Proverbs 3

In the book of Proverbs, God presents three kinds of people: the wise person, the fool, and the simple person (see Proverbs 1:20-22).

The simple person is naïve, impressionable, highly influenced and not influential. The simple are passive and they are not discerning. Scripture pictures the simple person as just drifting through life and going whichever way the wind blows them. There is no anchor for their soul, there is no conviction, there is no guiding reality, there is no truth by which they evaluate anything. The simple person is just carried along by whatever crowd they happen to be with and by whatever emotion they feel at the moment. One thing you learn in Proverbs is that the road of life is full of people who give bad advice – but the simple person can’t tell the difference in bad advice and good.

The fool is more purposeful. He or she dismisses the wisdom of God and live aimlessly without Him. Some fools are very intelligent, but they are not directed by God, they are directed by their immediate desires; the fool is a slave to his or her urges. And a fool won’t take instructions from God or listen to wise counsel from His people because he or she already knows everything. So the fool is limited by their own ability to figure things out. Proverbs 12:15 says, “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but he who heeds counsel is wise.”

Wise people fear the Lord. They have this deep conviction about who God is and their response is to live in humble reverence before Him. The fear of the Lord is not something that terrifies them – the fear of the Lord is a warm blanket around their life. It is protection. It is an understanding that He has me, He guides me, He leads me, and I am being watched over by the Sovereign Lord of the universe.

And from that starting place the wise person lives intentionally. They have a commitment to God’s Word and God’s wisdom, and their purpose is to give God glory. The wise person is not perfect, but their life has purpose and direction. They know that through the cross of Christ they have been redeemed, reconciled, and invited in. And because of that, their life will never be the same. It can’t be. The wise person is unhappy and unable to live with inconsistencies and hypocrisy in their life. They fight the drift into compromise and complacency and by the grace of God they become a person of courage and faith.

That leads us to our chapter for today, one of the greatest, most practical, most helpful passages in the entire Bible (I’ll focus on Proverbs 3:5-6). It describes how God directs the life of the wise person.

If I am living this God-directed life, I am confident in God’s care. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart.” You can have confidence in God; you can trust Him. But notice (v.5) you are to trust Him with all your heart – there is no such thing as half-hearted trust. You either trust God or you don’t. God deserves nothing less! Think about this: God’s character makes it impossible for Him to fool us, because He cannot lie. His wisdom makes it impossible for Him to fail us. He cannot make a mistake, so the only thing we ought to do is trust Him totally.

Then we are told, “Lean not on your own understanding.” You often see this in Proverbs: one verse will state the same truth two ways for emphasis: positively, then negatively. The word “lean” literally means “to support yourself by leaning on something or someone else.” In other words, we are not to be guided just by what we think, or what we feel we ought to do. This does not mean we are to be without understanding. It doesn’t mean you are to put your mind in neutral. It doesn’t mean that you don’t use common sense, but it DOES mean you don’t simply use your reasoning, your intelligence, or your thoughts, to determine what you do in your life. You choose to trust the Lord totally.

The God-directed life also means being committed to God’s way. “In all your ways acknowledge Him.” You are to acknowledge the Lord in all your ways. That means, in your financial life, your social life, your recreational life, your vocational life, your marital life, you are to live with a commitment to doing it God’s way. The word “acknowledge” literally means “to recognize or to see.” Simply put, in every part of your life you are to be looking for God. You ought to think about every decision in these terms: What does God want? What does God desire? What does God say is the wise thing to do?

Last, the God-directed life means being controlled by God’s will. If you do your part, God will do His part: “And He will make straight your paths.” Even though this is a promise, it is a conditional promise: you will not be controlled by God’s will for you unless you are confident in God’s care for you and committed to God’s purpose for you.

Think about that phrase for a moment, “He will make straight your paths.” You can live your life on one of three levels:

Level 1: I do what I want to do. That is the level where most of the world lives today.
Level 2: I try to do what I ought to do. That is the level where a lot of Christians live today, but that is not the highest level – and it reveals a half-hearted commitment.
Level 3, the highest level: I do what God leads me to do. That is where God wants all of us to live. On what level are you living?

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Proverbs 2

Life is a journey. You began that journey on the day you were born, and someday your journey on earth will end and you will spend eternity in either heaven or hell. Today you are somewhere in between where you came from and where you are going — and your direction determines your destination.

