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9. Wisdom and Wealth (Part II)

Wisdom in the Acquisition and Use of Money


Chuck Swindoll, in his excellent book, Strike the Original Match, has included a chapter concerning the matter of money in a marriage. The chapter is appropriately entitled, “Till Debt Do Us Part.” Unfortunately money mismanagement has taken a heavy toll on the marriages of many Christian couples, as well as in the unbelieving community.

As accurate as it is to say that debt may destroy a relationship, it is not just the lack of money which has disastrous effects; it often may be the abundance of it that is so destructive. And if individual Christians are plagued by problems related to finances, so is the church. A church leader was once told, “No longer can our church say, ‘Silver and gold have we none,’” to which he wisely responded, “No, and neither are we able to say, like Peter and John, ‘In the name of Jesus, rise up and walk.’” Financial prosperity is often accompanied by a loss of spiritual power, due to apathy and complacency. Such was the case in the church at Laodicea (Rev. 3:17).

In our first study of money in the Book of Proverbs we focused on a proper attitude toward money. Now we will concentrate on the biblical instruction of Proverbs related to the making and spending of money. In this lesson we will talk about wisdom in the acquisition of money as well as in its appropriation.

Wisdom and the Acquisition of Money

It matters a great deal how money is obtained. Proverbs reminds us that God is intimately concerned with the way we earn a living. God is not aloof to the way we obtain money.

A just balance and scales belong to the Lord; All the weights of the bag are His concern (16:11).

Do not rob the poor because he is poor, Or crush the afflicted at the gate; For the Lord will plead their case, And take the life of those who rob them (22:22-23).

Money which is gained in an ungodly way will not bring us any lasting benefit; instead, it will bring about our own misery.

Ill-gotten gains do not profit, But righteousness delivers from death (10:2).

He who profits illicitly troubles his own house, But he who sows righteousness gets a true reward (11:18).

Bread obtained by falsehood is sweet to a man, But afterward his mouth will be filled with gravel (20:17).

The getting of treasures by a lying tongue Is a fleeting vapor, the pursuit of death (21:6).

Many people seem to think that they can “launder” money, which they have gained dishonestly, by giving a portion of it to God. They convince themselves that since God is getting a “piece of the action” He will not be overly concerned with how the money was obtained. This viewpoint was long ago demonstrated in the life of the patriarch Jacob. Jacob made a vow, promising to give a tithe to God if He would protect and prosper him (Gen. 28:20-22).I find it interesting that Jacob is never recorded as giving this tithe, nor did God ever ask for it. And all the time he was with his uncle, Laban, Jacob was trying to become wealthy by his schemes and questionable practices (cf. Gen. 30:25-43).

Some people make money by questionable, if not illegal, means, and then attempt to salve their consciences by giving a portion to the church or charity. In their minds, benevolence is the end that justifies their sinful means. The tragedy is that there are all too many churches and organizations that are eager to relieve the guilt of unprincipled men by taking their money, helping them feel good about their sin. Proverbs tells us that no sacrifice is pleasing to God that is wrongly gained:

To do righteousness and justice Is desired by the Lord rather than sacrifice (21:3).

The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination, How much more when he brings it with evil intent! (21:27)

Three principles sum up the teaching of Proverbs on how we should acquire money. Let me point these principles out, with a brief word of explanation on each.


You might call this the principle of toil and time. The fall of Adam in the Garden of Eden took place many centuries before Proverbs was written. The curse which God placed on man, “Cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life” (Gen. 3:17), is the underpinning of this principle of toil and time. Money should not be sought without toil, hard work, or without an investment of our time. Money obtained too easily or quickly will soon be gone.

Poor is he who works with a negligent hand, But the hand of the diligent makes rich (10:4).

He who tills his land will have plenty of bread, But he who pursues vain things lacks sense (12:11).

In all labor there is profit, But mere talk leads only to poverty (14:23).

Do not love sleep, lest you become poor; Open your eyes, and you will be satisfied with food (20:13).

An inheritance gained hurriedly at the beginning, Will not be blessed in the end (20:21).

The opposite of diligence and hard work is laziness. The lazy seek to avoid work altogether. Since they must make money to live they turn toward schemes and get-rich-quick offers. Proverbs teaches us that these alternatives to work will not succeed.


Proverbs 10:2 calls money acquired at the expense of principle “ill-gotten gains.” Other proverbs are more specific as to the principles which we dare not violate in the pursuit of an income. The following are some principles which we ought never to violate in the making of money:


Bread obtained by falsehood is sweet to a man, But afterward his mouth will be filled with gravel (20:17).

The getting of treasures by a lying tongue Is a fleeting vapor, the pursuit of death (21:6).


Better is a poor man who walks in his integrity Than great income with injustice (16:8).

Wealth obtained by fraud dwindles. . . (13:11).

The king gives stability to the land by justice, But a man who takes bribes overthrows it (29:4).


Do not rob the poor because he is poor, Or crush the afflicted at the gate (22:22).

He who robs his father or his mother, And says, “It is not a transgression,” Is the companion of a man who destroys (28:24).

He who increases his wealth by interest and usury, Gathers it for him who is gracious to the poor (28:8).


Ill-gotten gains do not profit, But righteousness delivers from death (10:2).

The wicked earns deceptive wages, But he who sows righteousness gets a true reward (11:18).


We can agree, I believe, that we should never sin in order to gain wealth. But we must carry this one step further to accurately convey the wisdom of Proverbs. Not only should we avoid sin to gain wealth, but we should not sacrifice any biblical priority to earn money either. Since there are many things in life more important than money, our efforts to earn money should never rearrange these priorities. For example, we have already learned (Lesson 8) that a happy home is more important than a prosperous one (Prov. 15:17; 17:1). When the pursuit of money takes a toll on our home life, we have violated biblical priorities. Priorities should not be laid aside or rearranged in the making of money.

How to Lose Money

As well as teaching us how to earn money, Proverbs warns us of the many ways in which money can quickly be lost. The following are some of the most commonly mentioned pitfalls:

1. LAZINESS. The sluggard not only fails to obtain wealth because of his idleness, he also neglects the resources he has.

I passed by the field of the sluggard, And by the vineyard of the man lacking sense; And behold, it was completely overgrown with thistles, Its surface was covered with nettles, And its stone wall was broken down (24:30-31).

Put in positive terms, we are exhorted not to neglect what we already possess.

Know well the condition of your flocks, And pay attention to your herds; For riches are not forever, Nor does a crown endure to all generations. When the grass disappears, the new growth is seen, And the herbs of the mountains are gathered in, The lambs will be for your clothing, And the goats will bring the price of a field, And there will be goats’ milk enough for your food, And sustenance for your maidens (27:23-27).

2. GREED. Strangely enough, it is often a person’s greed that contributes to his poverty:

The righteousness of the upright will deliver them, But the treacherous will be caught by their own greed (11:6).

A man with an evil eye hastens after wealth, And does not know that want will come upon him (28:22).

Most con artists appeal to the greed of their prey. Our laziness and greed incline us to want to get rich quickly and easily. The con man has just the answer for this--a scheme that offers us a chance at wealth that others are not shrewd enough to leap at. Remember that the sluggard is wiser in his own eyes than the wise (26:16), but in reality he is senseless (24:30). Greed causes us to overreach and to lose what we have in hopes of gaining more than we should expect.

3. IMPETUOUSNESS. The greedy are also hasty or impetuous. Greediness inclines us to grab for all we can get. My brother and I were in a Safeway store on Christmas eve when he overheard a clerk tell a customer that all the bread on the shelves was free. This was because the store was closing and would not be open the next day. Some walked away in disbelief. Others picked through the bread and took a loaf or two. My brother and I grabbed three shopping carts and loaded up everything we could carry off. I have to admit that it was greed that caused me to want to grab every loaf of bread in that store, and quickly before anyone else got it first. Proverbs warns that it is this kind of greedy haste which brings about poverty.

The plans of the diligent lead surely to advantage, But everyone who is hasty comes surely to poverty (21:5).

Have you ever noticed how Madison Avenue has taught the seller to put a time limit on things for sale? There is a sale from 6 P.M. until midnight. The door-to-door salesman assures you that you must decide tonight, that he cannot extend the offer to a later time. The reason is that our greediness inclines us to snatch up the offer while we can, fearing that we may never have the opportunity again. Generally our greed gets us into trouble because we make a hasty decision to spend money quickly in order to save money on an item we really didn’t need.

4. WRONG ASSOCIATIONS. Much money has been lost due to an unwise choice of associations. Proverbs warns us that being around the wrong kind of people may bring us to poverty.

Now then, my sons, listen to me, And do not depart from the words of my mouth. Keep your way far from her [the adulterous woman], And do not go near the door of her house, Lest you give your vigor to others, And your years to the cruel one; Lest strangers be filled with your strength, And your hard-earned goods go to the house of an alien (5:7-10).

Do not be with heavy drinkers of wine, Or with gluttonous eaters of meat; For the heavy drinker and the glutton will come to poverty, And drowsiness will clothe a man with rags (23:20-21).

I know what the world thinks about “wine, women, and song,” but Proverbs warns us that we had better stick to singing, unless we have a hankering for poverty.

5. SQUANDERING EXTRAVAGANCE. One of the ways the foolish are separated from their possessions is that they consume too much and save too little. They are not content with a little of anything, but exhaust it extravagantly and quickly.

There is precious treasure and oil in the dwelling of the wise, But a foolish man swallows it up (21:20).

It is for this reason that we are told:

Have you found honey? Eat only what you need, Lest you have it in excess and vomit it (25:16).

I have a friend who has wanted a van for a long time. There is no question of his financial ability to purchase one. Not long ago he was at a national automobile dealers meeting and saw countless configurations of style and luxury in vans. When he told me about seeing all these vans I asked if he bought one. He replied that he did not, and his reason was that everyone needs to do without something they would like, even if they can afford it. That’s wisdom. Consumerism in America has become a great problem because we have become accustomed to being able to buy what we cannot afford on a little piece of plastic called the credit card.

6. SURETY. One of the most prominent words of financial warning, very perplexing one, is that of becoming surety for another.

My son, if you have become surety for your neighbor, Have given a pledge for a stranger, If you have been snared with the words of your mouth, Have been caught with the words of your mouth, Do this then, my son, and deliver yourself; Since you have come into the hand of your neighbor, Go, humble yourself, and importune your neighbor. Do not give sleep to your eyes, Nor slumber to your eyelids; Deliver yourself like a gazelle from the hunter’s hand, And like a bird from the hand of the fowler (6:1-5).

A man lacking in sense pledges, And becomes surety in the presence of his neighbor (17:18).

Take his garment when he becomes surety for a stranger; And for foreigners, hold him in pledge (20:16).

Do not be among those who give pledges, Among those who become sureties for debts. If you have nothing with which to pay, Why should he take your bed from under you? (22:26-27).

Becoming surety for another is foolish (17:18), and it is so serious a danger to the one who has thus pledged that he should remedy the situation immediately, even though it is personally humiliating (6:3). In some way or other, it places the one who pledges in a vulnerable position, almost a victim of the one for whom he has become surety (6:2-5).What is the error involved in becoming a surety for another, and why is it such a dangerous practice?

Becoming surety for another is the process whereby one assumes responsibility for the debts of another. Derek Kidner says that the liability in such cases was unlimited.30 The dangers of such unspecified liability are clear. Proverbs warns against becoming surety for a stranger (6:1; 20:16; 27:13). One should not assume the responsibility for a person whose character and financial reliability are unknown, especially if our guarantee is for an unspecified or unlimited amount of money. The effect of becoming a surety for another is to endanger the financial well-being of our family for the sake of one we hardly know. As Proverbs puts it, we may find ourselves in a position of not having the resources to cover the debts of another, and thus lose even our own bed (22:27, perhaps the equivalent to “losing our shirt”).

The fact that one needs another to become a surety for him already tells us something about that person. It says that this “stranger” is either unknown and unproven in character and responsibility, or one who has already proven himself unreliable. At best becoming surety is a gamble. And you will notice that under such an arrangement we have everything to lose and nothing to gain. In addition to all this, the fact that we have become surety for another may even encourage irresponsibility on his part. After all, if he doesn’t pay up, we will.

Does the teaching of Proverbs on surety prohibit our co-signing a bank note for anyone? I am sure some would differ with me here, but I tend to see the emphasis as being on the danger of guaranteeing the debts of a stranger. Co-signing a note with a son or daughter, for example, may enable them to begin to establish their own credit. In addition, the note is for a specified amount, and hopefully something is being purchased which would serve as collateral (such as a car). I take it that we are warned about being foolishly generous for those we hardly know, and for an unspecified or unlimited amount of money. We often have enough trouble paying our own bills; let us not look for trouble by assuming the liabilities of another. As parents we must also be alert to the danger of teaching our children to be irresponsible by always coming to their rescue. Whether by our profession or our practice, telling others that we will always bail them out of financial disaster, especially when it is due to their own folly, simply encourages financial foolishness.

There are better ways to handle the needs of those who would ask us to guarantee their debts. The first would be for us to make a personal loan. To be businesslike we would want assurance of repayment in the form of character references, collateral, and so on. In addition, we would probably charge interest (this was not forbidden in the case of a foreigner, cf. Deut. 15:1-3; 23:19-20). In this way the amount of money (and the potential loss) would be limited, and the possibility of gain would be present. An outright gift would be another means of helping another. We would know from the beginning what the cost to us would be and whether or not we could afford it.

Another possibility is that one may not find it wise to do any of the above. God provided for the needs of hungering Israelites and foreigners alike in the instruction to leave sufficient excess in the field for them to glean (Lev. 19:9-10). Thus the needs of any could be met in this way. If the basic needs of the stranger for food and clothing are met, why should others endanger the well-being of their family to help a stranger purchase what he really doesn’t need?

The bottom line is this: if it is not advisable to borrow money unless absolutely necessary (as I believe Proverbs suggests, cf. 22:7), then surely it is foolish to mortgage your financial future for the sake of a stranger, whose character is so little known no one is willing to loan him money without another to assume his debt in case of his default. God made provision for the basic needs of both Israelites and foreigners, but He warns us about becoming liable for indebtedness that is not essential.

Biblical Priorities
for the Use of Money

Proverbs has much to say on the subject of our financial obligations. While there may be some disagreement with the exact order of the priority of the following obligations, I believe that we will all agree that these should be priorities which govern the use of the money God has given us:

1. WE HAVE AN OBLIGATION TO GIVE TO GOD. In the Old Testament God carefully prescribed the tithes and sacrifices which He expected from His people. Proverbs teaches the need to give of the abundance He has provided, and that this would result in even greater blessings:

Honor the Lord from your wealth, And from the first of all your produce; So your barns will be filled with plenty, And your vats will overflow with new wine (3:9-10).

For the Israelite, it was an act of faith to give from the first of his crops. After all, one might reason, who knows how great the harvest will be? But giving the first to God acknowledged that it was from Him that the harvest had come, and that the remainder of the harvest would come also. My wife and I have personally found that our giving first to the Lord has developed our faith, and we have never lacked any necessity.

2. WE HAVE AN OBLIGATION TO PAY OUR DEBTS TO OTHERS, WITHOUT DELAY. There is a tendency to withhold payment as long as possible, especially with large corporations. Now I understand that there is a time limit within which we can pay without penalty. But Proverbs seems to warn us about withholding payment when we have the money to pay:

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 back, And tomorrow I will give it,” When you have it with you (3:27-28).

We should take note of the fact that “those to whom it is due” are literally “its owners” (cf. 3:27, margin, NASV). Those whom we owe, whether it be the government for our taxes (e.g. Rom. 13:1-7), or payment for services rendered, really own the money we are withholding, not us. We are keeping what others own from them when we withhold payment. This is the teaching of the Old Testament and the New:

“You shall give him his wages on his day before the sun sets, for he is poor and sets his heart on it; so that he may not cry against you to the Lord and it become sin in you (Deut. 24:15; cf. Lev. 19:13).

Behold, the pay of the laborers who mowed your fields, and which has been withheld by you, cries out against you; and the outcry of those who did the harvesting has reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth (James 5:4).

3. WE HAVE A RESPONSIBILITY TO PROVIDE FOR THE NEEDS OF OUR OWN HOUSEHOLD. I believe that this is more assumed than stated in the Book of Proverbs, but it is clearly stated as an obligation in the New Testament.

But if any one does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith, and is worse than an unbeliever (1 Tim. 5:8).

In Proverbs, we see the godly woman making certain that the needs of her family are taken care of. Notice also, that they are not shabbily met. Both the wise woman and her family are well dressed. She is not afraid of the snow for her household, For all her household are clothed with scarlet. She makes coverings for herself; Her clothing is fine linen and purple (31:21-22).

It does not frequently occur, but it is possible for a person to be so generous with others that his own family suffers. I do not believe that we should help others at the expense of our families. That is, I do not believe that we should help others to live on a higher standard of living than we provide for our own families. Most often, however, the problem lies in the fact that neither we nor our family desires to lower our own standard of living to help those in dire need.

4. WE HAVE AN OBLIGATION TO HELP PROVIDE FOR THE NEEDS OF THE POOR. The truly righteous is never aloof to the needs of those about him. In fact, those who are more prosperous should use their wealth to minister to the needs of the poor.

There is one who scatters, yet increases all the more, And there is one who withholds what is justly due, but it results only in want. The generous man will be prosperous, And he who waters will himself be watered. He who withholds grain, the people will curse him, But blessing will be on the head of him who sells it (11:24-26).

He who despises his neighbor sins, But happy is he who is gracious to the poor (14:21).

He who oppresses the poor reproaches his Maker, But he who is gracious to the needy honors Him (14:31).

He who is gracious to a poor man lends to the Lord, And He will repay him for his good deed (19:17).

He who is generous will be blessed, For he gives some of his food to the poor (22:9).

He who gives to the poor will never want, But he who shuts his eyes will have many curses (28:27).

She extends her hand to the poor; And she stretches out her hands to the needy (31:20).

5. WE SHOULD MAKE PROVISION FOR FUTURE NEEDS. Not only are we obligated to provide for our families in terms of their present needs, we should also save in order to meet future needs. This is not hoarding wealth, but making wise provision for the days ahead.

Go to the ant, 0 sluggard, Observe her ways and be wise, Which, having no chief, Officer or ruler, Prepares her food in the summer, And gathers her provision in the harvest (6:6-8).

There is precious treasure and oil in the dwelling of the wise, But a foolish man swallows it up (21:20).

I know some Christians who very sincerely believe that they should exercise faith by not buying any insurance nor setting aside any money for future needs. At one point in my life I was ready to cash in all my insurance. A wise friend gently warned me, “Bob, I won’t tell you not to cancel your insurance, but I will remind you that you should be willing to accept the possibility that God will take you and that your wife will have to bear the entire financial burden when you are gone.” My friend was not talking hypothetically, for he had a friend who had done just what I was contemplating--and he died, leaving his wife to care for four young children. Some may call that faith, but I do not think that Proverbs would.

6. WISE INVESTMENTS. Our Lord Jesus told a parable in which one steward was rebuked for failing to take the money placed in his care and increase it (Matt. 25:26-28). Some Christians seem to think it is wrong to make money. Proverbs commends the godly woman because she took the money she had and invested it wisely.

She considers a field and buys it; From her earnings she plants a vineyard (31:16).

A friend of mine who is far wiser than I in the use of money gave me some very good advice, which I would like to share with you. He said that I should carefully distinguish between my savings (for retirement) and my investments. Savings should be as certain as possible. After all, who wants to try to retire on a small sum of money, one diminished by bad investments? Investments involve a higher risk factor than savings, my friend went on. Even here one should probably tend toward conservative investing, spending only money we can afford to lose on high-risk ventures. We should distinguish between savings and investments. I believe Proverbs makes that important distinction.

7. WE SHOULD MAKE PROVISION FOR AN INHERITANCE. In my mind this is probably the lowest level of priority. Far better for us to leave a heritage of godliness and wisdom to our children than a large amount of money. Nevertheless, Proverbs does say this:

A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children, And the wealth of the sinner is stored up for the righteous (13:22).

There is a further word of caution, however, on the subject of inheritances. If one does leave an inheritance, he should also be careful not to give too much too quickly.

An inheritance gained hurriedly at the beginning, Will not be blessed in the end (20:21).

I have observed that those who went through the hard times of the depression (or whose family was poor as they grew up) are often too easy on their children. They give them everything they want, and they do not teach them the important fact of life that we must learn to get the things we want by working for them. Let those of us who are able to leave an inheritance be careful that it will be a blessing to those who receive it.


As we conclude this lesson on acquiring and using money in Proverbs, I want several truths to be foremost in your mind.

First, Proverbs teaches us that while we must be willing to work in order to obtain wealth, it is God who ultimately prospers us. When we forget where our material provisions come from, we are on very serious spiritual ground. Spiritual apathy often results from our misconception that we have prospered because we have worked harder or are more spiritual. Wealth is a gift which God has given some. In the eyes of most of the inhabitants of this planet All Americans are wealthy. But it is God who sovereignly bestows material prosperity, just as He has sovereignly bestowed spiritual gifts (cf. 1 Cor. 12:11). Just as some will have more prominent and “successful” gifts (1 Cor. 12:4-6), so some will have greater prosperity. But whether in the case of spiritual gifts or material wealth, the absence or presence of it is no proof of our spiritual state. And in both instances, what we have been given is for the good of others.

But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good (1 Cor. 12:7).

Instruct them [the wealthy] to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed (1 Tim. 6:18-19).

Secondly, we should always look at our material possessions in terms of the principle of stewardship. A steward does not own anything, but he has been put in charge of its use. God had told Israel of old that they did not ultimately own their land, but that they were simply placed on it as stewards. When they misused the land and disobeyed God, they were driven from the land.

‘The land, moreover, shall not be sold permanently, for the land is Mine; for you are but aliens and sojourners with Me’ (Lev. 25:23).

Whenever we begin to think that the money we have is really ours, we are in trouble. God is the possessor of us and of all we have. To forget this is to commence a very dangerous course in life.

Third, God has ordained to make this area of finances a proving ground for our faith. Because money cannot buy security, nor is it secure itself (Lesson 8), we must learn to trust God in the area of finances. I know that most of you have been learning lessons in this area for a long time. The more I read the Old Testament and consider God’s dealings with Israel, the more I am impressed with how God chose to develop the faith of His people through their finances.

For example, we think of Canaan as the land “flowing with milk and honey,” and such it was (Ex. 3:8,17). But Egypt would have been the land a farmer would have chosen to settle in.

“For the land, into which you are entering to possess it, is not like the land of Egypt from which you came, where you used to sow your seed and water it with your foot like a vegetable garden. But the land into which you are about to cross to possess it, a land of hills and valleys, drinks water from the rain of heaven, a land for which the Lord your God cares; the eyes of the Lord your God are always on it, from the beginning even to the end of the year” (Deut. 11:10-12).

Now isn’t that interesting? God didn’t choose to bless the land of Canaan because it was the best land, just as He did not choose to bless the Israelites because of any natural superiority or greatness (Deut. 9:4-6). God placed the Israelites in the land of Canaan because they would have to look to Him for rain and for the abundance He promised. In addition, the laws which God established further tested their faith. They were to work six days and rest on the seventh, the Sabbath (Ex. 20:8-11); they were to till the land six years and let it rest on the seventh (Lev. 25:1-4).Interest was not to be charged fellow-Israelites (Deut. 23:19), debts were to be canceled every seven years (Deut. 15:1), and the land was to be restored to its original owner on the fiftieth year, the year of jubilee (Lev. 25:10). In my estimation all of these commandments served to teach Israel to live by faith.

That brings me to a principle which defines the relationship between faith and finances: financial faith is trusting God to provide for our needs consistent with the way He promised to meet our needs. I believe that anyone who expects to be blessed without having to work is a fool, not a man of faith. I believe that one who makes hasty commitments financially and looks to God for the money is not a man of faith, but a man who is foolish in handling money. I also suspect that he is foolish about most everything else.

One of my friends remarked this week that many Christians seem to be addicted to danger. They leap off of the financial pinnacles of life, expecting God to catch them before they fall, flat broke. Oftentimes we call these men men of vision, men of faith, when in reality they are no different from the man who likes to drive an automobile at the extreme limits of danger--just for the thrill of it. Let us be careful to exercise genuine faith. Let us do those things which God has told us to do--to work, to be generous to the poor, to save, and then leave the matter of riches to Him. But let us stop trusting God to make us rich in some miraculous, bizarre, or stupid way.

Finally, let us not lose sight of the difference between grace and works. believe that if we wish to make money we must work for it. After all, that is what God said when he cursed the ground on account of Adam’s sin (Gen. 3:17-19). I do not think that everyone who works hard will get rich. Riches, then, are the result of grace, God’s grace, not just hard work. Hard work does not obligate God to bless us; it is simply that which God has ordained to bless. Just so, it is not our calling on God which saves us; it is God’s sacrifice of His sinless Son on the cross of Calvary. The means which God has ordained for men to have their sins forgiven and to receive the gift of eternal life is their repentance and trust in Jesus Christ as the One who died in their place. We are not saved by any work of our own, but by the grace of God and the work of Jesus Christ. The riches which are far greater than wealth are those which we can obtain only in Christ. I invite you, I urge you, to share in these riches by simply trusting in the work which Christ has done on your behalf.

30 Derek Kidner, The Proverbs (Chicago: Inter-Varsity Press, 1964), pp. 71-72.

Related Topics: Finance

10. Proverbs and Politics


A New York columnist, Anthony Lewis, analyzed the 1980 election and concluded that the primary issue in the campaign was not inflation, or foreign policy or unemployment, but the role of religion in American politics. Dr. Haddon Robinson, president of the Conservative Baptist Theological Seminary in Denver has written,

Fundamentalists who preached during the sixties that God and Caesar were to be kept apart, have had a turn of mind about what the Bible teaches. Political involvement now smacks of a religious crusade. While professing that “the weapons of our warfare are not carnal,” Christians do a creditable job of capturing the media, lobbying, selecting candidates, supporting constitutional amendments.31

Dr. Robinson goes on to warn us that we may be baptizing political philosophies into the faith unconverted.

The fact is that there has probably been no time in the recent history of our nation when evangelical Christians have been as interested and involved in the political process. At the same time there has been growing pressure on the part of many unbelievers to keep Christians out of politics, under the banner of “separation of church and state.”

While the Book of Proverbs is often consulted by Christians for words of wisdom on various matters, few tend to turn there for guidance concerning our political involvement. I believe there is good reason, however, why Proverbs is especially pertinent to the subject of politics.

Dr. Bruce Waltke, formerly head of the Old Testament department of Dallas Theological Seminary, taught the Book of Proverbs to his three children. His approach was that this book, written mostly by king Solomon, was intended to prepare his son to rule in his place over Israel. Proverbs, then, was written to princes. Here was a king not only instructing his “son” about wisdom in general, but also about wisdom as it related to governing a nation. If Christians are to “reign with Christ” (2 Tim. 2:12), should we not also prepare ourselves to reign in a righteous way?

Americans need not wait until the “sweet bye and bye” to reign, however. In the days of David and Solomon authority to govern Israel was highly centralized, and it was virtually the king alone who determined the course of the nation, established the standards for men’s conduct, and saw to it that the law was enforced. Such is the case today in many parts of the world. In America, however, government is “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” If in Proverbs (and the New Testament as well, cf. Rom. 13:1-7) the king was responsible before God to punish evildoers and to reward the righteous, it is every American who bears this responsibility in our nation. Our government is representative and so we elect officials who act in our behalf. While some Christians may be called of God to run for political office, we all have the right and the responsibility to help elect those who will govern righteously. When our officials fail to keep this trust we have an obligation to seek to change their minds or to work to replace them. Since it is we, then, who are responsible to rule, let us look carefully at the teaching of Proverbs on the relationship between righteousness and ruling.

Good Government is Godly Government

Good government is also a godly government according to Proverbs. There are three principles which outline the relationship between godliness and government in the Book of Proverbs. Let us briefly consider them.


There are those who think that a government which seeks to uphold righteousness is only out to make life miserable for them. The Moral Majority, for example, is viewed as a group of Christian kill-joys who are out to make life as miserable for others as they have made it for themselves. Proverbs assumes that the purpose of government is to promote righteousness and that righteousness is for the good of the people.

When it goes well with the righteous, the city rejoices, And when the wicked perish, there is glad shouting. By the blessing of the righteous a city is exalted, But by the mouth of the wicked it is torn down (11:10-11).

Righteousness exalts a nation, But sin is a disgrace to any people (14:34).

When the righteous increase, the people rejoice, But when a wicked man rules, people groan (29:2).

The point of these Proverbs is that righteousness is not only right, it is best. When righteousness is promoted and preserved by government, the people are blessed. When government fails to achieve its intended purpose, the people suffer.


Since the purpose of government is to uphold righteousness, God requires rulers to be righteous (cf. 16:2). When those who govern are righteous, their administration will be successful and stable.

Loyalty and truth preserve the king, And he upholds his throne by righteousness (20:28).

By the transgression of a land many are its princes, But by a man of understanding and knowledge, so it endures (28:2).

A leader who is a great oppressor lacks understanding, But he who hates unjust gain will prolong his days (28:16).

If a ruler pays attention to falsehood, All his ministers become wicked (29:12).

If the king judges the poor with truth, His throne will be established forever (29:14).


Government deals with matters which are humanly impossible to produce. Righteousness, justice and equity are all God-given. A government which would promote righteousness must seek divine enablement.

For the Lord gives wisdom; From His mouth come knowledge and understanding. He stores up sound wisdom for the upright; He is a shield to those who walk in integrity, Guarding the paths of justice, And He preserves the way of His godly ones. Then you will discern righteousness and justice And equity and every good course (2:6-9).

‘By me kings reign, And rulers decree justice. By me princes rule, and nobles, All who judge rightly” (8:15-16).

Evil men do not understand justice, But those who seek the Lord understand all things (28:5).

While there may be wisdom in separating certain religious functions from political office, there is no way that we can separate righteousness from political office. If the purpose of government is to promote righteousness and to punish evil, how can we avoid defining righteousness and defending it as a part of our political obligation before God?

of a Righteous Ruler

The outworking of righteousness in government is not left in vague and academic terms. Proverbs spells out what a godly government will do.


Those in positions of power sometimes thwart justice by showing deference to certain individuals in the community. Proverbs condemns such partiality and insists upon justice and equity.

A wicked man receives a bribe from the bosom to pervert the ways of justice (17:23).

To show partiality to the wicked is not good, Nor to thrust aside the righteous in judgment (18:5).

These also are sayings of the wise. To show partiality in judgment is not good. He who says to the wicked, “You are righteous,” Peoples will curse him, nations will abhor him; but to those who rebuke the wicked will be delight, and good blessing will come upon them (24:23-25).

It is not for kings, 0 Lemuel, It is not for kings to drink wine, Or for rulers to desire strong drink. Lest they drink and forget what is decreed, And pervert the rights of all the afflicted (31:4-5).


It is possible for the king to abuse his power and to take advantage of the helpless. Ahab and Jezebel, for example, murdered Naboth in order to obtain his field (1 Kings 21). Proverbs recognizes this as one of the dangers facing those in power and urges those who reign not to abuse their power, but to use it to protect the powerless.

A leader who is a great oppressor lacks understanding, But he who hates unjust gain will prolong his days (28:16).

If a king judges the poor with truth, His throne will be established forever (29:14).

Open your mouth for the dumb, for the rights of all the unfortunate. Open your mouth, judge righteously, and defend the rights of the afflicted and needy (31:8-9).


It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, But the glory of kings is to search out a matter (25:2).

Evil men do not understand justice, But those who seek the Lord understand all things (28:5).


Righteousness is often evidenced by one’s response to wickedness. The righteous ruler will not tolerate sin. He will not practice wickedness, nor will he tolerate its practice or presence. He seeks it out and deals justly with it.

A king who sits on the throne of justice Disperses all evil with his eyes (20:8).

But to those who rebuke the wicked will be delight, And a good blessing will come upon them (24:25).

Take away the wicked from before the king, And his throne will be established in righteousness (25:5).

Like a trampled spring and a polluted well Is a righteous man who gives way before the wicked (25:26).

Principles of Punishment in Proverbs

There are very clear principles in Proverbs which should govern the punishment of the wicked. Because of great disagreement over issues such as capital punishment I feel it is necessary for us to carefully consider them.


No one should enjoy watching others suffer, nor should we delight in taking part in their punishment. Many think that the answer to crime is education. Others believe that going easy on the offender will be more effective than severe punishment. Proverbs warns us that if we take a soft position on sin we do a disservice to the criminal by encouraging him to repeat his crime.

A man of great anger shall bear the penalty, For if you rescue him, you will only have to do it again (19:19).

The number of repeat offenses is astronomical in our nation. The reason is that we have not been tough enough on first offenders. Punishment for serious crimes will serve as a warning to offenders. Soft treatment simply asks for more crime. When there is no punishment, crime does pay for the criminal.


Proverbs does not teach that severe punishment will always reform the criminal. We know that it will not. But in the case of capital punishment at least it will keep the murderer from doing it again. But capital punishment (as with all severe punishment) does benefit others in that it serves to instruct those who are teachable that crime does not pay.

‘When the scoffer is punished, the naive becomes wise; But when the wise is instructed, he receives knowledge (21:11).

