WATCH YOUR STEP
[Jude 24, 25]
A sign on the entrance to the IRS office read, "Watch your step." A sign on the exit read, "Watch your language." Two good pieces of advice! The first warning is especially appropriate, for as we walk through life, it is easy to stumble and fall.
What do we need to watch for in life? Solomon suggests two things. Evil people and evil pathways. Both these influences will cause even the Christian to stumble.
Often we Christians believe that we are so insulated against evil that we do not need to be isolated from evil. Everything the Bible says is opposed to such a view. The people and the activities we are involved with can hurt us and cause us to fall.
The way of wisdom is the way of justice and leads us to walk in the right path (CIT). Let's learn once again from wisdom's instructions using the following outline.
I. Walk in The Way of Wisdom, 10-13.
II. Avoid The Way of Evil Men, 14-17.
III. The Path of Righteousness Lights The Way, 18-19.
Solomon reminds us of the value of trustworthy counselors in these verses. Specifically, he wrote to his own child. He assures his son that the counsel of a godly parent is one of several ways God directs our hearts. Our teacher states in verse 10 that his aim is to equip his children for a wise lifetime as his parents had done for him. "Hear, my son, and accept my sayings, and the years of your life will be many."
Once more Solomon addresses one of his sons and tells him that a good life commences when we establish communication with God. In a bygone period God attempted to speak to Samuel who mistook God's voice for that of the priest Eli. The priest gave Samuel the advice that led to his saying, "Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth" (1 Sam. 3:1-11). Waiting and listening, Samuel received the message.
Men must listen if they are to know God. The commandment said by Jesus to be the "first and the greatest" commences with, "Hear, O Israel." Many times over Jesus warned his followers, "He that hath ears to hear, let him hear."
When Glenn Clark interviewed the noted scientist George Washington Carver, he asked the SECRET OF HIS SUCCESS in discovering so many of the secrets of nature. The scientist replied, " . . . all my life I have risen at four o'clock and have gone into the woods and talked with God. There He gives me my orders for the day . . . When people are still asleep, I hear God best and learn my plan."
If we will really seek to know and listen for the voice of God, then we may have the experience of one of a bygone day of whom it was said, "And you shall hear a voice behind you, saying, 'This is the way, walk ye in it'" (Isa. 30:21).
When you receive God's truth into your heart God renews your mind (Rom. 12:2). If we hear this voice, we are blessed indeed and the years of our life will be many and the life of your years will be abudant.
Verse 11 informs us that wisdom directs us in right or straight ways. "I have directed you in the way of wisdom; I have led you in upright paths."
Hearing God and accepting His instruction directs your life into the way of wisdom. It directs you to the right decisions and you experience the guidance of God day after day.
God in His loving providence directs us and prepares the path for us. Augustine said, "Trust the past to the mercy of God, the present to His love, and the future to His providence." But King David said it better long before Augustine: "You will show me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore" (Ps. 16:11).
If you are willing to do God's will, you will have God's guidance (John 7:17), but if you treat God's will like a buffet lunch, choosing only what pleases you, He won't direct you. As I've said before, the will of God isn't for the curious; it's for the serious.
Let's look at 3 ways that the use of wisdom can lead us to personal growth.
(1) Refuse to plateau. It's tempting to find a plateau with comfortable stress, adequate finances and enjoyable relationships, without the intimidation of making new ones or entering unfamiliar situations. We all need to plateau for a time: to climb, rest and assimilate. But once we've assimilated what we've learned we must climb again. It's tragic when we've made our last climb. When that happens we're old, whether we're 9 - or 99!
(2) Pay the price. You'll always have to trade something you have in order to get some thing you want - like time spent on leisure activities; the price of further instruction; constant change and constant risks. Sometimes growth is just plain lonely. That's why so many of us stop growing; the cost gets too high! Solomon says: "Though it cost all you have, get understanding." Teddy Roosevelt said, "There's never been a person in history that led a life of ease, whose name is worth remembering." Can you think of one?
(3) Find a way to apply what you learn. Don't let learning lead to knowledge - let it lead to action! If you're not changing as a result of what you're learning, it's because: (a) you're not giving your personal growth plan enough attention; (b) you're focusing on your liabilities instead of your possibilities; (c) you're not applying what you're learning. Don't forget the all-important principle which says, "When you only listen and do nothing, you are fooling yourselves" (Jas 1:22 NCV). [In the Word Today, 2008]
Verse 12 advises us that the path of wisdom is a path that will never cause one to stumble. "When you walk, your steps will not be impeded; And if you run, you will not stumble."