This chapter of Proverbs presents two possible trajectories for your life, two paths that lead in opposite directions. The first path is the way of wisdom, the road that leads to the blessings and protection of God. You will not find this path by accident — you seek it out (v.4) by seeking the Lord. As you follow His commandments (v.1) and His insights (v.3), you will inevitably find yourself walking with Him.

As you walk this path of wisdom with the Lord, He will be a shield for you, guarding and watching over your journey (v.7-8). He will give you wisdom all along the way — the kind of wisdom that leads to a life of “righteousness and justice and equity” (v.9). And you will be spared all the heartache and emptiness that is to be found on the other path…

The description in verses 12-19 paints of picture of a God-less, wasted life. Without the wisdom of God the human heart will always be pulled toward that which is evil, perverted, dark, and immoral. In what will be a recurring theme in Proverbs, Solomon equates this “crooked path” (v.15) with the futility and foolishness of a weekend fling with an adulteress woman. The thrill of flattery and sensual pleasure last only briefly, but the effects of following a path like that are permanent. It is clear that this road is a highway to hell.

The purpose of this warning — and the distinction between the two paths of life — is stated in verse 20: “So you will walk in the way of the good and keep to the paths of the righteous.” There is no future in the way of the wicked (v.22), but when you walk with God your future is secure.

Many years after King Solomon wrote this truth, King Jesus affirmed it. As you read His words, let them sink in. Which way are you going?

Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.
(Matthew 7:13-14)

Proverbs 1

Note: If you are following the “Every Day in the Word” reading plan, you know that we are going to spend the next three days in the book of Proverbs. Because of the literary style of Proverbs I will not attempt to comment on every verse. Instead, I will focus on a few representative verses. I hope it is a blessing to you. Thanks for reading!

Solomon had a great start, a godly heritage. His father, King David, named him king on his deathbed. As a young king, God gave Solomon a “blank check,” offering him whatever he asked for. Solomon chose wisdom, and God granted it. Out of that wisdom, God used Solomon to write three books of the Bible. As a young man he wrote Song of Solomon, a passionate rhapsody of love. Solomon wrote Ecclesiastes as an elderly man. It is his testimony, his spiritual autobiography. And in between the two, in middle age, he compiled Proverbs. Solomon wrote all but the last two chapters.

Proverbs 1:2-6 is like the paragraph on the back cover of a book, the little blurb that tells you what the book is about. Most of the book is made up of short, one-verse statements; many are little comparisons, object lessons called “proverbs.” Someone has said that a proverb is a short sentence based on long experience. Proverbs are little nuggets of wisdom on how to do life. These writings may be 3,000 years old, but they are fresh with relevance.

Verse 7 is the key to the entire book: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” Proverbs 9:10 says the same thing nuanced this way: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.” So the goal of the book is wisdom. Wisdom is a world-view that says, “Here is what I know about God, and this is how I apply what I know about God to the details of my life.”

The Bible says that the place I begin to get wisdom is “the fear of the Lord.” So you don’t have to be a genius to have wisdom; you don’t need an education to have wisdom – you need “the fear of the Lord.” So what does it mean to fear the Lord? The fear of the Lord means holding two realities in tension: awesome respect and loving gratitude.

On the one hand we have this awesome respect for the Lord because He is holy and powerful and capable of fierce judgment. He is the one who pronounces judgment and damnation against sinners. We see that in Christ’s crucifixion, don’t we? Look to the cross and you will see the terror and dread of a holy God who would not spare His own Son once He had taken our sin upon Himself. When God looked upon His Son and saw our sin, He did not overlook it; He dealt with it severely, violently, and radically. So the first reality of fearing the Lord is you on your face before the One who is altogether holy, a righteous God who knows everything you’ve ever done or said or thought. We walk in absolute trepidation before Him because we know how He feels about sin and how He deals with sin.

But on the other hand we have this loving gratitude for the Lord because of who He is and what He has done for us in Christ. On the Cross we also see an amazing love that invites us in and beckons us to draw near.

We must come to the understanding that we were born sinners and that our sin has separated us from God. As we stand there in our sin before a holy God, there is nothing but terror and dread for us. But because of Christ – because of His great love with which He loved us – Christ died for us! While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. He makes peace for us through the blood of His cross. Because of that, we can stand before the Lord as the sons and daughters of His love, and we willingly surrender to His Lordship – and an incredible peace follows. That is the fear of the Lord, and that is the beginning of wisdom.