From our previous study of the fool we learned that the scoffer will never learn. Striking the scoffer teaches the scoffer nothing, but it is very instructive to the simple (19:25). Capital punishment may not have any impact on the hardened criminal, but it will at least rid society of the murderer. It will also have the beneficial secondary result of serving to instruct those who have no desire to face the same consequences for sin. The punishment of the evildoer, according to Proverbs, is a deterrent to crime. Capital punishment, it seems to me, is especially needed in cases where men will be deterred by nothing but death. And when such scoffers are dealt with, the simple will learn a valuable lesson.

3. PUNISHING THOSE GUILTY OF MURDER IS OUR DUTY. We do not have any option as to how to handle murderers. Severe punishment is our duty. We must be harsh with them.

A man who is laden with the guilt of human blood will be a fugitive until death; let no one support him (28:17).

It is first necessary to point out the obvious fact that while the death penalty was to be carried out on some who committed murder, Proverbs assumes that not all murderers would be executed. The case in point seems to be one of those exceptions. But we are instructed not to ease in any way the consequences of their sin.

Recently there was a special program on TV pertaining to capital punishment. It was occasioned by the execution of a murderer. The outcry was predictable. No one spoke up for the rights of the one who was killed. The focus was entirely on the pain inflicted on the criminal. Proverbs teaches us that this pain is deserved and that we dare not seek to reduce it. One man who was found guilty of murder was freed because of “temporary insanity.” As I understand it, this might well be identical with the “great anger” of Proverbs 19:19. In that instance the one who committed a crime in “great anger” was to face the full penalty so the crime would not recur. This seems to be directly applicable to much that is tolerated today in the name of “temporary insanity.”

How to Have Political Influence

I was very distressed to hear a prominent Christian leader say on the radio that if Christians are to gain a hearing we must beat the politicians at their own game. In the context of his statement I understood him to imply that the only way Christians can have an impact on their government is to adopt the methodology of the secular political movements of our day. I find such thinking troublesome. Proverbs has much to teach us about finding favor with the king, the equivalent in our world to having political influence on those in the government.


The king’s favor is toward a servant who acts wisely, but his anger is toward him who acts shamefully (14:35).


Do you see a man skilled in his work? He will stand before kings; he will not stand before obscure men (22:29).


Righteous lips are the delight of kings, and he who speaks right is loved (16:13).

He who loves purity of heart and whose speech is gracious, the king is his friend (22:11).

By forbearance a ruler may be persuaded, and a soft tongue breaks the bone (25:15).


My son, fear the Lord, and the king; do not associate with those who are given to change; for their calamity will rise suddenly, and who knows the ruin that comes from both of them (24:21-22).


When you sit down to dine with a ruler, consider carefully what is before you; and put a knife to your throat, If you are a man of great appetite. Do not desire his delicacies, for it is deceptive food (23:1-3).

Do not claim honor in the presence of the king, and do not stand in the place of great men; For it is better that it be said to you, “Come up here,” than that you should be put lower in the presence of the prince, whom your eyes have seen (25:6-7).

It is my personal opinion that Christians have frequently failed to win a hearing from those who are in places of political power because we have failed to follow these simple principles. We have often evidenced a lack of wisdom, sometimes motivated by a statement or claim that was later proven to be factually erroneous. We have sometimes been ignored or disregarded, not because we were Christians, but because we were not competent or civil. In such cases our words have not been gracious and appropriate, but stinging and critical, even caustic. We may refer to politicians as liberals, humanists, or bureaucrats. Sometimes it has seemed to those in power that Christian spokesmen were simply seeking to establish their own power base.

Daniel and his three Hebrew companions were very influential in government, even though they were young and political prisoners. They were chosen to hold positions of power because they were skillful and wise (Dan. 1:17,19-20). Likewise, Pharaoh chose Joseph to be second in command in spite of the fact that he was a Hebrew, for whom the Egyptians had little regard (Gen. 43:32; 46:34), because he manifested greater wisdom than any other man in Egypt (Gen. 41:39).

Do we wish to have a hearing? Let us strive to be wise. Let us be so skilled that those in government seek the contribution we can make. And let us be very prudent in the way we speak and act before men in positions of political power. Let us not be disregarded for being foolish, rather than for being Christians.


Let me attempt to sum up the teaching of Proverbs on the subject of politics with a few principles.

1. GODLINESS CANNOT BE SEPARATED FROM GOVERNMENT. The purpose of government is to promote and protect righteousness, and to punish the wicked. While the framers of our constitution were wise to guard against a state church, recent efforts to ban everything related to religious faith from government under the banner of separation of church and state go too far. They go far beyond the Scriptures and even beyond the intent of the framers of the constitution. In order to be good, government must be godly; and it must promote godliness.

2. GODLY PEOPLE SHOULD NOT SHUN THEIR RESPONSIBILITIY AS A PART OF GOVERNMENT. While Proverbs shows a definite relationship between godliness and government, many American evangelicals have tended to equate politics and the American political process with something unclean. I know of godly men and women who have said, “I vote on my knees.” That sounds good, and I do not doubt the sincerity of those who hold the view that the Christian is to stand aloof from government. I do, however, question the biblical basis for such a position. In the Old Testament it was the ideal that godly men should lead in government, men like David and Solomon. In America we who are citizens have the responsibility to take part in the process of electing men and women who will make and enforce the laws of our land. By our very laws Americans are the government. By God’s laws, as reflected in the Book of Proverbs, we are responsible before God to govern in a godly way. Government is a responsibility Christians dare not take lightly.

I should also add that in this area of life, as in all others, the nature and extent of our involvement is a matter of gift and calling. I believe that God has called certain Christians to devote their lives to direct involvement in government.

Because of the complexity of government, there are some who have been raised up to keep other Christians informed on legislation before congress and areas that need particular prayer and action. But all of us have a part to play, I believe, in the political process. Let us play that part well, to the glory of God and for the good of our fellow man.

3. EVEN THOUGH SOLOMON “WROTE THE BOOK” ON THE SUBJECT OF GODLINESS IN GOVERNMENT HE FAILED TO HEED HIS OWN COUNSEL. We know that most of what was written in Proverbs on the subject of politics (the king) was written by Solomon.

Let us find a word of warning from the record of 1 Kings chapters 11 and 12. In his later years Solomon forsook the law of God, married foreign wives, and built altars to heathen gods on which he offered sacrifices (11:1-8). God had appeared to Solomon twice to warn him of this great evil (11:9-10), and yet Solomon failed to take heed. Solomon’s rule was heavy-handed (12:4), and his son Rehoboam purposed to be even more severe (12:6-15). When Solomon learned that God intended to raise up Jeroboam to lead ten of the tribes of Israel, he, much like Saul before him, attempted to put this challenger to death (compare 1 Sam. 18 with 1 Kings 11:40).

I believe there is a lesson to be learned here. Many who have written books on various subjects of the Christian life have later failed to heed their own counsel. Now I hasten to say that their words may have been correct, as were Solomon’s. But it is not enough simply to know the truth; we must practice the truth. Knowledge without obedience is of little value.

4. POLITICAL POWER, LIKE ALL OTHER FORMS OF POWER, IS A MATTER OF STEWARDSHIP AND SERVANTHOOD. Any power may be prostituted to our own advantage. God gives power as a stewardship, and when it is abused, He may take it away, just as he removed power from Solomon in the person of his son, Rehoboam (1 Kings 11:9-11). We have an interesting word of counsel given by Solomon’s elderly and wise advisors to his son, Rehoboam:

Then they spoke to him, saying, “If you will be a servant to this people today, will serve them, grant them their petition, and speak good words to them, then they will be your servants forever” (1 Kings 12:7).

Rehoboam had not learned that leadership is really servanthood, a lesson which our Lord needed to teach His disciples centuries later (cf. Mark 10:35-45). Power, political or otherwise, is given by God so that we may serve others. When we forget this we are in danger of being set aside.

5. GOD IS MORE CONCERNED WITH THE FUNCTION OF GOVERNMENT THAN WITH ITS FORM. Sometimes I have the feeling that we Americans who are evangelicals think that God looks with some kind of special favor on our form of government. Personally, I do not know of any better form of government. I surely would not prefer the governmental structures to which most of the world’s population are subject. But let us learn from Proverbs that while form is important, it is the function of government which is primary. It is possible to have the right form, but the wrong function. Government is to function so that the righteous are rewarded, the evil are punished, and the rights of the helpless are protected. Unfortunately (in my opinion) evangelical Christians have seemingly been more interested in the economic or political philosophy of an administration, while it has been the unsaved who have placed more emphasis on justice and the care of the helpless. Function is more important than form in the Book of Proverbs.

6. THERE IS ONLY ONE IDEAL FORM OF GOVERNMENT--THAT GOVERNMENT WHICH OUR LORD WILL ESTABLISH OVER THE EARTH WHEN HE RETURNS TO RULE IN RIGHTEOUNESS. Proverbs would remind us that whatever form of government we may live under, God is still in control of it and of history.

The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He wishes (21:1).

God is in control, no matter what form a government may take. Whatever the form of government, it will be imperfect, both because it seeks to rule over men who are sinners and because the men who rule are sinners. The only perfect system of government is that which our Lord Himself will establish when He returns to rule over the earth in perfect righteousness. But I must warn you that He is not only coming as Savior, but as Judge of the earth. If you have not yet come to trust in Him by faith, I urge you to submit to the King who is coming soon, Jesus Christ. He died for your sins on the cross of Calvary. By trusting in Him, you may have eternal life, and, indeed, you may reign with Him forever. What a day that will be!

31 Focal Point, Summer, 1980.

Evidences for the Resurrection

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For nearly 2000 years there has been the historical phenomena of Christianity. In spite of the fact that the church throughout its early years suffered intense persecution at the hands of both the Jews and the Romans, it flourished. Many of the first missionaries of the Christian faith died a martyr's death because of their belief in Jesus Christ.

Why were these early Christians willing to face death for their belief in Jesus Christ? It was because they were convinced of the historical fact of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and that this proved without a doubt that Jesus Christ was the Son of God and the one and only Savior of the world. And, so for them, death was not the end. The resurrection is a historical fact--not just some philosophical ideal or idea.

Historical Background

As a result, the message of the early church was always centered around the historical fact of the resurrection. And this was not just a theological myth which began circulating 20 or 30 years later among the followers of Jesus Christ. It was a message proclaimed immediately beginning with the morning of the third day. It was a message based upon incontrovertible evidence.

Luke 24:9-11; 33-35 and returned from the tomb and reported all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. 10 Now they were Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James; also the other women with them were telling these things to the apostles. 11 And these words appeared to them as nonsense, and they would not believe them. . . . 33 And they arose that very hour and returned to Jerusalem, and found gathered together the eleven and those who were with them, 34 saying, "The Lord has really risen, and has appeared to Simon." 35 And they began to relate their experiences on the road and how He was recognized by them in the breaking of the bread.

Acts 1:21-22 "It is therefore necessary that of the men who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us-- 22 beginning with the baptism of John, until the day that He was taken up from us-- one of these should become a witness with us of His resurrection."

Acts 2:23-24; 31-32 this Man, delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death. 24 "And God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power. . . . 31 he looked ahead and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that He was neither abandoned to Hades, nor did His flesh suffer decay. 32 "This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses.

Acts 3:14-15 "But you disowned the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, 15 but put to death the Prince of life, the one whom God raised from the dead, a fact to which we are witnesses.

Acts 10:39-41 "And we are witnesses of all the things He did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem. And they also put Him to death by hanging Him on a cross. 40 "God raised Him up on the third day, and granted that He should become visible, 41 not to all the people, but to witnesses who were chosen beforehand by God, that is, to us, who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead.

Acts 13:29-39 "And when they had carried out all that was written concerning Him, they took Him down from the cross and laid Him in a tomb. 30 "But God raised Him from the dead; 31 and for many days He appeared to those who came up with Him from Galilee to Jerusalem, the very ones who are now His witnesses to the people. 32 "And we preach to you the good news of the promise made to the fathers, 33 that God has fulfilled this promise to our children in that He raised up Jesus, as it is also written in the second Psalm, 'Thou art My Son; today I have begotten Thee.' 34 "And as for the fact that He raised Him up from the dead, no more to return to decay, He has spoken in this way: 'I will give you the holy and sure blessings of David.' 35 "Therefore He also says in another Psalm, 'Thou wilt not allow Thy Holy One to undergo decay.' 36 "For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep, and was laid among his fathers, and underwent decay; 37 but He whom God raised did not undergo decay. 38 "Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that through Him forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, 39 and through Him everyone who believes is freed from all things, from which you could not be freed through the Law of Moses.

Acts 17:30-31 "Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all everywhere should repent, 31 because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead. "

Acts 26:22-23 "And so, having obtained help from God, I stand to this day testifying both to small and great, stating nothing but what the Prophets and Moses said was going to take place; 23 that the Christ was to suffer, and that by reason of His resurrection from the dead He should be the first to proclaim light both to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles."

Notice how the book of Acts begins:

Acts 1:1-3 The first account I composed, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach, 2 until the day when He was taken up, after He had by the Holy Spirit given orders to the apostles whom He had chosen. 3 To these He also presented Himself alive, after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days, and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God.

Without the resurrection it would have ended with verse 1. Death would have been the conclusion. But notice what verses 2 and 3 have to say:

"Convincing proofs" in verse 3 is the Greek tekmerion which is related to the Greek word tekma, meaning "a fixed boundary, goal, end." Tekmerion means "a fixed and sure sign, evidence, or proof." The word was used of demonstrable proof and evidence in contrast to mere philosophical superstition or in contrast to fallible signs. Galen a medical writer of the second century A.D. so used this word. Here Luke, the historical physician, one practiced in gathering evidence, chooses this special word for sure historical proof, the strongest type of legal evidence.

In addition to this Luke adds to this word "many." So Luke tells us that he had carefully examined the evidence. Dr. Luke, who lived in the time of Jesus Christ and who had personally talked to many eye witnesses, tells us there were many demonstrable and incontrovertible proofs, not merely one or two, but many. (Cf. Luke 1:1-2)

From the beginning there have been those who have rejected the resurrection as a hoax, a tale, a lie or fiction. A number of theories have been advance to disprove the resurrection, but all of these have been solidly discredited by one historical scholar after another. So interestingly, not one shred of solid evidence has ever been given to support these claims. Then why do men make these claims? Because they have never examined the evidence, or because of their prejudice, their philosophical bias, and unbelief in the miraculous.

The silence of Christ's enemies and the lack of historical evidence against the resurrection is almost as strong an evidence as the positive evidences for the resurrection of Jesus Christ. I have in my library a book covering a debate between Gary Habermas and Anthony Flew entitled, Did Jesus Rise From the Dead?, the Resurrection Debate. The debate was held in Dallas and was judged by a panel of judges organized into two panels of experts in their respective areas of specialty to render a verdict on the subject matter of the debate. One panel consisted of five philosophers who were asked to judge the content of the debate and render a winner. The second panel consisted of five professional debate judges who were asked to judge the argumentation technique of the debaters. All ten participants serve on the faculties of American universities and colleges such as the University of Pittsburgh, the University of Virginia, Western Kentucky University, James Madison University, and George Mason University.

The decision of the judges were as follows. The panel of philosophers judging content cast four votes for Habermas who argued for the fact of the resurrection, none for Flew, and one draw. The panel of professional debate judges voted three to two, also in favor of Habermas, this time regarding the method of argumentation technique. Note what one judge said:

I am of the position that the affirmative speaker [Habermas] has a very significant burden of proof in order to establish his claims. The various historical sources convinced me to adopt the arguments of the affirmative speaker. Dr. Flew, on the other hand, failed, particularly in the rebuttal period and the head-to-head session, to introduce significant supporters of his position. Dr. Habermas placed a heavy burden on Dr. Flew to refute very specific issues. As the rebuttals progressed, I felt that Dr. Flew tried to skirt the charges (Habermas and Flew, p. xiv).

Another professional debate judge said:

I conclude that the historical evidence, though flawed, is strong enough to lead reasonable minds to conclude that Christ did indeed rise from the dead. Habermas has already won the debate. . . . . By defeating the Hume-inspired skeptical critique on miracles in general offered by Flew and by demonstrating the strength of some of the historical evidence, Habermas does end up providing "highly probably evidence" for the historicity of the resurrection "with no plausible naturalistic evidence against it." Habermas, therefore, in my opinion, wins the debate (Ibid., p. xv).

A Theological
and Philosophical Absurdity

There are always those who say the historical fact of a physical resurrection of Jesus Christ is not important. "It is sufficient" they say, "that one believes in a spiritual resurrection," or as . . .

"the late Norman Perrin, a highly esteemed New Testament scholar of the University of Chicago, remarked not too long ago that the really important thing about the resurrection of Jesus is not the historical reality of that event, but the theological truths that it expresses" (William Craig, Knowing the Truth About the Resurrection, Servant Books, p. xiii).

Others have advocated "you do not need to believe in the resurrection. If this stands in the way of your rationale, just accept Jesus as a great leader and as an example of love, kindness and peace."

This kind of thinking is pure non-sense, illogical, and contrary to the facts of the life of Christ.

We need to see clearly that there can be positive theological implications of the resurrection only insofar as its historical reality is affirmed. While many theologians may find such a conviction hopelessly antiquated, the man in the street knows better. His common sense tells him that there is no reason why a dead man should be decisive for his existence today, and I agree with him. Once doctrinal teachings are detached from their historical realities, we have entered the arena of myth. And there is simply no good reason to prefer Christian myths over other myths or, for that matter, secular philosophies. The resurrection is only real for our lives today if it is a real event of history (Craig, p. xiii).

If we take away the resurrection, then Jesus Christ was not even a good human leader, but a human monstrosity who was on the level with a man who thinks he is Captain Marvel. Either he was the world's greatest deceiver and deserved to die, or He was who He claimed to be, the God-Man Savior of the world. And it is the resurrection which makes the difference.

It is not my intention to give all the evidence, but to concentrate on some of the more remarkable and important evidences.

The Evidence of the Stone

Matthew 28:1-4 Now after the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to look at the grave. 2 And behold, a severe earthquake had occurred, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled away the stone and sat upon it. 3 And his appearance was like lightning, and his garment as white as snow; 4 and the guards shook for fear of him, and became like dead men.

Mark 16:1-4 And when the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, bought spices, that they might come and anoint Him. 2 And very early on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb when the sun had risen. 3 And they were saying to one another, "Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?" 4 And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away, although it was extremely large.

Luke 24:2 And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb,

John 20:1-9 Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came early to the tomb, while it was still dark, and saw the stone already taken away from the tomb. 2 And so she ran and came to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and said to them, "They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him." 3 Peter therefore went forth, and the other disciple, and they were going to the tomb. 4 And the two were running together; and the other disciple ran ahead faster than Peter, and came to the tomb first; 5 and stooping and looking in, he saw the linen wrappings lying there; but he did not go in. 6 Simon Peter therefore also came, following him, and entered the tomb; and he beheld the linen wrappings lying there, 7 and the face-cloth, which had been on His head, not lying with the linen wrappings, but rolled up in a place by itself. 8 So the other disciple who had first come to the tomb entered then also, and he saw and believed. 9 For as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead.

The Seal on the Stone

The seal set on the stone (Mt. 27:62-66). As claimed by the Pharisees, this was requested of Pilate to guard against any kind of fraud or lies by the disciples of Jesus Christ. In doing this, however, they provided two more excellent evidences for Christ's resurrection. Unwittingly, they prepared an unanswerable refutation to their own claims in their attempt to discredit the account of the resurrection (cf. Mat. 28:11-15).

The seal included two things: (1) a Roman guard, and (2) a seal consisting of a cord set in wax around the stone where it was connected to the tomb.

Matthew 27:65, "You have a guard: go, make it as secure as you know how."

Some have claimed that Pilate was refusing the request for a Roman guard and telling them to use their own temple guard. But the verb used can be an imperative, "take a guard, make it as sure as you know how." It can also mean he was giving them permission to have a Roman guard.

The word "guard" is the Greek word kustodia, from the Latin or Roman custodia. The use of this particular word would indicate a Roman guard and not the Jewish temple guard. This is further verified by the fact they ask Pilate for a guard. If they could have used their own guards why go to Pilate? Also, if only the temple guards were involved, the statements of verse 14 would have been unnecessary. No one would have to talk to the governor nor bribe anyone.

Why was this important? Because the presence of Roman soldiers at the tomb and the Roman seal over the stone door made the possibility of the religious leaders' claims many times more difficult, if not impossible. The likelihood that these timid, fearful Galilean disciples could or would steal the body of Jesus out from under the noses of a guard of highly disciplined and skilled Roman soldiers is not only ridiculous, but impossible. Even had the soldiers been asleep, think of the noise the disciples would have made trying to removed the huge stone covering the entrance to the tomb!

The Stone Rolled Away

The tombs in Palestine were somewhat like a cave hewn out of the rocky side of a mountain or hill. They consisted of a rectangular opening into a main room or central chamber with a niche carved into the side of one of the inner walls where the body was placed. At one end was a special elevated place for the head.

The opening of the central chamber was covered by a large circular stone or heavy disc of rock set in a slanting groove so that when the stone was released it would roll by its own weight and cover the entrance. Because of its enormous weight (possibly several tons) it would require the combined efforts of several men to move the stone back up the groove and block it. But who would roll away the stone?

  • The enemies would not for it was their purpose to keep His body there and the door sealed (Matt. 27:62-66).
  • If the disciples had done it and had removed the body they did so without the knowledge of the women, for they came expecting to find the body (John 20:1-2). Besides the guards were present.
  • The women themselves would have been unable to remove the stone. As they came to the tomb the morning of the resurrection, they were wondering, who would role away the stone for them (Mark 16:2-8).
  • Matthew 28:2-4 tells us it was an angel of the Lord. This shows divine intention.

It was not rolled away so Christ could leave because he could pass through the walls in His glorified body. By divine purpose it was removed to call attention to the testimony of the empty tomb. The tomb had been opened not to let Jesus out--but to let people in.

Why did people need to get in? Because within the tomb itself lay some astounding evidence to the fact of the resurrection of Jesus, the witness of the grave cloths.

The Evidence of Empty Tomb

John 20:2-9 And so she ran and came to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and said to them, "They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him." 3 Peter therefore went forth, and the other disciple, and they were going to the tomb. 4 And the two were running together; and the other disciple ran ahead faster than Peter, and came to the tomb first; 5 and stooping and looking in, he saw the linen wrappings lying there; but he did not go in. 6 Simon Peter therefore also came, following him, and entered the tomb; and he beheld the linen wrappings lying there, 7 and the face-cloth, which had been on His head, not lying with the linen wrappings, but rolled up in a place by itself. 8 So the other disciple who had first come to the tomb entered then also, and he saw and believed. 9 For as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead.

Mary's Response

Upon seeing the stone removed, Mary's immediate reaction is that thieves, perhaps the Jews, have taken the body. Without entering as the other women did, she returns to Peter and John. Her conclusion--"they have taken the Lord" (probably referring to the Jews) .

The Response of the Disciples

John arrived first and saw the linen wrappings. The verb used (the Greek blepo) describes the simple exercise of sight, a single look or glance. At just a casual glance what caught John's eye were the undisturbed wrappings, lying in their natural position as when around the body. The word order makes this evident, "lying" is first. Even a casual glance caught this.

Then Peter arrived and, in his impetuous way, entered immediately. The word "Beheld" is theoreo. This word denotes a purposeful and careful look, one which observes details, not just a casual look. What Peter observed were the linen wrappings.

The Evidence
of the Grave Clothes

Peter's Observation

  • Peter observes the linen wrappings lying undisturbed.
  • He noticed the face napkin rolled up separately, as it had been when the body was prepared, suggesting that the head wrapping had partially retained its annular form.

Had a thief stolen the body he would have taken the body--linen wrappings and all.

Had the wrappings been removed from the body they would not have been in an undisturbed fashion. As previously described, there was a place for the body with an elevated ledge for the head. The head was wrapped separately from the body. If someone had removed these from the body, they would not have been lying as originally placed--the napkin separate in the place where the head had been and the other wrappings where the body had been--undisturbed.

Peter continued to ponder in his heart all he had observed.

John's Observations

When John enters the tomb, what he sees brings immediate understanding, intelligent comprehension of the facts. The word for sight in this verse denotes mental perception resulting principally from the vision.

Peter is pondering all he has observed, but not John. Having now seen the witness of the empty tomb, he understands that His Lord has risen from the dead. In verse 9 we are told he understands and believes. Now he understands the Old Testament Scripture and Christ's own words concerning Messiah being cut off, but returning and reigning by means of the resurrection. (Cf. Ps. 16:10; Dan. 2; Dan. 7; Dan. 9:6) Before they had not understood the Scripture or Christ's words. But now sight comes to John (cf. Luke 24:25-27, 44-47).

The Evidence
of Christ's Appearances

The personal appearances of Christ following His resurrection are another overwhelming historical proof. The women and the disciples saw, heard, and even touched the Lord. In fact, 500 brethren saw him at one time (1 Cor. 15:6).

Various explanations have been given concerning the resurrection, but none of them honestly and fairly deal with the record and are clearly prejudicial attempts to deny the evidence.

R. T. France in his book, The Evidence for Jesus, writes about the typical theories regarding Jesus and His life, death, and resurrection and the various attempts to get at the so-called real Jesus through the various theories regarding His life, death, and resurrection, whether in magazine articles, books, or television series. He shows how these invariably give prominence to the theories of skeptics and, by and large, do not treat the Gospels as historical evidence. At the end of the book, after discussing both non-Christian and biblical evidence, he made the following statement:

"In the earlier chapters we have noticed the tendency of some recent writers to try to go behind the NT portrait of Jesus, in search of a more `recent' Jesus who even by the time the New Testament documents were written had been largely forgotten and replaced by a semi-mythical figure, the `Christ of faith'. We have seen repeatedly that the evidence on which such reconstructions are based (when they are not mere unsupported speculation) is in fact later in date than the NT writings, and can generally be identified with what by the second century were regarded as heretical movements, deviations from the original Christian message, usually in direction of a faith more appealing to the philosophical or religious climate of the day." (The Evidence for Jesus, R.T. France, The Jesus Library, Michael Green, series editor, pp. 165-166)

The Evidence
of the Transformed Disciples

The disciples had seen their master die. And because of this, they had lost all hope. Christ had told them he would die and be raised. In fact, it was an integral part of His claims. Yet they were down-trodden, utterly disheartened, and meeting in obscure places. But after the resurrection, we find the disciples joyous, fearless, and bearing public testimony. They were even willing to die--and it is not likely they would be willing to die for a lie. (Cf. Schaff, Vol. I, p. 173f.)

Peter who denied the Lord when confronted by a young girl, boldly proclaimed the word at Pentecost in front of the same religious leaders who crucified Christ.

When we consider the transformation of the disciples in connection with the silence of the Jews and their inability to produce the body of Christ or any evidence to the contrary, the events of Pentecost become another proof of Christ's resurrection.

The Evidence of Pentecost
(Acts 2-4)

Only 50 days following the death and resurrection, Peter preached the doctrine of the resurrection and thousands gathered to hear him. But the important point is he was preaching to people who had access to the tomb. The resurrection was not a new fact, and he was preaching its meaning from the Old Testament Scriptures (Ps. 16:8-10).

No one offered him a rebuttal. The Jews were silent--a silence which is as significant as the boldness of the speech of the disciples. Three thousand people who were in a position to know the facts about the resurrection of Christ believed and were saved. (Acts 2:41; 4:2-14).

There are other tremendous evidences for the resurrection of Christ such as:

  • Old Testament prophecy.
  • The prophecies of Christ himself.
  • The existence of the church.
  • The observance of Sunday, the first day of the week.
  • The transformation and witness of Paul

The evidences we've mentioned in this study are more than sufficient to show the validity of the resurrection. To deny it, in view of the evidence, one must not only deny his rational processes, but he must deny Christianity and the Scripture as valid and providing salvation for mankind.

The Doctrinal Significance
of the Resurrection

The theology of the resurrection is vitally important to the Christian for it affects his salvation and his sanctification. In 1 Peter 1:3 Peter points out we are begotten unto a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. There are several reasons for this.

  • The resurrection authenticates Christ as the Son of God (Rom. 1:4)
  • The resurrection proves the atoning value of Christ's work (Rom. 4:25). "Raised because of" means it proves the sufficiency of His atonement for our justification. The resurrection did not provide our justification, it proved Christ's death was sufficient to bring justification by faith. Therefore, having been justified (as proven by the resurrection) we have peace (Rom. 5:1).
  • The resurrection ensures our salvation (1 Cor. 15:17-19). It provides assurance for the fact of our salvation and affords comfort with regard to our deceased loved ones (I Thess 4:13f ). There is an inscription found in Thessalonica which reads, "After death, no reviving, after the grave no meeting again." The resurrection guarantees such a belief is false.
  • It is the basis of our sanctification (Rom. 6). As Christ was victorious over sin and death, so we may be victorious by our identification with him.
  • Christ's resurrection as the first fruits from the dead is the guarantee of our own resurrection and of the glorified body we will receive at the resurrection of saints (Phil. 3:20-21).

Thus we can see that by the resurrection, man is provided with a living hope because it depends on a living Savior. All other religious leaders are dead, Mohammed, Buddha, Confucius. The founders of religious cults are all in their tombs, their bodies rotting in the dust. Their followers have a dead hope, but they also have something else.


In Acts 17:31 we read,

". . . according as He hath appointed a day in which he shall judge the inhabited earth by One whom He hath marked out having provided conviction for all men because he hath raised Him from the grave."

While the resurrection can provide assurance of salvation, a living hope, it also provides assurance of judgment because the resurrection marks Jesus Christ out as God's Son and God's provision of grace for our sin. For those who reject Christ (God's manifested provision for salvation) there is nothing left but to look fearfully for a day of judgment. It assures the unbeliever of a second death just as it assures the believer of resurrection unto life.

The important question is, do you know Jesus Christ as your personal Savior?

God's Solution for Man's Problem

God is perfect holiness (whose holy character we can never attain to by our own works of righteousness) but He is also perfect love and full of grace and mercy. Because of His love, grace and mercy He has not left us without hope and a solution.

Romans 5:8 "But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were sinners, Christ died for us."

This is the good news of the Bible, the message of the gospel. It's the message of the gift of God's own Son who became man (the God-man), lived a sinless life, died on the cross for our sin, and was raised from the grave proving both the fact He is God's Son and the value of His death for us as our substitute (Rom. 1:4; 4:25).

2 Corinthians 5:21: "He made Him who knew no sin {to be} sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him."

1 Peter 3:18: "For Christ also died for sins once for all, {the} just for {the} unjust, in order that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit."

The All-Important Question

How then do we receive God's Son that we may have the eternal life God has promised us? What becomes the issue for us today?

John 1:12: "But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, {even} to those who believe in His name."

John 3:16-18: "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God."

Because of what Jesus Christ accomplished for us on the cross, the Bible states that "He that has the Son has life." We can receive the Son, Jesus Christ, as our Savior by trusting in the person of Christ and His death for our sins.

This means we must each come to God the same way--as a sinner who recognizes his sinfulness, repudiates any form of human works for salvation, and relies totally on Christ alone by faith alone for our salvation.

Would you trust in Christ today as your personal Savior? Just tell God that you know you need the Savior, Jesus Christ, and that you want to receive His Son by faith.

Related Topics: Easter, Apologetics, Resurrection

11. The Words of the Wise


In his book entitled Killing Giants, Pulling Thorns, Chuck Swindoll has reminded us of this statement, etched faintly on a gray slate tombstone on a windswept hill in an English country churchyard:

Beneath this stone,
a lump of clay,
Lies Arabella Young,
Who, on the twenty-fourth of May,
Began to hold her tongue.

If there is any failure universal among mankind, it is the misuse of the tongue. Little wonder that one of the most frequently discussed subjects in the Book of Proverbs is the use of the tongue. If our problem with the tongue is a common one, it is also an especially crucial one. For one thing, the tongue is capable of achieving either great good or great evil. Furthermore, the words we speak cannot be taken back once spoken. It is impossible to undo damage done by the tongue.

The beginning of strife is like letting out water, So abandon the quarrel before it breaks out (17:14).

A brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city, And contentions are like the bars of a castle (18:19).

Finally, James suggests in his epistle that the key to the control of our entire body is to be found in the control of the mouth:

For we all stumble in many ways. If any one does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well. Now if we put the bits into the horses’ mouths so that they may obey us, we direct their entire body as well (James 3:2-3).

Our approach in this study will be to view words as we do money, something we may either invest wisely to the benefit of others and ourselves, or squander foolishly to the detriment of all. We will begin by considering the power of words, for good or evil. Then we will seek to learn from the Book of Proverbs when words are foolishly wasted and when they are wisely invested. Finally, we will study the way to use words well.

The Potential of
Words for Good or Evil

Unlike money, words are easily come by. None of us is ever faced with a shortage of words. As a result, we may be inclined to underestimate the impact which words may have on ourselves and others. Proverbs reminds us of the potential of words for both good and evil.

Death and life are in the power of the tongue, And those who love it will eat its fruit (18:21).

There is an old saying which we used to repeat as children. It goes something like this: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, But words can never hurt me.”

In my estimation there is very little truth in that saying. The fact is that the wounds caused by sticks and stones heal, but the wounds caused by cruel or thoughtless words may run deep and last a lifetime. On the other hand, words which are wisely spoken can be a source of life, comfort, and healing.

The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life, But the mouth of the wicked conceals violence (10:11).

With his mouth the godless man destroys his neighbor, But through knowledge the righteous will be delivered (11:9).

By the blessing of the upright a city is exalted, But by the mouth of the wicked it is torn down (11:11).

There is one who speaks rashly like the thrusts of a sword, But the tongue of the wise brings healing (12:18).

