9th Sunday after Trinity July 28, 2002
540, 366(1-2, 5-7), 409, 784 (Supplement 2000)
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
This series of proverbs begins with a thematic statement, supporting details are added, and then the theme is restated in a slightly different way to bring the lesson full-circle.
Statement of theme: v.1
The preparations of the heart belong to man,
But the answer of the tongue is from the Lord.
Supporting details: vv.2-8
All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes,
But the Lord weighs the spirits.
Commit your works to the Lord,
And your thoughts will be established.
The Lord has made all for Himself,
Yes, even the wicked for the day of doom.
Everyone proud in heart is an abomination to the Lord;
Though they join forces, none will go unpunished.
In mercy and truth
Atonement is provided for iniquity;
And by the fear of the Lord one departs from evil.
When a man’s ways please the Lord,
He makes even his enemies to be at peace with him.
Better is a little with righteousness,
Than vast revenues without justice.
Restatement of theme: v.9
A man’s heart plans his way,
But the Lord directs his steps.
In Christ Jesus, our heavenly Leader, dear fellow-redeemed:
“CHAMPIONS FOR JESUS.” This was the theme for last week’s Vacation Bible School. Throughout the week the students learned of five champions for Jesus starting with Caleb who (together with Joshua) refused to be daunted when they saw the walled cities and strong armies of Canaan. Caleb (and Joshua) told the people that the Lord had commanded them to go into Canaan and possess the land so, “Let us go!” We found that CHAMPIONS FOLLOW GOD’S WORD.
The second champion was the slave girl of Naaman’s wife who told her mistress that there was a prophet in Israel who could provide healing for her master’s leprosy. CHAMPIONS SPEAK OUT ABOUT THEIR SAVIOR.
Old Testament Joseph had every reason to hate his brothers because of the wickedness they had committed against him. However, Joseph forgave his brothers because he knew that God was working a greater good even through their evil plans. CHAMPIONS FOR JESUS FORGIVE!
The apostle John was at the foot of Jesus’ cross together with Mary, Jesus’ mother. There John saw his Savior die. There he saw and felt the grief that sin causes. CHAMPIONS KNEEL.
The young man, Timothy, was instructed by his mother and grandmother in the truth of God’s Word and went on to be a faithful servant as a pastor in the early New Testament church. CHAMPIONS FOR JESUS LIVE AS CHILDREN OF GOD.
These are five champions for their Savior and yet the focus is not on them, but on THE Champion for whom they walked, spoke, forgave, knelt, and lived. These were champions for the faith and examples for us all, but it begins with our Champion, Jesus, on the cross.
Without our Champion coming to live for us and die on the cross for our sins there is nothing for which to fight, nothing concerning which we could be champions for Him, and nothing about which we could dare to speak as if it were “good news.” But we ARE Champions for Jesus, believers in Him and children of God because Jesus our Champion came to redeem us and give us victory. Believers are Champions for Jesus because with God we gain the victory (cf: Psalm 60:12).
We are WEAK champions at times, timid, and our lives are filled with failure; but so too were the lives of Caleb, Joseph, John, and the rest.
This morning we continue in our Vacation Bible School theme and consider ourselves, taking instruction and encouragement from the truth that A CHAMPION’S STEPS (our steps) ARE GUIDED BY GOD TO VICTORY. I. Steps that walk around the danger zones II. Steps that walk into blessing III. Steps that walk with contentment.
As you well know from driving almost anywhere in our country, summer is the time of construction. Whenever you enter a construction zone, it is incredibly important to keep an eye open and to walk carefully lest you trip or fall into a hole.
So too, with our steps in daily life. Guided by God we are walking toward victory, but in this life we have to walk carefully because there are so many pitfalls—dangerous places where we could fall and come to harm.
There are many pitfalls of different kinds, but they all come back to sin. There are many different varieties of “danger zones” around which we need to walk, but there is one that is so frequent—one that is the beginning and end of so many others. It is PRIDE!
Our text says, “Everyone proud in heart is an abomination to the Lord; though they join forces, none will go unpunished.” [v.5] Everyone with a proud heart is an abomination to the Lord. Oh, the proud might join forces and go hand-in-hand with one another and suppose that they are greater than anything else—they can conquer everything! BUT they will not escape God’s judgment. A proud heart will not go unpunished.
The reality of ourselves is that there is really nothing about which to be proud. There is one thing that we can all do very well and that is sin! But is that a matter of pride?
