Where Do You Stand?

Proverbs 3:5-6

Tom Pennington  •  June 16, 2013
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Lord willing, next Sunday I want us to return to our journey through the Sermon on the Mount, and I'm already looking forward to some of what we're going to encounter in the coming weeks and months in the rest of that great sermon. But this morning, in light of Father's Day, I want us to turn our attention to the Old Testament and to a passage that's very appropriate for us on this day. Turn back to the book of Proverbs, and we'll get there in just a moment.

I have mentioned to you before about the great Greek mathematician Archimedes. Archimedes was the first to truly understand and to explain the power of the simplest engine on earth – the lever. He understood its incredible, almost limitless power. Archimedes said, "Give me a place where I may stand, and I will move the world." In other words, if he could find a place for his lever's fulcrum outside of planet Earth using the simple power of the simplest engine that exists, the lever, he could move this planet from its orbit. In Greek, Archimedes' words "a place where I may stand" are 'pou sto.' Those words, 'pou sto,' and the English equivalent 'a place where I may stand', eventually came to be used metaphorically of the ultimate source of authority in any philosophy or any religion. Lying back of every truth claim that exists on this planet is a foundational authority, a 'pou sto,' the ultimate authority on which that truth claim rests.

Now when you look around us, there appear on the face of it to be many different sources of authority on which people base their philosophy or religion. For example, naturalism claims as its authority the cosmos as interpreted by the priests of naturalism, humanistic scientists. Rationalism says, "No. It's the human mind. It's human reason that is the ultimate authority." Even the postmodernist who questions the very presence and reality of absolute truth has an authority. The postmodern bases what he believes on his own reasoning or on the collective consensus of the reasoning of the people in his community.

But for most of the people around us, for most of the people on this planet, their source of authority is much simpler. It's simply their own mind. Our world is increasingly filled with people who create their own unique religion, their own unique philosophy. It fits, doesn't it? I mean, we have designer clothes and we have designer dog breeds and now we have designer religion. These people view all the philosophies and religions as a kind of buffet line. And they think they can just go through the line and pick the parts they like from each one. "Oh, I'll take a little Christianity. I like Christ and, you know, He's an admirable, noble character. And I'll have a little scientific naturalism as well. And go ahead and throw some of that Eastern mysticism on my plate. Ooh, and I like that part of postmodernism that says that truth and morality are relative. I'll take some of that too." To change metaphors, it's religion by Mr. Potato Head. You know, I just get to kind of pick the parts that look good to me and stick them together into this supposed unified whole. That's how a huge percentage of people approach what they believe. But understand this: whatever it might be, every single person – you included – has a foundational authority on which he bases everything he believes.

Now let me just say that for us who are Christians, you would think that we would share a common source of authority. And if you ask most Christians what is their foundational authority, what's going to be their answer? The Bible. But in reality, it's not so. Even those who claim to be followers of Jesus in fact have different sources of foundational, ultimate authority. For some Christians, it's tradition. "This is what the church has always taught. This is what my parents believe. This is what I have always embraced. It's tradition." For others, it's experience and feelings. "Yes, I can't show you this that I believe from Scripture, but I know it's true because I've experienced it. I just feel in my heart that this is what God wants or this is what God is like." For many in the Christian culture, the culture at large frames what they believe. Their worship is shaped by the culture and whatever's going on in the culture. That becomes their ultimate, foundational authority.

Understand this morning you are faced with this simple, straightforward decision. What will be your final authority? It is this question of ultimate authority that Solomon addresses in one of the most familiar and, yet I believe, one of the most misunderstood passages in all of Scripture. In words that are now almost three thousand years old, we have advice from the wisest man who ever lived apart from our Lord. Solomon carefully crafted these words to give direction to his son and to those in similar life circumstances. And of course, through the miracle of divine inspiration, ultimately the words we'll examine this morning come not from Solomon but from God Himself, the One who is wisdom.

I want to examine a passage that is instructive for all of us. Not a single person here this morning is exempt from the passage we will examine. But specifically, it is Solomon's model for all of us who are or who will be fathers and grandfathers. Men, this text provides us with the foundational conviction that we must embrace as fathers and the foundational truth that we must impart to our children. It's a passage you know. It stands at the center of a stanza that is Solomon's commentary on the theme of Proverbs. If you look at Proverbs 1:7, you see the theme of Proverbs explicitly stated. "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge…" When we come to Proverbs 3:1-12, Solomon comes back to that theme and he provides us with a commentary on what it means to fear the Lord.

