Category: Sanctification


. . . in Him you have been made complete . . . (Col. 2:10)

This statement comes in the context of Paul’s encouragement to the Colossians regarding Christ’s triumph on the cross. In the role of our Savior, Jesus was crucified and, in that act, the justice of God was satisfied and the demands of the Law were met. Our sins were paid for, our souls were redeemed, and we no longer live under the condemnation of God.

The fact that Christ represented us, the apostle explains, means that we gain the benefits that He secured. Every charge pending against us was nullified and every need was met in Christ. His atonement was perfect; consequently, there is nothing lacking, nothing to be added, and nothing to be modified. The resurrection of Jesus Christ was the definitive declaration from God that the Son’s sacrifice was accepted and all those on whose behalf the sacrifice was made were eternally secure.

This is our position before God today—no guilt, no fear, no debt, no judgment. We are free in the purest and most magnificent sense of the word. We are free to live in peace, we are free to enjoy what we have been given, we are free to rejoice in God and express our gladness to Him. We are free to sing and praise and pray. We are free to set aside every concern we once had about winning God’s favor. We are free to be who we are in Christ and pay no attention to what others may want us to be. We are free to follow the Word and ignore man-made rules and regulations, and we are free to live in hope of that coming day when we will join our wonderful Savior in heaven.

All of this is what Christ has provided. This is what Paul meant when he wrote: “in Him you have been made complete.” We pay Christ a great honor when we live out our days as a free, sanctified, and confident people. If there is any area in your life in which you are in bondage to the dictates of man, you may cast off those shackles at this very moment in the name of your Savior. If there is any aspect of your life in which fear of condemnation is present, you may reclaim it right now in the name of your Deliverer.

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No topic in the book of Proverbs more clearly illustrates the way of God and the way of fallen man, or the way of righteousness and the way of wickedness, better than the subject of the tongue. The Proverbs address the incredibly diverse effects that can be accomplished with our speech. The tongue can bring life or it can bring death. It can cheer or it can cause despair. It can guide or it can mislead. It can bless or it can curse. It can honor God or it can be the instrument of blasphemy. Due to the tongue’s potential for both good and evil, it receives some of Solomon’s most precise analysis.

You don’t have to live too many years before you learn first-hand about the potential for good and the potential for harm that resides in our tongues. Generally speaking, we are so very careless with our words. Some of our most bitter memories are not of being struck by another person, but of being spoken to or spoken of harshly by another person. Most of us can recall episodes when we felt crushed by the words of another, or when we felt the keenest sense of betrayal due to words spoken by another. Set against these experiences are those times when someone has spoken kindly to us or about us and that has brought us satisfaction. And we all have known the comfort that comes from words of encouragement and support during a time of trial.

Our words are the most effective weapon we possess for destruction and the most effective means we possess for building up. The difference between these two extremes is the words we choose to utter and the manner in which we choose to utter them.

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

This is a verse that serves as one of the foundational principles when it comes to understanding the Biblical doctrine of language, in general, and the use of the tongue, in particular. Solomon doesn’t say what we might expect him to say. He doesn’t say “when there are many bad or hurtful or hasty or negative words, transgression is unavoidable, he simply writes that when there are “many words,” transgression is unavoidable. This should tell us something about communication immediately; it should tell us that much talk tends to result in a negative outcome. Our words, when they are prolonged, tend to degenerate in character and that means that transgression is always a potential product.

Because of our fallen natures, if we speak a lot, we are going to sin. This is a simple formula that Solomon sets before us. Consequently, the second half of this verse makes complete sense: “but he who restrains his lips is wise.” If, because of our sin natures, much talk is likely to produce transgression, then the person who wants to please the LORD and not cause offense with words will be the person who governs the tongue. Much talk leads to sin, so less talk eliminates the opportunity for sin.

