Responding to God’s Sovereign Rule
A sermon on Proverbs 15:30-17:6 by Coty Pinckney, Desiring God Community Church, Charlotte NC, 5/28/2006
Do you believe that God is Sovereign? Do you believe that God is in control over all the affairs of men?
Consider Isaiah 40:22-23:
It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to dwell in; who brings princes to nothing, and makes the rulers of the earth as emptiness.
Do you believe that? Do you see God as so far above the most powerful human beings that we are like grasshoppers? Do you see Him as able to laugh at all resistance we give to Him?
We take God’s sovereignty seriously at Desiring God Church. In our Statement of Faith, we say that
He foreordains and foreknows whatsoever comes to pass. God upholds, sustains, and governs all things, in order to bring about His good, pleasing, and perfect will.
We say that we believe He is sovereign. But does God’s sovereignty make a difference in your day-to-day life? Does God’s sovereignty have an impact on your speech, on your attitude, on your actions?
Unfortunately, some have a high view of God’s sovereignty, but those doctrines have zero impact on their lives. John Newton, the author of Amazing Grace, used these words to warn a fellow pastor about this problem:
I am afraid there are Calvinists, who, while they account it a proof of their humility that they are willing in words to debase the creature and to give all the glory of salvation to the Lord, yet know not what manner of spirit they are of. . . . Self-righteousness can feed upon doctrines as well as upon works; and a man may have the heart of a Pharisee, while his head is stored with orthodox notions of the unworthiness of the creature, and the riches of free grace.
Today we return to the book of Proverbs after six months; God willing, we will complete the book over the summer. From September through November last year we worked our way from chapter 1 to chapter 15, gleaning from the riches of this marvelous book. Recall some points from the introductory sermon:
1) This book is among the most practical of all the books of the Bible, speaking to numerous aspects of everyday life. It thus is a particularly convicting book.
2) Despite appearances, the verses are very carefully arranged. Like all Scripture, the context is important for interpretation, for the verses have been arranged to qualify and explain each other. We saw much evidence of this in our studies of the first 15 chapters.
3) Contrary to some interpretations, this is a God-centered book. Chapter 1 verse 7 provides the interpretive key:
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction. Proverbs 1:7
The entire book is about wisdom and knowledge. And all of wisdom, all of knowledge begins with the fear of the Lord. Without the fear of the Lord, there is no wisdom or knowledge in the way the words are used here. That is about as God-centered as you can get. The entire book is a unity built on this one foundation: the fear of the Lord.
Today we want to consider the link between God’s sovereignty and our daily lives. Should God’s sovereignty make a difference? Is the knowledge of God’s sovereignty practical? We’ll look at this under four headings:
What does it mean to say that God is sovereign? The most common meaning is that He is in control of all that happens, even seemingly random events. As Proverbs 16:33 says:
The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD.
In today’s terms, we could say: The dice are tossed on the table, but their total is from the Lord. Thus, seemingly random events – indeed, all seemingly random events – are controlled by God. This includes:
God controls every seemingly random event.
But God’s sovereignty extends beyond random events to man’s plans. Shakespeare has Hamlet acknowledge this:
There's a divinity
that shapes our ends,
Rough-hew them how we will.
But Proverbs is yet more emphatic:
The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps. Proverbs 16:9
Many of our plans try to bring about our security: Saving money, getting an education, trying to get hired by a reliable firm, buying a house, buying insurance. We can plan – and that is not bad. However, ultimately, only the Lord gives you security. Thus, verse 3 of chapter 16 tells us:
Commit your work to the LORD, and your plans will be established.
Walking in His paths leads to security, not all your plans and efforts.
To illustrate this, consider two people. The first does everything on the earthly plane to be secure. The second: follows God to a dangerous place. Which one is safer? Whose plans will be fulfilled? Verse 3 tells us: The one who commits his work to the Lord. The one in tune with God. The one who follows after Him. Why?
Ask yourself: Where does danger come from? Random events and the plans of men who oppose us. But if God is sovereign, He controls both of those sources of danger. By following Him we are secure. Not protected from every event we would interpret as bad, but protected by His hand, so that all that happens to us works together for God’s glory and our ultimate good.
