Proverbs 4 Sermon The Road Less Travelled By (Rev. Erik Veerman)
The Road Less Travelled By
We’ll be looking at Proverbs 4 today. You can find that on page 628
This is Solmon’s 5th lesson on wisdom. In these opening chapters, he’s been answering the “what,” the “why,” and the “how” questions of wisdom. Last week was another “why” answer. Why pursue wisdom? Because the value of wisdom is beyond what we can even imagine.
This chapter, chapter 4, answers another “how” question – “how do I stay on the path of wisdom?” The answer: Cherish wisdom every day of your life.
As I read, listen for two things. Listen to the language of keeping or holding on to wisdom and listen for the language of the path or way of wisdom.
Reading of Proverbs 4:1-27
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Robert Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken” is perhaps America’s most well-known poem.
Those are the opening lines. Likely you are more familiar with how it closes:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference.
As the literature teachers here would probably tell you, the poem is often misunderstood. When we hear it, we immediately think of the path of life. After all, choosing the right path makes all the difference, as it says. But, as I understand it, Frost was actually making fun of an indecisive friend. This friend struggled to pick any path in the woods.
Nonetheless, his poem has become a symbol of life’s journey. In a way, it appeals to that inner sense that there are different paths in life…. that we need to choose a path. And, of course, it also appeals to American individualism – choosing a path less travelled.
Well, Proverbs 4 is about the path of life. It’s about choosing the road less travelled by, the path of wisdom. And it’s contrasted with the path of evil.
Now, you may have noticed this: At the end of almost every wisdom lesson so far, Solomon concludes by identifying 2 paths.
· On one hand, he has talked about the ignorant, the fool, the complacent, and the wicked. And he’s described their end. They will be cut off or rooted out or disgraced.
· On the other hand, he’s talked about the wise, the righteous, and the upright. They will inherit honor or remain in the land.
· Two paths – one leading to life and one leading to death
We get here to chapter 4, and it what it does is expands on the 2 paths of life. But instead of just describing the two paths – he’s already done that. Solomon tells his sons how to stay on the path.
This is critically important. You know that famous quote: "The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." That’s true, but the journey doesn’t end with the first step, no it takes step after step. Wisdom begins with the reverent fear of the Lord, but that’s just the beginning of the journey. Wisdom is a life-long journey.
What’s interesting about this chapter is that there are three themes present. However, they’re not logically ordered. Rather, these three themes permeate the chapter. So instead of working through this sequentially, we’ll take it thematically.
What are those three themes? Three “H” words. Hearing, Holding, and Heeding the way of wisdom. Hearing the wisdom of God; Holding to the wisdom of God; and Heeding the wisdom of God.
Hearing, Holding, and Heeding. Let me put it this way: these are the three keys that will help you stay on the path of wisdom.
Honestly, I don’t want to spend too much time on hearing. This is not the first time we’ve come across the importance of hearing wisdom. A few weeks ago we considered how we are bombarded today by different messages from our culture. It’s hard, isn’t it, to filter through everything out there and to hear true wisdom.
And, do you remember where we go to listen to God’s wisdom? We go to God’s commands and his teaching. We find that in his Word.
Hearing is essential on the journey of wisdom. I think you would agree with me, that makes sense.
Note the very first word of chapter 4. “Hear.” Hear what? “Hear, O sons, a father's instruction, and be attentive, that you may gain insight, for I give you good precepts; do not forsake my teaching.”
This is the king of Israel. He’s speaking about the teaching that had been passed down through the ages. It was passed to his father, King David. David then taught Solomon, and now King Solmon is passing it to the next generation. You can see that generational connection right there in verses 3 and 4. “when I was a son, my father taught me.”
Now, jump down to verses 10. Solmon re-emphasizes the need to “hear” him. There’s that word, again, “hear.” Then in 11, he explains: “I have taught you the way of wisdom; I have led you in the paths of uprightness.”
He’s saying, “my son, these are the things of God: his commandments, his precents, his covenant promises. Hear them. Receive my teaching.”
And notice yet again, down in verse 20. Solomon once more reemphasizes the need to hear: “be attentive to my words; incline your ear to my sayings.”
Children, you have your life ahead of you. Lord willing, he will give you length of days. There are so many things for you to learn. Good things to learn about the world, about history, things to learn in the various career paths.
But the most important thing to learn is about God: All the things he has revealed to us in his Word. Wonderful things about who God is and his love for you in Christ. Kids, your parents and others are teaching you these things. And the very first responsibility you have on your life journey is to listen to God and his word.
And I think you all know this, it’s not a one-time thing. No, throughout our whole lives, we are to be listening to God - studying his Word (all of it!). We’re to listen attentively to it.
Let me put it this way, you can’t walk on the path of wisdom or stay on the path if you’re not listening to the word of wisdom. Hearing is required.
