RPM, Volume 16, Number 35, August 24 to August 30, 2014

A Pleasing Life

Proverbs 16:6-9

By D. Marion Clark


In the previous verses we learned that God is in control of this world and our lives, and that he does punish the wicked. Keeping those things in mind, it is good to consider how to live a life that is pleasing to the Sovereign Lord. These proverbs give us good guidance in that regard.


6 Through love and faithfulness sin is atoned for; through the fear of the LORD a man avoids evil.

This proverb is tougher to get a handle on than it first seems. Certainly sin is atoned through love and faithfulness. But, then, whose love and faithfulness, and, for that matter, whose sin? Is the proverb saying that through God's love and faithfulness man's sin is atoned for? Or is it saying that a person, through his own love and faithfulness, may atone for his sin? Or is it saying that a person, through love and faithfulness, may atone for another person's sin, similar to Proverb 10:12 which speaks of love covering a multitude of sins?

Obviously, God does atone for our sins through his love and faithfulness, and Scripture often ascribes to God this combination of attributes. The central passage is in Exodus 34. Moses received the Ten Commandments, found the people in rebellion, broke the tablets in anger, and then had to appeal on their behalf to God that he not destroy them. God called Moses back onto the mountain to write the commandments down again and then he passed before Moses, who had boldly requested to see God. Here is the report of the scene:

Then the LORD came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the LORD. 6 And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, "The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, 7 maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin" (Exodus 34:5-7).

As much as they may strive to uphold the Law and to be faithful in offering sacrifices, each Jew understood that God forgave, not out of compulsion, but out of his love and faithfulness.

But taking a cue from Proverbs 3:3,4, I think the application intended is for us to emulate love and faithfulness. Consider those verses:

3 Let love and faithfulness never leave you;
bind them around your neck,
write them on the tablet of your heart.
4 Then you will win favor and a good name
in the sight of God and man.

The point here is that these traits ought to characterize the wise person so that he wins favor with God, as well as with man.

Now add this thought to the latter half of the proverb: through the fear of the LORD a man avoids evil. The concern of the whole proverb seems to be how a person handles sin so as to be in favor with God. How then does he? Through love and faithfulness he makes atonement for his sin, and through the fear of the Lord he avoids getting into deeper trouble.

What does it mean to fear God? It is to be in awe of him in such a way that you feel it in your bones that he is the Sovereign Creator and Lord of the universe. It is to feel humble before him, not because you will get into trouble if you don't, but because this is the one Being before whom you know that you exist for his glory.

This proverb is not teaching salvation by works: I sin, therefore I do something nice for someone else or do some kind of sacrifice of penance. This is, rather, another statement that it is the condition of the heart that matters. Do you want to be right with God? Then you need a heart like God's and that fears God. Giving money to charity cannot substitute for showing love and faithfulness. Keeping good church attendance does not fulfill the fear of the Lord.

This proverb teaches what other scriptures teach. Jesus taught this when asked what is the greatest commandment.

"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength." 31 The second is this: "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Mark 12:30,31).

The same message is taught in Micah 6:6-8:

6 With what shall I come before the LORD
and bow down before the exalted God?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
7 Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousand rivers of oil?
Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
8 He has showed you, O man, what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.

It is what Jesus taught another time when he was accused of being too friendly with people of bad reputation: "But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice'" (Matthew 9:13). In the same way, this proverb says to us, "Go and learn love and faithfulness. Go and learn the fear of the Lord.

7 When a man's ways are pleasing to the LORD, he makes even his enemies live at peace with him.

This proverb seems to contradict what other scriptures teach. In 2 Timothy 3:12 we read, "all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution." That was written by the apostle Paul whose ministry was characterized by constant persecutions. All the apostles suffered, and, of course, our Lord suffered. These men suffered precisely because they were doing what pleased the Lord. Read the psalms. Again and again, David bemoans how his enemies attack him for no cause.

Solomon knows this. Many of the proverbs are about the wicked who do bad things to godly people. The point is this: living a pleasing life to the Lord can have a powerful effect for good on others, even the ungodly. Persecutions may come because of our faithfulness to the Lord, but we can also expect blessing if we do live lives marked by love and faithfulness towards our neighbor.

The apostles were persecuted, but the church grew because of the sacrificial love they promoted. Paul, who wrote that Christians should expect persecution, also wrote to the Thessalonian Christians, Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, 12 so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders… (1 Thessalonians 4:11,12).

Jesus may have been attacked by religious and political enemies, but he won over many others who ought to have been enemies of a godly man such as he — the notorious sinners he was accused of being friends with. These sinners deserved their label. They were not good people who fell into bad times. They included tax collectors were oppressed the poor and immoral people who mocked the holy laws of God. They should have despised Jesus, but evidently they were attracted by the mercy he taught others to go learn.

You see where we are going with this. Love and faithfulness have a way of atoning for the sins of others. Showing mercy can penetrate even a stone-hard heart. If showing mercy and unconditional love are two of the ways we are pleasing God, then most likely many people who ought to be our enemies will instead be at peace with us. I recall reading the testimony of a former abortion doctor who changed her practice because of Christians who targeted her with love instead of hate. Love is a powerful change agent.

Consider the God-pleasing traits of honesty and integrity. People who otherwise are turned off by religion and morality, nevertheless respect a Christian businessman who conducts his business with integrity. Though they may belittle his beliefs, they will do business with him because they can trust him to treat them fairly and give quality service.

Students, I hope you understand the principle of this proverb. You may live in a dormitory or apartment complex surrounded by godless and licentious neighbors who patronize and mock you for your straight lifestyle. But if you emulate Christ in the mercy he showed to his sinning friends, you will earn their respect. Indeed, you will be surprised at the times they come to your defense and aid when others are attacking you.