Verse 25 elaborates on this idea, while giving it a different twist:
There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.
Consider the “way” or “road” that seems right in two different ways: First, the way that seems to be most likely to lead to happiness. In the sermon series over the previous five weeks we have considered just this point again and again. Men think they are pursuing happiness through money, sex, career, entertainment, or family, but their desires are too weak! They are fooling around with secondary pleasures and missing out on the greatest joy of knowing God. That’s one sense in which verse 25 is true.
Another interpretation for the “way” or “road” is what seems morally right. There is a way that seems morally right to a man, but its end is death.
We can apply this most obviously to our culture’s hot button issues of abortion and homosexual behavior. To millions, those ways seem right. They seem logical. But we know that their end is destruction.
But don’t limit the scope of this verse to issues that you don’t face personally! We all face the temptation to take morally wrong “ways” every day: The temptation to shirk at work, the temptation to underreport income on our tax return, the temptation to harbor anger or bitterness. All these ways end in death. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge. He is the arbiter of what is right and wrong – and to engage in what God says is wrong is the way to death, not life.
Thus God is not only sovereign over random events and the plans of men, He is also sovereign over moral standards of right and wrong. Verses 11 and 12 of chapter 16 elaborate on this point. Verses 10-15 hold up the king as God’s representative. Yet verses 11 and 12 make clear that even God’s representative does not determines what is right and wrong. Even the king is subject to God’s moral order:
A just balance and scales are the LORD's; all the weights in the bag are his work. Proverbs 16:11
At this time a vendor would carry a balance with him, and weigh produce offered for sale against supposedly standard weights. But dishonest vendors routinely trimmed their weights in order to cheat customers. So in the context of verses 10-15, this verse says: God sets the standard of right and wrong for everyone, even for the king. God determines what is right and what is wrong.
Today there is a widespread rejection of absolute right and wrong. But this verse tells us: God is sovereign over morality. We do not determine what is moral as individuals or as a society. God is the moral authority.
There are thus consequences when we violate those standards, as verse 12 tells us:
It is an abomination to kings to do evil, for the throne is established by righteousness.
God hates evil – no matter who commits it. We thus do not create our own morality. There is no superior class of human beings who are above morality. If adultery and murder are wrong, it is wrong for the King of Israel to commit such acts. If torture is wrong, it is wrong for President of the US to authorize such acts.
There is a standard of right and wrong. There are no humans above the standard. God is sovereign over morality.
But God’s moral order is not fundamentally a set of rules that we obey. There are rules. There are standards. But at its root, God’s moral order requires the creatures to acknowledge the character of the Creator, to acknowledge the glory, majesty, power, love, justice, and sovereignty of the King of the Universe. Thus verse 6 of chapter
By steadfast love and faithfulness iniquity is atoned for, and by the fear of the LORD one turns away from evil.
Do you see? God requires not just rule keeping, but the fear of the Lord. By the fear of the Lord one turns from evil; the fear of the Lord is what leads to steadfast love and faithfulness. The person who fears the Lord is the one whose sins will be covered.
These precious truths are clearer this side of the Cross. It is in Christ, by His grace and by His power, that we turn from evil. We are slaves, dead in our trespasses and sins – and He enables us to respond, to change. We do not change by an act of our will, but by leaning on Him, fearing Him, acknowledging Him, trusting Him. As Paul says,
By grace saved through faith and this not of yourselves it is the gift of God, not by works, so that no one may boast. Ephesians 2:8-9
There is a moral standard. And we all fall far short of it. But by faith in Jesus Christ we are united with Him, and God declares us righteous on the basis of Jesus’ perfect life. Thus, our response can only be one of reverent fear, grateful awe, seeing ourselves as nothing and seeing Him as everything.
God is sovereign. He is sovereign over random events, over our plans, over standards of right and wrong – even over our salvation. So trust Him. Love Him. Turn to Him.
