our lives to him. He is inviting us to acknowledge him in all our ways. This is not because God is an overbearing, controlling father. Rather, he wants us to flourish and all areas of our lives, and he desires us to know him more deeply through the ins and outs of life.
You’ve probably experienced this in some way in other relationships in your life. I think about being the parent of teenagers. Some of mine are here in this room. As a parent of a teen, you’re very interested in what’s going on in their life. You care about their friendships, their school life, their work life, their life of faith, their struggles, their joys. You care about the details of their day. You want them to do well, to flourish into adulthood without becoming bitter or faithless or loveless.
And yet somehow, we’re supposed to interpret how all things are going by simple one word responses. “How was your day?” “Fine.” “How are your friendships?” “Good.” “What are you thinking about life after High School?” “I dunno.”
As a parent, we want to know more, we want to be acknowledged, not because we want to control (well, not mostly…) but because we love them and want them to thrive.
Let’s not respond to the LORD like a one-word-answer-teenager. Acknowledge him in all your ways. This means praying for wisdom; thanking him for our joys; depending on him in our suffering. It means consulting his word for how we ought to think and feel and act; seeking to please him in all things; believing that his commands and instructions are for our good.
Verse seven gives us two more specific ways we can acknowledge him in all our ways.
Fear the Lord. Worship him. Meditate on his holiness and his attributes. Acknowledge his greatness and righteousness. Love him. Remember your smallness and fallenness. Submit yourself to him. Be amazed that he shows an interest in us, his creatures. Treasure his mercy and grace toward you.
One very practical way to acknowledge the LORD in all our ways is to turn away from evil. Often, leaning on our own understanding takes us closer to evil. This has been true since the Fall in the garden—you will be like God knowing good and evil.
Refuse to toy with little bits of evil. Don’t try to cozy up to evil. Why flirt with rebellious thoughts or questionable speech or moral murkiness? I’m not suggesting that we add to God’s laws like the Pharisees to make us feel better about ourselves. I’m merely reminding us that true joy and “refreshment to your bones” does not come from toying with evil, but with pursuing God and acknowledging him in all our ways. There is a thrill that comes with experimenting with evil and sin. Don’t give in to it. Resist the Devil and he will flee from you.
A robust life of living in the fear of the LORD means that we trust ourselves less and trust God more. This is not natural. It requires faith. It requires action. It requires renewing our minds with God’s truth. It requires writing God’s steadfast love on our hearts.
Our passage this morning did make some promises regarding this kind of life.
Proverbs 3:6 (ESV) — In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.
There is a sense in which acknowledging God in all things leads to a life with less obstacles and a smoother path. Sin makes everything harder and more complicated.
But, we should not think primarily that obedience to God leads to an easy life—that’s simply not the case.
However, if we acknowledge God in all our ways, he will keep us off the crooked path of the wicked. He himself will keep us on the straight and narrow way that leads to life (Matt 7:14).
There is another promise in verse 8. Fearing God and shunning evil will be…
Proverbs 3:8 (ESV) — … healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones.
This is not to ignore the inward groaning we all face because of the Fall (Rom 8:23), but the life of faith and trust in the LORD leads to wholeness, which, though not complete this side of heaven, is still real and meaningful.
This is the exact opposite of the world’s solution for finding wholeness. The world says to ignore all other voices and just listen to yourself. But the Christian knows better. True and full joy is found in a life fully submitted to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
Trusting in the LORD with all your heart begins with trusting him for salvation—trusting him to solve your most significant problem—our sinful rebellion against him that deserves eternal damnation.
Romans 5:8 (ESV) — but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
John 3:16 (ESV) — “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
Our trust in God doesn’t stop with salvation. In the Old Testament, Israel was regularly encouraged to continue trusting the LORD because he had delivered them from slavery in Egypt. We see this at the beginning of the Ten Commandments.
Exodus 20:2 (ESV) — “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
In the New Testament, we can use the same argument. If God has done all that was necessary to redeem us through Christ, will he hold back anything that is good for us?
Romans 8:32 (ESV) — He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?
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