This is a sermon that Drew Maust preached at First Baptist Church (FBC), Durham, North Carolina, on Sunday, July 10, 2022, as part of the church’s summer series on the book of Proverbs. Listen using the player below or by downloading the MP3.
- “One hand cannot tie a bundle.”
- “Millet does not sow itself.”
- “If you can talk, you can sing. If you can walk, you can dance.”
- “Children are the reward of life.”
- “Knowledge is like a garden—if not cultivated, it can’t be harvested.”
- “A weaver bird will build its nest with the support of other birds’ feathers.”
Several years ago in Cameroon, for my organization’s annual branch conference, I was asked to submit a collection of my photos from around the country for to go on display in our main auditorium. I chose photos reflected the breadth and diversity of this country nicknamed “Africa in miniature.” For a caption, I twinned each photo with an African proverb, the text and image working together to present a visual metaphor of the continent’s collective wisdom.
One of my favorite photos was that of a bright yellow weaver bird hanging upside down at the entrance to his inverted nest. (By design, the upside-down construction makes it extremely difficult for predators to gain entry.) To this photo, I joined the proverb, “A weaver bird will build its nest with the support of other birds’ feathers,” in order to highlight the importance of partnership in missions.
Imagine my surprise when later during the conference a senior Cameroonian colleague attributed this “African proverb” to me! “In the words of Drew, a weaver bird…” Despite this flattering attribution, I cannot in any meaningful way be considered the author of this or any other proverb, except perhaps for our Maust family motto: “Getting it done while having fun.”
Even so, you might say that I mastered these proverbs for the way that I applied them at the right time for the right purpose. Surely that’s the point of proverbs: they’re wise reflections that spark our sustained reflection and eventual application. They beckon us down the path of life, equipping us to successfully navigate its contours. It is not enough to simply know old sayings, since “A proverb in the mouth of a fool is like a stick with thorns, brandished by the hand of a drunkard” (Pr 26:9 CSB). If “true wisdom” comes down from above, then it’s not even necessarily our duty to author wisdom as much as to master it. For it is in mastering God’s wisdom that we begin to enjoy life as he designed it.
Today we are continuing the church’s summer series in the book of Proverbs. We are going to look first at the wider teaching of Proverbs 3:1-12 before focusing in on 3:5-6, a passage at the heart of the book of Proverbs.
Proverbs 3:1-12 divides itself into six sets of commands and incentives. Here we find a caring father teaching his son how to navigate life. And while the father is lecturing his son, we are all invited to listen in and carefully consider his words of wisdom.
He offers six sets of exhortations:
- Don’t forget my teaching. (3:1)
- Never let loyalty and faithfulness leave you. (3:3)
- Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not rely on your own understanding; in all your ways know him. (3:5-6)
- Don’t be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and turn away from evil. (3:7)
- Honor the Lord with your possessions (3:9); and
- Do not despise the Lord’s instruction. (3:11)
Six Incentives (Motivations)
Each of these commands is followed by a favorable outcome that is intended to motivate obedience. They help answer the question, “Well, why should I listen to you? Why should I obey?” To which the father responds, If you obey, …
- You will enjoy a long, fulfilling life characterized by peace, wellbeing, prosperity–shalom. (3:2)
- You will find favor and a good reputation with both God and others. (3:4)
- The Lord will clear the road for you. (3:6 CEV)
- You will find health for your body (your “navel” if we’re reading the Hebrew). (3:8)
- You will have an abundance of food and wine, more than you’ll ever need (3:10 CEV); and
- The Lord will love you as a father, delighting in helping you return to his paths of righteousness. (3:12)
This loving father makes an appeal to the whole person, rather than just extending a blunt “because I said so.” When taken together, these incentives form quite an impressive package. What else could one want out of life? We must trust the truth of these incentives; his outlook on life is simply taken for granted.
As is often observed in the book of Proverbs, these rewards are not categorical, unconditional promises as much as descriptions of general truth. They are incentives for following the father’s instruction, prizes that await those who commit themselves to act in certain ways. For if you fear the Lord, trust in him, swerve to avoid evil, and don’t seek to be wise in your own eyes, then in the view of Proverbs, you will in general enjoy a long, quiet, yet fruitful life.
As one commentator put it,
“Wisdom is the insight into life and the way the world works, so that people avoid the pitfalls that might lead to an early death or a damaged reputation. They also allow one to have the insight that will accrue in great material wealth. In this passage the [author] wants to motivate people to pursue wisdom. Other passages will grapple with the fact that some wise people are not wealthy, healthy, and powerful, while some wicked people are.”
Living life the way God intended is smoother than blazing your own trail. He designed you. He made you in his image. He knows what makes you tick, what makes you happy. He’s perfectly tuned in and knows exactly what you need, what’s good for you. What’s more, he rejoices over you (Isa 62:5). It’s for good reason that the Lord hates “Arrogant eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that plots wicked schemes, feet eager to run to evil, a lying witness who gives false testimony, and … stirring up trouble among family members” (Pr 6:16–19 CSB, adapted). Life based on your own understanding is half-lived, with one foot in the grave.
