P. T. Barnum was fond of saying, “A sucker is born every minute.” From Solomon’s point of view, every one of us was born “simple,” that is gullible, credulous, naive. But while Barnum saw human’s gullibility as an opportunity for profit, the proverbs see the condition as a character weakness to be corrected. As we continue to work through the New Testament, Psalms, and Proverbs Reading Plan we’ll change things up a bit this week. Instead of only two readings from Proverbs we’ll have three. As you read through Proverbs 7 and the first part of 8, think about how the proverbs are a mirror that lets us see where and how we are naive but more than that, how they will set us on the road to wisdom. May God show you the way as your read His word this week.
Monday, Mar. 4 – Acts 21; Proverbs 7:1-5
Just as Jesus set His face to go to Jerusalem, knowing He would die there (ref. Luke 9:21-22, 44, 51), so Paul went resolutely to the Holy City, prepared for the same fate (vv. 4, 13). His sole frame of mind was to deliver a financial gift for the Jerusalem church; the fruit of the genuine love and gratitude from Greek Gentile brethren to help solidify the bond of Christian love between Jews and Gentiles (ref. Romans 15:22-33). However, James and the elders want Paul to do more by participating in the Jewish rites of the Nazarite vow. Why did the James and the elders want Paul to share in the rights of the Nazarite vow? In their eyes, how would this act serve the furtherance of the gospel? What might have been some of Paul’s reasons for doing as these believers asked? (1 Corinthians 9:19-23 and Romans 14:13-15:3 may help shed some light on his possible motives.) What lessons does vv. 17-26 teach you about dealing with differences within the church and even the broader religious world today?
“My son, keep my words…” (v. 1). Growing up in the South it wasn’t too uncommon for my dad to say to me, “Now boy, you better listen to me.” While my father’s warning was not as eloquent as Solomon’s it got the point across; I better heed what I’m being told. Proverbs 7 is Solomon’s third warning against the temptation of adultery (ref. 5:1-23; 6:20-35) and it begins with the familiar refrain for the son the pay attention to the father’s wisdom. Think of a time when you didn’t listen to your parents warnings. How did that turn out? Why is it that teens and/or younger adults have such a hard time listening to wise counsel? As an older (and hopefully wiser) adult what can you do to better help a younger person avoid the temptations and pitfalls of life? Think of someone in your orbit whom you can help. Pray for them consistently and also pray for God to give you the right words to share with them.
Tuesday, Mar. 5 – Acts 22; Psalm 27
Paul’s attempt to smooth relations over between himself and fellow Jews in chapter 21 dramatically backfires when his detractors accuse him of defiling the temple. Enraged, an angry mob attacks and nearly kills Paul. Remarkably, he was able to quiet down the throng and give a defense of his conversion and mission to the Gentiles for Christ. Why did Paul’s statement in v. 21 make the Jews interrupt with rage? What might make people of your community, or country, react with fury to an evangelist or the gospel? What would you say in your country if you had a chance to give a defense as Paul did? What’s keeping you from saying them? Pray about it.
Many of the psalms begin with a lament and end in trust. However, Psalm 27 begins with trust, then sinks into a lament, and finally rises again to confidence in God. “I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living! Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” (vv. 13-14). Why does waiting for anything seem so unnatural in our on-demand, high–speed society? Explain if waiting on God is necessarily a passive thing, where we’re doing nothing? OR, what do you think God expects us to do while we wait for His perfect timing?
Wednesday, Mar. 6 – Acts 23; Proverbs 7:6-27
“The following night the Lord stood by [Paul] and said, “Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome” (v. 11). This is the fifth of six visions/appearances by the Lord Jesus that Paul receives in Acts (ref. 9:3-6; 16:9-10; 18:9-10; 22:17-18; 27:23-24), all coming at crucial points in his ministry. In this vision, the Lord encourages Paul (in spite of all that he’s endured and will endure) to live with confidence knowing that He will fulfill His purpose for Paul’s life. Think about God’s hand in your life. How have you seen Him work to protect and direct you toward His will? In what way(s) do you need to grow in humbly acknowledging God’s hand in your life? Share with a struggling friend how God has helped you. Pray with them for God’s blessings and direction in their life as well.
As previously stated, Proverbs 7 dramatizes the arguments against adultery Solomon advanced in two previous section (5:1-23; 6:20-35). Here he tells a story that vividly illustrates his point. In the margins of my wife’s Bible she has written, “You can substitute any sinful behavior into this passage.” Her statement is so true; men and women can be persuaded to do foolish things other than adultery. Following the logic of the seductress, give other examples of how someone could be persuaded to do something foolishly sinful. What can one do to avoid such temptations? What should one do if he/she falls into such folly? Are you afraid to face any sin in your life because you believe that God can’t or won’t forgive you? Enlist the aid of a spiritually minded friend to help you see God’s amazing grace for you. Pray about it.
Thursday, Mar. 7 – Acts 24; Psalm 28
For a tireless traveler like Paul being in custody must have been difficult. Even though he had some liberties and his friends could attend to his needs (ref. v. 23) Paul was on a mission to spread the good news of Jesus Christ; sitting still must have been excruciatingly hard. However on occasion, Felix the governor would discuss the gospel with Paul. What do you think were the truths about “righteousness, self-control, and judgment” (v. 25a) that Paul discoursed upon? Why do you think Felix responds to the gospel as he did (ref. v. 25b)? How should these truths affect your attitudes and actions? How are these relevant to the decisions currently facing you?
In Psalm 28, David cries for help amid the imminent treat of an evildoer. In the first five verses David prays for God’s aid. Then, without regard for his unchanged circumstances, shows his confidence in crisis by thanking God for His protection. “The Lord… is my shield; in Him my heart trusts, and I am helped” (v. 7a). What types of things do you need to be shielded from during a difficult trial? What difference(s) does it make to your situation when God acts as this shield? In what way(s) does the Lord’s shielding you engender trust?
Friday, Mar. 8 – Acts 25; Proverbs 8:1-11
“I appeal to Caesar!” (v. 11). One of the sacred rights of a Roman citizen was his ability to appeal his case to Caesar himself. For a third time in Acts we see Paul asserting the rights and privileges his Roman citizenship (ref. 16:37-38; 22:25-29; 23:27). Clearly, he uses his rights and privileges to protect himself and thus further the gospel. In America, we have tremendous freedoms not enjoyed by other believers around the world. Make a detailed list the various rights, privileges, and liberties you enjoy politically and socially as a Christian. In what ways are you using these blessings of freedom to further the cause of Christ? Research the political and social conditions other believers live under around the world. Record your findings. Take some time this weekend to specifically pray for your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ who live under difficult or oppressive political circumstances.
The next four readings from Proverbs all come from chapter 8. This chapter is an apology, or defense, of wisdom. The arguments of this section develops as follows. Wisdom would be every person’s guide (vv. 1-11). She is the key to success (vv. 12-21), the principle of creation (vv. 22-31), and the one essential necessity of life (vv. 32-36). In your own words, describe how wisdom is open to all any person willing to accept it. In what ways is instruction, knowledge and wisdom more precious than silver, gold, or jewels? Write vv. 10-11 on a note card and keep it for yourself as a reminder or mail it to a young person as encouragement to study the wisdom of God.