Hear, my son, and accept my sayings, And the years of your life will be many. I have directed you in the way of wisdom; I have led you in upright paths. When you walk, your steps will not be impeded; And if you run, you will not stumble. Take hold of instruction; do not let go. Guard her, for she is your life.
Do not enter the path of the wicked, And do not proceed in the way of evil men. Avoid it, do not pass by it; Turn away from it and pass on. For they cannot sleep unless they do evil; And they are robbed of sleep unless they make someone stumble. For they eat the bread of wickedness, And drink the wine of violence.
But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, That shines brighter and brighter until the full day. The way of the wicked is like darkness; They do not know over what they stumble.
My son, give attention to my words; Incline your ear to my sayings. Do not let them depart from your sight; Keep them in the midst of your heart. For they are life to those who find them, And health to all their whole body. Watch over your heart with all diligence, For from it flow the springs of life.
Sermon for the Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity 9/10/23
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
This time of year in the Church Calendar, the readings tend to focus on Christian living. Our lessons this week are no exception to this rule. The Gospel talks about faith and thanksgiving and compares those that believe with those that do not in the account of The Healing of the Ten Lepers. The Epistle lesson compares the life led by the Spirit of God and the life lived for the flesh. It seems quite natural, then, that the Old Testament Lesson should compare those same two conditions, and what results from them. The results are likened to two footpaths - the path of the wicked and the path of the righteous. This morning we will examine these two, and what really makes the difference, under the theme, "Two Paths."
Our theme comes directly from the text which speaks of "the path of the wicked" and "the path of the righteous". They are two paths that a man or a woman might choose - but only if he or she is the child of God. The words of Solomon, who spoke so many of the proverbs, are intended for the believer as a guide for living. Notice the intimate, fatherly way he proceeds: Hear, my son, and accept my sayings, And the years of your life will be many. I have directed you in the way of wisdom; I have led you in upright paths. When you walk, your steps will not be impeded; And if you run, you will not stumble.
Solomon was not directing these word to his own son in specific, but as the wise man, was playing kindly father for us all. He calls us "son" just as the New Testament calls all Christians "sons of God". You see, the term is not even gender specific here, for all who believe are counted as sons. There are no second-class citizens in the kingdom of God. We all rank as sons - and because of Jesus we are all counted as first-born and as precious as His only-begotten Son.
He encourages us to take his words to heart, and you have got to know that these words are not merely the words of Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, but God speaking through Solomon to His chosen people - to us! If we pay attention to these truths, we can live a good life, a satisfying life. These words will be a solid guide even if life becomes rich, abundant and wildly successful. That is what it means to run, and not stumble.
What are the things which we are counseled to do that we might have this good life? First, Solomon says, "Take hold of instruction; do not let go. Guard her, for she is your life." He is not referring to just any instruction, mind you. Learning is good, but learning a trade, for example, is not going to make you stumble proof. The learning here is the moral instruction and the instruction in the faith to which God is drawing our attention. This is the kind of instruction that the world wants to have nothing to do with. This is what children - of all ages - object to at home and in church. This is what Rosie O'Donnell was reacting to when she said that radical Christianity was as threatening to America as radical Islam. People don't mind learning, per sé, they object to the truth as truth, and to holiness in principle. They don't want to hear that they are wicked, or that they have no automatic path to whatever good there might be in the next life, or that their conduct is sin. Since they do not place their trust in Jesus Christ, they do not want to hear that salvation is in Him alone. To them, as to Rosie, the idea of the free gift of eternal life by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone is dangerous, because it threatens them and their eternity with whatever the other alternative might be – and whether they admit it or not, human nature is wired to understand what the alternative to salvation and "heaven" is.
This instruction in the faith is your life - eternal life - and yet it is also useful and effective and salutary - that's the old word for beneficial - salutary for daily life in the here and now. That is the substance of the other points of our text. Secondly, God warns us, "Do not enter the path of the wicked, And do not proceed in the way of evil men. Avoid it, do not pass by it; Turn away from it and pass on. For they cannot sleep unless they do evil; And they are robbed of sleep unless they make someone stumble. For they eat the bread of wickedness, And drink the wine of violence."
Notice that there is no detailing here of what that path entails. We all kind of know what it is, and other passages here in Proverbs and in the rest of Scripture fill that in for us. Here, we are simply told to avoid it. Do not enter the path of the wicked and do not proceed in the way of evil men. One of the two paths is evil. We are not to join the wicked in their ways, or to turn to wickedness, nor allow ourselves to be seduced into the ways of sin. The world around us will do that. Sometimes we call it "peer pressure". Other times it is just temptation to fit in, or belong to a group, or to achieve something - success or wealth - or something - the easy way.
