Proverbs 3: Fathers’ Day
This talk was given by Paul Wintle on as part of our worship service at Main Street Community Church and on the Internet. The talk is long.
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Ruth B: The reading today’s from Proverbs 3:1-12 and in this Bible it’s headed “Wisdom stows Wellbeing". I’m not sure whether it’s a father or God talking to a son. “My son do not forget my teaching, but keep my commands in your heart for they will many years and bring you peace and prosperity. Let love and faithfulness never leave you. Bind them round your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. Then you will win favour and a good name in the sight of God and man. Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways submit to him and he will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes. Fear the Lord and shun evil. This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones. Honour the Lord with your wealth, with the first fruits of all your crops, then your barns will be filled to overflowing and your vats will brim over with new wine. My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline and do not resent his rebuke because the Lord discipline, those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.”
Paul W: Thank you. I wasn’t planning on preaching today as a friend of mine was due to come from London to deliver her own message, but in the new world of living with COVID, she contracted COVID and although she’s now tested positive-- she’s tested negative, rather--she’s not in any condition to travel, let alone speak. I’m afraid that my friend Cindy will have to wait for another day. Following my 360-mile drive back from Cornwall on Friday and yesterday spent prepping and serving a meal to 40 youth workers as a training day for a youth camp that I’m helping to do in the summer, I hope that you’ll indulge me, that my rather cobbled together message might not be in a way that I usually plan at my sermons. If I’m honest, only when I Googled father’s day sermons, did I find myself reflecting upon how important my own dad has been in my developing a faith. My dad’s quite a serious character, but very practical. He knows how to hang wallpaper, fix bicycles, drill holes into walls so that things hang straight. He knows how to fill in forms. He’s patient with helping people who are in difficulty. My dad knows stuff about the world. He reads a lot. He assimilates information quickly and remembers it too.
He’s serious, but he’s mainly serious about his faith, his faith in God, which from which everything else comes. His life is based in learning wisdom, training others, and being loyal. I’m fortunate, I know that my dad cared very much for me when I was growing up. I took for granted the long hours that he worked so that family never went without. Looking back, I reckon that my dad has done a pretty darn good job along with my mum in bringing up their boys to show the love of God in different ways. How it was that both my parents who celebrated their golden anniversary just two days ago have shown me how worship is acted out in everyday life.
How it is that I remember having quite in-depth conversations on points of theology whilst doing the washing up after Sunday lunch. I rather think that father’s day is more about children and how they honour their fathers. Let’s face it, whether or not we had good fathers, we are all somebody’s child. Whether today we look back with gratitude, whether we have sadness in our hearts for we no longer have a father with us or even tragically, we are no longer fathers. Perhaps we can seek a little solace in that we are still children of the God most high.
The God that we can call Father. Proverbs chapter 3 emphasizes a father’s concern that his son live a life of trusting God. Coupled with this is his desire that his son be trustworthy, both to man and to God. The person who lives a life trusting God will find treasure in God’s accompanying promises. Proverbs 3, in these first 12 verses, focus our attention on love to God, which is expressed in keeping his commands, trusting his leading, honouring him with gratitude for all our possessions, and accepting correction. The main theme throughout this is trust, trust in the Lord because, after all, he is trustworthy.
The father here in Proverbs knew that God is trustworthy and he wanted to pass that truth on to his son. That’s good parenting, which focuses on the child’s faith in God. Also as essential for the child to become godly and godliness with contentment is great gain according to 1 Timothy. This, in many ways, summarizes the first section of Proverbs 3. In these verses the father exhorts his son to trust God and provides incentives to do so. These verses contain several promises or treasures that attend trust in God. In those first four verses, we consider the command to trust.
"My son,” it says, “don’t forget my teaching, but keep my commands in your hearts, for they will prolong your life many years and bring you peace and prosperity. Let love and faithfulness never leave you, bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. Then you will win favour and a good name in the sight of God and man." These verses portray a wise father explaining to his son to trust God. Such a life of trust in God produces a life that is trustworthy. This is the first promise that we discover in this passage. The exhortation is really quite straightforward. The son doesn’t forget the commandment of God that the father has taught him.