In reality we fail. We sin. We make mistakes. We serve ourselves instead of others…instead of Jesus. We grow angry. We become impatient, we get “fed up to here!!” and most of that (if not ALL of that) will trace back to pride.
Truly we have accomplishments. We do succeed and we feel good when we do. Yes, we do encourage (and rightfully so) with words like, “Good job!” “Well done!” “Congratulations!” However, the focus of a humble heart in success is not that I have accomplished this, but rather is thanksgiving that I have been able to do this through the gifts and abilities the Lord has given.
PRIDE is the arrogance that demeans those who have lesser gifts in a particular area. PRIDE is the smugness that looks down upon you because you are not ME. PRIDE is a false confidence in oneself that is often used to mask the true realization that I am weak and fail. PRIDE is like that of the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable: “‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’” (Luke 18:12). PRIDE is very much a focus on SELF.
PRIDE affects us SO much. It is a common sickness in all. A poet once expressed humility as a fragile flower. Once we think we possess humility, we do by that very thought lose it. PRIDE comes so easily…so naturally.
Pride is such a pitfall into which we can so easily fall that God again and again warns against pride—not only in Proverbs but throughout all of Scripture. God says, “There is a generation that is pure in its own eyes, Yet is not washed from its filthiness. There is a generation—oh, how lofty are their eyes! And their eyelids are lifted up.” (Proverbs 30:12-13). Pride and arrogance lift up their eyes and makes them haughty in everything they do. It’s all about ME!! God says, “BEWARE! That is a pitfall around which I want to guide you.”
Again in Proverbs, “The fear of the Lord is to hate evil; Pride and arrogance and the evil way And the perverse mouth I hate.” (Proverbs 8:13).
Closely related to pride and a fruit of pride is self-righteousness and self-reliance. Again in our text… “All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes, But the Lord weighs the spirits.” [v.2]
Pride is what leads me to think that I could NEVER be wrong. When sinners come to the point of believing (or at least speaking and acting as if) they could never be wrong there is a problem! They have fallen into the pit. Pride and self-righteousness lead to the erroneous conclusion that “I know better. I am the master of my own destiny. I want to pursue MY agenda!”
Abraham thought he could steer his own life. In Genesis we hear Abraham say, “I thought…they will kill me on account of my wife” (Genesis 20:11). So Abraham lied about Sarah being his wife and said she was his sister. This created all sorts of troubles because Abraham followed what HE thought. He fell into the pit of self-reliance and thought he knew the better way.
Rebekah and Jacob schemed to trick Isaac into giving Jacob the blessing. They thought they knew better. They were following THEIR agenda and again it led to disaster. Jacob had to flee his home, leave his beloved mother behind, and run for his life (literally) from an angry brother. It is a pitfall to take matters into our own hands never-minding what God says. It is a danger zone to get into that mindset that says “I’m going to go MY way.”
Pride and self-righteousness are what lead to defensiveness that rises up immediately after someone even suggests we may have erred. The defense walls go up rather quickly and we’re not ready to admit that we were wrong—not even for one second!! It is self-reliance that seeks to justify itself, always. It is pride and self-reliance that plans its way first, plans its road, and then tries to fit God in wherever he can, shoving Him between the cracks. This is the opposite of what God instructs us to do, namely, using God’s Word as our model and molding our lives around Him.
The heart of the matter is the question of who is LEADING…who is PLANNING? As we heard in our epistle reading: “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit’; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.’ But now you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.” (James 4:13-16).
Jesus also spoke against this prideful of self-reliance and self-direction. He said, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God” (Luke 16:15).
Another very common “danger zone” and also mentioned in our text is GREED. “Better is a little with righteousness, Than vast revenues without justice.” [v.8] This is another danger zone about which God frequently speaks. Listen to a few more verses…
Again and again, God says its better to have what you have and to follow Him than to be rich and have all these sorrows. And still, so often, we don’t believe him. So often we still want MORE: “I’ll do that favor for you, but what’s in it for me? What will you give me?”….the lottery, sweepstakes, shopping sprees, more…and more…and more…!!! Our society is driven by that desire to accumulate MORE on this earth. “What is a man profited if he gain the WHOLE WORLD! And lose his own soul…or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:26).
Pride, Self-reliance, dissatisfaction, and greed are pitfalls around which the steps of a champion travel carefully lest he fall into it.
When we are guided by God toward victory, we follow steps that walk into blessing. “Commit your works to the Lord, and your thoughts will be established.” [v.3]
God KNOWS what we need. God says, “Commit your works/your ways to me and I will establish them in the best possible way. I will accomplish all good things for you.” Paul said, “God who did not spare his own Son but freely delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:32). The Lord of our salvation will provide for us, will care for us, will give us blessings so when we walk in His way, following His Word, the blessings are sure to come.
