20. Wisdom and the Will of God
Many Christians seek divine guidance in terms of some simplistic formula: “Consider the Scriptures, your feelings, and the circumstances. When these three line up, you have the will of God.” I believe that the Bible gives us no such formulas. The Christian life is a life of faith, lived in accordance with the Word of God, applied by means of the wisdom which God gives (cf. James 1:5). In the introduction to the Book of Proverbs the author assures the reader that this book will provide valuable insight into the will of God:
The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel: for attaining wisdom and discipline; for understanding words of insight; for acquiring a disciplined and prudent life, doing what is right and just and fair; for giving prudence to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the young--let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning set guidance (Prov. 1:1-5, NIV).
I am convinced that no other Old Testament book, and perhaps no book of the New Testament, gives us greater insight into the will of God than does the Book of Proverbs. As we conclude our study of this very practical book, let us carefully consider the subject of divine guidance as it is taught here.
The Need for Divine Guidance
Proverbs assumes that divine guidance is vital to living a life which is characterized by wisdom and godliness. If we are to appreciate the importance of divine guidance we must first understand why man so desperately needs it. Let us look first at three reasons why man needs God’s guidance.
1. DIVINE GUIDANCE IS NECESSARY BECAUSE MAN IS SIMPLE. According to Proverbs, to be simple is to be inexperienced, gullible, and vulnerable.. While this condition is especially characteristic of the young, it is also the malady of mankind in general. The human mind is incapable of knowing the mind and the heart of God apart from supernatural initiative and enablement (cf. 1 Cor. 2:6-16).
Before the fall, Adam and Eve were not plagued with a nature predisposed to sin. Yet in their innocence, they were also inexperienced. Satan tempted them by offering an experience which God had prohibited. In their naivet, they did not know the deceiving and cunning nature of Satan, nor did they fully grasp the danger of disobeying God. In Proverbs, Madam Folly offers the naive experience also (9:16-17), but it is always the kind of experience we will wish we had avoided. God’s Word informs men of those hidden dangers of life which we have not yet experienced, and which we hopefully never will. Divine guidance informs man of what he does not know (by virtue of ignorance and inexperience), but what he must know if he would be godly and wise.
2. DIVINE GUIDANCE IS REQUIRED BECAUSE MAN IS SINFUL. Proverbs teaches us that when man “does what comes naturally” he does what is both foolish and contrary to the will of God. The young man is urged not to trust in his own wisdom, but in God’s (3:5-7). To become wise one must turn from his folly and fear God (1:22; 2:2; 8:5,10,13; 9:6). The root problem of man is the condition of his heart (4:23). Our evil heart inclines us toward sin and folly, not righteousness (6:14,18). Our inability to grasp God’s ways and His will stems not only from our human frailty (our simplicity), but from our fallenness. If being human hinders us from knowing God’s will, our sinfulness hinders us from seeking it or submitting to it. If we do not know God’s will due to our humanity, we will not search for it nor find it due to our depravity:
‘There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God” (Rom. 3:10-11).
3. DIVINE GUIDANCE IS REQUIRED BECAUSE MAN IS SOLICITED TO SIN BY OTHERS. Satan is portrayed as an aggressive enemy, who seeks to deceive men and to distort the Word of God (e.g. 1 Pet. 5:8). This happened first in the garden of Eden (Gen. 3; cf. 1 Tim. 2:14; 4:1-5). Frequently, Satan employs others in his diabolical schemes (cf. 2 Cor. 11:13-15).In the Book of Proverbs we see men being solicited to sin by violent men (e.g. 1:10-19) and seductive women (e.g. 2:16-19). While we do not naturally know the will of God and are inclined not to seek it due to our depravity, there will be many who will seek to persuade us that they do have a plan for us, a plan which our fallen nature is inclined to accept. Divine guidance is required to separate the good from the evil, and that which is foolish from that which is wise.
The Nature of Divine Guidance
Most Christians are more acutely aware of the need for divine guidance than they are informed about the nature of it. There are several characteristics of divine guidance which can be observed in the Book of Proverbs, which are also seen elsewhere in the Scriptures.