Now, even if this is not a full-orbed biblical theology of wealth and possessions as Christians today might want to articulate it, we discover essential tools for navigating life. Confronted with these incentives, I find it comical how quickly our minds run to find exceptions to these time-tested realities. “But what about…? What about…? What about…?” Yes, yes, but please take a moment to dwell on these incentives before resorting to whataboutism. Don’t let exceptions spoil the carrot. Spend as much time entertaining the general truths on display in these words of wisdom as chasing after the exceptions. The father stuffs our backpacks full of provisions for life’s journey. It’s on us to obey and use them skillfully and judiciously. Life, the good life, is the goal.
The emphasis on prosperity in Proverbs can make us feel a bit uncomfortable, especially in light of the excesses of some teachers who too narrowly focus on prosperity to the neglect of the whole teaching of Scripture. Does the thought of pursuing the good life all cushy and comfortable make you uncomfortable? If so, you’re not alone. On this, one commentator has helpfully suggested that
“Perhaps the best way to think of it is that [God] built the world in such a way that punishments are inherent in bad actions and rewards in good actions. [But he] is ultimately behind all consequences.”
In Proverbs 3:5-6, we read:
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and don’t rely on your own understanding;
in all your ways know him,
and he will make your paths straight.”
“Trust in the Lord”
Trusting in the Lord means to have confidence in his goodness. It’s a command and a warning, a warning against trusting in any person or thing apart from trusting in the Lord.
Ancient Israelite View of the Good Life
In the Old Testament, trust in the Lord is typically associated with rescue from danger with a view to thriving in safety. For an ancient Israelite, the good life was growing old in peace and security, enjoying abundant crops, and seeing your family progress through the generations before arriving at the end to lie down with your ancestors of natural causes, hopeful that the Lord is in the process of fulfilling his covenant promises. The ancient Israelite trusted the Lord for this good life. This was what wisdom and following God’s Instruction were supposed to afford his faithful ones. It was, however, a very this world perspective–a perspective that perhaps some of us have overlooked.
The opposite of the good life for an ancient Israelite was an untimely, unnatural death before or during the prime of life. The person who suffers this fate may have been ambushed by enemies or simply been a fool. They meet this end either through their own foolishness and wickedness or that of others. The ancient Israelite prays against this daily, trusting in God for protection and deliverance.
The ancient Israelite entreated God for deliverance because, for the most part, they believed that this life was their only shot. Once in the grave, you continued a reduced existence in the belly of the earth as a shadow of your former self. There was neither praise nor trust in God in the grave. In Psalm 6:5, for example, the psalmist bluntly bemoans to God, “No one is going to praise you when they are dead. Who gives you thanks from the grave?” (Ps 6:5 CEB) Or in Psalm 30: “What gain is there in my death, if I go down to the Pit? Will the dust praise you? Will it proclaim your truth?” (Ps 30:9 CSB). Or again, in Psalm 115: “It is not the dead who praise the LORD, nor any of those descending into the silence of death” (Ps 115:17 CSB). Or Isa 38:18: “For the grave cannot praise you, death cannot sing your praise; those who go down to the pit cannot hope for your faithfulness” (Is 38:18 NIV).
The result is that you as an ancient Israelite cry out to God to deliver you from the jaws of death, so that you can experience the good life now consistent with his paths of righteousness.
Do You Trust the Lord?
Do you trust in the Lord? I recently asked one of my retired missionary colleagues this question when he shared with me that he’d been diagnosed with cancer. As we talked, he mentioned that the reality of the diagnosis has yet to sink in. As good Christians do, I told him that I’d pray for him. But then, I asked him, “Can we trust the Lord even when we get such news?” His response?
“We can always trust the Lord. He is faithful to his promises. He never promised us that we’d never have to suffer. Sorry, but it’s true. We have no guarantee of an easy life. I do hate to suffer, though. I do not believe in the so-called prosperity gospel, but I do believe in the risen Lord Jesus the Messiah. For me this is somewhat uncertain sailing in uncharted waters, but the Father in Heaven is still in control. I’ve decided to trust him. Yet, sometimes my brain is more certain about that than my heart.”
Our conversation then turned to talking about “the good life.” We agreed that the prosperity of the good life as portrayed in the Old Testament only fully comes to fruition in the Messiah. I did try to protest by saying, “But what about him making our paths straight?” I was told in no uncertain terms that this line is not to be taken out of context but read with the grain of the whole counsel of God’s word.
Stories like this are to be found right here among the congregation of FBC. How can I appeal to you to fear the Lord? Behold a room full of people who fear the Lord. How can I appeal to you to trust the Lord? Behold a room full of people who trust the Lord. Ask someone here if they trust the Lord and why. Ask them if they fear the Lord and why. You will hear a multitude of responses based on a variety of experiences. Based on the culture of this church, you will undoubtedly hear mention of the Bible.
What is the Bible? It’s God’s story. It’s a collection of stories and teaching and songs and more that recount the experiences of people from diverse cultures, times and places who walked with God. It’s people who feared him and those who failed to fear him. It’s those who trusted him as well as those who failed to trust him. The Bible paints pictures of what’s it like to fear and trust him. The more you get to know God through Scripture, the more you will trust him. The record is clear: God has and continues to show himself faithful throughout history.