Anxiety in the heart of a man weighs it down, But a good word makes it glad (12:25).

The teaching of the wise is a fountain of life, To turn aside from the snares of death (13:14).

A truthful witness saves lives, But he who speaks lies is treacherous (14:25).

A soothing tongue is a tree of life, But perversion in it crushes the spirit (15:4).

A man has joy in an apt answer, And how delightful is a timely word! (15:23)

Pleasant words are a honeycomb, Sweet to the soul and healing to the bones (16:24).

A worthless man digs up evil, While his words are as a scorching fire. A perverse man spreads strife, And a slanderer separates intimate friends (16:27-28).

These Proverbs remind us of the power of the spoken word to do good or evil to others. Other Proverbs teach us that the words we speak have a great effect on the speaker as well as the hearer. Words wisely spoken bring blessing to the speaker while words that are foolishly spoken bring difficulty and disaster.

An evil man is ensnared by the transgression of his lips, But the righteous will escape from trouble. A man will be satisfied with good by the fruit of his words, And the deeds of a man’s hands will return to him (12:13-14).

Truthful lips will be established forever, But a lying tongue is only for a moment (12:19).

From the fruit of a man’s mouth he enjoys good, But the desire of the treacherous is violence. The one who guards his mouth preserves his life; The one who opens wide his lips comes to ruin (13:2-3).

In the mouth of the foolish is a rod for his back, But the lips of the wise will preserve them (14:3).

He who has a crooked mind finds no good, And he who is perverted in his language falls into evil (17:20).

A fool’s mouth is his ruin, And his lips are the snare of his soul (18:7).

With the fruit of a man’s mouth his stomach will be satisfied; He will be satisfied with the product of his lips (18:20).

We reap what we have sown with our lips. When our words are spoken wisely, others benefit as well as ourselves. When we use words foolishly or maliciously, both others and ourselves are hurt.

Words Foolishly Invested:
When Words Have No Power

Just as there are things which money cannot buy, so there are things which words cannot accomplish. Proverbs enumerates some of the weaknesses of words.


Like the legs which hang down from the lame, So is a proverb in the mouth of fools (26:7).

Like a thorn which falls into the hand of a drunkard, So is a proverb in the mouth of fools (26:9).


The mind of the intelligent seeks knowledge, But the mouth of fools feeds on folly (15:14).

An evil doer listens to wicked lips, A liar pays attention to a destructive tongue (17:4).

A rebuke goes deeper into one who has understanding Than a hundred blows into a fool (17:10).

Do not speak in the hearing of a fool, For he will despise the wisdom of your words (23:9).


In all labor there is profit, But mere talk leads only to poverty (14:23).

A slave will not be instructed by words alone; For though he understands, there will be no response (29:19).


Like a sparrow in its flitting, like a swallow in its flying, So a curse without cause does not alight (26:2).

If you say, “See, we did not know this,” Does He not consider it who weighs the hearts?

And does He not know it who keeps your soul? And will He not render to man according to his work? (24:12)

When he speaks graciously, do not believe him, For there are seven abominations in his heart. Though his hatred covers itself with guile, His wickedness will be revealed before the assembly (26:25-26).


He who blesses his friend with a loud voice early in the morning, It will be reckoned a curse to him (27:14).

The Principle of Economy:
When Words are Better Saved than Said

One of the principle differences between a wise man and a fool is that the wise man exercises restraint in his use of words, while the fool has a hair-trigger lip.

When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable, But he who restrains his lips is wise (10:19).

A prudent man conceals knowledge, But the heart of fools proclaims folly (12:23).

The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer, But the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things (15:28).

He who restrains his words has knowledge, And he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding (17:27).

A fool does not delight in understanding, But only in revealing his own mind (18:2).

He who guards his mouth and his tongue, Guards his soul from troubles (21:23).

Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him (29:20).

There are a number of reasons why the wise restrain themselves in the use of words.


He who gives an answer before he hears, It is folly and shame to him (18:13).

The mind of the prudent acquires knowledge, And the ear of the wise seeks knowledge (18:15).

The first to plead his case seems just, Until another comes and examines him (18:17).


A fool’s vexation is known at once, But a prudent man conceals dishonor (12:16).

A gentle answer turns away wrath, But a harsh word stirs up anger. The tongue of the wise makes knowledge acceptable, But the mouth of fools spouts folly (15:1-2).

He who restrains his words has knowledge, And he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding (17:27).

A fool always loses his temper, But a wise man holds it back (29:11).


The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer, But the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things (15:28).

When Silence is Golden:
Forbidden Uses of Words

There are many uses of the tongue which are clearly forbidden in Proverbs. Let us briefly review them.


He who goes about as a talebearer reveals secrets, But he who is trustworthy conceals a matter (11:13).

Argue your case with your neighbor, And do not reveal the secret of another, Lest he who hears it reproach you, And the evil report about you not pass away (25:9-10).


My son, if you have become surety for your neighbor, Have given a pledge for a stranger, If you have been snared with the words of your mouth, Have been caught with the words of your mouth, Do this then, my son, and deliver yourself; Since you have come into the hand of your neighbor, Go, humble yourself, and importune your neighbor. Do not give sleep to your eyes, Nor slumber to your eyelids; Deliver yourself like a gazelle from the hunter’s hand, And like a bird from the hand of the fowler (6:1-5).

It is a snare for a man to say rashly, ‘It is holy!” And after the vows to make inquiry (20:25).


Keeping away from strife is an honor for a man, But any fool will quarrel (20:3).


Do not speak in the hearing of a fool, For he will despise the wisdom of your words (23:9).

When a wise man has a controversy with a foolish man, The foolish man either rages or laughs, and there is no rest (29:9).


He who curses his father or his mother, His lamp will go out in time of darkness (20:20; cf. 30:11).


A false witness will not go unpunished, And he who tells lies will not escape (19:5).

A rascally witness makes a mockery of justice, And the mouth of the wicked spreads iniquity (19:28).


A lying tongue hates those it crushes, And a flattering mouth works ruin (26:28).

He who rebukes a man will afterward find more favor Than he who flatters with the tongue (28:23).

A man who flatters his neighbor Is spreading a net for his steps (29:5).


The words of a whisperer are like dainty morsels, And they go down into the innermost parts of the body (18:8).

He who goes about as a slanderer reveals secrets, Therefore do not associate with a gossip (20:19).

The north wind brings forth rain, And the backbiting tongue, an angry countenance (25:23).


Put away from you a deceitful mouth, And put devious lips far from you (4:24).

A worthless person, a wicked man, Is the one who walks with a false mouth, Who winks with his eyes, who signals with his feet, Who points with his fingers (6:12-13).


Like clouds and wind without rain Is a man who boasts of his gifts falsely (25:14).

Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; A stranger, and not your own lips (27:2).

Words Wisely Invested:
When Our Speech is Like Gold

There are many times when words are called for and where silence would be far from golden. Let us consider some of those times when the godly are obligated to speak.


The plans of the heart belong to man, But the answer of the tongue is from the Lord (16:1).

I would caution the reader not to conclude that God is to be held responsible for every word which proceeds from the lips of men. The point of this Proverb, as I understand it, is that while we have a particular plan in mind, what we may say, if divinely directed, is from God. This is especially true when we are witnessing to our faith or when we are defending it.

“And when they arrest you and deliver you up, do not be anxious beforehand about what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour; for it is not you who speak; but it is the Holy Spirit” (Mk. 13:11).


The lips of the wise spread knowledge, But the hearts of fools are not so (15:7).

She opens her mouth in wisdom, And the teaching of kindness is on her tongue (31:26; cf. 31:1).


The teaching of the wise is a fountain of life, To turn aside from the snares of death (13:14).

A truthful witness saves lives, But he who speaks lies is treacherous (14:25).

Deliver those who are being taken away to death, And those who are staggering to slaughter, 0 hold them back (24:11).


Like an earring of gold and an ornament of fine gold Is a wise reprover to a listening ear (25:12).

Better is open rebuke Than love that is concealed. Faithful are the wounds of a friend, But deceitful are the kisses of an enemy (27:5-6).

He who rebukes a man will afterward find more favor Than he who flatters with the tongue (28:23).


Open your mouth for the dumb, For the rights of all the unfortunate. Open your mouth, judge righteously, And defend the rights of the afflicted and needy (31:8-9).


There is one who speaks rashly like the thrusts of a sword, But the tongue of the wise brings healing (12:18).

Anxiety in the heart of a man weighs it down, But a good word makes it glad (12:25).

A soothing tongue is a tree of life, But perversion in it crushes the spirit (15:4).

Pleasant words are a honeycomb, Sweet to the soul and healing to the bones (16:24).

Words Wisely Chosen:
Saying the Right Thing in the Right Way

As a student in seminary I was very critical of the courses offered in homiletics--the art (and science) of preaching. What difference did it make how something was said, as long as what was said was true to the Word of God? After listening to the sermons of some of my classmates I learned the error of my thinking. Just as Proverbs teaches us, the right content said in the wrong way or at the wrong time may have no benefit to the listeners and may even do them harm.


A man has joy in an apt answer, And how delightful is a timely word! (15:23)

Like apples of gold in settings of silver Is a word spoken in right circumstances (25:11).


A gentle answer turns away wrath, But a harsh word stirs up anger. The tongue of the wise makes knowledge acceptable, But the mouth of fools spouts folly (15:1-2).

The wise in heart will be called discerning, And sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness (16:21).

The heart of the wise teaches his mouth, And adds persuasiveness to his lips (16:23).

He who loves purity of heart And whose speech is gracious, the king is his friend (22:11).

By forbearance a ruler may be persuaded, And a soft tongue breaks the bone (25:15).


In summarizing, let me attempt to review what we have learned from Proverbs on the use of our words by pointing out several passages in the New Testament which teach the same principles.

“But let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no’; and anything beyond these is evil” (Matt. 5:37).

Our Lord was not so much condemning vows as He was stressing the need for absolute truthfulness in what we say. The only reason why people require us to take an oath is because they have learned not to take our words at face value. Jesus taught that we should be so characterized by truthfulness in our speech that no other statement is required of us. Jesus, like Proverbs, taught that there is no place for falsehood and deception in the life of those who are godly and wise.

“You brood of vipers, how can you, being evil, speak what is good? For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. The good man out of his good treasure brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of his evil treasure brings forth what is evil. And I say to you, that every careless word that men shall speak, they shall render account for it in the day of judgment. For by your words you shall be justified, and by your words you shall be condemned” (Matt. 12:34-37).

Like Proverbs, Jesus taught that a man’s character is revealed by his words. The Pharisees had attributed the power of our Lord to Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons (Matt. 12:24).Jesus warned His critics that they should be more careful in their use of words, since it was by their own words that they would be judged.

All too often we, like the Pharisees of old, are quick to speak without thinking. We will be judged for every idle or careless word. Let us not use words thoughtlessly if we are to be judged for what we say. Words have great power, for good or evil, for the listener as well as for the speaker.

This you know, my beloved brethren. But let every one be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God. Therefore putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls. But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves (James 1:19-22).

We have learned in Proverbs that the wise are those who economize in the use of words. The wise person is slow to speak, considering the character of the one to whom he speaks. He does not lash out in anger, and his words are timely and well chosen. James reminds us of this same principle. Perhaps when James says, “This you know” (v. 19) he is actually alluding to the teaching of Proverbs. In addition to warning against a hasty, angry retort, James reminds his readers that while we should be cautious in the use of our words, we should be quick in our response to the Word of God. Apart from obedience to the Word, it does us no good.

“Not every one who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 7:21).

What use is it, my brethren, if a man says he has faith, but he has no works? Can that faith save him? (James 2:14).

Our Lord and James both taught that mere words never saved anyone. A profession alone, without any practical outworking, was evidence of a dead faith, not a living and saving faith. Perhaps there was a time when you made a profession of faith, my friend, but it was only that--a profession. Professions do not save, only a living and vital faith--a faith which brings about change in your way of living. Do not deceive yourself into thinking that mere words will save you. Those who professed to know the Lord in Matthew 7 and who even accomplished great works in His name were those whom our Lord said He never knew (Matt. 7:22-23).May your faith become more than a mere profession, by placing your trust in Jesus Christ, the sinless Son of God, who died in your place on the cross that you might live eternally.

Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned, as it were, with salt, so that you may know how you should respond to each person (Col. 4:5-6).

But sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to every one who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence (I Peter 3:15).

Our words can be used of God to bear witness to our faith. We should be ready to speak when the occasion presents itself. Our words should be gracious and yet stimulate others along spiritual lines of conversation.

Perhaps there is no better summary of the use of our words than Paul’s teaching in Ephesians 4:29:

Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, that it may give grace to those who hear.

May God enable us to use our lips as an instrument of His grace.

Related Topics: Basics for Christians

The Death of Death

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Death and the Word of God:
“The Apple and Adam”

I have entitled this message “The Apple and Adam,” but I can just hear someone say: “Don’t you know that it wasn’t an apple that Adam ate?” Well, I want to tell you right now that I do not know at all that it was not an apple Adam ate. Scripture does not say it was an apple—but Scripture also does not say it wasn’t an apple. It was some kind of a fruit tree, and it could have been an apple just as well as it could have been a peach.

But if you are against Adam eating an apple maybe you would like,

“The Avocado and Our Ancestor”
“The Date and Our Dad”
“The Fig and Our Forefather”
“The Grapefruit and Our Grandfather”
“The Peach and Our Parent”
“The Prune and Our Progenitor” or
“The Cherry and the Chief”

There is no indication whatever that this fruit tree ceased to exist after the fall and that it did not perpetuate itself on earth, as was true of the tree of life. Therefore you may make it any fruit you want. The point is that it wasn’t the fruit of the tree that was bad, but Adam and Eve’s disobedience to the known will of God.

The Lord had specifically told them in Genesis 2:16 and 17, “And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.”

The Hebrew of “thou shalt surely die” is “dying thou shalt die.” It is a Hebrew idiom that makes the statement very emphatic. Adam understood this else Adam would also have been deceived. Since he was not deceived (1 Tim. 2:14) it follows he did understand. However, he may not have fully understood all of the ramifications of his act of disobedience.

Death was something totally foreign to God’s creation. God is life and He had constructed the world in accordance with His own nature of being. The world that God had made was “very good”—a statement that could not be made when death entered upon the scene. What a change was brought into the world by man eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil! God has said, “in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” “At the moment in time that you do what I have commanded you not to do, dying you shall die.” Death was the instantaneous result of disobedience.

I. The Immediate Consequence of Death to Adam and Eve

    A. Psychological Anxieties and Fears

What are some of the consequences that came upon the scene as a result of this judgment that immediately fell upon Adam and Eve? Death is a terrible thing, and one of the first results of sin entering into the world and death by sin was that Adam and Eve feared God. The whole gamut of ‘fear’ entered on the scene beginning with Adam and Eve hiding themselves from the presence of the Lord among the trees of the garden (Gen. 3:8).

And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden (Genesis 3:8).

Man had known no fear before, but now he was full of fear. He was fearful of his Creator; he feared judgment; the whole area of guilt entered with all of the anxieties of life. All of the problems of hostility, anxiety, fear and perplexity entered immediately when Adam sinned.

    B. Substitutional Sacrifices

Adam and Eve began to realize something of the consequences of sin when God made for them coats of skins. In order for this to be done innocent animals—animals that had done nothing—gave their life in order to provide an acceptable covering for the man and the woman. Adam and Eve saw the first physical death when these innocent animals died to provide for them “coats of skins.”

The consequences of sin coming into the world are not fully understood until one sees the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ as “the lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world.” He died that we might be clothed with His righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21).

Here is the sacrifice of the innocent One who knew no sin, did no sin, in Him was no sin, for us who are sinful. He died as our substitute, in order to provide an acceptable covering for us before God. The full consequence of sin entering into the world is understood only in the light of Calvary.

    C. Hostility in the Animal Kingdom

As the curse fell upon mankind and the world, the animal world was also greatly affected. Adam and Eve would realize something of the further consequences of sin in the world as they visualized the hostility in the animal world.

When the animals passed before Adam, he named them all, but at this time there was no hostility at all. The animal kingdom was one big, happy family. No animal was carnivorous. No animal would hurt or kill another animal. Their food was, just as man, the produce of the earth.

Then God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree which has fruit yielding seed; it shall be food for you; and to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the sky and to every thing that moves on the earth which has life, I have given every green plant for food”; and it was so (Genesis 1:29-30).

With the fall of man there was a change in the animal world. The whole of creation found itself in the bondage of decay and corruption together with man. Moreover without exception every creature experienced groaning and pain. Their very existence was in jeopardy and survival was a fight. Each animal had its enemies as it sought to exist in a hostile world. Animals were killing and eating other animals. What a contrast with the world as God had made it, and with the state of things as they will yet exist on earth in the millennium.

God says in Isaiah 11:6 and 7:

The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together: and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.

    D. Deterioration and Infirmity in Body

Another way Adam and Eve would have realized the consequences of death in their life was the physical condition of their own bodies. Instantaneously with their sinful act their bodies began to deteriorate. Their teeth developed cavities, they had aches and pains, sickness and infirmities. They were living in a body that was dying and doomed to destruction in the dust.

    E. The Loss of Loved Ones

But Adam and Eve only experienced the full significance of their act when Eve, the mother of all living, held in her arms her own son (Abel) who had been killed by her other son (Cain). The awfulness of death was brought fully home at that time to Adam and Eve.

Death is the great enemy of mankind. Few people even want to talk about it; they do not even want to think about it. They seek to push it out of their mind and keep on living as if it will never happen. Some have even deluded themselves into thinking there is no such thing as death, that death is only an illusion, a lie, that it does not exist. How wrong can you be. If there is no such thing as death, then God lied to Adam right from the beginning. But He did not lie.

Death, and the fear of death, holds many all their life in bondage (Heb. 2:15). Yet the Lord Jesus Christ became a man specifically so that He could die, and “that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death” (Heb. 2:14). Death has been conquered by Jesus Christ. Death was swallowed up in victory because the grave could not hold the Lord Jesus. His resurrection is the guarantee of our resurrection. Someday death will be completely conquered, yet it is the very last enemy on God’s time schedule to be defeated. “The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death” (1 Cor. 15:26).

II. The Meaning of Death

Death means “separation” regardless of the type of death involved. Death is never cessation of existence, nor is it cessation of consciousness.

James 2:26 says: “the body without the spirit is dead.” Whenever there is a separation of the spirit of a man from his body, at that moment death takes place. Just as long as the spirit of a man inhabits the body and is not separated from it, there is life.

In Luke 16 we read the account of the rich man who died and went to Hades. There in Hades (i.e. his soul was in Hades and his body was buried in the ground) he was in torment. He realized also that the beggar that sat at his gate and ate the crumbs from his table was in Abraham’s bosom. He could reason and think. He desired water and someone to return back from the dead to warn his brothers of this place. There was full consciousness of being, thinking, feeling, and remembering.

III. The Three Important Types of Death in Scripture

There are three important types of death in the Word of God: spiritual death, physical death and eternal death. Each death is separation, is the result of sin, and has its remedy in Christ.

    A. Spiritual Death

Spiritual death is “separation from God in time.” The moment Adam and Eve sinned they died toward God. Adam and Eve died spiritually right away and this is seen in the fact that they hid themselves from God. They had a nature that was contrary to God’s nature and that nature, now fallen, found no fellowship with God. The life Adam and Eve possessed did not respond to the life possessed and enjoyed by God. God had not died. Man had died spiritually. No longer did he have spiritual life; he was spiritually dead.

Because this was Adam and Eve’s permanent nature as a result of their sin, this nature is passed on to each child born of the seed of man. We are all born spiritually dead toward God. Thus in Ephesians 2:1 we read: “And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins.” This is why Scripture says: “There is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one” (Rom. 3:11-12).

The natural man being spiritually dead would never seek after God; he would always seek to hide from His presence. The reason is because he is spiritually dead. The message of the gospel is that God seeks after us and finds us. The Lord Jesus is come “to seek and to save” that which is lost.

God’s work is to undo the work of sin and death, and the remedy for spiritual death is spiritual life. The word “quickened” is an old English word meaning “to make alive.”

Ephesians 2:1, “And you hath he quickened who were dead in trespasses and sins.”

Ephesians 2:4-6, We who were dead, have been “made alive.” Salvation is the work of God. Only God can give spiritual life in the place of spiritual death.

John 5:24, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation: but is passed from [out of] death unto [into] life.”

Once we were in the state of death, but by believing on the Lord Jesus Christ we leave that sphere once and for all and we enter into life with God and all that it entails.

Many individuals who have been born once never realize that they are dead toward God. But whether they feel it or not, they are—and God says they are. If you place a weight on a corpse, he does not feel it at all. Thus the unsaved man may not feel separated from God, but he is.

    B. Physical Death

Physical death is the separation of the spirit and/or soul from the body. James 2:26 says, “the body without the spirit is dead.” Whenever the soul leaves the body, physical death ensues.

“Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned” (Romans 5:12).

Physical death in the world is the result of the sin of one man—Adam. To be “in Adam” is to be under the sentence of death. The genealogy of Adam is given in Genesis 5. “This is the book of the generations of Adam” (v. 1). As we read on in this book we read over and over that short phrase: “And he died.” This is the book of death.

But there is another book. In Matthew 1:1 we read the only other time the same phrase occurs: “The book of the generation of Jesus Christ.” To be “in Christ” is life and peace. As in Adam all die; in Christ all shall be made alive. Listen to these words of Paul: “For if by one man’s offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:17). Because Jesus Christ lives, we shall live also (John 14:19). Even though we may die, we await that future day of our resurrection or the complete redemption of our body (Rom. 8:23). God’s remedy for physical death is resurrection.

    C. The Second Death or Eternal Death

This death is spoken of in Revelation 20:12-15, and it refers to “eternal separation from God.” This state is spoken of as that of perishing.

14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; 15 that whoever believes may in Him have eternal life. 16 For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life (John 3:14-16).

    1. It is spoken of as hell or gehenna. It is a place of torment prepared for the devil and his angels—a lake of fire—where the worm dieth not and the fire is not quenched.

    2. It is spoken of as a place of utter darkness (Jude 13).

    3. It is a place where in eternity will be found “the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters and all liars, [all of these] shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death” (Rev. 22:8).

I have heard men say in a joking way: “Well, if I go to hell, I am surely going to have a lot of company.” Beloved, this is a fallacious statement. It is correct that there will be many there, for the Lord Jesus Christ Himself said, “broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat” (Matt. 7:13). But Scripture says it is a place of utter darkness, “the blackness of darkness for ever.” Even though it is a lake of fire, it is not something that is light; it is something that is darkness. God is light and His kingdom is a kingdom of light; this is a place of utter darkness. There is no light there.

I do not know whether you have been in total darkness, but if you have, you realize that you can be standing right next to another person and yet there is no help, no feeling between you and them. There is nothing that satisfies you. You are alone! You can be in a crowd, but you are alone! This is the place that is called the second death.

Eternal death is the result of rejecting the Lord Jesus Christ, and failing to believe that He is the Savior of the world.

For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotton Son of God” (John 3:17-18).

What do you have to do to be lost? Nothing! Absolutely nothing! But you do have to do something to be saved. And the person who is born once, if they do not do anything, will die twice. There is a second death. If we are going to escape this second death we must have a Savior. If there is no second death, there is no need for a Savior. If we are going to escape this second death and dying twice, we are going to have to be born twice—we must be born again (John 3:7). This is the message of the gospel.

The Lord Jesus Christ spoke to those who rejected Him and said: “I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins: for if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins” (John 8:24).

The issue between life and death is the person of Jesus Christ. What think ye of Him?

The Lord said the Holy Spirit would be sent into the world to “reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin, because they believe not on me” (John 16:8-9).

There is only one sin that will take a person to a Christless eternity, and that is failure to believe on the Savior of the world. There is salvation in no other: for there is no other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved (Act 4:12).

The Word says we are to save some “with fear, pulling them out of the fire” (Jude 23). When we talk about the second death, we certainly are not talking about something that is a wonderful subject—but it is a reality. This is why the Lord Jesus Christ came, “that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:15).

Do you know you have eternal life? Do you know that if you should die today you would go to heaven because the blood of Jesus Christ has saved you? Do you know that you have been rescued, redeemed, taken out of the kingdom of darkness and translated into the kingdom of His dear Son?

If you don’t, you’d better, for this is real. These are not my words, but God’s. This is God’s revelation; I am merely the mailman. There is a heaven to gain and a hell to shun, and there is only one way unto the Father. Jesus Christ said: “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6).

Do you know you are saved? If not, why not, and why not settle it right now?

“He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him” (John 3:36).

“This is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life” (1 John 5:11-12).

The decision is yours. The issue is life and death.

Death and the Work of Christ:
“The Cross and the Christ”

The greatest parade that the world has ever seen is the parade of death. It started with Adam and it has continued from that day to this. The largest cities in the world are not Tokyo or New York but they are the cities of the dead.

In the words of Paul, death has reigned as a king over mankind: “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned” (Rom. 5:12). “By one man’s offence death reigned by one” (Rom. 5:17).

Death reigned as king over the whole human race until Jesus Christ came and conquered death.

I. The Distinction Between Restoration and Resurrection

The very first thing that must be understood is the difference between restorations to life and resurrection. Twice in the Old Testament people were restored to life. Elisha restored to life the Shunammite’s son in 2 Kings 4:32-37. Then after Elisha’s death, a man was restored to life when his body touched the bones of Elisha in 2 Kings 13:20-21. These are the only two occurrences of restorations to life recorded in the Old Testament.

In the New Testament there are three recorded occurrences, and these are but samples of many that occurred in the ministry of Jesus Christ. One was a little girl 12 years old, another was a young man, and the third one recorded was an older man, Lazarus by name. In the first instance death had just occurred; in the second case the funeral procession was in process; in the last situation Lazarus had been dead four days.

In each of these cases the person was restored back to life again, only to die at some other time. Their restoration was to physical life. Not one of these had gone through death into life so that they could not die again. But Jesus Christ did. He was not restored to life. He was resurrected to life. The life He enjoyed as a resurrected being was not a life subject to death. He came out of death into life. Death had no more power over Him.

Thus we read in Romans 6:9, “Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him.”

And in 2 Timothy 1:10, “Our Savior Jesus Christ … hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.”

How did Christ abolish death? He did so by going ‘through death.’

“Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage” (Heb. 2:14-15).

We may diagram it thus:

The only One who ever passed “through death” into eternal life is Jesus Christ. In doing so He conquered death. He has the keys of death. It is for this reason that the Lord Jesus is called “the firstborn from the dead” (Col. 1:15,18; Rev. 1:5).

II. The Deaths Christ Died

We’ve observed that Scripture speaks of three kinds of death: spiritual, physical and eternal. When Christ died, He took care of the problem of death. He dealt with spiritual, physical and eternal death. In order to do so, He died twice; or He experienced two separate and distinct deaths. He experienced physical death, but He also experienced spiritual death.

Because He was an Infinite Being, He went through physical death, and today there is a man with a body in eternity. Physical death is conquered. There is a man in glory who is the guarantee that all believers will also be there someday in the presence of the Father.

But it is also true that because He was an Infinite Being, the Lord Jesus Christ experienced in spiritual death what a finite person would take an infinite number of years to experience. Thus the Lord, by experiencing spiritual death, took care of eternal death for the believers. He tasted death for every man. No man need die eternally. Provision has been made for his salvation. The lake of fire was prepared for the devil and his angels, and the Lord takes no pleasure in man being involved in the condemnation that is due the devil. To stay in the City of Destruction is to perish with the ungodly (cf. Gen. 19:15-26). To remain in the kingdom of darkness is to become involved in the judgment that will be given those who oppose God and His gospel (cf. 2 Thess. 1:7-9). Salvation is available for man; it is not available for the devil or his angels. It is available because of the deaths Christ died.

It is striking that in the Hebrew of Isaiah 53:8 and 9 two plurals are used. It says: “He was cut off out of the land of the living [plural]: for the transgression of my people was he stricken. And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death [plural, ‘deaths’].” It is often true that the Hebrew uses abstract qualities in the plural, but it is also true that the Lord Jesus Christ was cut off from the land of the living both Godward and then manward. The living God was separated from the Son in the darkness of the cross; He was cut off for the first and only time in all eternity from the living God. Then He was cut off from those living on earth. This would signify He died twice—and that is exactly what the next phrase says.

In the first death he made His grave with the wicked for He hung between two thieves. His second grave, (that which was physical) was with the rich. He was buried in a rich man’s tomb. Thus the prophet prophetically sees both His grave with the wicked and His grave with the rich in the deaths He died. Only God could write it so exactly.

    A. The Spiritual Death of Christ on the Cross

The Lord Jesus Christ hung on the cross for a total of six hours. It was not by accident that three of those hours were in light and three were in darkness. The darkness was a supernatural darkness. It was not due to an eclipse of the sun because this day was the Passover. It was full moon, and an eclipse of the sun can only take place when it is new moon. The moon was 180 degrees wrong for there to be an eclipse.

It was not dark because of there being storm clouds in the sky, for there was not a cloud in the sky this day. The Prophet wrote of this day: “I will cause the sun to go down at noon, and I will darken the earth in the clear day” (Amos 8:9). God did just that. It was noon when darkness fell over the land. It was a supernatural darkness from the Lord.

During the first three hours the sufferings of Christ on the cross were at the hands of men. During the last three hours, He suffered at the hands of a righteous and holy God.

From 9 a.m. until noon, man was at the cross pouring out his worst—mocking, reviling, deriding—while during the very same time God was offering up for man His very best. From noon until 3 p.m., man was offering up his best—the only sinless one who had ever lived—while at the same time God was pouring out His worst.

During the first three hours our Lord was the “sinless” Son of God (Heb. 7:26); during the last three hours He was “made sin” (2 Cor. 5:21), and He became the accursed thing. Because God cannot look on sin, neither did He allow man to look on the Lord during this time. God, for the only time in eternity past or future, was separated from the Son, and a veil was hung over the light of the sun in order that man might realize the gravity of the moment.

During the first three hours, Calvary was only a hill outside the city of Jerusalem where the Son of Man was crucified; during the final three hours, Calvary became the brazen altar of God where the Son of God was slain for our sins.

During the light, Christ bore the weight of His own body on the cross; during the last three hours He bore the sins of the whole world.

During the period of light at the cross, we see God’s day toward which everything had been moving in time, but we see man’s night in which the blackness of the fallen human heart was manifest toward Christ. During the period of darkness, we see God’s night when His wrath was poured out on His own Son and which was the only time in eternity in which there was separation between the Father and the Son. But during this same period we see man’s day when salvation is now available to sinful man by grace through merely looking by faith to the cross and the work that Christ did in this moment in time.

In the first three hours, Christ bore the fires of man’s wrath against Him. All the torture man could give was poured out. Death by crucifixion was the greatest torture man had ever devised. In the last three hours, the Lord bore the fire of God’s wrath in His very being, manifesting that He was an acceptable sacrifice—truly “the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world.” In these last hours Christ endured all the sufferings of hell.

The fourth cry of the Lord upon the cross, which took place near the close of the final three hours, was: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” This forsaking of the Son by God the Father and God the Holy Spirit had taken place the moment sin was imputed to Him. God is “of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity” (Hab. 1:13). This was the cup of wrath that Christ anguished over in Gethsemane.

The fifth cry on the cross was “I thirst.” Here the fires of God’s wrath were burning within Him.

In the sixth cry on the cross Christ said: “It is finished.” He had completely accomplished redemption. He had “paid in full” the requirement of holiness and righteousness. Nothing more could be done. The Father is satisfied with the sacrifice of Christ for sin.

The seventh cry on the cross finds Christ saying once again “Father.” He is now back in fellowship with the Father. Spiritual death or separation is over. A complete satisfaction spiritually has been made. Christ died for our sins. He bore the wrath due us in His own body on the tree. He tasted death for every man.

Remember that it is the death Christ experienced on the cross of spiritual separation from the Father which provides eternal salvation for us. It is not the physical death of Christ that saves anyone, but His spiritual death. Our message is about a cross—this is what we preach—-not a tomb.

Christ said He had the power to lay down His physical life at any time and to take it up again (John 10:18). Had Christ laid down His life at another time before finishing the work of redemption and propitiation on the cross, not one of us could have been saved. Even after spending three hours on the cross, had He laid down His life, yet no one would have been saved. The physical death is not the important death. Christ had to go through physical death even as He went through the incarnation and birth. Yet He came out of death being raised from the death. Nevertheless the death He endured and tasted that is significant to our salvation is His spiritual death with the Father and the Holy Spirit. His passing through physical death was then only the logical outcome of His being a perfect sacrifice for sin.

Next we want to consider what happened as the Lord passed through physical death and was raised by the power of God.

Let us never forget that Christ “once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust” (1 Pet. 3:18). He bore “our sins in his own body on the tree” (1 Pet. 2:24). “Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh” (1 Pet. 4:1). He hath made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us (2 Cor. 5:21). “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us” (Gal. 3:13). Christ … “who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20). “Christ … hath loved us and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savour” (Eph. 5:2).

    B. The Physical Death of Christ on the Cross

Besides the Lord’s death of spiritual separation, there occurred after this experience physical death. The soul and human spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ were separated from His body, and physical death occurred. We want to spend this lesson looking at what occurred when Christ died physically on the cross.

John records: “When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar; he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost” (John 19:30). Luke adds another significant detail. “And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost” (Luke 23:46). The expression, “he gave up the ghost” is an old English way of simply saying, “He expired”; “He gave His last breath.”

