Study 16: The Hermeneutics of Proverbs

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; Fools despise wisdom and instruction.

Proverbs 1:7

We are continuing our study on Hermeneutics: the art and science of Biblical Interpretation.

The book of Proverbs is a great study as we begin practicing hermeneutics for a number of reasons:

  1. It comes in neat small sections (sometimes as concise as a single verse) taking some of the intimidation out of tackling an entire book
  2. The context is very clear and self-contained in the book (the wisdom literature, primarily of Solomon instructing his son)
  3. It is probably one of the best books to study with your family in raising children, or for young men facing the decisions of adulthood (after all, it is the art of skillful and wise living in God’s world)
  4. It allows us to consider the principles we’ve been studying, and avoiding the pitfalls of bad hermeneutics – particularly that we do not mis-interpret, sub-interpret or super-interpret, and avoid allegorizing

The Place of Proverbs in the Wisdom Literature

Now remember, the wisdom literature (namely Proverbs, Job and Ecclesiastes) are to be taken together as they bring harmony and balance to the subject. We can sum up the themes of the three as confidenceconfusion, and (apparent) cynicism.

Derek Kidner puts it well: “Between them, the three books clearly cover three aspects of existence which no-one can afford to overlook:  the demands of practical good management; the enigma of calamities that are beyond control or explanation; and the tantalizing hollowness and brevity of human life.”

So the three key wisdom books of the Old Testament must be studied in concert, or the Christian’s understanding of life in God’s world will be dangerously imbalanced: Proverbs is life as it should be; Job, how it sometimes is instead; and Ecclesiastes, the frustration experienced when we are in the midst of the “instead”.

Kidner, again: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning’, or first principle, ‘of wisdom’.  In one form or another this truth meets us in all the wisdom books, and it is this that keeps the shrewdness of Proverbs from slipping into mere self-interest, the perplexity of Job from mutiny, and the disillusion of Ecclesiastes from final despair.”

As Joel James puts it, “the wisdom of Proverbs is accessible—strikingly everyday.  It is popular, not arcane.  Wisdom’s pulpit is the street corner (Prov 1:20), not a lectern at the philosophical society.  More than any other book of the Bible, Proverbs deals with life’s most common and ordinary problems—especially relationship problems.”

Proverbs in light of the Mosaic Law

Proverbs 29:18.  “Where there is no vision (revelation), the people are unrestrained, but happy is he who keeps the law.”  (see also Prov 28:7, 9)

There are details of character small enough to escape the mesh of the law and the broadsides of the prophets, and yet are decisive in personal dealings. Proverbs moves in this realm, asking what a person is like to live with, or to employ; how he manages his affairs, his time and himself.  

To see the relationship of Proverbs with the Law, see how the key themes of Proverbs all find their origin in Deuteronomy:

  1. Wisdom “I have taught you statutes and judgments… So keep and do them, for that is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples” (Deut 4:5-6)
  2. God-centered stability and peace (shalom) “You shall keep His statutes and His commandments which I am giving you today, that it may go well with you and with your children after you…” (Deut 4:40)
  3. The Fear of the LORD “Oh that they had such a heart in them, that they would fear Me and keep all My commandments always, that it may be well with them and with their sons forever!” (Deut 5:29)
  4. The home is the epicentre of spiritual instruction (see Deut 6:7-9; 11:19-20)
  5. The 10 Commandments as much of Proverbs is simply filling out the commands 5-10:
    • family honour and authority
    • respect and kindness toward one’s fellowman
    • marital purity
    • integrity and sharing, rather than grasping and stealing
    • truth-telling in all realms of life
    • the importance of curbing one’s desires (sexual or otherwise) 

Authorship

First Kings 4:32 says that Solomon wrote 3,000 proverbs; moreover, the headings of the book of Proverbs ascribe the majority of the book to him (Prov 1:1; 10:1; 25:1).  Therefore, one can assert with confidence that Solomon was either the author or the compiler of the proverbs contained in this book.

  • Solomon as original author     1-22:16 and 25-29
  • Solomon as compiler               22:17-24 and 30-31

An Outline of Proverbs

1:1-7              Introduction and motto
1:8-9:18       Encouragement to “marry” Lady Wisdom
10-22:16      Various Solomonic proverbs
22:17-24      Thirty sayings of the wise
25-29            Solomonic proverbs complied by Hezekiah’s scribes
30                  The sayings of Agur
31:1-9            The sayings of Lemuel
31:10-31        The celebration of an excellent wife

What is a Proverb?

  • Short, vivid, easily remembered truisms
  • Wisdom in pill form—effective medicine easily swallowed
  • A sermon in one sentence
  • Proverbs are short sentences, drawn from long experience
  • Proverbs are sayings characterised by “shortness, sense, and salt.”

Note: Because of their conciseness, rarely does a single proverb express all that God—or even all that the book of Proverbs—has to say on a given topic.  Therefore, expect to find verifying examples and counter-examples in the book that expand or balance the teaching of individual proverbs.

Axiomatic vs Absolute Proverbs

Proverbs consists of both axiomatic principles and absolute promises.  For example, Proverbs 10:4 “The hand of the diligent makes rich.”  While hard work usually produces financial success, this proverb is not an absolute promise that if one works hard he or she will always become wealthy. One can embrace the truthfulness of Solomon’s observation about the value of diligence without attempting to transform it into an absolute principle. 

Equating a proverb with a promise is a frequent and elemental mistake when interpreting Proverbs.

On the other hand, some Proverbs are absolutely true:  “The fear of the Lord is to hate evil” (8:13).  That statement is always true, without exception.  Therefore, the interpreter must be able to distinguish Solomon’s purpose for each proverb:  Is it an absolute promise or an axiomatically true observation?