- “The person who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence indeed is the LORD, is blessed.” (Jer 17:7 CSB)
- “The people who trust in the LORD are like Mount Zion: never shaken, lasting forever.” (Psa 125:1 CEB)
- “God is my salvation; I will trust him and not be afraid, for the LORD, the LORD himself, is my strength and my song. He has become my salvation.” (Isaiah 12:2 CSB)
- “Those who know your name trust you because you have not abandoned any who seek you, LORD.” (Psalm 9:10 CEB)
Entrusting to God
A biblical synonym for trust is committing things to God, placing them in his hands. On the cross, Jesus placed his life into the Father’s hands: ‘He called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I entrust my spirit.” He then breathed his last’ (Lk 23:46 CSB, adapted).
That’s what it is to trust: recognizing that God’s gracious hands are open wide and then handing over to him circumstances, fears, personhood. Peter admonishes us: “Let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust themselves to a faithful Creator while doing what is good” (1 Pe 4:19 CSB). This is not a passive attitude; it’s doing good while trusting that God is in charge of how it turns out.
Similarly, Acts 14 and 15 describe how Paul and Barnabas were “handed over” to the grace of God—his benevolent care—for their first and second missionary journeys. Then, before sailing off in Acts 20, Paul bids farewell to the Ephesian elders and says: “I now entrust [or commit or hand] you [over] to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you an inheritance among all who are sanctified” (Acts 20:32 CSB). Curiously, Paul entrusts them in the first place to God and secondly to the word of his grace, the message of God’s favor, the gospel.
When we trust God concerning someone or something, we willingly hand them over to his grace, having confidence in his goodness.
Commissioning as a Pact of Trust
That is what FBC did for me and my family when you commissioned us for missionary service over ten years ago on Sunday, April 17, 2011. My wife and I came right down front, you gathered round, placed your hands on us, prayed over us, and handed us over into the gracious hands of God. Confident of his goodness, you gave us over to him for his mission.
Do you still trust him? I do. And I know you do, too, because this church continues to commission and send out members so that others might come to know the good news of God’s grace in Jesus the Messiah.
You entrusted us to God and to the word of his grace, and an unspoken pact of trust was created between you as our sending church, us as your missionaries, and the host communities whom we serve abroad. In the case of our ministry with Wycliffe Bible Translators, it is a pact centered on ensuring access to God’s Word. We long for everyone to access God’s word in the medium and languages that serve them best. We want to see people flourishing in community using their languages to know God and make him known.
Pact between Translator and Reader
In the world of Bible translation, there is an unspoken pact of trust between translator and reader. You trust that your translation of the Bible has been done correctly, because unless you know Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek, the Bible must be translated for you.
Additionally, you trust that I as your missionary translation consultant will provide good advice to translation teams abroad. When I was working recently with a team from Côte d’Ivoire on the book of Numbers, I discovered that the translators had left out the second half of a verse. When asked about it, they cited the difficulty of translating all the different tabernacle utensils: snuffers, firepans, tongs, sprinkling basins, ladles, etc.
So as your missionary, what do I do? I assume that when you commissioned me, you sent me out to help ensure quality in the Bible translation process, so that God’s word is translated in its entirety and translations don’t omit passages willy-nilly because they’re difficult or obscure or mention snuffers. I think I already know how you might respond if I asked you whether the second half of this verse should be included.
So, what did I do? I asked the translators what their people would think if they opened their Bibles and found half a verse missing. Would they be happy? These translators, too, have been commissioned by their people under a pact of trust and therefore have a sacred responsibility to faithfully render God’s word. They agreed that their people would be expecting to find the entire verse. If they trusted their own understanding, leaving out tricky words could risk betraying their community’s trust in them. So, we agreed that it would be best to revisit this verse with their community and ask for help to find the best way to talk about snuffers and firepans and all those essential concepts in their language.
Once the translation is revised, I will then have to trust them that these newfound words are currently the best option for their translation. You, in turn, will hopefully trust me that I have guided the translators to the best of my ability, so that access to God’s word is in fact access to God’s word. Translation is thus very much a matter of loyalty and trust.
How do you trust the Lord in your work?
How do you trust the Lord in your work? How do you ground your understanding in trust in the Lord? What does trusting the Lord look like in your occupation? When opportunities present themselves to protect yourself or twist the truth, do you rely on your own understanding? Do you prop yourself up on your own understanding or rely on the Lord? Trust leans on the expectation that God’s ability far exceeds mine and his way of doing things will lead to the greatest joy. Relying on him involves knowing what he requires by consuming his Word and talking it over with other believers.
The Spirit of Ruth
In my work as a translation consultant checking local language translations for quality, we start every day with prayer: “Lord, keep us from stupid errors.” The Lord knows our hearts. We entrust our work to him and trust that he will guide us and complete our understanding where it is lacking while we do our best with the tools available to us.
In my work, I trust that his word will be fruitful, that it will not return unfulfilled, but will do exactly what he wants and accomplishes what he intends (Isa 55:11). When I spend 30 minutes helping a team translate seemingly trivial tabernacle terminology, I trust that God is in the details.
There have been many times when I’ve been startled awake in the middle of the night thinking of a specific verse that we have covered during the week. I call this “the spirit of Ruth” because the thought comes to me in the middle of the night, uncovers my feet and cuddles up next to me in such a way that in the morning I know what the translators and I need to do.