John 21

Forty days passed between Jesus’ resurrection and ascension. According to Acts 1:3, Jesus spent these days “presenting Himself alive” to His disciples and talking to them about His kingdom.

The third of these post-resurrection appearances occurred very early one morning after seven of the disciples had been fishing all night. The fishing was Peter’s idea. He had probably assumed that although Jesus was alive, he would not be considered His “apostle” anymore — not after he had failed Jesus so miserably, denying Him three times on the night of His arrest. Surely after such disloyalty Jesus would not trust Peter again, so it was back to the sea and the nets for the outspoken disciple who made big promises he couldn’t keep.

Neither Peter nor his mates knew it was Jesus on the shore calling to them and giving fishing tips. But when they pulled in 153 “keepers,” John (the disciple whom Jesus loved, v.7) realized that the Miracle-Worker was behind the catch — it was Jesus!

Peter’s reflex was to swim to meet the Lord, who was waiting with a charcoal fire and a fisherman’s breakfast. A net was not the only thing Peter hauled ashore that day. He was also dragging a load of guilt, the shame of failure, and uncertainty about the future of his usefulness in ministry. In the conversation that followed, Jesus relieved Peter of his baggage and restored his apostleship.

It is one of the most well-known exchanges in history: for each of Peter’s three denials, Jesus allowed an affirmation of loyalty and love. And for each of Peter’s affirmations, Jesus repeated Peter’s assignment: “Feed My sheep.” Peter understood that Jesus expected him to be a leader in caring for the “flock” of new believers who would respond to the gospel.

And Peter did just that. His preaching on the day of Pentecost produced thousands of new “lambs” and under his teaching and leadership (along with the other disciples, of course) that flock (the original church) flourished and scattered abroad to turn the world upside-down. Peter was faithful to the death, never again denying Jesus — not even when he was martyred under the rule of Nero around AD 67.

By the time John finished writing his gospel, Peter had been in heaven for twenty years. John affirmed his authorship of the gospel (v.24) and debunked a rumor about his own death — important points of clarification for the longest-surviving eye-witness of the ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, as well as the birth and advancement of the original church.

In the closing verse of the book (and the final statement of the four gospels), John reminds us that what he and the others recorded was only a small part of the life and work of Jesus. He had done and said so much more that all the books in the world could not contain it. And He is still working today — through you and me and His church around the world. Are you available for Him to work through today?

John 20

The religious leaders who had arranged the death of Jesus remembered His promise to rise, and so they took precautions. In addition to the large stone rolled across the tomb’s entrance, they had the tomb sealed and guarded by soldiers. But they did not understand that no rock, no seal, and no guard could keep the Son of God from rising again!

While the Gospel of John details the events of the crucifixion and burial of Jesus, it leaves the actual event of His rising cloaked in mystery. The resurrection is subtly stated, reported after-the-fact through the eyes of Jesus’ closest followers. Mary Magdalene went to the tomb early on Sunday morning and was startled to find the stone rolled away. John saw it next, noticing that the strips of linen that had wrapped the corpse of Jesus were lying there, wrapping nothing! Peter came next (v.7), noticing that the linen cloth that had wrapped Jesus’ head was “folded up in a place by itself.”

Peter and John were certainly amazed and excited, but they had not yet connected the dots; the picture of Jesus’ rising was still coming into focus for them. They returned home, leaving Mary weeping, peering into the empty tomb (Mark’s gospel records that there were other women with her, but John tells the story specifically from Mary’s perspective). Suddenly, two shining angels appeared, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain.

The angels asked, “Why are you weeping?” They knew that since Jesus was alive again there was no need to cry! Jesus approaching from behind, repeated the same question and added, “For whom are you looking?”

In a touching scene that is brilliantly understated, Mary assumed the voice behind her belonged to the gardner. But then the voice spoke her name, “Mary.” There must have been something familiar in the way He said it, because she immediately knew it was Jesus! Now her tears were gone and her questions were answered — “I have seen The Lord,” she announced to the disciples.

Later that day the disciples would see Jesus with their own eyes. Walking through the walls of the locked room where they were gathered, Jesus spoke peace to them and showed them the evidence of the crucifixion: the nail-wounds in His feet and hands and the spear-wound in His side. No living person ever bore those scars of death!

Verses 24-25 give the disciple Thomas his “Doubting” nickname. His doubts were erased a week later when he, too, saw the risen Christ and believed. That belief later carried Thomas to evangelize India, where he died preaching the gospel. Thomas and the others carried the gospel in response to Jesus’ sending, in the strength of Jesus’ authority, and in the power of the Holy Spirit (v.21-23).

