7 Do not be wise in your own eyes;
Fear the Lord and depart from evil.
8 It will be health to your flesh,
And strength to your bones.
Many years ago, I was privileged to be the pastor of a small country church. I was young, right out of seminary, and simply bursting with doctrine. The tiny congregation seemed to enjoy my sermons, and they certainly loved me and my young wife. She and I were constantly the recipients of much patience, grace, and of course, home cooking.
They were good people, who loved to gather for Sunday worship, and I imagined I was filling their hearts and minds with deep insights from the Bible and the far corners of the Reformed faith. With all of my learning and education, I thought there was little that they could teach me in return–but I was never more wrong.
One Sunday, as I was preaching during sabbath worship, one of the few small children in the congregation left his mother’s side in the pew and began to wander about the half-empty sanctuary. He was only a toddler, and the joy of both escaping a nap in his loving mother’s arms and exploring the cave-like building while the big people tried to stay awake was evident in his smiles.
There were smiles in the congregation as, almost as one, the people turned their heads to follow his progress. His mother, slightly embarrassed, did not seem to know what to do–but rather than cause a larger disturbance, remained in her pew and tried to show intense concentration as I rounded the corner on point two of my three point sermon.
The toddler, intent on his voyage of discovery across the sanctuary, began to laugh and talk happily to himself as he discovered old hymnals, funeral home fans and a rubber door stop that bounced on the hundred-year-old pine floors. Church, he decided, was the best place ever!
Up in the pulpit, I plowed on in my sermon delivery, periodically cutting my eyes over my wayward lamb, but resolutely maintaining my composure. Surely, I thought, someone would rise to corral the youngster and restore order. As my frustration grew, I realized that I was mistaken. After a few minutes, the congregation dutifully refocused on the preacher but judging from the smiles and elbow-nudging whenever a new shriek of laughter was heard, true concentration was officially lost.
After the service, I stood in the foyer to dutifully shake hands and accept compliments as pastors do from polite congregants who are already looking ahead to fried chicken and potato salad as part of “dinner on the grounds.” I prepared myself to provide instruction about maintaining order during worship but to my surprise the entire group filed past with nothing but cheerful comments about the child.
Finally, a wise old elder brought up the rear and I mentioned my frustration to him. He just chuckled knowingly and said, “Yes, we should be quiet during worship–but the noise of a child in church is a good noise, and we need more of that.”
I realized then that I could not disagree with him. At that moment, I learned something valuable about the need for families to worship together, and to welcome the challenges that young believers bring to worship. In a sinful world that seeks to drown out the gospel with its clamoring noise–where the devil seeks to entice the youth away from church–the laughter of a small child in worship is truly a good noise.
Have you ever had such an experience where you unexpectedly learned something new and valuable? In Proverbs chapter 3, Solomon showed that this is not only one of the ways that God has worked in the lives of His children–it is a sign of true wisdom.
In verses 7-8, the king continues to instruct his son–and the sons and daughters of Israel–on what Tim Keller calls the “marks and means of wisdom.” Solomon reveals that to be wise you must not only trust in God and submit to Him with all of your own understanding, you must also be teachable.
Verse 7 provides the foundation of teachableness:
7 Do not be wise in your own eyes;
Fear the Lord and depart from evil.–Proverbs 3:7
What does it mean to be wise in your own eyes? This is a call to not be a know-it-all who cannot abide by the opinions and instructions of others. It is saying that to have wisdom is to know that this wisdom does not come from inside you.
There is a catchy phrase that the world has been parroting for a generation now: “believe in yourself.” This sounds encouraging does it not? It inspires one to have confidence and to achieve great things–but have you ever really thought about it? There is nothing wrong with being confident and bold, or using your talents to achieve great things-but the wise person will know that these gifts come from God, who is the fount of all true knowledge (Colossians 2:3).
The fool listens only to his own voice and his own opinions, and grows ever more isolated in his mind and heart, as commentator Matthew Henry states:
There is not a greater enemy to the power of religion, and the fear of God in the heart, than conceitedness of our own wisdom.–Matthew Henry, Commentary on Proverbs
To be wise in your own eyes is to live in a form of Hell, as C.S. Lewis hits on in his book,“The Great Divorce:”
Hell is a state of mind - ye never said a truer word. And every state of mind, left to itself, every shutting up of the creature within the dungeon of its own mind - is, in the end, Hell. But Heaven is not a state of mind. Heaven is reality itself. All that is fully real is Heavenly. For all that can be shaken will be shaken and only the unshakeable remains.-C.S. Lewis, “The Great Divorce”
This is a fascinating picture. In the story the narrator has been given an opportunity to visit heaven for a day, where he encounters a place of joy and communion. This contrasts with the self-interested lost souls of the damned, who also have an opportunity to visit–and nearly all turn back as it does not live up to their own expectations or opinions of what they picture heaven should be like.
