This morning we move into a new section of our study of Proverbs. Last week we studied the lesson of wisdom passed from generation to generation. This week we are going to learn about the importance of staying the course of wisdom and the consequences of straying from wisdom?s well-worn path. Let?s take a look at our Scripture found in Proverbs 4:10-19.
10 Listen, my son, accept what I say, and the years of your life will be many. 11 I guide you in the way of wisdom and lead you along straight paths. 12 When you walk, your steps will not be hampered; when you run, you will not stumble. 13 Hold on to instruction, do not let it go; guard it well, for it is your life. 14 Do not set foot on the path of the wicked or walk in the way of evil men. 15 Avoid it, do not travel on it; turn from it and go on your way. 16 For they cannot sleep till they do evil; they are robbed of slumber till they make someone fall. 17 They eat the bread of wickedness and drink the wine of violence. 18 The path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, shining ever brighter till the full light of day. 19 But the way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know what makes them stumble. (Proverbs 4:10-19 NIV)
I hope you noticed the last verse of our Scripture for today because it is a stark contrast of the ways of wisdom and wickedness. The future is bright and growing increasingly brighter for those who will pursue the course of godly wisdom, but the way of the wicked will grow increasingly dark, blindingly bleak, for those who choose to chart their own course. Let me give you an example.
On October 15, 1844, a Lutheran pastor named Karl Nietzsche and his wife welcomed a little boy they named, Friedrich, into their home. Everyone called him ?Little Fred.? Little Fred not only had a father who was a pastor, but he had several other relatives, including his grandfather, who were pastors and served the Lord in church work. His paternal grandfather had written several books, including The Everlasting Duration of Christianity: For Instruction and Sedation. (1796).
When little Fred was 5 years old his father passed away after suffering with an illness for one year. Little Fred was left in the care of his grandmother, his mother, two aunts, and his sister, Elizabeth, who was three years younger. The women loved little Fred and since he was the only male in the family he was given special treatment.
As a school boy, Fred showed that he was intellectually gifted. He was bored playing with school children and despised their childish ways. The kids, in turn, were mean to him and called him “der kleine Pfahrer!” (The Tiny Minister).
At the age of 15, little Fred was separated from his female relatives and went to live at the Lutheran boarding school, which was located 5 miles away from home. On Easter, 1861, Friedrich Nietzsche was confirmed in the Lutheran Church at the age of 16. Not too long after his confirmation Friedrich began having doubts about the existence of God and soon he gave up the idea of becoming a minister.
At the age of 17 he went to the University of Bonn to study theology and philology, or the study of languages. Friedrich might have gone to college to study theology, but his heart was far from God. Once he arrived on campus little Fred began living it up. He enjoyed the freedom of college life and began to party like there was no tomorrow. He drowned himself in alcohol, sex, tobacco, and anything else that was offered. It is believed that during this time of loose living he contracted syphilis. His spending exceeded the money sent from his family and he started getting worn out by the fast life so he transferred to the University of Leipzig.
After graduation Nietzsche took another step in his journey away from God. In 1869, when Nietzsche was only 24 years old, he accepted a position at the Swiss University of Basel where he taught classical philology. Three years later, in 1872, Nietzsche wrote his first book, The Birth of Tragedy. The book was a bold declaration of Nietzsche?s hatred of Christianity. He writes,
Christianity was from the beginning, essentially and fundamentally, life’s nausea and disgust with life, merely concealed behind, masked by, dressed up as, faith in “another” or “better” life. (Friedrich Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy, p.23, translated by Walter Kaufmann)
Friedrich Nietzsche has left us a legacy of tragedy, a life lived apart from God. Ironically, one of Nietzsche?s most famous works, written in 1882, was the Parable of The Madman. In the parable Nietzsche pens the most famous phrase for which he is known, even by those who don?t know his name. Nietzsche writes, ?God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.?
The tragedy of Nietzsche?s life is really highlighted by a turn of events that happened twelve years before he died. Nietzsche wrote a book titled, Ecce Homo, How One Becomes What One Is (October-November 1888) The book is an examination of all that he had written, work by work. Nietzsche offered his own critical remarks, how the books came to be, and insights about the content of his work. He begins the book with three sections titled — “Why I Am So Wise,” “Why I Am So Clever,” and “Why I Write Such Good Books.” Pretty arrogant remarks I would say. Yet, one month after Nietzsche finished the book he went insane and was taken care of by his sister Elizabeth for the next ten years before he died in 1900.
