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Wisdom and Your Heart | Proverbs 3

As preached by Timothy O'Day.

God addresses your sinful heart by calling you to...

1) truly grasp wisdom.

2) truly value wisdom.

3) truly practice wisdom.

Wisdom and Your Heart

Proverbs 3

2 of 10

May 26, 2024

George Washington was a stoic man of steel. At 6’2”, he was literally head and shoulders above most men of his time. There are several instances in which he inspired his men to keep fighting by riding among them on horseback, which inadvertently presented him as an easier target for gunfire in the battle. Once, while his men were retreating from the lines in New York, Washington alone charged forward in an attempt to get his men to stand their ground. 

He was brave in the face of the danger of battle in a way that is hard for us to comprehend, remaining unshaken in times when others wanted to run away.

Yet there is a record of him being deeply shaken. One of his subordinates and friends, Benedict Arnold, hatched a plot to throw the revolutionary cause into disarray. After being appointed the command of a strategic fort, he conspired with the British to neglect the fort and set a trap for Washington. All of it would have worked and Washington would have been captured if he had not been so punctual. He actually arrived earlier at the fort for an inspection than Arnold and the British thought he would, causing Arnold to flee and Washington to evade the plot he knew nothing about. Upon learning of the depth of the deception from Arnold, those around Washington saw his hands tremble and heard him feebly say, “Whom can we trust now.”  

Enemies without are frightening, but enemies within chill the blood. 

Proverbs 1-2 opened up by telling us that giving God priority of place in our thinking and in our understanding was the beginning of knowledge. As we look at God as he really is—His unquenchable goodness, glorious majesty, immeasurable power, and his scandalous grace—we are overcome with awe, reverence, fascination, wonder, and even fear to wrong him or be away from him. 

We also saw in Proverbs 1-2 that there are dangers that call us away from fearing God. Evil men appeal to our greed and pride, calling us to look away from God and jump into sin through peer pressure. Or, as chapter 2 ends, we see that evil women, who do not desire to be faithful to the Lord, can call you away to join them in faithlessness. 

When we consider the danger of sin, it is easy to think about these exterior threats and dangers. But threats against accepting God’s wisdom are not just from without. They also come from within. There is a traitor in your midst and it is your own heart. 

The heart is not merely the seat of your emotions, as we use the term in modern lingo. The heart in Scripture refers to who you are at your core. It is what makes you who you are. From your heart arise your desires, feelings, convictions, decisions, fears, actions, thoughts, and beliefs. 

Wisdom, which is knowledge rightly employed and deployed according to God’s righteous ordering of the world, is a heart issue. Look at Proverbs 3:1 and 3 to see this,

“My son, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments.”

“Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you; bind them around your neck; write them on the tablet of your heart.

The commands that come to us about wisdom are not merely to be performed; they are to be stored in the heart. Why? So that they may form your heart, who you are. This is what is meant by “write them on the tablet of your heart.” 

Wisdom is not just knowledge to have, but knowledge that forms you and conforms you to God’s design. 

Proverbs 3 is a lecture in wisdom that addresses the enemy within, our sinful desires, beliefs, and commitments. Since this enemy is one of the most dangerous, we need to listen well in how to combat the deception that rests inside of us. God addresses your sinful heart by calling you to do 3 things. Let’s focus on each in turn. 

First, truly grasp wisdom (1-12)

When I say “truly grasp,” I mean you must see wisdom for what it is: God’s authoritative take on life, worth, and meaning. You and I live in an age of opinions, but God’s wisdom is not an opinion. He is not “a counselor” among many others. He is “The counselor.” 

When you grasp that God’s wisdom is not an opinion, but the authoritative word from the only true God who made you and all of creation, then you treat it differently. If you look at the first 4 verses of Proverbs 3, you see that we are instructed not to weigh the wisdom that God gives but to store it in our hearts. 

“Don’t forget…but let your heart keep” verse 1.