Wisdom's way is safe and straight (unrestricted paths -3:6) in contrast to the crooked and cluttered way of folly. The crooked, devious path of sin is the way of problems and hardships.
David declared (Psalm 18:36), "Thou hast enlarged my steps under me, that my feet did not slip." If godly discipline has been exercised; if the Bible has been laid down as the rule of life; if habits of prayer, love, service to God and fellowship with His people have been encouraged then this will be. You will walk with liberty for "your steps will not be impeded." Sin so easily encumbers (Heb. 12:2 - "Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, (2) fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God."). You will manage your own affairs and see them to conclusion. Your steps and path will be so well ordered, that you can run to accomplish all the necessities of life and you "will not stumble."
Again in verse 13 an eager acquiring of wisdom is encouraged (vv 5-7) because it is life giving (v 10). "Take hold of instruction; do not let go. Guard her, for she is your life.
The animated exhortation is to "take hold." It reveals the struggle necessary to retain our principles. Feeble is our hold on God's instruction if it is the mere excitement of novelty or knowledge without conviction, or if combined with some sinful indulgence. Truths received only in the mind do not become the daily nourishment of the soul and are never taken hold of by the heart. Oh that we truly believed that a soul without true wisdom and grace is really a dead soul.
We "hold fast instruction" through its daily personal application, through a living faith. It includes intense interest, and persevering pursuit. "Continuing in the things which we have heard and become convinced of" (2 Tim. 3:14). As we say, "Keep your shop, and thy shop will keep you;'' so, "Keep wisdom, and your wisdom will keep you."
[HOLD FAST] A ships crew can be suddenly obligated to ABANDON SHIP and take to the life boats. Such was the case of an American whaling ship in the South Seas. A huge leviathan of the deep, wounded by his pursuits ran out the mile long line then returned again and struck the ship with incredible velocity. The blow was such that the vessel instantly began to receive water and gradually began to flood. The ship was far from land and out of the normal sea traffic patterns. There was little chance for rescue till they could return to lower latitudes.
The word to abandon ship was sounded and all hands went to work and soon all sea-worthy rafts were loaded to the gun-rail with the necessities of life. When the deck was nearly level with the sea the boats shoved off for safety. After the boats had pulled a hundred yards away, two men leaped into the water and swam for the nearly sunk ship with determination. They reached it just before it completely submerged and disappeared down a hatchway. In a minute or so they emerged again with something in their hands.
As they leap into the water the ship went under. The men were separated from each other and their object of rescue because of the whirlpool that commenced from the sinking hull. They seemed not to be concerned for their own safety as they remained in the turbulence searching for the object which they had carried over the ship's side. Finding it again they bore it away to their comrades in the boat.
What did these strong swimmers carry that they seemed to value more than life? It was the compass! It had been left behind and was remembered almost too late. Now that they have it they will not let it go. Whatever they lose, they will keep it at all costs, for "It is their life."
Oh that souls shipwrecked and sinking in the sea of time would but take hold of the truth as it is found in Jesus because they realize it is their hold on life!
If we would but truly believe that the life of our souls is forfeited by sin, that we must be saved and directed now or be lost forever. If we would believe that there is no other name under heaven given among men where by we must be saved but Jesus. Then there would be a corresponding clinging to the Savior as those men held that compass.
God's children cannot expect God's leading if they shuttle back and forth between the path of wisdom and the path of the wicked.
II. AVOID THE WAY OF EVIL MEN, 14-17.
Having exhorted us to walk the paths of wisdom our Saga now warns us. The way of wisdom is not the path of the wicked. In verses 14 & 15 six urgent commands are given to steer us clear of the path and company of the wicked. The advice in verse 14 gives special emphasis on staying clear of any paths they walk which means a fixed association with them. "Do not enter the path of the wicked, and do not proceed in the way of evil men."
The godless and habitually wicked are seen as entering and "continuing in the way of evil." Take warning about abiding with sinners. Bad company corrupts good morals.