Now this is a remarkable stanza – Proverbs 3:1-12– for a number of reasons. One of those reasons is because of what Solomon promises us. Look at verse 2. Here he says that as a general rule, not as an ironclad guarantee, those who follow what he's about to teach will have "length of days and years of life." That's a Hebrew expression which means a long and full life. Also in verse 2, he promises us 'shalom,' peace. This is an objective sense of well-being, a kind of internal peace and satisfaction and contentment. Now who doesn't want those things in this life? Who doesn't want a long and full life and a life characterized by 'shalom,' by an objective sense of well-being because we are right with the God who made us and who redeems us?

But that kind of life is only for those who live out the familiar directives found at the center of this stanza, Proverbs 3:5–6, because these verses explain for us the heart of what it means to really fear the Lord. Look at them with me. And I want you as I read them to imagine for a moment that you had never heard these words and you were reading them for the first time. See if you can read it with that first-time mindset. Solomon writes,

Trust in the Lord with all your heart

And do not lean on your own understanding.

In all your ways acknowledge Him,

And He will make your paths straight.

Solomon's point in these verses is that his son and every human being, without exception, must choose a foundational authority on which to build his life. He counsels us to choose God's revelation as our final authority and then to allow God's revelation to shape every decision, every detail in every area of life. So Proverbs 3:5–6 challenges you as it challenges me to make two foundational commitments. I want us to look at those commitments and I want to challenge you to make those commitments this morning even as Solomon challenged his son.

The first commitment that we must make is to accept God's Word as your final authority. Again this morning, as you hear the Word of God taught, you stand, as I always do, when we come to the Scripture, at a crossroads. You must decide what the authority in your life will be, and it's not complicated. There are in reality just two choices. Either your trust will be in God's wisdom or your own. You will either rely on divine revelation or on human reason. Look at verse 5. "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding." Now because of the nature of Hebrew poetry, which is not about rhyme, rather it's about parallelism, the second line adds to the meaning and understanding of the first line. Because of that, it's clear that Solomon is here contrasting trusting Yahweh. And by the way, when you see the word Lord in all caps in your Bible, that's God's personal name. That's Yahweh, which is how it's pronounced in Hebrew. When God says it, it's "I am." When we say it of Him, we say Yahweh; we're saying "He is," the eternally existent One. He's contrasting here trusting Yahweh on the one hand with trusting our own understanding on the other. In fact, in verse 5, the words 'trust' and 'lean' are very similar in meaning. Notice he begins verse 5 "Trust in the Lord…" The Hebrew word that's translated 'trust' there means to lean with your whole body on something in order to rest on it. It means to put one's complete weight on something. So in a metaphorical sense, the word means to rely on something, to throw your complete weight on it because you are trusting or relying solely in it. So in this context, it means to lean completely upon Yahweh, the one true and living God, for your full support, to rely solely on Him.

Now notice the contrast with the second half of the verse: "…and do not lean on your own understanding." The Hebrew word for 'lean' in the second half of this verse also has the idea of supporting one's self on something. For example, it's used of Samson when he leaned on the pillars of Dagon's Temple in order to stabilize himself before he pushed them over. It's used of Saul when Saul was mortally wounded and he leaned his full weight on his spear in order to support himself.

So understand then, the Hebrew words for 'trust' and 'lean' are almost identical. The contrast comes in what we lean on or rely on. Solomon says' "Lean on the Lord and do not lean on your own understanding." Now the Hebrew word for 'understanding' means insight or discernment. Solomon says (here's the crux of what he's saying), "You must never rely on your own perception of the right course of action." Let me say that again. You must never rely on your own perception of the right course of action. We must rest, instead, our complete confidence on Yahweh and never lean for support on our own ability to discern.

Now think about the implication of that for a moment. If none of us is to lean on our own understanding (and that's what the text says), that means by implication we're not to lean on any human understanding. We must never rely on human reason as our authority. Now don't misunderstand Solomon. He is not discounting the importance of the intellect and the mind. In fact, both the form and the content of Proverbs calls for a rigorous use of the intellect. If you've encountered Proverbs, you understand that. Instead, Solomon is confronting the issue of foundational authority. He says, "When it comes to your foundational authority for determining what's right and determining what you ought to do, do not lean, do not throw your weight, upon your own mind." Later Solomon comes back to this in Proverbs 28:26 when he says, "He who trusts in his own heart is a fool…" If your basis for deciding what's right and wrong is your own mind ('Well, I just think', 'Well, I believe'), the Bible says you're a fool because you're basing your life in eternity on your own faulty human reason.

