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Resting in God’s Sovereignty (Proverbs 16:1-4)

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Link Your Life to God’s Purposes


In Psalm 103, a magnificent hymn of praise, David praises God for His blessings and compassion as a loving and forgiving father for his children (vss. 1-18). He concludes with a universal call for praise (vss. 19-22), but he begins this call with a declaration of God’s sovereignty (vs. 19) for it is God’s sovereignty that gives Him the absolute freedom to do what He does in His blessings and showing compassion to frail and temporal humanity (vss. 15-16).

Psalm 103:15-19 As for man, his days are like grass; As a flower of the field, so he flourishes. 16 When the wind has passed over it, it is no more; And its place acknowledges it no longer. 17 But the lovingkindness of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him, And His righteousness to children’s children, 18 To those who keep His covenant, And who remember His precepts to do them. 19 The LORD has established His throne in the heavens; And His sovereignty rules over all. (emphasis mine)

Have you ever thought about how the physical heavens literally rule over the earth? They can ruin us or bless us. Warm us or cool us. Burn us or freeze us. Make our crops productive or destroy them. We have learned that climate and atmospheric conditions affect not only our health, but psychological behavior.

And what are the heavens? They are the creation of God, but they also illustrate God’s sovereign majesty over our lives.

Scriptures such as Psalm 103:19 often relate God to the heavens not because He is so far removed from us as to space, but because in His sovereign majesty He is so high above us in power, nature, and sovereignty.

One of our problems today is that we have lost the biblical perspective of the majestic greatness of God, and we have a completely wrong focus on God. As J. B. Phillips points out in his book, Your God Is Too Small, people today see God as: (a) the resident policeman; (b) the grand old man; (c) a parental hangover, or some other short-sighted, twisted view of God.

The sovereignty of God may be defined as the exercise of His supremacy, His infinite rule, His authority and power. Being infinitely elevated above the highest creature in authority, nature, and being, He is the Most High Lord of heaven and earth and all creation whether angels or the heavenly hosts.

Basically, God’s sovereignty means that He is the Supreme Ruler who immanently and personally rules over all the affairs of the universe—and this includes our personal lives both as individuals and as a local body of believers. God’s sovereignty is a place of rest for the child of God, as well as a cause of worship (cf. Ps. 48:1; 95:3, 6).

One particular place of rest and application in relation to God’s sovereignty and rule is His guidance and work to accomplish His purposes for our lives individually and corporately. Paul has this in mind, at least in part, in Philippians 1:6 when he says: “I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Compare also Eph. 1:11-12.)

Such actions of God’s sovereignty are seen in the life of Naaman the leper as God worked to lead this man to Himself. Of course, men may resist and fail to respond to God’s grace, but even then God rules and uses them for His own purposes as He did with Pharaoh (cf. Prov. 16:5).

Let’s retrace the situation with Naaman in 2 Kings 5:

(1) He was afflicted with a horrible physical infirmity called leprosy. But what a blessing it turned out to be as it became a tool God used to lead this man into God’s plan, and probably ultimately to a ministry himself.

(2) By God’s sovereignty, there was a little Jewish slave girl in Naaman’s household who knew the Lord and His prophet, Elisha.

(3) Instead of going directly to Elisha, God’s man with God’s Word, Naaman went to the King of Israel where he found no help, only discouragement. But God has His ways and somehow Elisha, who was miles away in Jericho, hears and sends word, “send him to me.”

(4) Naaman became angry at Elisha’s command to go wash himself. His pride kept him from receiving God’s grace, but again God overruled and used Naaman’s own servant to show him the foolishness of his behavior. As a result Naaman was healed, not only physically but spiritually.


Proverbs 16:1-4 The plans of the heart belong to man, But the answer of the tongue is from the LORD. 2 All the ways of a man are clean in his own sight, But the LORD weighs the motives. 3 Commit your works to the LORD, And your plans will be established. 4 The LORD has made everything for its own purpose, Even the wicked for the day of evil.

Our Plans (vs. 1)

The overall emphasis of this verse is that man proposes (plans) but God disposes—the results are in His hands, His authority, His power—not ours.

“Plans” is the Hebrew m^u&r*K, which means “preparation.” The verb of this noun is a word of preparation, arranging, planning. It may mean to “arrange in order, to compare.” Though authorities disagree, the hiphil form may mean “to value, estimate.”