Let’s consider some of the vocabulary Solomon uses in this verse. First, there is the word “transgression” (pesha). What exactly does Solomon mean when he says that when there are many words, transgression is unavoidable? This term is a basic Hebrew word meaning “trespass” or “sin.” There’s no mystery here. Solomon says that many words lead to sin—that is, the violation of some aspect of God’s Word. In fact, you’ll notice, he says that sin is unavoidable when we speak many words. The phrase Solomon uses refers to something that cannot be stopped, something that must occur given a set of circumstances. In this case, sin is that which cannot be stopped or that which must occur when this circumstance—many words—is present.

Solomon sets before us the opposite of speaking many words: “but he who restrains his lips is wise.” Here, the word translated “restrains” (chasak), of course, is significant. This term means “to spare, to keep back, to withhold, to hinder, to hold in check.” This notion is clear enough. This word describes an act of self-discipline or self-control by which the words that are spoken are few and do not, therefore, lead to transgression.

Solomon teaches that the preferred alternative to the use of many words is the use of controlled speech. If speech is controlled, and we’re talking about quantity as well as quality, we are less likely to commit a sin with our tongue. Therefore, since avoiding anything that violates God’s will is a chief mark of a wise man, Solomon pronounces that man who governs his mouth as “wise.”

This is, once again, a foundational verse because it deals with words, in general, not just “bad” words or inflammatory words. This text warns us that if we talk too much, we are going to sin—and I would point out that Solomon says nothing about our motives or our sense of justification for speaking many words. He flatly warns us that if we talk a lot, we are going to sin and he says that this outcome is unavoidable. Only a fool will hear what Solomon says in this verse and think he is immune or think he can still talk much about people or circumstances without falling into sin. If we take this verse seriously, we should be people of measured speech; we should be people who are known for their reserve when it comes to talking.

In terms of a practical response to this teaching, I would say be aware of the tremendous power of language. We need to give attention to this aspect of how God has made us. We are made in such a way that words have deep and lasting impacts on us. We cannot control how others use words, but we can control how we use them. And in recognizing the power of the tongue, determine that you will use it in a God-honoring manner. Discipline yourself to speak responsibly and in a controlled fashion. Make it your goal to build up others by your words—not through false flattery, but through words that edify.

Self-image

When I use the term “self-image,” I’m referring to the manner in which we are to think of ourselves as the creatures of God, living in His world, subject to His Word. I’m not thinking of the popular notion of self-esteem. In the book of Proverbs, we find a number of verses that establish the perspective we are to hold as we walk before the LORD. And, as is to be expected, we also find a number of statements telling us what we are not to think about ourselves or how we are not to determine our significance in this world.

The perspective that is commended in the Proverbs reflects the facts that we are creatures and God is the Creator. This perspective is essential, Solomon teaches, to a well-ordered life. It won’t take us long to understand why Solomon held such an opinion; nor will it take us long to realize how easily the perspective of Proverbs is lost or obscured or ignored. Because we are fallen creatures, our tendency is to think more highly of ourselves than we should; our tendency is to have more confidence in ourselves than we should.

Our verse was chosen to illustrate the essence of what the Proverbs teach us about how we deceive ourselves regarding our place in this world and how we are to correct that self-deception.

All the ways of a man are clean in his own sight, but the LORD weighs the motives. (Pro. 16:2)

Here is an example of antithetical parallelism; and in this case, it is particularly significant because this verse presents two diametrically opposed approaches to life—one that is “natural,” we could say to fallen creatures, and then the one that is truthful. In terms of generalities, Solomon sums up the way fallen human beings think of themselves and their abilities to perceive and act rightly. In contrast to that perception, he sets the One who knows our hearts and that is the LORD.

Let’s consider the first phrase of this verse: “all the ways of a man are clean in his own sight…” What does this tell us about how we tend to think about ourselves? What does this tell us about how, without correction, we will view our abilities and actions? This phrase declares that to the uncorrected mind—and this is the way to think of what Solomon means here because he contrasts a man’s ways with what the LORD knows in truth—whatever it conceives is truth. Therefore, what the uncorrected mind, that is, the mind not trained in truth, not subdued to the Word of God, perceives becomes the basis for conduct.