It seems that commentators have noticed that there are parallels between the first verses in Proverbs 3 and Deuteronomy 6. Since Proverbs is about living faithful to God’s covenant, this makes perfect sense because a lot of Deuteronomy is all about covenant and God’s promise. Deuteronomy 6 is often read at the dedication of a small child, a baby, when parents want to promise to God and ask help from God and the church in bringing up their child in the faith. These familiar words are familiar to many of us. It says this, “These are the commands, the decrees in regulations the Lord, your God commanded me to teach you. You must obey them in the land you’re about to enter and occupy.”
This is Moses receiving from God after the ten commandments or around the time of the ten commandments perhaps, or perhaps just as they’re about to come into the promised land. “You and your children and grandchildren must fear the Lord as long as you live. If you obey all his decrees and commands, you will enjoy a long life. Listen closely, Israel, be careful to obey. Then all will go well with you and you’ll have many children in the land flowing with milk and honey, just as the Lord, your God, the God of your ancestors promised you. Listen, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord alone and you must love the Lord, your God with all your heart, with your soul, and all your strength.”
"You must commit to yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I’m giving you today. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you’re at home and when you are on the road, when you’re going to bed, when you’re getting up, tie them to your hands and wear them when your foreheads as reminders, write them on your doorposts of your houses and on your gates.” Sounds odd to us today. In Proverbs 3, Solomon continues, “Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you, bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart.”
In Deuteronomy 6:5-9 that I’ve just read, Moses exhorted fathers to teach their children well by teaching them the word of God. As head of the family, the father was to bind the word to the home. Here the faithful father exhorts his son to bind the qualities of steadfast love or mercy and faithfulness, trustworthiness to his neck and to his heart. Love and faithfulness are two of God’s most glorious perfections at the heart of his covenant Israel. The father explains to his son to remember these truths about God. Yet, the emphasis seems to be more on the son exercising these qualities.
In other words, the father says, “Like father like son. Your heavenly Father is faithful, trustworthy, so be faithful, and trustworthy too.” Perhaps he mentions the neck to speak of outward obedience, while the reference to the heart speaks of inwards obedience because both are called for. Another promise is in verse 4 of Proverbs 3, “So that you will find favour and good success in the sight of God and humans." It sounds to me a little bit like what we find in Luke 2:52. I learned in the Boys’ Brigade when I was about 12. “And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, gaining favour with God, and man.”
We can summarize this promise as an approved character. Integrity is the fruit of one who obeys God. Good name could also mean good repute. If we learn to trust God, others will be perhaps more prone to trust us. It’s in this way that we find favour with people. That’s why it’s important that us, we here as a community Church hold good relationships with one another, with other churches, and the wider community. Who knows where our living such good lives among the pagans, as Paul puts it, will lead? Is one of the things that I learned from my own dad, that living out one’s faith is a life of worship. Earning trust arises from a character that is shaped by the character of God.
In the next section, verses, I guess, 5-12, the concept of trust in God remains the dominant theme. This trust is exercised and revealed in various settings and contexts of life. First, for example, God can be trusted in trials. Verses 5 and 6, I think there, have some of my favourite verses. I know that I shared those favourite verses with other folks in our fellowship, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and don’t lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.” These are some of the most well-known verses in scripture.
We often find that we’re faced with difficulties in making decisions that perhaps might be difficult for us to make, maybe a career or university studies or marriage. The Hebrew parallelism, there’s a word, means that to trust the Lord entirely means that we don’t lean on our own understanding. In other words, though Proverbs encourages understanding, it must be informed by and shaped by the Bible. Second, we see that our trust has got to be exclusive. In all your ways, acknowledge him. Literally, Solomon is saying, In all your ways, know God. That’s how we learn to trust God. That’s how we know that we can trust God.
Now, in our various trials, in whatever ways we are tried, we must pursue the knowledge of God. It’s not important that we don’t know the future, that he does. It’s not important that we don’t understand what happens, only though we know that he does. If our trust is entire and exclusive, there seems to be this wonderful promise that He will make your paths straight. The idea of a straight path indicates the promise that you’ll get to where you should. Another area in which we must trust God is within our temptations. Verses 7 and 8 say, “Don’t be wise in your own eyes, fear the Lord and shun evil. This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones.”