We're also not to rely or lean, by implication, not only on our own mind, but on the collective mind, the collective mindset of the age in which we live. This is what Paul says in Romans 12:2 when he says, "Do not be conformed to this world…" Literally, the Greek text could be translated this way: "Do not allow yourself to be pushed into the mold of the mindset of the age in which you live." And don't mistake for a moment that there is a mindset to the age in which we live. It is shouted at us from every piece of entertainment and every newscast and every newspaper and every magazine and every song. There is a mindset that we are being asked to embrace. Paul says, "Don't buy into it. Don't allow the mindset of your age to force you into its way of thinking."

Not only are we not to rely or lean on our own mind or on the collective mindset of the age, let me add we're not to rely on the experts of our times. There are so many people who check their brain when somebody who reputes to be an expert comes on the television and makes some pronouncement as if he were the voice of God. Let me tell you what Jeremiah said about the experts of his age. Listen to Jeremiah 8:9. "The wise men…" These were the experts; these were the ones with all the answers; these are the people in whom you should put your trust. He says, "The wise men are put to shame, they are dismayed and caught; (Listen to this.) behold, they have rejected the word of the Lord, and what kind of wisdom do they have?" There's the answer to the experts. They've rejected the Word of the Lord. What kind of wisdom do they really have? They have no way to understand how anything is because they've rejected the Word of the Lord.

You see, the human mind and human reason are capable of profound thoughts. They're capable of brilliant inventions, of breathtaking artistic creations. But whatever good, whatever brilliance, whatever creativity come out of the human mind, they are mere echoes of the image of God that reside still in man after the fall. They are the faint, distorted, and broken reflection of our Creator. That's because, tragically, man's thinking and reasoning powers were marred beyond recognition by the fall. This is what Paul says in Romans 1 as he recounts the path of the unregenerate. In Romans 1:21, he says, "…they became futile in their speculations…." The Greek word for 'speculations' is the word from which we get 'dialogue.' They were futile in their internal dialogues. "…and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise…." To be 'sophas,' a word from which we get English words like 'sophisticated,' 'philosophy.' "…professing themselves to be 'sophas,' they became 'moros'…" - the word from which we get the word 'moronic.'

In Ephesians 4:18, Paul describes the minds of unbelievers, all unbelievers, as 'darkened.' What's fascinating about his word choice there is that Greek word occurs only two other times in the New Testament, and both of those times it refers to pitch black darkness. Man's mind wasn't simply dimmed by the fall; the light was crushed out of it. There is a complete absence of light in the thinking process of man. And by the way, that is just one - the word 'darkened' is just one - of twelve adjectives Paul uses of the unregenerate mind. Elsewhere, he describes the unbeliever's mind. Listen to this list. This is the unbeliever: debased, hardened, blinded, futile, hostile toward God, deluded, deceived, sensuous, depraved, corrupted, and defiled. Folks, that's why we don't put our confidence in human reason. As brilliant as man can be, his reasoning power has been twisted and darkened. Man's intellect apart from God will never lead him to a full understanding of anything. That's why Solomon later in Proverbs 14:12 says, "There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death."

So Solomon says here instead of leaning for support on human reason including our own, we must lean on God's understanding. Now here's where the misunderstanding for many Christians comes. If you ask the average Christian, 'What does it mean to trust in the Lord with all your heart,' what will he or she say? They'll say, "Well, it's a subjective feeling of confidence in God. I just have this subjective feeling in my heart that God is trustworthy and I just trust Him to do whatever He does in my life." Well, there are other places where this Hebrew word for 'trust' is used in that sense but not here, not in this context, because notice in this context it's contrasted with relying on our own discernment. So listen carefully. This is absolutely key to understanding this passage. In this context, to trust in the Lord is to rely on His understanding. It is to rely on His revelation rather than my own understanding.