Friedrich took his first step away from God when he was just a teenager, but by the time he was a grown man his hatred and disdain for God marked most every syllable that spewed from his pen and mouth. In Nietzsche?s book, The Twilight of Idols, he wrote,
I call Christianity the one great curse, the one enormous and innermost perversion, the one great instinct of revenge, for which no means are too venomous, too underhand, too underground and too petty – I call it the one immortal blemish of mankind. (from The Twilight of the Idols, 1888)
In Henry Bayman?s article, Nietzsche, God and Doomsday: The Consequences of Athiesm, he writes,
If we wish to avoid his fate; if we wish to avoid the precipice towards which we all are still invisibly hurtling, we would do well to heed the following wise words: He whose footsteps you follow in, his destination you will reach. (Henry Bayman, NIETZSCHE, GOD AND DOOMSDAY: THE CONSEQUENCES OF ATHEISM, http://stjohns-chs.org/english/gothic/works/Nietzgodanddoomsday.html)
Those are such wise words. ?He whose footsteps you follow in, his destination you will reach.? Those are the words of Solomon as he counsels his son. Those are the words of God to you and me as we sit and study this powerfully relevant section of God?s Word today. Be careful whose steps you are walking in because you will end up at their destination. Let?s take a look at verse 10 as we begin our study.
10 Listen, my son, accept what I say, and the years of your life will be many. (Proverbs 4:10 NIV)
Solomon begins this section by saying that if his son will accept his wise counsel then the years of his life will be many. ?Ah ha! We?ve got him!? I hear the skeptics now. We all know that an education or good counseling doesn?t make you any more capable of lengthening your years here on earth. We all know people whose lives ended at a young age because of some tragic occurrence?a car wreck, terminal illness, or some other tragedy. At the same time we have to acknowledge that if we will follow in the footsteps of wisdom, if we will hear and then follow our lessons in obedience, then we will avoid so many of the things that rob people of life.
In Jeremiah 44 God says to the people of Judah that the people are destroying themselves because of their actions. Do we have to think very hard to come up with illustrations of the reality of this verse in our own day? Drugs, alcohol, smoking, eating ourselves into oblivion, promiscuous sex that goes against God?s design for human sexuality, greed, bitterness, envy?all of these contribute to the sad stories we hear everyday of people whose quality of life has been diminished or whose lives have been cut short. Alongside of these we also have read reports from medical research about how anxiety and stress contribute to poor health. God?s Word teaches us that our bodies are the ?Temple of the Holy Spirit? and that we are to treat them like treasures instead of like a trash heap. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20.
19Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20 NIV)
Let?s turn to verses 11-13 and take a look at the important counsel that Solomon is passing along to his son, and to us.
11 I guide you in the way of wisdom and lead you along straight paths. 12 When you walk, your steps will not be hampered; when you run, you will not stumble. 13 Hold on to instruction, do not let it go; guard it well, for it is your life. (Proverbs 4:11-13 NIV)
Once again we see the importance of a mother and father in leading young people down the right paths. Solomon says that he is leading his son along ?straight? paths. I know many parents who would say that they are teaching their kids what is ?right,? but is it ?right? according to what God says, or is it simply doing what they feel is right?
Solomon says that he?s leading his son down the straight path. The Hebrew word for ?straight? means, ?straightness, uprightness, or what is right.? The word appears 35 times in the book of Proverbs alone and it is a very important word for anyone who wants to understand God?s Word. Let me show you some of the places where the same word appears in God?s Word so that you can get a better sense of what it means to live on the ?straight path.? We?ve already come across the word in Proverbs 3:5-6.
5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; 6 in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3:5-6 NIV)
As we trust in the Lord and submit to His ways, He will make our paths straight?He will never lead us astray. We will live directed by godly wisdom, make godly decisions, and treat others like God treats us?with mercy, grace, and kindness.
In Hosea we get another sense of the meaning of the word as we see that God?s ways are right, or straight. Read along with me from Hosea 14:8-9.
8 O Ephraim, what more have I to do with idols? I will answer him and care for him. I am like a green pine tree; your fruitfulness comes from me.? 9 Who is wise? He will realize these things. Who is discerning? He will understand them. The ways of the LORD are right; the righteous walk in them, but the rebellious stumble in them. (Hosea 14:8-9 NIV)
In Psalm 119:127-128 the Psalmist expresses his hatred for every wrong path because of his great love for the teachings of God, teachings that are right. Read along with me.