Kidner observes, “‘Many hands make light work’ is not the last word on the subject since ‘too many cooks spoil the broth'”. This is why Solomon can give apparently contradictory advice in successive verses (see Proverbs 26:4-5 “answer not a fool according to his folly… answer a fool according to his folly”!! Different fools and situations require different responses. Clearly it takes wisdom to understand and apply the wisdom of Proverbs!

You can see the axiomatic and absolute in a single verse – for example, speaking of keeping kindness and truth, Prov 3:4 says “…so you will find favor and good repute in the sight of God and man.” It is always true that kindness and truth find favor before God, but it is only generally true before men.

What is the Purpose of Proverbs?

  1. To teach the Fear of the LORD
    • What the alphabet is to reading, the fear of the LORD is to attaining wisdom in this book (Waltke, the Book of Proverbs)
    • This is what keeps the shrewdness of Proverbs from slipping into mere self-interest (Kidner, the Wisdom of Proverbs)
    • The fear of the LORD includes “…a knowledge of our sinfulness and God’s moral purity, and it includes a clear-eyed knowledge of God’s justice and his anger against sin.  But this worship-fear also knows God’s great forgiveness, mercy, and love.” (Welch, When People are Big and God is Small)
    • The fear of the LORD is a continuum with each component vital to understanding the whole: terror → dread → trembling → astonishment → awe → reverence → devotion → trust → worship3
  2. To teach Practical Daily Wisdom to Believers
    • Some evangelical expositors will feel especially reluctant to preach from Proverbs because they cannot find the announcement of the gospel in this book.  But that must raise another question: Is the sole reason for preaching to bring the good news of salvation in every message? (Kaiser)
  3. To teach Believers how to make Decisions
    • Proverbs is the decision-making book of the Bible, directing those who fear the Lord to make decisions based on principle not panic, driven by wisdom rather than merely by want.
  4. To teach Believers how to Avoid Temptation
    • Proverbs teaches believers to avoid temptation by controlling their thoughts (4:23; 6:25a; 23:7), by avoiding people who are acting sinfully (1:10-11, 15; 22:24), and by avoiding situations where the lure to do evil will be nearly overpowering (5:8; 10:19).
  5. To bring Order, Peace, and Stability to Life
    • Proverbs 1:33, “He who listens to me shall live securely and will be at ease from the dread of evil.”  (see also 6:21-23)

Things to look out for as your study

See key words used in the book, particularly:

  • Wisdom(meaning skillful)
  • Insight (to discern)
  • Naive (where we all start – also translated simple)
  • Fool (someone fixed in their own opinion)
  • Scoffer (the hardened fool, beyond help)

Note key themes:

  • The Law of Consequences (character → conduct → consequences)
  • Biblical change in the principle of “put off, put on” (see Prov 15:1, A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger)
  • Wisdom comes from God and His Word (2:6, 13:13, 21:30)

My hope is that this very practical and helpful book in discipleship (which will immediately be usefully applied) will also provide a fertile field where you can check yourself against the issues of bad interpretation vs right interpretation. Start by identifying a section (in this book, that may be a single proverb), ask questions about context, author and audience and then ask, “is this axiomatic or absolute”? 

As you go through the book, reading the text as “naturally” as possible, you will find that by asking key questions and simple observation, meaning becomes clear and you will gain confidence in interpreting God’s Word. 

The key to understanding the text is found in the text itself as you endeavor to discover the divinely intended meaning of the original author writing to his original audience in their original context!

Study 15: Hermeneutical Detox

For Ezra had set his heart to study the law of the Lord and to practice it, and to teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel.

Ezra 7:10

Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.

2 Timothy 2:15

We are continuing our study on Hermeneutics: the art and science of Biblical Interpretation.

I’ve decided to start us off with what we could call “hermeneutical detox” to purge ourselves from unhealthy, confusing and downright toxic habits of Bible interpretation and get back to a “normal and natural” reading of the text. 

Remember that as Jesus confronted Pharisees, Sadducees (Matt 22) and even his own disciples (Luke 24), He held them accountable to what the Scriptures taught. He assumed that the text was clear and comprehensible, and they should have all come to the same conclusion. That means Scripture must be objective, and it must have a singular meaning, defensible from the text itself.

This is why our motto must be: what was the divine meaning intended by the original author writing to his original audience in their original context? It should never be “what does this text mean to you” but rather “what did this text mean to the author who wrote it”?

Sadly, we fall into many habits of reading the text in bizarre and unnatural ways. We should be doing exegesis (reading meaning out of the text) and never eisegesis (reading meaning into the text). When doing eisegesis, meaning is determined by the contemporary reader; in exegesis the meaning is determined by the original author and discovered by the contemporary reader.

Avoiding Pitfalls of Bible Interpretation

Three broad categories:

  1. Mis-interpretation: ascribing the wrong meaning to a passage (meaning is A, interpretation is B)
  2. Sub-interpretation: failing to ascertain the full meaning of the passage (meaning is A, B, C, but interpretation is A)
  3. Super-interpretation: attributing more to a passage than was intended (meaning is A, but interpretation is A, B, C)

We have all, no doubt, been guilty of all three to some degree or other. And in some way, we are all somewhere in 2, which is the least of the errors, yet calls us to improve and grow in our understanding and study of Scripture.

If we are to submit to Scripture, it must hold its objective and clear authority over us – and for that, we need to get out of the way!

