12 March 2007

Open Mike Monday: abusing Proverbs 3:5-6

by Dan Phillips

To my teammates: this post is rated E for Eminently bumpable.

I have a much more potentially controversial one lined up for when I get the nerve, but here's my first formal Open Mike question to the assembled masses.

I'm to preach at our church this Sunday, and plan to open up Proverbs 3:5-6. You know them:
5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
6 In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.
I think these are verses that are equally well-loved and little-understood (or much-misunderstood).

How have you heard them applied... or misapplied? Commentaries, conversations, sermons, Bible studies, open season on all.

My problem is being able to document misuses I've been aware of. Your task is to solve my problem. Sweet, huh?

Dan Phillips's signature


donsands said...

I love this Scripture, and have "leaned" on it as God's promise as my sovereign Lord to keep me on the straight and narrow.

Brings to mind James 4:15, "For that you ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this or that".

What do you think, does this correlate?

DJP said...

Would it set this conversation afire if I said "No"?


(Not that I'm necessarily saying it, mind.)

James Scott Bell said...

Dan, how about these two scenarios?

* "Dude, you didn't get that job? You don't have enough faith. You're not trusting with all your heart, man."

*Thinking that a "straight path" is one without pain.

April said...

I admitt to being a long time lurker here. I hope you don't mind my 2 cents...
I think that people forget about the "acknowledge the Lord" part and paraphrase it "trust the Lord and He will make your path straight...." Same with "Resist the devil and he will flee..." The first part is about SUBMITTING to the Lord, THEN resist the devil and he will flee! (emphesis)

FX Turk said...


If I wasn't personally guilty of mining several different blogs for both anecdotal evidence of things and concrete, objective examples and sources, I'd call this lazy.

However, since I have done it myself, good show. Do not muzzle the ox as he treads out the grain and all that.

philness said...

I think that a misuse that I've probably been guilty of was interpreting these verses to mean that I will be immune to the effects of the fall if I do these things. I get so easily frustrated with the effects of the fall. I'm going through life all joyful in the Lord and BOOM, an effect of the fall hits me. It could be a kid that threw a rock at my car and chipped the paint or it could be something that I loaned to someone that came back broken. The effects of the fall are endless and will never cease until He comes again. But in every effect of the fall I learn something and I am formed more to the image of His son. But it is painful. But I know He is directing. And so I trust and lean and acknowledge Him and its all better.

donsands said...

Would it set this conversation afire if I said "No"?
I suppose the context of James makes the difference huh?

Another thought I had is that "with all your heart" is an impossibility for me, and for us all of course.

Our Lord Jesus Christ of course trusted His Father with all His heart, but with me it's like Paul said, "I do what I don't want to do, and I hate it, but I don't do what I want to do".

DJP said...

Right, Frank. Brain-mining should go both ways.

C. M. White said...

This is kind of funny, 'cause I just pulled a similar stunt on one of my own blogs (http://www.xanga.com/XristosAnesti/576216071/preparation.html)...hehe.
I've heard this verse used in conjunction with "God's way are higher than man's ways" far too many times as an anti-doctrine (or, more often, and anti-Calvinist) passage. "Lean not on your own understanding," to some, means "don't over-think things, just lean on Jesus and be happy."
Yes, the above link was posted in hopes of further brain-mining on my own part. =D

In Christ,
~ Caleb

DJP said...

"Lean not on your own understanding," to some, means "don't over-think things, just lean on Jesus and be happy."

That's what I'm talking about.

Or what about don't think, just trust? Or go mystical and passive? Let go and let God? Surely Caleb and I aren't the only ones.

And of course "direct your paths" means — semi-revelation about God's "personal" will?

Pastor Steve said...

Try going to sermoncentral.com. When I want a good example of poor exegesis I usually go there.

LeeC said...

Heres a gem I have ran into.

"If you people would learn to trust your heart more, you know Prov 3:5? You'd be a lot happier. Yu are quenching the Spirit with all this high brow doctrine stuff."

My own heart? Prov 3:5? Huh?

Nash Equilibrium said...

Here are the abuses I've seen:
1. It used to be used as an excuse for people to turn their own brains off, as if God didn't give us a sound mind or reasoning ability.
2. It used to be used by pastors who wanted to manipulate people in their flock into doing whatever they were telling them to do. If the people objected, this verse would be trotted out to accuse them of lean on their own understanding.
3. These days, it's more likely to be used as a justification for what I call the 'Sgt. Schultz theology' (I know NOTHING!) of postmoderns. "Hey, we're not leaning on our own understanding - in fact, we're not leaning on any understanding at all!"

That's my several-decades-of-experience input. I hope it helps. Do well brother.

DJP said...

Stratagem, that too is just the sort of thing I had in mind.

donsands said...

Now I understand. I was leaning on my own, and didn't understand.

This has been good.

Always like a challenge to study the Word deeper.

