Proverbs 3:1-12 Sermon The True Prosperity Gospel (Rev. Erik Veerman)
Our sermon text this morning is Proverbs 3:1-12.
These are arguably the most important words in the book of Proverbs. In a way, they give us the key to understanding every Proverb.
It’s easy to go out and cherry pick different proverbs for different occasions, but if you do that, you risk misunderstanding the specific proverbs and you’re likely to misapply them in your life. What these first 12 verses of chapter 3 do is set the stage for how to understand and apply all of Proverbs.
It may sound like I’m overstating it, but I think these verses are that important.
As I read, listen for similarities between what we read earlier in Deuteronomy 28 and these words.
Reading of Proverbs 3:1-12
As I was thinking about these verses this week, I became suspicious that they were probably misunderstood. Particularly verses 9 and 10. It says, again, “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.”
So I googled Proverbs 3:9-10.
I found it made the top 10 list of almost every single post about wealth and God. Here are some of the different ones I came across:
· 6 Keys to guarantee Biblical Wealth and Prosperity
· 22 Awesome Bible Verses about Prosperity
· Scriptures for Todays Advancing Entrepreneur
· Miraculous Bible Verses for a financial breakthrough
Listen to this quote: “when you give God the first and best of what you earn, He will multiply it back to you. He will open the windows of heaven and pour out a blessing that you cannot contain.” The author was speaking about material blessing.
People read that proverb and say, “yes! Lord, fill my barn with plenty. Give me an abundance of your good gifts.” It’s very appealing today. We live in a time of things and money and wealth. We consume and consume. Our social status is wrapped up in our cars and home and dress. We want financial prosperity. And so we read these two verses, and see them as the key to wealth and prosperity.
What I want to say shout “no!” No, that understanding is misguided. It misses the point.
But you say “wait! Pastor, don’t take the promises of prosperity away from this passage. Look at the other verses… verse 2, after all. It says we’ll have length of days and years of life… or verse 4 We’ll have good success… verse 8 our flesh will be healed. I want all of that and it sure sounds like God is promising to give it to me.”
Certainly, I don’t want to dismiss the promises of these verses. They are real and they are true. But approaching these verses from the mindset of what we get out of them is backwards. It’s fundamentally man-centered and near-sighted. When in actuality, these verses are God-centered and far-sighted.
So, then how should we approach these verses?
Well, first, we need to see Proverbs 3, not through our modern consumer eyes (we butcher Scripture all the time when we do that), but rather through the eyes of Solomon’s audience. And second, through God’s grander narrative of his promises in the Bible and how they are fulfilled.
In fact, the interesting thing about these verses is that both of those perspectives overlap. Solomon’s original audience, really the people of Israel, would have directly connected these verses to God’s promises and how he would fulfill them. Even though the word “covenant” is not used here in chapter 3 or anywhere in Proverbs, it’s the key to understanding it all.
By the way, God’s Covenant with his people essentially defines his relationship with them. It’s his commitment to them and their commitment to him.
The covenant language in these verses would have been overwhelmingly clear to the original audience. For one, there is a direct connection to Deuteronomy 28. Those verses highlights the covenant blessing that God promised his people if they would be faithful. There are clear parallels in the language between Deuteronomy 28 and Proverbs 3:1-12. You probably sensed that. But also, in Proverbs 3, the language of steadfast love and faithfulness is covenantal language. It’s God’s steadfast love for his people. That’s the word Hesed in the Hebrew. God’s covenant love. And finally, the repetition of the word LORD, all caps. Five times here. That is God’s Covenant name. There are some other indicators, but I think you get the point. The unifying theme of these verses is God’s covenant.
Let me summarize so far. These verses, and really all of Proverbs, need to be understood through God’s Covenant relationship with his people, not through a modern prosperity mindset. When when we begin with God and his covenant relationship with us, these promises go way beyond a man-centered and near-sighted understanding.
I hope that groundwork is helpful.
No, I want to say this. I’m not dismissing the near term benefits of obeying the Proverbs. I’m going to make that clear a little bit later, but I want you to hear that up front.