1. DIVINE GUIDANCE IS DISCERNED PRIMARILY BY MEANS OF WISDOM. J. I. Packer, in his justly acclaimed book, Knowing God, has included a chapter (20) on guidance entitled, “Thou Our Guide.” Originally this chapter was published in booklet form under the title, Guidance and Wisdom. Packer maintains that wisdom and guidance are inseparable, a conclusion with which the Book of Proverbs concurs. If the purpose of Proverbs is to make men wise, Proverbs also assures us that wisdom is one of God’s primary means of discerning the will of God:
The proverbs of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel: To know wisdom and instruction, to discern the sayings of understanding, to receive instruction in wise behavior, righteousness, justice and equity; To give prudence to the naive, to the youth knowledge and discretion, a wise can will hear and increase in learning, and a man of understanding will acquire wise counsel (1:1-5).
In verse 2 above, the words “discern” and, “understanding” are both related to the same Hebrew preposition which means “between.”62 To have discernment is to possess the ability to tell the difference between two alternatives. Wisdom enables men to distinguish between good and evil, and between good and better.
In verse 4 the term “discretion” also relates to decision-making,63 but perhaps of even greater interest is the expression “wise counsel” in verse 5. In my opinion the NIV correctly renders the original word “guidance.” The Hebrew term appears to be a word used of the ropes connected to the rudder of ancient ships which enabled the captain to direct its course.64
The one who acquires “wise counsel” from the Book of Proverbs is, indeed, the one who has come to “know the ropes,” a person who has obtained the steering ropes of the Word of God which will guide him through life. If God guides us primarily through wisdom, it is important that we understand the components of wisdom. We shall seek to consider these in the characteristics of divine guidance which follow.
2. WISDOM AND DIVINE GUIDANCE MUST BE BASED UPON DIVINE REVELATION. Many Christians expect God to reveal His will in some bizarre and spectacular way, rather than accepting the fact that God has already revealed His will (in the vast majority of instances) through His Word. Solomon knew that the Old Testament Law was God’s standard for man’s conduct:
As David’s time to die drew near, he charged Solomon his son, saying,
“I am going the way of all the earth. Be strong, therefore, and show yourself a man. And keep the charge of the Lord your God, to walk in His ways, to keep His statutes, His commandments, His ordinances, and His testimonies, according to what is written in the law of Moses, that you may succeed in all that you do and wherever you turn” (1 Kings 2:1-3).
While references in Proverbs to God’s Word--His divine revelation to men through the Scriptures--are infrequent, this revelation is assumed, and it is viewed as an infallible, authoritative word from God which serves as a measure of men’s thoughts and deeds. Occasionally, a specific reference to the law is found in Proverbs (28:4,7,9). Biblical revelation is also referred to as “the word’ (13:13; 16:20) or “the word of God:”
Every word of God is tested; He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him. Do not add to His words lest He reprove you, and you be proved a liar (30:5-6).
Divine revelation has a variety of forms, three of which are precepts, principles, and patterns. Precepts are the commands of God which are specific and clear-cut. We are commanded, both in Proverbs and elsewhere, not to commit adultery, which is sin (cf. Exod. 20:14; Prov. 5:1-23; 6:29). So, too, lying is sin (cf. Exod. 20:16; Prov. 6:19; 19:5,9). Proverbs is not ambiguous concerning sin, for the Scriptures Right and wrong are defined in very concrete terms:
He who conceals his transgressions will not prosper, But he who confesses and forsakes them will find compassion (Prov. 28:13).
A false balance is an abomination to the Lord, But a just weight is His delight (11:1).
In some instances, Proverbs refers to “the commandment,” where the reference seems to be to the law of Moses:
The one who despises the word will be in debt to it, But the one who fears the commandment will be rewarded (Prov. 13:13).
Most often, however, the “commandments” spoken of in Proverbs are those of the parents:
My son, if you will receive my sayings, And treasure my commandments within you (Prov. 2:1).
My son, keep my words, and treasure my commandments within you. Keep my commandments and live, and my teaching [lit., law] as the apple of your eye (Prov. 7:1-2).
