Traveling Life's Highway
RPM, Volume 15, Number 27, June 30 to July 6, 2013

Traveling Life's Highway

Proverbs 16:16-19

By D. Marion Clark

Introduction

The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with weary feet,
Until it joins some larger way,
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.

"That sounds like a bit of old Bilbo's rhyming," said Pippin. "Or is it one of your imitations? It does not sound altogether encouraging."

"I don't know," said Frodo. "It came to me then, as if I was making it up; but I may have heard it long ago. Certainly it reminds me very much of Bilbo in the last years, before he went away. He used often to say there was only one Road; that it was like a great river: its springs were at every doorstep, and every path was its tributary. 'It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door,' he used to say. 'You step into the Road, and if you don't keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to.'"

Our proverbs this morning give us helpful instruction for traveling the road of life which we must all travel along.

Text

16 How much better to get wisdom than gold!
To get understanding is to be chosen rather than silver.

Have you ever dreamed of winning the lottery or receiving an unexpected large inheritance? I have. I've dreamed of becoming wealthy and what I would do with the money. I, of course, would use it for good! I would use it to erase debts that were burdening good people that I learned about. I have a school that I would like to endow so that it would no longer have to struggle to meet its bills. If I could just get money, I could do so much good.

There are the "lesser-minded" folks who want wealth for themselves. They want enough money so they can be comfortable — live in comfortable house, not have to worry about meeting monthly bills, do whatever they like within reason, and not have to worry about retirement. Then there are the "worldly" folks who dream of owning big homes, fancy cars, and expensive toys. If only they could get enough money, life would be good. To be rich — whether to be benevolent or to be comfortable or to live at in luxury — that would be a great blessing indeed.

Your response may be that money is not the source, nor the guarantee to happiness, and so on. That's all true, but we've all had our struggles paying the bills, digging out of debt, or wanting to be in position to significantly help others. So much good could be done if we had the money. At least a measure of peace about our security could be achieved with money at hand.

The point of the proverb is not that gold and silver are bad, but that wisdom and understanding are better. As great as the blessing wealth can bring, wisdom brings greater blessing. It does not tell us why wisdom is better, though other proverbs do. Indeed, the premise of the book of Proverbs is that wisdom and understanding are of supreme value, that to be without them is to be very poor indeed.

People tend to think that wealth itself provides security and happiness. If only I had enough money, I could meet all my bills. As anyone who has earned wealth will say, getting more money does not equate with having enough money. It is the ability to control how one spends money that achieves security. And it takes wisdom to exercise proper control. People think that wealth enables them to buy what they need to make them happy. But again, those who are wealthy will attest that buying and having does not equate with happiness and peace. That is because living a fulfilling life is more closely connected with the happy, contented life than the entertained life. Entertainment and recreation have their place, but they must stay in their place. It takes wisdom to know how to live a fulfilling life. And then, people think wealth is valuable in being able to help others. Wealth certainly is valuable that way, and truly it is a blessing to be able to give a lot of money for good causes. Even so, one never can give enough because the needs are always greater. Furthermore, one can give money to others who do not use the money wisely. Then the money becomes only a source of frustration. Better than giving lots of money is giving what one has wisely and getting involved personally in helping others.

Wisdom is better than gold and silver because wisdom does not need either to obtain peace and happiness, whereas the latter can cause great misery without wisdom. Wisdom is better because it can obtain gold and silver, while the latter cannot obtain wisdom, no matter how much is spent. Wisdom is better than gold and silver because it can be obtained by any who desire it, whereas gold and silver may elude the grasp of those who strive for it the most.

17 The highway of the upright turns aside from evil;
whoever guards his way preserves his life.

Parents, we should post this verse on the visor of our cars when our children learn to drive. It is the advice we try to give our children especially as they reach the teenage years. Don't go where trouble awaits. Just don't go there. Don't drive in that part of town. Don't pick up strangers. Don't get in a car with strangers. Avoid that crowd. Of course, they like to respond, "Don't you trust me?"

Well, no, not if you think you can walk into dangerous situations and temptations without being harmed. The wise person — the one who is upright — doesn't put himself or herself in harm's way. It is like playing Russian roulette. Sooner or later, you will get the bullet. Perhaps you survive, but you will always be marred.

