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175 and Counting: Shaped by the Promises of God

Series: 175 and Counting

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on Feb 26, 2012

Proverbs 3:1-12

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The Lord's Day Morning

February 26, 2012

“175 and Counting: Shaped by the Promises of God”

Proverbs 3:1-12

The Reverend Mr. Joshua M. Rieger

This April will mark this church's 175th anniversary. Now last week, if you were here for the early service, you would have noticed that we didn't have power. By the second service you had power, but there was a poll across the street that had been knocked down and so there was no power in the early service and we were without air conditioning and it got a little stuffy and we were hurrying flashlights to the nursery and making sure all the children's rooms were lighted and things like that. For most of the history of this church there was no power in the church building. There was no air conditioning, no light. When this church was founded in 1837, Jackson was a much smaller city; things were much different here then. You know, I have only been here for five years but I've talked to many friends who have lived here for many years and heard stories of Jackson thirty, forty, fifty years ago and how much smaller it was then. I can't imagine how much smaller it would have been a hundred and seventy-five years ago.

When this church was founded in 1837, the infant mortality rate was twenty-seven percent. One out of every four children, approximately, died in infancy versus five percent now. Imagine the drastic difference that would have made in life, just the way that society would have been different in the face of that. Or go back even further when the canon of the Scriptures was completed. How much different would things have been nineteen hundred years ago? A hundred and seventy-five years ago is very different but nineteen hundred years ago would have been a lot different. This morning we’ll be looking at Proverbs. Imagine three thousand years ago what it would have been like. I imagine that the people in Christ's day would have been looking back on Solomon's day thinking how drastically different it would have been. Much has changed and is always changing.

As we look at society we see the way society is changing around us, the way technology is changing around us, the way the growth of various cities and institutions changes. When we think about how different it would have been to live in the small town of Jackson in 1837 versus the primitive Judea in Christ's day or Israel in Solomon's time, we realize how much has changed, but for all that has changed, far more has stayed the same. And as we come to the Scriptures we see things that have stayed the same. The truths in this Book have stayed the same. The fears and anxieties that man and women face, the joys, the sadnesses, the struggles with sin, the needs that they have, the responsibilities they have, those things haven't changed at all. The people that God is speaking to three thousand years ago, or two thousand years ago, or today are no different in those things. At times we need to remind ourselves of these needs. We’re so very blessed as a people; we need to remind ourselves of these needs and the fact that they haven't changed. We often look at a changing world and are caught up in the concerns of the age, the things that are happening right now; we don't take the long view, think about how much things stay the same. We need to step back this morning as we're looking at Proverbs and look at the unchanging need that underlies it all. Not just this morning but for the next several weeks, as we look back at our history and look at what we're facing today we need to be reminded of the unchanging history that we have in the Scriptures. Before we come to Proverbs 3 this morning, though, let's go to the Lord in prayer.

Heavenly Father, we thank You for Your Word. We are reminded in the Scriptures that the heart of man is desperately wicked and deceitful above all else, Lord. No one can search it but You. We are reminded that we are sinful and can't even know the depths of the sin in our own heart. Lord, we cannot even completely trust our own understanding of ourselves, our own desires. But Lord, when we come to Your Word we have the very Word of God that You have given us that we can trust without doubt that should guide and direct our lives. And so this morning, Lord, we pray to You, who has caused the Holy Scriptures to be written for our learning, we pray that You would grant that we may listen in such a way as to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest Your Scriptures, holding fast to the blessed hope of eternal life that we see therein. We pray that You would bless our time in Your Word, that You would move in us through Your Spirit to open our ears, open our eyes, and open our hearts. In Jesus' name, amen.

If you would read with me in Proverbs 3, we’ll be reading the first twelve verses. This can be found on page 528 of your pew Bible:

“My son, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments, for length of days and years of life and peace they will add to you.

Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you; bind them around your neck; write them on the tablet of your heart. So you will find favor and good success in the sight of God and man.

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 straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones.

Honor the LORD with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce; then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine.

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.”

Thus ends the reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He write its eternal truth on all our hearts.