While not inerrant, inspired, or infallible, parental instruction was necessary to teach God’s law to each new generation (cf. Exod. 12:26-27; 13:14-15; Deut. 6:6-9; 20-25). In Proverbs, instruction is given through parents (1:8; 3:1; 4:2; 6:20,23) and others who are wise (e.g. 5:13; 13:14).So far as I can tell the “commandments” of the parents spoken of in Proverbs were a reiteration, explanation, or application of the commandments of the law of Moses. I believe that parents and the wise sought to teach each new generation the law of God and to give instruction and guidelines based upon the divine revelation of the will of God in the Scriptures which were then available.
In addition to the clear-cut directives of Proverbs (“precepts”), principles are set down, which are more general in nature and provide broader guidelines for those who wish to know God’s will and to do it:
In all labor there is profit, But mere talk leads only to poverty (14:23).
A gentle answer turns away wrath, But a harsh word stirs up anger (15:1).
The heart of the wise teaches his mouth, And adds persuasiveness to his lips (16:23).
The first to plead his case seems just, Until another comes and examines him (18:17).
Prepare your work outside, And make it ready for yourself in the field; Afterwards, then, build your house (24:27).
In addition to the precepts and principles of Scripture, there are also what we might call patterns. I’m not sure that “patterns” is the best word, but, by it, I am referring to those truths of Scripture which have great relevance to us, but in a less direct way than precepts or principles. When the Scriptures tell us what God is like--His character and conduct--we can infer that we should be like-God, godly. Parental discipline, for example, should be patterned after God’s discipline of His children.
Proverbs tells us that God hates wickedness (6:16-19; 15:8-9), evil schemes (12:2; 15:26), dishonesty (11:1; 20:10,23), crookedness (11:20), falsehood (12:22), pride (16:5), and neglect of the law (28:9).We are also told that God delights in righteousness (15:8-9), goodness (12;2), honesty (11:1), integrity (11:20), truth (12:22), and wisdom (8:35). It does not take a great deal of insight to conclude that we should shun what God hates and seek what brings Him delight.
3. DIVINE GUIDANCE CAN BE OBTAINED THROUGH WISE COUNSEL. Guidance is not only given through the commandments of the Scriptures, it is also obtained through the counsel of those who are wise:
How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, Nor stand in the path of sinners (Ps. 1:1).
Counsel is mine and sound wisdom; I am understanding, power is mine (Prov. 8:14).
The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, But a wise man is he who listens to counsel (Prov. 12:15).
Through presumption comes nothing but strife, But with those who receive counsel is wisdom (Prov. 13:10).
There are two kinds of counsel: the words Of the wise and the advice of the wicked (cf. also James 3:13-18). Proverbs informs us that no true counsel is ever contrary to the character or commandments of God:
There is no wisdom and no understanding And no counsel against the Lord (21:30).
God has given each generation those who are older and wiser than they so that they might learn from the experience and the insight of those who have traveled further down the path of righteousness. Divine guidance is to be found through the counsel of those who are wise.
4. DIVINE GUIDANCE REQUIRES CONFIDENCE AND COMMITMENT. Before we can answer the question, “What shall I do?” we must first ask the question, “Whom do I trust?” The greatest obstacle to my seeking the will of God and doing it is my attitude of self-sufficiency and self-trust. Proverbs teaches that the evil man is arrogant and presumptuous. He cannot fathom righteousness, and he will not seek it. The one who would enter the way of wisdom is he who would first of all forsake trusting in himself--in his natural reasoning:
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. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and turn away from evil (Prov 3:5-7).
Nowhere does faith in God cast aside all reason, but it must lay aside merely human reason (e.g. Matt. 16:23). Becoming wise and discerning God’s will is only possible when we forsake all confidence in our own reason, which has suffered from the effects of the fall, and when we come to rely fully on God’s revelation, on His wisdom, not our own.