Here is a man laying down His own life. No one had ever done this before. Men have no power over their own life, but their times are in the Lord’s hands. However with Christ, He had the authority or right to lay down His own life and to take it up again (John 10:17-18). The fact that Christ did not lay down His life until the sin problem was finished which makes salvation possible for mankind, and makes His death efficacious.

We want to follow first the physical body of Christ after death, and then follow the soul and human spirit of Christ following death.

      1. The physical body of Christ

After the death of Christ on the cross, John gives a detailed description of what happened to the body of Christ,

John 19:31-42 The Jews therefore, because it was the day of preparation, so that the bodies should not remain on the cross on the Sabbath for that Sabbath was a high day, asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. 32 The soldiers therefore came, and broke the legs of the first man, and of the other man who was crucified with Him; 33 but coming to Jesus, when they saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs; 34 but one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately there came out blood and water. 35 And he who has seen has borne witness, and his witness is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you also may believe. 36 For these things came to pass, that the Scripture might be fulfilled, “Not a bone of Him shall be broken.” 37 And again another Scripture says, “They shall look on Him whom they pierced.”

38 And after these things Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but a secret one, for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus; and Pilate granted permission. He came therefore, and took away His body. 39 And Nicodemus came also, who had first come to Him by night; bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds weight. 40 And so they took the body of Jesus, and bound it in linen wrappings with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. 41 Now in the place where He was crucified there was a garden; and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had yet been laid. 42 Therefore on account of the Jewish day of preparation, because the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.

In this account John gives us the evidence for actual death. We may be assured that Jesus Christ physically died for the following reasons.

(1) The appearance (19:30). Christ cried out; it was a cry of relief. He bowed His head and He expired for the last and final time. His actions signify death.

(2) The expert announcement (19:31-33). The very fact that the Lord’s legs were not broken was because legal experts on the subject of death knew He was dead already. They witnessed to this fact by not breaking the Lord’s legs.

(3) The absolute certainty (19:34). Since these soldiers dare not make a mistake, and since it would not hurt a dead body to have a sword thrust into His heart cavity to make certain He was dead, the Roman soldier did just that. Now there can be no question about it. Life as we know it could not function in a body with a gash into the heart sac large enough for a man to thrust his hand.

(4) The visible fact (19:34-35). John himself says that he was a witness to the fact that he saw both blood and water pour forth from the spear wound. Here was the postmortem performed upon the body of Christ. Since the blood had already separated or coagulated into the red clot (“blood”) and the limpid serum (“water”), it proves that Christ had not only died, but He had been dead some time.

(5) The handling of the body (19:38-42). The final proof that Jesus Christ was dead was the handling of His body. Anyone who has handled a corpse knows what I mean. There is no guesswork involved as to whether they are dead or not. There are two valid witnesses in Israel, both members of the Sanhedrin, who handled His body and they can witness to the fact that this man was dead.

Now by the mouth of two or three witnesses, the truth may be established. Here are many witnesses. All who were there at the cross saw how He died. The soldiers witness to His death by not breaking His legs. The crowd again can testify as to the spear piercing His side. The writer of the Gospel is an eyewitness of the blood and water coming from His riven side. Finally, Joseph of Arimathaea and Nicodemus are witnesses that they prepared a corpse for burial.

Before the cross, men did whatever they willed to the Son. In fact, Christ had said in the Garden: “When I was daily with you in the temple, ye stretched forth no hands against me: but this is your hour, and the power of darkness” (Luke 22:53). Whatever man willed he did to the Son of God, but after Christ died, no unbeliever ever touched the body of Christ. Both Joseph of Arimathaea and Nicodemus were believers, and their claiming Christ’s body forced them to expose themselves as His followers. This caused the Lord’s body to be buried in a rich man’s tomb in a garden that was close to Calvary.

With the body in a tomb “that was hewn in stone, wherein never man before was laid” and with a stone rolled over the entrance and sealed with the seal of Rome, let us now follow the story of the soul and human spirit of the Lord.

      2. The soul and human spirit of Christ

It is most unfortunate that otherwise excellent teachers have stated that Christ’s body went into the grave, His soul went to paradise, while His human spirit went into the presence of the Father. In support of this, the passage of Luke 23:46 is given: “And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, ‘Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit’: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost,” or expired.

That Christ had a body, a soul and a human spirit is very factual. He was perfect man, and so likewise all believers will be forever glorified in body, soul and spirit (1 Thess. 5:23). Furthermore, it is true that the physical body of Christ went into the tomb, but the soul and human spirit are never divided so that one goes one place and the other goes another place. The soul and human spirit are the immaterial part of being. My soul and human spirit are the real me, and they inhabit at this present time my body. The real person of the Lord was His soul and human spirit, and these were commended into the hands of the Father. For what purpose? That the Father might perform His wishes and desires. Here is a committal, not of place, but of purpose—of accomplishment. The Father could do as He saw fit. Redemption was over. The Son knew where He would be and had just mentioned it, namely in paradise (Luke 23:43). But whether He rose again, He committed to the Father to perform even though He had the power to raise Himself from the dead. The Son wanted the Father to vindicate Him by the resurrection from the dead if His work was acceptable to Him. Thus into the Father’s hands He committed His spirit.

        a. Where did Christ go?

This brings us to the question: Where did the soul and human spirit of Christ go at death? The person of Christ was together in one place. He said to the thief on the cross in Luke 23:43, “Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.”

Did Christ and the thief on the cross go to heaven when they died, or did they go somewhere else? In order to answer this question it is necessary to understand what is spoken about the place of the departed spirits both in the Old Testament and also in the New.

The place where the soul or spirit of man went at death was called by the Hebrews ‘Sheol.’ It meant simply, “the place of the departed spirits.” The Greeks had the word Hades for identically the same concept. Hades was the abode of the dead. Neither the term Sheol nor Hades designated anything concerning the righteousness or unrighteousness of the person involved. All—righteous and unrighteous—went to Sheol or Hades.

We learn further in both the Old and New Testaments that Sheol and Hades were within the earth itself. One passage in both Testaments will suffice. In Numbers 16 we have the rebellion of Korah. Moses said in reference to these who rebelled;

29 “If these men die the death of all men, or if they suffer the fate of all men, then the LORD has not sent me. 30 But if the LORD brings about an entirely new thing and the ground opens its mouth and swallows them up with all that is theirs, and they descend alive into Sheol, then you will understand that these men have spurned the LORD.”

31 Then it came about as he finished speaking all these words, that the ground that was under them split open; 32 and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, and their households, and all the men who belonged to Korah, with their possessions. 33 So they and all that belonged to them went down alive to Sheol; and the earth closed over them, and they perished from the midst of the assembly (Numbers 16:29-33).

From this it may be seen that Sheol is in the earth. The Lord Himself verified this, and was even more specific. He said: “As Jonah was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matt. 12:40). Thus Sheol or Hades is not only a place in the earth, but it is in the heart of it.

From the teaching of the Lord in Luke 16 concerning the rich man and Lazarus (vv. 19-31) we learn that there are two compartments to Hades. There is an upper portion where the righteous go which is a place of bliss, and a lower portion for the unrighteous which is a place of torment. In this place where there is full capacity of personality with intellect, emotion and will, the righteous and unrighteous sections are divided by a great gulf fixed so that none can traverse from one to the other.

With this background we are ready to consider where Christ went when He died. He went to Sheol or Hades which was in the heart of the earth. But He went to the upper portion of this place. It may be called “Abraham’s bosom” (Luke 16:22) because it is a place of endearment and blessing. It was called by Christ, speaking to the thief on the cross, “paradise.” The Lord told this man: “Today thou shalt be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). This again signifies a place of bliss. Paradise is a word of Persian origin signifying “a royal park or garden.” Paradise, then, is equivalent to Abraham’s bosom or the upper portion of Sheol or Hades.

Now we can understand why Peter said on the day of Pentecost, quoting what David said of the Messiah,

“For David speaketh concerning him, I foresaw the Lord always before my face; for he is on my right hand, that I should not be moved: Therefore did my heart rejoice, and my tongue was glad; moreover also my flesh shall rest in hope: Because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption” (Acts 2:25-27).

The word hell here is very unfortunate. The Greek word is ‘Hades,’ not ‘gehenna,’ and should be so translated here and many other places in the New Testament. Peter is quoting from Psalm 16 which speaks of the Messiah, and there the Hebrew word is ‘Sheol.’ The soul of Christ did go to Sheol or Hades, but it was not left there.

29 “Brethren, I may say to you confidently of the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. 30 Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants upon his throne, 31 he foresaw and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. 32 This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses” (Acts 2:29-32).

This is the reason the Apostles’ Creed says: “He descended into hell.” It also is the word Hades, and very definitely Christ descended into Hades when He died on the cross (cf. Rom. 10:6-7).

        b. What did Christ do?

This brings us to what did Christ do there in Hades? The Lord never went anywhere but that He did something. He had a purpose and a plan, and He accomplished it. We find that there was both a proclamation and a liberation performed by Him. He both spoke a message and did a work.

(1) His words.

“For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison” (1 Pet. 3:18-19).

It was by His death He went and proclaimed a message to the spirits who were in prison in the upper portion of Sheol or Hades. This verse has nothing to do with offering salvation a second time to the lost. This verse does not teach this and neither does any other verse in Scripture. The word “preach” means to make a proclamation, to proclaim something. Christ told them that the sacrifice for their sins had been made. He had made it on the cross (cf. Rom. 3:25). All through the Old Testament sins were only “atoned” or covered over temporarily. Now there had been a complete taking away and remission of sins that are past. Even though these in the righteous portion of Sheol were “unjust” and had been once “disobedient” yet they were saved by grace through faith, and Christ’s death had made their salvation complete.

(2) His work.

The passage that tells us about what Christ accomplished when He died and went to Hades is Ephesians 4.

7 But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 8 Therefore it says, “When He ascended on high, He led captive a host of captives, And He gave gifts to men.” 9 Now this expression, “He ascended,” what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth? 10 He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things. (Ephesians 4:7-10).

Verse 7 states that the church, the body of Christ, has received grace gifts from the head of the church that ascended on high. Verse 8 then states that when Christ ascended, He did two things. First He led captivity captive (we will come back to this in a moment), and second, He gave gifts unto men. These gifts given to the church on earth are enumerated in verse 11 as apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors-teachers. Completing the passage we find in verse 9 that before Christ ascended He first descended. Furthermore, His descent was into the lower parts of the earth. It was not into the lowest parts for He did not descend into the lower part of Sheol or Hades, but was in the upper portion. Verse 10 gives the wonderful truth that the Lord’s ascending was not half way from Sheol, but all the way above all heavens. Christ ascended, not just to the earth’s surface after being in the heart of the earth, but He ascended to the highest heaven, even to God’s throne where He sat down. He assumed His original position in the trinity.

With this background, let us consider the phrase, “He led captivity captive.” Literally, “He captivated captivity.” When an Old Testament believer died, he could not go into heaven because the way had not yet been provided. The blood was not on the mercy seat. Christ had to die and be resurrected and He has provided a new and living way whereby we may approach the Father on the basis of the blood of Christ (Heb. 10:19). But more than this, Christ had to be the firstfruits of death. No one could enter in God’s presence through death before the Son did. He is “the forerunner” (Heb. 6:20), and the leader of many others being their Captain (Heb. 2:10).

Thus believers in the Old Testament died in hope of a future day of victory and of resurrection (cf. Heb. 6:2), yet they had to wait in the upper portion of Sheol until the blood was on the mercy seat and until Jesus Christ led the way. The Old Testament believers were held captive then in Sheol, but Christ came and proclaimed that they were able with His resurrection to go free from their prison house, and when Christ rose from the dead He took all those held captive in the upper portion of Sheol to heaven with Him. He captivated captivity.

Thus the Lord’s ministry was not only on earth, but under the earth. With this in mind we can understand what we read in Isaiah 61:1, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me … to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound.” This is exactly what Christ did. He first made the proclamation and then He captivated captivity. When He ascended, He took with Him into God’s presence all of those that were held captive in the upper or righteous portion of Sheol. He emptied it completely of any inhabitant.

But this is just the beginning. Not only did Christ empty the righteous portion of Sheol or Hades, and lead them all to heaven, but He closed down Hades from receiving any more righteous souls when they die. He changed the place where the righteous go at death.

When a righteous person dies, he no longer descends into Hades, but he immediately goes to be with Christ. The moment the believer is absent from the body, he is present with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:8). Paul was “in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ; which is far better” (Phil. 1:23). Furthermore, he was one who was caught up into paradise and this was none other than God’s throne or the third heaven (2 Cor. 12:24). Paradise was no longer a place in the heart of the earth, it was up in heaven (cf. Rev. 2:7). Christ had changed its location by His work in death and His work through death.

This is why Christ said: “I will build my church; and the gates of hell [Hades] shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18). Not one person will ever be saved and descend into Hades where the gates of Hades will open to receive this person. The Lord will not lose one. Thus through death Christ destroyed both the power and the fear of death.

Thank God for the deaths Christ died. He tasted death for every man. He through death has conquered death, and stands the Victor over death. He is the One who could say: “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die” (John 11:25-26). He said: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, If a man keep my sayings, he shall never see death” (John 8:51). Christ has changed death for every believer.

Death and the Present Session of Christ:
“The Bier and the Believer”

If the Lord tarries, each of us will someday come face-to-face with death. For each couple, one will be buried, the other will bury, one of us will be in the casket, the other will stand beside the bier. At that time all the emotions of the human heart will be strained and stretched to the fullest capacity until it would seem that the heart would break. As a couple should be prepared for marriage before the wedding, so should we also be prepared, as much as is humanly possible, for separation before it occurs.

Albert Kennedy Rowswell’s poem, “Should You Go First” seeks to express this anticipated separation.

Should you go first, and I remain
To walk the road alone,
I’ll live in memory’s garden, dear,
With the happy days we’ve known.
In spring, I’ll wait for the roses red,
In summer, lilacs blue;
In autumn, when the brown leaves fall,
I’ll catch a breath of you.

Should you go first, and I remain
For battles to be fought,
Each thing you’ve touched along the way
Will be a hallowed spot.
I’ll hear your voice, I’ll see your smile
Though blindly I may grope;
The memory of your loving hand
Will buoy me on with hope.

Should you go first, and I remain
To finish with the scroll?
No dark shadows shall creep in
To make this life seem droll.
We’ve known so much of happiness,
We’ve had our cup of joy;
The memory is one gift of God
That death cannot destroy.

Should you go first, and I remain,
One thing I’d have you know,
Walk slowly down the path of death,
For soon, I’ll follow you.
I’ll want to know each step you take,
That I may walk the same,
For some day, down that lonely road,
You’ll hear me call your name.

Some unknown author, realizing that the true Spirit-filled believer has much more to look forward to, rewrote the last stanza to read:

Should you go first, and I remain,
One thing for sure we know;
We’ll meet again in that bright land
Beyond the golden shore;
God’s great salvation we’ve received
Through Jesus’ matchless Name,
And there in Heaven united be,
We’ll never part again!

I would like to have us realize what Jesus Christ has done to death. He has changed death for every believer. He has done so for three reasons. First of all death is completely changed for the believer because Jesus Christ conquered death.

I. Jesus Christ Conquered Death

From Adam until Christ came and died, death reigned as a king over mankind (cf. Rom. 5:14, 21). In all of this time only two escaped dying—Enoch and Elijah—yet for all who died, they were held captive by this reigning monarch we call death.

When Jesus Christ went to the cross, He did a perfect work in reference to death. His death was to ultimately be “the death of death.”

First of all by partaking of the death of separation from God, He tasted death for every man. No man need taste the fires of hell. The lake of fire was prepared for the devil and his angels (Matt. 25:41). Second, Christ went through death in order to be the victor over death.

While everyone else was a slave to death, He conquered death so that death was subject to Him and not He to it. Death is now the Lord Jesus Christ’s servant, and He is its Master and Lord. This was not always true. This is why we read in Hebrews 2:14, “Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is the devil; And deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage” (Heb. 2:14-15).

A few comments on this passage are pertinent. The only way that God the Son could die would be to assume the nature of man. God cannot die, but someone who is both God and man could die. But being both God and man, the Lord Jesus Christ could not only die, He could conquer death and so become its new master. The old master and lord of death was the devil. This is why we see in the Old Testament that the devil had the power of death in his possession, and would oftentimes use it as he did in Job, chapters 1 and 2. In this passage, the only reason that Satan did not employ it in reference to Job himself was because the Lord had, in his case, specifically restricted him. However it was Satan who was responsible for the death of Job’s servants who were tending his oxen and asses, the servants tending his sheep, the servants tending his camels, and all of his ten children.

Satan’s power of death over all mankind is illustrated by Pharaoh’s rulership over the children of Israel in Egypt. Even though the Israelites were God’s children, they were under the domain and power of Pharaoh. Pharaoh had and exercised at times death over his subjects, and did so in order to keep them in fear and in bondage. Though Pharaoh had the power of death over the Lord’s people as well as his own, he did not exercise it to annihilate the Israelites because he wanted them as his slaves to do his work. Dead slaves would profit his kingdom nothing. Yet Pharaoh’s power of death kept the Israelites in a state of fear and bondage.

However, with the death of the lamb at Passover and the blood applied to the dwellings of the Israelites, everything changed. No longer were the Israelites under the bondage of Pharaoh, and no longer were they to be in fear of death. Now the Lord was the one they were to fear, not Pharaoh (cf. Matt. 10:28). Just so this is exactly what happened when Jesus Christ died. He took death out of the hands of Satan for the saved, and death is controlled today by nail-scarred hands.

So we read in Revelation 1:18, “I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death.” The word “hell” here is Hades, and the best manuscripts read death first followed by Hades: “I have the keys of death and of Hades.”

When a person has keys he has authority over what the keys fit. Whoever dies and whoever enters heaven and Hades is in the Lord’s power. He has the keys and He has not delegated this authority to Peter, or to anyone else. It is not Peter who stands at the gate of heaven to decide who enters therein, but the Lord.

In order to complete the picture, it is necessary to realize that Satan still has the power of death at this present time over those who are in his kingdom. While the child of God has been rescued out of the kingdom of darkness and from the power of the prince of this world (Gal. 1:4; Col. 1:13), this is not true for unbelievers. They still are in the bondage of Satan.

When Paul commanded that the Corinthians excommunicate the person who had sinned from fellowship with all believers, he said this: “In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, to deliver such a one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus” (1 Cor. 5:4-5). Here is the truth that Satan has the power of death in his kingdom. In this case the believer, who is saved, by the power of God is put back into the sphere of Satan, and outside the ministry and the prayers of the church, outside the high priestly ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ at the Father’s throne, outside the ministry of the angels who minister to those who are heirs of salvation. He is placed in this sphere so that Satan may operate and even physically destroy his life. This is the sin unto death which only a believer can commit.

II. Jesus Christ Causes Death

Death has been completely changed for the believer, not only because Jesus Christ conquered death, but because now, in the life of the believer, Jesus Christ is the cause of death. You may ask: “How can this be such a wonderful truth?” First let us see that it is true in Scripture, and then contemplate why it is so very precious.

This truth that the Lord Jesus is responsible for the death of believers is verified not only by His having the keys of death but also by what we read in 1 Thessalonians 4:14. We read in verse 13 that we are not to sorrow for those who have fallen asleep in Christ as others do which have no hope, “for if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.” The phrase that is so important is “sleep in Jesus.”

The Revised Version margin reads: “through Jesus” and does so because this is the literal rendering of the phrase in the Greek. Paul knew the preposition for “in” and he could have certainly used it here if that was what he intended, but he did not. He plainly said these who are believers “sleep through Jesus.” This signifies causative action. Jesus is the one responsible that they fell asleep before He returned. He is, moreover, not just indirectly responsible, but directly responsible for their death.

This is the way all of the early Greek writers understood the phrase, and they certainly knew their language. Later in church history men wanted to find some other way of rendering this Greek construction, because to understand it as “through Jesus” made Jesus Christ responsible for the believer’s death. Yet it is a parallelism: “God will bring with Him—those who have fallen asleep through Jesus.”

What men have failed to realize is that if Jesus Christ is not responsible for the believer’s death, then there is only one other who can be, and that is the devil himself. While the devil was responsible for causing death at one time, this is no longer so for the Lord’s child. By the authority of the Word of God, any believer who dies, regardless of how he dies, dies because “Jesus” took him home to be with Him.

This precious truth should give us a whole new understanding of death for the child of God. Satan is not responsible for the death of believers. Fate is not the cause for a person dying. “Jesus” is.

The very fact that Paul here uses the human name for the second person of the Trinity, Jesus, is significant. “Jesus” is used by itself very sparingly in the epistles, and I feel it should also be used, accordingly, very sparingly in our speech. Paul uses it only a total of twelve times; seven times it is used in Hebrews; and six times in the book of Revelation, making a grand total of twenty-five times in all the Word of God.

“Jesus” is the Lord’s human name. It signifies the Lord as one who can “be touched with the feelings of our infirmities.” Here is the one who wept over the death of someone He loved dearly. He knows what we experience because He also experienced the same. We are not to sorrow as others who have no hope, but we still do sorrow—and He knows and cares.

The sting of death will someday be completely removed. If someone tells you that the believer should have complete victory over the death of a loved one because it no longer bears any sting, he is out of touch with reality, and also he does not know the Scriptures. The Word says the sting is removed only when death is swallowed up in victory through resurrection of the dead (1 Cor. 15:54). Then we at that time will be able to say: “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” (15:55). Until that time death has a sting and the grave is victorious for a season.

We still sorrow, and we should. God does not want us to repress that sorrow. But we should not sorrow for believers as others who have no hope.

III. Jesus Christ Consecrated Death

This brings us to our third consideration. Jesus Christ has changed the entire content of death. Even though it is still appointed unto men once to die, yet death is no longer the same thing for believers. The Lord changed its nature by His resurrection and ascension.

He said, “Because I live, ye shall live also” (John 14:19). The Lord stands as the firstfruits of the coming harvest of resurrection (1 Cor. 15:23). Jesus Christ’s resurrection is the guarantee of our resurrection. Furthermore, it is the guarantee of our acceptance before the Father for all eternity. Jesus Christ “was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification” (Rom. 4:25). The Lord, through suffering and death, is doing a work of “bringing many sons unto glory” (Heb. 2:10). He is the Captain of our salvation; He is our forerunner, and the guarantee that someday we will also be bodily in the presence of the Father just as Jesus Christ Himself is now (Heb. 6:19-20).

Not only did Christ change death for the Old Testament believers by leading captivity captive to heaven when He ascended, but He has changed death for all believers today who die. We need never fear death as an experience. Paul was one who was caught up into paradise to the very throne of God (2 Cor. 12:2, 4). There he “heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter” (12:4b). After this Paul faced death at Rome and he actually preferred death if this was the Lord’s will. For him death was to gain, not lose (Phil. 1:21). His own personal desire was “to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better” (1:23). To remain behind was what was hard.

Now the only way that there could be blessing in death for Paul and for any believer was that the soul went immediately to be with the Lord. New Testament Scriptures speak about a person who is a believer and has died as sleeping, but it is never the soul that sleeps. Sleep is only used of the body. The analogy is that just as the body sleeps, it pictures but a temporary situation. Soon there will be an awakening, and the mind and body will again function as one. This is a picture of the believer whose body sleeps but his soul is with the Lord. Later the Lord unites both together at the rapture, and the believer will be body, soul and spirit before the Lord.

13 “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve, as do the rest who have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. 15 For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, and remain until the coming of the Lord, shall not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and thus we shall always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore comfort one another with these words” (1 Thess. 4:13-18).

“Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess. 5:23).

The Son prayed to the Father in John 17, “Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me …” (v. 24). This has been answered in part, and today the souls of all the righteous are with the Lord. Moreover, whenever a believer dies now, he goes immediately to be with the Lord. Paul said,

“Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord—for we walk by faith, not by sight—we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:6-8).

Paul was confident about this; it was a settled issue for him and he knew for all believers at Corinth. For all believers he says, we are well pleased, we take pleasure in rather our being away from home out of the body and to be at home with the Lord.


Our Savior Jesus Christ has “abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Tim. 1:10). He has destroyed death. Jesus Christ’s resurrection was the death of death. “How is this possible,” you say, “when men still die?” Here is how.

When Adam sinned in the garden, spiritual death was immediate. Physical death came later as a consequence of that act. Just so when Christ died on the cross, the provision for eternal life was immediately available. Physical life or resurrection life followed later in God’s program as a result.

John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish [should never experience eternal death], but have everlasting life.” When I believed, I had at that moment everlasting life. Everlasting life does not begin at my death, but when I received Jesus Christ.

“He came to his own home, and his own people received him not. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God; who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:11-13).

Death at that moment was abolished. I will never be separated from God the Father, God the Son, or God the Holy Spirit. Even though I may go through a state of physical death, there is no separation from the Lord.

“For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38-39).

Where there is no separation from the Lord, there is no spiritual death. I have life, then, and immortality right now through believing the gospel concerning Jesus Christ, and someday I will have also incorruption.

“… in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable nature must put on the imperishable, and this mortal nature must put on immortality” (1 Cor. 15:52-53).

The believer, then, may die physically, but there is no spiritual death. The believer is at no time separated from the Lord, even at the instance of physical death. The person who suffers at the time of death is never the believer who dies, for he goes immediately to be with the Lord. Those who suffer are the ones who are left behind. As the Lord has dealt with spiritual death and abolished it by offering life and immortality to all who will believe the gospel, so the Lord will someday abolish physical death. It is, however, the last enemy that shall be destroyed (1 Cor. 15:26).

After this comes eternal death which is called in Scripture, the second death. We have seen that God has a remedy for spiritual death. It is to believe the gospel concerning Jesus Christ. We have seen that God has a remedy for physical death. It is resurrection by Jesus Christ that will take place in God’s future program. Now what is the remedy for the second death? When and how is it destroyed?

Beloved, it is not destroyed—ever. There is no remedy for eternal death once it is entered into. There is no escape from this torment that was prepared for the devil and his angels (Matt. 25:41; 2 Thess. 1:9; Heb. 6:2; Rev. 14:10-11; 20:10; Isa. 66:24). It is everlasting, never-ending punishment which was never meant for man, but which he receives when he fails to flee to the only person in all the world who can save a sinner from destruction. Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world. If He is rejected, there is no other (cf. Acts 4:12).

Jesus Christ, through His death, has provided escape from eternal death, but once eternal death is entered, there is no escape. It is a place where “the worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.” It is spoken of as a place of “everlasting contempt” (Dan. 12:2), and stands in contrast to “everlasting life.” As the one is eternal, so is the other.

Since there is no escape, this is why Paul wrote: “Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2). There is no salvation, no escape, in that day. Our Lord said: “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: But strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it” (Matt. 7:13-14).

The broad way ends in “destruction.” The narrow way ends in “life.” Each man chooses which way he will go—the way of the Lord or the way of the multitude. The one starts out broad, but it ends at a point—destruction.

The other starts out narrow—Christ is the only way unto the Father (John 14:6)—but it ends in life.

What way are you going?

Death and the Ministry of the Holy Spirit:
“Dying Grace and the Believer”

Dwight L. Moody was once asked if he had dying grace. His reply was “No, I don’t. The Lord has not called me to die. When He does, He will give me dying grace.” His point was this: the Lord does not give grace until we need it. When He calls upon us to go through an experience, He then gives us grace equal for the occasion.

A few hours before D. L. Moody’s home-going, he awakened from sleep and said: “Earth recedes, Heaven opens before me. If this is death, it is sweet! There is no valley here. God is calling me, and I must go!”

His son who was standing by his bedside said: “No, no, father, you are dreaming.”

“No!” said Mr. Moody, “I am not dreaming: I have been within the gates: I have seen the children’s faces.” A short time elapsed and then, following what seemed to the family to be the death struggle he spoke again: “This is my triumph; this my coronation day! It is glorious!”

Dying grace is a term or expression that we use to express what happens just before a believer dies. It may be a longer or a shorter period of time, but it refers to that peace and elation which is experienced just before death. It may be something experienced when the person himself knows nothing about his home-going, but the Lord did. It may be when death is certain, as in the case of dying with cancer, that dying grace is extended to the believer over a long period of time. Even though there may be great pain and suffering, yet in the midst God gives rest and peace. Thus the believer is enabled to have a wonderful testimony and perhaps the most productive period of witnessing of God’s power in all his life.

In this lesson we want to look at this dying grace, and see what is involved.

I. Dying Grace: The Ministry of the Holy Spirit

We who are saved so often take all of the blessings we receive from the Lord for granted. This is very unfortunate and inconsiderate.

David said:

“Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits” (Ps. 103:2).

“Many, O Lord my God, are thy wonderful works which thou hast done, and thy thoughts which are to usward; they cannot be reckoned up in order unto thee: if I would declare and speak of them, they are more than can be numbered” (Ps. 40:5).

“How precious also are thy thoughts unto me, O God! How great is the sum of them! If I should count them, they are more in number than the sand” (Ps. 139:17-18).

Here is just one of those great blessings: when we die, we receive from the Lord dying grace.

In order to see what dying grace is, we need to begin at the beginning. When we trusted the Lord Jesus Christ as our personal Savior, we were given eternal life. It is God’s gift to all those who believe on His Son (John 3:14-16; 1 John 5:11-12). God’s word says: “Whosoever believeth in him [His Son] should not perish, but have eternal life.” We are part of the whosoevers. We have believed; we cannot perish; we have eternal life.

What is so wonderful is that we are not promised eternal life at some future date, but we have it right now in time. It is not a case that we may not make it; it is a situation where we already have it. Moreover it is impossible to have eternal life and then suddenly not have it. If such could happen then we never had eternal life, because you cannot have life that never ends and then suddenly have it end. This is a contradiction. It is an impossibility. But God says we who are the “whosoevers” have it.

Because every believer has eternal life, and has it in time in a human body, he has life that never ends. There is a sense, then, where the believer will never die. In fact the Lord Himself said: “Whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die” (John 11:26). How is this possible?

Death in Scripture speaks of separation. But the believer will never be separated from the Lord. Therefore the believer will never die.

No one ever died in the presence of the Lord Jesus because He is the Lord of life. No one could die in His presence. His very presence is life (cf. 1 John 5:11-12). Thus the believer may change his abode from earth to heaven, but he will never die because he will never be separated from Him. Paul said: “I stand persuaded that death shall [not] be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:39).

As we have seen, to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:6-8). Since we live with Him here and go on living with Him there, we never die. We are continually in His presence.

Now it is the work of the Holy Spirit to take the Word of God and lead the believer into its full blessings. It is the Spirit that “searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God … [and] we have received … the Spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God” (1 Cor. 2:12).

What the eye has never seen, what the ear has never heard, what has never been understood in the experiences of man, God reveals them to us through the Spirit (1 Cor. 2:9-10). This is very true at the time of death. As the believer approaches death, the Holy Spirit within shows him something of the glories of the other side. In seeing what is ahead, he desires to depart and be with Christ which is exceedingly the better thing. This is dying grace. It is the desire to go on living on the other side in the Lord’s presence.

Some may say: “Well, I am certainly not looking forward to dying this year.” This is good I am glad you are not. We have many things we want to do. We have families to raise, and work for the Lord that is unfinished. It is right that we have things to live for, and that we are not ready to leave. The point we need to remember is that we will not be given grace to die until and unless it is our time to depart and be with Christ.

Some of us may wish the Lord would come for us, or that He would call us home. We desire this not really because we love Him, or love His appearing, but we would just like to escape the pressures and trials here below. This is a most unfortunate state. It means that we have not been appropriating His grace for the situations we are in. God is able to make all grace abound both in life and in death. For some of us, we would much more appreciate the Lord giving us dying grace and taking us home, than what He is doing. His will for us is to appropriate living grace and be more than conquerors right here on earth in time. Whatever may be our need for grace, let us appropriate it.

II. Dying Grace: The Actual Experience

There is a great contrast that is seen between the death of a believer and the death of an unbeliever. This is something that is not seen so much today because of all of the modern drugs that are given people. So often today the individual who is dying is so drugged that the difference between the death of a person who is a believer, and the death of a person who is an unbeliever is not distinctly seen. But this was not true in previous generations.

I want to give you death-bed statements made by both unbelievers and believers. Remember in listening to these that “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh” (Matt. 12:34).

    A. Unbelievers

These receive no dying grace. They have no grace because they have spurned the grace of God which is found only in Jesus Christ (cf. Tit. 2:11). You will notice that sometimes these are just words and phrases, and not complete sentences.

Talleyrand Perigord: “I am suffering the pangs of the damned.”

Merabeau: “Give me laudanum that I may not think of eternity.”

Francis Newport: “Oh, that I was to lie upon the fire that never is quenched a thousand years, to purchase the favor of God and be reunited to Him again! But it is a fruitless wish. Millions of millions of years will bring me no nearer to the end of torments than one poor hour. Oh, eternity, eternity! Forever and forever! Oh, the insufferable pangs of hell!”

Thomas Hobbs (a skeptic): “If I had the whole world, I would give it to live one day. I shall be glad to find a hole to creep out of the world at. About to take a leap into the dark!”

Thomas Paine (a noted American infidel and author): “I would give worlds if I had them, that ‘The Age of Reason’ had never been published. O Lord, help me! Christ, help me! O God, what have I done to suffer so much? But there is no God! But if there should be, what will become of me hereafter? Stay with me, for God’s sake! Send even a child to stay with me, for it is hell to be alone. If ever the Devil had an agent, I have been that one.”