Seven Pitfalls

1) Proof-texting

This is “using a text to prove a point“. While this may be neutral, it can easily lead to problems, especially when you’ve got a point to prove or a theology to defend, and you start searching through Scripture looking for ammunition. You’re not trying to understand the original author in the context of that verse, but it becomes a bit like the pastor who says “I’ve got a zinger of a sermon, I just need a verse to go with it.” 
When using a verse to make a point, be certain you understand the context and meaning of what the author was communicating in that passage, and make sure you’re not twisting a verse to make a point you need it to make.

2) Allegorizing

Allegorizing is “to search for the hidden or secret meaning underlying the passage – and those hidden meanings are unrelated to the obvious meaning of the passage.” This method of interpretation was popularized (and canonized until the Reformation) by Origen, who developed it initially to explain away what he found strange, uncomfortable or ‘immoral’ in Scripture. He was one of the first to explain away the literal interpretation of Genesis saying “no sensible man would believe Genesis to be literal, it surely was intended to be allegorical” and he spent considerable ink saying the creation account was not to tell us how God created the world, but why (sneaky, sneaky).
Origen went on to create an entire system called the ‘fourfold method’ all about getting past the shallow ‘literal’ interpretation and find the allegorical meaning.
By the time you get to the Reformation, libraries of fanciful interpretations abounded. For example, Gregory the Great said that in the book of Job, the 3 friends represent heretics, Job’s 7 sons are the 12 Apostles (?), the 7000 sheep are innocent thoughts, the 3000 camels are vain notions, etc. etc.
Many of the Reformers explicitly condemned allegorizing and called for a return to a literal reading of the text. After all, allegorizing is arbitrary. It has no objectivity or controls except your imagination. It obscures the meaning of Scripture and strips it of any authority or certainty. 

3) Christologizing

This is a subset of allegorizing – particularly finding “hidden forms of Jesus and His work on the cross in the Old Testament“. Or better said, eiseJesus (reading Jesus into the text). I’m sure you’ve heard someone say the story of David and Goliath represents Jesus taking down the giant of sin and death. 
Justin Martyr said that Genesis 29 taught that Leah represented the Jews, Rachel the church, and Jacob represented Jesus who serves both the Jews and the church.
While this may sound spiritual and ‘Christ exalting’, it is simply subjecting the Scriptures to our imagination, and will yield a Jesus made in our own image.

4) Personalizing

This is “skipping over the author’s intended meaning and looking for some connection to our personal circumstances“. This is not about applying the Word to your life, but skipping over the true meaning of the text and grabbing something that ‘sounds’ like it’s speaking to a circumstance in your life.
This usually happens when people read the Scriptures ‘devotionally’, praying for God to “give them a verse”; not studying but just reading until some phrase or word just connects to something in their life. 
For example, a youth pastor explained that he was just thinking and praying about the issue of dating when he opened his Bible, and his eyes settled on 1 Tim 5:22 “…do not lay hands upon anyone too hastily and share in the sins of others…” and he totally ignored the context of appointing elders in a local assembly, and just applied it to his personal situation on dating. 

5) Decontextualizing

This is to “consider something in isolation from its context“. Taking something out of context. 
You could call this ‘fortune-cookie hermeneutics’. You get this verse that is independent, free-floating and unattached to any context. When verses are isolated from their context, becoming a ‘pearl of wisdom’ (or in modern vernacular, a meme) it is no longer grounded in a real person writing to real people in a real context.
Do not attach God’s name to some sentiment you’re experiencing as you read words stripped from their context. For example, many missionary pamphlets quote Psalm 2:8 “Ask of Me and I will surely give the nations as your inheritance and the very ends of the earth as your possession” and claim this is a promise of conversions! Who is being promised the nations in this passage? Messiah, not missionaries.
While Scripture was written for us, it was not initially written to us. For us to understand the divinely intended meaning for our benefit, we must do the work of understanding the original author, the original audience, and the original context.

6) Reading through a lens of:

  • Human Reason
    • During the enlightenment, reason was elevated to the highest place of authority. There are those who read Scripture through a lens of their own reason – if something doesn’t sound ‘reasonable’ to them (morally or scientifically, for example), they simply reject it out of hand, or find ways of explaining it away.
    • Some cannot reconcile the doctrine of election and that we are responsible for our choices and actions, so they either reject the doctrine or redefine it to make it more ‘reasonable’. 
    • The Scripture is not illogical; logic and reason were created by God – but this is the infinite God who created the universe with a word. Our reason (limited and fallen) should not be the authority over Scripture, instead Scripture should correct and shape our reason. When reason fails to reconcile it all – once we have pressed in and deeply studied and considered – let us be humble enough to say, “God is God and I am not; let Him be true and ever man proved a liar (or a fool).”
  • A Theological System
    • When we have a systematic theology (an important and helpful exercise), we may be tempted to interpret a passage through that system. For example, those zealous ‘cage-stage’ Calvinists seem to find the 5 points of Calvinism in every verse. 
    • This often results in ‘right doctrine, wrong verse’. 
    • The problem is that we will not have our theological system challenged, refined or corrected by that passage, instead our theological system governs the interpretation rather than the Scripture correcting the system.
    • Walt Kaiser says “to impose a theological grid onto a text must be condemned as the mark of a foolish and lazy exegete”. 
    • We must have an ‘exegetical theology’ which arises from a deep study of the Scriptures, constantly being refined and even corrected. Follow the text where it leads, and don’t be afraid of where it goes. God’s Word is true and consistent.
  • Continuity and Discontinuity
    • There are certain theological systems that emphasize continuity between Israel and the Church, and others emphasizing discontinuity (for example, covenant and dispensational theology). 
    • Robert Booth, in defending infant baptism, says “our interpretive starting point determines how we understand Scripture… we must strive for interpretational consistency. The Covenantal principle of interpretation holds that we must assume continuity in God’s revelation.”
    • Others go to the radical opposite, assuming discontinuity (for example, Andy Stanley’s campaign to ‘unhitch the church from the Old Testament’).
    • If you put on a lens of continuity, you will miss legitimate points of discontinuity. And likewise, a lens of discontinuity will make you miss points of legitimate continuity. Covenant or Dispensational theology is not a hermeneutic – it may be a post-exegetical conclusion you arrive at, but never start with.
    • Ask, ‘do my lenses prevent me from seeing what the text actually says’?
  • Other Passages of Scripture
    • When cross-referencing, you may be tempted to transfer meaning from one text into another. For example, if you read Mark 8 and the command “take up your cross” and you go over to Romans 6, speaking of the cross of Jesus, you may be tempted to take meaning from one and place it over the other – while they are both mentioning the cross, they are addressing two entirely different issues.
    • Compare Romans 4:1-5 and James 2:14-16, is Paul using the word “justified” the same way James does? Getting this wrong may lead to a false view of salvation!
  • Culture
    • We live in a very different culture to the biblical authors – separated by geography, ethnicity and time. The temptation may be to read my own culture into Scripture.
    • For example, when you encounter the term ‘slave’ in the Bible, you may transfer a cultural understanding of slavery into that term which is entirely different to what you may think. Indentured servanthood in the Old Testament is utterly different to the chattel slavery of the 18th century.
    • Perhaps you read Genesis through the lens of a cultural view of origins, ie. evolution. That will destroy your understanding of the text.
  • Your own intuition
    • If you read the Bible just following your gut, those impressions you get while reading, your ‘moral intuition’ and what ‘feels right’, you are interpreting by your own intuition.
    • Clark Pinnock wrote “I reject the traditional view of hell in part out of a sense of moral and theological revulsion to it – and this is probably the reason people question the traditional view in the first place. They are not impressed by its lack of Scriptural basis, instead they are appalled by its moral implications.” If your (fallen) moral intuition is your interpretive lens, you will create your own personal theology.
  • Personal Experience
    • Perhaps you’re facing a critical decision in your life, you may be tempted to open your Bible with one overriding goal: give me guidance!! You may be bringing a question on your mind to a passage that the author was not addressing.
    • Some interpret the Scripture through charismatic experiences. For example, they do not interpret 1 Corinthians 12-14 (where Paul addresses the charismatic gifts, especially tongues) with the Biblical Acts 2 definition (tongues are understandable human languages miraculously spoken by a person who had not learned them). Instead, they simply assume the experience of ecstatic speech they experienced in church last week is what Paul is talking about.
    • A Charismatic University has a statement “a man with an experience is never at the mercy of a man with a biblical argument”. And they intend that as a good thing!
    • We don’t deny experiences, or read our experiences into Scripture – instead, we are to interpret that experience by what Scripture says. What is objective? The Word. So let’s look at what the Scripture teaches about tongues, and from that understanding see what this experience actually was.

7) Interpreting the OT with the NT

This is quite controversial in theological circles. For example, in McCartney and Clayton’s handbook on hermeneutics, they write “to understand the Old Testament properly, it must be read through the lens of the New Testament.” Roy Zuck, on the other hand, says “Recognizing the progress of revelation, the interpreter must be careful not to read back into the Old Testament from the New.”
Zuck is right. We cannot take NT truth and read it into the OT text to change the meaning originally intended by the author to his original audience.
If we affirm that the whole Scripture is ultimately authored by God, and it is all one consistent and coherent truth – nothing will contradict. However, if meaning changes over time, Scripture is no longer consistent. Worse, if you need the NT to properly understand the OT, what about those poor people who originally got the OT text? They could not understand what was given to them until they had the key hundreds, or even thousands of years later!
When Jesus said “have you not read”, He assumed the text was clear to them!
Think of the progress of revelation – for example, the prophecies of Messiah – as a line of prophets. As we move from that initial promise in Genesis 3 (the seed of the woman shall crush the head of the serpent), we learn more and more about the promised Messiah… he’ll be from the tribe of Judah, born in Bethlehem, in the line of David, and He will suffer and be killed before rising to his glorious throne.
It is as if each prophet came and supplemented a painting with more and more detail and color until the full revelation of Messiah would be seen. They never erased or changed what came before. They didn’t flip over the canvas and say, “see, you thought it was a mountain, but it’s actually a face!” 
Unless we understand the text in its original context and time, it is easy to read into it things never intended by the author, resulting in mis-interpretation or super-interpretation.

That leaves us bereft of the divinely intended meaning of the original author writing to his original audience in their original context. 

Let us never assume that God is a poor communicator. He gave us the Scriptures by His divine design and we must embrace it (its context, its progress of revelation, its cultural and historical background) for what it is: the very Word of God!

Study 14: Hermeneutics Introduction

For Ezra had set his heart to study the law of the Lord and to practice it, and to teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel.

Ezra 7:10

…just as our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction.

1 Corinthians 9:24-27

We are now embarking on a new study! Hermeneutics: the art and science of Biblical Interpretation.

Why should you study the Bible? A couple observations:

  1. It is commanded and commended (2 Tim 2:15, Psalm 119)
  2. It is the means of your sanctification (John 17:17)
  3. It is the way the Holy Spirit exposes our hearts (Heb 4:12)
  4. You are to have Biblical convictions, not derived convictions (Rom 14:5, 22-24)
  5. It is your duty to raise your children in the instruction of the Lord (Deut 6:4-9, Eph 6:4) 
  6. You are to shepherd your wife in the Scriptures (Eph 5:26)
  7. Biblical maturity develops discernment (Heb 5:11-14) 
  8. It will equip you for evangelism and apologetics (1 Peter 3:15) 
  9. It is the source of the believer’s reviving, wisdom, joy, insight, power and truth (Psalm 19:7-11)
  10. Studying the Word will stir up spiritual interaction with fellow believers and motivate you in evangelism.

