As I was reading Proverbs 15 a couple of days ago, I had some thoughts about the paths that our lives take. God is always working in our lives. The instruction we receive, the reproofs that we receive, discipline that comes our way, and everything else that happens in and around us all combine to steer our lives according to God’s ultimate purpose and plan.
31 ¶ The ear that listens to life-giving reproof will dwell among the wise. 32 ¶ Whoever ignores instruction despises himself, but he who listens to reproof gains intelligence. 33 ¶ The fear of the LORD is instruction in wisdom, and humility comes before honor. 1 ¶ The plans of the heart belong to man, but the answer of the tongue is from the LORD. 2 ¶ All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes, but the LORD weighs the spirit. 3 ¶ Commit your work to the LORD, and your plans will be established. 4 ¶ The LORD has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble. 5 ¶ Everyone who is arrogant in heart is an abomination to the LORD; be assured, he will not go unpunished. 6 ¶ By steadfast love and faithfulness iniquity is atoned for, and by the fear of the LORD one turns away from evil. 7 ¶ When a man’s ways please the LORD, he makes even his enemies to be at peace with him. 8 ¶ Better is a little with righteousness than great revenues with injustice. 9 ¶ The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.
Whoever listens to the instruction received demonstrates wisdom when that instruction is in line with God’s word. When one ignores sound instruction, the result is detrimental to one’s health and well-being, spiritually, emotionally, or physically, and is analogous to hatred of his or herself.
So how does the fear of the Lord come into play with regard to instruction? All sound biblically oriented instruction ultimately comes from the Lord. He is in control of all things, including the rewards and consequences of our either listening to or ignoring the instruction that he provides. When we recognize God’s sovereignty over everything that happens in our lives, we will demonstrate our fear of the Lord by doing everything necessary to follow his instruction according to the wisdom that he provides in our lives. This takes humility on our part, admitting our reliance on God, and acknowledging that we are not the authors of our destiny. This humility also extends to our understanding that we are not perfect and will fail, very likely on a daily basis, and are continually in need of God’s forgiveness and grace.
Now, I have been reading through Proverbs each day for the last couple of years, and for the most part, I read one chapter each day without taking notice of the last verse in each chapter compared with the first verse of the next. As my attention was drawn to Proverbs 15:31-33 this morning, my eyes continued into verse 1 of chapter 16, and I realized that the ideas regarding life direction did not end at the chapter break. I have known for some time that is true that the chapter and verse breakdowns were not a part of the original Biblical autographs, but I have never approached Proverbs from that perspective. In fact, much of the second half of Proverbs I have taken as a series of individual thoughts, listed but not necessarily related from verse to verse.
But in verse one of chapter 16, the idea that God is the one who is in control really begins to develop. We can make plans that we think are correct and God honoring, and we may even feel as if we are following instruction and biblical wisdom, but at the end of the day God is in full control over the outcome of our lives. Our thought processes and plans are all in accord with our own personalities, ideals, and unique identities, and God uses us as individuals according to our own free will, but it is God who orchestrates and puts into place each day as He sees fit. I will be the first to admit that I do not understand how all this fits together and how we can be both free, yet directed by God, who is sovereignly in control. But Scripture does clearly teach that this is true. God’s thoughts are so far above man’s thoughts that even the most brilliant among us cannot fully comprehend Him and his ways. And while this may seem like double talk to explain away Scriptural difficulties, there is truly nothing inherently contradictory about the coexistence of free will and a sovereign God.
Verse 2 further affirms that the plans people make may be right and pure in their own eyes, but God knows our hearts and intentions, and even if we are deceiving even ourselves for what is ultimately a selfish endeavor. There are often times when we convince ourselves that we are doing something for God, with a hidden agenda of self benefit and blessing. God truly knows our spirit, and in his sovereignty, will always do what is right according to his purpose and plan.
In verses 3-5, we are given the hope that if we just commit our work to the Lord, our plans will be established. What does it mean, however, to commit our work to the Lord? What this does not mean, is making plans and then committing them to the Lord, and then expecting them to be fulfilled. The word “work” does not refer to our plans, but to our collective works and labor that encompass our lives. When we commit our work to the Lord, we are committing our lives to the Lord, and dedicating ourselves to his purpose and plans. When we do this, his pleasure increasingly becomes our pleasure, his plans become our plans, we are pleased when his plans are fulfilled, and in this way our plans are established. We must always remember that “the Lord has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble.” That includes our lives. If we are arrogant and insist on doing things our own way, insisting on taking the credit and honor for ourselves, this kind of attitude is abhorrent to God. Those who insist on inflating their own pride are living in sin and, unless they repent at some future time and receive God’s forgiveness, they will be held accountable for their actions and attitudes before the judgment seat of God. But even those who live their whole lives for themselves and their own self-inflicted pride and self-worth are used by God according to his purpose and plan that will ultimately glorify God and benefit those who choose willingly to live to please Him.
Verse 6 provides the solution for the arrogant heart. “By steadfast love and faithfulness, iniquity is atoned for, and by the fear of the Lord one turns away from evil.” While this passage does not elaborate, it is explained throughout Scripture that atonement with God is only truly possible because of the death and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus died on the cross, having taken upon himself the sin of the world in order to make God’s forgiveness possible. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). The fear of the Lord, then, is one of unimaginable awe, our attitude regarding the sovereignty and nature of a holy, righteous, and awesome God. It is a fearful reality when we recognize that God is in control of every consequence and reward stemming from our thoughts, intentions, and actions.
In verse 7 we are given a glimmer of hope, “When a man’s ways please the Lord, he makes even his enemies to be at peace with him.” This is not a specific promise that will be true in all circumstances, but a general principle that things go better for you if you are living a life pleasing to God. Verse 8 gives us the encouragement that living a righteous life that pleases God is more important than any type of material, honorary, or societal gain. In the end, what we have is of little importance. What is important is what we do with what we have and whether or not we are living for things that will last for eternity or are temporal in nature.
This section culminates with a reminder that “the heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.” Verse 9 is a restatement of verse 1, affirming the notion that man has a free will to make plans, but God is sovereign and in complete control over all that ultimately manifests itself in reality.
Whether or not I receive earthly rewards and blessings by seeking to please God rather than man is inconsequential. Regardless of what I receive on earth, I know that my heavenly rewards are of utmost importance and eternally secure. I choose to the best of my ability to make God’s way my way and seek to live my life to please Him. To God be the glory.