Francis Voltaire (the noted French infidel): He was one of the most fertile and talented writers and strove to retard and demolish Christianity. His cry in health concerning Christ was, “Curse the wretch!” He said once, “In twenty years, Christianity will be no more. My single hand shall destroy the edifice it took twelve apostles to rear.” Some years after his death, his very printing press was employed in printing New Testaments.

The Christian physician who attended Voltaire during the last illness, has left a testimony concerning the departure of this poor lost soul. He wrote to a friend as follows:

“When I compare the death of a righteous man, which is like the close of a beautiful day, with that of Voltaire, I see the difference between bright, serene weather and a black thunderstorm. It was my lot that this man should die under my hands. Often did I tell him the truth. ‘Yes, my friend,’ he would often say to me, ‘you are the only one who has given me good advice. Had I but followed it I would not be in the horrible condition in which I now am. I have swallowed nothing but smoke. I have intoxicated myself with the incense that turned my head. You can do nothing for me. Send me a mad doctor! Have compassion on me—I am mad!’”

The physician goes on to say:

“I cannot think of it without shuddering. As soon as he saw that all the means he had employed to increase his strength had just the opposite effect, death was constantly before his eyes. From this moment, madness took possession of his soul. He expired under the torments of the furies.”

At another time his doctor quoted Voltaire as saying:

“I am abandoned by God and man! I will give you half of what I am worth if you will give me six months’ life. Then I shall go to hell; and you will go with me. O Christ! O Jesus Christ!”

Charles IX: This cruel wretch, urged on by his inhumane mother, gave the order for the massacre of the Huguenots in which 15,000 souls were slaughtered in Paris alone, and 100,000 in other sections of France, for no other reason than that they owned Christ, and not the Pope, as their master. The guilty King died bathed in blood bursting from his own veins. To his physicians he said in his last hours: “Asleep or awake, I see the mangled forms of the Huguenots passing before me. They drip with blood. They point at their open wounds. Oh! that I had spared at least the little infants at the breast! What blood! I know not where I am. How will all this end? What shall I do? I am lost forever! I know it. Oh, I have done wrong. God pardon me!”

David Strauss: Outstanding representative of German rationalism, after spending years of his life trying to dispense with God: “My philosophy leaves me utterly forlorn! I feel like one caught in the merciless jaws of an automatic machine, not knowing at what time one of its great hammers may crush me!”

Sir Thomas Scott: “Until this moment I thought there was neither a God nor a hell. Now I know and feel that there are both, and I am doomed to perdition by the just judgment of the Almighty.”

M. P. Rich (an atheist): “I would rather lie on a stove and broil for a million years than go into eternity with eternal horrors that hang over my soul! I have given my immortality for gold; and its weight sinks me into an endless, hopeless, helpless hell.”

    B. Believers

Here is the contrast. Here are believers who have accepted the grace of God for salvation and have received all of the immediate benefits as well as all of the myriad of subsequent ones. “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32). God has given us all things, and one of His provisions to us is dying grace.

Jordan Antie: “The chariot has come, and I am ready to step in.”

Margaret Prior: “Eternity rolls up before me like a sea of glory.”

Martha McCrackin: “How bright the room! How full of angels!”

Dr. Cullen: “I wish I had the power of writing; I would describe how pleasant it is to die.”

B. S. Bangs: “The sun is setting: mine is rising. I go from this bed to a crown. Farewell.”

John Arthur Lyth: “Can this be death? Why, it is better than living! Tell them I die happy in Jesus.”

Trotter: “I am in perfect peace, resting alone on the blood of Christ. I find this amply sufficient with which to enter the presence of God.”

Mrs. Mary Frances: “Oh, that I could tell you what joy I possess! I am full of rapture. The Lord doth shine with such power upon my soul. He is come! He is come!”

Philip Heck: “How beautiful! The opening heavens around me shine!”

Sir David Brewster (inventor of the kaleidoscope): “I will see Jesus: I shall see Him as He is. I have had the light for many years. Oh, how bright it is! I feel so safe and satisfied!”

Charles Wesley (author of over 4,000 published hymns): “I shall be satisfied with Thy likeness. Satisfied!”

John Wesley: “The best of all, is, God is with us.”

Abbott: “Glory to God! I see heaven sweetly opened before me.”

Augustus Toplady (author of “Rock of Ages”): “The consolations of God to such an unworthy wretch are so abundant that He leaves me nothing to pray for but a continuance of them. I enjoy heaven already in my soul.”

John Quincy Adams: When John Quincy Adams was eighty years of age a friend said to him, “Well, how is John Quincy Adams?” “Thank you,” he said, “John Quincy Adams is quite well. But the house where he lives is becoming dilapidated. It is tottering. Time and the seasons have nearly destroyed it, and it is becoming quite uninhabitable. I shall have to move out soon. But John Quincy Adams is quite well, thank you.”

At death he said: “This is the last of earth. I am content.”

Mrs. Catharine Booth (wife of the general of the Salvation Army): “The waters are rising, but so am I. I am not going under, but over. Do not be concerned about dying; go on living well, the dying will be right.”

Elizabeth B. Browning: an English poetess who had said: “We want the touch of Christ’s hand upon our literature.” At death’s door, she said: “It is beautiful!”

John Bunyan (author of “Pilgrim’s Progress”): “Weep not for me, but for yourselves. I go to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will, through the mediation of His blessed Son, receive me, though a sinner, where I hope we shall meet to sing the new song, and remain everlastingly happy, world without end.”

John Calvin (the French Protestant Reformer at Geneva): “Thou, Lord, bruisest me, but I am abundantly satisfied, since it is from Thy hand.”

Adoniram Judson (American missionary to Burma). He wrote: “Come, Holy Spirit, Dove Divine,” and other hymns. He died at sea and his body was committed to the great deep. He said: “I go with the gladness of a boy bounding away from school. I feel so strong in Christ.”

A. J. Gordon: As he lay in the chamber in West Brookline Street, Boston, looked up and with one radiant burst of joy cried: “Victory! Victory!” and so he went home.

Dr. William Anderson (of Dallas, Texas): He seemed better though still very ill. His mother was sitting in the room with him. He gently called to her, “Come over here a minute.” As she approached his bed he said, “I want to tell you something. I am going to beat you to heaven.” And with a smile he shut his eyes and was gone.

Dr. Sewall (an old Methodist): When dying he shouted aloud the praises of God. His friends said, “Dr. Sewall, do not exert yourself; whisper, doctor, whisper.” “Let angels whisper,” said he, “but the soul cleansed from sin by the blood of Christ, a soul redeemed from death and hell, just on the threshold of eternal glory—oh, if I had a voice that would reach from pole to pole, I would proclaim it to all the world: Victory! Victory! through the blood of the Lamb!”

From Spurgeon’s sermons: A Welsh lady, when she lay dying, was visited by her minister. He said to her, “Sister, are you sinking?” She answered him not a word, but looked at him with incredulous eye. He repeated the question, “Sister, are you sinking?” She looked at him again, as if she could not believe he would ask such a question. At last, rising a little in her bed, she said, “Sinking! Sinking! Did you ever know a sinner to sink through a Rock? If I had been standing on the sand, I might sink; but, thank God, I am on the Rock of Ages, and there is no sinking there.”

Samuel Rutherford: When he was dying said: “I am in the happiest pass to which man ever came. Christ is mine, and I am His; and there is nothing now between me and resurrection, except—Paradise.”

A Moslem said: “What did you do to our daughter?” This Moslem woman’s child had died at sixteen years of age. “We did nothing,” answered the missionary. “Oh, yes, you did,” persisted the mother. “She died smiling. Our people do not die like that.” The girl had found Christ and believed on Him a few months before. Fear of death had gone. Hope, giving birth to joy, had replaced it.

Tom Roth was a member for a number of years of Reinhardt Bible Church in Dallas, Texas. My wife and I knew him and his family well. He died after an extended illness with cancer, having moved to Orange, California. The following letter was written by him three days before his death to Lowell Wendt, Pastor at Reinhardt.

Dear Brother Lowell:

Greetings in our Savior’s Name! Thank you for your fine letter received yesterday. Since I am not sure you have the most recent information concerning me, the gist of the matter is that the doctor concedes my condition very grave, and humanly speaking, he does not consider recovery possible. For that reason we have made arrangements for a funeral service to be held here at Orange Villa Bible Church with Dr. Feinberg and Dr. Bach as speakers. My main desire is that the service be a triumphant one, with hymns that will bring honor and praise to our wonderful Lord. We are asking the pastor to announce that no flowers be given, that those who would like to make a spiritual investment to the Lord donate money to the local building fund.

Therefore, we are asking any of our friends at Reinhardt who are like-minded, should give their money gift to the missionary program of Reinhardt Bible Church.

You will be notified as to my GLORY GRADUATION which seems to be immanent. See you up there one day!

Sincerely, your brother in Christ, Tom

What is heaven like? I do not know, and, furthermore, I do not care. The New Testament in speaking of the death of saints not once mentions the thought of their going to heaven. It only speaks of their going to be with a person. Where that person is, is incidental.

“Today shalt thou be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:13).

“Having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ” (Phil. 1:23).

“Absent from the body, present with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8).

“The time of my departure is at hand … There is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing” (2 Tim. 4:6, 8).

The reference here to those “that love His appearing” is not a reference in context to the Lord’s second coming, but to the believer being welcomed home by the Lord Jesus Christ at the time of death (cf. Acts 7:56).

Not one of us knows when we will be called upon to depart to be with Christ by death rather than by the rapture. It could be this year, yet “our times are in His hands.” It is our business to occupy until He comes. If He does call us to Himself, He will give us dying grace.

There may be someone reading this who is not ready to die. If you are not ready to die, you are not prepared to live. The Lord Jesus Christ came that men might have life and have it more abundantly (John 10:10). The grace of God is extended to you today in the person of Jesus Christ.

Related Topics: Hamartiology (Sin), Soteriology (Salvation), Resurrection

12. The Qualities of a Godly Mate


I once had a college professor who told of the most honest funeral sermon he had ever heard. The man who had died was a drunk, a failure as a father, and a miserable husband. Everyone listened intently to the words of the preacher, wondering what he could possibly say that was good about this drunkard. To their surprise, the preacher leaned over the pulpit and spoke directly to the widow. His message to her was clear and simple--“Don’t make the same mistake twice!”

Many of the marriages in the Bible are less than ideal. Sarah, Abraham’s wife, has always struck me as being cranky and bossy. Job’s wife offered little comfort in the midst of his trials. In fact, it might have been considered a blessing for her to have been taken in one of the disasters that wiped out his children and his flocks.

One of the most pathetic marriages in the Old Testament is that of Abigail and her husband Nabal, described in 1 Samuel 25. She was wise and beautiful, while he was harsh and evil (1 Sam. 25:3). As his name indicated, he was a fool (25:25). I doubt that Abigail had much to say in the choice of this man as her husband. The tragedy of this marriage is turned around in the account recorded in 1 Samuel 25, however, for the Lord takes the life of Nabal and Abigail becomes David’s wife.

For the one unfortunate enough to have married a fool, Proverbs offers no promises of an easy life or a quick cure. The assumption throughout the book is that a person must live with his or her mistake in marriage. Divorce is never mentioned as the solution for a foolish decision concerning a mate. The picture painted of such a marriage is deliberately bleak.

One might think that the authors of Proverbs were somewhat cynical about marriage, having much more to say about its dangers than its delights. We must remember, however, that this book was written primarily to young men (“my son,” cf. 1:8; 2:1; 3:1) who had not yet married. One purpose of Proverbs is to urge young men to consider their life’s mate carefully, since the consequences of a wrong choice are both painful and permanent.

Marriage is the norm so far as Proverbs is concerned. The single life is nowhere presented as an alternative (such as Paul does in 1 Corinthians 7). Marriage is viewed as a divine institution, and it is God who gives a man a virtuous wife.

House and wealth are an inheritance from fathers, But a prudent wife is from the Lord (19:14).

A man’s choice of a life’s mate can be his making or his breaking. be either a delight or a disaster.

He who finds a wife finds a good thing, And obtains favor from the Lord (18:22).

It is better to live in a desert land, Than with a contentious and vexing woman (21:19).

A constant dripping on a day of steady rain And a contentious woman are alike; He who would restrain her restrains the wind, And grasps oil with his right hand (27:15-16).

The potential of a wife for good or evil is summed up in the words of this proverb:

An excellent wife is the crown of her husband, But she who shames him is as rottenness in his bones (12:4).

One purpose for dealing with the dangers of marriage is to warn those who would enter into marriage casually, without serious consideration of the consequences of their decision. When one enters into a marriage, he makes a vow, a vow which he is obligated to keep.

It is a snare for a man to say rashly, “It Is holy!” And after the vows to make inquiry (20:25).32

Most of us have already entered into the commitment of marriage. I would gladly marry my wife again, if I had it to do over. Many are not so fortunate. For those of us who are married, what does Proverbs have to teach us, since we have already made our choice? While we cannot retrace our steps, we can certainly strive to become the kind of mate which Proverbs holds before us as the biblical ideal.

Women may initially be distressed by the fact that Proverbs seems to emphasize the need for a young man to give thought to his choice of a wife, but gives no counsel to the woman about her choice of a godly husband. But this is to be expected of a king who is teaching his sons about the decisions they must make in the next few years of their life. We shall also see that Proverbs has much to teach young women about the kind of man they should marry. After all, if Proverbs is a book intended to teach young men how to become godly leaders, it has the fringe benefit of instructing young women about the kind of man to marry--a man who will become the godly leader of their home.

This study is intended to encourage those who have not yet married to make their choice carefully and on the basis of character. For those who are already married, we should not focus our attention on those areas in which our mate fails to measure up, but rather seek to better understand and apply what Proverbs teaches us about how to be a godly husband or wife.

The approach of this study will be to consider the various lines of evidence which give us a composite picture of the character of the godly mate. There are verses which deal directly with the husband and the wife. Some of them present positive character traits, while others are presented in contrast (e.g., the “contentious wife”).We also have indirect instruction to consider. For example, Proverbs has much to say about the characteristics of a good friend, as well as warning us concerning those with whom we should not associate. It is my intention to consider these in order, that we might better understand those qualities which we should seek in a mate (if we are not yet married) and as a mate (if we are already married). It must be remembered as we consider the character traits of a godly mate that godliness can only be found in a maturing believer. Although an unbeliever and an immature

Christian may exhibit some of these characteristics, in the final analysis he cannot be a godly individual and therefore the single person must avoid him or her as a life partner. May God guide us in this crucial study.

The Importance of Character Traits

In the Book of Genesis there is an interesting contrast between the selection of Rebekah as Isaac’s wife (chap. 24) and Jacob’s choice of Rachel, rather than Leah (chap. 29). Abraham sent his oldest and most trusted servant to select a wife for Isaac, within the guidelines he laid down (24:2-4). The test which the servant wisely devised (24:13-14) was one which revealed the character of the young woman--she would be a servant at heart, willing to give water to the stranger and his camels.

Jacob, on the other hand, chose a wife for himself. He was unwilling to marry Leah, the older daughter, even though that was the accepted custom in those days (29:26). Jacob favored Rachel over Leah, not because of her character, but because of her looks and her personality (29:17). Later developments seem to establish the fact that Leah was God’s preference while Rachel was Jacob’s. Leah outlived her younger sister, for example. Leah and her handmaid bore twice as many children as Rachel and her maiden. Leah bore Judah, the one through whom Messiah would come, and Levi, the leader of the priestly tribe. It was Leah who was buried in the cave of Machpelah, beside Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah (49:31), while Rachel was buried along the way to Bethlehem (35:19).

What Genesis teaches us in practice, Proverbs teaches us in principle--a man who would marry well will choose his life’s mate on the basis of her character, not on the basis of her looks or her personality.

Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, But a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised (31:30).

We shall now seek to discover the character traits of a godly mate.

The Character Traits of a Godly Wife

Proverbs is most specific with regard to the qualities of the godly wife. These are highlighted by contrasting the moral flaws of a woman who is far from virtuous.

1. A GODLY WIFE IS GODLY. Godliness begins with a proper relationship to God. A godly wife is, first and foremost, a woman who fears God.

Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, But a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised (31:30).

In contrast, the woman to avoid is the one who does not know or fear God. She is sometimes referred to as a “strange woman,” that is a foreigner, one who has no knowledge of the God of Israel (cf. 2:25; 5:3,20; 7:5). She is actively evil and has no grasp of the way of the Lord.

She does not ponder the path of life; Her ways are unstable, she does not know it (5:6).

To keep you from the evil woman, From the smooth tongue of the adulteress (6:24).

While perhaps not synonymous with a fear of God, the godly wife is referred to as virtuous or excellent (12:4; 31:10). This seems to describe the moral excellence of the godly wife, a result of her godliness.

2. A GODLY WIFE IS WISE. You will recall that wisdom is personified as a woman in the Book of Proverbs (cf. 1:20-33; 8:1-36; 9:1-6). So also the ideal wife is characterized as a woman of wisdom.

The wise woman builds her house, But the foolish tears it down with her own hands (14:1).

She opens her mouth in wisdom, And the teaching of kindness is on her tongue (31:26).

The opposite of the godly woman is the woman of folly.

The woman of folly is boisterous, She is naive, and knows nothing (9:13).

As a ring of gold in a swine’s snout, So is a beautiful woman who lacks discretion (11:22).

3. A GODLY WIFE HONORS HER HUSBAND. A man who has married a godly wife has a wife who will bring honor to him. She is truly a helper to her husband.

An excellent wife is the crown of her husband, But she who shames him is as rottenness in his bones (12:4).

The heart of her husband trusts in her, And he will have no lack, of gain. She does him good and not evil All the days of her life (31:11-12).

An ungodly wife humiliates and harasses her husband. She is not a helper but a hindrance to her mate. She is “as rottenness in his bones” (12:4). By her haranguing, she makes him miserable:

A foolish son is destruction to his father, And the contentions of a wife are a constant dripping (19:13).

4. A GODLY WIFE IS GRACIOUS. One reason honor is given the godly woman is that she is known for her graciousness.

A gracious woman attains honor, And violent men attain riches (11:16).

The ungodly woman is spoken of in very unbecoming terms. She is vexing, due to her contentious nature:

It is better to live in a corner of a roof, Than in a house shared with a contentious woman (21:9; cf. 25:24).

It is better to live in a desert land, Than with a contentious and vexing woman (21:19).

5. A GODLY WIFE IS FAITHFUL TO HER HUSBAND. This is most clearly shown by contrast with the woman of folly who is an adulteress.

To deliver you from the strange woman, From the adulteress who flatters with her words; That leaves the companion of her youth, And forgets the covenant of her God (2:16-17).

To keep you from the evil woman, From the smooth tongue of the adulteress (6:24).

“Come, let us drink our fill of love until morning; Let us delight ourselves with caresses For the man is not at home. . . ” (7:18-19).

While it is not stated explicitly, it is implied and assumed that a godly wife is one who maintains sexual purity. She is a woman who is virtuous or excellent (31:10), in whom her husband has complete trust (31:11). She does her husband only good and not evil (31:12).She teaches her son the virtues of sexual purity (31:3). Certainly she is a woman of sexual purity.

The Character Traits of a Good Friend

Some may not realize that the traits of a good friend relate to the character of one’s mate, but a little reflection shows why this must be so. The breaking of the marriage covenant is a sin against a companion, a close and intimate friend.

That leaves the companion of her youth, And forgets the covenant of her God (2:17).

The term rendered “companion” here is used elsewhere (cf. 16:28; 17:9; Ps. 55:13) for the closest of friends.33 If my mate is not a friend, what is she? And yet some have foolishly chosen to marry one who fails to qualify even as a friend. We will briefly summarize the qualities of a good friend, considering also the characteristics of those with whom we should avoid associating.

1. A GOOD FRIEND IS FAITHFUL. Fair weather friends are numerous, and Proverbs mentions these (cf. 14:20; 19:4,6,7). But a true friend is a person who is still there even when the going gets tough.

A friend loves at all times, And a brother is born for adversity (17:17).

A man of many friends comes to ruin, But there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother (18:24).

Do not forsake your own friend or your father’s friend, And do not go to your brother’s house in the day of your calamity; Better is a neighbor who is near than a brother far away (27:10).

2. A GOOD FRIEND REBUKES US WHEN NECESSARY. There are things which may need to be said to a friend that are not easy to say. I am disappointed by the sentimentalism that pervades our friendships so that we flatter our friends when we need to frankly rebuke them. A true friend is the one who is honest enough to tell us what we need to hear, rather than to flatter us.

A man who flatters his neighbor Is spreading a net for his steps (29:5).

Better is open rebuke Than love that is concealed. Faithful are the wounds of a friend, But deceitful are the kisses of an enemy (27:5-6).

Why is it, then, that we seem to think that a wife should never criticize her husband? Is it not better to be corrected by our closest friend than by an enemy? Sometimes the kindest thing a wife can do for her husband is to tell him that his idea is absolutely ridiculous--in a gracious way, of course.

3. A GOOD FRIEND IS THOUGHTFUL AND TACTFUL. A good friend is sensitive to our needs and speaks in such a way that we are encouraged and enriched. His sensitivity is demonstrated in his understanding that gaiety and goodwill is not always appropriate nor appreciated. “It matters not only ‘what’ we say, but ‘how,’ ‘when’ and ‘why’ we say it.”34

Like one who takes off a garment on a cold day, or like vinegar on soda, Is he who sings songs to a troubled heart (25:20).

He who blesses his friend with a loud voice early in the morning, It will be reckoned a curse to him (27:14).

4. A GOOD FRIEND SHARPENS US. Not only do we need to be criticized when necessary, but sometimes we need to be probed or stretched in our thinking. A good friend does not allow us to become intellectually stagnant, but prods us on to higher and greater thoughts.

Iron sharpens iron, So one man sharpens another (27:17).

A plan in the heart of a man is like deep water, But a man of understanding draws it out (20:5).

Isn’t this true to life? Don’t you seek to develop friendships with those who will challenge your thinking and present you with new avenues of thought? Why should one of these friends not be your mate?

5. A GOOD FRIEND OFFERS US WISE COUNSEL. Those whom we choose as friends should be marked by wisdom and thus have godly counsel to offer.

Oil and perfume make the heart glad, So a man’s counsel is sweet to his friend (27:9).

Think back for a moment to the account of David, Nabal, and Abigail in 1 Samuel 25. David was angered because of the ungracious words of Nabal to his young men. He was determined to wipe out every male in the house of Nabal (25:13,34).Abigail quickly formulated a plan to appease David’s anger and then spoke words of wise counsel, pointing out how detrimental David’s actions would be to his future rule as king (25:28-31). David’s reply indicates his appreciation of the wisdom of her words:

Then David said to Abigail, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, who sent you this day to meet me, and blessed be your discernment, and blessed be you, who have kept me this day from bloodshed, and from avenging myself by my own hand” (1 Sam. 25:32-33).

I would simply point out that David was indeed wise to marry a woman who could offer such wise counsel. And we would do well to marry one who offers wise counsel as well. Why is it, then, that husbands seem to think that the biblical instruction concerning the submission of the wife to her husband precludes her offering him wise counsel, if offered tactfully and in a submissive spirit? Let us learn from David and Abigail.

While we should seek those with the above-mentioned qualities to be our friends, we must also shun those who have characteristics which would hinder our walk in wisdom. If we are not to associate with the following kinds of people, certainly we ought not to marry them either. Here are some character traits which would seem to disqualify a person as a partner in marriage:


He who walks with wise men will be wise, But the companion of fools will suffer harm (13:20).

Leave the presence of a fool, Or you will not discern words of knowledge (14:7).


Do not associate with a man given to anger; Or go with a hot-tempered man, Lest you learn his ways, And find a snare for yourself (22:24-25).


Do not be envious of evil men, Nor desire to be with them; For their minds devise violence, And their lips talk of trouble (24:1-2).

He who is a partner with a thief hates his own life; He hears the oath but tells nothing (29:24).


My son, fear the Lord and the king; Do not associate with those who are given to change; For their calamity will rise suddenly, And who knows the ruin that comes from both of them? (24:21-22)

There are some who are always out to change things--society, government, other people. It is not wrong to try to improve things, but the revolutionary is more bent on removing than improving. The revolutionary wants change for the sake of change, not change for the sake of improvement. Incidentally, some seem bent on finding a mate who needs improving--a sort of life-long project. Proverbs does not recommend it.


He who keeps the law is a discerning son, But he who is a companion of gluttons humiliates his father (28:7).

The Character Traits of a Godly Child

Some time ago I was arrested by the words of the Centurion in the Gospel of Matthew:

“For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to this one, “Go” and he goes, and to another, “Come” and he comes, and to my slave, “Do this” and he does it” (Matt. 8:9, emphasis mine).

Up until this time I had always understood the Centurion to say that he was a man of authority, not a man under it. Perhaps this is some kind of euphemism. But I believe that it is a biblical principle (and one that is evident in life) that no man is fit for authority who has not learned to be subject to it. After all, even our Lord learned obedience (Heb. 5:8).

I believe that Proverbs teaches us that we can tell much about the character of a person by observing his relationship to his parents. Note these passages:

A wise son accepts his father’s discipline, But a scoffer does not listen to rebuke (13:1).

A fool rejects his father’s discipline, But he who regards reproof is prudent (15:5).

A wise son makes a father glad, But a foolish man despises his mother (15:20).

A foolish son is a grief to his father, And bitterness to her who bore him (17:25).

He who assaults his father and drives his mother away Is a shameful and disgraceful son (19:26).

Listen to your father who begot you, And do not despise your mother when she is old (23:22).

The father of the righteous will greatly rejoice, And he who begets a wise son will be glad in him. Let your father and your mother be glad, And let her rejoice who gave birth to you (23:24-25).

There is a kind of man who curses his father, And does not bless his mother (30:11).

All of these passages point to the fact that a good son is a godly man, and a godly man makes a good husband. Any man who is not a good son will not be a good husband.

There is one more proverb which has to do with parents. Frankly, I find it troublesome, but it informs us that we must seek to learn something of the home life of our mate before we marry him--or her:

Under three things the earth quakes, And under four, it cannot bear up: Under a slave when he becomes king, And a fool when he is satisfied with food, Under an unloved woman when she gets a husband, And a maidservant when she supplants her mistress (30:21-23).

There is a common thread which runs through each of these four unbearable situations--one gets something which he is unaccustomed to and which he will find difficult to handle once he has it. A slave has only known authority over him, yet when he becomes king his authority is absolute. His temptation will be to abuse his newly acquired authority. A fool would normally know only poverty and deprivation. With a full stomach he will hardly know how to behave. Certainly much of his incentive will be lost. A maidservant who now has authority over her mistress will be inclined to get even by making life miserable for her former mistress. She who once felt abused and oppressed will give her mistress a taste of oppression. So too with an unloved woman. Since she has never known genuine love, she may very well presume upon it and by trying to drink this new cup to the full make her husband regret the day he vowed to be faithful in his love toward her.

I realize that some of you have come from homes in which there was little or no love. You may wonder if this proverb condemns you to a life of loneliness. I think not. Certainly God’s grace is sufficient for every need. But it should warn us that those who have not known love in their childhood years will have a tendency to abuse it in marriage. A mate who has not been loved by parents should not take this out on the marriage partner. And the one who marries a mate who has been unloved should be sensitive to the kind of problems such a childhood produces. The sins of the fathers (and mothers) are passed along, to later generations (Ex. 20:5).

Throughout the Book of Proverbs we have seen the teaching of the father and the mother, instructing and warning the child. Unfortunately, that is not the way every home operates. I am sure most of us are not entirely happy with the way we are raising our children. This means that we may learn a great deal about our mate by giving thought to the home environment in which he or she was raised. Proverbs implies that the influence of the home has a great deal to do with a child’s success in life as a partner in marriage. Here is a factor we cannot afford to overlook.

The Qualities of a Godly Husband

Initially it seemed that Proverbs had little to say to the woman who sought to discern the qualities of a godly husband. I have come to see that this is not at all the case. In general, we can say that a woman should seek a man who is wise. Since we have already studied the characteristics of the wise, we will only summarize them here. These seem especially applicable to marriage:

1. A wise husband is kind and compassionate (12:10).

2. A wise husband is honest (29:24).

3. A wise husband is hard-working (12:11; 27:23-27).

4. A wise husband is truthful (12:17,19).

5. A wise husband exercises self-control (12:15; 16:32).

6. A wise husband has a gentle tongue (12:18; 15:1-2,4).

7. A wise husband is generous (14:21; 28:27).

8. A wise husband is willing to be corrected (even by his wife) and listens to counsel (12:15; 15:12,31-32; 28:13; 29:1).

9. A wise husband is a man of integrity (19:1; 20:7).

10. A wise husband is faithful and reliable (17:17; 29:3; contrast 25:19; 31:3).

11. A wise husband is forgiving (19:11).

12. A wise husband is willing to admit he is wrong (28:13).

13. A wise husband is humble (15:25,33; 16:18-19; 18:12; 29:23).

14. A wise husband is not contentious, but a peacemaker (17:1; 18:1,19).

15. A wise husband has control of his temper (14:29; 16:32; 17:27; 29:11).

16. A wise husband is a man who avoids excesses (20:1; 23:20-21, 29-35; 31:3-9).

17. A wise husband has a concern for others, especially the poor and the oppressed (29:7).

18. A wise husband can keep a confidence (17:9; 26:20).

19. A wise husband fears God and is obedient to His Word (13:13; 14:26; 16:20; 28:25; 31:30).

20. A wise husband is not a jealous man (27:4).

21. A The wise husband has a positive outlook on life (15:15; 17:22; 18:14).

As I look at these characteristics of the wise I am reminded of the qualifications laid down by the apostle Paul for elders and deacons in 1 Timothy 3.I find a great similarity between the qualifications for church leaders and the characteristics of the wise in Proverbs. But should this come as a surprise? After all, isn’t Proverbs written to young men who will be leaders, instructing them about wisdom? In this sense 1 Timothy 3 only summarizes what Proverbs has taught in greater detail.


For prospective mates the implications of this message should be obvious. Your choice of a life’s partner should be made on the basis of character, not charm or outward beauty. In general, your mate should manifest the characteristics of one who is wise. More specifically, a godly husband or wife will not be the kind of person with whom Proverbs warns us not to associate, but will evidence the qualities of a good friend. Anyone who chooses to disregard the teaching of Proverbs on marriage will live to regret it.

I find it distressing to admit that much of the force of the warnings of Proverbs concerning marriage has been nullified by a fact of 20th century Christian life--divorce has become an acceptable alternative to an unhappy marriage, even among Christians. Even Christians do not tend to heed the warnings about a contentious mate because they believe that if their marriage does not work out they can simply walk away from their commitment and try again. That, to me, is a very sad commentary on contemporary Christianity.

Why is it that our teaching on marriage, divorce, and remarriage differs so greatly from that of our Lord? If you will recall, it was the Pharisees who asked Jesus if it was lawful for a man to divorce for any cause at all (Matt. 19:3). Our Lord’s answer to this question was to emphasize the rule, not the exception, and therefore the stress was on the permanence of the marriage union (19:4-9). The response of the disciples of our Lord is significant: “If the relationship of the man with his wife is like this, it is better not to marry” (19:10). Our Lord did not correct this conception, but confirmed it (19:11-12), and in so doing demonstrated His agreement with the teaching of the Book of Proverbs. Let us be careful to seek to preserve the purpose of God for marriage and not to promote the exceptions. In preserving the permanence of marriage we will once again be able to urge men and women to choose their mates carefully, and then to live in such a way as to keep their marriage vows.

There is also a lesson for us to learn from Proverbs about the matter of personality. I believe many Christians are more concerned about their personality than their character. Worse yet, I fear that some have tended to confuse or equate the two. Some women tend to think that the ideal husband and spiritual leader is the one with the “salesman-type” personality--he is outgoing, aggressive, and assertive. Some women who are married to men who have a less aggressive nature are tempted to look down on their husbands because they are not domineering enough.(They should talk to some of the women who have the assertive husbands.) Some men think that the ideal “submissive” wife is the woman who is shy and passive. In both cases, personality has been confused with character. God is not nearly as concerned with our personality as He is with our character. Aggressive men are not necessarily better leaders, and certainly they may not be more godly leaders, nor are passive women necessarily more submissive.

Let us learn that our character is far more important than our outward beauty or our personality. Is this not what Peter was teaching the women, who are often more sensitive to outward appearance?

And let not your adornment be external only--braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, and putting on dresses; but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God (1 Pet. 3:3-4).

In Proverbs we are told that charm (personality?) is deceitful and that beauty is vain (the NIV says “fleeting”).Our personality may be deceptive, for we may be both charming and spiritually carnal. And beauty is temporary, but character is eternal. Let us seek to be godly.

As parents, we need to teach our children to seek godly character, for themselves, and in those with whom they would associate. We must teach them, by word and deed, the permanence of the marriage commitment and the delights of marriage when both partners seek to honor God in their marriage. We need not look far for the many examples of failures in marriage and the disastrous consequences for all.

There are those reading this message who, for one reason or another, may never marry. There are reasons for this, some of which are commendable (cf. 1 Cor. 7). Let me simply say that the qualities of a good mate are also the qualities of a godly man or woman. Just as not all men will be a elders or deacons in the church, yet every Christian should strive to meet the qualifications which are laid down for those who would hold such offices (1 Tim. 3); so godly character is befitting every Christian. Let us seek it for ourselves, and encourage other believers to seek it also. And let us demonstrate to the lost that godliness and wisdom are worth the cost, and are available only to those who fear the Lord.