There’s, of course, more to say about hearing. This won’t be the last time we talk about hearing, so I’ll leave it at that.
Next holding. Not just hearing God’s wisdom but holding on to the wisdom of God. Cherishing it constantly all your days. Never letting it go!
This idea is all through these verses. Really, it’s the main trust of what Solomon is conveying to his children. Yes, hear my teaching, but also hold on to my teaching.
First, look at verse 4 “let your heart hold fast my words.” Verse 5. “do not forget” and “do not turn away from the words of my mouth.” Verse 6 – “Do not forsake her.” Solmon is speaking about lady wisdom.
And did you notice how personal this is. “love her, and she will guard you.” Verse 8 “prize her highly, and she will exalt you. She will honor you if you embrace her.”
In other words, holding on to wisdom should not be a stubborn duty-bound endeavor. Rather, I think the word cherish is the right word here. Hold on to her lovingly because she will give you life. Look down at verse 13: “keep hold of instruction; do not let go; guard her;” and then look what it says, “for she is your life.”
On the journey of life, the wisdom of God gives you life.
Many of you have heard of Corrie Ten Boom. Perhaps some of you have read her book, The Hiding Place. Corrie and her family lived outside of Amsterdam during World War 2. They were Christians… and they were part of a network of believers who hid Jews from the Nazis. They helped them and others escape. They had a clock business which they used as a cover for their true operations.
As you can imagine, the Ten Booms put themselves at grave risk because of their endeavors. The Nazis had taken over the region in 1940, so for multiple years they continued in their efforts to save people. During this time, Corrie and her whole family memorized Scripture. Her father would recite from God’s word and often from Psalm 119. He would read this: “Lord, You are my hiding place and my shield; I hope in your word. Deliver me from evildoers” It, of course, gave them encouragement to continue in their work. But it would also be their lifeline.
You see, in February of 1944, the Ten Boom family was arrested. Corrie and her sister Betsie were sent off to Ravensbrook concentration camp. There they endured the harshest of conditions. In her book, Corrie recounts the neglect, the disease, and the starvation. Her sister, in fact, did not survive.
Through those dark and difficult days, Corrie describes how God’s Word sustained them. She and Betsie would recite the Scriptures they had memorized. It was their life. Not only was it a lifeline for them, but they would also share the Word with the other women.
Corrie wrote this: “Nobody can take away from you those texts from the Bible which you have learned by heart.” You see, she heard the word and she held on to the word. It was life for her.
If you’ve never read The Hiding Place, I would encourage you to. Someone told me once that they read it every single year. It reminds them of the priorities in life, of evil in the world, and of being sustained by the Lord and his Word.
Back to Proverbs 4. Down in verses 21-23 we find the same theme - holding on to God’s wisdom as a source of life. After Solomon calls his son to be attentive to his words, he says, “let them not escape from your sight. Keep them within your heart.” And expanding on that in verse 23: “keep your heart with all vigilance.” Why? Listen to what he says: “for from it flows the springs of life.”
We hold onto wisdom, we cherish it, because it helps keep us on the path. So, constantly remind yourself of God’s truth and commands. And do that through days of plenty and days of lack, through temptation and sickness and persecution, in times of joy and sadness.
Holding onto and guarding wisdom will sustain you on the path of life.
So, first hearing. Hearing is not a one-time thing or for one period in your life. No, it’s attentively listening to God and his word all your days.
Second, holding onto it. Keeping it. Embracing it. Hiding God’s wisdom in your heart. This is also not a one-time thing. No, we’re to hold onto it every step of the 1000-mile journey.
And third, heeding - heeding the way of wisdom. You can stuff all the Scripture you want in your head, and you can actually believe it. But you also need to respond to it. You need to take action because of it.
In other words, heeding is obeying.
And just like hearing and holding are found all throughout this chapter… and are described as lifetime pursuits on the journey. So also is heeding.
It’s captured here in the language of walking. And staying on the path. And not veering to the path of evil.
· Verse 5, for example: not only does Solmon command his son to not forget his instruction, but Solmon next commands his son to not “turn away from the words of my mouth” That means to be faithful to them.
· Verses 11 speak of the “way of wisdom,” which is the way of “uprightness,” as it says. Theres that idea again that wisdom has a moral component to it. Know the wisdom of God and reflect the wisdom of God.
· Verse 12 continues the image of walking. When you walk in this way, “your step will not be hampered, and if you run you will not stumble.”
In other words, wisdom is an endurance race. It’s not a sprint.
You’ll also notice in chapter 4 that to heed wisdom is to stay on the path. It’s not straying onto the wrong path.
One time, I was competing in a bicycle road race up in north Georgia. That was a long time ago. I was doing pretty well, I thought… but a few miles in, there was an arrow spray painted on the road to take a turn. It was a little faded, but I thought, “ok, ok, this must be the way to go.” No one else was around, so I turned.