This happened to me several weeks ago when I was working with a translation team on 1 Chronicles. We worked all day on multiple chapters, and then in the middle of the night, I awoke with the chilling thought that we probably needed to add a footnote to such and such verse in order to clarify something for the reader. In the morning, when we went back to that verse, we found that that verse needed more than just a footnote; something had gone terribly wrong, and the text of that verse had been all turned around and jumbled.
“Lord, keep us from stupid errors.” Our understanding must be built on trust in the Lord once he has brought us to the understanding that failing to do so is foolishness. Some say they, “trust the process”; I trust the God of the process. Do you?
Hezekiah’s Prayer (2 Kings 19:14-19)
The clearest example I know of trusting the Lord is Hezekiah’s prayer recorded toward the end of 2 Kings. In this section we find the city of Jerusalem under siege by the Assyrian army. Surrounded by the invading forces, Judah’s King Hezekiah is bombarded by threats and mockery from bloodthirsty aggressors:
“Royal spokesman said to [Hezekiah’s servants], ‘Tell Hezekiah this is what the great king, the king of Assyria, says: “What are you relying on? You think mere words are strategy and strength for war. Who are you now relying on so that you have rebelled against me? Now look, you are relying on Egypt, that splintered reed of a staff that will pierce the hand of anyone who grabs it and leans on it. This is what Pharaoh king of Egypt is to all who rely on him. Suppose you say to me, “We rely on the Lord our God.” Isn’t he the one whose high places and altars Hezekiah has removed, saying to Judah and to Jerusalem, “You must worship at this altar in Jerusalem”?”’ (2 Ki 18:19–22 CSB)
“Hear the word of the great king, the king of Assyria. This is what the king says: ‘Don’t let Hezekiah deceive you; he can’t rescue you from my power. Don’t let Hezekiah persuade you to rely on the Lord by saying, “Certainly the Lord will rescue us! This city will not be handed over to the king of Assyria.”’” (2 Ki 18:28–30 CSB)
“Say this to King Hezekiah of Judah: ’Don’t let your God, on whom you rely, deceive you by promising that Jerusalem will not be handed over to the king of Assyria. Look, you have heard what the kings of Assyria have done to every country: They completely destroyed them. Will you be rescued? Did the gods of the nations that my predecessors destroyed rescue them…?’” (2 Ki 19:10–12 CSB)
How did King Hezekiah respond to this clear and present danger?
In 2 Kings 19:14-19, we read:
14 Hezekiah took the letter from the messengers’ hands, read it, then went up to the Lord’s temple, and spread it out before the Lord. 15 Then Hezekiah prayed before the Lord:
Lord God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, you are God—you alone—of all the kingdoms of the earth. You made the heavens and the earth. 16 Listen closely, Lord, and hear; open your eyes, Lord, and see. Hear the words that Sennacherib has sent to mock the living God. 17 Lord, it is true that the kings of Assyria have devastated the nations and their lands. 18 They have thrown their gods into the fire, for they were not gods but made by human hands—wood and stone. So, they have destroyed them. 19 Now, Lord our God, please save us from his power so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, Lord, are God—you alone.
When faced with a situation of incomparable danger to mortal life, Hezekiah took the threat, read it, went into the Lord’s temple (the Lord’s presence), and spread it out before the Lord, and prayed. He called on God to open his ears and hear, open his eyes, and see. He pleaded with the Lord to save him and his people, so that all would know that the Lord is God alone. Hezekiah showed trust through faith in action.
So let me encourage you, the next time you face a situation where you don’t know how you will get by, I invite you to take that perceived threat, that danger, that mental anguish, that fear–I invite you to take it into the Lord’s presence in prayer, boldly approaching the throne of grace. Open your hands and in your mind’s eye, picture whatever it is, place it in your hands and lay it out before the Lord. Present it to him in prayer. Hold it in your hands, spread it out before the Lord. Know that because of Jesus, his ears are open to your cry, his eyes are open to your plight.
In that moment, pour out your heart to him. What are you afraid of?
“Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never allow the righteous to be shaken” (Ps 55:22 CSB).
Pray the words of Psalm 62:
“Rest in God alone, my soul,
for my hope comes from him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation,
my stronghold; I will not be shaken.
My salvation and glory depend on God, my strong rock.
My refuge is in God.
Trust in him at all times, you people;
pour out your hearts before him.
God is our refuge. Selah” (Ps 62:5–8 CSB)
Pray, pour out your heart and then selah–pause for a divine interlude.
“The fear of mankind is a snare, but the one who trusts in the Lord is protected.” (Pr 29:25 CSB)
Put Your Hook in Their Nose
Back in April I was checking a translation of 2 Kings with a team in Cameroon, a community who lives under constant threat of terrorist attack. Buildings are burned. Homes are pillaged. Fields are stolen from the hands of subsistence farmers. While working on 2 Kings, we were moved by the trust-filled actions of King Hezekiah and the Lord’s response to him. Since then, we continue to pray the last stanza of the Lord’s response concerning the king of Assyria:
“Your raging against me and your arrogance have reached my ears, I will put my hook in your nose and my bit in your mouth; I will make you go back the way you came.” (2 Ki 19:28 CSB)
We pray the Lord’s words after him. “Yes, Lord, hook their noses and turn them around!” Have you ever needed to pray that prayer? Don’t be afraid to pray specific prayers. Notice that Hezekiah prayed, “Listen closely, LORD, and hear; open your eyes and see. Hear the words…” and the Lord replies saying, “all this has reached my ears.” Did his words reach the Lord through Hezekiah’s prayer? Every time we say “amen” we are verbally demonstrating our trust in God and inviting him to act in accordance with his character.