These thoughts lead to our next section:
Humbling wisdom comes in different forms. First, we must listen to reproof and instruction:
31 The ear that listens to life-giving reproof will dwell among the wise. 32 Whoever ignores instruction despises himself, but he who listens to reproof gains intelligence. 33 The fear of the LORD is instruction in wisdom, and humility comes before honor. Proverbs 15:31-33
Reproof may seem hurtful, but the wisdom from God is life giving. It is easy for us to desire a status that puts us above reproof, that gives us the task of correcting and reproving others instead of receiving such correction. But all of us need rebukes at times. The desire for such status is a weak desire that blinds us to the way to true joy. We must cultivate a strong desire for the wisdom that comes from reproof.
Verse 32 explains why: I actually harm myself if I don’t listen to others; if I do, I help myself by gaining wisdom and intelligence. Then verse 33 reminds us that all true wisdom originates in the fear of the Lord. He is sovereign. He is the arbiter of right and wrong. So we can only be humble before Him.
Another triple of verses elaborates on this theme:
16 How much better to get wisdom than gold! To get understanding is to be chosen rather than silver. 17 The highway of the upright turns aside from evil; whoever guards his way preserves his life. 18 Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. Proverbs 16:16-18
Once again, we see people pursuing desires that will not satisfy. The true wisdom that comes via the humbling fear of the Lord is better than all riches. So humble yourself before Him!
Verses 17 and 18 are paired to contrast the upright with the proud. The upright man turns aside from evil, but the proud man goes on to destruction. The person who guards himself from pride and haughtiness will save his life, but he who exalts himself will be humbled.
Verse 5 is similarly strong:
Everyone who is arrogant in heart is an abomination to the LORD; be assured, he will not go unpunished.
Why are people arrogant? What do you have to be proud of? Your accomplishments? They are all gifts of God. He could have snuffed out your life or taken away your abilities at any moment. Your beauty? Your skills? All those too are gifts of God. Your persistent efforts to attain an objective? Are you right now bristling on the inside, thinking, “Hey! Some people just had everything handed to them by their birth, but I worked hard for all I have! I do deserve it!” And where did all that diligence come from?
What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it? 1 Corinthians 4:7
No. Whatever we have, we received by God’s grace. He has given us everything. We have nothing to boast about.
Verse 32 changes our perspective on this point, helping us to see what we should be aiming at:
Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city. Proverbs 16:32
Who is proud and arrogant? Often those with great accomplishments in sports, politics, or business. But the author tells us that being slow to anger is better than the greatest human accomplishment; ruling your internal spirit is more praiseworthy that taking over a city. Why? Every age has its mighty political, military, or business empires. They come and go – all according to God’s plan. God raises up men and woman, and He brings them down. But the one who fears the Lord and thus, by God’s grace, gains mastery over his anger and his inner spirit will live with God forever. The accomplishment lasts forever, for it is God’s work of sanctification in our lives.
Thus, in the New Testament James says this after discussing the tongue:
Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. James 3:13
So humble yourself. Acknowledge your need for God. Put down pride and arrogance. Control yourself, as you see God as sovereign over all your affairs.
This leads us to our third point. Humility manifests itself particularly in the words we speak.
Next week we’ll speak more about the words of our mouth. Today we’ll only highlight a few key verses:
Righteous lips are the delight of a king, and he loves him who speaks what is right. Proverbs 16:13
The righteous king is God’s representative, ultimately pointing to Jesus. When our fear of God translates into our humbly speaking the truth in love, King Jesus rejoices.
Verses 21, 23, and 24 show the impact such speech can have on others:
21 The wise of heart is called discerning, and sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness. . . . 23 The heart of the wise makes his speech judicious and adds persuasiveness to his lips. 24 Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body. Proverbs 16:21, 23, 24
In some religious traditions, the wise man is opaque, difficult to understand, almost unintelligible: the silent Buddha, the enigmatic Zen master. But this is not the case biblically. The wise by God’s grace are able to communicate so that they benefit those around them. They are persuasive – not resulting in their own selfish benefit, but in the good of those who hear them. Their speech is “judicious” or “prudent” – taking account of the situation and speaking to it. Thus their gracious words become like good food: Sweet, nutritious, tasty, so that those around want more and more.