Do you have opinions and convictions about the Christian life, about God and what it means to follow Christ that could also lead ultimately to disappointment? The only way to know for certain is to continually pray and to maintain the process of learning and growing in the Word. As Paul exhorts Timothy that:
16 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.–2 Timothy 3:16-17
God gives you the Word not just as a record book but because it is useful. Like Solomon urging his son to not forget his teachings, so God urges you to continually go back to the “well of salvation” (Isaiah 12:3) and be nourished in knowledge and faith. Tim Keller writes of the Gospel’s effect on your heart:
The Gospel is the greatest resource for creating teachability. It shows us that we are sinners, yet its deep assurance of God’s unconditional love for us in Christ makes it possible to face our flaws without denial.–Tim Keller, God’s Wisdom for Navigating Life
The wise person knows that he or she does not do this alone. You are to find comfort, to seek earthly companionship among other believers–pilgrims and fellow travelers on the journey of life. Dr. Bruce Waltke indicates that this is at the core of this proverb:
God instructs us to seek the good of others, not themselves, but human beings supplant this teaching with their own wisdom to satisfy themselves (James 3:14-16) - Waltke
One of the benefits of being a pupil and a classroom is that as a student you will not only grow in knowledge provided by your learned instructor, you will also learn from the shared knowledge–and blunders-of your classmates.
This is one of the reasons God expressly calls you to join together in Sabbath worship with other believers as part of the Body of Christ:
24 And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, 25 not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.–Hebrews 10:24-25
The church in the post-COVID world faces many significant challenges, not the least of which is a new desire to meet “online” or to invest in livestream or broadcast services. These tools are wonderful and in many cases have allowed worship to continue in areas or among people where the pandemic was keenly felt.
However, a new challenge has arisen where churches and pastors are often pleading for congregants to return to physical worship. The allure of “church in your pajamas” is real for many modern Christians, who not only enjoy “reclaiming the day” for their own interests, they are missing out on the joy–and challenge–of their lives interacting with the lives of others on Sunday morning.
Technology can be a blessing and a curse, it all depends on whether you have mastery over it, or it has mastery over your heart. Author Tony Reinke, recently published a study in how our ever-present smartphones have changed our lives. Instead of becoming a window into a universe of knowledge and wisdom, your phone often becomes a mirror to bounce back your own ideas (or similar ideas from others) back to you:
Technology bends us in a centripetal direction, pulling us toward a central habit of loneliness and filling our lives with habits that benefit the stakeholders who seek to monetize our attention.- Reinke, “12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You”
To be wise is to be teachable, and a rich portion of this teaching comes through the example, and even the pain, of encountering other believers in love, in worship and in bearing one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2). You cannot do that alone and be wise.
Solomon continues in verse 8:
8 It will be health to your flesh,
And strength to your bones.–Proverbs 3:8
To be teachable is also to be healthy? What does this mean? The translation here for “flesh” is לְשָׁרֶּ֑ךָ, or literally “to your navel.”
You will have a happy, healthy bellybutton.
What Solomon is saying is that when you become teachable in Godly wisdom, when you stop relying on your own wit, wisdom and self-validated opinions and rely on Him, you will see a healing benefit in your spirit and in your life. To seek God’s wisdom above your own means to encounter the Holy Spirit who will begin to mold your heart and your life to model Christ.
This is not a form of “prosperity gospel” it is an ethical cause and effect of seeking wisdom from the Godly spring and not from your own stagnant pool of knowledge. Bruce Waltke explains:
By turning from his sinful nature one experiences spiritual, psychological and physical healing.–Waltke
Like the old hymn joyously describes the path of the believer who seeks to be taught the way, to be led by the One who is The Way, The Truth and The Life on the path of life everlasting, it cannot come simply from a desire or a pure effort of will from within–it must come from Him:
Teach me thy way, O Lord; teach me thy way!
Thy guiding grace afford; teach me thy way!
Help me to walk aright, more by faith, less by sight;
lead me with heav’nly light; teach me thy way!
Are you teachable? Can you take advice and even criticism when needed? Are you willing to learn from the lives of your fellow believers: their joys, their sins, their struggles and their gifts? Can you share your own life with them so that they too may learn? Tim Keller says “wisdom is to see things through as many eyes as possible.” Seek to see the world through the eyes of Christ and not your own.
The Monday—Friday DEEPs are written by Mike Slay and this Saturday Deep is written by Matt Richardson. To subscribe to all the DEEPs click here:
The weekly study guides, which include the Monday–Friday devotionals plus related questions for discussion or meditation, are available for download here:
Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. ESV stands for the English Standard Version. © Copyright 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved. NIV stands for The Holy Bible, New International Version®. © Copyright 1973 by International Bible Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved. KJV stands for the King James Version.