Ok, we’re going to take these verses in an interesting order. We’re going to start with the odd number verses. 1,3,5,7,9,11. Those contain God’s covenant conditions.
Second, we’ll take the even verses, 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, and 12 – those are God’s covenant promises. Or in Deuteronomy 28 language, the covenant blessings.
Then third, we’ll end with God’s covenant faithfulness. Which is really interspersed throughout here but is especially present in verse 12. God’s covenant faithfulness in Christ. He is the one who fulfills both the covenant conditions and the promises.
So, God’s Covenant Conditions, God’s Covenant Promises, and God’s Covenant Faithfulness.
When we come to the conditions, the odd number verses, one thing to note is all of the imperatives. I counted 14 commands here.
· Verse 1 - Do not forget my teaching… keep my commandments
· Verse 3 - Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you… Bind them around your neck, Write them on your heart
· Verse 5, trust in the Lord, lean not on your own understanding.
· There are a few others. Be not wise in your own eyes… honor and fear the Lord, etc
And what are these imperatives? These are God’s prerequisites in order for his people to receive his blessings. Now, stay tuned for point 3, God’s Covenant Faithfulness when we fail. But in the meantime, we need to recognize our responsibility.
And do you know what? None of these commands are about you. Yes, the commands are for you, but every single one of them redirects you away from yourself.
By the way, that’s the first problem with seeing these verses through the lens of material prosperity. In that understanding, it focuses on you and things, and not on God. Not only does the prosperity perspective begin from the wrong direction (the promises), it’s also fundamentally self-centered.
But these verses, these covenant conditions, direct us away from ourselves and instead to God, to his work, and to his commands.
Do you see that in the odd verses?
· Verse 1 directs us not to what we think is right or wrong, but to God’s standard of right and wrong.
· In Verse 3, we’re to wear God’s love and faithfulness like a necklace for everyone to see. It should be also be etched into our hearts – In other words, God’s love should be displayed on the outside (like a necklace) as well as on the inside (written on the tablet of our heart). In other words, your identity should be in God’s loving faithfulness. That’s yet another problem with connecting these verses to material prosperity. That view shifts the focus from your identity belonging to God to an identity that is dependent on your wealth and prosperity.
· And look at the two negative imperatives in 5 and 7. “Do not lean on your own understanding.” “Be not wise in your own eyes.” Those clearly direct us away from ourselves and to God. They are calls to humility.
· Instead, look at the positive imperatives in verses 5-9. “Trust in the Lord,” “acknowledge him,” “fear the Lord,” “honor the Lord.” Really, those commands are the heart of our responsibility before the Lord. It’s our faith in God and his promises – that’s the trust part. It’s looking to him and worshiping him – that’s the acknowledging and fearing part. And it’s desiring to reflect his goodness in your life – that’s the honoring part.
To put it in another way, all those commands in verses 1-10, all those responsibilities, are about our relationship to God. He is our God, and we are his people. In these odd numbered verses, we are to direct our attention to God. These are the conditions that God has set for us.
So, in order to be his people and receive his promises, we need to obey his command, and trust and worship him as our God.
Now, you may read verse 11 and think, “ok, but how does that fit into this idea of a covenant relationship with God.” Well, let’s look at it. Verse 11: “Do not despise the Lord’s discipline or be weary of his reproof.” At first glance, it may seem disconnected from 1-9. But actually, with a Covenant perspective on these verses, it fits right in. You see, verse 11 is about our Covenant relationship with God. Because, what does a father do who has a loving relationship with his children? He disciplines them. When God rebukes us, he does it for our benefit and because he love us.
The other thing about Verse 11 is that it alone blows up the material prosperity argument. You see, part of the argument by those advocates is that material prosperity is a sign that God is pleased with you. Here’s what they say, and I quote “Lack of material blessings is a reflection of your lack of faith.” Or here’s another one, "Poverty and hardship are not His plan for His children. If you're not prosperous, you're not aligning yourself with His will." It’s hard for me not to get angry with that perversion of the Gospel. God disciplines his children. He may take away your heath or your comfort for the very purpose of focusing your eyes on him.