The problem was, I hadn’t study the course map before the race. The arrow on the road was from the prior year’s course. For miles and miles, I rode my heart out. No one was around me. I thought I was killing it, but I had gotten on the wrong path.
The funny thing is, eventually it brought me to the finish line but from the wrong direction! So, I just rode up a little ways, turned around, and came back.
Look at verse 14. “Do not enter the path of the wicked.” And “do not walk in the way of evil.” “Avoid it,” it says. “Turn away from it and pass on.” Verse 15.
And look how the path of wisdom is described in verse 18: “the path of the righteous.” You see, the path itself, is the path of heeding the way of wisdom.
And the last 4 verses really capture it all: “Put away crooked speech… and devious talk” This is not like putting dishes away to be used later. No, the Hebrew is much stronger. Literally “remove it.” Let it be no more.
He adds… ”let your eyes look directly forward” …”do not swerve to the right or to the left.”
Try something later today. Try walking in a straight line while you head is turned and you are focusing on something off to the side. You’ll find that it’s very hard. On the path of life, there are many distracting, appealing things on the wrong path. Solomon says, don’t even gaze over at them. No, face forward and continue straight.
And the chapter concludes, “turn your foot away from evil.”
Do you see what Proverbs 4 is saying? Wisdom is not a one and done thing. You don’t just arrive at wisdom and then coast. No, wisdom is a life journey. It’s a way of life. And it requires hearing, holding, and heeding.
The sad reality of this chapter is to consider Solmon himself. He wrote Proverbs as a young man, as a young king, with young sons. Yet, the lifelong path of wisdom that he describes is not the path that he persisted on.
No, Solomon swerved from the truth. We read from 1 Kings 11 earlier. It describes how Solomon lost sight of God.
In fact, in the book of Deuteronomy, chapter 17, the kings of Israel were given specific commands:
Kings were not to acquire many horses for themselves, lest it caused the people to return to Egypt
Also, kings were not to acquire many wives nor acquire excess silver and gold, lest his heart turn away from God. So far, Solomon is 0 for 3.
No, instead, do you know what kings were commanded to do? They were to keep a copy of God’s law. Let me read you exactly what Deuteronomy 17 commands for the kings: “he shall read [the law] all the days of his life” (in other words, hearing). It continues: “that he may learn to fear the Lord his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes,” (In other words, holding). It continues, “and doing them,” it says (heeding). And then Deuteronomy 17 explains why: “that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers, and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left, so that he may continue long in his kingdom, he and his children, in Israel.”
Solomon broke these. He lost sight of God’s commandments and of God himself. And it happened because he failed to hear, hold, and heed God’s wisdom all his days.
Now, you are probably asking “is there any hope for anyone? I mean if King Solomon with all his God given wisdom couldn’t hold and heed wisdom in his life, ca anyone stay on the path? Is there any way?” That is the question.
And what I want to say is that Proverbs 4 is not setting us up for failure. No, rather Proverbs 4 is leading us to The Way.
Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” In fact, do you know how they referred to Jesus followers in the New Testament? They are referred to as those belonging to The Way.
In the book of Acts chapter 9, the apostle Paul, before his conversion, was persecuting those “belonging to The Way.” (capital “W”)
In Acts 18, Priscilla and Aquila explained to Apollos “the way of God” more accurately. Twice in Acts chapter 19, and twice more in chapter 24, it describes the Christian life as “The Way” – again capital “W.”
Following Jesus is the way of God. He is the path of righteousness.
But there’s something important to understand, though. Don’t picture in your mind Jesus walking on a path and you are there following behind trying to keep up. Don’t picture yourself tripping and falling, and then having to run to catch back up to him. No, Jesus said, “I am the way.” The way of wisdom is Christ. Following Christ is giving your life to him. It’s recognizing your utter inability, because of your sin, to hear, hold, and heed the wisdom of God. Jesus is the one who hears, holds, and heeds the wisdom of God for you.
Picture it this way, when you fall (I didn’t say “if” I said “when”)… when you fall, Jesus lifts you up and restores you to the path of life… or if necessary, he carries you the rest of the way.
I hope you are following me here. None of what I just said takes away from the call of Proverbs 4. Following the one who is the way, makes the way of Proverbs 4 possible.
· When you come to Christ, you are given ears to hear the way of truth and the commandments of God. The Spirit of God opens up the ears of your heart to hear his truth.
· You are also given his Gospel to hold all your days. When you come to believe that Christ died for you so that you may live, it is the beginning of a lifetime of cherishing the grace of the cross all of your days. In fact, he is the one who is holding you fast.
· And last, you are enabled to heed the commands of God. Jesus is the upright one. And through his Spirit in your life, you can reflect his righteousness.
Hear, Hold, and Heed the wisdom of God in Christ.
Let me end by putting it this way: Following Christ is the road less travelled by, that truly does make all the difference.