Practical Providence (Proverbs 16:33)
Topic: One Lord: No One Like You Passage: Proverbs 16:33
I. Proverbial Pillars
As we return this morning to our ongoing study of the book of Proverbs, it's important that we take a few minutes to talk about and think about what we've learned so far. The initial messages in this series represent pillars, as it were; pillars on which our ever-deepening understanding of Proverbs should rest firmly. What are these pillars?
Well, first, Proverbs calls us to recognize the incomparable value of wisdom; of getting wisdom; of walking in wisdom. What is wisdom? Wisdom is direction for daily life. It is moral skillfulness. As one writer puts it, it is “concerned with the art of good living; the techniques of the well-lived life.” (Marvin E. Tate) Why Proverbs? Why this book? Well a proverb is a simple, but insightful, saying meant to train us in moral skillfulness. The book provides practical knowledge about people, the world, and God, in order to help us navigate our everyday moral and relational challenges. Wisdom is something all of us need and want, whether we know it or not.
Second, Proverbs affirms that without wisdom, and the God of wisdom, we are folly-prone. As I said in an earlier message, this book “doesn't begin with an extended emphasis on the beauty and usefulness of wisdom, but with warning after warning about the dangers of foolishness. Why this approach? Because Solomon knows our human default; and he knows the sin-infested waters in which we swim every single day.” In light of this, we need to come to this book with a deep sense of neediness as those who so often follow folly.
Third, Proverbs anchors us in the ultimate value and validity of wisdom: God himself. Solomon wanted his son to understand that a life in pursuit of wisdom is ultimately meaningless apart from the pursuit of God. We cannot and should not ever disconnect wisdom from the God of wisdom. This is why Proverbs emphasizes “the fear of God”. To fear God is to be humbled before him; and it's only when you are truly humbled that you become truly hungry for wisdom.
Thus the wisdom we find in Proverbs is not simply 10th century BC 'street smarts' or an ancient self-help guide to successful living. It is a guide to honoring God with your whole life
So on the firm foundation of these three pillars, it's time to dig into the short proverbs for which the book is named. To that end, turn over to Proverbs 16.
II. The Passage: "Everything for Its Purpose" (16:1, 4, 9, 33)
As I've mentioned before, and as is obvious from just looking over the majority of this book, studying Proverbs verse by verse can be a little tricky. Why? Because not all of the wisdom sayings we find here are thematically related. That goes for chapter 16. But nevertheless, there is a common thread weaving through parts of this chapter. I see that thread showing through clearly in verses 1, 4, 9, and 33. Let's look at those verses together and see if can discover the wisdom God has waiting for us.
1. Dice and Determinism (v. 33)
Let's actually start with the last verse first. Look with me at Proverbs 16:33...
The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD.
Okay. What exactly does that mean? What is a “lot”? Well, throughout the OT, the lot was used to discern God's will when a heavenly voice or prophet's guidance were not present. Think of a lot as a coin with two sides. Thus whatever this “lot” looked like, it could provide a “yes” or “no” answer, or decide between two options in any situation (for example, in I Samuel 14, the casting of a lot whittled down Saul's army until the remaining options were Saul and Jonathan; subsequently, Jonathan was confirmed to be the one who ate in violation of his father's ban).
(NT also: Acts 1:26 says post-Easter the remaining eleven apostles chose a new apostle by lot).
But let's be clear: the point of Proverbs 16:33 is not to confirm that God really spoke through some magical coin. The point is that God is at work to accomplish his will in all things, even in things most chalk up to chance. The flip of a coin. The roll of the dice.
Now, I don't believe these verses about casting a lot indicate that the church today should be regularly flipping a coin in our decision making process. No. A verse like this is an important reminder of the priority providence should have in our thinking and choosing.
What do I mean by providence? The London Baptist Confession of 1689 puts it this way:
God the good Creator of all things, in his infinite power and wisdom, upholds, directs, arranges, and governs all creatures and things, from the greatest to the least, by his perfectly wise and holy providence, to the purpose for which they were created. He governs according to his infallible foreknowledge and the free and unchangeable counsel of his own will. (5.1, 2)
Providence is one of those huge truths that we'll never be able to wrap our minds around; that reminds us how big God reallyis. But here's what I think God wants us to see this morning through Proverbs: there is incredible wisdom that comes from accepting and embracing the fact that He is at work at all times and in all things.
2. Evil and Everything (v. 4)
But that raises a difficult question: if God is at work at all times and in all things, what about evil? The world is full of evil. But a perfectly good, a perfectly righteous, a perfectly just God can't be at work in that which is evil, right? Well, in fact, He can and he is. Look at Proverbs 16:4...
The LORD has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble.
If God is truly upholding, directing, arranging, and governing all things by his perfectly wise and holy providence, to the purpose for which they were created, then Proverbs 16:4 confirms the wicked have a purpose as well. Notice Solomon does not say that God made wickedness for its purpose. It says he made “the wicked” for their purpose, that is, he created and endures with human beings who have chosen wickedness. But to what end?
Well one of the reasons He does this, as we read here, is “for the day of trouble”? But what exactly is “the day of trouble”?