But also apply this principle to the classroom. We often warn Christian students to beware of persecution in the classroom, that professors will attack their beliefs in class and grade them unfairly if they are vocal in their beliefs. There is truth to that warning, and more than a few students have strayed from the faith because of what they experience in the classrooms. But the more widespread situation is that professors judge their students by performance. Too many Christian students complain of being treated unfairly for their beliefs, when the real problem is the poor quality of their work. What pleases the Lord is to do work well; surprisingly enough, even ungodly professors tend to like that trait as well.

8 Better a little with righteousness than much gain with injustice.

This proverb is similar to 15:16, 17: Better a little with the fear of the LORD than great wealth with turmoil. 17 Better a meal of vegetables where there is love than a fattened calf with hatred.

I don't know a proverb that at once is the most widely acknowledged as true and yet in heart is disbelieved.

"Those are great Christian principles, but you can't really run a business by them."

"I know its wrong to cheat, but if I am going to get into college or grad school, I've got to download that paper."

"Look, everybody cheats a little on their taxes."

Don't limit injustice to doing mean things to other people. Injustice is breaking God's law. It is unjust to cheat and to lie whatever may be at stake. Someone is always going to ask what if a life is at stake. What this proverb is concerned about, and we need to be concerned about, are the daily temptations to compromise biblical values to get or stay ahead, whether it be at work, in school, and whatever situation.

This is the proverb to turn to when anxiety hits us and we say things like,

"But I've got to get into med school."

"But I've got to get that promotion."

"But I've got to pay my bills, stay in business, get a passing grade, etc."

The one thing we have got to, according to this proverb, is be true to God. That is what righteousness is. If we remain true to God will we get the promotion? According to this proverb, we may not. Better a little with righteousness than much gain with injustice. We may never get the recognition we deserve, or the financial success, or the fast-track career. Others less deserving, who did cheat, may get ahead of us. Better a little with righteousness than much gain with injustice.

"That's not fair. Doesn't God want justice?" Yes, God does want justice and will see that everyone receives the justice due each of them. So, don't worry.

"But I've got to…" What you have got to do is get right with God. If you are concerned about what is best for your self-interest, then give greater attention to your ways being pleasing to God than to man.

This matter of trusting or fearing man rather than God really gets on God's nerves.

Stop trusting in man,
who has but a breath in his nostrils.
Of what account is he? (Isaiah 2:22)
12 I, even I, am he who comforts you.
Who are you that you fear mortal men,
the sons of men, who are but grass,
13 that you forget the LORD your Maker,
who stretched out the heavens
and laid the foundations of the earth… (Isaiah 51:12, 13).

Truly, it is better a little with righteousness that puts trust in the Lord, than much gain with injustice that puts trust in man and the ways of this world.

9 In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps.

This is very similar to verse one, To man belong the plans of the heart, but from the LORD comes the reply of the tongue. We may plan, but the Lord is in charge of what actually takes place.

This proverb ought to make us adhere to the principle in the previous proverb. If God determines our steps, is it not better for us to concentrate on living in ways that please him? Certainly it is better for us to please the one who really does determine what is going to happen to us than to please a human person or institution that is under the sovereign providence of God. Again, just out of self-interest, try to devise your plans according to God's will. That was Jesus' view. When Pilate in exasperation said to Jesus, "Don't you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?" he replied, "You would have no power over me if it were not given to your from above" (John 19:10,11). God is in charge, and we need to give more attention to fitting into his scheme than in trying to outwit man.

Such an attitude also gives peace. Jesus could be at peace with his fate because his heart and the plans of his heart were committed to the divine will of God. There is no better peace than to be at peace with being in the hands of God, of knowing that he determines where our steps take us each day. It is a good peace to know that he determines our steps even when we make bad plans, that every path I walk brings some good even when chosen wrong.

I know that most people do not like the idea of God determining their steps. "I want to be free!" I have all the freedom I desire. What I want is to know that my God who claims to love me and know what is best for me also has the wisdom and the power to do what is best. I have had enough experience with failure and foolishness to desire a freedom that puts God on the sidelines trying to influence me to do good. No, I want my steps determined. I have enough excitement as it is dealing with life's quirks without having to constantly worrying about ultimate outcomes.


The best commentary on these verses is found in Jesus' teaching from the Sermon on the Mount. When you think about it, these proverbs are directing us to concentrate on what really matters in life. We are continually worrying about what is going to happen to us. Will we get the job we need? The grades? The promotion? Will we get the respect we deserve? Will others slip ahead of us? Will the doctors give us the right care? And as we get caught up in these things, that is when we slip from living in ways that are pleasing to God, and instead compromise what we know is right in order to please people or defend ourselves against them.

Be concerned to wear love and faithfulness; fear the Lord; live in ways that are pleasing to him; commit your plans to his will. For the little you possess in righteousness is worth far more than the gain that comes with injustice. For though you may possess little of this world's treasure, you will possess the great treasures of God's kingdom. Listen to Jesus:

25 Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life a? 28 And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, "What shall we eat?" or "What shall we drink?" or "What shall we wear?" 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own (Matthew 6:25-34).

Each day also has enough joy to satisfy if one is at peace with God, and that peace comes through the love and faithfulness of God which he demonstrated by sending his Son, Jesus Christ, to make atonement for our sins on the cross. On that cross Jesus fulfilled the proverb: When a man's ways are pleasing to the LORD, he makes even his enemies live at peace with him. After all, he brought peace to us.

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