As 2 Peter 3:16 warns, there are those who distort (twist a statement as to make it mean a falsehood) the Scriptures – those who are unstable and untaught. The first part of our study in godliness has had its purpose to make you stable in the faith. We’re shifting gears now, turning to the work of training you to be able to understand the God-intended meaning of Scripture.


What does this verse mean to you? It had better mean what it meant before you existed!

Gordon Fee notes, “The Scripture cannot mean now what it did not mean then.” and John MacArthur, “The meaning of Scripture is the Scripture.”

Let us have Ezra as our pattern:
“Ezra had set his heart to study the law of the LORD and to practice it, and to teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel.”

  1. Study (this is to examine and make inquiry to discover the true meaning of the text)
  2. Practice (applying the truth and principle from the Scripture with obedience and submission)
  3. Teach (here is the goal – yet it can only happen if the first two have been diligently done)

Said another way, to study is about extracting meaning and to practice is to draw out the various applications of the truth you have discovered. Themeaning is ancient, the application is contemporary. The interpretation of the text arrives at a singular meaningapplication draws out a plurality of application.

So, the goal of biblical interpretation is to discover the divinely intended meaning that was communicated:

  • by the original author
  • to the original audience
  • in the original context

Said another way, the goal of hermeneutics is to get the authorial intent. What did the original author intend his original audience to understand by the words he was communicating to them?

Think of it – we’re living in the 21’st century. We have to essentially time travel across to another land, another culture, another context so we can rightly come to the meaning in the text. Some passages will be harder than other to do this, and some will require a lot of work to build enough context – but here is the point: unless you get to know what the original author was communicating to his original audience in their original context, there is no way you can know that the meaning you’ve arrived at is correct.

For example, 2 Chronicles 7:14 says “if My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, I will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.”

This has been used to motivate massive prayer meetings with the goal of claiming God’s promise to “heal our land”. Is this the legitimate application of this passage? Is anyone asking the question, could this promise have had a very particular intention to a very particular people (namely, the nation of Israel) in relation to a very particular context (the blessings and curses found in the final third of Deuteronomy) which held very particular physical promises intended for that theocratic nation.

If you do not understand the original intended meaning of the passage, you will not be able to rightly apply that passage in your context. Will you be able to apply 2 Chronicles 7:14 to your life today? Absolutely. But that application can only be legitimate if it is based on an accurate understanding of the original meaning of the text.

The true meaning of Scripture is not found in the subjective impression of the contemporary reader, but rather in the objective intention of the original author. 


The meaning of Scripture first existed in the mind of God, that meaning was communicated through the human author and is contained in the text:

  • it is fixed and unchanging
  • it is objective and intelligible
  • it exists in the text apart from the human interpreter
  • the job of the interpreter is simply to discover the objective, intelligible, fixed and unchanging meaning contained in that text. 

Again, the goal of biblical interpretation is to discover the divinely intended meaning that was communicated by the original author, to the original audience, in the original context.  Why? Because meaning has authority, application does not. Meaning is unchanging and objective, application is subjective and changes from person to person.

My hope is that you will be better equipped to open God’s Word and approach it with confidence, knowing with certainty that this is what God intended to communicate through this passage. Because its meaning is certain and clear to me now, I must submit my life to it and apply it with wisdom. And I can then teach it to those in my sphere of influence with the boldness of a lion!

Study 13: A Man of Purity

Finally then, brethren, we request and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us instruction as to how you ought to walk and please God (just as you actually do walk), that you excel still more. For you know what commandments we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God; and that no man transgress and defraud his brother in the matter because the Lord is the avenger in all these things, just as we also told you before and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for the purpose of impurity, but in sanctification. So, he who rejects this is not rejecting man but the God who gives His Holy Spirit to you.

1 Thessalonians 4:1-8

Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air;but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.

1 Corinthians 9:24-27

We are continuing our study on the Character of a Godly Man.

In our age, we may imagine that we are living in the most sexually explicit time in history with extraordinary temptations that make it impossible to live a morally pure life. However, the audiences of Paul’s epistles were in an equally – if not more salacious – culture to ours. And his instructions carried the full expectation that a Spirit-indwelt believer had everything necessary to gain consistent victory over sexual sin and live lives pleasing to God. While they were in the world, they – and we – are never to be of the world.

There is something particular about today’s temptation when it comes to the lure and availability of pornography in that it has moved the battle directly to where this particular fight is always won or lost: the private thoughts of the heart. We need to be all the more diligent to guard our hearts in this matter.

While much of the response to the bondage of sexual sin has been techniques (methods and programs to deal with behavior with some form of accountability) this is not the substance of what keeps the Christian in the joy of a holy life marked by a clean conscience. What the past few lessons have taught us is the substance is divine power in the inner life: the work of the Holy Spirit through His Word.

That is the key.

This is no human victory. You cannot ‘self-control’ yourself into purity by your own strength. We are to rely on the truth of Scripture and the conviction of the Holy Spirit leading us to repentance and godliness.

In Matthew 5:27-29, Jesus drives to the crux of the issue and gives us two principles to ponder:

1 – This is an internal battle first

“…I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart…”

  • Sin begins in the heart and that’s where it must be defined
    • remember, the heart is the wellspring of every form of evil (Matt 15, Mark 7)
    • are you merely dealing with the externals? or are you going all the way, to the root and waging war there long before the sin is acted out?

2. It is a severe threat requiring radical amputation

“If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you… if your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose a part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.”