Last week we looked at Matthew 7 at the end of the Sermon on the Mount. And Jesus was addressing a culture that was almost identical to ours. We heard about how it was a culture that was a churched culture but it was inside a greater society that was very relativistic, or a broader society that was very relativistic. We looked at a modern Christian culture - a culture that goes to church on Sunday, it has a veneer of religiosity, it has a life outlook, however, that believes that the central goal in all of life is personal happiness. And as we were talking about this we looked at the fact that an outward religiosity like this often ends up in people who mirror their culture rather than the Word. And we looked at the fact, in the sermon, that the main theme was Jesus’ disciples are those who obey Him. Jesus told us in the Sermon on the Mount, “He who hears these words of Mine and does them, he is My disciple.” And so we looked at that and as we are continuing, this week we're going to look at something similar in Proverbs 3.

We’re going to see in Proverbs 3 that Jesus’ disciples are not only those who obey Him but Jesus’ disciples are those who trust Him. And so Proverbs 3 shows us this picture. And I want to look at three things in this passage. First of all I want to show you that this passage calls us to know the promises of God. The second thing I want you to see is that this passage calls us to trust in the Lord, to fear the Lord, and to honor the Lord. And the third thing I want us to see is that there is a life that flows out of this knowledge of the promises of God and this trust in the Lord.

KNOW THE PROMISES OF GOD

First of all, let's look at the call to know the promises of God. We see in the previous chapter, in chapter 2 of Proverbs, that we must accept the Word. This father, Solomon, is giving these words to his son and telling him, “You must accept these words.” We see at the beginning of this chapter, however, that we must guard them. It tells us, “Do not forget. Let your heart keep these words.” But you get to verse 3 and there's a very different picture. In verse 3 you see it says, “Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you; bind them around your neck; write them on the tablet of your heart.” This is a phrase that it starts out with right here when it says, “steadfast love and faithfulness” that would have immediately taken this son who is reading this and the readers in this day back to a very familiar phrase. I would encourage you this afternoon if you go home you get on the internet and you look at maybe an online Bible or look at maybe the ESV Bible online and search “steadfast love and faithfulness” because what you’re going to see is that these are words that are used over and over and over again in the first five books of the Bible and the Law and the promises of God that these people would have been reading. These are words that refer to God, to His promises to His people, to the way in which He lives with His people, and to the Law that He gives them.

You see this word, “steadfast love,” that is the Hebrew word, “hesed.” And you've heard Dr. Duncan talk about this word before. It's a word that, when the translators of the King James Bible began to translate the King James Bible they didn't really know what word to translate this Hebrew word with and so they created a word that you’re all very familiar with, “lovingkindness,” to translate this Hebrew word. And so you see “lovingkindness” throughout the King James Bible. In fact, every single time you see the word “lovingkindness” in the Old Testament in the King James Bible it is a translation of this very word. There's a few other words that it’ll use to describe it sometimes, maybe “mercy” or in this case you see in the ESV it regularly translates it “steadfast love” but it's a word that doesn't just refer to a strong emotion or a strong feeling. It's a word that refers to a covenant love that God has for His people.

And when you see it used in the first five books of the Bible, it's regularly tied to two things. One, God's love for His people and when it's used of man, almost always the way in which God's people are picturing the love God loved them with. The other thing you see though is it's very frequently tied to faithfulness, to this word, “faithfulness.” This word, “faithfulness,” here is actually the root word is just “truth” or “true.” It's exactly what you think. It's just saying God is true to us, His people. And so when you come to this verse 3 and you see these two words together this would have been something that would have immediately evoked in their minds thoughts of God's Law and God's promises in Genesis through Deuteronomy. It's something they would have immediately heard and had a consideration of. In fact, interestingly enough, you know at the end beginning of Deuteronomy, not only do you hear these words but as you come to Deuteronomy 6, right after Moses had just given the Law, the moral Law, the Ten Commandments for the second time, you come to Deuteronomy 6 and you see in verse 4 some very familiar verses:

“’Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise, You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.’”