Our word, m^u&r~K occurs only here in Proverbs 16:1. It looks at the plans we make based on looking at all the issues, options, responsibilities, and consequences in order to compare them so we can choose the right course.

Our passage asserts this is a legitimate responsibility of man. Literally, “to man are (belong) the plans, preparations of the heart.” We are created in God’s image. God has given us minds and we are to use them wisely, but also submissively, recognizing God’s sovereign authority as the One who sits in the heavens.

So we read next, “But the answer of the tongue is from the Lord.” At first this does not seem to be related, but it is. The tongue is symbolic of our speech and acts by which we seek to carry out our plans. McGee says, “You may plan and I may plan or arrange things, but when the time comes to speak or act, God is the One who is going to have the last word. We may make a great boast, but only God can give the final answer.”1 It is the Lord who ultimately establishes our plans and allows them to come to fruition.

The meaning of this verse is akin to verse 9, “The mind of man plans his way, But the Lord directs his steps.” This emphasizes that God not only has the last word, but also the soundest and best. And He has the power and authority to do it.

With this thought in mind, the passage develops three more principles pertinent to this subject—things that are related and important to our plans: Our motives; Our trust; and God’s purposes for our lives. Our planning should always bear these things in mind if we want to walk in God’s will.

Our Motives (vs. 2)

    Our Perspective

“All the ways of man [i.e., all he thinks and does] are clean [pure, innocent] in his own eyes” [in his own estimation and finite standards of evaluation they often appear innocent, okay, and pure].

The truth of the matter is, however, none of us can really know our own mind or motives. Because of man’s frailty and the finiteness of the human nature, the heart is easily deceived. Packer writes:

The Spirit leads within the limits which the Word sets, not beyond them. “He guideth me in the paths of righteousness”—but not anywhere else.

Even with the right ideas about guidance in general, however, it is still easy to go wrong, particularly in ‘vocational’ choices. No area of life bears clearer witness to the frailty of human nature—even regenerate human nature. The work of God in these cases is to incline first our judgment and then our whole being to the course which, of all the competing alternatives, He has marked out as best suited for us, and for His glory and the good of others through us. But the Spirit can be quenched, and we can all too easily behave in a way which stops this guidance getting through. It is worth listing some of the main pitfalls.

First, unwillingness to think. It is false piety, super-super-naturalism of an unhealthy and pernicious sort, that demands inward impressions that have no rational base, and declines to heed the constant biblical summons to ‘consider.’ God made us thinking beings, and He guides our minds as in His presence we think things out—not otherwise. ‘O that they were wise … that they would consider …’ (Deuteronomy 32:29).

Second, unwillingness to think ahead and weigh the long-term consequences of alternative courses of action. ‘Think ahead’ is part of the divine rule of life no less than of the human rule of the road. Often we can only see what is wise and right (and what is foolish and wrong) as we dwell on its long-term issues. ‘O that they were wise … that they would consider their latter end.’

Third, unwillingness to take advice. Scripture is emphatic on the need for this. ‘The way of the foolish is right in his own eyes; but he that is wise hearkeneth unto counsel’ (Proverbs 12:15, RV). It is a sign of conceit and immaturity to dispense with taking advice in major decisions. There are always people who know the Bible, human nature, and our own gifts and limitations, better than we do, and even if we cannot finally accept their advice, nothing but good will come to us from carefully weighing what they say.

Fourth, unwillingness to suspect oneself. We dislike being realistic with ourselves, and we do not know ourselves at all well; we can recognize rationalizations in others and quite overlook them in ourselves. ‘Feelings’ with an ego-boosting, or escapist, or self-indulging, or self-aggrandizing base, must be detected and discredited, not mistaken for guidance. This is particularly true of sexual, or sexually conditioned, feelings …

Fifth, unwillingness to discount personal magnetism. Those who have not been made deeply aware of pride and self-deception in themselves cannot always detect these things in others, and this has from time to time made it possible for well-meaning but deluded men with a flair for self-dramatization to gain an alarming domination over the minds and consciences of others, who fall under their spell and decline to judge them by ordinary standards …

Sixth, unwillingness to wait. ‘Wait on the Lord’ is a constant refrain in the Psalms, and it is a necessary word, for God often keeps us waiting … 2

    God’s Perspective

God weighs our motives, intents, and purposes. The Lord alone has all the facts. He alone is able to judge the purity of our motives and the reasons for our plans (cf. 1 Cor. 4:4-5). This is a comfort as well as a warning, especially in view of verse 3. If we are really seeking God’s plan and His will for our lives, then we can, as Packer has pointed out, count on the Lord to work accordingly to carry out His purposes and direct our lives in spite of our own uncertainty and the difficulty of thinking through the issues. God wants us to know and it may be best to wait and learn what He is seeking to teach us (cf. Psa. 37:23-24).