  • have you counted the cost of this sin (and the reward of purity)?
  • it is a particularly destructive sin (1 Cor 6:18)
  • sexual sin is solemnly warned against (1 Thess 4:6) where Paul remarks that “God is an avenger in all these things”
  • it is a disqualifying sin (1 Cor 9:27)
    • think of its devastating consequences to your family
    • consider the reproach it brings to your gospel testimony
  • do you embrace the conviction of the Holy Spirit and the radical repentance His Word demands on this area of your life?
  • go through last week’s lesson (11 – A Man of Integrity) and consider self deception vs genuine confession and repentance in sexual sin

Understanding that this is a battle in the private thoughts and imaginings of the mind, and it is to be fought with severity – that requires you to have a battle plan in facing this temptation. And it must have a clear intention of victory: the violent death of sexual sin and victorious joy of godly purity.

1 Thess 4:4 says “each one of you must know how to posses his own vessel in sanctification and honor”. I believe Paul means “know how to control your own body” in this matter. 

Paul models this for us in 1 Cor 9:24-27 showing that his Christian life is one of discipline – bringing his body under control by “exercising self control in all things“. What he essentially says is: “I am not controlled by anything in my flesh, but I control it. I am not controlled by my desires – even if those desires may be considered neutral, I bring my flesh to heel.”

The Apostle had a comprehensive view, taking all his life under a Spirit-empowered self control. Because the stakes are that high. Negatively, the devastation of disqualification. Positively, the imperishable reward awaiting the faithful disciple.

His goal (as not beating the air) in self discipline was moral strength. He was still going after this, decades into his conversion and ministry. So – a quick recap – this is a battle of the inner life, you must go to war with it, and do not underestimate it! Stand firm, stay steady. You will not be mastered by sin. In fact, you are to be mastered by Christ alone. 

So in the area of discipline and self control, we need some serious self evaluation to see if you are mastered or enslaved by anything. Even what you may think is neutral. Because, as 1 Thess 4:4 tells us – you must know how to control your body – so your strategy must start by understanding your weaknesses in this area where the enemy will most certainly strike to get at your soul.

Evaluate

Here are a few ways to evaluate yourself to see if you have particular vulnerabilities to enslavement, and work to cultivate self control “in all things”:

  • In those things with which you coddle yourself and reward yourself (this could be a hobby, media, an enjoyable habit), give it up for a season.
    • give up what you enjoy when you don’t have to
    • this is not in itself spiritually beneficial (this must not be asceticism, see Col 2)
    • this is to bring your desires under the control of a parameter to see if you are enslaved by it, and then to begin to practice self control even in the enjoyment of it
    • Spurgeon did this to see if he was controlled by his cigar smoking (http://www.romans45.org/spurgeon/misc/cigars.htm)
  • Overlook offenses
    • we have a natural tendency when we’ve been personally offended to demand that it be made right
    • to nurture self control, begin to practice this: when you’ve been personally offended (especially at home), resolve it in your heart and don’t say anything about it
    • this is the discipline of learning how to absorb and not feed a desire, starving the tendency of wanting satisfaction in a personal matter
    • there is a direct link between feeding your desires in matters of personal offense and weakness in moral fibre
  • Do your undesirable tasks before your favorite ones
    • why? So you don’t coddle yourself and feed your flesh
    • when is something your slave? when it does what you tell it to
  • Admit weakness before it’s exposed
    • this cultivates humility and transparency
    • proud men refuse to admit weakness, even when it’s been uncovered
    • confessing weakness pulverizes the tendency to hide with pride
  • When something goes wrong, thank God first
    • when something irritates you or even provokes you to anger, start by thanking God for that situation
    • this crushes the pride of self sovereignty (wanting things your way)
    • you’ll discover that as you thank God in temptation, your victory is already secured
    • your eyes are turned to Him and away from your weakness

We live in a culture that coddles us on every level. Don’t imagine that doesn’t affect your self control, your humility and your battle with purity. If you coddle yourself rather than bringing yourself under the control of the Holy Spirit, you will fail in this area of your life.

This is not about asceticism or rigidness of life, it is about evaluating your heart to find its vulnerabilities and cultivating self control.

What are the things that take your guard down?

  • Tiredness? Overworking?
  • Spiritual and emotional trials?
  • Conflict at home?
  • Boredom? (young men, be especially wary of this)
  • Isolation?

“…know how to control your body in sanctification… For God has not called us for the purpose of impurity, but in sanctification. So, he who rejects this is not rejecting man but the God who gives His Holy Spirit to you.”

Sexual sin is slavery and leads to destruction. Yet in our salvation, we have been called to purity. This is not a reluctant religious killjoy – it is the liberation of the Christian! We get to be pure, to have a clean conscience, to have true and unashamed sexual pleasure to the glory of God in the intimacy of marriage! And for the single, your energy may fully be expended in the service of others as you cultivate moral purity before – and into marriage! 

Men, let us rejoice in purity. It is the protection of our souls and the liberation of our consciences in a perverse and wicked generation.

Study 12: A Man of Truth

“Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth each one of you with his neighbour, for we are members of one another.”

Ephesians 4:25

“Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being…”

Psalm 51:5a

We are continuing our study on the Character of a Godly Man.

Last time we spoke on Integrity and the conscience. The fact is, in a church like ours where God’s Word is clearly taught, where we have active discipleship and men pursuing godliness, and we have a men’s study which pulls no punches – you’re going to have those times when your conscience is hit and you say “man, that’s is convicting!” 

The question is, what are you going to do about it?

You have two options: self-deception, or self-indictment. You will either suppress the truth and ignore, deflect or dodge the pangs of conviction… or you will confront sin by confession and repentance. The first option is the natural one, the second must be empowered by the Spirit and leads to integrity and truth in the inner man before God.