This is what it is to trust the Lord. This is what King Hezekiah became known for and this is what the people of God will be known for:
“Hezekiah relied on the Lord God of Israel; not one of the kings of Judah was like him, either before him or after him. He remained faithful to the Lord and did not turn from following him but kept the commands the Lord had commanded Moses. The Lord was with him, and wherever he went he prospered. He rebelled against the king of Assyria and did not serve him.” (2 Ki 18:5–7 CSB)
“With all your heart”
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart.” “With all your heart,” answers the question: “How are we to trust the Lord?” It’s with your whole being, your whole heart, the entirety of your inner self.
Sometimes in the Bible the word “heart” can point to one aspect of our inner life, such as feelings, emotions, the will, or the mind. However, in our passage it’s probably best to take “heart” in its most comprehensive sense: all your inclinations, your entire nature, every ounce of your personality; with the heart seen as the governing center of all of these. This means that with all that you are, trust the Lord. Not a single part of who you think you are is excluded from the command to trust the Lord. The ultimate dysphoria then is the dissatisfaction of not trusting in the Lord with all our heart.
“Do not rely on your own understanding”
Twinned with the command to trust in the Lord is the complementary instruction to not “rely on your own understanding,” your own discernment. To rely on something is to lean on it, depend on it, support yourself with it. This is not a command to turn off your brain as if to say, “If I can’t rely on my own understanding and I need only trust the Lord, why have any understanding at all?” That’s anti-intellectualism and is opposed to the life of faith and contrary to wisdom.
Wisdom starts with the fear of the Lord but goes on to trust him while seeking to understand as much as possible about his world. Do not be content with your own understanding. Let us develop Christian minds out of fear of and trust in the Lord. Fear and trust seeking knowledge are the seeds of which sprouts the mature Christian mind.
The tragedy is that a feeble thought-life leads us to lean on our own understanding more while perhaps giving the appearance of leaning on the Lord. But that’s not truly leaning on the Lord, that’s leaning on stupidity.
Brothers and sisters, as a missionary living overseas for the last decade or so, I have to say I am troubled witnessing from afar numerous trends and events in America. My non-American friends and colleagues abroad—people from all over the world, Christians, and non-Christians alike—are asking me questions that I not only find difficult to answer but find embarrassing. I’m at a loss for how to respond because I lack sufficient understanding to have an informed opinion about certain issues. I don’t even have to name or list the trends and events, because I’m sure that as soon as I mentioned this, something immediately came to your mind. That says a lot.
So, whatever came to mind for you: have you been trusting the Lord, or have you been relying on your own understanding? Have you been acknowledging God in your ways of thinking and acting? Where have you been trusting the Lord with less than your whole heart? Where have you been trusting half-heartedly while leaning on your own understanding? Conversely, where have you been trusting with all your heart despite not understanding? Where have you been leaning confidently on the Lord in the face of opposition?
Why do I bring this up? I think we have yet to see the best of the Christian mind. With unprecedented access to knowledge, tools and one another, the best of Christian thinking may yet be in front of us. But in order to get there we cannot settle. We must trust the Lord in the style of faith seeking understanding. Fear of and trust in the Lord must be primary and come first. Then we must go all in to discover which elements in our faith and practice are cultural and which are biblical, recognizing God’s creative design in unleashing human beings as culture makers. 7,000 languages spoken and signed on Earth. There may be just as many cultures. But all of these have the same goal: communication and communion, with one another and the Creator of heaven and earth.
The Marks of Scholarship
I’m relieved that I’m not the only one who finds this present time equal parts troubling and confusing. Professor Mark Noll, an evangelical historian of Christianity in America, has pointed out similar findings and was recently encouraged to publish an updated edition of his book, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. In it, he laments a loss of what he calls “the marks of scholarship.” They are “patience, wide-ranging research, care in defining the objects in view, eagerness to engage in critical responses, and willingness to examine problems from multiple perspectives.”
Sure, we’re not all scholars nor are we striving to be, but as a sort of evaluation, I would like to ask us to submit ourselves to what we might call a “rely on your own understanding test.” Using these “marks of scholarship,” ask yourself how you’re doing on each of these points:
- Am I patient in dialogue, quick to listen, slow to speak (Jam 1:19), listening carefully and uttering a patient reply (Sir 5:11)?
- How do I inform myself of current events? Do I read widely? Do I seek news and information from a wide range of sources?
- Do I exercise care in identifying the issues at hand or do I tend to attack people’s motives and character?
- Am I eager to engage with people with whom I don’t see eye to eye in peace-loving ways?
- Am I willing to examine issues from multiple perspectives?