It's interesting that in the passage of Scripture that refers to God's Word and God's promises and God's Law where we see them referred to as His steadfast love and faithfulness, we also see a very similar writing in Deuteronomy 6 here to what we see in the second half of that verse, “bind them around your neck; write them on the tablet of your heart.” Proverbs is a book where the author, Solomon, is showing his son how to live out the Law, how to live out God's promises, how to live out the Pentateuch. You know, they have the Law. He has this and he has his understanding of it and he has this ability to kind of study it and know it, but there's not really a picture of exactly how does this look lived out by God's people, and so it's a book of wisdom showing God's people how to practically live out God's Law.

And so as you come to this you see a couple of things. First of all, he's telling him, “Don't forsake God's Law and promises.” He's telling him, “Live God's Law and promises,” but he's telling him also, “You need to be immersed in them. They need to be in front of you. When you go out, they need to be in front of you and they need to be tied around your neck. They need to be somewhere that you’re there all the time. They need to be things that you teach to your children, things that you’re constantly immersed in.” We see that God's Word and the promises of God here are something that he is calling their attention to. He wants his son and he wants us to know God's Word and know God's promises.

In chapter 2, the previous chapter, he tells us of the promises that we’ll know God, that we’ll have eternal life. In Genesis 12 we see promises that He’ll bless us, He’ll make us a blessing, He’ll bless those who bless us and curse those who curse us. And in Genesis 17 He tells us that He’ll be a God for us and to our children after us, an everlasting covenant. In Hebrews 11 He tells us that He will give us heaven. That is the land of Canaan that we hope for, heaven, that He will offer us that. But in Romans 8:32 we might see the most amazing promise God gives when He tells us that “He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also, with Him, graciously give us all things.” God promises us, as His people, many things. He gives us His Law. He shows us His character. He shows us how He wants us to live, but He primarily and most of all, the greatest promise that He gives us is His Son. He promises us all of these things through His Son. Every good and perfect gift we will have through His Son.

We must know God's Word but not just know it. This isn't an idea that if you memorize enough or read it frequently enough or hear it often enough then, you know, you’ll get brownie points with God and it will be alright. There's a call here to know God's Word in a way that immerses ourselves in it. It must be the point and the purpose of all of our lives. That's what He's calling us to in these verses, especially when He's showing us how it's supposed to be completely surrounding us. I would venture to say that for most of us, God's Word, if you were to look at the schedule of our days, is probably not the main point and purpose of all that we do. You know, I would venture when we get home from work the first thing we might do is maybe pick up a book, flip on the television, listen to the radio. When we get in our car, if you’re like me, you've got Sports Talk on as soon as you get your car and listen to the radio. This is something that maybe we focus on. Maybe you focus on music. I remember hearing Dr. Thomas talk more than once the way in which, especially when he was in high school, classical music — that he still loves — that was what he was immersed in.

I remember when I was in high school is collected records. My grandfather had given me this old hi-fi record player. It was wider than this pulpit. It was wooden and had a record player probably from the forties or the fifties sometime and so I collected records and I had records of all kinds of music, stuff that I didn't really even listen to, but I collected these. I had signed Elvis records and some signed Simon and Garfunkel records and this is something that I really spent a lot of time on. I would go to record stores and look for gems and things like this. And when I went to college, my mom, for whatever reason, thought that since I left them behind they must be something that wasn't that important to me. And so she sold them for, I think, fifteen dollars at a garage sale. But you know it was probably fair because my mom had her mother do the same thing to her so that was probably fair, but it was a picture of what I valued.

But I also remember my grandfather and my grandfather professed faith when he was eleven years old in 1927, and lived a life of faithfulness. And all the time I knew I remember a man who loved the Lord, whose life exemplified the Scriptures. And one thing I remember about him is that as he became more feeble, as his health failed, he didn't flip on the TV and watch television all the time. Sure, he watched television sometime. He didn't listen to the radio all the time. He read the Word constantly. It was the thing that was more important to him than anything else. And I saw a picture there that to me is a picture of what Solomon is calling his son to - it's to knowing the Word, to being immersed in the Word. I think that's what Moses calls the people to in Deuteronomy 6.