Think of that passage in James. “Has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom.” Or think about Job, a man of God, enduring great affliction. Or the multiple places in Scripture where God’s people call out asking God why the wicked prosper.
In all of life, trials and joys, our call is to lift our eyes to God, trusting, fearing, and honoring him. God is saying here, those are the conditions of my covenant relationship with you. Look not to yourselves, but rather look to me, to my commands, and my steadfast love.
God’s Covenant Conditions.
God’s Covenant Promises
Which brings us now to the even numbered verses – God’s Covenant Promises.
By the way, by grouping these into odd and even numbers, I’m not suggesting that the promise of verse 2 does not relate to verse 1, nor that verse 4 does not relate to the imperative of verse 3. On the contrary, they are connected.
In fact, there’s a direct connection between the commands and the promises. When you worship the Lord and fear him and seek to know him and keep his commandments, those will lead to benefits and blessings. Like I said earlier, I do not think we should make this just a future promise. No, there are both blessings in this life when you obey and honor God, as well as, of course, eternal blessings.
What I’m saying is this: there are tangible benefits in this life when you follow the Proverbs. For example, let’s take the promises of verses 2and 4. “years of life… peace… and favor in the sight of God and man.”
Following the path of God and his commands generally leads to those things. Stability in life. Peace in your relationships. Length of days. Let me call them positive consequences of living a life of wisdom.
To be sure, Proverbs does not hide from the fact that the wicked often prey upon the righteous, or as we already considered that God disciplines his children. But when your life is marked by integrity, and you are generous and fair and your words are true and you avoid evil and deception… those marks will most often result in blessings in this life – relationally and tangibly. Again. Most often.
But what we absolutely cannot do is make those positive consequences either our ultimate motivation or see them as the ultimate end.
Here’s what I mean. First, the ultimate motivation for pursuing the Proverbs is God! We already talked about that. He is the one to whom our devotion and our honor are to be directed. As our covenant God, he is the one in whom the promises reside. We should pursue these commands and all of the proverbs because of our desire to honor him, not because of any near-term benefits.
Second, we should also not see the positive consequences of following Proverbs as the ultimate end. That would be tragic. You would be setting yourself up for disappointment and discouragement. You could faithfully keep God’s commandment and these proverbs from your heart, yet the Lord’s will for your life journey could be a difficult one with deep disappointment and grief.
I remember a difficult phone call I had many many years ago. My first full-time job out of college was for a Christian ministry. We had a small staff, and I was on the support team, so we took turns answering the phones. Usually, people called for general information or to place an order, but I picked up the phone one day and a women on the other end was crying.
We started talking and she was so overwhelmed. She had had disappointment after disappointment in life. She couldn’t understand it. She felt as if God had forgotten her or was judging her because, as she put it, the Bible promises that God’s children will rest secure and be protected and healed. I think I was 23 years old at the time. I totally fumbled through a response. I’m not even sure what I said other than trying to point her to heaven and Jesus’ resurrection.
But reflecting back on it, I realized one thing. It’s devastating to believe that the eternal promises of God are fulfilled on this side of eternity, like material prosperity or heath. I’m not saying that God doesn’t answer prayers for heath. He does. Nor am I saying that there are no blessings in this life. We have tremendous blessings as the people of God here and now – spiritual blessing of peace and eternal security and identity in the Lord and fellowship. I’m also not denying, as I’ve said, the near term benefits of following the Proverbs.
But what I am saying is this: God’s covenant promises (in the even verses) are ultimately eternal. The promise in verse 8 of healing to our flesh and refreshment to our bones will come true one day. That day when our flesh will no longer be corrupted and our bones will be restored forever.
And let’s talk about verse 10. Will your barns be filled with plenty, and will your vats be bursting with wine tomorrow if you give to the Lord today? Maybe, or maybe God will take it all away to drive you closer to him. But one thing he will do when you honor him with your firstfruits – he will give you a perspective on life that’s not about money, where you understand that it’s all his, anyway. He will give you a heart that is bursting with joy because of all the spiritual blessings in him. And there will be a day when you will reap the full promises of God in heaven.