How are you doing? For me, not answering positively to some of these criteria stems from my own insecurity and lack of trust in the Lord. In order to embody these “marks” I must distrust my own understanding and wait on the Lord, trusting his design for the good life as revealed in Scripture. To be clear, we must pursue knowledge God’s way, recognizing his authority in all domains. But do I trust the Lord enough to strive to embody each of these criteria or am I trying to assure the outcomes through my own understanding? I don’t want to be wise in my own eyes “doing my own research,” rather I want to pursue God’s wisdom.
In Proverbs, we find instruction from one of the wisest human beings to walk this earth. He did his own research and concluded that in order to be truly wise, in order to lead the good life, one needs to 1) fear the Lord (Pro 1:7) and 2) trust the Lord (Pro 3:5). To that he added immense knowledge and learning. But becoming wise should not inspire confidence in one’s own intelligence or lead to arrogance.
Waiting on the Lord
Living this way will require waiting on the Lord, but anyone who waits on the Lord will not be disappointed. When I think of “waiting on the Lord” I think of a trust fall, when someone lets go with an active belief that someone else will do what they’re supposed to do.
What if I invited a volunteer onto the stage right now to do a trust fall? Would someone come? Well, if they did, what if I purposely let that person fall? What if I deliberately didn’t catch them? How would you react? How would you feel? “That’s unjust!” you might scream because that’s not what I’m supposed to do. Society cannot operate like that, and the Lord would never do that.
One Saturday recently at my boys’ soccer practice, I was standing around chatting with another dad from church. He asked me what I thought it meant “to wait on the Lord.” “Wait on the Lord, and he will rescue you” (Pro 20:22 CSB). He wasn’t sure but assumed “to wait on” in the Bible was similar to “to wait on someone” as in “to serve someone with food or drink.” I shared that it was my understanding that “waiting on the Lord” has more to do with hope than serving. Hope is quite a different thing to serving. Hope is not something you do for the Lord (serving him as if he needed anything), but how you respond in faith to the Lord. Standing there, I asked my son George, who’s seven years old, if he trusted me.
“Do you trust me enough to do a trust fall?”
He immediately jumped up. Once we agreed that we were both ready, he leaned back. He fell into my arms, waiting—hoping—confident that I would catch him. As he was falling, he was waiting. The wait was only as long as it took him to reach my arms, arms that he was confident were both ready and capable of catching him.
Ask a little child to do a trust fall with you. Watch their face as they close their eyes and lean back. A blank stare will turn into the most delightful smile. That is what it’s like to trust in the Lord. Falling into his arms and pursed lips turn into a smile born of thrill and hope requited. The child trusts you, leans back in faith, and waits for you to catch them. As the child is falling, the child is waiting, trusting. The thrill and joy of that child cradled in your arms will multiply thrill and joy in you.
Your heavenly Father will always catch you. He delights in you. Trust in him, trust him, wait on him, lean into him in faith mingled with magisterial awe. It’s a trust fall, except where your heavenly Father is concerned, he is the one pulling you—guiding you—toward him. You see, if you come to trust the Lord, it’s because he has drawn you into that trust. “No one can come to me unless they are drawn to me by the Father who sent me, and I will raise them up at the last day” (Jn 6:44 CEB).
Dear friend, he is drawing you today, inviting you into an intimate relationship built upon the most unshakable trust this world has known or will ever know. So come to him, trust him. Know that he acts for your good and not for your harm.
Do what’s right while leaving him in charge of the outcome.
“A greedy person stirs up conflict, but whoever trusts in the Lord will prosper. The one who trusts in himself is a fool, but one who walks in wisdom will be safe.” (Pr 28:25–26 CSB)
And even when I suffer, or things don’t go as I expected, I know that God is working it out, working it together, and corrects me as a beloved child in whom he delights.
“In all your ways know him”
“All your paths” is your entire way of life and echoes the words of “with all your heart.” “Know him,” commands us to pay attention to God. Be knowledgeable about him, what he requires and what he desires. Be intimately acquainted with him, recognizing his authority. Be aware of God in all that you do.
While society encourages us to make uphold personal autonomy, wisdom looks to God every step of the way, in every decision, in every desire, preference, and determination. We are not autonomous; we are subjects in his kingly creation. It’s his world, his choice. “In all your ways know him” is a declaration of God’s authority, the dependent nature of humans, and our insufficiency. There’s hardly today a more radical thought than this: God’s ways are better than our own human judgments.
“He will make your paths straight”
Life is a path.
“The promise of straight paths (3:6) [as one commentator noted] is especially poignant because paths in ancient Israel were often winding, tortuous roads that took much effort on the part of travelers. A straight path, which would be relatively easy to traverse, was rare. ‘He will make your paths straight’ does not necessarily mean that one’s course in life will be comfortable and trouble-free. It does mean that through his Word God will reveal the right direction and destination, even if bearing the cross is required in order to get there.”
A path is always marked out by previous travelers. God has marked it out in his Instruction and the person of Jesus. In Scripture, the righteous enjoy smooth, straight paths whereas the paths of the wicked lead them and others astray (Pro 12:26). They are full of thorns and snares (Pro 22:5). By contrast, the righteousness of the blameless person will clear their path (Pro 11:5) while the wicked fall because of their own wickedness. The righteous will provide guidance to their neighbors (Pro 12:26), since “the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, shining brighter and brighter until midday” (Pr 4:18 CSB).