“Bind them around your neck; write them on the tablet of your heart,” verse 3. 

We live in an age full of opinions and options. We live in an age that says you can have a truth and I can have a truth, even if they contradict one another. You can talk to people who will say, “My way of salvation and life can be true and your way can be true.” If you then say, “But my way is the exclusive way,” you might hear the response, “It is exclusive for you, but not for me.” 

That is foolishness, but foolishness is prevalent today. And if you fall for that foolishness even just a little bit, then you will treat God’s words of wisdom as an opinion to be shifted instead of the authority that should guide your thinking, feeling, and living. 

Just listen to what is at stake in the first 4 verses. You’ll notice that there is a pattern in these verses of a command followed by a promise. God’s wisdom is not an opinion, but a promise. His wisdom leads to life, in verse 1, and peace in that life, in verse 2. Verse 4 then tops it all off by saying that it brings good success before God and man. 

In other words, the promises are high and you risk great loss if you treat God’s wisdom as one opinion among many.

Elevate God’s Wisdom in Your Life

When you rightly grasp that wisdom is not an opinion but God’s authoritative guidance for you, then you will grow in elevating what God says in your life. That’s what we see in verses 5-8. There are 2 outcomes when you rightly grasp wisdom: trusting God’s judgments and doubting your own.

Since God has spoken and given you instruction for your good, you are to trust God with the totality of who you are. That is what is meant in verse 5, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart,” and likewise, verse 6, “In all your ways acknowledge him.” 

Since God is the author of all creation, including your maker and sustainer, then it follows that he knows all that you need and has all that you need. As you pick up the book of Proverbs and begin to read, you see that he desires to give you the wisdom that you need for life in these words. As you rightly grasp these words, you should throw all of yourself into trusting what he says.

Trusting God with all of your heart means that you trust him with every aspect of your life. His word is primary in what you believe about yourself, creation, salvation, and even God. His word is primary in how you decide to live, marry, raise your kids, work, and think about retirement. His word is primary in how you consider interacting with neighbors, co-workers, family, and the government. 

It is living in such a way that if God fails you, then you fail. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:19, “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” Paul does not say, “You know what, even if the gospel isn’t true, being a Christian is just a good life.” No, he is making the opposite point. The cornerstone of the gospel, the death and resurrection of Jesus, is not true, then everyone should look at Christians and say, “Of all people, they deserve the most pity because they have formed their lives around Jesus and completely depend on Jesus, but he was false.” 

Is God’s wisdom, the fullness of which is in Jesus Christ, the foundation of your life in such a way that this could be said of you? Or are you trying to hedge your bets with your life?

Second, when you rightly grasp wisdom you will doubt your impulses that push against God’s wisdom. This is what is meant by the second half of verse 5, “And do not lean on your own understanding,” and verse 7, “Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil.”  To lean on your own understanding is to hear God’s wisdom and say, “I know that God said that, but I think a little differently. “ In other words, it is saying that God is wrong and you are right. It is to say that your understanding is superior to God’s understanding. 

That is ridiculous and foolish, but you might do it more than you think. You can say, “I know what God has commanded here, but my circumstances are so difficult.” Did you catch that? You can justify going against God’s wisdom because you have a superior understanding of your situation that God just couldn’t have had when he gave you his word. 

God says, “When sinners entice you, do not consent.” But you reply, but everyone else in my line of work is doing it and if I do not join in then it might ruin my business.” Or you may say, “But if I do not behave in the ways that the opposite sex desire, then I may not ever get married.” Or you may say, “But that is a stupid rule and no one follows it, so I am excused as well.” 

This is all leaning on your own understanding and saying to God, “Your wisdom is an opinion that I will weigh; not an authority that I will trust.” 

Signs of trusting the Lord

How do you know if you are trusting the Lord or leaning on your own understanding? Verses 9-12 give us two tests: how you handle money and correction. 