In addition, divine guidance requires commitment. Human reason rests only on what we can see, on our own perception of matters as viewed in the context of present circumstances. Divine guidance rests upon the promises of God, on those “things which are not seen” (cf. Heb. 11:1). This is the substance of Hebrews chapter 11. Men and women of faith are those who live life in the present in the light of God’s promises which are yet future. The will of God is known by those who are willing to commit their future into the hands of the God of the Bible.
This helps to explain why the will of God is not always easy to discern. If guidance is granted largely through wisdom, guidance will not come easily because wisdom does not come without great effort. Repeatedly in Proverbs we are told that wisdom is only for those who will diligently seek it:
My son, if you will receive my sayings, and treasure my commandments within you, Make your ear attentive to wisdom, incline your heart to understanding; For if you cry for discernment, lift your voice for understanding; If you seek her as silver, and search for her as for hidden treasures; Then you will discern the fear of the Lord,. and discover the knowledge of God (Prov. 2:1-5).
God does not cast His pearls before swine. He does not make wisdom easy to find because only the diligent will obtain it. Since wisdom is difficult to obtain, it requires even more diligence to put into practice. We should not expect divine guidance to come easily, nor should we deceive ourselves into thinking that doing it will be without sacrifice and commitment. The more I study the subject of divine guidance in the Scriptures, the more I realize that the greatest problem we must face is the commitment to do what we know to be right.
This week I read of an incident in the 42nd chapter of the Book of Jeremiah which illustrates the problem most of us have with divine guidance. A small remnant of Jewish people had been left in the land of Canaan after their nation had been carried off into captivity in Babylon. This remnant came to the prophet, requesting him to seek divine guidance for them:
“Please let our petition come before you, and pray for us to the Lord your God, that is for all this remnant; because we are left but a few out of many, as your own eyes now see us, that the Lord your God may tell us the way in which we should walk and the thing that we should do” (Jer. 42:2-3).
After ten days God’s will was made known to Jeremiah. This remnant was not to flee to Egypt for safety, but was to trust in God and remain in the land of promise. No matter how great the danger of staying in Canaan appeared to be, God promised to protect and to bless those who stayed, but warned of destruction for those who would seek safety and security in anyone or anything but God. In spite of clear direction from God through the prophet Jeremiah, the remnant went on to Egypt, trusting in the “arm of the flesh,” rather than in God.
Isn’t this the problem we all face? We want divine guidance, but we want it to agree with our estimation of what we should do. Divine guidance begins with a distrust of human reason and a dependence upon divine revelation and promises. Divine guidance requires a commitment to seek the will of God diligently and then to heed it, whether we agree with it or not.
5. DIVINE GUIDANCE IS A MATTER OF CHARACTER. We are accustomed to hearing, “As a man thinks, so he is.” While this is a biblical truth (Prov. 23:7), the Bible has more than this to say about the relationship between a man’s character and his conduct. I believe that the Scriptures go on to say, “As a man is, so he thinks and so he acts.” That is, a man’s character determines his thinking and his actions. Let me first establish this premise and then go on to explore its implications.
When I speak of a person’s character I am referring to their moral condition which consistently works itself out in a predictable and consistent way. The word “way” or “ways” is often employed in Proverbs to depict character. Animals have their “ways,” a predictable, consistent pattern of behavior which is a part of their nature:
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. This is the way of an adulterous woman: She eats and wipes her mouth, and says, “I have done no wrong” (Prov. 30:18-20).
Go to the ant, 0 sluggard, Observe her ways and be wise (Prov. 6:6).
As Proverbs 30:19-20 (above) indicate, men also have their “ways.” One’s character, his “way,” can be discerned by the pattern he has established in his conduct:
She [the adulteress] does not ponder the path of life; Her ways are unstable, she does not know it (Prov. 5:6).
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 (Prov. 22:24-25).
Do not give your strength to women, Or your ways to that which destroys kings (Prov. 31:3).
In these passages and countless others a man’s character is referred to as his “way” or “ways.” Thus we read, in 2 Chronicles of the “ways of Jehoshaphat” and the “ways of Asa” (21:12), a reference to the character of these men. Each individual act of our life is a part of a pattern of behavior which is our “way,” our character.