It's interesting that trust and trusting in God's Word are put together in unique ways. For example, of King Hezekiah, we read this in 2 Kings 18:5. It says, "[Hezekiah] trusted in the Lord (there's our expression), the God of Israel; (in fact, it says) so that after him there was none like him among all the kings of Judah, nor among those who were before him." He stood alone as somebody who trusted the Lord. And what did that look like in Hezekiah's case? Listen to 2 Kings 18:6. "For he clung to the Lord; he did not depart from following Him, but kept His commandments, which the Lord had commanded Moses." Do you understand trusting in the Lord and trusting His words are two expressions to give us the same reality? If you don't trust God's words, you don't trust Him. And if you trust Him, you trust His words.

This confidence in God and in His revealed Word must be exclusive. Notice Proverbs 3:5. "Trust in the Lord with all your heart…" The Hebrew word for 'heart' doesn't primarily refer to emotions. This isn't about a feeling. It has to do, the heart in Hebrew thinking is the entire center of your thinking and treasuring and deciding. It's your entire inner being. You must trust Yahweh in a wholehearted, exclusive way. In other words, you can't lean on your own understanding in any area. You must trust God's Word on everything. Think about how this applies to contemporary Christian culture. Listen. You can't trust God regarding the way of salvation in Scripture and then lean on your own understanding when it comes to the issue of origins. You can't trust God's declaration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord from the dead, and then lean on your own understanding when it comes to other Biblical miracles like a worldwide flood. You can't trust God's declaration of the sinfulness of murder, and then lean on your own understanding when it comes to the sinfulness of homosexuality. You can't trust God's declaration of Himself as love, and then lean on your own understanding when He starts talking about His justice and His wrath. You can't trust God's declaration of eternal life, and lean on your own understanding when it comes to the issue of eternal punishment.

You see, the choice you must make, the two ways that are set before you, is what will be your ultimate authority. What will help you decide what is true? What will help you decide what is ethically right? How will you determine what you should think about the issues of our times, the philosophical issues of our times like naturalism, moral relativism, postmodernism? How are you going to decide what your perspective should be about those things? What about the moral issues of our times like abortion, homosexuality, the nature of marriage, the legitimate grounds for divorce, how to discipline your children? Or what about the spiritual issues of our times like what constitutes a church, and what should happen when the church gathers for corporate worship, and is the gospel exclusive or can someone come to know God through some means other than believing in Jesus Christ and repenting of their sin? For these and countless other decisions that you will have to make, the question is, what is your authority? Is it your own mind? Is it the consensus of the culture around you? Is it the experts? Or is it the Word of God alone?

If you follow your own understanding or the understanding of other human beings (listen carefully), you are trusting in man rather than God. The prophet Jeremiah put it very plainly in Jeremiah 17:5. "Thus says the Lord, 'Cursed (by God is the understanding; cursed by God) is the man who trusts in mankind…Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord….'" Now this turns everything on its head, doesn't it, because there are many professing Christians who think that certainty about anything is bad. To say that you know something is true from God's Word is the height of arrogance, they would say. But from God's perspective, the height of arrogance is to reject His perspective about anything and to go with some other perspective. Dan Phillips writes, "It is the height of arrogance to have a word from God and refuse to trust it by incorporating it into our way of thinking and living." Listen to Philips. He says, "It is to ape the primal serpent (or Satan himself) by confronting a word from God with, 'Has God really said?' It is arrogance posing as humility. It is to exalt my judgment over God's judgment. It is arrogance posing as open-mindedness." Tragically, that is the path that most of the seven billion people on this planet have chosen. They have believed our culture's siren song: "Trust yourself."

Solomon explains there's another way, and that way is to trust in Yahweh, in His revelation. You see, the decision that you must make is whose wisdom and whose understanding will serve as the foundational authority in your life. Oh, you can trust your own mind and you can trust the minds of other human beings and you will be, in Solomon's words and in God's words, a fool. Or you can wholeheartedly trust God's revelation in everything. Solomon pleads with you to accept God's Word as your final authority.

But notice Solomon doesn't stop there. He also urges you to make a second commitment: not only to accept God's Word as your final authority, but to obey God's Word as your practical authority. Verse 6. "In all your ways acknowledge Him…." The Hebrew word for 'ways' here literally refers to the path or the ruts cut in the ground by cart wheels or by feet passing over that same ground again and again. So it came to be used metaphorically of the habits of our lives or our patterns of behavior. Solomon says in all your predictable patterns of behavior, in all the habits and the details of your life, acknowledge Him – in your marriage, in your family, your education, your career, your church, in your roles as neighbor and friend, spouse, parent, child, citizen, employee or employer and fellow Christian.