Verses 9-10 call us to honor the Lord with our wealth. The way this is done is tied to the command in Deuteronomy 26:2 for the Israelites to take some of the first fruits from the harvest and offer them to the Lord. This is fitting because, as Deuteronomy 26:2 notes, God has given them the land. They are stewards and tenants of it, not owners. 

But God is not merely responsible for Israel’s provision. He provides for all who have anything. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17). 

When you grasp who God is, your gracious provider of life and good, then his call to give toward him and his ends makes sense. When you trust him with all that you are, you want to give.

But if you find excuse after excuse to simply keep, then you are not trusting in the Lord with all of your strength but leaning on your own understanding. 

Then there is the test of pain. Are you willing to accept God’s loving correction, even when it is painful? Verses 11-12 give us a warning. When you do not heed the Lord’s wisdom, he offers loving correction—also known as discipline. The reason God gives this discipline is love, as verse 12 makes plain. 

I will not pretend to know the mind of God and why you are suffering, but there is a chance that it is because of the Lord’s discipline. When that happens, how do you respond? Are you angry at God? Immediately dismissive of his word and wisdom? 

Anger at God is a sign that you do not know him or deeply misunderstand who he is. It is to say to God, “You aren’t good!” But to make such a statement, you have to be at a place where you can actually say that you are better than God and more worthy than God to make pronouncements on what is good and evil. Tell me: what about your life makes you feel adequate and worthy to do that? 

A heart that trusts God submits to his discipline because it trusts what God has said about himself: that he is good and loving. A heart that trusts God is not angered at discipline and does not run away from God at discipline. Rather, it turns to God and looks for comfort from him. 

We do not (and should not) say to our children, “I love you, but I have to discipline you.” We say, “I love you, so I will discipline you.” This is what God says to his people. He disciplines because his wisdom is so valuable, which is what we have to truly grasp next. When you leave the way that leads to his blessing, in love he corrects you. This discipline is not an opinion, but an authoritative act of love. Embrace it, do not despise it. 

Second, truly value wisdom (13-20).

How you value something determines how you think and act in regard to it.

Let’s pose a test. What do you think about more: the foundation of your house or the decorations in your house? Monetarily, which is more valuable? By far your foundation. 

But practically speaking we end up valuing whatever we think about most. You rarely think of your foundation, but every day you see your decorations. 

Likewise, our sinful hearts are drawn toward things that are obvious and in plain sight: earthly treasure, man’s approval, and acclaim, fitness, food, and romance. To protect us from chasing after these lesser things, Proverbs 3 offers two great insights into the value of wisdom.

Wisdom As the Gate and Path of Life

First, verses 13-18 show us that wisdom is the gate and pathway to life itself. Verse 13 says that the one who finds wisdom is “blessed,” which means much more than merely happy. While it can mean happy, here it has the connotation of having life in the optimal sense; it means having God’s pleasure set on him. Think of it this way: to be close to God is to be blessed; to be far from God is to be cursed.

The one who finds wisdom is close to God and this matters more than anything else! For this reason, wisdom is better than silver, gold, and jewels. In fact, as verse 15 says, nothing can compare with wisdom. 

Verse 18 helps us see why: wisdom how you have true and everlasting life. Verse 18 says, “She is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her; those who hold her fast are called blessed.” 

In the Garden of Eden, humanity was offered the Tree of Life in order to be with God and live with God forever. But through sin, they were rightfully deprived of this life. But now this life is offered by God through his gift of wisdom in his word. 

Put differently, when you embrace his word through faith, you have this promised life and blessing, right standing, with God. 

This lines up with how God speaks of this same reality in different places. In Psalm 1, the truly blessed man is not the one who pursues sin, but the one who delights in the law of God. He becomes like a tree planted by streams of water—full of life and fruit.

Jesus, who is the Word incarnate, speaks these words of life. In fact, all of Scripture is rightly called God’s Word because it conveys to us these words of eternal life. 