God, too, has His “ways,” and these are always pure:
“The Rock! His work is perfect, for all His ways are just; A God of faithfulness and without injustice, righteous and upright is He” (Deut. 32:4).
I will meditate on all Thy work, and muse on Thy deeds. Thy way, O God, is holy; what god is great like our God? (Ps. 77:13).
The Lord is righteous in all His ways, and kind in all His deeds (Ps. 145:17).
God’s ways are infinitely more righteous than man’s:
“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are I, ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts” (Isa. 55:8-9).
If men are to have intimate contact with God they must conform their ways to His ways. As God said to the nation Israel:
“For I am the Lord your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy; for I am holy..” (Lev. 11:44; cf. 1 Pet. 1:16).
Consequently, God has prescribed the “way” we should live, the standard for our character and conduct. This “way” is defined by the Word of God:
Teach me Thy way, O Lord; I will walk in Thy truth; Unite my heart to fear Thy name (Ps. 86:11).
I have chosen the faithful way; I have placed Thine ordinances before me. I cleave to Thy testimonies; O Lord, do not put me to shame! I shall run the way of Thy commandments, for Thou wilt enlarge my heart. Teach me, 0 Lord, the way of Thy statutes, and I shall observe it to the end. Give me understanding, that I may observe Thy law, and keep it with all my heart. Make me walk in the path of Thy commandments, for I delight in it. Incline my heart to Thy testimonies, and not to dishonest gain. Turn my eyes from looking at vanity, and revive me in Thy ways (Ps. 119: 30-37).
In the final analysis, there are only two “ways.” Proverbs persistently points us to the two “ways” of life: the way of evil, which leads to death and destruction (e.g. 2:12; 4:14,19; 8:3; 10:29; 12:15; 15:19; 16:25; 22:5; 28:10), and the way of wisdom and righteousness, which leads to life (e.g. 4:11; 6:23; 9:6; 12:28; 15:10; 16:13; 21:16; 22:6).The man who is wise is the one who chooses to make his ways conform to God’s ways.
I believe that Proverbs teaches us that a man’s character is the description of his typical conduct. The sluggard has certain tell-tale characteristics, just as do the simple, and the fool. Likewise, the wise has identifiable traits which can be observed. The wise is slow to speak and weighs his words. The wise gives thought to the consequences of his actions, while the fool does not. The wise listens to counsel, but the fool goes on without taking heed to wisdom or warnings. A man’s character (what he is) is discerned by what he does.
In the broadest terms, God’s will for man is that he walk in the way which He has prescribed in His Word. One’s character not only describes his walk, but also predisposes his response to the revealed will of God. Character determines a man’s desires. The wicked delight in wickedness, while the righteous delight in what is holy and pure and wise:
Desire realized is sweet to the soul, But it is an abomination to fools to depart from evil (Prov. 13:19).
“How long, 0 naive ones, will you love simplicity? And scoffers delight themselves in scoffing, and fools hate knowledge? (Prov. 1:22).
Who delight in doing evil, And rejoice in the perversity of evil (Prov. 2:14).
A fool does not delight in understanding, But only in revealing his own mind (Prov. 18:2).
The desire of the righteous is only good, But the expectation of the wicked is wrath (Prov. 11:23).
Give me your heart, my son, And let your eyes delight in my ways (Prov 23:26).
A man’s character is what he is, which determines what he will think, who he will listen to, and what he will do. In Proverbs 17:4 we read,
An evildoer listens to wicked lips, A liar pays attention to a destructive tongue. A liar (character) does not listen to wise counsel, but only gives attention to those whose advice squares with his (immorality).
The New Testament teaches this truth as well. In Ephesians we read:
And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest (Eph. 2:1-3).
By nature, we were lost, dead in our sins. We did not know God nor serve Him. Instead, we were followers of Satan, indulging both our minds and our flesh in the ways of sin.
