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Learning To Lean

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All of us need to recognize that we are not as self-reliant as we may at times think. Everyone is dependent on someone or something, whether he is poor and needy or seemingly “healthy, wealthy and wise.” Ultimately we must understand that God is the one who is in control and come to learn that we should depend on his guidance and leading.

In the Bible Deuteronomy is an excellent source for such information and instruction, for it declares unconditionally that the Scriptures contain significant standards for proper godly living.

Thus Moses tells the people of Israel, “Listen, Israel to the statutes and ordinances that I am about to deliver to you today; learn them and be careful to keep them” (Deut 5:1; cf. 6:1-3). Moses goes on to underscore this truth saying,

Listen, Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one! You must love the LORD your God with your whole mind, your whole being, and all your strength. (Deut 6:4-5)1

Truly, if anyone is to enjoy fully this love and life before the Lord he must do what God has commanded (cf. Deut 31:12) and “Learn to revere the LORD your God always” (Deut 14:23). This includes all people, even rulers:

When he sits on his royal throne, he must make a copy of this law in a scroll given to him by the Levitical priests. It must be with him constantly and he must read it as long as he lives, so that he may learn to revere the LORD his God and observe all the words of this law and these statutes and carry them out. (Deut 17:18-19)

Although these words were directed as instructions to the people of Israel’s covenant living before God, the basic principles in them were to remain true and applicable to all people of all times. Moreover, the completed Scriptures reveal fully God’s standards for living before him:

Every scripture is inspired by God and useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and  for training in righteousness, that the person dedicated to God may capable and equipped for every good work. (2 Tim 3:16-17)

Indeed, the Bible has much more to tell us concerning the need to learn from them so as to lean on the Lord and not follow any selfish desires for living. In what follows, we shall note some very important details as to the truth.

The Importance of Learning God’s Standards

The psalmist points out the value of learning from God’s revealed word:

It was good for me to suffer,
so that I might learn your statutes.
Your hands made me and formed me.
Give me understanding so that I might learn your commands.
Your loyal followers will be glad when they see me,
For I find hope in your word. (Ps. 119: 71, 73-74)

Leupold observes that:

God’s goodness, manifested also in the affliction which He permits His servant to suffer, drives him closer to the Word.
When God delivers His servant who has kept His Word, such deliverance will mightily comfort others of God’s saints.2

Thus not only was the psalmist’s trust in God and his Word of distinct personal value, but his reliance became a fine spiritual example to others as to proper living in the presence of the omnipotent God of the universe. Not only was learning God’s statutes a key to righteous living, but he could praise the Lord and ask for his guidance and preservation in any and all circumstances (cf. vv.77-80).

Isaiah applies this truth to social justice: “Learn to do what is right! Promote justice! (Isa. 1:17).

Thus the believer is to keep himself spiritually and morally pure and allow God’s righteous standards to guide his living before the Lord. Indeed, such should be an underlying motivation for members of society and, if followed, could cause a significant transformation (cf. vv. 18-20).

Later, Isaiah tells the Lord:

I long for you in the night;
Yes, my spirit within me diligently seeks You,
For when your judgments are in the land,
The inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness.

Similarly, Paul warns his readers against a wrong life of love for self and not for the Lord or the good of all:

Now implore you, brothers, watch out for those who cause dissensions and pitfalls contrary to the doctrine you have learned. Avoid them; for such people do not serve our Lord Christ but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattering words they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting. (Rom. 16:17-18; NASB)

As Moo suggests, “These false teachers are interested in their own pleasure…. They are not serving our Lord Christ.”3 Hodge adds the further caution, “The description her given is applicable, in a great degree, to errorists in all ages. 4

Quite frequently in learning is applied to matters of a person’s own life. Thus an old Persian proverb declares: “One pound of learning requires 10 pounds of common sense to apply it.”5

Similarly, It is said in the Harvard Business Review:

To look is one thing.
To see what you look at is another.
To understand what you see is a third.
To learn from what you understand is still something else.
But to act on what you learn is all that really matters, isn’t it?6

Even more important is the standard expressed in the Word of God. There believers are instructed to learn to do that which is right in the sight of the Lord. Such is learned by reading and applying these standards to one’s personal life. As I have noted elsewhere,