127 Because I love your commands more than gold, more than pure gold, 128 and because I consider all your precepts right, I hate every wrong path. (Psalm 119:127-128 NIV)
The ?straight paths? that Solomon is leading his son down are the paths that will bless him and not bring him harm or lead him down a road of destruction. We are to walk along these paths because these are God?s paths. Let?s clarify something. We don?t determine which paths are straight and which are crooked?only God does that my friend. If you want to know the right path to follow then you must follow God, you and I must know God and His Word.
We are told that if we will walk according to God?s plan then our walk will not be ?hampered,? we will not stumble and fall. There are many decisions that we make in life that will cause us to stumble and fall. We see fallen heroes every day on the evening news. Kobe Bryant made a bad decision and he fell. Martha Stewart made a bad decision, she left the straight paths, and she fell. Brenda Andrew made a horrible decision and she is still tumbling down the precipice all the way to death row. We don?t have to look to others who have fallen; all we have to do is consider our own lives. There is not one person here who has not made a bad decision, sinned, and as a result of our sin we suffered a fall.
Solomon tells his son that if he will live in godly wisdom that his ?steps will not be hampered.? What does it mean to have our steps hampered? That is a great question. The Hebrew word for ?hampered? means, ?to bind, be distressed, be cramped, or to besiege.? When our steps are hampered we are stressed out, we worry, we can?t sleep at night, and we know that we are in a jam.
The announcement is made in class that the teacher has found out that some of the students cheated on the last exam. Immediately some of the student?s palms get sweaty. That night they toss and turn in bed without sleep. Their minds daydream of the all of the bad things that could happen to them if they are found out.
The announcement is made that arrests have been made. Some of those who supplied steroids to athletes are in custody and an investigation is ongoing. Athletes who just one day before were one top of the world are now squirming like a kid caught with their hand in the candy jar. The stress level grows with the dawning of each new day. When the phone rings it is the authorities on the line. They would like to talk to them about what they know and their heart races, they deny any involvement, but inside they are distressed.
An employee becomes the target of a mean, surly, vindictive co-worker. Snide remarks are made every chance he gets. The atmosphere is so thick you can cut it with a knife when the conspirator walks into the room. The targeted employee honestly doesn?t know what he has done, but he he?s feeling the heat. He can?t wait to get out of the office. He wakes up in a cold sweat at night. He wonders is the pressure will ever end.
David knew what it was like to have accusers try and bring him down. He wrote Psalm 18 loaded with stress. Take a look at verse 6 with me.
6 In my distress I called to the LORD; I cried to my God for help. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came before him, into his ears. (Psalm 18:6 NIV)
Psalm 107 is a great example of the distress that is brought about by living life apart from God, by leaving the straight path that He calls us to walk. As a result of the people?s sin they were hungry and thirsty, they wandered in desert lands, sat chained like prisoners, and eventually they recognized their waywardness and cried out to the Lord. Seven times in Psalm 107 we find the same Hebrew word that is translated as ?hampered? in Proverbs 4. In Psalm 107:6 we read about the heaviness of the stress that led to the people crying out to God.
6 Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. (Psalm 107:6 NIV)
Decisions that we make can hamper our walk. The people that we choose to hang out with can hamper our walk. The things we watch or listen to can hamper our walk. We need to keep our eyes and ears tuned to the voice of the Lord so that our walk will not be hampered my friends.
Let?s take a look at how the people we hang out with hamper our walk. In Proverbs 4:14-17 we read.
14 Do not set foot on the path of the wicked or walk in the way of evil men. 15 Avoid it, do not travel on it; turn from it and go on your way. 16 For they cannot sleep till they do evil; they are robbed of slumber till they make someone fall. 17 They eat the bread of wickedness and drink the wine of violence. (Proverbs 4:14-17 NIV)
This is a very disturbing passage of Scripture?disturbing because it shows us that we can so easily get off track. There should be big ?Caution!? signs posted around verses 14-17. Solomon tells his son that he is not to even set foot on the same path of the wicked. There are two very important lessons we need to learn from this wise counsel of Solomon as we wrap up our study.