But these words are not mere directions. They are effective to change you. How can that be? That leads us to the second reason we should value wisdom.

Wisdom is God’s Tool of Creation (and Recreation)

Second, in verses 19-20, we see that wisdom is God’s tool of creation. Through wisdom, God founded the earth, established the heavens, and sustains all of his creation by opening up the provision of water for life. 

As such, wisdom is powerful. While wisdom is not the exact same thing as the words he spoke, it is closely related to the words he spoke that brought about creation. God spoke in wisdom and, through this speaking, created all things and sustains all things. 

Since that is the case, what will his wisdom do in you and to you? His wisdom is not mere information for you to follow; it is his powerful word that changes and conforms you to his will. 

Here is the point: Christ is not a mere teacher for you to listen to and for you to follow. Yes, he is a teacher; and yes, you must follow him. But what he gives is so much more. Just as God spoke in creation and what he said came to be, so our Lord speaks today and what does not exist comes into being in us. 

The gospel is proclaimed, and where there used to be none, faith springs into being by his wise and powerful words. 

Someone is walking in sin, but then through the word of God, he is rebuked. Once where there was no conviction for sin, conviction springs up by God’s wise and powerful words. 

Do you know why I am a Christian and not an agnostic, atheist, Muslim, Mormon, or Roman Catholic? Because God sent one of his people to share the gospel with me. And I heard that I was a sinner separated from God because of my sin. I heard that since I rebelled against the creator that I deserved wrath and judgment. I heard that even though I deserved this judgment, God so loved me that he gave his only Son to die in my place and suffer the wrath that I deserve. I heard that Jesus did not stay dead but rose from the grave, showing that sin is really paid for. I heard that if I wanted to be forgiven, what I needed to do was turn from trusting that my sin will satisfy me to trusting that only forgiveness in Christ will satisfy me. 

There was a time that I did not believe these things. But as I heard them and absorbed them, God used his wise words to create faith in me. 

God’s wisdom in his word is valuable not simply as a map; it is valuable as his chosen fuel to animate and change his people. 

Like a dead person lying on the beach without life, God breathes life into us through his wisdom, making alive what was once dead through his powerful and wise words. 

This makes his wisdom more valuable than anything else. 

Third, truly practice wisdom (21-35)

Since wisdom is so valuable, verses 21-35 tell us that we must take it up and treat it in accord with its value. These verses, then, tell us what it looks like when we rightly grasp and value wisdom. I’ll summarize it down to two manifestations in our practice: guarding, not fearing; and loving, not envying. 

Guarding, Not Fearing

Look at verses 21-26,

“My son, do not lose sight of these—keep sound wisdom and discretion, and they will be life for your soul and adornment for your neck. Then you will walk in your way securely, and your foot will not stumble. If you lie down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet. Do not be afraid of sudden terror or of the ruin of the wicked, when it comes, for the LORD will be your confidence and will keep your foot from being caught.”

As you rightly grasp and value wisdom, you will keep it—that is guard it. The way you guard the wisdom of God’s words is by storing it in the place that no one can take it, your heart. 

Wisdom is an act of faith in God’s words, so when you live by faith with God you walk securely. When you walk by faith you know that judgment does not await you, so you do not live in terror of judgment. When you walk against God’s wise words, you should expect discipline and judgment. 

When you are driving down the road and see a police car, your heart races if you normally break the speed limit. But if you are living within the confines of the governments decree for speed, then seeing a police car isn’t a cause for alarm.

The same is true in walking in accord with God’s wisdom. You do not need to be afraid of judgment if you are guarding what he has given to you. 

So guard the wisdom that God has given to you. How? The end of verse 3 is hitting on a similar note and gives us a clue: “Write them on the tablet of your heart.” 

