Two Paths...One Choice! That Choice Could Not Be More Important!
O Lord God, I have come before You this day to praise Your holy name. I must come, confessing my sins and acknowledging that I am unworthy of Your blessing. Yet, I pray that You would forgive me as You have promised, and that You would bless according to Your grace and mercy. Instruct me with the truths of Your Word and move me to follow You with faithfulness day by day. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.
The apostle Paul urges us to walk not according to the lusts of the flesh, but rather to walk in the Spirit! That means turning away from behavior that is sinful and embracing the fruits of the Spirit!
One key to living a godly life is recognizing with thankful hearts the blessings of our Lord! Only one of the ten lepers whom Jesus healed returned to thank Him. May we both remember and follow his example!
Text: Proverbs 4:14-23
Do not enter the path of the wicked, and do not walk in the way of evil. Avoid it, do not travel on it; turn away from it and pass on. For they do not sleep unless they have done evil; and their sleep is taken away unless they make someone fall. For they eat the bread of wickedness, and drink the wine of violence. But the path of the just is like the shining sun, that shines ever brighter unto the perfect day. The way of the wicked is like darkness; they do not know what makes them stumble. My son, give attention to my words; incline your ear to my sayings. Do not let them depart from your eyes; keep them in the midst of your heart; for they are life to those who find them, and health to all their flesh. Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life.
In Christ Jesus, who is the way, the truth, and the life, dear fellow redeemed:
I am going to begin our sermon today with the reading of one of my favorite poems. Perhaps some of you will recognize it:
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that, the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
The name of the poem is “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost! It speaks of the choices that we make in life—many of which ultimately have a profound effect upon our lives and futures. In the case described in the poem, the author chose to take the road “less traveled” in life—he did, in other words, that which was less conventional, and he says, “that has made all the difference!”
In our text, Solomon also speaks of two roads, or “paths” as he puts it, which will regularly confront us in our lives, and which will demand a choice on our parts—a choice which will have a tremendous impact upon both our present lives and our eternal futures. The paths of which Solomon speaks are not like those of Robert Frost, which suggest a choice between the familiar and unfamiliar, although such a concept is not completely excluded by Solomon. Rather when Solomon speaks of two paths, he is alluding to moral choices that are exact opposites—evil versus good…the path of the wicked versus the path of the just. Let us, therefore, on the basis of our text consider TWO PATHS…ONE CHOICE! As Solomon will point out, THAT CHOICE COULD NOT BE NOT MORE IMPORTANT, because the path of the wicked leads inevitably to destruction, while the path of the just leads inevitably to life!
Before going further, let me note that in this text Solomon is speaking to his son and providing him with solid advice for his life. We should listen to that advice in view of the fact that Solomon was among the wisest men ever to live. The LORD blessed him especially with wisdom. At the same time, let us recognize that being wise and acting wisely are two different things. Solomon was wise, but the Scriptures reveal that even he did not always act with wisdom. He was led into idolatry and unbelief by his many wives, although by the grace of God it would appear that he was led by the Spirit to repent of those sins and embrace once again before his death the Savior promised by the LORD.
What advice did Solomon have for his son and for us? He states: “Do not enter the path of the wicked, and do not walk in the way of evil. Avoid it, do not travel on it; turn away from it and pass on. For they do not sleep unless they have done evil; and their sleep is taken away unless they make someone fall. For they eat the bread of wickedness, and drink the wine of violence…. The way of the wicked is like darkness; they do not know what makes them stumble” (Vs. 14-17, 19).
Notice, first of all, the piling on of imperatives! In order to emphasize his point Solomon repeats it six times: “Do not enter…do not walk…avoid…do not travel…turn away…pass on!” Solomon could not be more emphatic. “The way of the wicked…the way of evil” was to be avoided at all costs!
What is “the path of the wicked” and “the way of evil”? While it may be tempting simply to speak of unbelief in general as “the path of the wicked” and “the way of evil,” and while the end result of all unbelief is the same—the eternal judgment of God, I believe that Solomon here has something more specific in mind. The “path” of the wicked and of evil is not simple unbelief, but rather the conscious choice of an unbeliever to pursue a lifestyle of wickedness. That is the “path” of which Solomon speaks. Solomon is addressing much the same situation identified and explained by the apostle Paul in his letter to the Romans. Paul writes: “The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness…. They did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man…. As they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they were whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same, but also approve of those who practice them” (1:18, 21b-23a, 28-32).
