A personal testimony to proverbs 3:5-12:
I was swimming, of all things, when I thought of it. If you know me, that might make you laugh just a little bit––because I’m not much of a pool or lake or ocean or anything else ‘water’ person. I admit, though, sometimes nothing feels better or sounds nicer than jumping in a cold lake on a hot summer day. And I delight to do that now and again.
This time, however, I wasn’t home in Michigan shivering in Lake Huron or even on vacation in Canada enjoying the more pristine Lake Superior. No, I was in southern Indiana in an apartment pool, eight and a half hours away from Michigan and nearly five hours from the cornfields of Cedarville, Ohio––the place affectionately called home for the four years prior. I was alone. I had moved the preceding month to start a new job that, through almost humorously bad events and vain promises, turned out to be, by my decision, only a month long endeavor.
I was happy to be finished with all the pain and frustration the job had been sending my way, but a next step awaited and decisions had to be made. Yet, amidst two promising potential opportunities––to move a few hours to another job, or to attend Southern Seminary in Louisville––my heart was struggling to be optimistic. The whole ‘moving to Indiana for a new job’ had seemed like a super-sized waste of time and money. It seemed so pointless. Sure, something else would likely work out better, but the whole experience had grown a bitter root in my heart that grew and flowered into frustration.
I know from verses like Romans 8:28, 2 Corinthians 4:16-18, and Psalm 119:71 that suffering does something great for Christians and is so incredibly worthy of rejoicing in. In true point of fact, that’s exactly what we see the Apostle Paul doing in 2 Corinthians 12:11––rejoicing in, literally ‘on account of’ his weaknesses and suffering because of their purpose. Namely, so that Christ’s power might be shown. In short, we should know and love that the refinement of suffering, and the hardship itself, is always working for our eternal joy and God’s glory and is thus profiting us and glorifying God! I’ve written a couple posts about that in the last year. They’re For His Glory, For Our Joy, and We Rejoice in Suffering.
Despite that knowledge I still struggled to rejoice in suffering and to rejoice in what had happened––because of what it was doing. Which, if I can just pause momentarily, should make you realize that people who write about life and the Bible and experiences, and how we should live biblically through them also struggle with what they are writing about––likely even more so (that’s certainly true in my case).
Therefore, I knew the frustration wasn’t merited. In other words, I knew that my knowledge about God and the gospel, and the true nature of suffering and the Christian life wasn’t informing or calibrating my mindset or emotions. That’s a problem. And that was frustrating too.
But, in God’s grace, as the water washed up against the sides of the pool a thought washed up to the shores of my consciousness. The thought was Proverbs 3:5-12. It’s as follows:
Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
6 In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.
7 Be not wise in your own eyes;
fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.
8 It will be healing to your flesh
and refreshment to your bones.
9 Honor the Lord with your wealth
and with the firstfruits of all your produce;
10 then your barns will be filled with plenty,
and your vats will be bursting with wine.
11 My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline
or be weary of his reproof,
12 for the Lord reproves him whom he loves,
as a father the son in whom he delights.
The main verses I was thinking of were six, eleven, and twelve. I had nearly finished ‘writing through’ that chapter here on Affectionately Dependent (I’m sure you’ll notice it’s sandwiched in-between those posts on the archive) and had been thinking a lot about how that paragraph fits together.
I concluded that verses eleven and twelve helpfully inform our understanding of verse six and I’ve copied my (lengthy) thought process for that below:
At the end of his instruction in 5-12, Solomon adds the following: My son, do not despise the Lord‘s discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.
I think that’s quite profound. There’s going to be discipline. There’s going to be reproof and rebuke. I’m not sure that I would have expected that to show up here and now in this section. There isn’t any notion of stray or disobedience by the son, but still we see that the Lord will conduct discipline. In all honestly, it seems almost out of place. Yet, if we keep plugging along here, I think we’ll find the rationale for such statements quite naturally.
As we look closer and slow down a little, we find that there are 5 commands or couples of commands in verses 5-12. The first, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart” is coupled with,” do not lean on your own understanding”. It’s quite simple, the first is the positive of what we are instructed to do while the second is negative. In other words, the wise trust in the Lord with all their heart, everything that they are to their core, while fools depend upon their own understanding.
Second, the father instructs his son to acknowledge the Lord in all his ways. This will result, he says, in the Lord making straight your paths. I’m going to spend a good chunk of pen and paper on that but I want to move through the rest of this section first––there’s a number of things that I think really help inform that in the following verses.
Third, we actually find the first command said over again but in reverse order. This time the negative comes first––”Be not wise in your own eyes”––followed by, “Fear the Lord, and turn away from evil”. I think it is worth noting the repetition we find here. Verse 6 (In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths) is sandwiched by the commands to fear the Lord and to turn away from evil and your own wisdom. Solomon really wants us to get that.
Then, in verses 11 and 12 we find one last coupled command with a ‘because statement’ following afterwords. He says, “My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline or be weary of his reproof” followed with “For (or ‘because’) the Lord reproves him who he loves, as father the son in whom he delights”. He’s saying, son, discipline is going to come, but don’t grow weary or despise the Lord for his reproof of you because he disciplines all those who he loves. Then, drawing the section to a close, he explains that this ‘discipline of who he loves’ isn’t something you don’t already know. Rather, just as a loving father disciplines his child, so the Lord does with all who he loves.