Whatever your age, learn this principle. Traveling life's highway is fraught with dangers. When the warning signs appear, obey them. If the sign says that the bridge is dangerous to cross over, take the alternate route. Turn aside. If the weatherman says to stay indoors and not drive, then don't drive that day.

This proverb takes us back to wisdom. It is not wealth or strength that preserves us. It is possessing the wisdom to know our limits. But the real character trait it is highlighting is being upright. One who desires virtue will make the effort to avoid trouble. The one who doesn't understand the pleasure of virtue walks right into trouble.

I am being careful to avoid making the contrast as being between the person who desires virtue and the person who desires pleasure. The truly upright person turns aside from evil because the immediate and long-term rewards are greater. The joy that one is having in a good activity is a purer joy than the one spent in sin. The memory of the joy is definitely more pleasant. No guilt, no lingering consequences, no shame — just good feelings. It is the difference between eating food that you know is bad for you. Even the eating is not quite as pleasurable, and the later consequences are downright miserable.

Being a good person for the right reason feels good. What is the right reason? Love. Jesus said, You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 22:37-40). It feels good to love, to do good to others out of love, and to obey God out of love. The authors of the Westminster catechisms understood this. They define our chief end of living as "to glorify God and to enjoy him forever." The real upright person is a person who knows that joy.

18 Pride goes before destruction,
and a haughty spirit before a fall.

Verse 18 is one of the more quoted proverbs. We have condensed it to "pride goeth before the fall." It is often illustrated: the man with his chest puffed out tripping over a rock; the child pleased with himself walking into a wall or pole; and on the illustrations go. Because he is focused on himself, he doesn't pay attention to the obstacle before him.

Pride is a hindrance. It is baggage that hampers one's travels through life in many ways. Pride dilutes the joy of many experiences. For example, we may take up an activity out of the fun of participating, but as we continue and get better, pride often comes in to dilute the pleasure. Perhaps we enjoy playing a sport because it is fun and we like the company of others we play with. We get better at it; we feel a need to test our abilities against others. We come out on top; now we need to maintain our edge. We also develop a need to be recognized for our ability. We become resentful if a lesser accomplished athlete is rated higher than we.

Perhaps we take up a hobby. We enjoy reading about Civil War history and visiting sites. After a while we become something of an expert on the subject. People value our knowledge. We enjoy that. Indeed, before long we enjoy the appreciation of others for our knowledge more than the pleasure of learning.

Pride hinders our achievements. No doubt, many people succeed because of ambition to be at the top. Even so, pride deceives them into giving them too much credit and trusting too much in their abilities. Thus, they often fall just as they near the top and soon after reaching it, they fall.

Pride makes us lose perspective on the things that really matter in life. We become proud of our accomplishments (or imagined accomplishments) and forget what really matters. We let relationships go that we held dearly. We become less benevolent, less caring for others. Pride goes before destruction, because it sets us up for the destruction of what is of real value in our lives.

Pride puts us at odds with others. People want us to fall; they become disillusioned with us. It angers and hurts those closest to us.

Do you understand the issue here? We are not speaking of the wholesome pride a child feels in pleasing his parents, or an athlete feels in winning the race he has trained hard for. In those cases, the individuals have their values in the right places. The child loves his parents and delights in pleasing them. The athlete sets goals that push him to do his best, and he delights in the performance. What goes wrong is when the child demands the praise of his parents, and the athlete sees winning as the only valuable goal. What goes wrong is when they believe they are above others, which is an easy attitude to fall into.

Even the religious, especially the religious, fall prey to such pride.
You don't know your books of the Bible?
I pray an hour a day.
I can't understand how a Christian could sin like that?
I just regard myself as a humble servant.

We can be prideful about our humility. Pride gets into everything. It is subtle, so that we are unaware of its presence. That is why we must examine our hearts every day. That is also why we should never think we have reached the mark down the road where we have put pride behind us. Like Gollum following the Ringbearer, it cannot be shaken off.