Worldly success and pleasures as well as a lack of compliance with the Lord’s standards can all too easily cause spiritual compromise in one’s life. Spiritual failure is not only damaging to our lives, but it can and often does have a detrimental effect on others, especially our family and friends…. Genuine spiritual wisdom is a continuing, growing, and maturing process (Prov. 9:9-10; Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:9), which is nurtured through faith and adherence to the Word of God (2 Tim. 3:15) as well as prayer (James 1:5-6).7

Probably before his accumulation of wealth and worldly success, Solomon wrote:

Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
and do not rely on your own understanding.
Acknowledge him in all your ways,
and he will make your paths straight. (Prov.3:5-6)

As Michael Fox writes,

Trusting… means believing that all that happens in your life, including suffering, is God’s will and that it is motivated by his kindness, because it allows you a chance to reform. …Knowledge of God is an attitude, awareness of what he wants as well as a desire to do it.8

Paul tells the Philippian Christians that they must learn and practice the right way of living: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is worthy of respect, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely whatever is commendable, if something excellent of praiseworthy think about these things.” (Phil 4:8)

Believers should be examples of those who are noted for their honesty and truthfulness, and high moral qualities, so much so that they are commended and respected for their committed spiritual faithfulness. Paul not only the need for living in this way but so conducted himself as to cite his own manner of life as an example to be followed: “ And what you learned and received and heard and saw in me, do these things. And the God of peace will be with you” (Phil. 4:9). As Comfort remarks,

Paul was a man whose mind had been renewed by Christ and whose life exhibited the virtues of one who was Christlike. As such, he was bold in telling others to follow his example and thereby live in the peace of God.9

Not only will such a life provide incentive to others for Christian living but it will bring God’s support and guidance. As O’Brien rightly points out, “Since the gift of his peace cannot be separated from his presence as the giver, these two assurances are closely related in meaning.”10 So it is that, “By living in daily communion with the Lord through prayer and study of his word believers may learn to think his thoughts after him and so experience peace in all its fullness (Phil. 4:4-9)”.11

A basic means to enjoying such a salvation is found in the Scriptures. There Paul reminds Timothy that he should, “Continue in the things you have learned and are confident about. You know who taught you and how from infancy you have known the holy writings, which are able to give you wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 3:14-15). Paul reminds Timothy that he has received instructions for living not only from reliable human sources but, more importantly, from the Scriptures where he learned about the full significance of salvation in Christ Jesus. Therefore,

Timothy must “continue”… in what he has learned and become convinced of, for he has received it on good authority, both from human sources—esp. Paul (v. 10) and his mother and grandmother(1:5…) —and ultimately from “the holy Scriptures”… Timothy has known them “from infancy” … and they are able to “make… [him] wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.”12 Moreover, such comes not from sheer motives but through his spiritual union with Christ.13 Timothy has also received encouragement through the godly example of other believers. Thus,

Timothy himself had had by now sufficient experience and opportunity for reflection to have personally confirmed for himself the correctness and reliability of these things. Paul affirmed the truthfulness and trustworthiness of Timothy’s teachers as a confirmation of the truth of what he had received. The allusion may also include a broader personal knowledge of the individuals, their lives and conduct.”14

Accordingly, believers should immerse themselves in the scriptures as well as note their impact on the lives of those who are dedicated to Christ. As the hymn writer proclaims,

Thy Word is a lamp to my feet,
A light to my path alway,
To guide and to save me from sin
And show me the heav’nly way.
Thy Word have I hid in my heart
That I might not sin against Thee.15

This will result in godly lives, which are evidenced in many practical ways here in this life. Believers, and especially church leaders, should learn and be ready to do good. Thus Paul tells Titus (Tit 3:1-2) to inform his people of a sevenfold Christian standard: “Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work. They must not slander anyone, but be peaceable, gentle, showing complete courtesy to all people.” Such a standard would include believers demonstrating true godliness by learning to respect and support their own families, especially widows, children, and grandchildren (cf.1Tim. 5:1-8). Thus Belleview points out, in society at the time of early church, “Where widows had close relatives, it was their relatives’ responsibility and not the church’s to provide financial support…. For believers to fail to provide for their own was to fail to present an authentic Christian witness.”16

More extensively, Jesus once reminded his listeners, “Go and learn what this saying means, ‘I want mercy and not sacrifice.’” Thus Jesus cites Hosea 6:6 as an example of what the Lord expects of his people. Indeed, “What the Lord desired was His people’s heart and devotion, not outward ritual (cf. Isa 1:11).”17

Here, Hosea recorded God’s great disappointment and frustration with his people. Despite all that he had done for them and despite the constant warnings that the Lord’s prophets had delivered, God’s people remained spiritually unmoved….God wanted their heartfelt affection, and he wanted them to know him experientially. Mere ritual sacrifice would not do.18

Accordingly, Jesus adopts the Lord’s words through Hosea to point out the basic necessity for helping those in need. It is especially true that Christians should learn to learn to have a deep concern for the unsaved and do what they can to bring them to Christ.