Verses 27-30 point out the opposite type of speech: That which is used to harm others:
27 A worthless man plots evil, and his speech is like a scorching fire. 28 A dishonest man spreads strife, and a whisperer separates close friends. 29 A man of violence entices his neighbor and leads him in a way that is not good. 30 Whoever winks his eyes plans dishonest things; he who purses his lips brings evil to pass. Proverbs 16:27-30
Notice the increasing evil both of the man and the impact of his speech as we read from verse 27 on: The man is originally described as worthless, then dishonest, then a whisperer (slanderer), then ultimately a man of violence. His words at first are burning, then spread strife, separate friends, leads a neighbor down a wrong path, and ultimately brings evil itself to pass.
Thus, speech is a powerful tool. It can be sweet, nourishing, healing. It can also be cutting, divisive, evil. Therefore, as Paul says:
Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. Ephesians 4:29
Why do people engage in hurtful speech? Why do you engage in hurtful speech? Fundamentally such behavior comes back to a lack of confidence in God’s sovereignty. We think we must manage our own life, make our own way, exalt ourselves, and take from others. When we see God as Sovereign, we recognize that we can afford to say words that build others up. We don’t need to protect ourselves. We don’t need to watch out for ourselves. We can be humble – and wait for Him to exalt us.
God is sovereign. So humble yourself before His wisdom, speaking gracious words . . .
Proverbs 15:33 tells us that the one who fears the Lord, who thus is humble, will be honored.
The fear of the LORD is instruction in wisdom, and humility comes before honor.
As James says:
Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. James 4:10
Oftentimes this honor comes at the end of a life of fearing the Lord:
Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life. Proverbs 16:31
And this honor comes even to those who don’t begin life with any status:
A servant who deals wisely will rule over a son who acts shamefully and will share the inheritance as one of the brothers. Proverbs 17:2
Note that this is not a rule in Israel, but a confident statement about the way God orders the universe. The Lord looks not on your ancestry, but at your heart. He tests it, and refines it, as the next verse tells us:
The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold, and the LORD tests hearts.
When do we receive such honor? Possibly in this life, living to an old age with our children and those we have impacted positively honoring us. But we may not receive any honor in this life. We may not have an inheritance now. We may not live to an old age. However, the author assures us there is still benefit and honor in the fear of the Lord:
Better is a little with righteousness than great revenues with injustice. Proverbs 16:8
It is better to be of a lowly spirit with the poor than to divide the spoil with the proud. Proverbs 16:19
Better is a dry morsel with quiet than a house full of feasting with strife. Proverbs 17:1
Our confidence is in the God who is in control. He is wise. He will honor those who humbly submit to Him and trust in His sovereign rule. Some will benefit through long life and honor in this world. As these verses tells us, others will benefit in this life even in the midst of severe trials. But all will benefit in the next life with the great joy of seeing more and more of His infinite glory and goodness for all eternity.
God’s sovereignty is not an abstract doctrine that we should relegate to discussions in theology class, or to quotes from a doctrinal statement. Your view of God’s sovereignty affects every minute of every day.
My friends, the Lord knows your heart. Do you trust Jesus and His sacrifice for all your righteousness? Is the fear of the Lord the beginning of your wisdom?
Don’t lean on your own understanding. Don’t trust in your insurance policies and your wits. Lean on Him. Acknowledge Him. Trust Him. And He will work together all events for His glory and your good.
God is Sovereign. So humble yourself before His wisdom, speaking gracious words, and you will be honored.
This sermon was preached at Desiring God Community Church in Charlotte, NC on 5/28/06. Bruce Waltke’s The Book of Proverbs: Chapters 15-31 (Eerdmans, 2005) was exceptionally helpful throughout. Apart from this commentary, I would have taken a completely different approach to preaching this series. The quote from Hamlet is from Act 5 Scene 2.
Copyright © 2005, Thomas C. Pinckney. This data file is the sole property of Thomas C. Pinckney. Please feel free to copy it in written form, but only in its entirety for circulation freely without charge. All copies of this data file must contain the above copyright notice.
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