A fallen man examines his world and assumes that his analysis is correct; he assumes that what he concludes about the nature of this world is correct. So, a fallen man further assumes that any actions or decisions based on his observations must be correct—a fallen man, in other words, simply acts in a manner consistent with his fallen nature. He analyzes, concludes, thinks, and acts based on the belief that he is capable of rightly understanding his environment.

This characteristic is directly traceable to the fall of Adam and Eve. Adam’s sin was disobedience to the will of God and at the heart of all disobedience is the belief, however obscured, that I know better than God. Adam, in his actions, declared that he knew better than God, that God’s assessment of his environment was not necessarily the only assessment that might have validity. Consequently, Adam acted on his own, apart from what God commanded. Adam did what he thought was right, not what his Creator had declared was right. And that is what Solomon encapsulates in this first phrase.

It’s a simple truth that we hold the opinions we hold and we take the actions we take because we believe we are correct. Otherwise, we would hold another opinion or act in a different manner. Every person holds opinions they believe are correct or they would believe something else. Every person behaves according to what they believe is right; otherwise, they would behave differently. This is not a difficult concept to grasp. Solomon, as I said, encapsulates the very heart of fallen man’s reasoning process—he assumes that his ways are clean.

Apart from God’s correction, we are left with only ourselves as the measure of all things. If we are not looking to the standard of God, we must look to our own standard—there are no other choices. Now our standard may be a compilation of opinions taken from different sources, but it is still a standard assembled apart from the Word of God. And we go through life applying this standard and viewing the world according to this standard; and we remain in that mode of thinking and behaving unless, at some point, we are regenerated. And even then, we must battle for the rest of our lives to subdue our opinions and our conclusions in light of the Word of God that has become the standard by which we are to measure all things.

There is a lot in this first phrase. It speaks not only of how we behave and think, but also why we behave and think as we do. Remember, that in such verses, when Solomon speaks of “a man” he is referring to a man who operates apart from the wisdom of God.

And that brings us to the second half of this verse: “but the LORD weighs the motives.” As I said, this is an absolute contrast in two perspectives—the perspective of fallen man and the perspective of fallen man’s Creator. That something might be wrong with “the ways of a man” is immediately indicated. Fallen man assumes, as I’ve emphasized, that his assessments are correct and he acts on them. But the LORD assesses the man himself and in that assessment, Solomon implies, fallen man is found wanting.

The word translated “weighs” (takan) conveys the idea of subjecting something to examination by which its true nature or worth is revealed. This implies that what a man thinks or what conclusions he holds are not necessarily correct. The LORD, as only He can do, examines that which is behind a man’s thoughts or actions—and that is the state of his heart. This is made clear when you consider the word translated “motives.” It is a word (ruwach) that refers to the mind or the heart; it refers to one’s disposition.

Therefore, while a fallen man may believe he sees correctly and is rightly interpreting his environment so that he has great confidence in himself and his decisions, the LORD is able to see the condition of his heart; and that is something that the man himself cannot do. As a result, if a man is to know the truth about himself and his environment, so that he can think rightly and behave rightly, he must look outside himself for guidance. With that guidance, that revelation that God supplies, a man can then begin to think and act in a truly proper manner.

In conclusion, then, as far as this verse is concerned, we must say that we are taught to be distrustful of the uncorrected perspective we all hold—uncorrected, that is, by the Word of God. It is His Word that reveals to us the truth about the world in which we live, and the truth about our relationship with Him and others. We are not to think of ourselves as understanding anything apart from the context of God’s revelation; we are to understand that if we seek to interpret our environment or discover our duties apart from the Word of our Creator, we are bound to stumble. Our fallen natures will lead us astray. There is no question about that fact.