As you celebrate Easter in a few days, remember that you have been sent as well. The same power and authority available to the apostles is available to you. This Easter, like the first Easter, is a time for celebration and evangelization!

John 17

Note to my readers: this is a very long post. The length indicates the significance of our chapter today, which is one of the deepest and richest sayings of Jesus in the Bible. I had some extra time today, so I decided to go all out. I hope it is a blessing to you.

This chapter is the real Lord’s Prayer. The night before Jesus died on the cross, He prayed this prayer in the hearing of His disciples and saw that was preserved in Scripture for us to read.

In this prayer, Jesus first prayed for Himself, then for His disciples, then for you! He prayed for all believers of all times. It has been called “The Prayer of Consecration,” “The Prayer of the Departing Redeemer,” and “The High Priestly Prayer of Jesus.” Whatever you want to call it, it is a very special passage of Scripture. There are three clues in v.1 that this prayer is going to be very special:

“When Jesus had spoken these words” — He had finished teaching and comforting His disciples, and now it was time to talk to His Father.

“He lifted up His eyes to heaven” – a prayer posture that showed that He was giving His Father His full attention.

“The hour has come” – indicates the timing of this prayer: knowing He had just 12 hours to live, Jesus didn’t try to do any more public ministry. He didn’t try to heal a few more sick people, didn’t go to see His mother, didn’t break down and become depressed, didn’t panic – He prayed.

The main concern of Jesus in His prayer was the glory of God (He used “glorify” four times in five verses). What does it mean to glorify God? It means to give honor, to shine the spotlight on, to “brag on” someone. That was Jesus’ concern in His prayer, and if that was His concern, it ought to be ours. Two things bring Him glory:

1. People coming to know Him as the only true God (v.2-3). Jesus said (v.1b) that He would give glory to His Father by giving people eternal life. Then Jesus defined eternal life: it is knowing God.

“Know” (v.3) is not just knowing the facts about God or even knowing that He exists and that He loves you. It means knowing by experience, having a relationship. Not only is eternal life knowing God in that way, but it is knowing Him through the one He sent, Jesus Christ (the only time Jesus called Himself by that name-title).

His prayer was (v.1), “The hour has come, glorify Your Son.” For what was Jesus asking? To be glorified in His suffering, death, and resurrection – and for His Father to receive His sacrifice for sin and to honor Him because of it. So God is glorified when people come to know Him as the only true God, surrendering to His lordship.

2. Fulfilling the purpose for which God created you (v.4). Jesus finished His work: He had taught, discipled, healed, preached, worked miracles, told the truth about God, and confronted counterfeit religion. Then He comforted His disciples, washed their feet, and served them the bread and cup of the new covenant. He had finished His work. Now all that was left for Him to do was to die – to let happen what was already in motion (betrayal and arrest, punishment, crucifixion). Jesus said, “I have glorified you on the earth, I have finished the work You gave Me to do.” God is glorified when we fulfill the purpose He has given us.

Having prayed for Himself, Jesus prayed for His disciples (v.6-19). Jesus had spent all night in prayer before He chose His disciples at the beginning of His earthly ministry; now He spends time praying for them at the end of His ministry. I find two major themes in this prayer for His disciples.

First, Jesus gave a report on His disciples. Verses 6-10 sounds like a progress report from a military outpost on the training of new recruits. These men given to Jesus were the twelve He called to follow Him. They were twelve ordinary men, but Jesus called them out of the world and into His presence.

It helps me to think of their calling in terms of seven tasks: to witness Jesus’ resurrection, to preach His gospel, to verify His gospel (with signs and wonders), to record His words (the Gospels), to complete His revelation (the epistles), to establish His church, and to evangelize the world. With all that responsibility, they needed prayer! Jesus reported, “I revealed to them who You are” (v.6).

How did Jesus reveal to them who God is and what God is like? Not instantly, in a blaze of blinding glory, but gradually, in a period of three years of close association, He manifested the Father through His teachings (He is a God of truth); His miracles (He is a God of unlimited power); His dealing with the poor, oppressed, and sick (He is a God of love, compassion, healing, and forgiveness); His foot-washing (He is a God who condescends to touch man with His grace); His Transfiguration (He is a God of great glory and majesty); and even in His anger as He cleansed the Temple (He is a God of holiness and justice).