This also emphasizes, as Packer pointed out, that we should seek to know our motives, give reasons, and order them according to God’s values and righteousness.

Our Trust (vs. 3)

    Our Responsibility

“Commit” means “to roll.” It is a picture of trust, of turning something over to another for management, letting them carry the load. The idea is that of rolling it from yourself (the place of self-trust) onto the Lord so that we are trusting Him with the issues, and resting in His sovereignty.

“Works” is m^U&s#h, “deed, work, acts, business, workmanship.” In this context, it includes our “affairs, pursuits, achievements, goals, purposes, plans.” The idea is to recognize the sovereignty, the majesty, the wisdom, the grace, the power of God and roll our plans upon the Lord and rest in His sovereign goodness in the matter.

    God’s Promise

“Plans” is the plural of the Hebrew word, m^j&sh*B>, meaning “thoughts, plans, inventions.” The verb form of the noun refers to thinking actively, especially in the sense of creating new ideas or planning.

“Be established” is the Hebrew word kun. The root idea is to bring something into being with the consequence that its existence is a certainty. The word moves from the ideas of provision and preparation to establishment and rightness. It was used of (a) meal preparation, (b) the provision of food, (c) preparing the heart, and (d) establishing something with certainty.

God tells us that if we recognize His sovereignty, trust in His goodness, and trust our plans and lives into His keeping, He will guide our steps and establish our plans to bring them about—but in accord with His purposes and His righteousness.

God’s Purposes (vs. 4)

Everyone of us exists for a purpose. God has a purpose (purposes) for our lives—a particular set of works He has ordained for each of us (cf. Eph. 2:10). Even the wicked who reject His plan and pursue their own lives, must eventually experience God’s retribution, which falls in line with God’s eternal plan. It is not my purpose in this short study to discuss all the issues here, but just to make this one emphasis. Our plans and decisions ought always to be made in submission to God’s purposes for each of us, looking to Him to accomplish His will in us. Our great need is to rest in God’s sovereignty and seek to link our lives with the purposes of God.

There are general purposes of God for all of us which include: (a) bringing glory to God, (b) walking righteously as His children, (c) walking in love, (d) using the spiritual gifts and talents He has given us, (e) being the fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, sons, daughters, employers, or employees He has designed according to the Scripture. But as we move through life, the details of how we do this will change as God leads us, and we need to be open to the promptings and activity of God in these matters.

People are driven or motivated by the things they value. What they value become their priorities which in turn become the objects of their pursuits. Knowing that God has a purpose for each of us (i.e., an individual destiny) ought to motivate us so that it becomes our burning passion to fulfill His will. The plans of our hearts (vs. 1) ought to be directed always around the fact that God has a purpose for us today; a purpose which, if pursued, will lead to the overall objectives for which we have each been designed.

There are obviously many fundamentals for effectively seeking to follow God’s purpose so that at the end of life we can say with the Apostle Paul, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7). Since values tend to establish priorities which in turn tend to direct and get us moving (or since wrong values lead to poor priorities biblically speaking), we should each ask ourselves, “Where are my values? What are the priorities of my life?”

May I suggest four things that are crucial as we each seek to examine our values and priorities:

(1) Jealousy for God’s reputation and glory. The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him for ever. If that is not my number one value and goal, then I am going to have an extremely difficult time pursuing God’s purpose for my life. Knowing that he would be held accountable for his use of the life God had given him (2 Cor. 5:10), Paul wrote, “Therefore also we have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him” (vs. 9). Closely associated with this is number two. Perhaps they are part of the same concept, but it helps to distinguish the issues.

(2) Indifference to one’s own life or reputation from the standpoint of the praise of men. Shortly after the apostle expressed his aim to please the Lord, he said:

14 For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; 15 and He died for all, that they who live should no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf (2 Corinthians 5:14-15).

Earlier, in 1 Corinthians, the apostle made this important statement to the Corinthians who were evaluating him by human measures and comparing him with others:

1 Corinthians 4:1-5 Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God. 2 In this case, moreover, it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy. 3 But to me it is a very small thing that I should be examined by you, or by any human court; in fact, I do not even examine myself. 4 For I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord. 5 Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God.