32 Cf. also Numbers 30:2; Psalm 15:4.

33 Derek Kidner, The Proverbs (Chicago: Inter-Varsity Press, 1964), pp. 49-50.

34 Ibid., p. 166.

Related Topics: Marriage

13. A Model For Marriage


Each year we witness the coronation of another Miss America. For millions of little girls and young ladies Miss America is a model woman. As Bert Parks used to sing, “There she is, Miss America, There she is, your ideal . . .” For many, then, the ideal woman is young, single, sexy, and sophisticated. The ideal woman of Proverbs 31 is quite different. She is married and we are not told her age or whether she is pretty. The most important quality of the ideal woman is that she is godly.

The woman of Proverbs 31 is truly remarkable. She does everything well. In fact, it seems to me that she does everything too well, so much so that she comes dangerously close to being a woman workaholic. I fear that a man who seeks to find a wife who measures up to the standard of Proverbs 31 will likely never marry. And those women who compare themselves with the woman of Proverbs 31 may be overcome with guilt and feelings of inadequacy. Lest this should happen, let me make a few observations which should help us in this study.

First, this description of the woman in Proverbs 31 is one that is carefully composed. It was not written by a husband who had forgotten it was Mother’s Day and hastily penned a few words of praise after picking up a dozen roses on a street corner. This piece of Hebrew poetry is an acrostic, a poem in which the first letter of each verse begins with the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Another acrostic, which is more evident in the English text, is Psalm 119, where all the lines of each section begins with the same letter of the Hebrew alphabet (aleph, beth, gimel, etc.). In either case, Proverbs 31 or Psalm 119, the passage is a literary masterpiece, very carefully constructed.

Second, the woman described is an ideal wife and is not necessarily intended as a goal for every woman. A model is to be imitated, but an ideal will never be reached. This means that the wife of Proverbs 31 is not necessarily a standard by which a man should measure his bride-to-be. Neither is this woman a pattern for every wife to strive to follow. She is a woman of godly character, and in this both men and women should seek to follow her example. But beyond this she is a woman of great ability. She is a wife, a mother, a businesswoman, an investor, a farmer, a manufacturer, and so on. I know of few women--or men for that matter--who can do all these things well, and I doubt that the author intended for us to try to succeed at all these various enterprises. We certainly should not feel guilty because we fail to do everything well which this woman did.

Third, this piece of poetry was not written primarily to women, but to men. This is not a poem written by a husband to his wife, but rather a poem about a godly woman written to men. While this passage does provide young men with guidance in the choice of a godly wife, its main purpose is to exhort married men to appreciate the worth of their wives and to give them the freedom to function in accordance with their gifts and talents and in keeping with their God-given role as a wife. This role, I believe, is much broader than most men are accustomed to accept.

What this means, then, is that this passage was written more to instruct men to become better husbands than it was to help women become better wives. Certainly we find an example for wives to follow here, but much more than this we find instruction for the man who would be a more godly husband. As we can now see, there is a lesson here for both husbands and wives. We will not only learn of the character of the godly wife, but also about the responsibility of the godly husband to enable his wife to reach her full potential as a wife. Hopefully none of us will be the same after we have carefully considered this exciting and challenging text.

The Character
Qualities of the Ideal Wife

When we considered the characteristics of a godly mate in a previous lesson, I chose not to dwell on the passage at hand. Since we have already given considerable thought to the character of the godly woman, let me simply review the qualities of the ideal wife which this passage teaches us:

1. THE IDEAL WIFE IS A GODLY WOMAN. This woman is praised, not for her charm or her beauty, but for her fear of God (v. 30).

2. THE IDEAL WIFE IS A WOMAN OF UNUSUAL CHARACTER. She is described in verse 10 as an “excellent” (NASB) wife. In the NIV she is said to be a “wife of noble character.” She is further described as being “clothed with strength and dignity” (v. 25, NIV).The implication of verse 10 is that a woman of her quality is rare. With women of this quality in such short supply, one must diligently search to find such a wife.

3. THE IDEAL WIFE IS A WOMAN WHO IS COMPLETELY TRUSTWORTHY. In verse 11 we are told that her husband has complete trust in his wife. Rather than being a detriment to her husband, she is his helper, bringing him nothing but good (v. 12).

4. THE IDEAL WIFE IS DILIGENT AND HARD-WORKING. This woman is no sluggard. Repeatedly she is described in terms of her diligence and strength. She works with her hands (v. 13).She rises early and retires late (vv. 15, 18). Unlike the sluggard (6:6-11), she prepares for the future (vv. 21, 25). In our society she would not sit around the house watching soap operas, for she has no idle time (v. 27).

5. THE IDEAL WIFE IS WISE. The virtuous woman speaks with wisdom (v. 26). Beyond this, she has a very practical wisdom, for she is able to make wise investments (vv. 16, 18).

6. THE IDEAL WIFE IS MARKED BY HER GENEROSITY. This woman has concern for the poor and the needy, giving of her income to minister to their needs (v. 20).

7. THE IDEAL WIFE IS GRACIOUS IN WHAT SHE SAYS. Notice in verse 26, that the teaching of this woman is called the “teaching of kindness.” I understand this to mean that she instructs in a gentle way, and that her teaching is encouraging and edifying.

These are some of the character qualities of the ideal wife. We have seen all of these before in Proverbs, for they should be the mark of everyone who is wise: man or woman; husband, wife, or single person; adult or child. The ideal wife is a woman of wisdom, a woman who fears God and who manifests godliness in her doings.

The Responsibilities of the Ideal Wife

Some women (and an even greater number of men) seem to think that the world of the wife is exceedingly small, restricted largely to dirty dishes and diapers. It is not too surprising that many wives have felt frustrated in their role as wife and mother. Is their ministry confined only to doing the housework? Is their world defined by the walls of their home? Proverbs 31 widens the horizon of what a godly wife and mother ought to be encouraged to do, if she is both able and willing. Let us consider some of the spheres of activity in which the ideal wife moves freely and confidently.


She looks for wool and flax, And works with her hands in delight. She is like merchant ships; She brings her food from afar (vv. 13-14).

We all know how much a family consumes. The ideal wife contributes to the family by purchasing the necessities of the family. She looks, I assume, for the highest quality at the lowest price. She does not buy her groceries on the spur of the moment at the Seven-Eleven store on the corner, but she searches out the finest of goods, going some distance, if necessary, to get both quality and economy.

2. THE IDEAL WIFE IS A MANAGER. She is a capable leader and administrator.

She rises also while it is still night, And gives food to her household, And portions (or, prescribed tasks, margin, NASB) to her maidens (v. 15).

She looks well to the ways of her household, And does not eat the bread of idleness (v. 27).

3. THE IDEAL WIFE IS A PROVIDER OF INCOME. There are numerous jokes about the wife who grabs for her husband’s wallet when payday comes around. The ideal wife may reach for her husband’s wallet, but it is to put something into it, not take something out. This woman contributes to the family finances.

She considers a field and buys it; From her earnings she plants a vineyard (v. 16).

She senses that her gain is good; Her lamp does not go out at night (v. 18).

I assume that it is at least partly out of the income of the woman of Proverbs 31 that her family’s needs are met. For example, she purchases material and provides her family with clothing that is both functional (warm, lasting) and tasteful, enhancing the appearance of the wearer.

She is not afraid of the snow for her household, For all her household are clothed with scarlet (v. 21).

There is some discussion about the word “scarlet” here.35 If this is indeed the term intended by the author, the emphasis would be on the expensiveness of the clothing. If it is a word which means something like “double,” the stress would be on the warmth of these clothes. I am inclined to think of the clothing she provides for her family as being both suitably elegant and functionally warm.

In addition to clothing her family, she also makes fine garments for herself. I believe this is not to indulge herself as much as it is to enhance the standing of her husband. Her attire should be appropriate for one whose family is prosperous and whose husband is influential in the community.

She makes coverings for herself; Her clothing is fine linen and purple (v. 22).

The NIV translates the first line of verse 22: “She makes coverings for her bed,” which is most likely,36 leaving the reference to her personal clothing to the second line of the verse.

4. THE IDEAL WIFE IS AN INVESTOR. Not only does this noble woman produce income to enhance the family finances, she also invests some of this money in order to gain additional income.

She considers a field and buys it; From her earnings she plants a vineyard (v. 16).

The traditional stereotype is that the “pretty little woman” has no brains for business. How could she possibly understand the stock market, or have a grasp of the pros and cons of buying gold or real estate? But this woman did make investments, and it is obvious that she did well at it.


She makes garments and sells them, And supplies belts to the tradesmen (v. 24).

While it may be that she herself makes all that she sells to the tradesmen, I am inclined to think that her business may have grown to the point where she utilized employees in this manufacturing venture. In this case, what may have begun as a small undertaking may have grown into a larger business, supervised by this incredible woman.

6. THE IDEAL WIFE IS A CHARITABLE PROVIDER. The income of the godly wife is used for a variety of purposes. Some is reinvested, much is spent in providing for family needs, but a generous portion is given to the poor.

She extends her hand to the poor; And stretches out her hands to the needy (v. 20).


She open her mouth in wisdom, And the teaching of kindness is on her tongue (v. 26).

Much, perhaps most, of the teaching of the ideal wife would be directed to her children. An example of this kind of teaching is found in the first 9 verses of chapter 31. Here the godly mother of King Lemuel (v. 1) instructs her son concerning those things which would hinder a godly reign. But the teaching of the ideal wife may very well have extended beyond her household, especially to other women in the community who could gain from her wisdom.37


Her husband is known in the gates, When he sits among the elders of the land (v. 23).

The Man Behind the Woman:
The Ideal Husband

To my knowledge very few people read Proverbs 31 in the light of what it teaches husbands. May I remind you that this passage, like the entire Book of Proverbs, is not addressed to women, but to men. The writer frequently says, “my son,” not “my daughter.” I would like to attempt to be consistent with the book when we come to this passage, by focusing my attention where I believe the author intended it to be--on the man.

There is no way that a woman who lived in ancient times would ever have had this kind of freedom and responsibility without support and encouragement from her husband. The character of the godly woman is to be attributed to the woman and to the grace of God in her life. But the freedom she had to function in so many different aspects of life must be attributed to her husband. Let me draw your attention to the kind of man this “ideal husband” had to be in order for his ideal wife to be what she was described to be.


An excellent wife, who can find? For her worth is far above jewels (v. 10).

These are not the words of a cynic or a skeptic. The writer is not saying, “A woman of character cannot be found,” but, “A woman of my wife’s character is seldom found.” Proverbs 31:10-31 begins and ends with praise for the rare qualities of the godly woman. We cannot expect to be the right kind of husband until we first come to appreciate the qualities of the wife God has given us.


The heart of her husband trusts in her, And he will have no lack of gain (v. 11).

A man may have complete confidence in the purity of his wife, and yet be doubtful about her ability to bring him gain. This verse is not referring to the husband’s confidence in the moral purity of his wife, but in her proficiency as a money-maker and business woman.38 Her husband could leave the matter of purchasing a piece of property in her hands without looking over her shoulder.

3. THE IDEAL HUSBAND EXPRESSES HIS FAITH IN HIS WIFE’S ABILITIES BY GIVING HER THE FREEDOM TO FUNCTION WITHOUT UNNECESSARY HINDRANCES. It is amazing to me how men can gripe about the myriad of governmental regulations which plague business and industry today, and then burden their wives with so many rules and guidelines that they find it almost impossible to do anything well. The faith of the ideal husband, as described in verse 11, is expressed in the freedom that is granted the wife to go about her business without constant supervision or needless restrictions. Faith is expressed in freedom. Incidentally, that is why the Christian life, the life of faith, is not one that is regulated by countless rules.


Her children rise up and bless her; Her husband also, and he praises her, saying: “Many daughters have done nobly, But you excel them all.” Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, But a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised. Give her the product of her hands, And let her works praise her in the gates (vv. 28-31).

Verse 31 instructs the husband to give his wife the praise she deserves. Her works are to praise her in the gates. Now who, I would ask, is at the city gates? It is, of course, her husband (v. 23). The godly husband is at the gates of the city, in large part, because of the godly wife who is behind him. It is there, in the gates of the city, in public, that the godly husband should praise his wife.


I want to begin this conclusion with a word of warning. I always dread the fact that some are going to hear only what they want to hear and thereby justify their sinful actions. I see several ways in which this passage can be abused, which I would like to warn you about in advance. The first is that a frustrated wife may misuse this text to justify her autonomous attitudes and actions. The woman who misuses this text will focus only on the freedom of the wife. She will feel justified in doing whatever she pleases without consulting her husband or caring what he thinks. The ideal wife of Proverbs 31 aggressively engaged in her activities because her husband granted her the freedom to do so, not because she willfully took these matters into her own hands in spite of her husband. This text does not command the wife to take on these responsibilities, nor does it commend the woman who would do so contrary to her husband’s will. This text urges husbands to give their wives more freedom, but it does not teach the wives to take it if it is not given them.

If the first warning has to do with the overly aggressive wife, the second warning concerns the passive husband, who would love for his wife to take care of his obligations for him. This kind of husband burdens his wife with all the tasks he does not want, so that he may go through life with hardly a care. I must admit being troubled by the fact that the husband seems to be sitting in the city gate, taking life easy, while his wife is working her fingers to the bone to keep the family going. I think many men would love for their wives to assume the entire burden of providing for the needs of the family so that they can lead or minister without any concern. I do not believe this is biblical. While the wife did help her husband in many ways, she did not do his job for him. I cannot conceive of the husband living a life of ease, philosophizing at the city gate, while his wife agonized over business decisions and the like.39 She was a helper to her husband, but she did not do his work for him. Let us not use this passage, men, to excuse our own laziness by delegating our work to our wives while we live the easy life.

The third warning is to those who are not married. This passage concerns the ideal wife, not necessarily the ideal woman. While marriage was certainly the norm in the days Proverbs was written, let me remind you of Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 7. There he urged single women to remain single, so that the efforts which are spent meeting the needs of a husband and family might be devoted entirely to the Lord. In my opinion, the single woman is as free to serve the Lord as the woman in Proverbs 31 is to serve her husband and family. In Paul’s mind (1 Cor. 7:34-35) she is even more free. Let single Christians learn of their freedom to serve God from Proverbs 31, without feeling that they are somehow second-class citizens in God’s kingdom because they are not married.

This passage in Proverbs has a message for every saint. For parents, it warns us that we are not providing our children with a realistic goal when we give them dolls which are perfectly shaped and have beautiful faces. We are subtly stressing charm, not character. We are often teaching them that they are to be fulfilled by seeking their own interests and forsaking those that have to do with family commitments or personal sacrifice. Let us continually seek to establish the qualities of the godly woman as the goal toward which our girls should strive. And let us teach our sons that this is the kind of woman who makes married life such a blessing.

Husbands, let us be open to some radical changes in our thinking about what an ideal husband is like. I know of many women who are frustrated in their role as wife and mother, largely because of the failure of their husbands to fulfill their role in the marriage. In many cases women rightly recognize that their husbands restrict them from fully utilizing their gifts and abilities. Often this is due to the husband’s being threatened by his wife’s competence. He is frightened by the thought that his wife can do some things better than he can, so he carefully fences off these areas, even though his wife desires to serve him in this particular task and would do a better job. If Proverbs 31 teaches us anything, it is that the ideal wife has much more freedom than most of us as husbands have been willing to grant. We need to do a great deal of thinking about our role as managers, for a good manager always utilizes the abilities of others to the fullest possible degree.

This text has overturned my thinking, for I have been forced to recognize that the wife, in her activities, does nearly everything her husband does. Those tasks which I have always considered to be masculine are not necessarily so. The ideal wife earned income and had a great deal of control over how it was utilized. She ventured freely into the business world and found great success. She served as a manager in the home.

The main difference between husbands and wives, as I now perceive it, is not that men do some things, while women do the rest (usually what the men don’t want to do anyway), but that wives do what they do under the authority of their husbands. If the wife is a manager, she manages under the authority of her husband. She has great freedom and authority, but it is always freedom within the confines of the authority of her husband, her head.

Is this not true in the spiritual life? While Christ is our head, we have been given a great deal of freedom and responsibility. Just as God does not direct us in all the particulars, but gives us principles to guide us, so the husband should exercise his headship over his wife. Our wives should feel no more stifled under our leadership than we do under the headship of Christ.

The second reason for the frustration of married women is that they are often doing many things well, but they receive little or no recognition for it. Their contribution to the home is not appreciated, and they feel unfulfilled. Proverbs makes it clear what we are to do about this--we are to publicly give praise to our wives for the things they do well. Let us not grow slack in this vital area. While our wife should not seek praise for herself, let us give it to her with gratitude and sincerity.

Having emphasized the freedom which was given to the ideal wife in Proverbs 31, let me also remind you that there are still limits. In the first place, it was the husband who exercised public leadership in the gates of the city (v. 23), not the wife. The role of the wife greatly enhanced the leadership of her husband, but she did not lead in the capacity of her husband. Second, the leadership of the wife was not described as her having authority in the area of Israel’s worship. Women, in the Old Testament, were not priests, nor were they given leadership over men in public worship. While we must be quick to stress the freedoms given the godly woman, we must also be honest about those areas reserved for men only, not because women were incapable of leading, but because of divine principles governing the roles of men and women in spiritual leadership.

Even though certain restrictions are prescribed for women, this does not mean that women can make no contribution. For example, it was the husband who ruled in the city gate. But in Proverbs 31:1-9 it is the godly mother who, in the training of her son who will be a leader, shapes the impact he will have. The mother who rocks the cradle does, as someone has said, shape the world. I believe this is the sense of what Paul was teaching in 1 Timothy 2:15. While the woman may not exercise public leadership in the church, she can raise godly children who may become godly leaders of the future.

Someone will no doubt wonder about the implications of this passage for the working wife. We should learn from our text that it is not wrong for a wife to earn money to contribute to the family’s income, nor is it wrong for her to be engaged in business ventures. I believe an important principle underlying this passage is that the efforts of the wife, in every instance, should contribute to the well-being of the family. Any employment the wife might have which is detrimental to the spiritual and moral well-being of the family, in my estimation, would be wrong. This principle applies as much to the husband as it does to the wife.

To say that it is categorically wrong for a wife to work would fly in the face of this text. And to say that the work this wife performed was solely done at home would also be stretching the text.40 To work only to provide materially for our children, but at the expense of their spiritual growth, would be contrary to biblical principles. The children of this godly woman, as well as her husband, were blessed by her activities. We know that she was noted for her gracious teaching (v. 26). What this woman did, she did as an act of obedience to God and as a sacrificial service to her family. She found her fulfillment in serving God and her family, not in seeking her own interests.

Let us all seek to serve God and others, giving of ourselves in the process, whether as a wife, or a husband, or a single saint. And let us do it all to the glory of God and by His grace.

35 “Scarlet: if this is the right translation, the point will be that it denotes high cost. She can afford the best, and by implication, the fully adequate. But the word has a plural ending, which is abnormal for ‘scarlet’; so that both form and sense arouse suspicion. The consonants allow the reading double (AVmg), i.e., double thickness, which is supported by Vulg. and LXX (the latter joining it to the next verse).” Derek Kidner, The Proverbs (Chicago: Inter-Varsity Press, 1964), p. 184.

36 The word “coverings” of Proverbs 31:22 is the same word found only in 7:16. There it is used of the bed of the adulterous woman. This tends to reinforce the translation of the NIV, over that of the NASB. It would seem to me that there is a very important lesson to be learned from verse 22. If the wise husband is urged to rejoice in the wife of his youth and be captivated by her love (Prov. 5:19), why should the wise wife not encourage her husband in this by making her bedroom as attractive as that of the harlot? Here, my friend, is an “extravagance” well worth the cost.

37 “Kindly instruction is lit. instruction of kindness (RV, law of kindness), instruction, to her children, servants, and friends, which springs from a kindly, friendly nature: though firm in her administration, as becomes a business woman, she is not domineering or harsh.” C. H. Toy, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Book of Proverbs (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1959), p. 547.

38 “. . . the reference is not to the husband’s affection, but to his confidence in his capacity as manager of household affairs.” Ibid., P. 543.

39 Toy seems to tend toward this when he writes, “The husband takes no part in the domestic administration--he is occupied with public affairs.” Ibid., P. 542.

40 Someone will surely wonder how the teaching of 1 Timothy 5:14 and Titus 2:5 relates to the question of the working wife. In 1 Timothy 5:14 Paul commands younger widows to marry, to have children, and to “manage their homes” (NIV). The rendering of the NASB, “keep house” is somewhat vague, leaving room for the idea that the wife should stay home and that housework is her primary duty. The KJV is in agreement with the NIV, rendering this expression, “guide the house.” The idea here is that the wife should devote herself to the task of managing the home. Housework is not the issue here, but home management. This is quite clearly the sense of the word oikodespoteo.

The second passage, Titus 2:5, is rendered “busy at home” (NIV), “keepers at home” (KJV), or “workers at home” (NASB). The difficulty with this passage is that some Greek texts differ as to the word which is used here. One possibility is oikourgos, a combination of oikos, house, and ergos, work. This term should likely be rendered “working at home.” The second option is the Greek word oikouros, meaning “staying at home.” In either case we must be careful to interpret this text in the light of the culture of that day, rather than our own. In those days, women did not work outside the home, unless their profession was prostitution. Notice that Paul warned the widows about being idle and going from house to house as a busybody (1 Tim. 5:13).Since women didn’t work outside the home in those days, the women were faced with the temptation of wasting time, going about the houses of other women, spreading gossip and doing little good. The command to “stay at home” or to “work at home” was given in this context. The solution to idle gossip was to stay at home and to devote oneself to the task of contributing to the family by managing the home well.

It seems to me that we must therefore be very careful about applying these two passages too quickly or too broadly to the subject of the working wife. While they may apply in principle, they cannot be taken out of context, as I once used them, and some continue to do.

Related Topics: Marriage, Men's Articles, Women

14. Wisdom and Child-Rearing (Part I)

Who is Responsible for a Child’s Character?


When my wife and I attended a baby shower several months ago we came across this statement in a scrapbook which almost perfectly reflects my feelings as I approach this topic:

“I once had no children and six theories on child-raising.
Now I have six children and no theories on child-raising.”

My wife and I have six children, one of whom is with the Lord. It is absolutely amazing how having five children softens the dogmatism with which I once spoke on the subject of child-training. My personal preference would be not to speak on this subject at all, for many years. Yet Proverbs has so much to say on the subject. Furthermore, many of you have young children and find this one of the most urgent concerns of your life.

Before we begin our study let me caution you that no one is ever completely objective about this matter, nor is anyone fully authoritative. Certainly children cannot be objective, for they are the recipients of the process of child-training. I have heard some very authoritative words on this subject from those who do not have children and who are not even married. While they can certainly share the Scriptures with us on this subject, they cannot speak out of their own experience; and wisdom in Proverbs is never an armchair acquaintance with the truth but a practical skill in applying it.

If you think I am implying that since I have five children I am thereby an authority on child-raising, let me be the first to correct you. If simply having many children made one an authority on child-training then anyone with a large family could be called on for expert advice. But, to tell the truth, all we might be able to speak about would be bearing children, not raising them. I want to confess to you at the outset that I do not know nearly all I should about child-raising, and a great deal of what I do know I am not practicing as I should.

Those whose children are grown are not always the most authoritative experts either. Those who have been fortunate enough to have their children all turn out well may be inclined to take too much credit for the results. There is not one parent who is able to take the credit for children who grow up to be godly, for that is the result of the grace of God. Any successes in our family life are in spite of many failures on the part of the parents.

Another problem is that there are godly parents whose children have been a disappointment and a heartache who may have something worth saying about child raising, but they are reluctant to speak and we are even more reluctant to hear from them. We want to hear from those who are successful, not from those who have tasted the bitter pill of bearing a foolish son or daughter. If this is your mentality, then you might as well stop reading now, for Solomon, the primary contributor to the Book of Proverbs, seems to have failed badly in raising his son Rehoboam to be a wise man (cf. I Kings 12).

The question I am raising is this: “Who is responsible for the character of our children?” I have already suggested that parents do not have as much control over the lives of their children as some teachers have taught. There are here, as in every other area of biblical doctrine, two extremes to which we can go. On the one hand, we may conclude that the spiritual life of a child is totally the responsibility of the parent. This is not only unbiblical, but tends to greatly distort the parenting process. On the other hand, we may go to the opposite extreme of fatalism, whereby we conclude that we have no responsibility for the spiritual life of our children. This leads to complacency and disaster. My desire is to approach the subject of the responsibility of parents and their children from the perspective of the Book of Proverbs, and the entire revelation of God in the Bible. I believe we will find that the truth lies between these two extremes, and that our study can relieve much guilt and frustration on the one hand, and yet inspire more diligence and prayer on the other. Let us look then at the question of responsibility in the rearing of our children. For what does God hold parents accountable?

Godly Parents May Raise
Children Who are Foolish and Shameful

While it is not what I want to hear, I am forced to concede that Proverbs teaches the painful possibility of raising a son or daughter who is foolish and shameful.

The proverbs of Solomon. A wise son makes a father glad, But a foolish son is a grief to his mother (10:1).

A wise son accepts his father’s discipline, But a scoffer does not listen to rebuke (13:1).

A wise son makes a father glad, But a foolish man despises, his mother (15:20).

A foolish son is a grief to his father, And bitterness to her who bore him (17:25).

He who robs his father or his mother, And says, “It is not a transgression,” Is the companion of a man who destroys (28:24).

There is a kind of man who curses his father, And does not bless his mother. There is a kind who is pure in his own eyes, Yet is not washed from his filthiness. There is a kind--oh how lofty are his eyes! And his eyelids are raised in arrogance (30:11-13).

Some might be willing to admit that some parents could raise a foolish child, but refuse to concede that a godly parent could do so. But I find it hard to see why an ungodly parent would be grieved at raising an ungodly son. When Peter spoke of Lot’s vexation at the sin of his city, he spoke of him as a righteous man, whose “righteous soul was vexed” (2 Peter 2:7-8). It is the righteous who are grieved by unrighteousness. Let us press on.

Solomon Versus Sigmund Freud
Determines the Character of a Child

We should begin by acknowledging that parental failure does have an adverse effect on both parent and child. In the words of Proverbs,

The rod and reproof give wisdom, But a child who gets his own way brings shame to his mother (29:15).

Yet having said this I must also point out that the emphasis of Proverbs is that it is not the parent who is ultimately responsible for the character of the child. The foolish child has chosen to pursue life along the path of folly. The penalty which the foolish son will bear is that which he deserves. In chapter 1 both father and mother have taught their son about the two paths of life, and have warned of the danger of joining wicked men in doing evil. Yet after this parental instruction, wisdom speaks concerning the fate of those who will nevertheless choose to walk in the way of the fool:

“They would not accept my counsel, They spurned all my reproof. So they shall eat of the fruit of their own way, And be satiated with their own devices. For the waywardness of the naive shall kill them, And the complacency of fools shall destroy them” (1:30-32).

The individual responsibility of the child for his choices in life is taught elsewhere in Proverbs:

If you are wise, you are wise for yourself, And if you scoff, you alone will bear it (9:12).

The foolishness of man subverts his way, And his heart rages against the Lord (19:3).

So we find in Proverbs that the foolishness of a man is not the fault of his parents, but the result of his own decision, the reflection of his own heart. While parents may suffer grief at the foolishness of a son, they are not said to suffer from guilt, for he alone must bear the consequences of his decision to walk in the way of folly.

Further evidence of the responsibility of the child for his character is found in the first nine chapters of Proverbs. While chapters 10-31 teach us about the characteristics of the wise, chapters 1-9 emphasize the choice which is necessary in order to enter the way of wisdom. If there is one word which summarizes the mood of these early chapters it is “appeal.” Both father and mother urge their son to heed their teaching, to seek wisdom as a thing of great value.

Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, And do not forsake your mother’s teaching; Indeed, they are a graceful wreath to your head, And ornaments about your neck (1:8-9).

My son, if you will receive my sayings, And treasure my commandments within you, Then you will discern the fear of the Lord, And discover the knowledge of God (2:1,5).

My son, do not forget my teaching, But let your heart keep my commandments (3:1).

Hear, O sons, the instruction of a father, And give attention that you may gain understanding (4:1).

Every appeal of these early chapters of Proverbs is based on the same premise: a father and mother can teach a child about wisdom and urge him to pursue it, but they cannot make the decision for him. Indeed, a child of wise and godly parents may choose to play the fool in spite of their diligent efforts to train him otherwise.

What of the Promise of Proverbs 22:6?

Wanting desperately to believe that parents who are diligent in training their children to be godly are guaranteed good results, many turn to Proverbs 22:6 for biblical support. While it is my personal preference to have such a guarantee, I do not believe the passage teaches any such thing. I should first say that no matter what interpretation we arrive at, Proverbs does not give us promises as much as maxims. For example, while diligence is essential for prosperity, diligence does not guarantee prosperity in Proverbs. Even if Proverbs taught that diligence in child training produced godly children (which we have seen is not necessarily so), it is no guarantee that the faithful efforts of godly parents always produce godly children.

In the estimation of many great Bible scholars, Proverbs 22:6 does not refer to moral instruction at all, but rather spells out a principle of education: Training suited to the student will not be wasted effort. The NASB renders this verse,

Train up a child in the way he should go, Even when he is old he will not depart from it. But the Hebrew text literally reads, Train up a child according to his way, And when he is old he will not depart from it.

Since I intend to deal with this passage more extensively in future lessons, let me simply point out several observations about this text which are relevant to our study.

1. THE IMPERATIVE IS “TRAIN UP,” WHICH SHOULD SERVE AS A CLUE TO THE EMPHASIS OF THE PASSAGE. Parents are commanded to train up their children. The emphasis here seems to fall on the need for child training, not the nature of it.


There are three things which are too wonderful for me, Four which I do not understand: The way of an eagle in the sky, The way of a serpent on a rock, The way of a ship in the middle of the sea, And the way of a man with a maid (30:18-19).

It is pressing this term very hard to render it “the way he should go.”

3. THE TERM “DEPART” IS NOT A TERM WHICH IS USED OF APOSTASY. In Proverbs it is most often employed with reference to departing from evil (cf. 3:7; 13:19; 16:17).

These and other factors incline many scholars to conclude that this passage does not promise godly children to parents who are faithful in raising them in a godly home. Speaking with reference to the view which we have rejected, Dr. Otto Zockler writes:

Yet although the third [view] presents the highest standard and has been generally adopted and used where little account is made of the original, it has the least support from the Hebrew idiom.41

With this Derek Kidner agrees:

The training prescribed is lit. “according to his (the child’s) way,” implying, it seems, respect for his individuality and vocation, though not for his self-will (see verse 5, or 14:12). But the stress is on parental opportunity and duty.42

Proverbs is thus consistent in teaching us that there is no guarantee that godly parents will have godly children, even though they may be completely faithful and diligent to their parental duties. Kidner comments:

Many are the reminders, however, that even the best training cannot instill wisdom, but only encourage the choice to seek it (e.g. 2:lff.). A son may be too opinionated to learn (13:1; cf. 17:21). A good home may produce an idler (10:5) or a profligate (29:3):he may be rebel enough to despise (15:20), mock (30:17) or curse (30:11; 20:20) his parents; heartless enough to run through their money (28:04), and even to turn a widowed mother out of doors (19:26).While there are parents who have only themselves to thank for their shame (29:15), it is ultimately the man himself who must bear his own blame, for it is his attitude to wisdom (29:3a; 2:2ff.) his consent given or withheld (1;10) in face of temptation which sets his course.43

Parental Responsibility
in the Old Testament

The teaching of Proverbs is consistent with that of the entire Old Testament. While parents are commanded to train up their children in the way of the Lord (cf. Deut. 6), they cannot determine the spiritual destiny of their children. As distressing as it may be, godly parents had ungodly offspring, and it was not necessarily a failure on the part of the parents.

Isaac bore Esau, a man who disdained spiritual things (cf. Heb. 12:16). Noah’s son Ham, having been spared from the destruction of the flood, fell under the curse of his father (Gen. 9:20-27). Manoah and his wife knew the shame of a son who had much power from God, but was foolish--Samson (cf. Judg. 13-16). Eli’s two sons were worthless, godless men (1 Sam. 2:12), but Eli was not held accountable for their unbelief, only his failure to restrain them (1 Sam. 3:12-14). Samuel’s sons were also wicked (1 Sam. 8:1-3). While I have always thought that Samuel failed in the same way as his predecessor Eli, the text nowhere attributes any blame to Samuel for the spiritual condition of his sons. This, of course, does not mean that he could not have failed; it only points out that the wickedness of his sons was viewed as their sin, not

Throughout the Old Testament I find that there is no one-to-one correlation between the spiritual condition of parents with that of their children. Godly parents can have wicked children. Wicked parents had godly children. The spirituality of the parents did not predetermine the spiritual condition of their children.

For example, recall the biblical record of the kings of Israel and Judah. Jehoshaphat walked righteously in the way of his father, Asa (1 Kings 22:41-44). Ahaziah, son of Ahab and Jezebel, followed in their wicked way (1 Kings 22:51-52). Asa, son of wicked Abijam, did not follow in his father’s way, but did what was right in the sight of God (1 Kings 15:9-15).Ahaz, son of Jotham, did not do right as his father had, but walked in the evil way, just as the kings of Israel (2 Kings 16:1-4).

That each individual is responsible for his own sins is seen in the Law, for no parent was to be punished for the sin of his son, nor was the son to be put to death for the sin of his father.