As you trust in God, he will be the one to straighten and direct your paths. Otherwise, you’re the one directing, and unless your paths correspond to his, they won’t be straight. The path will not lead to life.
Proverbs 3:5-6 Synthesis
So, what do we do with all of this? Remember that in Proverbs 3:5-6, we are overhearing the voice of a wise and experienced father speaking to his son: “My son.” Ask yourself: Am I in a place to listen? This is advice from someone who reached the pinnacle of human knowledge. Vast knowledge obtained, he turns around only to tell us not to rely on our own understanding but to “trust in the Lord with all [our] heart.” These two elements “click” together like the parts of a seat belt and complement one another completely.
In short, we are to conform our ways of doing life to his way of life. Before being conformed, we have to recognize our own inadequacy. Regardless of your level of learning and apparent wisdom, you are insufficient in and of yourself to not only live the good life as God intended but even less so are you able to guarantee the success of your actions. Wisdom, knowledge, and understanding that don’t trust in the Lord are not true wisdom, knowledge, or understanding. True living with understanding is only possible by trusting in the Lord.
I appeal to you today in the same way that the author appeals to his son: not based on my own wisdom or reasoning but based on the good life that he offers you in Christ. Why should we trust the Lord? Because his ways lead to life and life in all its fullness:
- “You reveal the path of life to me; in your presence is abundant joy; at your right hand are eternal pleasures.” (Ps 16:11 CSB)
- “The one who follows instruction is on the path to life, but the one who rejects correction goes astray.” (Pr 10:17 CSB)
- “For those with insight, life is an upward path, avoiding the grave below.” (Pr 15:24 CEB)
This, brothers and sisters, is flourishing. Do you not want to experience life as God intended it? Do you think that human flourishing is opposed to faith in God? Does admitting to desiring this kind of life make you uneasy? Maybe that’s why we find it difficult to integrate books like Proverbs into our overall view of God and life and square its reasoning and worldview with our own. There is tension that doesn’t immediately fit nicely together. I admit that I find it difficult to incorporate every aspect of the Proverbs worldview into a Christian worldview. Even so, we have confidence that all comes to fruition in Christ.
But is this sort of life only for the life to come and entirely absent from the here-and-now? I don’t get that impression from the Bible’s wisdom literature. Yes, complete, new creation flourishing is yet to come in the new heavens and earth. But equally true is that Jesus announced the coming of the kingdom of God among us. “The kingdom of God is in your midst” (Lk 17:21): Jesus the king. “If anyone is in Christ, new creation” (2 Cor 5:17).
Jesus Baptist asked if Jesus was it, to which Jesus responded, “Go tell him what you see.” What they saw was everything that threatens the good life being pushed back, not merely reversed but reconfigured as new work of God. Sickness, death, spiritual oppression, etc., everything that could cut life short.
Jesus and the good life
If we apply each of the incentives of Proverbs 3:1-12 to the life of Jesus as a test for the good life, we may be inclined to suggest that he did not obtain it. In fact,
“Some of the most pious of God’s people have hardships that seem to fly in the face of these [incentives]. Christ himself possessed no material wealth and was crucified in the prime of his earthly life. His appeared to be a failure on Good Friday, and to some even on Easter Sunday. Most of his apostles were martyred, and few could be considered a success by worldly standards.”
Did Jesus live the good life? No, he was cursed for us: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, because it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree’” (Gal 3:13 CSB). Dying, he descended into the grave for you.
“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. The bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” (Jn 6:51 CSB)
“For the life of the world.” He gave his flesh for the life of the world. So that you would know life, the good life, life as God intends.
Jesus, the perfect Son, perfectly mastered and applied wisdom. The good news about him—his life, ministry, atoning death, descent, resurrection, and ascension—is called the wisdom of God. But Jesus himself experienced a “bad death,” dying in the prime of life after perfectly obeying God. How can this be?
At his crucifixion, Jesus cried out from the cross, “Father, into your hands I entrust [place] my spirit.” And then breathed his last” (Lk 23:46 CSB). The chief priests and scribes and elders recognized that there was a disconnect—something was off—and mocked him, saying, “He trusts in God; let God deliver him now” (Mat 27:43). He trusts God, so where’s his deliverance?
Three days later God the Father did deliver but in an entirely new way: resurrection.
“In Jesus Christ’s resurrection, immortal life has been actualized in history [–it’s now a thing]. His resurrection becomes the basis for all resurrection, and all resurrection is to be understood in terms of his. No longer does the hope of resurrection rest, as in the OT, merely upon prophetic vision or upon inferences from God’s covenant relationships. No longer is resurrection to be defined simply as renewed life [after escaping the grave]. Resurrection-life now finds its meaning in the image of Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:29).”
You see attempting to live the good life in a world dominated by sin and death apart from the wisdom of God is a fools’ errand. It’s impossible. So, Jesus has inaugurated a new creation, a new kingdom in which death is dead, sin is dead, and we are free to live and serve. There is hope beyond the grave. The grave is not your final destination. Your final breath is not you waving goodbye to the good life regardless of how you meet your end. Jesus has run the course of death ahead of you to clear the way and forever change our outlook on this world and the world to come.