The Christian life, then, is one of lifelong learning. Indeed, even Christ in his earthly pilgrimage, “Learned obedience through what he suffered” (Heb 5:8). It was not that Jesus was disobedient. Rather,

The sufferings which Jesus endured were the necessary price of His obedience—more than that, they were part and parcel of His obedience, the very means by which He fulfilled the will of God.19

Moreover, such was an essential part of his ministry as mankind’s Redeemer. What an example Jesus displayed. For in giving his life he not only provided for man’s redemption, but by his total obedience he demonstrated that no believer should shrink from any task that the Lord lays before him, whatever the cost. May we, then, be faithful throughout our whole life, even to the point of death. As I have noted elsewhere, “Such becomes more realizable when the believer allows himself to be led by the indwelling Holy Spirit, for faithfulness is one of the fruits of the Spirit (Gal 5:22). Moreover, faithfulness to God should be a burning desire in the believer’s heart.”20


In light of the above truths concerning leaning, believers need to follow the longstanding admonition of Solomon:

Trust in the LORD with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make your paths straight. (Prov. 3:5-6, NIV)

Such will result in godly living and the Lord’s guidance so that the believer may truthfully follow Paul’s advice to the Colossians:

Just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him and firm in your faith just as you were taught, and overflowing with faithfulness.” (Col. 2:6-7)

Believers that learn to lean on the Lord, not self, can agree with Stallings:

Learning to lean, learning to lean,
I’m learning to lean on Jesus;
Finding more power than I’d ever dreamed,
I’m learning lean on Jesus.21

In doing so may we sing the Lord’s praises with Elisha Hoffman,

What a fellowship, what a joy divine,
Leaning on the everlasting arms!
What a blessedness, what a peace is mine,
Leaning on the everlasting arms! 22

1 Unless otherwise noted, all scriptural citations are taken from the NET.

2 H.C. Leupold, Exposition of the Psalms (Grand Rapids: Baker, reprint edition, 19: 837, 839.

3 Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, in The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), 931.

4 Charles Hodge, Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1953), 450

5 See Lloyd Cory, Quotable Quotations  (Wheaton, Il:  Victor Books, 1985), 212.

6 Harvard Business Review as cited in Ibid.

7 Richard D. Patterson. “Wiser Than Solomon, Biblical Studies Press (2013), 8,9.

8 Michael V. Fox, Proverbs 1-9 in The Anchor Bible (New York: Doubleday, 2000), 148, 149.

9 Philip W. Comfort,  “ Philippians,” Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, 18 vols. (Carol Stream  IL:  Tyndale  House, 2008) 16: 217.  

10 Peter T. O’Brien, The Epistle to the Philippians, in The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 512.

11 Richard D. Patterson, “Fruit of the Spirit,” Biblical Studies Press (2010), 3

12 Andrea Kȫstenberger, “1 and 2 Timothy,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, eds. Tremper Longman III and David E. Garland, 13 vols. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006) 12:590-91.

13 See further, I. Howard Marshall, “The Pastoral Epistles,”  in The International Critical Commentary on the Holy Scriptures of The Old and New Testaments, ed. J.A. Emerton (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1999), 789-90.

14 Jon C. Laansma “2 Timothy” in Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, 17: 196.

15 Earnest O. Sellers, Thy Word Have I Hid In My Heart.”

16 Linda Belleview, “1Timothy,” in Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, 17: 97.

17 Richard D. Patterson,  Hosea: An Exegetical Commentary (Richardson, TX: Biblical Studies Press, 2009), 66.

18 Richard D. Patterson, “Hosea,” in Richard D. Patterson and Andrew E. Hill, Hosea-Malachi,” Cornerstone Biblical Commentary ,10:44.

19 F.F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, The New International Commentary on The New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964) 104.

20 Richard D. Patterson, “Faithful To The End,” , 2015, 13.

21 John Stallings, “Learning To Lean.”

22 Elisha A. Hoffman, “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms.”

Related Topics: Christian Life, Discipleship

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