First, who are the ?wicked?? That?s a great question. Solomon says not to set foot on their path. Well, tell me who ?they? are and I will stay away from ?them.? Are the wicked those who are murderers? Is the title reserved for the Hitler?s of the world? Are the wicked the worst of the worse among us? Are we talking about folks like the guys who shot up Columbine? Is this what Solomon is pointing out for us? Not hardly. Satan is far too subtle to come at us like that.
The word for ?wicked? is often set in opposition to the ?righteous? in the Old Testament. The ?righteous? are those who are rightly related to God and to other people. The live in obedience to God and their lives are a blessing to those whom they know. The ?wicked? are those who have no regard for God?s ways, they don?t honor His Word with their lives, they?re not broken over their sin, and they are looking to get ahead when it comes to relationships with others.
The second lesson that we need to learn is that the way of the wicked is any path that is not God?s path. That is a difficult truth for us to grasp because for many of us ?wicked? is a sinister, devilish, twisted word?and we would never put ourselves in that category. When you understand that ?wicked? is simply any path other than ?God?s path? then you understand how we ought to become unnerved when God brings to our attention that we have strayed. This reality should also stir within us a passionate desire to know God?s path so that we will not stray.
There are so many influences in our society that entice us to leave the path of righteousness and take the first baby-step on the path of wickedness. Know this?the path of the wicked won?t look wicked. It won?t look like a scene from a Stephen King movie. Don?t look for a sign that says, ?Wicked Path. Come On In!? Look for what is enticing, inviting, look for the path where all of the cool folks are hanging out, look for the path that seems to be on the edge of what is exciting, and before you take a step look for Jesus to see if He is there. Better yet, stop and ask yourself, ?Would Jesus take this step?? Jesus said,
13?Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. (Matthew 7:13-14 NIV)
? Wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction.? It will seem like most everyone is on that path, that you are the only person who is missing out on all of the fun, but you can?t seem further down that road my friend. Trust the Lord and His wisdom and you will prosper, you will thrive. Refuse to listen to the wisdom of God and your situation will grow increasingly bleak and dreary. Solomon put it another way.
18 The path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, shining ever brighter till the full light of day. 19 But the way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know what makes them stumble. (Proverbs 4:18-19 NIV)
I?ve witnessed the reality of this truth over and over again. Once we take that step away from God and His will for our lives it can be a slippery slope, a slope that takes us where we never intended on going. Scott Peterson would testify that what I am saying is true if were honest with us this morning. Joan Ryan has written an article for the San Francisco Chronicle that shows us how our Jekkyl and Hyde personalities can so easily lead us astray. She writes,
At one time, not long ago, Scott Peterson was an ordinary man. He lived on a leafy suburban street in a ranch home with a kidney-shaped pool and a built-in barbecue. He mowed the lawn. His wife planted perennials. He belonged to the Rotary Club. He had a golden retriever. Now he sits in a Redwood City courtroom, accused of murdering his wife, Laci, and their unborn son and dumping her body off the Berkeley marina. With his pale gray suit and calm attentiveness, Peterson looks like a juror who mistakenly took a seat at the defendant’s table. He sits with his chin jutting forward, his brows furrowed, as if listening to a business presentation instead of testimony from neighbors and acquaintances that could send him to his death. He never looks behind him — where the family of his dead wife occupies the front row on the right side of the gallery, and where courtroom artists produce ink-and-water-color pictures of him and newspaper reporters quietly tap-tap-tap on their laptop computers. When a photo of Peterson’s Modesto house was projected onto a screen during testimony this week, he stared at it, looked away, then stared at it again, as if trying to reconcile his two lives — the man who lived in the green house on Covena Avenue and the man on trial for murdering his eight- months-pregnant wife?The sensational public interest is born of Peterson’s ordinariness. He is not so different from us. We don’t know yet whether Peterson committed the crime, but the possibility that he killed his pregnant wife taps into our own fear of and fascination with the idea of doubleness — the suspicion that beneath life’s familiar veneer lurks something uncontrolled and primordial. (Joan Ryan, San Francisco Chronicle, Sunday, June 13, 2004)
We do not have to walk the path of wickedness my friends. We do not have to live a Jekkyl and Hyde life. We can trust in God. We can surrender our wills, our very lives, to the King of all kings and allow Him to fill us with a desire to walk in wisdom and stay on the path of righteousness. Won?t you invite Jesus into your heart today?