Even friends can make you fall. It is difficult for people to accept the fact that friends and acquaintances might be luring them to do wrong. Young people want to be accepted, so they do not want to confront or criticize a friend for wrong plans or actions. Many other people can't even see how their friends' actions could lead to trouble. While we should be accepting of others, we need a healthy skepticism about human behavior. When you feel yourself being heavily influenced, proceed with caution. Don't let your friends cause you to fall into sin.
[A FORK IN THE ROAD] Several artists were asked to illustrate their concepts of temptation. When their paintings were unveiled, some of them depicted man's attempt to achieve fame and fortune at any cost. Others pictured mankind's struggle against the alluring desires of the flesh.
The prize-winning canvas, however, was quite different. It portrayed a quiet country lane with a man walking among inviting shade trees and lovely wild flowers. In the distance the way divided into two roads, the one leading to the right, the other to the left. The road that veered to the left seemed almost as inviting as the one that kept to the right. But if the traveler chose to take it, he would soon become mired in the mud. The artist was conveying the thought that sin's allurements are extremely subtle. They present themselves as an innocent looking fork in the road.
The "path of the wicked" may seem harmless at first, and we tell ourselves that we would never fall into gross sin. But that's just the kind of thinking that can divert us from the path of righteousness. A good traffic rule on the road of life: When you meet temptation stay right.
Father, Give us wisdom to reject all but the highway trod by Your pilgrims on the upward road that leads us straight to Yourself oh God."
"Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful" (Psalm 1:1). There is a progression of sin—from walking, to standing, to sitting, from passing through to spending time, to being comfortable with it. That is why Solomon says in verse 15 not even to take the first step. Avoid it at all cost. "Avoid it, do not pass by it; Turn away from it and pass on."
The way of evil men may seem pleasant and sociable and the best or easiest way to accomplish some desire or goal but it is an evil way and will lead you to an evil end. Therefore you should stay as far away from that path as you can! Turn from everything that even looks like sin or looks like would lead to sin. Don't enter it! Avoid it! Don't go near it! Avoid it! Go as far from it as you can! Certainly we must witness to unsaved people whom the Lord brings to us, but we must never adopt their lifestyle or imitate their ways. When it looks like you have made a wrong turn, make haste to turn back to God's path. God doesn't guide His children when they're walking in darkness. When you're living in the will of God, the path gets brighter and brighter, not darker and darker (1 John 1:5-10).
[RUNNING FROM SIN] The story is told of a young girl who accepted Christ as her Savior and applied for membership in a local church. "Were you a sinner before you received the Lord Jesus into your life?" inquired an old deacon. "Yes, sir," she replied. "Well, are you still a sinner?" "To tell you the truth, I feel I'm a greater sinner than ever." "Then what real change have you experienced?" "I don't quite know how to explain it," she said, "except I used to be a sinner running after sin, but now that I am saved I'm a sinner running from sin!" She was received into the fellowship of the church, and she proved by her consistent life that she was truly a child of God.
Our attitude toward sin is a pretty good indicator of our spiritual vitality. If we take sin lightly, we might well question the genuineness of our relationship to Christ. As believers, we must determine with His help to shun anything that might make us stumble or could lead us into a state of spiritual defeat. In his commentary on Proverbs 4, Matthew Henry compared sin to a highly contagious disease. He wrote, "Venture not into the company of those that are infected with this plague, no, not even if you think yourself guarded with the antidote of grace." Grace will not be enough if you come into constant close contact with sin. Remember, sin is a contagious disease, we catch from others. Don't take sin lightly! Run from it!
Verse 16 asks us to consider the character of the people whose path we are urgently warned to shun in verses 14 & 15. "For they cannot sleep unless they do evil; And they are robbed of sleep unless they make someone stumble."
Godless associates will make us stumble by their evil influence. The Christian who associate with those who make little of God and light of wrong will find that the influence of these people will eventually cause him or her to "stumble." The activities we are involved in can hurt us. When we follow evil pathways, we will be walking out of the light into the darkness. And sooner or later we will stumble and fall and hurt ourselves - and others.
So deviant become the wicked that they can "sleep" the sleep of the satisfied only on those nights when they have done harm ("evil") to the innocent and made well-meaning people "fall flat" (or "stumble"). They are unable to sleep because the day has passed without an opportunity to obtain gain or advantage by some deed or word. The interruption in this course of conduct which has become like second nature would be like an interruption in their drug and makes them sick. They become addicted to godless behavior. Mischief is the drug that brings exhaustion and sleep to them.