There comes a time in the life of a man or woman who consciously rejects God that God gives them up to their own wickedness. It is frightening, for while it may appear that for a time they get what they want, when they want it—the path of the wicked leads inevitably to destruction! Evil ultimately overtakes their lives and in the end openly enslaves them! Solomon describes the situation as one in which the wicked become so consumed by their wickedness that they cannot sleep without the knowledge that they have dragged others down into destruction. Evil itself becomes that which nourishes a depraved heart—they become drunk with the feelings of power that violence brings. Do we not see this in many areas of our world today—suicide bombers, drug wars, gang violence, domestic violence—individuals plotting the harm of others and loving it?!
Solomon says, “My son…do not enter…do not walk…avoid…do not travel…turn away… pass on!” To choose to enter “the path of the wicked” is to condemn yourself to darkness, to deprive yourself of God’s blessing, to stumble and to fall headlong into the abyss of hell. THE CHOICE COULD NOT BE MORE IMPORTANT! Do not choose the path of the wicked!
Rather, Solomon encouraged his son, even as he encourages us to choose “the path of the just,” for the path of the just leads inevitably to life! Solomon says: “But the path of the just is like the shining sun, that shines ever brighter unto the perfect day.” TWO PATHS…ONE CHOICE—it is perhaps difficult for us to imagine consciously choosing to go down “the path of the wicked,” but it is absolutely vital for us to recognize the importance of choosing to walk down “the path of the just.” Joshua once urged the children of Israel, “Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve” (Joshua 24:15b). The apostle Paul challenged the Philippians, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12b-13). While every believer is, by virtue of his or her faith in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ, numbered among the just—to walk “the path of the just” is a choice to live a sanctified life, and we must recognize THAT CHOICE COULD NOT BE MORE IMPORTANT!
Why is it so important? Solomon emphasizes its importance by contrasting darkness with light. The choice of wickedness leaves a man or woman in the dark! Oh, it may seem to be fun under the cover of darkness for a while, but there is nothing that frees the soul—that dispels fear and uncertainty, and instills joy and confidence like the splendor of light. Our English translations do not reflect well the complete thought of Solomon here, for when Solomon speaks of “the shining sun” he has in mind the glory of the rising sun in the morning, for it is that morning sun which dispels the shadows of night and reveals the glories of God and His creation. When Solomon speaks of the perfect day, he is actually referring to that time of day when the sun has reached its peak and all shadows have been dispelled—when we can see everything clearly and are able openly to enjoy every one of God’s blessings. The sad fact, however, is that many Christians do not choose to come out into the sunlight by trusting in and following God’s Word. Satan uses fear and uncertainty to cause them to remain in the shadows—seeing the light, but not entering into its full glory! It is absolutely essential that we boldly walk out into the light of God’s grace and mercy!
How do we gain the insight necessary to make the right choice—the blessed choice? How do we gain the strength to maintain that choice? Solomon again uses the repetitive imperative! He says to his son and to us: “My son, give attention to my words; incline your ear to my sayings. Do not let them depart from your eyes; keep them in the midst of your heart; for they are life to those who find them, and health to all their flesh.” Solomon is speaking of God’s Word as revealed in the Bible! He is saying that in order to make the right choice and sustain that choice, we need to hold that Word near and dear to our hearts! God’s Word brings us life—spiritual life, our sanctified lives filled with God’s blessings, and the gift of eternal life. That word, Solomon says, is health to our flesh. The sixty-six books of our Bibles are virtually the vitamins of our souls, for they assure us of God’s forgiveness and provide the spiritual strength to make those good and necessary choices!
TWO PATHS…ONE CHOICE! How important is Solomon’s advice? Does it really matter? Can we be the proverbial duck, which simply lets this advice slide off its back? No, for THAT CHOICE—between the path of the wicked and the path of the just—COULD NOT BE MORE IMPORTANT! As if to emphasize that fact, Solomon concludes by urging us: “Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life.” Be careful, in other words, about what goes into your minds and influences your thoughts and emotions, for they in turn will guide your actions. From your hearts, Solomon says, “spring the issues of life.” What he means is that everything important to you as a person will be determined in your heart. Every action you undertake will be guided by what is in your heart. The choices you make will all have their consequences—some temporal and others eternal. To choose the path of the wicked leads inevitably to destruction! Do not make that choice! To choose the path of the just leads inevitably to life! Embrace it by loving and listening to your Lord Jesus! Amen.
—Pastor Paul D. Nolting