There’s no place in these verses for the misguided and backwards prosperity movement. They see these verses as BOTH the ultimate motivation and ultimate end. No, the true promise of prosperity is spiritual and eternal. All the positive effects that we may receive by heeding these proverbs are overshadowed by the spiritual and eternal promises in the Lord.
God’s Covenant Faithfulness
That brings us to the third point – God’s Covenant Faithfulness.
We have a problem. Really, it’s an issue which stems from the covenant conditions (the odd verses)… but it affects the covenant promises (the even verses). You see, in order to receive the covenant promises or blessings, we need to keep the covenant conditions. They are required. The promises flow from the commands. Evey single one of the imperatives is connected to a promise through a conditional phrase. Verse 2 requires compliance to verse 1. Verse 4 requires compliance to verse 3, and so on. You can see that in the transition words, “for” and “so” and “then.”
The problem is that we can’t keep them. We can’t keep the odd numbered verses. We can’t keep God’s commandment. We forsake his faithfulness. We don’t honor or acknowledge or fear the Lord. None of them. And that’s a big problem. It means none of the promises in the even verses can come true for us. The blessings are unattainable.
This is what happened to Israel in the wilderness. They forgot God. They worshiped a golden calf. God commands were forgotten. And because their generation rejected God, God rejected them. They died in the wilderness and were not permitted into the promised land.
Let me extend the problem to all the proverbs. We can’t keep them. We can’t follow the path of wisdom and righteousness on our own. We can’t live a life of integrity or humility or avoid the path of the adulterous woman or evil man. No, at every turn, we are sucked into the evil way and to the path that leads to destruction. None of the covenant blessings are possible because we can’t keep any of the covenant conditions.
But there’s someone who has. He’s kept every single one of these. We couldn’t. Jesus has. And he has for you. And the only thing he asks is to believe. To repent of your covenant breaking and acknowledge that you’ve failed. That there’s nothing in you that can ever fulfill these conditions. And To believe that he has kept them for you.
This is God’s hesed love, his steadfast love, his covenant faithfulness. In a covenant relationship, both parties come to the table with their commitments and requirements. We failed our side, but Jesus stepped in and fulfilled it for us. It is through him that those covenant conditions are met and through him that we receive those amazing covenant promises.
Really, these verses can’t be understood without seeing their fulfillment in Christ. For Solomon’s son and his other readers, it was hope in a future fulfillment. They would have understood the gravity of breaking a covenant contract. You see, when you enter into a covenant with someone, it was binding to death.
That means that not only do we forfeit the blessings by breaking the conditions, the consequence is death – an eternal severed relationship with God.
This is where the promise of verse 12 comes in: “for the LORD reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights….” In the Hebrew, the word for reproves is to judge or punish in order to bring vindication. The penalty for our failure to uphold the covenant condition was taken on by the Son, by Jesus, as our vindication. We are the ones who deserve the judgment, but he came in order to vindicate us and fulfill the conditions for us. And he calls you believe.
If we had more time, we could explore how all the covenant promises here are also fulfilled in him. “Length of days” forever, “favor” in the sight of God, “healing” to our flesh.
In short, Jesus upholds the odd numbered verses for us, so that we may receive the full promises of the even verses in him.
God’s covenant faithfulness for us, fulfilling his covenant conditions, so that we may receive his covenant blessing.
So, what should we do with a material prosperity mindset in these verses? Throw it away. Not only does it pervert the meaning, but it misses the greater prosperity in view here. A true prosperity. Riches and blessings in Christ and his Gospel.
As we continue to work through Proverbs, this is the lens through which we need to understand it all. We need to begin with God, the Lord, Yahweh. Trusting and fearing in him for who he is and what he has done for us in Christ. And then, out of hearts of faith in him, we can pursue the path of proverbs.
May the Lord give us eyes to see and hearts to hear his Covenant promises on our journey.