19 It is better to be of a lowly spirit with the poor
than to divide the spoil with the proud.

Why is it better to be of a lowly spirit with the poor than to divide the spoil with the proud? We could allude to what has already been said, but for this proverb those things are really beside the point. The second line gives the context — to divide the spoil with the proud.

It is better to be oppressed than to be an oppressor; it is better to be without, than to take away from others. The proud, or arrogant, in Proverbs is equated with the wicked, who in their arrogance oppress others and commit crimes. This proverb says that such gain is not worth the price. For the price is not a mere matter of being hindered in getting along in life; it is receiving the judgment of God.

We are given the image of a gang of men dividing the spoils they took after defrauding or beating up some victim. The victim is bemoaning his loss or even lying on the road, while the proud thieves rejoice over their treasure. The Teacher, though, shakes his head, trembling not over the fate of the victim but of the perpetrators, for he knows what is coming for them. It may be soon through the hands of human justice; it may be in death or after death. But it is coming, and better to be of a lowly spirit with the poor than to be found with the spoil in your hands before God.

The fool says in his heart, "There is no God," David wrote in Psalm 53.They are corrupt, doing abominable iniquity; there is none who does good." He then asks this question: Have those who work evil no knowledge, who eat up my people as they eat bread, and do not call upon God?

What are the wicked thinking? Evidently they think there either is no God who exists, or more likely the case in the ancient world and Israel, they think God doesn't see what they are doing. They think they are getting away with their crime. Many think that way today. They cheat and lie and do not get caught. They profit from taking advantage of others, and their road is as smooth riding as ever, perhaps even smoother. Traveling through life is a pleasant drive.

What are they thinking? Don't they realize that the odds are against them of the road remaining smooth? That more than likely they will become victims themselves of the same crimes they have committed? They should realize that, whatever happens, the road will end, and they will have to give an account to God who will judge with justice, not mercy?

Lessons

I started the sermon with a story of companions beginning a journey. Let me close with another famous journey, that of Christian in The Pilgrim's Progress.

Now, as Christian went on his way, he came to a little ascent, which was cast up on purpose that pilgrims might see before them: up there, therefore, Christian went; and looking forward, he saw Faithful before him upon his journey: Then said Christian aloud, "Ho, ho; so-ho; stay, and I will be your companion." At that Faithful looked behind him; to whom Christian cried again, "Stay, stay, till I come up to you." But Faithful answered, "No, I am upon my life, and the avenger of blood is behind me."
At this Christian was somewhat moved, and putting to all his strength, he quickly got up with Faithful, and did also overrun him; so the last was first. Then did Christian vaingloriously smile, because he had gotten the start of his brother; but not taking good heed to his feet, he suddenly stumbled and fell, and could not rise again until Faithful came up to help him.
Then I saw in my dream they went very lovingly on together, and had sweet discourse of all things that had happened to them in their pilgrimage. (66).

There are two attitudes we can have on our journey along life's highway. One is to take it upon ourselves to travel the journey alone, allowing the fellowship of other travelers from time to time, but viewing them more as competitors than companions. The other is to travel in the fellowship of companions heading for the same destination. Sometimes we will stumble and need the help of others to lift us up; sometimes we will help others when they stumble. Whatever the situation may be, the road is always more pleasant and easier when traveling with good companions.

Brothers and sisters, we do not know where our road will lead us. We know the destination, but not the route. We don't know what is around the bend. But traveling humbly together, we can avert the evils before us. Traveling together, we can find the wisdom needed to carry us safely.

Of course, what we really need from each other is to hear the gospel again and again. That is what Christian and Faithful did for each other. We need to hear from one another that our sins are forgiven in Christ. We need to hear the story of the Cross, indeed to be pointed to the sign of the Cross over and over. It is the most important road sign we will ever see. We need to hear from one another the commands of God's Word to remain faithful and obedient, to stay on course and not stray, to repent when we do. We need to hear the promises of God's Word, that our help comes from the Lord who is our keeper, the shade on our right hand, that the Lord will keep our going out and our coming in from this time forth and forevermore.

Our wisdom that we have to give one another is the Gospel, which is better than all the gold and silver in the world.

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