A question arises. “How do I go in His direction? How do I really know I am following His path? I have to make decisions and God doesn’t come down and say directly in a vision or a voice from heaven, ‘Here’s what I want you to do…’” The answer lies in God’s Word. In Proverbs chapter 3 we read, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths.” (Proverbs 3:5-6).
“…In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths.” When we go through our daily lives and acknowledge our status as sinners, acknowledge Jesus as our Savior, go forward and using the Word of God to shine light on every corner of our lives, measure our lives by God’s Word, and conclude what is pleasing or displeasing on the basis of what God has said, then we don’t have to worry. God says, “If you are using my Word and acknowledging me in every part of your life, I WILL guide your path! I may not speak to you directly, thundering from heaven, but when you are using my guidance—my Word—you can know that I am leading you where you should go.”
“The Lord has made all for Himself, Yes, even the wicked for the day of doom…When a man’s ways please the Lord, He makes even his enemies to be at peace with him.” [vv.4,7]
God assures us that He controls everything, even those who would seek to harm us. So as we walk with Him and follow Him He will bless us in those steps because He will work even the schemes of our enemies to be used for our blessing.
Early in the New Testament church, Stephen was stoned to death and persecution broke out in Jerusalem after his death. Did that seem to be awful? Yes! Did it seem that the Lord was guiding steps into danger? Yes! But by that persecution He pushed the Christians out into further regions and thereby spread His Word. The Apostle Paul and Barnabas had trouble on their first missionary trip. People resisted them. They stoned Paul and left him for dead, but again, God used that to further His Gospel. Paul and Barnabas ended up separating from one another because they couldn’t agree on whether to take a man named, John Mark, along with them on a second missionary journey. Was the dissension displeasing? Yes! But God used it to send two missionary groups out into two different directions. Those steps through trials produced blessings.
God promises us spiritual blessings and He promises that all things will work together for good to those who are the called according to His purpose (cf: Romans 8:28). ALL THINGS God will work out primarily for our spiritual blessing, but also for our earthly blessings as well.
In Jeremiah, the Lord says through the prophet, “I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope…” (Jeremiah 29:11). What the Lord has in store for you is great indeed. What the Lord has in mind for you is blessing upon blessing upon blessing to give you a future here on this earth and more importantly in eternity. He has blessings in mind for you that will give you hope in Him! That kind of Lord will not steer you wrong. When we follow Him we are walking with steps right into blessing.
The greatest blessing of all, namely, salvation, is also described in the text: “Atonement is provided for iniquity; and by the fear of the Lord one departs from evil.” [v.6] God has provided atonement for all of our sins by sending Jesus to be our Savior. Those sins are washed away so our steps are now heavenward, no longer toward damnation. The same grace of God which has worked faith in our hearts to believe that Jesus has come to save us from our sin, is the same grace and Gospel that works in our hearts to strengthen us in our Christian life. God works in our hearts so that we do fear the Lord, but depart from evil as we live in this life.
Those steps that go around the pitfalls and right into blessing are then steps that are filled with contentment. As God says both at the beginning and the end of this series of Proverbs: “The preparations of the heart belong to man, But the answer of the tongue is from the Lord…A man’s heart plans his way, But the Lord directs his steps.” [vv.1,9]
Contentment is a matter of trust. When God comes to us and says, “You can plan your way, but plan that way following Me and then you know that I will direct your steps,” then we have the confidence to be content in whatever state God may bring us. Whatever our condition on earth, whatever we have or do not have, whatever we might have had and then lost and might even receive back again…none of these things has to shake our confidence because they all come back to the promise “GOD IS DIRECTING OUR STEPS.”
When we trust God we can be fully content. The Psalmist says, “The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord, And He delights in his way. Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down; For the Lord upholds him with His hand.” (Psalm 37:23-24). There ARE times when we fall, but when we do the Lord picks us up and heals us. Thus, we can be content in the salvation and grace of our Lord.
There are many plans in man’s heart. Many will fail and fall. The Lord’s counsel stands forever. That same Lord knows YOU better than anyone else, better than you even know yourself. That God is guiding you. Follow Him! Follow Him around the dangers. Follow Him into the blessings and be content knowing that your Shepherd is leading you. When He brings you to the place where he is leading, you will know the fullest victory of life everlasting! Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.