1 – How do we deceive ourselves?

  • We ignore
    • don’t imagine that God will allow you to ignore His truth
    • to ignore conviction from the Word of God is to resist the Holy Spirit
  • We rationalize
    • this is how we silence the conscience
    • the conscience is the accuser, and you become the devil’s advocate (the devil being your own desires)
    • rationalizing is becoming the serpent saying “has God really said”
    • we re-interpret the Scripture to avoid its unyielding truth
  • Realize that self-deception is at the core of the old man (see Eph 4:17-19)
  • We have been called to speak truth, and it starts by putting off all falsehood – especially self-deception in avoiding conviction

2. How should we confess?

  • Psalm 51 is our model
  • Start with a clear and specific acknowledgment of whatever is being exposed in your heart
  • Do not run from the light, but expose your heart to the full sunshine of God’s Word
  • Confess your sin by agreeing with what God’s Word is revealing
  • Have the posture of ‘raising your hands to heaven’ 
    • this was the attitude of saying “God examine my hands, I’m open before you”
    • come to God asking for His evaluation of your heart
    • integrity for sinful men must begin with confession
  • Confess your rationalizations, confess where you have been suppressing the truth
  • Say about your sin “in that moment, I loved my sin more than Christ”
  • Take the truth, be honest with yourself, confess the reality of it all in light of God’s Word, be specific about its offense, pray that God’s heavy hand of conviction would not allow a moment’s peace in hypocrisy, call for pruning
  • Empty the room
    • as David prayed “against you, and you alone have I sinned – and done what is evil in your sight”
    • everyone else is excluded, you are to contend with your sin first and foremost before God
    • exclude those who may offer excuses to your behavior (he made me angry, she tempted me, finances were tough)
    • the blame is on me, there’s no blame-shifting
    • God defines what is sin, what offends His holiness
  • Embrace the forgiveness you have in Christ and rejoice that you are not a slave to sin, but free to serve our Saviour

A man of integrity is a man useful to God. 

As David confessed his sin, turned from it and embraced God’s forgiveness, it produced a yielded submissiveness to God and His will. “Make me hear gladness, renew a steadfast spirit in me…” and then he got back to what he’s supposed to be doing “teaching sinners Your ways”. A renewed mind, a new life. That’s what we’re looking for – putting off sin and producing lasting fruit.

A man of integrity is eager to be in discipleship – a hypocrite is afraid of people in his life because he is afraid of being exposed. We are to be men who are whole and not divided, speaking truth all the way into the inner man and inviting influences that will expose us to the light of God’s Word. Integrity has the attitude of embracing and not resisting the conviction of the Holy Spirit and engaging to the full result that is intended by Him.

Although this is not the perfection of your life, may it be the direction as you nurture and cultivate integrity in confession rather than self-deception.

Study 11: A Man of Integrity

“Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being…”

Psalm 51:6a

O LORD, who may abide in Your tent? Who may dwell on Your holy hill?
He who walks with integrity, and works righteousness, and speaks truth in his heart. He does not slander with his tongue, nor does evil to his neighbour, nor takes up a reproach against his friend;
In whose eyes a reprobate is despised, but who honors those who fear the LORD; he swears to his own hurt and does not change;
He does not put out his money at interest, nor does he take a bribe against the innocent. 
He who does these things will never be shaken.

Psalm 15

We are continuing our study on the Character of a Godly Man.

Integrity is the character of man after God’s own heart. As David emphasized in his prayer of confession, “…behold, You desire truth in the innermost being…” A man who is not only undivided, not a hypocrite, not compromised, but a man who is honest to his very core and pours God’s truth into his heart.

Psalm 15 goes to the integrity and honesty of a man, the prerequisite for one who will enjoy an intimate walk with God, and be useful to Him. What David reveals about integrity is a man with a clear conscience (bound up in the very word, integrity) and the character that flows from truth spoken in the inner man.

One cannot address the issue of integrity without spending a significant amount of time on the conscience: sadly a topic often overlooked, misunderstood and abused by many. Though the conscience is immaterial – you can’t touch or measure it – it can drive a man to suicide, determine a life of joy or depression, marks the difference between a sociopath and a ‘normal person’.

1 – What is the Conscience?

  • “the one who stands alongside” either accusing or commending (Rom 2:15)
  • It is not God’s law, yet may reflect it
  • Think of it as the mechanism God intended to shine the truth of God’s Word into your inner life exposing it either to commendation or condemnation
  • It is like your spiritual nerve-endings indicating pain to warn you when something is wrong (and likewise, think of the lack of conscience as leprosy, where all feeling is lost)

2. The Conscience can be seared or sensitized

  • Paul warns of those who dull or sear their conscience (1 Tim 1:5-6)
    • “those who have strayed from a good conscience, a pure heart and a sincere faith”
    • this is a package deal – those who violate their conscience no longer have a pure heart and their faith is no longer sincere – the seeds of hypocrisy and apostasy have been sown
    • straying from a pure conscience results in fruitless discussion and pride (when you violate your conscience, things become murky)
  • The rule is: do not violate your conscience – even though it is not God’s law, and even if it is poorly informed. What is done in violation of conscience not only sears and defiles, it is sin (see Rom 14)
  • Instead we should be calibrating and informing our conscience with Truth