God says, Avoid it. Do not even pass by it. Turn away from it, and keep moving. These words remind me of my Sunday School memory work - "My son, if sinners entice thee, consent thou not" or "Flee youthful lusts". The way to avoid the paths of the wicked is to stay away, turn away to another direction when you see it in front of you, and run - physically - from temptation when it confronts you. Put space between you and the immediate cause of your temptation.
The nature of the evil path is hinted at here, as well. It is addictive, in a sense. The Bible says that they cannot sleep unless they do evil. There is something compelling about sin. It puts me in mind of the passages that speak of us as slaves of sin. Once you embark of the path of the wicked, you are compelled to do wicked things. For they eat the bread of wickedness, And drink the wine of violence. Perhaps you can identify examples of this in your own life - not big things, of course (at least I hope so), but you may remember times when you were not going to say something - or do something, but you couldn't resist. You spoke what you know you should not have spoken in the heat of anger in an argument, or you went ahead and did something you knew better than to do because your just felt compelled. It is the sort of thing Flip Wilson used to joke about when he said, "The devil made me do it."
The path of the wicked is also infectious. Once you go wrong, there is a powerful urge to drag others down with you. You cannot let good enough alone. "They are robbed of sleep unless they make someone stumble". You can see that in how false teachers want to destroy the churches from which they arise. How often haven't we heard the cry, "Why can't they just go somewhere else, where they agree with their false teachings"? This is apparently why. The path of evil compels one to seek recruits. Jesus said, "Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide, and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and many are those who enter by it."
He also said, "For the gate is small, and the way is narrow that leads to life, and few are those who find it." The way is so narrow, in fact, that Jesus likened it to the eye of a needle. It is the path of the righteous. Our text doesn't tell us to choose the path of righteousness, or to decide for it, or to walk on it, as though it depended on us. That is because it does not. It describes the path briefly. The path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, that shines brighter and brighter until the full day. It sounds good, but then, goodness tends to sound good. The description is clearer, actually, by comparison to the other path: The way of the wicked is like darkness; They do not know over what they stumble. The path of the righteous is bright and clear-sighted and only gets better and clearer as you go. But it is a path which we are given, not a path which we may choose. You can only choose to depart from it.
It is, in fact, the path of faith. Proverbs doesn't say it explicitly, but then it would be foolish to expect to find the New Testament explicit in the Old. But even here, it is pretty clear. Solomon speaks of His words and sayings as giving life and health. The real indication, however, is the last line of our text where he says, "Watch over your heart with all diligence, For from it flow the springs of life". The only other place where I remember hearing this language is John 7, where Jesus says, "He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being shall flow rivers of living water.'"
The path of the righteous is path that Jesus walked. He walked it perfectly because you and I could not. We are far too easily drawn to the path of the wicked. He walked that path alone and hated. And He died - but not for walking that path, because that path is the way of life - the narrow way that few find. You know, "For the gate is small, and the way is narrow that leads to life, and few are those who find it." Jesus found it, and He gives it to us and places us upon it, and causes us to flow with rivers of living water.
The words which are life, according to our text, are the words which tell us about Jesus and teach our hearts to believe, and through which the Holy Spirit creates in us that faith which receives all the riches of forgiveness and life for the sake of Jesus Christ. He places us on the path of the righteous by declaring us righteous and giving us life and salvation. We cannot choose this path, but once there, we can choose to remain on it and flee from the paths of the wicked. This is the instruction to which you are to cling and never let go. These word of God's love and grace are life and health to your body - both now and in eternity.
Solomon speaks of directing us in the way of wisdom in the first verses of our text. Wisdom, as you know, is the proper application of knowledge. The proper application of the knowledge of the gospel is faith. Trust in the Lord. There are times when doing something else will seem wise and good. People around you will encourage you to step out, and be bold, and fit in, and run with them. The temptation may be subtle and it may be bold and blatant and compelling. The truth is, when you confront those moments of temptation, you are facing the moment of decision between two paths, the path on which Christ has placed you - His path, the path of the righteous - and the path of the wicked. Wisdom tells us to turn away from that second path, flee in another direction, refuse to enter - and to refuse to continue in the company of the wicked.
God will give you the strength - and He has already given you the instruction. When you face the Two Paths, walk in the path of Christ.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)
Sunday, September 10, 2023