I guess the acknowledging could be something like this: I went a vsiited a pastor one time, he was a holiness Pentecostal pastor. he invited me to look at the building, and I commended him on a barn that had recently been built, and I asked who built it and he said real quick, "Jesus Built that barn!"
I said wow, I wish I was here for that. I was just coming out of all the hyper-pentecostal stuff.

HOOKM14 said...

My company owed me a 20% increase in pay. God new they owed it to me so by all rights I should just trust Him and wait for the phone to ring right. Certainly my company would come calling cause "I trusted with all my heart". However, my course was to "trust", "acknowledge", and WALK. I had to step up and take control of what was in my control. Honor God by using the resources He has given me. He ALWAYS takes care of HIS business when I take care of mine.


HOOKM14 said...

Sorry left this off my comment:

This pas year was very difficult one fincially for us. Prov. 3:5-6 was used to counsel me in trusting because HE new what I could not "understand".

Steve said...

Eminently bumpable:

1. Subject to Officer Pecadillo doing another dramatic one-up of James White.

2. Subject to Frank's next T-shirt contest announcement.

3. Subject to Phil's having to put the lid on out-of-bounds overfulminating in response to John's opening message at the Shepherds' Conference.

Seth McBee said...

I have heard it in two ways: one with the word faith movement and the other with those who don't believe in commentaries...just pray and God will give you the knowledge you need.

I do believe strongly in prayer, but prayer is sometimes answered though the usage of another brother or sister in Christ.

Rose said...

I've heard this verse used along with Prov 16:3, "commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed", to say that if we trust in God and make up our minds as to what we are going to do, as long as it is well intentioned and not blatently sinful, our plans will succeed. Basically, acknowledging him is intrepted to mean that we have good motives even if naive, we commit to that plan, then you trust in him, and then he will make our path staight, as in, our plans will succeed. Sometimes people will then add in Rom 8:28 for extra defence. If all this isn't a gross misuse of scripture then I don't know what is.

jmark said...

Pastor Steve - that's hilarious, and true, and depressing.

Turretinfan said...

The most expected abuse comes from those who would seek to dichotomize between the heart and mind (blissfully unaware of the Hebrew "elegant variation" involved); the anti-intellectuals who read this verse as:
trust with your heart CONTRASTED
leaning with your understanding.

Of course, the real contrast is between the Lord's mind and one's own mind.

The couplet is emphatic of Sola Scriptura. Trust what God says, don't impose your own humanistic philosophies on Scripture.

It's a particularly ironic error because it is eisegesis on a verse that basically describes exegesis.


Turretinfan said...

Ah, but you want to document them. Here's one:
Here's another more flaming (not in a good way) one:
Here's another abuse:
http://watkins.gospelcom.net/socks.htm (this one mistakenly abuses the pluralization of "paths" to suggest a multiplicity of futures)

May God's blessing rest on you,

MTG said...

How about this one? THIS IS TRUE!

Some well meaning (yeah right) sister quoted this to me after I found out my husband had another wife and baby in a foreign country.
Best, Morgan

Lynne said...

Another lurker's thoughts: Surely trusting Him with all my heart means actively choosing to walk in obedience to Him and not take matters into my own hands by choosing disobedience because it would seem to"work" better to do something ungodly to solve my immediate problem. Therefore it's not a call to psych myself into some kind of "prosperity" but a calling to trust Him enough to do the right and godly thing when it all seems too hard.

Unknown said...

Hey Dan,

I have previously used it to avert making decisions that i knew i should make but was too chicken to do it. Kind of a "um, i won't so i trust that You will do it for me".


DJP said...

Thanks, everybody; I really appreciate it.

And thanks for those links Turretinfan. Scary, though. Yikes.

SJ Camp said...


I think one of the common mistakes made about this passage is that people never get to verse 7: "Do not be wise in your own eyes; Fear the Lord and turn away from evil."

The reverential guarding of His law and living in the fear of the Lord should cause us "not to lean on our own understanding"; to "acknowledge Him in all our ways"; and "to trust in the Lord with all our heart."

The fruit of which is "straight paths" and a "refreshing to our bones."

Trust and truth are inseparable in the Christian's daily walk in reverencing Him in all respects. IOW, no one lives greater than their view of God.

May the congregation see you on Sunday "tremble at [His] Word." I will be praying for you as you rightly divide His truth.

Guard the Trust...
2 Cor. 4:5

Nash Equilibrium said...

Oh, one more. I used to know a believer who, when confronted with a decision, would say, "show me thy will with money. The more money, the more I know it's your will."

Is that abusive enough fer ya?

étrangère said...