Solomon teaches, therefore, that self-image begins with the admission that we cannot trust our perceptions; we must subject them to the Word of God. We are not independent creatures, we are dependent creatures. We are not trustworthy sources of interpretation, we are, on the contrary, most untrustworthy. We are creatures that must rely on our Creator for understanding.

Additional Verses

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

This verse says much the same thing. I include it here separately because it speaks even more directly to the nature of our dependence on the LORD. Solomon acknowledges that we make plans in our heart, which has already been emphasized. But then, instead of saying that those plans are subject to the LORD’s oversight, which we know is true from our study already, he says something more significant: “but the answer of the tongue is from the LORD.”

This speaks to the LORD’s sovereign orchestration of our lives. We make our plans, but ultimately God can overrule the words we speak—or, to better explain what Solomon means here—the expression we give to those plans. We are laboring under a false notion if we think that whatever we determine in our hearts will inevitably come to pass.

For the ways of a man are before the eyes of the LORD, and He watches all his paths. (5:21)

In terms of what we think about ourselves and this world in which we live, one false assumption fallen man makes is that he is accountable only when and how he chooses to be accountable. In human relationships, we make ourselves accountable and, when it no longer pleases us, we throw of that accountability (marriages, jobs, church participation, daily observance of civil law, etc.). Normally, we don’t live apart from several human relationships in which accountability is a factor. And we know that the Bible teaches that accountability is a necessary and beneficial element because we are sinners and sinners need to be held accountable at every level.

But suppose a man manages to extricate himself from every significant form of accountability. Is he then truly without accountability? Solomon says “no.” A man’s ways—his life, his actions, that which constitutes his particular existence—are “before the eyes of the LORD.” No person is ever free of scrutiny or accountability because, after all other restraints or restrictions are removed, a man still lives out his entire life before the eyes of the LORD. There is no changing this and there is no escaping this truth. We are creatures and we exist in the presence of our Creator. He knows all and sees all—whether it be concerning some far off place in the universe or the thought that just this moment passed through our minds. We are not, as I said before, independent creatures, we are dependent creatures.

Practical Responses

I’ll close with a couple of thoughts regarding how this study should affect us.

Once again, you’ll notice, that the Proverbs have spoken to us about our fallen condition. As with the last topic of self-control, we also have a particular tendency when it comes to self-image or how we think about ourselves and our place in this world. Our tendency is to overestimate our abilities and under estimate our need for the instruction of the Word. The wise person, therefore, will “force-feed” his spirit with the Word of God knowing that while the flesh may resist, this is an essential exercise.

We must always be measuring our opinions against the Word. I won’t even attempt to speculate how much trouble would be avoided in our lives if we simply developed a habit of submitting our views to the Word and did so by humbly offering our views to others while inviting response based on their understanding of the Scriptures. As it is, though, we hold tenaciously to our opinions and are offended when they are challenged even in the most innocent and well-intentioned manner. This is not the way of wisdom, it is the way of ignorance. As much as we would like to believe it, and as tempted as we are to act on the idea, we are not the measure of all things and we must discipline ourselves to become people who receive instruction—and we must do this because we recognize that, as fallen creatures, we need it.

 

The issue of self-control is much more extensive than we might think initially. We normally think of self-control in conjunction with anger. Typically, we consider a person who is easily angered to be a person with a lack of self-control. But the topic of self-control takes us to the heart of one of the main themes in Scripture, which is our sanctification.

The process of sanctification is largely about self-control or about learning to think, speak, and act according to God’s principles rather than according to what comes “naturally,” which is some manifestation of our fallen natures. Self-control, then, has to do with subjecting our fallen natures—our sinful impulses—to the Word of God.

 

He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit, than he who captures a city. (Pro. 16:32)

The importance of this issue is clearly established in this single verse in which we find Solomon’s opinion regarding self-control or self-rule. Note the extreme comparisons he draws. One who is “slow to anger” is compared to “the mighty” and one who “rules his spirit” is compared to “he who captures a city.”