3. The Conscience must be trained in the truth

  • We always battle an ‘underbaked’ or ‘overbaked’ conscience
    • your conscience may warn you of things that don’t matter to God
    • your conscience may be silent when it should be warning you of violating God’s Word
    • these two often exist in the same person (self-righteous legalism, anyone?)
  • The greatest culprit in misinforming our conscience is a combination of worldliness and psychology
    • we get used to sin by exposure to it in the culture and entertainment
    • we are told by the authorities of psychology that guilt is always bad and we should discard it
    • psychology commends pride and tolerance of sin, ultimately inverting the conscience (calling what is good, evil and what is evil, good – Isaiah 5:20-21)
  • We must confront our conscience with God’s Word
    • Peter had his conscience confronted in Acts 10:9-16, where God commanded him to set aside his objections to non-kosher food and particularly, his separation from Gentiles
    • this was a serious issue to deal with in the early church, and Christians were urged to have patience and forbearance with one another while they matured to a better-informed conscience (Rom 14)
  • Dig into the Scriptures and cultivate conviction on its truth and emphasis, repent of guilt whether you feel it or not (guilt is first a fact, not a feeling) and this starts the process of sensitizing and cleansing your conscience

4. Love what God loves, hate what God hates

  • A calibrated is that which loves what God loves, and hates what God hates (Psalm 15:4)
  • As you act according to integrity and not hypocrisy, as you aim towards a conscience which commends rather than condemns, your life will be oriented towards and energized by good works (Eph 2:10) 
  • This is where the battle must be fought and won – where nobody else can see, but you and the Lord; the inner life

5. What defiles the Conscience

  • Psalm 15 contrasts the man of integrity against those things he despises
  • He does not slander
    • Slander is at its core hypocrisy: talking about someone what you would never say to his face
    • Deal with slander (notice how it is the prerequisite for a heart that loves God’s Word in 1 Peter 2:1)
  • He does no evil to his neighbor
    • Do you speak and act with integrity cleansed from malice?
    • Are your words and deeds aimed at building up and not tearing down (Eph 4:28-29)?
  • He doesn’t take up a reproach against his friend
    • We must clear our accounts and not hold grudges
    • When you hold something against someone and don’t deal with it, it loads your conscience and you cannot act with integrity towards them

6. Hypocrisy is Cancer

  • Is there any part of your life, if it were exposed would shame you? Destroy you?
  • A hypocrite cannot hide it from his family and children
  • Note how much weight Paul puts on a sincere conscience, with the result being that he will not be ashamed (make a word study on conscience and shame sometime)
  • Conviction is impossible to cultivate in the soil of hypocrisy
  • Hypocrisy is the seed of apostasy – it will destroy faith
  • Our culture is designed for hypocrisy
    • we are highly individualistic with much privacy, especially online
    • business justifies so much compromise and legal wrangling, it is easy to begin to play with right and wrong
    • it is so easy to live a double life, especially between work, home, and church
  • We are not pragmatists, we do not have a price – we must be morally predictable
  • Aim towards a life internally regulated by God’s Word
    • accountability is good, but it is a means towards the end
    • it is so easy to hide and get around accountability
    • the goal is to be captive to God’s Word when nobody is around and you can get away with it

A man of integrity will not be shaken. Your yes is yes, your no is no. Your convictions go to your core and you will not be spiritually shaken. You will not lose your moorings. Your family will be secure under your leadership. You will be growing and progressing as you speak truth in your heart. 

This is not talking about perfection – a perfectly clear conscience will only happen when we are glorified and no longer fight sin – but this is about the work of integrity. Cleansing your conscience, maturing your conscience, building conviction, deepening your roots, working integrity. Then you will be able to teach and proclaim the truth with clarity and conviction. You will be steady and persevere to the end. “He who trusts in You will not be ashamed.”

To you who are still in your youth – start now! This is the time when you determine your course, and integrity must begin today. What God desires of you is integrity.

Study 10: A Man of Contentment

I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.

Philippians 4:12-13

…godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment. For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content. But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. But flee from these things, you man of God, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness.

1 Timothy 6:6-11

We are continuing our study on the Character of a Godly Man.

A godly man is one who finds his true contentment in Christ and Him alone. That only comes when we find Christ is our only aim.

1 – A godly man is content with where God has placed him in life

  • The things of this world are not his primary concern
  • He earns them, yet is not focused on them
  • His mind is set on things above (Col 3:1-3)
    • Do not lose your eternal perspective
    • Live always ‘coram Deo‘ (in the conscious presence, authority, and glory of God)
    • Keep the main things the main thing (Prov 4)

2. A godly man pursues the things of God (2 Tim 2:20; Titus 2:11-14)

  • Faith
  • Righteousness
  • Godliness
  • Love
  • Patience
  • Gentleness
  • Humility
  • The Service of God’s people

3. A godly man flees earthly trappings

  • Know the danger of discontentment
  • Understand the temptations of wealth and its trappings

4. A godly man’s central goal is Christ and becoming more like Him (Eph 5:1; Phil 1:21; 2:5-11)

  • Test your contentment when you are alone (and perhaps checking your budget)
  • Keep your eternal perspective (all you have and all you are is grace, and God may at any moment, justly take it away – Job 1:21)
  • Christ must be our highest aim and ambition (John 17:3; 2 Cor 5:9; Rev 2:4)

5. A godly man’s family sees his deepest desires lived out

  • A wife needs a husband who leads her towards Christ
  • Children need a father who leads them towards Christ
    • they need to see their father with the courage stand up for Christ
    • they need to see a dependence on God for all things
    • they need to see an attitude of thankfulness
    • they need to see their father pushing away earthly desires

6. A godly man conforms his life to God’s will

  • A faith that will not be moved (Romans 4:18-21)
  • His convictions are unbending (Ps 15)
  • Faithful when trials come
  • Content with God’s Providence


The greatest gift a father can give his children is Christ, and show his love for Christ by living for Him every day.