TRUST THE LORD, FEAR THE LORD, HONOR THE LORD

But you know, knowing the Word is not the end of what Solomon calls his son to. He calls him to know the Word to the end that it produces a trust of the Lord that we see in verse 5, a fear of the Lord that we see in verse 7, an honoring of the Lord that we see in verse 9, and a sense of — remember this idea — of hesed and faithfulness, of steadfast love and faithfulness that we see in verse 3. It's an idea that these are not things that should be simply known; these are things that should inspire trust in the Lord. He calls us to place our trust in one thing and one thing only, to have a hope that is founded on only one thing. He calls us to place a trust in God, to hope in Christ. He tells us not to be wise with our own eyes. And I think that that tends to be our first — or “be wise in our own eyes” rather. I think that tends to be the first kind of response that we normally have when we're facing trouble. We trust in our own wisdom. I think that tends to be the way that we tend to go without things most of the time. When we're in trouble, we have a great concern, maybe, that somebody's going to maybe sense the ineptitude that we feel, you know, the sense that we don't want anybody to see the trouble that we're in or we want to find a way to get ourselves out of it. We’re looking for a plan. “If I could just come up with a plan to get myself out of this I’ll be in good shape.” A way forward or maybe a way to explain that will make us look okay.

You know, maybe your thought is “I’ll do better next time.” I remember when I was younger, when I was a child, and I was learning the practice of doing a quiet time, of spending time in prayer, how I'd start out strong and then I'd kind of taper off and I'd see this failure in myself and I'd feel this overwhelming sense of guilt. And my answer was always, “I've got to find a way to do better. I've got to come up with some sort of plan. If I just have a chart or a calendar or something that I can mark off on or some plan then I’ll be better.” I was looking to my own strength to take care of things. And then those times when I would do well, when I'd actually spend several weeks in a row, I wouldn't miss time in the Word, I'd be spending time praying faithfully, I'd always take credit for it. It would be, maybe not out loud because that would be wrong, but at least internally I'd think, “God must be pretty proud of me. I must be pleasing God right now.” I probably wouldn't, again, use those words quite, but that was the sense that I had.

But we're told that when we struggle, when we face guilt, when we face troubles, when we face trials, our first thought is not to be “How can I fix this?” Our first thought is to be, “How can I flee to the cross? How can I find my hope in Christ?” It's a question of priority and this is the journey of the Christian life. The journey of the Christian life isn't that once you make a profession of faith and place your trust in Christ as your Savior you never really struggle with this again. You know, the journey of the Christian life is that as God works sanctification in our lives, our first thought more and more is to flee to the cross rather than to flee to ourselves. It's a progression of faith as we learn more and more how valuable He is to us, what a great priority He is, how much hope we have in Him that we should not have in ourselves.

You know, we see this question of values and priorities. Once of my favorite passage of Scripture, of parables, is in Matthew 13 when you see this parable of the treasure. And this man is walking through a field in Matthew 13:44 and he finds this treasure. And it's so valuable to him that he sells everything that he has to go and buy that land so that he can have that treasure. And it tells us that that treasure is the kingdom of heaven. And I've got to say that as I read that and think on that parable, I'm convicted regularly, and I think that every one of us should be, that there are a lot of things I value more than the kingdom of heaven. I am constantly finding idols that I can see rather than the kingdom of heaven. You know, Calvin called the human heart an idol factory because we're constantly finding things that we're chasing, that we're valuing, that we're prioritizing more than the kingdom of heaven. We’re valuing things more than God's promises. And Matthew 6 tells us very clearly, “Where you treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

So what do we look at and think truly has the power to save us? Do we look to our works? And I'm not suggesting that you would actually answer, “My works are what I think is going to save me,” if I were to ask you that question, but we still look to our works. We look to our good deeds and internally trust in them or have some hope in the fact that we're actually pretty good; we're not as bad as some of the people we see around us. Or maybe we trust our intellect when we're really facing something that we need help in. We think that we can reason our way out of it or think our way out of it. Maybe it's our job. Maybe our hope in life and death is that we’ll do our job well, that we’ll be successful. Maybe that is where we find our primary identity, is in what we do, whether it's working in a bank or raising children, that is the place where we find our idol.