A student quoted this to me earlier today and I thought of your post on it. But I do think he was thinking of it well - along the lines of not trusting / taking pride in your own thinking & ways but acknowledging the Lord - living to glorify him :) How his ways aren't ours - but he's revealed them to us by his Spirit in his word, and what a priviledge it is to soak it up and learn of him. And for good measure, he got rather excited when we spoke more of what it means to fear the Lord, in joyful humility rather than anguish... I.e. he was interpreting it in the context of v.7 as suggested above. (We also discussed how God has us growing in wisdom rather than getting baby lists of exactly what to do the way we'd often want, for the 'direct your paths' aspect.)

I know, you wanted examples of abuse. But that's made this thread a bit depressing, and my time with this student today was encouraging, so I thought I'd share that instead. Ha!

DJP said...

You know people who speak French! You've GOT to know some nutty stories. Come on!

Mrs Pilgrim said...

I've got one for you.

Since about June of last year, when I was baptized in the Holy Spirit (and I don't say that to incite a major fight about cessationism or Pentecostalism; I'm just giving you some historical perspective), I began a very serious study of the Bible. I mean, I've been led back to original languages in an effort to understand better. (And apparently God's seen fit to give me more, because even those who aren't Pentecostal have observed that I've been getting more in line with Scripture.)

So I bring this up to a man closely related to me--that studying Scripture in-depth, trying to get as much out of it as possible, spending at least some time every day reading and contemplating, is something every Christian could and probably should do. His response:

"You're trying to make too much of this. It's the educated people who lose track of the meaning of the Bible first. You go that way, you'll lose track too."

When I asked him what could be wrong with trying to get to the base of confusing passages, his answer was:

"You don't need all that. All you have to do is go to God with your questions like a little child, and He'll tell you everything." And then cited the famous Proverb.

Granted, that He might, but the gentleman with whom I was conversing was using that as an excuse to spend more time with the TV than with the Bible.

DJP said...


Nash Equilibrium said...

Maybe he was using it as an excuse, but when you see all the seminarians that seem to have lost the plain meaning of the Bible, it's hard to argue with his logic. I know some PhDs in theology who have spent so much time tearing apart verses to see "what they really mean" that they have gone literally off the deep end of the theological pool. Could is be that most of the time, the Bible actually means what it says?

DJP said...

Well, a more conservative version of that is that the text says "Jesus." Doesn't matter what it seems to be saying, it really says "Jesus." Don't believe your lying eyes.

Marcia said...

Good post and comments here. I came over from the Camponthis blog and am enjoying the reading.

Mrs Pilgrim said...

Stratagem, I agree that 98% of the time--or more--it is a face-value sort of text. But in any translation, you're going to get a few really odd passages, so it helps me to go see what the word in question actually means.

I was involved in an argument once about what "faith" really is. Some guy had a really nutty idea that he had a complete model of the universe and could account for everything, including faith. (I'm straining to recall, because this was months ago and a lot has happened since.)

So I reached for my lexicon, and got a big ol' chunk of information. It was really interesting, and when I double- and triple-checked it with some very knowledgable Christian folks, it seems I hit it spot-on. It also helped the situation a lot more than just repeating the same verses over and over, as some of my allies were reduced to doing.

I'm not saying that it is good to dissect and analyze every word--yes, weird doctrines do come from that sort of thing--but at the same time, the gent whom I referenced in my previous comment was taking a TOTALLY anti-investigation attitude. He doesn't even read the Bible once a week that I'm aware of, and thinks I'm a weird fanatic all of a sudden because I read every day now. (He also watches those goofball "theoretical science" shows on the educational channels, and a lot of his beliefs are derived therefrom.)

So, just to clarify, I'm not saying that going completely intellectual is beneficial; I'm just saying that my experience with someone abusing Prov. 3:5-6 resulted in going completely headless in the faith. I didn't mean to sound like I was bragging--certainly not; I'm 28, for pity's sake, and I still haven't read Malachi (it's on the agenda).

Oh, and it's "Mrs. Pilgrim," short for "Mrs. Wayfarer Pilgrim." I'm not related to "Pilgrim," although if my husband ever starts blogging, he'd be "Mr. W. Pilgrim."

Nash Equilibrium said...

Dear Mrs. Pilgrim
OK, I understand that some verses seem weird and need some explaining. (The one about being 'baptized for the dead', as an example). I accept what you are saying and the validity of it. On balance I would say that I agree with your one friend though, that the most educated do "tend to" be the most confused about the basics of the faith. That's been my experience, at least.

Mrs Pilgrim said...


I wholly concur that the people who spend their time trying to get the "anointing of man" tend to do so by pleasing said man. (Which tells you what I think of most seminaries.) It's easy to wander off if you're not studying in the Spirit.

Better to find a middle ground.

We're on the same page now, hey? It's a good day--unless you're in New England, where you probably got snowed on.

Word verification. "ubirlvg": pronounced "uber-loving"; a fancy word that liberals bestow upon one another for brutally beating down the "homophobes" and other "intolerant" people. (Looks like I've been reading the news today, doesn't it?)