“Fathers shall not be put to death for their sons, nor shall sons be put to death for their fathers; everyone shall be put to death for his own sin” (Deut. 24:16).

It might appear that the sins of the fathers would inevitably become the sins of the sons from this Old Testament text:

“You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, and on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me” (Deut. 5:9).

The principle which is laid down here, however, is not that the sons are destined to commit the sins of their fathers, but that our children do suffer when we sin. The consequences of our sins are unfortunately born, in part, by our children.44 Both Daniel and Nehemiah, men who lived in the period of Israel’s captivity, acknowledged that the people of God had been cast out of the promised land because their fathers had rebelled against God (Neh. 9; Dan. 9).It was not just for the sins of the fathers that they suffered, however, but for their own sins as well, as both Nehemiah and Daniel reveal in their prayers (cf. also Isa. 65:7; Jer. 3:25). Thus Daniel could say, in truth, both “we have sinned” (Dan. 9:8) and “they have sinned” (Dan. 9:7-8).

The prophet Ezekiel corrected a serious misapplication of the principle of Deuteronomy 5:9:

Then the word of the Lord came to me saying, “What do you mean by using this proverb concerning the land of Israel saying, ‘The fathers eat the sour grapes, But the children’s teeth are set on edge’? As I live,” declares the Lord God, “you are surely not going to use this proverb in Israel any more. Behold, all souls are Mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is Mine. The soul who sins will die. But if a man is righteous, and practices justice and righteousness, . . . if he walks in My statutes and My ordinances so as to deal faithfully--he is righteous and will surely live,” declares the Lord God (Ezek. 18:1-5, 9).

The Israelites of old were pre-Freudian in their thinking. They believed that they were only being punished for the sins of their fathers. Because of this they had become fatalistic and complacent. What good was it to be righteous when they were going to be punished (for the sins of their fathers) anyway? Ezekiel taught the principle of individual responsibility: if a man is righteous, he will live, but if he sins, he will suffer the penalty. Man will either be rewarded or punished for his own actions, not those of his parents.

To avoid any misunderstanding of the principle of individual accountability Ezekiel gave some specific applications of his teaching. A righteous man may have a wicked son, for whose sins he is not accountable. Only the son is responsible for his sins (Ezek. 18:10-13). A wicked man may have a righteous son. The son will surely live, but the wicked father must die (vv. 14-18). The principle is clearly stated in verse 20:

‘The person who sins will die. The son will not bear the punishment for the father’s iniquity, nor will the father bear the punishment for the son’s iniquity; the righteousness of the righteous will be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked will be upon himself.”

Ezekiel carries this principle even further. If we are not rewarded or punished on the basis of the deeds of our parents in the past, neither are we bound or blessed by our deeds of the past. The one who has lived wickedly may repent and live righteously and be forgiven of his past deeds (vv. 21-23).So also the one who once lived righteously, but has turned to the way of evil cannot rest on his past righteousness, but will be punished for his present sins (v. 24). We are never given the option to use the past as an excuse for the present, either with regard to the deeds of our parents or regarding our own actions.

No truth is more clearly or consistently taught in the Old Testament than this: while the parent is responsible for his own conduct and character, he is not ultimately responsible for the character of his child.

Responsibility for Children
in the New Testament

The teaching of the New Testament is entirely consistent with that of the Old regarding the responsibility of the parents for the character of their children. Christian parents are responsible for the instruction and correction of their children.

And, fathers, do not provoke your children to anger; but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Eph. 6:4).

While parents should train their children in the ways of God, they cannot be held accountable for the decisions their children make concerning their relationships with the Lord. One evidence of this is what God requires of church leaders concerning their children. Certainly God’s standards for elders and deacons would not be lower than those for other Christians. In 1 Timothy 3, elders and deacons are to be evaluated in terms of their skill in managing their homes, as well as in keeping their children under control, but not for their salvation.

He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?) . . . Let deacons be husbands of only one wife, and good managers of their children and their own households (1 Tim. 3:4-5,12).

Some may wonder if Titus 1:6 does not contradict what I have just said, for it appears that this text requires that an elder’s children be saved.

Namely, if any man be above reproach, the husband of one wife, having children who believe, not accused of dissipation or rebellion.

Is this passage not quite clear? Does an elder not have to be evaluated by the spiritual condition of his children? Bengel thought so: “He who could not bring his children to faith, how shall he bring others? “45

The question must really be reversed though. Can any Christian be held condemned for his failure to lead a person to Christ, or be praised for having caused one’s conversion? The truth is that no one can cause another to be saved. While we are commanded to bear witness to our faith, we are not commanded to bring about the conversion of particular individuals. Would our Lord have satisfied Bengel’s requirements? Did He save all to whom He ministered? And what of Judas? Did Paul successfully convert everyone to whom he witnessed? Did all of Paul’s converts remain steadfast?

We cannot bring anyone to faith. Only God can give men faith and new life. We can only witness to the truth of the gospel and urge men to accept Christ. Whether it is our children, our parents, or our neighbors, we cannot be held responsible for the conversion of any. We are only responsible to live godly lives and to bear witness to our faith. Why then could any elder be judged by the faith of individual members of his family?

How then can we explain Titus 1:6? I believe the explanation is quite simple. First, we must ask how such an important requirement, if it is a requirement, could have been omitted in Paul’s epistle to Timothy. Second, we need only to look in a Greek lexicon to discover that the Greek word pistos is most often employed with the meaning “faithful” in the sense of inspiring our faith or confidence (cf. Titus 1:9, “the faithful word”). That is the way the translators of the King James version understood it, rendering the word “faithful.” Third, we should also recognize that the phrase following the word faithful is a further explanation of it. How are the “faithful children” of the elder to conduct themselves? They are not to be accused of dissipation or rebellion. I prefer the rendering of the NIV here, “not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient,” a qualification which agrees with that of 1 Timothy 3.


The implications of this lesson are far-reaching. Let me first speak to those who have not yet come to faith in Jesus Christ.

1. YOU CANNOT REST ON THE FAITH OF YOUR FATHERS. I know there is a song entitled, “Faith of Our Fathers,” but let us not fail to grasp its meaning for us. The faith of our fathers was a holy faith, but it is not our faith. The object of their faith and ours is the same--Jesus Christ, but their faith is not our faith until we personally come to accept Christ as the One who died in our place at Calvary, and whose righteousness is ours, resulting in the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. It doesn’t matter whether your father was a preacher, a missionary, or a church leader. The only way you will be saved is by your personal decision to trust in Christ. This is why the first nine chapters of Proverbs urge the child to walk in the way of wisdom.

As someone has well said, God has no grandchildren. Each generation must decide to trust in Christ or to reject Him. In the Old Testament God made a covenant with Abraham (Gen. 12:1-3), but He personally reaffirmed that promise with each new generation: with Isaac (26:24), with Jacob (28:13-15), and with his sons (cf. 49:lff.; Ex. 20:lff.; and all the Old Testament promises to Israel). Faith is an individual matter. You cannot inherit salvation from your fathers, for it is a gift from God to those who call on Him for salvation.

2. YOU DARE NOT BLAME YOUR PARENTS OR YOUR PAST FOR YOUR UNBELIEF. Many explain their decision to reject Christ in terms of the past: they knew too many hypocrites; their parents were too legalistic; their past is too sinful to forgive. None of these excuses will impress God. You will never experience the torments of Hell because of someone else’s sin, but only because of your personal rejection of God’s provision of salvation. And, lest you would somehow blame God, He does not delight in the condemnation of any. He delights to forgive men of their sins.

“Do I have any pleasure in the death of the wicked,” declares the Lord God, “rather than that he should turn from his ways and live?” (Ezek. 18:23)

3. YOU MUST DISTINGUISH BETWEEN THE EXPRESSIONS OF CHRISTIANITY AND ITS ESSENCE. The Israelites of old began to confuse their ceremonial observances of the law with genuine faith. So many men and women today think that they are saved by going to church, giving when the offering plate is passed, serving on a committee, or being baptized. While God does prescribe how we should conduct ourselves as Christians, it is not our conduct that saves us, but Christ. Too many of our young people have seemingly fallen from faith when they went off to college or left home, but the truth is that they only conformed to the family code, they never adopted it for themselves, nor did they see a personal relationship with Christ as the foundation of it all. Let us be very careful to distinguish between form and substance when it comes to our faith.

The primary principle which underlies this message is this: PARENTS ARE RESPONSIBLE TO BE GODLY AND TO TRAIN THEIR CHILDREN IN THE WAY OF GODLINESS, BUT THEY CANNOT MAKE THEIR CHILDREN GODLY. Let me mention several applications of this principle.

1. GODLY PARENTS WHO GRIEVE OVER THE OUTCOME OF THEIR CHILDREN CAN DO SO WITHOUT GUILT. If the Bible teaches us anything it certainly teaches that a godly parent may have children who are not godly. This means that the spirituality of the parent cannot be measured by the spiritual condition of the child. If your child has not chosen to follow in the way of the Lord, it is ultimately the responsibility of your child. You can not make a child be godly, only God can. You can be godly and yet raise a godless child. Don’t assume guilt for which you are not responsible.

If you are like me, you are very aware of your failures as a parent. No one I know of in the Bible or in my experience has been a model parent. We all have failed. If our children have chosen to follow God, we dare not take credit for the grace of God in their lives. And when we have failed we may find comfort here too, for God has provided forgiveness for our parental sins just as He has for all others. And we can find comfort that our failures at parenting will not be the reason our children are godless, just as our successes will not be the reason they are godly. For every sin there is forgiveness. Let us find comfort as parents that the unpardonable sin is not the sin of failing as a parent.

2. WHILE WE NEED NOT WALLOW IN GUILT OVER THE FAILURES OF OUR CHILDREN, WE DARE NOT BE COMPLACENT EITHER. Ezekiel found it necessary to rebuke the people of God for their complacency toward sin. They excused their own sinfulness by blaming it on their forefathers. We should not be complacent just because we cannot save our children. We are commanded by both the Old and New Testaments to train up our children in the knowledge of God (cf. Deut. 6:6-9,20-25; Eph. 6:4). While we will not have to give account for the failure of our children, we will have to answer for our own sins as parents. We may not be able to save our children, but we can teach them God’s Word, urge them to trust in Christ, and pray for their salvation.

The fact that we cannot save our children should in no way discourage diligence in following through with our parental responsibilities. Although God is sovereign in salvation, we are commanded to evangelize. While we cannot save our children, God can. We should fervently pray to Him, knowing that He does not desire any to perish (2 Peter 3:9; of. 1 Tim. 2:4). And let us be warned by these words of our Lord:

“And whoever causes one of these little ones who believe to stumble, it would be better for him if, with a heavy millstone hung around his neck, he had been cast into the sea” (Mark 9:42).

3. ASSUMING MORE RESPONSIBILITY THAN WE SHOULD FOR THE OUTCOME OF OUR CHILDREN CAN GREATLY HINDER THE PARENTING PROCESS. Assuming too much responsibility for our children can be as destructive as assuming too little. If we believe that parents are primarily responsible for the spiritual condition of their children, then we will also conclude that our spirituality as parents can be measured by the spirituality of our children. This is dangerous and devastating.

For example, let’s suppose that the father of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32) is an elder in your church. What would you have expected him to do when his son asked for his money, knowing what he would do with it? The father would not dare let his child fail, for it would be considered a failure of the father. And yet this father is not only a model for us to follow as parents, he is also a picture of God Himself as He deals with us.

You see, it was only by failing that this “prodigal son” came to himself. It was after wasting his money and having to live with the pigs that he came to see the folly of his way. Then he repented and returned to his father. Which son, do you think, was wiser and more godly--the son who never dishonored his father, but who had never come to understand grace (like the Scribes and Pharisees of our Lord’s day), or the son who sinned and repented? This is precisely the question which our Lord asked the hypocritical religious leaders of His day:

“But what do you think? A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, ‘Son, go work today in the vineyard.’ And he answered and said, ‘I will, sir’; and he did not go. And he came to the second and said the same thing. But he answered and said, ‘I will not’; yet he afterward regretted it and went. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The latter.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I say to you that the tax-gatherers and harlots will get into the kingdom of God before you” (Matt. 21:28-31).

It would seem to me that we are often too quick to judge the spirituality of children, when only time will tell. We seem to praise outward appearances of obedience and conformity, rather than to seek a spirit of obedience which may result in repentance, even after foolishness and sin. We need to give God time to work in the lives of our children, and to expect Him to work as much through their failures as He does through their obedience. After all, isn’t that how He works with us?

41 Otto Zockler, “The Proverbs of Solomon,” Commentary on the Holy Scriptures, by John Peter Lange (Grand Rapids: Zondervan [reprint], 1960), vol. V (of orig. vol. X of 0. T.), p. 192.

42 Derek Kidner, The Proverbs (Chicago: Inter-Varsity Press, 1964), p. 147.

43 Ibid, PP. 50-51.

44 Deuteronomy 5:9 teaches that our children do suffer consequences from the sins of their parents, but this is a far cry from saying that children will inevitably follow in the same sinful path of their parents. The child of an adulterer is not irreversibly destined to become a liar just because the father is an adulterer. The reverse of Deuteronomy 5:9 is also true. The child of righteous parents will experience blessing because of the parents righteousness: A righteous man who walks in his integrity--How blessed are his sons after him (Prov. 20:7).

45 Bengel, as cited by A. R. Fausset in his commentary on the epistle of Titus. Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset, and David Brown, A Commentary on the Old and New Testaments (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., [photolithoprinted] 1967), VI, P. 517.

Related Topics: Children, Christian Home, Fathers, Men's Articles, Mothers, Women

15. Wisdom and Child-Rearing (Part II)

The Nature of a Child


I have a friend who is now a surgeon in the South. After finishing medical school and residency he was assigned to an Air Force base in California in the Mojave Desert. There he took up a pastime I very much enjoy--riding a motorcycle. On one particular occasion he was riding alone in the desert and had an accident. As a result his leg was broken, along with some of the controls on his bike. He was unable, due to the combination of circumstances to use the brakes on the cycle, yet he had to ride back to the base for medical assistance. Since there were no stop signs in the desert, there was not much of a problem. Once on the base, however, my friend (who was not in uniform) encountered an M.P., who stopped him for running a stop sign. The sergeant, having pulled this “law-breaker” over, promptly began a lecture. My injured friend was not impressed, and was eager to get on to the hospital. He interrupted the officer politely, yet firmly, with words to this effect: “Now hold on there sergeant. Before you go on I think there are three things you ought to know. First, I am a major. Second, I am a doctor. And, third, I have a broken leg.” With this the sergeant responded promptly, “Yes, sir, major, let me help you to the hospital.”

Many of us have plunged into the parenting process with little or no preparation for it. Like the sergeant, our zeal has consequently been somewhat removed from knowledge. I would like to suggest that there are three things each of us as parents need to know in order to train up our children as we ought. There are certainly other truths we need to know as well, and you may choose to differ with me in certain particulars, but I believe the Book of Proverbs assumes these three truths when it teaches us how to go about the parenting of our children. Let us consider these three truths carefully.

A Child is Sinful

Beginning in the Book of Genesis and throughout the entire Bible it is taught that man is born a sinner. No child is born morally neutral. Every person enters the world as a child of Adam, with a sin nature that needs little time and no encouragement to manifest itself.

And the Lord smelled the soothing aroma; and the Lord said to Himself, “I will never again curse the ground on account of man, for the intent of man’s heart is evil from his youth; and I will never again destroy every living thing, as I have done (Gen. 8:21, emphasis mine).

Surely I have been a sinner from birth, Sinful from the time my mother conceived me (Ps. 51:5, NIV).

Even from birth the wicked go astray; From the womb they are wayward and speak lies (Ps. 58:3, NIV).

Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned (Rom. 5:12).

While Proverbs does not seek to prove the sinful state of children from birth, it certainly assumes this to be the case. A child who is allowed to go his own way will invariably choose folly over wisdom and bring shame to his parents.

The rod and reproof give wisdom, But a child who gets his own way [Lit., left to himself] brings shame to his mother (29:15).

Child training must therefore begin with the premise that a child who is left to himself will only become more proficient at sinning. The parenting process involves dealing with sin in the life of the child, endeavoring to turn the child from his natural course to the fear of the Lord and the way of wisdom.

In Proverbs, the appeal which is made to the child is one which assumes this sinful bent. The child is not only warned of certain evils which have not yet become a temptation, such as the adulterous woman (chapters 5-7), but is urged to turn from his evil way to the way of wisdom. The child is never assumed to be on the way of wisdom apart from a conscious decision to depart from evil and to choose the fear of the Lord.46

Put away from you a deceitful mouth, And put devious lips far from you. . . . Do not turn to the right nor to the left; Turn your foot from evil (4:24,27).

When wisdom cries out to the simple to turn from their ways, she indicates that there is more than a mere predisposition toward sin; there is a preference for it.

Wisdom shouts in the street, She lifts her voice in the square; At the head of the noisy streets she cries out; At the entrance of the gates in the city, she utters her sayings: “How long, 0 naive ones, will you love simplicity? And scoffers delight themselves in scoffing, And fools hate knowledge? Turn to my reproof, Behold, I will pour out my spirit on you; I will make my words known to you” (1:20-23).

Wisdom then goes on to say that those who experience the destruction which is at the end of the way of the wicked do so because of their own choice. They will get exactly what they deserve (1:31-32).

The problem with a child is not his environment, but within his own heart. It, like the hearts of all men (20:9), is evil. What a child needs is not merely correction, but conversion. A child must come to the point where he recognizes the sinfulness of his own heart, ceases to trust in himself, and submits himself to the fear of the Lord.

Watch over your heart with all diligence, For from it flow the springs of life (4:23).

And you say, “How I have hated instruction And my heart spurned reproof! And I have not listened to the voice of my teachers, Nor inclined my ear to my instructors” (5:12-13)

Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child (22:15).

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, And do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He will make your paths straight (3:5-6).

Children sometimes think they can get away with sin if no one sees them. Proverbs quickly dispels any hope of getting away with evil, for even when parents do not observe their sin, God does. He even searches their hearts.

The eyes of the Lord are in every place, Watching the evil and the good (15:3).

Death and Destruction lie open before the Lord-How much more the hearts of men! (15:11, NIV).

The lamp of the Lord searches the spirit of a man; It searches out his inmost being (20:27, NIV).

I never cease to be amazed at the excuses parents are inclined to make for their children when the real problem is just plain old-fashioned sin. Our children need to learn at an early age that sin has painful consequences and that God has provided a solution for the sinner--salvation in Jesus Christ. We cannot solve the problem of sin by education, for education alone only produces a more sophisticated sinner, a lesson I quickly learned by my teaching experience in a state prison. The number one problem of the child is the same problem common to all mankind--sin. The solution is to confess it and trust in the work of Christ for salvation. Let every one of us as parents be willing to deal with our children as sinners.

For the Lord gives wisdom; From His mouth come knowledge and understanding (2:6).

So that your trust may be in the Lord, I have taught you today, even you (22:19).

A Child is Simple

A recent newspaper contained a letter to Ann Landers in which a young man was seeking her counsel on an important matter. He wrote:

I am a 17-year-old male with a big problem. I quit high school last year and moved out of the house. I stayed away four months and decided to move back. I hold down a job and make good money. I have an offer to move into an apartment with a friend. I am really tempted, because I am not happy living with my parents--too much arguing. The problem: The friend is female. She’s like a sister. I swear there is nothing between us.47

I was relieved to read Ann’s advice not to live with this “friend,” but to seek living accommodations with a family or, better yet, to learn to live with his parents. Now at first reading I must admit that I did not really take this young man seriously. Surely he could not think that he could live with this girl in a sisterly way, could he? On further thought, I am convinced that he sincerely believed he could. This young man’s letter illustrates a truth which every parent must learn--that our children are not only sinful, they are also simple, naive, just like this young man.

Some of the characteristics of a child should not be thought of so much in terms of sinfulness as simpleness. While these two can sometimes be related (e.g., 1:22), they should not necessarily be equated. A child is naive largely due to inexperience, a condition which renders him vulnerable to the solicitations of evil men and women. Let us pause to consider some of the characteristics of children which might fall under the category of simpleness.

Simplicity in Proverbs is a naivet resulting primarily from a child’s lack of experience. The child who was fortunate enough to have been born into a godly Jewish home in ancient times thankfully knew little or nothing about the wickedness of evil men or the wiles of seductive women. Unfortunately for Americans, children who have grown up in front of the TV know of these matters from their infancy. Godly parents in Old Testament times knew that sooner or later their child would have to leave the protection of their home and sought to prepare him for that time. The child was given the earmarks of such undesirable companions. They described the kinds of people who would tempt the youth to do evil.

The woman of folly is boisterous, She is naive, and knows nothing. And she sits at the doorway of her house, On a seat by the high places of the city, Calling to those who pass by, Who are making their paths straight (9:13-15).

If they say, “Come with us, Let us lie in wait for blood, Let us ambush the innocent without cause; Let us swallow them alive like Sheol, Even whole, as those who go down to the pit; We shall find all kinds of precious wealth, We shall fill our houses with spoil” (1:11-13).

A worthless person, a wicked man, Is the one who walks with a false mouth, Who winks with his eyes, who signals with his feet, Who points with his fingers; Who with perversity in his heart devises evil continually, Who spreads strife (6:12-14).

I passed by the field of the sluggard, And by the vineyard of the man lacking sense; And behold, it was completely overgrown with thistles, Its surface was covered with nettles, And its stone wall was broken down (24:30-31).

Proverbs provides the inexperienced child with a description of the character of those who are undesirable, and who will only lead the youth into a course which ends in destruction and death.

In their naivet, children tend to look at the world through rose colored glasses. Because of the protection of their parents and their lack of experience with those who are wicked, they are inclined to think the best of everyone and to be open to those who would take advantage of them.

In many of our homes our children’s idealism is often equated with “imagination” and “creativity.” Consequently we feed this imagination by supplying our children with fairy tales, nearly all of which end “happily ever after.” Life is not like that, however, and so Proverbs deals with this unrealistic idealism by giving the child large doses of reality. The child is taught to see life as it is, rather than as he might wish it were. In the real world, which Proverbs seeks to prepare the child to face, a bribe often produces results (17:8), the poor are generally forsaken and oppressed (13:23; 14:20), and the rich are never without “friends” (19:4).

The simplicity of children is further seen in their failure to look beyond the present. A candy bar today is much more important than a college education in years to come. Those who are wise look to the future to determine the best course in the present (27:12). Much of Proverbs has to do with the pleasant or painful consequences of our actions. While the lips of an adulteress have their momentary appeal, the child is warned that her house leads to death (5:3-5).The man who commits adultery will eventually have to face the offended husband, a painful and unpleasant experience (6:32-34).

Since children are, by nature, inclined to think only in terms of the present, we as parents must learn a lesson from the Book of Proverbs and seek to point out to our children, in real-life experiences, the consequences of their decisions and actions.

Another symptom of the simplicity of children is their shallowness of thought. They are impressed, for example, with the fact that Johnny, next door, has a swimming pool, a color TV of his own, and never has to work because he is given a generous allowance by his parents. What our child is inclined to overlook is that Johnny’s father may never be home, that his parents often quarrel, and that Johnny is learning to be lazy and selfish. Proverbs frequently takes us beyond the surface in order to expose the truth which is not readily apparent.

One man pretends to be rich, yet has nothing; Another pretends to be poor, yet has great wealth (13:7, NIV).

The house of the righteous contains great treasure, But the income of the wicked brings them trouble (15:6, NIV).

Better is a little with the fear of the Lord, Than great great treasure and turmoil with it. Better is a dish of vegetables where love is, Than a fattened ox and hatred with it (15:16-17).

The first to present his case seems right, Till another comes forward and questions him (18:17, NIV).

A Child is Childish

We have attempted to distinguish between what is sinful and what is merely simple, between willfulness and weakness. In the preceding section I have restricted the characteristic of simplicity to the child’s thinking or perception. I now wish to broaden the scope to include other tendencies of a child which may best be summarized by the term “childish.”

1. TO BE CHILDISH IS TO BE IMPULSIVE. If those of us whoa re older are plagued with indecision, the child is the opposite. Decision making is no problem for the young. But, you see, that is the problem. A child is quick to act--too quick. This impulsiveness frequently leads to trouble. The simple young man, for example, makes an impulsive decision to give in to the wiles of the adulterous woman.

Suddenly he follows her, As an ox goes to the slaughter, Or as one in fetters to the discipline of a fool, Until an arrow pierces through his liver; As a bird hastens to the snare, So he does not know that it will cost him his life (7:22-23 ).

Proverbs teaches us to deal with impulsiveness by instructing the child about the danger of actions taken without sufficient thought.

A wise man is cautious and turns away from evil, But a fool is arrogant and careless (14:16) .

Also it is not good for a person to be without knowledge, And he who makes haste with his feet errs (19:2).

It is a snare for a man to say rashly, “It is holy!” And after the vows to make inquiry (20:25) .


A prudent man sees evil and hides himself, The naive proceed and pay the penalty (27:12) .

When I was attending seminary we lived right next to the seminary parking lot, with busy streets nearby. Some of the children in the yard would open the gate and run out into the parking lot or the street. Naturally, they had little awareness of the danger involved. Until they were old enough to appreciate this danger, a good spanking was necessary to underscore the painful consequences of running into the street.

Proverbs abounds with warnings about danger which a child would be inclined to overlook. Evil companions, the adulterous woman, becoming surety, and an uncontrolled temper are all described in terms of the dangers involved. While Proverbs carefully avoids a description of the sin, it describes in detail the consequences of the sin.

For her house sinks down to death, And her tracks lead to the dead; None who go to her return again, Nor do they reach the paths of life ( 2:18-19).

Lest strangers be filled with your strength, And your hard-earned goods go to the house of an alien; And you groan at your latter end, When your flesh and your body are consumed (5:10-11).

“A little sleep, a little slumber, A little folding of the hands to rest”-- And your poverty will come in like a vagabond, And your need like an armed man (6:10-11).

The one who commits adultery with a woman is lacking sense; He who would destroy himself does it. Wounds and disgrace he will find, And his reproach will not be blotted out (6:32-33).

3. TO BE CHILDISH IS TO BE SUSCEPTIBLE TO THE INFLUENCE AND LEADERSHIP OF OTHERS. Children are prone to follow almost anyone. In spite of parental warnings, children are often approached by strangers and led away. Part of this may be a confusion pertaining to the authority of adults over children. Obedient children may be hesitant to disobey an adult, even when that person is a stranger and his instruction is detrimental or dangerous. Proverbs assumes this gullibility.

The naive believes everything, But a prudent man considers his steps (14:15).

Wisdom necessitates warning the child of the dangers of associating with those who are evil, whether young or old.

He who walks with wise men will be wise, But the companion of fools will suffer harm (13:20).

Do not associate with a man given to anger; Or go with a hot-tempered man, Lest you learn his ways, And find a snare for yourself (22:24-25).

Do not be envious of evil men, Nor desire to be with them; For their minds devise violence, And their lips talk of trouble (24:1-2).

4. TO BE CHILDISH IS TO UNDISCIPLINED. By this I mean that a child has very little inclination to deny himself any pleasure. If you left it to the child, he would eat the entire container of ice cream rather than only one bowl of it. The child avoids pain and pursues pleasure. As a result, it is necessary for the parent to place restrictions on the child which he would not place on himself. Bedtime is established at a certain hour, knowing the child, if given the option, would watch TV all night long.

While parents must enforce external restraints on the child, they recognize that they cannot always do so. Eventually the child must be able to see the value of self-control and must deny himself momentary pleasures for the long-term benefits of self-denial. Consequently, a wise parent will teach a child about the benefits of self-control, and will allow him to make more decisions as he grows up, praising the good decisions and pointing out the painful consequences of the bad ones.

He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, And he who rules his spirit, than he who captures a city (16:32).

He who loves pleasure will become a poor man; He who loves wine and oil will not become rich (21:17).

There is precious treasure and oil in the dwelling of the wise, But a foolish man swallows it up (21:20).

Have you found honey? Eat only what you need, Lest you have it in excess and vomit it Let your foot rarely be in your neighbor’s house, Lest he become weary of you and hate you (25:16-17).

Like a city that is broken into and without walls Is a man who has no control over his spirit (25:28).

5. TO BE CHILDISH IS TO FAIL TO APPRECIATE THE BENEFITS OF PARENTAL DISCIPLINE. A child who delights to be punished by his parents is in need of help. We tend to think in terms of the child who has a knapsack tied to the end of a stick, leaving home after being disciplined. No one should desire pain or punishment. But when punishment is required, it should be accepted as that which is motivated by love and directed to a good end. The passages which teach the need for discipline are not just for the benefit of the parent, but for the child as well. Let the child learn that discipline is of God and is for his good.

My son, do not reject the discipline of the Lord, Or loathe His reproof, For whom the Lord loves He reproves, Even as a father, the son in whom he delights (3:11-12).

He who spares his rod hates his son, But he who loves him disciplines him diligently (13:24).

A fool rejects his father’s discipline, But he who regards reproof is prudent (15:5).

Stern discipline is for him who forsakes the way; He who hates reproof will die (15:10).

6. TO BE CHILDISH IS TO FAIL TO DISCERN VALUE. Suppose I were to offer a child ten shiny new pennies or two dimes, which would he choose? Naturally, he would take the ten pennies. The reason is because the child does not yet appreciate value. He concludes that having more pennies is better than having fewer dimes. A few trips to the store will greatly enhance his education.

Proverbs recognizes the weaknesses of children in rightly appraising the true value of many of life’s greatest treasures. Consequently, it frequently speaks of the value of wisdom, of righteousness, and of peace.

How much better it is to get wisdom than gold! And to get understanding is to be chosen above silver (16:16).

Riches do not profit in the day of wrath, But righteousness delivers from death (11:4).

Better is a little with the fear of the Lord, Than great treasure and turmoil with it Better is a dish of vegetables where love is, Than a fattened ox and hatred with it (15:16-17).


From our study of the nature of the child in the Book of Proverbs there are several principles which we should consider and seek to apply. Let me enumerate these principles and suggest some of their implications.

1. PROVERBS OFFERS PARENTS HOPE FOR THE OUTCOME OF THE CHILD-RAISING PROCESS. In our last lesson I attempted to demonstrate that parents cannot determine the destiny of their children, no matter how faithfully they carry out their task as parents. While it is true that parents do not have the last word in the lives of their children, Proverbs reminds us that they do have the first word. While there are no guarantees given that a godly home will always produce godly sons and daughters, there is the assurance that God’s method of producing a godly generation is through godly parents who train up their children according to the Scriptures.

I believe we find a parallel in the process of reaching the lost for Christ. While we have no assurance that those to whom we witness will come to faith in Christ, we are certain that God’s method of reaching the lost is through Christians who share their faith.

How then shall they call upon Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? (Rom. 10:14).

We should be faithful in bearing witness to our faith in Christ because we are commanded to evangelize. We should be diligent in the training of our children because God has commanded us to do so. In both cases, we must ultimately leave the results to God, recognizing that in each we are not required to be successful, only faithful. But in both instances we should also labor in hope, knowing that God answers prayer and is both willing and able to save and to bring about His purposes.

2. WHILE CHILDREN ARE FOOLISH, THEY ARE NOT FOOLS. I am greatly encouraged as a parent by the observation that never in Proverbs is a child called a fool. We read of the shame of a father who begets a fool for a son (17:21) and of a fool who rejects his father’s discipline (15:5), but in both these instances I believe the son has grown up to be a fool, and while he is still a son, he is not a child.

This is why there is no contradiction between those passages which instruct parents to teach and discipline their foolish children, but also discourage any instruction or correction of a fool. In 23:9 we read, “Do not speak in the hearing of a fool, for he will despise the wisdom of your words,” and yet in 22:6 parents are instructed to “train up” their children. In 27:22 we find, “Though you pound a fool in a mortar with a pestle along with crushed grain, yet his folly will not depart from him,” but a parent is commanded, “He who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him diligently” (13:24). A child is foolish by nature, but he only grows up to be a fool by virtue of time and conscious decisions. Let us be careful to deal with our children in the light of their foolishness and in order to encourage them not to grow up to be fools.

3. CHILDREN CAN HARDLY BE EITHER GODLY OR WISE. I am certain that this statement may cause some parents to raise their eyebrows, but it is, in many respects, the heart of this message. Just as Proverbs distinguishes between being a fool and being foolish, so it distinguishes between being a child and being godly. A child must choose to accept or reject the fear of the Lord. A child may choose to be on the path of wisdom; but no child can be wise in the sense of being mature and skillful in living, any more than a beginning piano student can be an accomplished musician. We can commend them for their decision to learn and for their diligence at their task, but we cannot command them to be accomplished or expect it to come to pass, other than over a period of time.

Think about this for a moment. Is it reasonable for a parent to expect a baby that is six months old and twenty pounds in weight to lift weights or to play professional football? Why then do we expect our children to be anything other than children? They can and should learn to be obedient to their parents, but they cannot manifest those marks of maturity which only come with time.

The possibility for error here is immense. There is tremendous status involved in having a child who is advanced beyond his or her age. We want to teach our babies to read, to teach advanced subjects in elementary school, to have our children go to school at an earlier age and to be functioning above their age and grade level expectations. That, to the parent, is status. I would like to suggest that while this tendency is dangerous in the educational realm, it is even more so in the spiritual realm. We dare not expect attitudes and conduct from our children that match or exceed our own. We must cease and desist from forcing our children to live according to the expectations others have for them or us. Children can grow up to be mature, godly, and wise. And they will do so as we give them the freedom to grow--not by imposing our restrictions, regulations, and rules.