Well, that phrase is used eight other times in both the Psalms and the Prophets. In fact, Solomon's father David used it more than anyone. The “day of trouble” seems to have been a generic term for an instance of persecution or a season of adversity. What's interesting is that when it comes to “the day of trouble” the wicked were not the sufferers, but the instigators.
Therefore, what I think Proverbs 16:4 is saying is that God providentially uses the wickedness of wicked people in the suffering of His people. How? By growing them, by pruning them, by refining them through what James 1:2 calls “trials of various kinds”. Wicked people are going to do wicked things until God brings an end to our world. But until that time, He can and he will cause that wickedness to “work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28) As the London Baptist Confession explains it:
Through a complex arrangement of methods he governs sinful actions to accomplish his perfectly holy purposes. (5.4)
3. Planning and Providence (vs. 1, 9)
But in case all of this sounds very 'out there', in case this huge idea about God's providence seems anything but practical, look with me at verses 1 and 9 of Proverbs 16...
The plans of the heart belong to man, but the answer of the tongue is from the LORD...  The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes [or determines, or directs] his steps.
Notice how both verses are dealing with the planning of the human heart. As we see here, our planning or our intentions can manifest themselves in both our words and our deeds. We think to ourselves, “I will say such and such to that person in order to accomplish my will”, or “I will go here or I will go there in order to accomplish my will”. And of course, we do this every day, don't we? Talk about practical! But wait. Is there something wrong with this?
Solomon's issue with intentionality in our words and actions is not to address the practical, but the pride that can so easily take hold of our hearts. Three chapters later Solomon states...
Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand. [19:21]
Do you see what he's saying? Your ability to speak and act in order to accomplish your will should not lead you to believe that you are somehow the master of your destiny; that you are somehow ultimately in control. You are not. I am not. God is. As Solomon goes on to say in chapter 21, verse 30: “No wisdom, no understanding, no counsel can avail against the LORD.”
When think about all this in light of our everyday choices and challenges, it might inspire the same question the writer asks in 20:24...
A man's steps are from the LORD; how then can man understand his way?
III. You Walking, God Working
Speaking of the practical, Proverbs is filled with advice about all sorts of everyday issues: our words, our finances, our relationships, our emotions, our jobs, etc.
If that's the case, why are we starting our study of the proverbs themselves by talking about an idea that's so... big? We can't even begin to get our minds around the idea of something like God's providence. Yes, this should inspire awe and drive us to worship. But how then can it provide direction for daily life? What about, as I quoted earlier, “the art of good living; the techniques of the well-lived life”?
Well, it might surprise you to learn that the reality of divine providence is decidedly practical. How? Providence should produce wisdom in the man or woman who embraces it. Here's how:
1. Embracing providence should guard us against pride. We just talked about this, didn't we? If God is ultimately in control, you are not; I am not. I cannot let my ability to think and assess and plan and choose and act and react, I cannot let those things go to my head. I am always responsible for my choices. But am I always humble in my choosing? Remember what I said at the outset: “To fear God is to be humbled before him; and it's only when you are truly humbled that you become truly hungry for wisdom.”
2. Embracing providence should free us from fear-based decisions. If you understand and embrace the reality that God is at work at all times in your life and in all things in your life, in both your faithfulness and failures, in both your victories and struggles, in both your gain and lack, in both your pleasure and pain, then you don't have to be afraid in your decision-making. You don't have to be afraid that your fallibility, your vulnerability, your uncertainty, that change or chance, that the plans and pressure of others will somehow sink you. Yes, live biblically and prayerfully, to the best of your ability. But there is real wisdom that results from providence-inspired comfort and courage.
3. Embracing providence should cause us to look for God's lessons. Our ideas about wisdom may inspire us to pray, “God, show me what to do”. But the truth about wisdom should also lead us to cry out, “God, show me what you've done”. So much practical wisdom is simply the result of failing, then learning from our failures. But godly wisdom looks beyond the pragmatic for what God is teaching us. For example, there may be practical wisdom in keeping your mouth shut when an abusive person is ranting. But godly wisdom can teach us how to love that person when we humbly ask, “God, what might you be doing in this difficult relationship?”
Those are just a few of the ways in which the reality of God's providence should impact your daily life and grow you in wisdom. Do any of those hit home? Craving, clinging to control? Wrestling with fear in your decisions? Insensitive to or ignoring how God might be at work?
If your prayer this morning is, “God, help me to live in light of your wise and loving providence”, then please know this: while God's wisdom through Solomon is meant to correct and reorient your folly-prone and folly-bound heart, only God's wisdom in the person of Jesus Christ can heal it... can re-create it... can empower it for a life that embraces God's providence.
Remember, or please understand, without Jesus, we are enemies of God who crave providence-like control over our lives and the lives of others. Only by God's liberating grace and then faith in Christ can we move from despising divine providence to embracing it.
Wonderfully, it was divine providence that used the wickedness of those who crucified Jesus to sacrifice the Lamb of God. Strangely, God used sinners sinning to provide the provide the perfect payment for sin. I pray you that you know the forgiveness Christ accomplished. If you do, celebrate it. And let's walk in wisdom, following Jesus, in order to glorify this big, big God.