Because Paul’s confidence and hope rested in God’s evaluation, he had learned to become indifferent to the opinions of men. Packer has an interesting insight in keeping with this focus:

To make present happiness one’s present purpose is not the path of biblical godliness. A quiet, sunny, tidy life without agony, free from distress at the quality of one’s walk with God and one’s work for others, is not what Scripture tells us to aim at or expect, and Scripture will not justify us if we do … Why are so many modern Evangelicals slower than other Christians to respond to their neighbors’ needs and to weep at the way God is dishonored in today’s world?3

(3) Love for God’s people. Why are our lives often so incredibly busy, yet lacking in purpose? Or do we really know what our purpose is? Are we caught up in the rat race of our society because of a pursuit of the so-called ‘good life,’ or because we are pursing peace and prosperity derived from things, power, position, and pleasure? Life in our society today may be likened to climbing a mountain. Those who do get to the top with fame and fortune, find only clouds; there is nothing there, not even a view. But that is not the end of the story. The evidence suggests that the climb is not only not doing the climbers any good, but they tend to walk all over those who get in their way. The climb envelops people in a totally selfish dream that causes them to neglect family, co-workers, and friends. But there is a mountain to climb with a purpose that brings blessings to others and to the climber himself. It brings glory to God, and has eternal rewards; it is the purpose of serving God and others.

Proverbs teaches us, “Where there is no vision (God’s revelation), the people are unrestrained” (Prov. 29:18). Every man does that which is right in his own eyes, and in the process, he pursues his own path at the expense of those who get in his way. But God has given us His inspired revelation that we might discern who we are and why we are here. In a chapter entitled, “Discerning Half-truths and False Vision,” Sine writes:

From the moment we arrive on planet earth, we begin struggling to discern who we are and what we are here for. We are all born into families, churches, and cultures with many different stories and expectations that early begin shaping the direction and character of our lives. Most importantly, they teach us what is the better future to which we should give our lives.

Implicit in all our lives are certain images, values, and assumptions which influence our actions and the decisions we make. When we become Christians, we begin the process of sorting out which of these are genuinely part of the Story of God and which we have simply absorbed from the world around us.4

The need is for a value system based on faith and a biblical perspective of life, one derived from a clear eye (actually, a single healthy eye) that enables us to walk in the light of God’s Word (Matt. 6:21-23; Ps. 119:105, 129-130).

(4) Coming to grips with the futility of life apart from God’s plan.

In 1 Samuel 12:20-21, Samuel said to the people, “Do not fear. You have committed all this evil, yet do not turn aside from following the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart. 21 And you must not turn aside, for then you would go after futile things which can not profit or deliver, because they are futile,” empty of any ability to provide what people expect to get from the things they are pursuing.

Surely, this is part of the message of Solomon’s “futility of futilities” in Ecclesiastes. This futility carries with it a message of serious irony. Why? Because it is full of surprises. Think about it for a moment. If our value system is not shaped by the Bible (Matt. 6:19-24), the things we value or treasure consistently let us down when we seek our significance, or satisfaction, or security in those things. The energy spent in pursuing what we think those things will provide—happiness, security, satisfaction—consistently lead to failure. The pleasures we think will satisfy us never really do—at least not for long. In fact, they typically just increase our thirst for more. What futile irony!! Such irony is plainly the very fabric of life when it is lived independently of God.

Perhaps a good passage to close with is Psalm 37:5-9.

5 Commit your way to the Lord,
Trust also in Him, and He will do it.
6 And He will bring forth your righteousness as the light,
And your judgment as the noonday.
Rest in the Lord and wait patiently for Him;
Do not fret because of him who prospers in his way,
Because of the man who carries out wicked schemes.
8 Cease from anger, and forsake wrath;
Do not fret, it leads only to evildoing.
9 For evildoers will be cut off,
But those who wait for the Lord, they will inherit the land.

1 J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee, Vol. 3, Thru the Bible Radio Press, Pasadena, 1982, p. 55.

2 J. I. Packer, Knowing God, InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, 1973, pp. 215-216.

3 J. I. Packer, Keeping in Step With the Spirit, Fleming H. Revell Company, Old Tappan, 1984, p. 153.

4 Tom Sine, Why Settle For More And Miss The Best? Word Publishing, Dallas, 1987, p. 21.

Related Topics: Theology Proper (God), Spiritual Life

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