In the Book of Ephesians and other epistles, Paul exhorted Christians to seek to conform their character to their calling and their confession of faith (cf. Eph. 4:1-6:20; Col. 3:1-4:6). James writes that he cares little what one confesses to be, for it is by our conduct and our character that we reveal genuine conversion. Our character shapes our thinking and our actions. What we are determines what we think and what we do:
To the pure, all things are pure; but to those who are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure, but both their mind and their conscience are defiled. They profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him, being detestable and disobedient, and worthless for any good deed (Titus 1:15-16).
1 have become increasingly convinced that a man’s character is one of the most powerful forces in determining his decisions. I would therefore suggest that no ingredient is more important in the process of divine guidance than that of the character of the one who seeks to be guided. As we have seen from Proverbs 17:4, the liar will not listen to anyone but the wicked. The reason is very simple: an evil man has no inclination and no intention of doing what is pure and right. The mere thought of forsaking evil and doing good is repulsive to the wicked, for he delights in doing what is wrong.
The key to obtaining divine guidance in Proverbs is the development of godly character. That is why the book spends so much time describing the undesirable character of the sluggard, the simple, the scoffer, and the fool. Proverbs seeks to develop our character by instructing us to be wise and godly. Godly men and women will not only seek God’s will and find it--they will do it. Wicked men do not seek divine guidance, nor would they practice it if they found it.
In addition to a man’s character predisposing him to certain decisions, there are at least two other ways that character relates to divine guidance. Namely, God’s character should greatly influence the believer to seek divine guidance and to follow it. God’s character is the pattern for our thoughts and actions, but it is also the basis for our confidence and trust in Him to guide us in the right path. Just as faith in my doctor prompts me to follow his medical counsel, faith in God inspires me to seek His will and follow it.
Then, too, the character of others provides me with a basis for guidance. One of the best tests of a life’s mate is godly character (cf. Prov. 31:10-311. Character is to be a determining factor in the choice of one’s friends and associates (Prov. 20:19; 22:24; 24:21). The way Scripture states that I should respond to men is determined by an assessment of their character. For example, I am encouraged to reprove a wise man and yet instructed not to attempt to correct a fool or a scoffer (cf. Prov. 12:15; 13:1; 14:16; 15:12; 17:10; 23:9; 26:4-5).
The wise are counseled not to teach or correct the fool because they spurn wise counsel and scorn right actions. Do you see the point? You cannot guide a fool because a fool does not want direction. Thus character is crucial in matters of divine guidance. Only the godly will be guided in the paths of righteousness and wisdom. The fool will invariably return to the way of folly, just as the dog does to his vomit (Prov. 26:11).
Much of what I have said about divine guidance is not new, but nevertheless needs to be said by way of reminder (cf. 2 Pet. 3:1). Guidance is primarily discerned by means of wisdom, and wisdom is obtained through the commandments of the Word of God, the counsel of the wise, and the commitment of the one seeking to know the will of God.
In addition, we have learned that our character is, perhaps, the determinant factor in responding to divine guidance. Those who are wise will discern the guidance of God (Prov. 1:1-6), while the foolish will not seek it. That is why Proverbs concentrates upon our character. The evils of Proverbs are those character traits which are inconsistent with wisdom and godliness, such as simplicity, foolishness, an uncontrolled temper, immorality, and laziness.
As I have studied character in relationship to divine guidance it has occurred to me that here, as in many other areas of the Christian life, we have been guilty of “straining gnats and swallowing camels” (Matt. 23:24). We have focused our attention on the particulars of the will of God but have neglected the paths which the Word of God so clearly defines.
I think that many of us are asking for divine guidance about a particular decision along life’s path when we are on the wrong path. Our search for divine guidance would be something like Jonah, praying that God would lead him to find a ship to Tarshish, when God had told him to go to Ninevah. We need not seek to learn if God would have Sally to be our wife if Sally is an unbeliever or is known for her lack of character.
I am convinced that the vast majority of decisions which the Christian is called to make are matters that can be determined by the path we are on, the path so clearly laid out in the Scriptures. I also believe that those particular decisions which do not have a moral dimension, which are neither “good” nor “bad,” may therefore be matters of Christian liberty, matters which may be of indifference to God. If not, God can surely direct us just as He has always led His children. If it matters to Him that we buy this house and not that, this car, rather than another, He will surely providentially intervene.