In the Book of Galatians, the apostle Paul is dealing with the problem of legalism. Some Christians insisted that other believers live in accordance with the regulations of the Old Testament law as understood and practiced by the Jews of that day. Paul showed them the folly of this system by reminding them of the way children were raised in the Jewish home. The child was kept under strict supervision and regulation until he reached the age (I believe it was 12) of receiving the full rights of sonship. When that day arrived the child was regarded as a man and was given the full rights of adulthood (3:23-24; 4:1-7). Paul’s point was to show that Israel’s time under the Old Testament law was a time of immaturity; but after the cross of Christ and the coming of the Holy Spirit, men and women were now able to mature and grow in freedom, not under strict regulations and rules.

I do not wish to pursue Paul’s point in detail, but rather to draw your attention to his illustration and its application. Children, he said, were put under stricter rules and regulations, because they were children. But once they reached the point where they could (and should) become adults they were given freedom, freedom to choose, to fail, and to grow. We too as parents, must recognize that when our children are younger they need much more supervision. We must make most of their decisions and protect them from themselves. But as they grow they must be given the freedom essential to maturity. The purpose of Proverbs, to a very large extent, is to prepare the child for the freedom ahead. And when our children reach this point, we must let them go, let them make decisions, let them fail, and let them grow in wisdom and maturity.

4. IN PROVERBS IT IS NOT A SIN TO BE CHILDISH, ONLY TO STAY CHILDISH. The foolishness of a child must be consciously dealt with by the parent and laid aside by the child. To remain foolish is to become a fool. While we must learn to accept our children for what they are, we must not allow them to stay that way. The solution to childishness is maturity.

I find a remarkable parallel to this truth in the New Testament. Paul wrote:

When I was a child, I used to speak as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things (1 Cor. 13:11).

It was not wrong for Paul to be childish as a child. But maturity puts aside childish things. Have you noticed that the characteristics of children are the same problems with which we struggle as adults. If our children lack self-discipline, so do we (cf. 1 Cor. 9:24-10:13). If our children think only of the present and ignore the future, we often tend to do the same. That is why the Book of Hebrews was written. Those who are found in the “Hall of Faith” of chapter 11 are those who lived in the present in the light of the certainty of God’s promises--by faith. You and I, my friend, do not have the excuse which our children do. Why are we so often childish, foolish, and sinful? We need to grow up, to put away those things which are childish, and to mature.

This was the plight of the Christians in Corinth. It was not wrong for those who were newly saved to be immature (1 Cor. 3:1), but it was sinful for them to have stayed that way (1 Cor. 3:2-3). Those of us who have been saved for some time do not have the excuse our immature brothers and sisters have. Let us be careful not to expect them to act like us, and let us beware lest we act like them.

5. NOT ALL CHILDISH TRAITS ARE EVIL. I have focused on those traits of children which are either sinful or undesirable in adults. But this should not be taken too far. Children have been given to their parents (I believe) not only to be taught by them, but to teach them. Our Lord taught that we must become like little children to enter into the kingdom. We must have child-like faith.

“Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it at all” (Luke 18:17).

Many men and women are just too smart, too sophisticated to get to heaven. They are trusting in their abilities, their intelligence, their works. When a child trusts an adult, it is with no sense of his own power or sufficiency. It is a trust of utter dependence. That, my friend, is the kind of faith which God requires of you if you are to be saved. If you would enter into God’s heaven you must, in humble, child-like faith, acknowledge your sin, your inability to earn God’s approval or blessing, and trust only in what the Lord Jesus Christ has done for you on the cross of Calvary. There He died for your sins, bearing your punishment. There He offers to you the forgiveness of sins and the assurance of eternal life. Will you trust Him?

Let us, then, teach our children, as children. Let us seek to leave behind our own childish ways and grow up to maturity in Christ. And let us learn to depend on God alone, and not on ourselves.

46 There are instances in Proverbs where the vantage point is that of a child at a fork in the path, so to speak (cf. 1:10-33; 4:14-15). While the child is viewed as neither on the way of wisdom or the way of folly, nevertheless the parent’s urgent appeal is based on the fact that the heart of the child inclines him to choose the way of evil, not the way of wisdom. Also, in these cases, it seems to me that the child is viewed as on neither path because he has not yet encountered a particular evil, about which he must soon make a decision. It is not the innocence of the child which necessitates this perspective, then, but his inexperience.

47 The Dallas Morning News, Monday, September 20, 1982, Section C, p. 4.

Related Topics: Children, Christian Home, Fathers, Men's Articles, Mothers, Women

16. Wisdom and Child-Rearing (Part III)

Why the Rod is Righteous


From my vast experience I could easily write a book on the subject of corporal punishment. It would be entitled: Spankings I Remember. There is one particular incident from my youth that is still fresh in my mind’s eye. My father asked me to walk up to the county road and get the mail. I responded that I would be delighted to drive those 200 yards or so. After all, I reminded him, it was my old ‘36 Ford pickup that I would be driving. True enough, my father agreed, but it was his gas I would be consuming. I walked out the back door only to see that pickup sitting, unused. What a shame. Convinced that my dad was unreasonable, and hoping that tired engine would come to life before my father made it out of the house, I got in and started grinding away at the starter. The engine came to life about the same time my dad did. Well, it was too late, I reasoned; what was done was done. I might as well make a run for it, hoping the truck was quicker than dad--a futile thought.

Unfortunately for both dad and myself, I ran over his foot with a half-flat front tire. That certainly added to his zeal. With amazing agility dad grabbed hold of the truck; and since the truck had no door on the driver’s side, dad and I were eyeball to eyeball, me in the driver’s seat and him on the running board. Now I know that some Bible teachers make much of the rod, the instrument, by which discipline is administered, as well as carefully specifying the place it is to be applied. But there was a stick laying in the road which my dad was able to reach down and pick up, and I was still sitting on the spot where it would best be applied. The long and short of it was that one good blow brought me to my senses and that old truck to a halt. You may have guessed that I walked to bring in the mail.

As a commentary on my father’s use of the paddle, there is not one time I can recall about which I am not now able to smile. The only member of our family who had a continuing difference with my father about the paddle was Prince, the family’s collie. I believe that dog suffered as much during our sessions with the rod as we did.

No book of the Bible has as much to say about “the rod” as the Book of Proverbs. And few books written in recent years would agree with what Proverbs teaches. An article in the Journal of Psychology and Theology of several years ago probably expresses the viewpoint of most Americans. The author concluded that moderate spanking had minimal value, if any, and more frequent and severe spanking was definitely viewed as damaging to the child. Here are several of the reasons the author cited in support of his position:48

1. A child’s bottom is in close proximity to his sexual organs. Thus a spanking may result in sexual stimulation. (Sigmund Freud’s fingerprints are all over this objection).

2. The child may so enjoy the making up which follows a spanking that he will seek the spanking.

3. Since it is assumed that spanking is a form of parental revenge, it is feared that the child will learn to handle his frustrations like his parents do--by striking out. In the words of the article, when we spank our children we give them, “a taste of the jungle.”49

4. A woman once suffered from an anal fistula which she associated with spanking and toilet training. Therefore no one should spank their children for fear that this might be their experience.

5. The possibility of getting a spanking keeps the child from having a relaxed attitude toward life. He is always fearful of the spanking which might occur.

6. Some children who are spanked still misbehave. Therefore, spanking must not work.

I am not shocked to read these kinds of statements when they are written by non-Christians, by people who do not view the Bible as authoritative. But this article was written by a man who received a doctoral degree in theology from one of the most renowned seminaries in the United States. Furthermore, he is teaching in a Christian liberal arts college.50 In attempting to integrate psychology with theology, the former clearly won out, as we can see from this statement by Dr. Ruble:

Should children be spanked? Answered from a biblical viewpoint, there seems to be no clear teaching that they should. Conversely, there is no explicit prohibition against spanking. Answered from a psychological perspective, there are differences of opinion among psychologists. However, the negative features associated with spanking children seem to suggest that they should not be spanked severely or frequently, if at all.

All psychologists would tend to emphasize positive rather than negative contingencies in controlling children’s behavior. Spanking is an aversive stimulus and therefore not as desirable as positive reward in behavioral control. When aversive dimensions must be applied, non-violent ones are preferable to violent ones.51

In a later article, in response to the criticism of another Christian psychologist,52 Dr. Ruble writes:

The Bible nowhere teaches that all children should be spanked if they are to develop properly. Instead, children need firm and patient guidance. They need happy, well-adjusted, integrated Christian parents who resist the impulse to strike out when frustrated by the child’s behavior. They need innovative parents with a vast repertoire of creative responses to the child. They need above all to realize the powerful impact of example.53

This demonstrates to me that even evangelical, Bible-believing Christians are struggling with the matter of spanking their children. Not only are some Christians questioning its validity today, but governmental agencies are quite clearly moving in the direction of banning its use, not only in public schools but in the home. While my first intention was simply to assume that Christians agreed we must spank our children and to discuss only the “how’s” and “when’s,” I now find it necessary to spend this entire lesson exploring the biblical reasons “why” Christian parents should spank their children.

It is from the Scriptures that we must derive the principles which should govern the discipline of our children, and by which we must judge the contributions of every other field of study. The Bible clearly claims to be an adequate and authoritative guide for all spiritual matters, and in particular for the matter of correction and discipline.

All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17).

If it is the Scriptures which adequately equip us for every good work, and for correction in particular, then let us look to the book which has the most to say on the subject of spanking, the Book of Proverbs.

What is the Rod?

Before I begin to enumerate the biblical reasons for using the rod, let me agree with Dr. Ruble in one particular area, though not to the degree that he carries it.54 I agree with him that the expression “the rod” may at times be used more broadly than just as a reference to corporal punishment. The term “rod” is used, for example for God’s divine chastisement of men (cf. 2 Sam. 7:14; Isa. 10:5). In these instances we understand the term “rod” to be used metaphorically or symbolically for divine discipline. This does not mean (as Dr. Ruble seems to conclude) that the term “rod” in Proverbs never refers to a spanking. In nearly every instance in Proverbs the “rod” could just as well be translated “spanking.” I do fear, however, that some parents have concluded that there is only one means of correction--the rod.

I believe thinking of discipline only in terms of the “rod” is incorrect for several reasons. In the first place, some children are less affected by the rod than others. Some children seem to have a “cast iron bottom,” with a very high threshold for pain. The paddle does not speak as loudly to such individuals. Secondly, other forms of punishment may be taken more seriously. For example, a 16-year old son would probably far rather have a spanking than to have the car keys taken away for a week. If discipline is intended to get a child’s attention, forms other than spanking may be more effective. Furthermore, certain forms of discipline may be more appropriate and meaningful than others. To go back to the 16-year old son for a moment, if he were caught driving recklessly, removing his privilege of driving would provide a more natural and meaningful lesson. To fail to use the car properly results in losing the privilege of driving. Let us not be limited to only one means of correction.

I have a friend who had an interesting means of differentiating between offenses, while using a paddle to deal with a variety of types of misconduct. He had a very long paddle, with reference marks up and down the length of the handle. For very serious disobedience, he grasped the paddle at the very end, giving the board a very long and painful swing. For lesser sins he would “choke up” like a baseball player attempting a short hit.

This is one solution, but I think we dare not attempt to use the paddle for every offense our children commit. When Proverbs urges parents not to spare the rod, it is, in the broadest terms, instructing us of the need to correct, to discipline, our children. One of the ways of correcting our children which Proverbs advocates is the rod. Correction--yes. The paddle--perhaps. Discipline--always. The rod--sometimes.

Why is the Rod Required?

Much of modern-day psychology seems to look on the rod as a relic of the past. It is a punitive, even primitive, means of controlling the behavior of children which is now obsolete by virtue of man’s greater knowledge of human behavior. Simply put, we have evolved beyond such primitive means of controlling our children. To the modern mind the rod really is a “taste of the jungle.” Why is it then that the Book of Proverbs speaks so much of the rod, instructing parents to make use of it in child-rearing? A number of reasons can be found in Proverbs and elsewhere in the Bible.

1. THE ROD IS REQUIRED IN THE BIBLE BECAUSE WE ARE NOT INCLINED TO USE IT. Proverbs assumes the sinfulness of the parent as well as that of the child. Proverbs commands parents to use the rod for correction simply because we would not otherwise be inclined to do so. There are a number of reasons why this is true.

Some parents fail to use the rod because of their own upbringing. Some grew up in homes where they were not spanked. The tendency in most cases is for us to raise our children the way we were brought up (cf. Prov. 4:3-4).We must always evaluate our past experience in the light of the Scriptures. We should, of course, retain that which is godly and good, but we must also recognize those elements of our childhood training which were wrong.

Worse by far is the parent who grew up in a home where the “rod” was an implement in the hand of an angry parent who could not or would not distinguish between discipline and child abuse. Unfortunately, there are people who use the Bible to justify their cruelty to their children. Child abuse is never sanctioned in Proverbs.

The difference between the Book of Proverbs and psychologists like Dr. Ruble is that Proverbs assumes that most parents are inclined not to discipline at all. In that case the parent must be encouraged to use the rod. Some psychologists, on the other hand, assume that those who use the “rod” are “striking out” against their children. Spanking is viewed as a form of parental aggression, a resorting to primitive tendencies. Therefore, psychology tends to prohibit spanking, assuming that those who use the rod do so in a wrong way or for wrong reasons. That is over generalization. Just because some parents abuse their children with a rod does not mean that the rod is categorically bad. While sinfulness can incline some parents to abuse their children by beating them, Proverbs assumes that sinfulness most often takes the form of avoiding the correction and discipline of our children.

Most of our reasons for resisting the rod do not go back to our parents. I believe one of the principle reasons why we fail to discipline our children is because we are sluggards. Let’s face it, children never disobey us when it is convenient to discipline them. Sometimes it is in the middle of a Dallas Cowboy’s football game. Who wants to get up and spank a child when it is third down with one yard to go on the opponent’s two yard line? Then again, who is anxious to spank their child in the aisle of a supermarket, when it seems that every eye is on us? If I were to be totally honest I would have to admit that the major reason why I don’t spank as much as I should is because I am too lazy to put forth to the effort to do something I don’t really enjoy.

Another reason many parents do not spank their children is due to misdirected sympathy. There is nothing more heart-rending than the wailing of a child during a spanking. In fact the wailing often starts before the paddling begins. The child is desperately attempting to soften or shorten the blows by his pathetic sobs and tears. In order to give the parent courage and diligence at such times Proverbs tells us:

Do not hold back discipline from the child, Although you beat him with the rod, he will not die (23:13).

Taken in its usual sense this proverb assures faint-hearted parents that their child is not really ready for the intensive care unit at the hospital--it only sounds that way. In spite of such appearances, we are counseled, keep it up.

Yet another reason for parental avoidance of the rod is due to various misconceptions of love, forgiveness, and forbearance. In our culture it is considered inconceivable that love can be expressed by the rod. Love is viewed as never punishing, never bringing pain, only dealing with the child in very positive ways. Proverbs has a very different view of love:

He who spares his rod hates his son, But he who loves him disciplines him diligently (13:24).

Do we love our children? Then we will be diligent to chasten them when required. Do we hate our children? Then we will avoid using the rod. Love seeks the best interest of the child, which is sometimes served by inflicting pain by means of the rod.

We may try to sanctify permissive parenting by using this kind of Scripture:

A man’s discretion makes him slow to anger, And it is his glory to overlook a transgression (19:11).

In this text and others, such as our Lord’s instruction to “turn the other cheek” (Matt. 5:39), we are taught not to retaliate against those who offend us. course, is true. We ought not seek revenge:

Do not say, “I will repay evil”; Wait for the Lord, and He will save you (20:22).

But while we ought not seek revenge, neither do we dare overlook sin in the lives of our children, or in the lives of other saints (cf. Matt. 18:15-20; 1 Cor. 5:1-8; Gal. 6:1).

Finally, I believe that some parents refrain from using the rod because they have been taught never to discipline in anger. While anger should never control our discipline, it may be a means of motivating it. I am personally convinced that being angry should not keep a parent from doing his duty with regard to the rod. Since this is an important issue I will spend a considerable amount of time on it in the next lesson. Suffice it for now to say that being angry should not keep us from disciplining our children.

2. THE ROD IS REQUIRED TO RESTRAIN THE SIN OF THE CHILD. I must confess at the outset that while I believe this principle is assumed by the Book of Proverbs, I am not certain it is clearly taught here. In Genesis 9 God ordained government and the use of capital punishment. He did this in order to restrain sinful men. The “sword” which government bears (Rom. 13:4) is that of capital punishment. It is given this authority, we are taught, to restrain evil and to reward righteousness (Rom. 13:1-7; 1 Pet. 2:14). I believe that parents have this same obligation with regard to their children. While we cannot change their hearts, we can, to some degree, control their behavior, and for this we are held accountable (cf. 1 Sam. 3:13; 1 Tim. 3:4). Just as government bears the sword to restrain sin, the parent holds the rod.

3. THE ROD IS REQUIRED BECAUSE IT DEMONSTRATES THE CHARACTER OF THE CHILD. I have a friend who has helped me appreciate the fact that a person’s character is often demonstrated by his response to correction. Proverbs teaches this truth, and it certainly applies to the child’s response to the rod.

Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, But he who hates reproof is stupid (12:1).

A wise son accepts his father’s discipline, But a scoffer does not listen to rebuke (13:1).

A fool rejects his father’s discipline, But he who regards reproof is prudent (15:5).

A child who accepts discipline and responds to it by repentance and right conduct is on the path of the wise. A child who is embittered by correction (even though rightly carried out by the parents) has rejected the way of the wise.

In the light of the rod as a test of a child’s character, let us be careful about using some “positive” means of training our children. Secular psychology tends to avoid nearly every negative form of discipline in favor of those which are considered more positive. Positive reinforcement is important, but not when it excludes necessary negative correction. If I am in the grocery store and I tell my child to put down the box of cereal and he responds, “No!” I have several choices. If I say to the child, “If you put down the cereal, I’ll buy you a candy bar,” that is bribery, not discipline. The obedience of our children is best tested when we instruct them to do something that is undesirable or unpleasant to them, like bending over to get a shot at the doctor’s office. To give a child a dollar and tell him to buy candy is no test of obedience. Let us beware of “positive” discipline which is only bribery by another name. Let us use it only when it is godly and right.

4. THE ROD IS REQUIRED BECAUSE IT IS A TEACHING TOOL.A spanking is not only a test of the child’s character but a tool to teach the child as well.

All the commandments that I am commanding you today you shall be careful to do, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land which the Lord swore to give to your forefathers. And you shall remember all the way which the Lord your God has led you in the wilderness these forty years, that He might humble you, testing you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. And He humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you with manna which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord” (Deut. 8:1-3).

In this passage Moses taught the Israelites a very important principle. Not only were the difficulties along the way a discipline (v. 5) intended to test the character of the people of God (v. 2), they were a lesson intended to teach God’s people that man’s life consists of more than eating bread, that men must also learn to live in complete dependence on God’s word (v. 3). While Job’s trials were a proof of his character (Job 1:8), they were also a lesson in Job’s life to teach him greater dependence on God, especially in times of trouble (Job 38).The Book of Hebrews teaches New Testament Christians the very same lesson (cf. especially chap. 12). The Book of Proverbs agrees with this teaching, for it informs us that parental discipline is divinely appointed for the development of a child’s character.

My son, do not reject the discipline of the Lord, or loathe His reproof, For whom the Lord loves He reproves, Even as a father, the son in whom he delights (3:11-12).

For the commandment is a lamp, and the teaching is light; And reproofs for discipline are the way of life (6:23).

He whose ear listens to the life-giving reproof will dwell among the wise. He who neglects discipline despises himself, But he who listens to reproof acquires understanding (15:31-32).

The rod of correction imparts wisdom, But a child left to itself disgraces his mother (29:15, NIV).

It is very important that we distinguish between punishment and correction. Punishment is the process of giving the evil-doer what he deserves. Correction is intended to instruct a man so that he will mature and be more godly. From a divine perspective punishment is for non-believers while chastening is for God’s children. The correction of our children should be modeled after the correction of God’s children (cf. 3:11-12). The correction of our children with the rod, then, is to be instructive, not merely punitive (though this may be true as well).

So far as instruction is concerned the rod is not required to teach the wise, because they will listen to counsel and learn from it.

Do not reprove a scoffer, lest he hate you, Reprove a wise man, and he will love you. Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser, Teach a righteous man, and be will increase his learning (9:8-9).

Some, however, are not teachable with mere words. A child, for example, may not be able to grasp the danger of playing in the street. The rod reinforces the word “no” by teaching young child that when he plays in the street there are painful consequences. It amazes me that some psychologists talk about the cruelty of spanking a child in this light. Is it more cruel to spank a child so he can learn of the danger in this way or to let him suffer the natural consequences of foolishness and perhaps die? You cannot reason with a child at this age. Children are unable to grasp abstractions (like the danger of Mack trucks in the street), but they do understand pain. The rod is an instructive tool for those who cannot yet reason.

The rod is also an instructive tool for those who are old enough to reason, but won’t. For those who will not listen to reason the rod is an alternative teaching tool. Stubborn willfulness is something for which the rod is the remedy. It is intended to change arrogance and pride into humility, and disobedience to obedience.

By using the rod the parent seeks to point out sin in the child’s life and to show him that sin always has a high price. In so doing the child is encouraged to see the dangers of sin and to turn from waywardness to the way of wisdom, beginning with the fear of the Lord.

I have not thought this passage through carefully, but it seems that the role of the rod in bringing stubborn sons to a point of being willing to listen to reason is taught in the Book of Isaiah. In the first chapter we read:

“Come now, and let us reason together,” says the Lord, “Though your sins are as scarlet, they will be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they will be like wool” (Isa. 1:18).

Here is a word of warning and exhortation. Israel’s problem is her waywardness. God offers forgiveness, if Israel will only repent. If they heed God’s warning, they will find forgiveness and blessing, but if they do not . . . 

“If you consent and obey, you will eat the best of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword.” Truly, the mouth of the Lord has spoken (Isa. 1:19-20).

God seeks to reason with men and to turn them from their sin. If they respond and repent, He will forgive them. If they do not, God will use “the rod” to break their willful spirit and bring them to repentance. The rod is for those who refuse to learn--the easy way.

The rod, then, is like a red warning light on the dash of an automobile--it is a signal that something is wrong which needs to be corrected. The light does not It is in this solve the problem, but it at least makes the individual aware of it. It is in this sense, I believe, that we are to understand this verse:

Stripes that wound scour away evil, And strokes reach the innermost parts (20:30).

The rod is employed in order to reach the heart of the child and to turn it from evil. By using the rod the parent seeks to teach the child the consequences of sin and the need for accepting God’s solution for sin.

Incidentally, I should point out that even when the rod fails to instruct the one who is chastened, it may still provide instruction for others.

Strike a scoffer and the naive may become shrewd, But reprove one who has understanding and he will gain knowledge (19:25).

5. THE ROD IS REQUIRED BECAUSE OF THE DEVASTATING RESULTS OF REFRAINING FROM ITS USE. There are some proverbs which seem to promise more than we can hope for:

Blows and wounds cleanse away evil, And beatings purge the inmost being (20:30, NIV).

Do not withhold discipline from a child; If you punish him with the rod, he will not die. Punish him with the rod and save his soul from death (23:13-14, NIV).

A casual look at these Scriptures may incline us to think that the paddle is more effective than the “Four Spiritual Laws.” Such a misconception is due to our failure to understand the terms “soul” and “death” in the sense that the Israelite of ancient times did. The term “soul” was equivalent to our word “life.” Saving a “soul” in those days was saving a life. “Death,” too, had a very specific meaning-one that we are not inclined to consider, but which ha! tremendous impact on the Old Testament saint.

If any man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey his father or his mother, and when they chastise him, he will not even listen to them, then his father and mother shall seize him, and bring him out to the elders of his city at the gateway of his home town. And they shall say to the elders of his city, “This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey us, he is a glutton and a drunkard.” Then all the men of his city shall stone him to death; so you shall remove the evil from your midst, and all Israel shall hear of it and fear (Deut. 21:18-21).

If the “rod” was given to restrain sin, the “rock” was given to remove it. Parents in ancient times who believed in the authority of God’s word knew all too well that if the rod was not effective, the only recourse was the rock--stoning. There was a tremendous motivation, then, for these parents to be diligent with the rod. While it may have been painful to both parent and child, it was far better than the alternative--stoning a stubborn and rebellious son.

One problem with parents today is that we have lost sight of the devastating consequences of sin which is not dealt with in the life of the child. Let us remember that when Paul wrote, “the wages of sin is death,” he was speaking primarily of spiritual death, not just physical death. While the parents of an undisciplined child suffer the earthly consequences of shame and regret (e.g. 29:15), the eternal consequences of sin are far worse. If the rod impresses a child with his sinfulness and need of salvation, that is a lesson worth the price of pain, and it may prevent a much greater agony, the suffering of eternal damnation.

In this light the rod looks entirely different than some would see it. To say that the rod is cruel and primitive is to fail to see the alternative clearly. Is it cruel to grab a child by the hair? Certainly it is painful. But suppose your child was falling from a high building to certain death. Would you be willing to grab that child by the hair if it were the means of saving his life? Of course you would. So too the rod may appear cruel until the alternatives are considered.

6. THE ROD Is REQUIRED BECAUSE IT IS RIGHTEOUS AND BECAUSE GOD USES THE ROD ON HIS CHILDREN. To be godly is to be God-like. Early in the Book of Proverbs we are taught that human discipline and divine discipline are similar, if not synonymous.

My son, do not reject the discipline of the Lord, or loathe His reproof, For whom the Lord loves He reproves, Even as a father, the son in whom he delights (3:11-12).

These verses are quite evidently based upon the Old Testament law of God:

“Thus you are to know in your heart that the Lord your God was disciplining you just as a man disciplines his son (Deut. 8:5).

If it is the responsibility of earthly fathers to model the role of God as the Father of true believers (a concept we will deal with in the next lesson), then the discipline of the father must be like that of God Himself.

Here is the rub with those who are unbelievers or unbiblical in their thinking. They cannot conceive of spanking as godly because they cannot conceive of God as judging men and condemning them to an eternal hell. If God is only a God of love (as some wish to think), then He would not and could not send any to hell, nor would He inflict pain on men at any time. If parents are to be godly (God-like), then they cannot inflict pain on their children. The primary issue is this: What is God like? Does He inflict pain on men for sin? If He does, then we are only consistent with His character and actions when we inflict pain on our children for their sinful acts.

A careful look at a few biblical passages leaves no doubt about the discipline of God:

“I will be a father to him and he will be a son to Me; when he commits iniquity, I will correct him with the rod of men and the strokes of the sons of men” (2 Sam. 7:14).

“If his [i.e., David’s] sons forsake My law, and do not walk in My judgments, if they violate My statutes, and do not keep My commandments, then I will visit their transgression with the rod, and their iniquity with stripes.

But I will not break off My lovingkindness from him, nor deal falsely in My faithfulness. My covenant I will not violate, nor will I alter the utterance of My lips” (Ps. 89:30-34).

Woe to Assyria, the rod of My anger and the staff in whose hands is My indignation (Isa. 10:5).

In each of these passages, God speaks of using the “rod” of correction on His people. David’s sons, the kings of Judah, would be disciplined by God for their disobedience; yet God said He would remain faithful to His promise to establish for Davit an everlasting throne (2 Sam. 7:12-13). Disobedient Israel would be chastened by God’s “rod” of correction, Assyria (cf. Deut. 28:15-68, esp. v. 64; Isa. 7:17-19; 8:5-8).

In every instance of God’s disciplining of His people, God is seen to be righteous for judging sinners. His discipline is never seen as a flaw in His holy character, but as a manifestation of His holiness.

Now therefore, our God, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who dost keep covenant and lovingkindness, do not let all the hardship seem insignificant before Thee, which has come upon us, our kings, our princes, our priests, our prophets, our fathers, and on all Thy people, from the days of the kings of Assyria to this day. However, Thou art just in all that hast come upon us; for Thou hast dealt faithfully, but we have acted wickedly (Neh. 9:32-33; cf. Ps. 78; Dan. 9).

Ananias and his wife Sapphira were struck dead for their deception (Acts 5:1-11). God is not merely a disciplinarian in the Old Testament, but also in the New. In Matthew 18:15-20 our Lord laid down a means of imposing discipline on a disobedient believer, and in 1 Corinthians 5:2-5 Paul urged the Corinthian saints to apply this instruction. Later on in 1 Corinthians, Paul explained that some of the saints had become sick and others had died due to their failure to rightly discern the Lord’s body in the commemoration of the Lord’s Supper (11:29-30). Paul personally practiced this kind of discipline (1 Tim. 1:18-20).

If disobedient children of God are disciplined severely in both testaments, we should certainly expect an even worse fate for those who have rejected the salvation God has provided for men in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ.

And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. And death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:12-15).

Especially deserving of damnation are those who have actively afflicted the saints. Note that in the passage cited below God is seen to be righteous in His act of judging sinners.

And the second angel poured out his bowl into the sea, and it became blood like that of a dead man; and every living thing in the sea died. And the third angel poured out his bowl into the rivers and the springs of waters; and they became blood. And I heard the angel of the waters saying, “Righteous are Thou, who art and who wast, O Holy One, because Thou didst judge these things; for they poured out the blood of saints and prophets and Thou hast given them blood to drink. They deserve it.” And I heard the altar saying, “Yes, O Lord God, the Almighty, true and righteous are Thy judgments” (Rev. 16:4-7).

We can now understand why Proverbs views the rod as righteous and judgment as just. In Proverbs 1 wisdom is completely righteous in seeing justice served by the sinners reaping not only what they wanted, but also what they so richly deserved.

‘Then they will call on me, but I will not answer; they will seek me diligently, but they shall not find me, because they hated knowledge, and did not choose the fear of the Lord. They would not accept my counsel, they spurned all my reproof. So they shall eat of the fruit of their own way, and be satiated with their own devices. For the waywardness of the naive shall kill them, and the complacency of fools shall destroy them” (1:28-32).


We can draw no other conclusion from the Scriptures than this: Righteousness demands the rod. God’s righteousness necessitates that He judge unbelievers and discipline His own people. God has established kings and earthly authorities to promote righteousness and to punish evildoers (Prov. 20:8; 24:25; 25:5; Rom. 13:1-5). So too parents must reward righteousness in their children and punish them for their evil deeds. If there is one thing that is certain in eternity, and which should be seen in life, it is that sinners will be punished.

Be sure of this: The wicked will not go unpunished, But those who are righteous will go free (11:21, NIV).

Society is wrong, my friend--dead wrong! It is not a sin to spank a child. If parents are to be godly they must deal with evil as God does. Just as God has always made provision for the sinner, the parent must teach the child about the way to life. Just as God has disciplined His disobedient children, so must we, for their good and our own. The rod is righteous. Discipline is divine. Spanking can be an act of spirituality. It is not always so, but that is a matter which we will deal with in our next lesson.

My friend, is it possible that you have been slack in using the rod because you do not want to conceive of God as a disciplinarian? Do you wish that God were patronizing rather than punishing sin? Many of us have failed in our child-raising simply because we do not like the model--God. Like it or not, the God of the Bible--Old Testament and New--is a God who deals with sin, whether in the life of a believer or an unbeliever.

You and I have a choice. We may either recognize our sin and accept the forgiveness which God has provided in the person of His Son, or we may suffer the consequences of our sins--eternally. If we choose His salvation, He will continue to chasten us for sin, but only so that we may grow and mature to be more like Him. How would you choose to face God, as a son or as a sinner who has rejected His Son? That is your choice, my friend. I pray that you will choose the way of wisdom, the way of life through the Lord Jesus Christ. He died on the cross of Calvary for your sins. He offers salvation to all who will trust in His work on Calvary. Trust Him today.

48 Richard Ruble, “Should Children Be Spanked?” Journal of Psychology and Theology, July, 1973, pp. 64-65.

49 Here, Ruble quotes Ginnot, p. 181, cited in above article, p. 64.

50 In this article Richard Ruble was said to have received his Master’s degree from Faith Seminary, the Doctor of Theology degree from Dallas Theological Seminary, and was then serving as a professor of Bible and Psychology and Chairman of the Division of Biblical Studies at John Brown University.

51 “Should Children Be Spanked?,” p. 66.

52 In a published response to Dr. Ruble’s article, Alan R. McThomas pointed out many flaws in Ruble’s thinking. Mr. McThomas, then in doctoral studies at Rosemead Graduate School of Psychology, offers hope that not all who seek to integrate theology and psychology come out with the wrong conclusions. Cf. Alan R. McThomas, “Reaction,” Journal of Psychology and Theology, July, 1973, pp. 67-69.

53 Richard Ruble, “Should Children Be Spanked? A Reply To McThomas,” Journal of Psychology and Theology, October, 1973, P. 79.

54 Dr. Ruble writes, .” . . the references to striking a child might be considered merely a figure of speech for the idea that children need discipline of which spanking was a prominent example.” (“Should Children Be Spanked?” July, 1973, p. 65.) I have little problem with the statement itself, but in application Dr. Ruble virtually disregards the clear instruction of Proverbs to use the rod. For him, it would seem, classifying the “rod” as a figure of speech opens the door to a world of abuses. The “rod,” even if a figure of speech, symbolizes the kind of discipline Proverbs is speaking about, but it is this kind of discipline which Ruble refuses to consider relevant for today’s parents.

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