These verses speak to the temptations we face as we embark on a life of trusting God. As we walk through this life, we have temptations that seek to get us off the path. We should shun evil. If we choose to trust God and the Bible, the idea is that we shouldn’t succumb. Three trusting responses are required. Firstly, we trust humbly. We depend on God’s eyes, not our own. We must trust somebody else, and that somebody else is the Lord God Almighty. Second, we trust reverently, “Fear the Lord,” it says, we must develop a proper view of God and respond accordingly.
As I read through Deuteronomy 6 and Proverbs 3 together, I had a real sense of God as a generous God who says, “Look, I’ve already led you as my people through hard ways. You can trust me, please just trust me.” This fear of the Lord is not a being scared of coming to God, but rather a healthy recognition that God is God. That he chooses to want to be a good and honourable father figure who wants to train and teach his children. Don’t be scared. That’s not God’s character. Thirdly, there’s this turning away from evil. I guess there’s an element of taking some personal responsibility, that we have to do something.
As we trust humbly, reverently, and resistantly, we’re given this wonderful promise, “It will be health to your flesh and nourishment to your bones.” Flesh is literally a reference to the umbilical cord. It speaks of that which nourishes life. The promise, therefore is that a life that is healthy, Shalom, as we often say, wholeness in all its constituent parts. Another area of trust is found in verses 9 and 10 of Proverbs 3, “Honour the Lord with your wealth, with the first fruits of your crop, then your barns will be filled to overflowing and your vats will brim over with new wine.”
These verses, add an area which some people struggle with when it comes to trusting God, the area of personal finance, stewardship, but in this passage, dealing with trusting God and thereby growing in our own personal integrity, being trustworthy with our own money seems to be deemed important. Those who trust God understand that God gives to us to give through us. This will look different in many different contexts. I know Main Street and its people to be liberally generous, both financially and in so many different ways. There seems to be a promise attached to that as well. “Then your barns will be filled with plenty, your vats will be bursting with wine.”
We remember that God and Solomon the talking to the culture here where if you don’t farm your field, you don’t get anything. There’s a massive trust issue here with God. God’s promise here is that he gives abundantly. The fourth and final area of trust is displayed right at the end in verses 11 and 12, where it says, “My son, my daughter, don’t despise the Lord’s discipline or be wary of his reproof, for the Lord reproves him who he loves, as a father, the son in whom he delights. I think we all know that the Christian life is one of growing trust in God. This requires some kind of training. It requires discipline. It requires perhaps chastening, not a word that we use very much.
Somebody once said, “To become a Christian is to become a child of God.” That means to come under his discipline. Discipline sometimes speaks of instruction, sometimes through chastening: those hard times, those things that we would rather not go through. Verses 9 and 10 tell us how to honour God during prosperity. Versus 11-12 seem to train us to honour God in the midst of adversity. How do we respond to discipline? Firstly, don’t under-react. Don’t despise the Lord’s discipline. Don’t treat it lightly. Don’t treat it as insignificant, for God is lovingly at work in our lives. Secondly, perhaps don’t over-react. Not be wary of his reproof. Don’t let it bring you down. Don’t be crushed by it.
Rather, God has a holy and helpful, and happy purpose, even in such painful training, even if we never learn its purpose. God is God. If we can trust that maybe this is enough, then maybe we’re learning something really important. Hebrews 12:11 says, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” Seems, again, maybe there’s a bit of a promise that the fruit of the painful process is growth, godliness. This results from growth in trust in God. Training has built our trust.
Jesus, of course, is the ultimate example of this, and Hebrews 5:8, reveals that he learned obedience by the things that he suffered. It’s both amazing and totally unfathomable. He endured the difficulties, faithfully trusting his father God. Remember what we were saying earlier about God coming to his son in the heavens and said, “Look, son, something needs to be done. Will you go to earth and show people what it’s like to show the father’s love?” Today, all of this is still true for us. If we trust God, that’s all that matters. My father has been an excellent example. Jesus’ father was even better.
How easy it is for us to read and to say, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, but lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways, acknowledge him and he will direct your paths.” May that be true for us as we continue in our journey with God today.
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