"In all your ways (in all of your predictable patterns of behavior, literally) know Him (the Hebrew says)…" Know Him. One Hebrew scholar explains it this way. He says, "To know Him is to know and obey the divine law, to recognize its supremacy and take it as a guide." In other words, in every detail of your life, in all the predictable patterns of your behavior, you must acknowledge God's lordship. You must acknowledge His right to rule you. It's not enough to say, "Oh yeah, I believe in divine revelation rather than human reason." Instead, you must accept His right to rule you in all of the details of your life. As Dutch theologian Abraham Kuyper famously explained, "There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is sovereign over all, does not say 'Mine.'" You must allow what God says in His Word to shape your thinking, to direct your decisions. You must believe and obey what God has said about everything. This is, as one writer describes it, "the renouncing of all autonomy."

Solomon ends his exhortations to make God's Word our final authority and our practical authority with an amazing promise. Look at the end of verse 6: "In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight." Now this also is often misunderstood. This is not a guarantee that God's going to give you an easy life. In fact, that promise is made nowhere in Scripture. Instead, in Proverbs, from beginning to end, when Solomon uses these ideas of 'straight' and 'crooked,' it's speaking of morally straight and morally crooked, spiritually straight and spiritually crooked. So here's Solomon's promise: if you will make God's Word both your final authority and the practical authority in all the details of your life, then God is going to do something remarkable; He's going to cause you to walk on a morally and spiritually straight path. In other words, God Himself will ensure that you live a wise and godly life that pleases Him if you will make the Scripture your final authority and you will make it your practical authority in all the decisions of life, in all your ways. In other words, to borrow the words of a famous psalm, "He will lead you in the path of righteousness for His name's sake." Scripture – it must be our final authority. It must be our practical authority.

Fathers, let me ask you. Is this what you're teaching your children? Are your children learning from what you teach and what you model that God's revelation is the final word about everything? Or do they hear you spinning out of your own mind: "Well, I believe…" "Well, I think…." In the previous generation, men had the idea that the father's primary role was to be a provider, but that's changing. In fact, I read an article this week from Pew Research, an article entitled "The New American Father." Listen to what this article says. "Being a father in this era means more than bringing home a paycheck or delivering punishment to a misbehaving child. A new survey by the Pew Research Center finds that Americans expect dad to be more of a moral teacher than a breadwinner or disciplinarian. About six in ten Americans (sixty percent) say it is extremely important for a father to provide values and morals to his children. It was the top ranked paternal role in the survey."

Fathers, let me say to you this is not only increasingly becoming society's expectation of us, but this has always been God's expectation of us. And by far, the most important value you will ever provide your children is to teach them and to model for them the right foundation on which to build their lives, the right foundational authority. And for all of us, whether fathers or not, this morning we must again decide what will be our authority. What will be our 'pou sto?' What will be the place on which we stand? And there are only two choices. Either you will rely on human reason or you will rely on divine revelation. Your authority will either be your own understanding and that of other flawed and sinful human beings, or it will be God's perfect wisdom revealed to us in His Word. Solomon says your trust must be in the written Word of God, and the New Testament punctuates and says it must be in the Living Word of God, in God's revelation.

Here is Solomon's wise counsel. Accept God's Word as your final authority. "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding." And secondly, obey God's Word as your practical authority. "In all your ways acknowledge Him (and here's His promise), and He will make your paths straight." Let's pray together.

Father, thank You for Your Word to us. Thank You for Your written Word that we have celebrated together in this amazing passage. Father, challenge our hearts. I pray for those here this morning who have never acknowledged Your rightful authority because they have lived in a pattern of sin and unwillingness to repent and to believe in Your Son. And I pray that this morning would be the day when they would humble themselves before You and acknowledge Your rightful authority in all these things.

Father, I pray for those of us, most of us here, who are in Christ. I pray, Lord, that You would help us to see the wrong sources of authority that we have allowed to creep into our own thinking even as Christians – whether it's tradition or experience or feeling. Father, I pray instead Your Word would be the ultimate authority in our lives.

And Father, even as we thank You for Your written Word, we thank You as well and we celebrate Your Living Word, Your final revelation to us. You have spoken to us in these last days by Your Son. And now as we celebrate Him, may You turn our hearts toward the Living Word. And until He comes, may we be faithful to trust You in Your written Word and to trust completely in Christ as the Living Word as our only hope of standing in Your presence. We pray all of this in Jesus' name. Amen.