Those who are in Christ—those united to him by faith—are already part of that new creation, bringing that kingdom way of life into the present as a preview of what’s to come. There is no guarantee that we won’t experience a bad death, but rest assured that being united to Christ by faith is for your flourishing. Flourishing in ways that ancient people of faith only started to catch a glimpse of. The good life outlined in Proverbs is a shadow of the good life in Jesus the Messiah.
We can trust in God and not our own understanding because Christ demonstrated that trusting in God results in ultimate vindication, justification, being declared to be in the right: “That’s the way life is to be done.” Trusting in your own understanding says, I have to fight like Sheol to prosper in this life because this is all I got.
Trusting in God says, “I will entrust myself to the one who orchestrates all things for the pleasure of his good will and my good.” It trusts that living a life marked by faith—active trust—in God will lead to ultimate flourishing, even though we may not see it yet.
What does it mean to trust the Lord for the good life? It means trusting God’s instruction, trusting that the way God has told us to live is in fact the way that leads to true happiness and salvation. It’s being ever conscious of what pleases him.
The author of Proverbs is living the good life of his day and wants to make sure his son is too. Isn’t that what Jesus does? He welcomes us into his family. He not only adopts us, calls us “son, daughter” but doesn’t leave it at that; he shepherds us. He pours out his Spirit to indwell us so that we grow into his likeness.
The new covenant perspective Jesus preached radically transforms the Ancient Israelite’s vision of the good life. In the resurrection life of the risen Messiah, the good life hinted at in the Old Testament reaches its fulfillment. He is the pioneer and trailblazer of our faith (Heb 12:2). He showed that death was not the end but through defeating death he opened a new path to the good life everlasting. He was obedient to death even a bad death to show that God is Lord over all. The earthly, fleshly physical deliverance in this present world isn’t and wasn’t the highest prayer that one could offer. No longer the highest aim of life. No, he removes the fear of untimely demise and near subhuman existence thereafter. He injected it with his blood, his new resurrection life to inaugurate true and ultimate human flourishing in this world and the world to come.
Trusting in God says, “I will unite myself to Christ by faith. I am free from every plan of darkness, free to live and free to love. I no longer fear death. My life is not snuffed out when I die. My hope is not in the here and now. My hope is in the God who reigns over all.”
Will you not unite yourself to him in faith and become a part of the new creation? Call on his name for the forgiveness of sins and cling to him in faith.
Barnwell, B. O. “Heart.” Page 456 in New Bible Dictionary. Edited by D. R. W. Wood, I. H. Marshall, A. R. Millard, J. I. Packer, and D. J. Wiseman. 3rd ed. Leicester, England; Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 1996.
Ellis, E. E. “Life.” New Bible Dictionary. Edited by D. R. W. Wood, I. H. Marshall, A. R. Millard, J. I. Packer, and D. J. Wiseman. 3rd ed. Leicester, England; Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 1996.
Fox, Michael V. Proverbs 1–9: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. Vol. 18A of Anchor Yale Bible. New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2008.
Kugel, James L. How to Read the Bible: A Guide to Scripture, Then and Now. New York: Free Press, 2014.
Longman III, Tremper. Proverbs. Vol. 2 of Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006.
Noll, Mark A. The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. Chicago: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2022.
Patton, Matthew H., and Frederic C. Putnam. Basics of Hebrew Discourse: A Guide to Working with Biblical Hebrew Prose and Poetry. Edited by Miles V. Van Pelt. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2019.
Steinmann, Andrew. Proverbs. Concordia Commentary. Saint Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2009.
James L. Kugel, How to Read the Bible: A Guide to Scripture, Then and Now (New York: Free Press, 2014). ↑
Matthew H. Patton and Frederic C. Putnam, Basics of Hebrew Discourse: A Guide to Working with Biblical Hebrew Prose and Poetry, ed. Miles V. Van Pelt (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2019), 170. ↑
Tremper Longman III, Proverbs, vol. 2 of Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006). ↑
Longman III, Proverbs, vol. 2. ↑
Longman III, Proverbs, vol. 2. ↑
Longman III, Proverbs, vol. 2. ↑
Andrew Steinmann, Proverbs, Concordia Commentary (Saint Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2009), 110. ↑
Longman III, Proverbs, vol. 2. ↑
B. O. Barnwell, “Heart,” in New Bible Dictionary, ed. D. R. W. Wood et al., 3rd ed. (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 456. ↑
Mark A. Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (Chicago: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2022), 21. ↑
Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, 315. ↑
Michael V. Fox, Proverbs 1–9: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, vol. 18A of Anchor Yale Bible (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2008), 148. ↑
Fox, Proverbs 1–9: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, 148–49. ↑
Fox, Proverbs 1–9: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, 148. ↑
Steinmann, Proverbs, 115. ↑
Steinmann, Proverbs, 115. ↑
Fox, Proverbs 1–9: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, 148. ↑
Steinmann, Proverbs, 116–17. ↑
E. E. Ellis, “Life,” in New Bible Dictionary, ed. D. R. W. Wood et al., 3rd ed. (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 689–90. ↑