Jesus reported that He had taught His disciples the truth (v.8). He taught them by example, in principles, by parables, and in personal conversation.

Second, Jesus made requests for His disciples in regard to their mission. These men had been called out of the world (v.6) so they could be sent back into the world (v.18). As they began their mission, Jesus prayed for their protection (v.11a), their unity (v.11b), their joy (v.13), and their holiness (v.17-19).

In the last part of this prayer Jesus prayed for all believers of all times — including you. He prayed for our unity (v.20-23). Certainly this means an absence of infighting in the body of Christ. Nothing is uglier than a divided church, Christians at odds with each other. The Puritan preacher Thomas Brooks wrote, “Discord and division become no Christian. For wolves to worry the lambs is no wonder, but for one lamb to worry another, this is unnatural and monstrous.” May we never be found “sowing discord” among brothers and sisters in Christ.

The unity for which Jesus prayed is not uniformity, everyone being just exactly alike – there is a beautiful diversity in the Body of Christ. And it is not unanimity, everyone always agreeing completely about everything – we don’t always have to see eye to eye to walk arm in arm.

It is a greater kind of unity for which Jesus prayed – a unity of purpose (v.21), “so that the world may believe.” Our unity is a witness to the world, for it makes us believable. When we come together in a unity of purpose, we are a powerful force for the gospel. May we never be found hindering the work of Christ because of petty divisions, infighting, or bickering.

How can you promote unity? Pray for each other, avoid gossip about other believers, build up others with encouragement, work together humbly, and have a servant’s heart. It has been well said that “Unity is the desire of the Savior, the delight of the saved, and the dread of Satan.”

Lastly, Jesus prayed that we would be in heaven with Him someday (v.24). Just think, the Lord of heaven wants you to be with Him! Jesus is looking forward to being with you in heaven! That ought to make you feel loved today. Jesus wants to spend eternity showing you how much He loves you (v.26)! What a thought! And what an exciting ending to this very special prayer. To God be the glory!

John 16

“I have good news and bad news — which do you want first?” Has anyone ever asked you that question? I think most people would want the bad news first (to get it out of the way) and then hear the good news last (to end on a positive note). That is the order Jesus chose in this chapter.

First the bad news (v.1-4): Jesus assured His disciples that they would face persecution and even martyrdom. And they did: James the son of Zebedee was beheaded by Herod Agrippa; Matthew was executed with a battle-ax; James the Less was beaten to death with a fuller’s club at the age of 94; Thomas was thrust through with a spear in India; Peter, Philip, Andrew, Bartholomew, Thaddaeus, and Simon the ​Zealot were all crucified; and John was exiled on the Isle of Patmos. What Jesus told them in this chapter, they would remember when the persecution came, and it would strengthen them.

Now the good news: Jesus assured His disciples that He would send the Holy Spirit to them (v.7-15). Jesus called Him “The Helper,” literally “one who is called alongside to give aid.” And what a help He would be! The Helper would take the gospel witness of the disciples and empower their words to bring about conviction of sin and to convince people of the truth. Additionally, the Helper would guide the disciples into truth, giving them moment-by-moment understanding and application of the teachings of Jesus for every situation.

Jesus kept saying that He was “going away” and that the disciples could not immediately go with Him. Because we have the advantage of a completed Scripture, you and I know that Jesus was going to the cross, to the grave, and (after the resurrection) up to glory. But the disciples did not the advantage we have. They were still confused about what Jesus was about to do, why He had to do it, and why they would not see Him “for a little while” (v.16-18).

Reading their thoughts, Jesus gave them two strong words of victory. First, Jesus was going to overcome death (v.20-24). They would see Him arrested, beaten, and executed — and that would produce sorrow. But that sorrow would turn to joy when He overcame death in the resurrection! Like a woman in labor whose pain is soon forgotten, erased by the joy of new life, the disciples would find lasting joy when Jesus came back to life.

Second, Jesus had overcome the world. The summary verse of the this chapter, verse 33, was not only a promise for Jesus’ original followers; it is a promise that is still in force for present-day disciples! The promise of verse 33 includes the trouble we will have (“in the world we will have tribulation”), the peace we can have (“in Me you might have peace”), and the victory we do have in Jesus (“I have overcome the world”).

Whatever you may face today, remember that you have a Savior who has already overcome your greatest enemy: death. And He already has victory over anything life can throw at you today!