Writing God’s wisdom on your heart is to store it there, make it part of you. If these words are as valuable as Proverbs 3 claims, then we should want to store them in the most secure place possible. You might think this is a safe, but there a thief can break in and steal; still elsewhere fire can destroy. 

But there is one place that no one can break into in order to take from you—your heart. When you memorize and meditate on God’s words of wisdom, they are kept secure and they become part of you. They form you even when you aren’t thinking about them because they are simply there, with you. 

Keep God’s word in your heart by guarding it. It is too valuable to entrust anywhere else. 

Loving, Not Envying

We will only practice wisdom if we believe it to be true. Proverbs, and all of Scripture, testify to the reality that God says it is more blessed to give than it is to receive (Acts 20:35). That is the reality behind the commands given in 27-30,

“Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it. Do not say to your neighbor, ‘Go, and come again, tomorrow I will give it’—when you have it with you. Do not plan evil against your neighbor, who dwells trustingly beside you. Do not contend with a man for no reason, when he has done you no harm.” 

These are all admonitions to give what is owed instead of taking what you want. 

We withhold good because we believe the wisdom of the world that cries out “Everyman for himself!”

We procrastinate in giving what is owed because we believe the lie that all of life is a zero-sum game; if one person gains, then I necessarily lose.

We stir up evil against others because we think that by destroying others, we, ourselves, are built up. 

But these are all lies. Yet, you and I see people live this way and they prosper, which causes our sinful hearts to envy them, which leads us to verse 31,

“Do not envy a man of violence and do not choose any of his ways.”

Why would you envy a man of violence? Envy is looking at another with resentful longing. You see their possessions, and you wish that you had what they had. You see the life they live, and you wish you had it. 

But the violent, as we saw in Proverbs 1, are not walking in God’s wisdom. Why would you be tempted to envy them? Because sometimes in this world judgment does not come immediately, which means that the wicked can look prosperous. Sometimes you can grab hold of wisdom, but forsaking wisdom can look like the more prudent and wise choice—since those who forsake wisdom have more than you. 

But truly grasping wisdom gives you eyes to see past this lie. While your sinful heart is tempted to envy and jump into the stream of worldly wisdom, God’s wisdom holds you secure and shows you the true end of the wicked. Look at verse 32, 

“The devious person is an abomination to the LORD, but the upright are in his confidence.” 

That is a massive contrast. Abomination is one of the strongest negative words in the Hebrew language. God abominates the one who disregards his wisdom and pollutes his creation with sin. But, in contrast, the one who aligns his life with God’s words of wisdom has God’s confidence—meaning that God brings him into his counsel and tells him what he is going to do. And when this happens, it becomes very hard to envy the wicked. Why? Just look at what is said in verses 33-35, 

“The Lord’s curse is on the house of the wicked…toward scorners he is scornful…fools get disgrace.” 

In contrast, those who align themselves with God,

“He blesses the dwelling of the righteous…to the humble he gives favor…the wise will inherit honor.” 

The lie of sin says, “If you obey God, then you will miss out.” But wisdom cries out the truth of obedience, “if you obey, you will gain.” 

Let Wisdom Change the Way You See

When you grasp wisdom, or rather when Wisdom lays hold of you by its power, you see the world differently. Wisdom helps you see the world from God’s perspective and live in accord with God’s authoritative values. 

Wisdom is what your sinful heart needs in order to see clearly and value clearly in accord to what is real. The wisdom of God is how you identify and root out the enemy within, false beliefs and desires. 

As you grasp God’s wisdom, value God’s wisdom, and practice God’s wisdom, the lies of your heart will be exposed. And as they are exposed, take them to Jesus Christ, who offers forgiveness and real change. 

If you are trusting in Christ already, then rejoice as you get to come to your kind and merciful Savior for such healing and forgiveness.

If you are not trusting in Christ this morning, then rejoice that he welcomes you. He knows it is more blessed to give than to receive, and he stands ready to give all of himself to redeem you and change you into his image. 


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