Initially, we would assume there would be no beneficial comparison to be made between a man who is slow to anger and those labeled “mighty.” The word Solomon uses is gibbor, which refers to a man of great strength or a man of great courage. This word conveys the sense of the heroic, the kind of person legends are made of, the kind of person who accomplishes seemingly impossible feats and faces dangers and threats that would make most others tremble. But Solomon says that the man who is slow to anger is better than such a man. He does not simply say that a man who is slow to anger is like a mighty man or similar in constitution to the mighty man; he says that a man who is slow to anger is superior to the man of great strength or the man of great courage.

Who do we admire most—the person who controls his anger or the person who demonstrates unusual strength and bravery? Who should we admire most? The first question is answered by what we observe in this world and the second question is answered by the Word of God. A man who rules his spirit is considered of better character and is considered a better man than he who captures a city.

Implied here is insight regarding the nature of man. If control of our initial impulses is defined as a good thing, then that must mean that those initial impulses are bad things; and that tells us something, therefore, about ourselves. It tells us that we are, by nature, given to reactions and responses that are negative in character. So this verse reflects the Bible’s teaching concerning the nature of fallen man.

Additional Verses

A quick-tempered man acts foolishly, and a man of evil devices is hated. (14:17 )

Solomon says that a man who is “quick-tempered acts foolishly.” Notice that this description is the opposite of the man in 16:32 who is described as “slow to anger.” There you’ll recall, Solomon uses a word that refers to having patience. Here, two words are used that are translated “quick-tempered” and one of them (qatser) refers to a lack of patience.

This is interesting. In just two verses, we’ve discovered that patience (or the lack thereof) is one of the core elements of self-control. This implies that one of the keys to self-discipline is learning to be patient with circumstances and people. And patience is one of the hallmarks of spiritual maturity in the Scriptures. This is true, I think, because patience implies trust in God and contentment with what He has ordained.

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

Briefly, this verse speaks of habitual lack of self-control. There is a danger in failing to exercise self-discipline. The danger is that your impulsiveness, which is nothing more than an immediate expression of your fallen nature, becomes your pattern of conduct. You will rarely find a man who loses his temper in a significant way only once in a while. Normally, if a man is easily provoked by circumstances or words, you’ll find that he is frequently provoked by circumstances or words.

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

Solomon sets before us two kinds of behavior, two kinds of people, two descriptions of character. Self-control may manifest itself in avoiding a circumstance, not simply in reacting patiently to a circumstance. That’s the idea in this verse. If he can avoid it, a wise man will not put himself in a position where there is likely to be strife. This phrase takes us in yet another direction in our understanding of self-control. Here the notion of discernment comes into play.

When a man avoids strife, Solomon teaches, he has done an honorable thing. How different this is from the way we operate so often! We sometimes think that we must enter into strife in order to make our point and so that we make sure our opinion is heard. Our natural tendency is to create strife, not avoid it.

Practical Responses

I would offer three short suggestions:

One, make sure you understand how fundamentally important this issue is. As I tried to make clear, self-control deals with the very heart of who we are, how we think and behave; self-control is self-discipline and that is what we are concerned with when we think of our sanctification. This is not just a matter of controlling our tempers, it is a matter of determining that by which our lives will be characterized.

Two, understand that self-control, as fundamentally important as it is, begins with our temper or our handling of those natural impulses that rise up in us in response to circumstances. Yes, there is much to the topic of self-discipline because it is such an essential aspect of our existence, but it begins with simple, everyday situations in which we have opportunities to give way to expressions of our fallen natures or subdue them for God’s glory.

Three, every person, from children to adults, has room to improve in this matter of self-control. Don’t think that because you don’t lose your temper often that you have no problem with self-control. Self-discipline touches many aspects of our lives. There are obvious examples where self-control is needed, and then there are some not-so-obvious examples where self-control is needed. Some examples are seen by many people, and some examples are known only to you and God. Therefore, meditate on these proverbs, memorize them, pray that God will cause the characteristics commended in the proverbs to be true of you.