Another reason for staying away from evil companions is given in verse 17. Not only does mischief bring them sleep, verse 17 informs us that they eat and drink it also. "For they eat the bread of wickedness, and drink the wine of violence."
The path of evil becomes the wicked's continual preoccupation. "Wickedness" is bread and drink to them, they feed upon it and savor it. Their bodily condition becomes addicted to doing godlessness. They live on unrighteous gain which they procure by unjust actions. Let all who are wise and wish good for themselves avoid the society of the godless. It becomes bold and scandalous and does violence to situations and people's lives and it does not bother them. ["Violence," is their practice of harming others which becomes part of their very appetite and diet.] Let the bread and wine of the Lord's Table eliminate the appetite for the bread and wine of wickedness and violence.
III. THE PATH OF RIGHTEOUSNESS LIGHTS THE WAY, 18-19.
The two ways that lie before a youth or an adult to choose are distinct from one another as light is from darkness. Verse 18 says that the path of the righteous, which is "the way of wisdom" (v.11), is like the first rays of light in the morning, which gradually increase to the full light of noonday. "But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, that shines brighter and brighter until the full day."
The righteous walk in increasing light, the wicked walk in darkness. The light the righteous walk in gets brighter and brighter as they continue on the pilgrims path toward the celestial city. The picture is of the sunrise and the increasing brightness of light as the day or way marches on. Full day is literally "stand firm of day," indicating noontime brightness.
At first the believer's path is but a glimmer of light. He does not come at once into the "marvelous light." There is often a long continuous struggle with his own wisdom and independence. But the believer walks on in greater dependence on God, in greater love, hope and faith. In the promises and precepts of God the way becomes clearer, the eye is more unveiled and the heart more enlightened. With light on his path a believer can follow "straight paths" (v. 11) and "not be hampered" or "stumble" (v. 12).
The light of life for those that follow God's will for their daily lives becomes like the sun that directly overhead has become stationary. For them there is no shadow or doubt of turning from God's chosen straight and narrow path.
If we walk in the way of God's wisdom, the path gets brighter and brighter and there is no sunset! When the path ends, we step into a land where the light never dims, for "there shall be no night there" (Rev. 22:5).
God has a plan for each of His children (Eph. 2:10), and if we walk in His wisdom, we can confidently say, "The Lord will perfect that which concerns me" (Ps. 138:8). Our path may not be an easy one, but it will always be a fulfilling one as we walk in the will of the Father.
We hear a lot about being burned out and about mid-life crises. Yet here we read that the path of the just doesn't burn out—it lightens up. In other words, if you walk with the Lord and embrace the precepts of His Word, although there is no promise that your path will become easier, it will be clearer brighter as you move along
Verse 19 points out that the way of the wicked is dark making it difficult not to fall into the hurtful dangers of sin. "The way of the wicked is like darkness; They do not know over what they stumble.
The contrast is vivid. The "way of the godless" is characterized by deep darkness (a'plâh) or the entire absence of light. They will fall flat on their faces. They that walk on dark path will fall into an even darker place. It cannot be otherwise. A dark place on the path might be evaded, but the traveler who carries darkness in his heart cannot be rid of it. To the blind, every place and every time is dark. They "stumble" and fall and have little apprehension of the punishment which awaits them and in which they will reside.
Any of us with skills of honest recollection can remember shameful things we did as part of a gang or group that we would not have initiated on our own. The caring teacher-parent had learned that at his own childhood table and did not miss the opportunity to expose afresh the diabolically seductive influence of malicious people. [Hubbard, David; The Preacher's Com., Vol 15: Proverbs. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc, 1989, S. 86.]
There is danger that we will let the lessons of wisdom slip through our fingers and lose them. We must hold fast her instructions and not let them go. Hold on to wisdom the way a child holds a parent's hand and trusts Mom or Dad to guide and protect. God is able to keep us from stumbling (Jude 24) if we'll keep ourselves in His wisdom.
Has heaven's morning twilight from abiding in Jesus' will dawn upon your life? O that you might walk with God, following His will and know the full intensity of His love and light depicted by the sun at its zenith. May His warmth and light be yours in ever fuller measure till you know Him in His fullness!