Now, it might not be overly plain where the discipline lies in these eight verses––it wasn’t to me at first––but I think it is here if we look and think about it some. Indeed, I think it’s actually quite central in these verses and once you see it I hope you’ll agree.
As a result of obediently and wisely fearing the Lord in all ways of life––what we find commanded in verses 5 and 7––we can expect for our paths to be made straight or righteous. It’s a comparison reaching back to chapter two, where in verse 15, we find Solomon’s description of evil men who delight in evil and in the perverseness of evil––”Men whose paths are crooked”.
But remember also that Lady Wisdom has been calling out and inviting and offering people wisdom––for them to fear the Lord, to despair of their own ‘wisdom’. Christians so often find comfort in this passage––as we should!––but let’s think back to the time before we repented and believed, before we feared the Lord. What kind of path did we have then? Well, it isn’t a tough answer. Crooked paths, of course––we just read that. We were just like the people Lady Wisdom was calling to.
Now think about how Christian growth and sanctification and fruit bearing happens in the life of a believer. Does it happen instantaneously? Is every sinful way or idol totally obliterated from you at the moment of conversion? Are you as sanctified one second after conversion as you ever will be? Although we are fully justified at conversion (Romans 3:21-29, 8:1, 14-17) we are not fully sanctified––that happens throughout our entire life here on earth.
Consider Titus 2:11-13. Paul writes, “… the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions and to live self controlled upright and godly lives in the present age waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness…” We are trained to renounce ungodliness and live self controlled, upright, and godly lives––it doesn’t happen in an instant.
Therefore, I submit to you that even though we are wise, that is, we fear the Lord and obey, we are not yet perfect, not yet glorified. Thus, there is still a need for growth and sanctification and for the ‘straightening of our path’.
So, if we look again at verse 6, we see the familiar, “He will make straight your paths”. That, I argue, is training and discipline, it is Christian growth and sanctification. The very language of that sentence indicates that your paths need straightening. Thus, there must be a straightening, a conforming more and more to Christ––a glorious work of the Spirit.
Finally, we are commanded not to despise or grow weary of this reproof, but know it is assurance of God’s love to his children. As we know the necessity of the Spirit’s sanctification and the end that it seals us unto (Ephesians 1:11-14), we would indeed be wise to rejoice, not chide, at such ‘straightening’.
And so as I stood with arms crossed above the water and a recent memory filled to the brim with disappointment and thoughts of ‘what a waste of time’, I repented. “Luke, don’t despise the reproof”. I knew, like I knew the water was wet or that the sky was blue, I was wrong.
John Piper, a faithful teacher that God has used in large and manifold ways in my life, helpfully pens the following undoubtedly in relation to such disappointment and trial:
“Occasionally, weep deeply for the life you hoped would be. Grieve the losses. Then wash your face. Trust God. And embrace the life you have”.
Jesus, bids us come and die. In Mark 8:34 we find the familiar but stark words––”If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.”
That’s not some poetic or clever string of words that merely suggests that we might not have an easy life. No, Jesus, sharply and directly, says to his followers, If you are going to follow me, you are going to die to yourself. You are going to deny some of your greatest and highest wants and desires. You are going to have to say no to some of your greatest dreams. You won’t live the life you always thought you would. No, you are going to deny your life and embrace the life you have in Christ.
Yet, Jesus doesn’t stop with that command. He continues, “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit it a man to gain the whole world but forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul?”
He offers a profoundly and infinitely better life than the one we are called to deny. Yes, it is hard. Yes, we suffer. And yes, we often find ourselves at the bottom of valleys in hardship and despair. But Christ says to you, “Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me. You want to save your life, don’t you? Then find it in me––the only source of life”.
The next thing Mark records for us is the transfiguration six days following. There, Peter, James, and John behold a glimpse of the glory of God. It’s a strong reminder for us––God is glorious. He is worthy. He is better. Indeed, the ‘straightening’ of our crooked ways is for our joy and for his glory. It is so because we see God’s glory, glory as of the only son.
We will suffer. We will have hardship. But may we joyfully cry out, “God alone is glorious! God alone is worthy! God alone is satisfying!” And, “God is working through and in this for such an end––to glorify his name and satisfy my soul!”
I go to Mark chapter eight here in the last portion of the article because I think it provides a helpful parallel. Having our paths straightened to be in accordance with the Lord’s will is synonymous with us dying to ourselves. I argue that’s how we should think about Proverbs 3:6.
We should rejoice in such a promise––that the Lord will straighten our paths. And we should rejoice for the life we lose. Because, what we gain is infinitely better––just keep reading proverbs chapter 3. Nothing can compare to the value of wisdom, of eternal life, of denying yourself and turning to Jesus!
Oh, may we fell the crooked tree grown by that scornful root of despising the reproof. With the word of God we must chop down such sin.
In short, may we not despise the reproof.