LIFE FLOWS FROM KNOWING THE PROMISES OF GOD

AND TRUSTING IN THE LORD

But this Scripture tells us that when we trust in the Lord, when we fear Him, when we honor Him, He is the only one who can make our paths straight, He is the only one who can fulfill His promises, every good and perfect gift comes from Him, He works all things together for our good to the end of our salvation, and that true blessing and salvation are found in no other. He is our only hope and the question is, “Do our hearts realize that He is our only hope?” You know, are we just intellectually able to say that or do we really realize we have no hope apart from Christ? We have no hope for anything valuable apart from Him and apart from what God has done as our Redeemer. This passage calls us to a hope that transforms our lives and the way we live. It connects trusting and fearing and honoring to ethical teaching. It's not just an issue of doing good things so that you’ll be saved. It's an issue that when you trust in the Lord, when you fear, Him, when you honor Him, and you’re a disciple, that results in a life that is transformed. Discipleship results in a transformed life and while the Sermon on the Mount says that very clearly, and we saw that last week, Proverbs is all about a discipleship that transforms your life. It's not simply a feeling about how important God is to us, it's an obedience; it's really loving Him.

Jesus described what His disciples looked like, last week, we heard. When you have Christ as your only hope of where salvation is found, discipleship transforms you life. Remember Matthew 7 when He said, “He who hears Me obeys My commandments.” Disciples are those who listen and obey. Solomon's assumption in this passage - look at what we see in this passage - Solomon's assumption is that if you trust in the Lord all your ways are going to acknowledge Him. If you fear the Lord you’re not going to be wise in your own eyes; you’re going to turn away from evil. If you honor the Lord, then it's going to show in the way you treat your wealth. It's going to affect your life. And he's telling us that unless we live this way we don't have a hope.

And unless you think this is easy, he gives you a little reminder in verses 11 and 12 when he says, “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.” He tells us, Solomon tells us, that if we are God's beloved He will discipline us, not just may discipline us or there's an off-chance you might see reproof at some point. He tells us, “If you’re the Lord's beloved, He will discipline you.” We will have to have our course corrected. If you think about 2 Timothy 3:16 where is tells us the Word of God is intended for correction, for reproof, for training in righteousness, this is the very thing that He gives us His promises for. It's the very thing He gives us His Law for — so that we can know Him better, so that we can see where we're not living lives that are pleasing to Him, so that we can live lives that reflect discipleship.

He will teach us to love and to look like His Law, and there is not one of us here for whom this exhortation doesn't apply. There are varied levels of sanctification there in the church. There are varied levels of how much we have learned to trust in the Lord and let it reflect in our lives, but there's not one of us who does not look to our own wisdom, who doesn't need to be reminded that we must exemplify the promises that we believe, who doesn't need to refocus our faith and trust in Jesus Christ, or who very potentially, perhaps, needs to place their trust there for the first time because you look good on the outside but you know that your real hope and trust isn't in Jesus Christ. And so as we look at this passage we need to remember that we are called to know the promises of God, but we're called to know the promises and the Law of God in such a way that it drives us to immerse ourselves in it, that that's where we place our hope and our trust and we fear the Lord and it results in a true discipleship.

Let's pray.

Heavenly Father, I thank You for this day and I thank You for this Word that You've given us that allows us to reflect upon the great blessings that You have offered us. Lord, how amazing is it that we are called to be children of God, that we can indeed think of ourselves as Your beloved. Lord, I pray that this truth would radically affect each of our lives individually but Lord, also the life of this congregation, that we would be a people shaped by trust in You, fear of You, and honor for You in the way that we use our resources, in the way that we treat one another, in the way that we live our lives before a watching world. God, work Your truth in our hearts. Remake us in Your image. In Jesus' name, amen.

Let's respond to these truths by singing together hymn number 672, “Trust and Obey.”

Now hear the Lord's blessing for those who have truly placed their trust in Him. May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of the Father, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.

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