As I think through the bad choices men have made which are recorded in the Scriptures I find that they are more the result of ungodly character than they are of insufficient or unclear guidance. Samson, for example, was a man with a character problem when it came to women. He persisted in pursuing foreign, ungodly women, even when the law taught otherwise and his parents reminded him of this (Judg. 14:3).
David’s sin with Bathsheba was also a problem in his character. In 2 Samuel 11:1 we are told,
Then it happened in the spring, at the time when kings go out to battle, that David sent Joab and his servants with him and all Israel, and they destroyed the sons of Ammon and besieged Rabbah. But David stayed at Jerusalem.
In the second verse of this same passage we learn that David had not only stayed home when he should have been at war, but he slept in until late in the afternoon. Now I want to say that David’s character had drastically deteriorated since those days when his life was sought by Saul. David had found prosperity a greater temptation than persecution. He was so great a leader, he must have reasoned, that he could wage war from his bed. While Bathsheba should not have been in David’s bed, neither should David have been there. This, in fact, was a stinging rebuke from the lips of David’s loyal servant and Bathsheba’s husband Uriah (2 Sam. 11:11). David’s sin with Bathsheba did not just happen; it was the result of a serious character flaw in David’s life. Incidentally, perhaps Bathsheba’s sin was of the same type as David’s. Should she really have been bathing where she could be seen by others?
I submit to you that most of the bad choices in our life are like David’s--the result of our character. Think about it for a moment. What are the temptations that most plague your life? Are they not temptations which have to do with the weakest aspects of your moral character? If you have a problem controlling your temper, a character flaw described often in Proverbs (19:19; 22:24; 29:22), you will persistently struggle with blowing up. The more you pamper this flaw, the greater the temptation and the more certain a fall. The one who allows his (or her) mind to dwell on immoral thoughts is going to face moral temptation. Given enough time and the right opportunity (like David), the one who entertains immoral thoughts will eventually fall into moral sin.
While God’s will encompasses us specifically, including even minute details of our life, His will is most often and most forcefully revealed in terms of our path: “He restores my soul; He guides me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake” (Ps. 23:3).
God’s will is that we be morally pure:
For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is that you abstain from sexual immorality (1 Thess. 4:3).
The test of true spirituality and maturity is based upon our character. The elder and the deacon must be men of godly character (1 Tim. 3; Titus 1). The fruit of the Spirit is the manifestation of godly character (Gal. 5:22-23). Those things for which all Christians are to strive are aspects of godly character (2 Pet. 1:5-11). Maturity as a saint is a matter of character:
For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for some one to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For every one who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil (Heb. 5:12-14).
It is the immature, those who lack godly character, who waver and vacillate in making wise decisions:
As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming (Eph. 4:14).
But let him ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways (James 1:6-8).
Above all else, let us seek to develop and maintain godly character. This, more than anything else, will incline us to follow the guidance which God gives to His children.
Good and upright is the Lord; therefore He instructs sinners in the way. He leads the humble in justice, and He teaches the humble His way. All the paths of the Lord are lovingkindness and truth to those who keep His covenant and His testimonies. For Thy name’s sake, O Lord, pardon my iniquity, for it is great. Who is the man who fears the Lord? He will instruct him in the way he should choose (Ps. 25:8-12).
62 Both the verb and the noun are connected with the Hebrew preposition meaning ‘between,’ and signify the ability to draw proper distinctions. Here is meant the distinction between right and wrong.” A. Cohen, Proverbs (London: The Soncino Press, 1967), P. 1.
63 McKane calls “discretion” “resourcefulness” and goes on to say of the educational process which sought to develop it, “Its concern was to impart negotiating skills, to nurture soundness of judgement and to produce a weighty and effective individual.” William McKane, Proverbs (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, n.d.), P. 265.
64 “It is then a term for a kind of nautical expertise, the ability to steer a course through the trackless sea; and it lends itself readily to becoming a metaphor for the negotiating skills which discern the beginning and the end of a problem and perform each operation in the right place at the right time.” Ibid, p. 266.