The random technotheolosophical blogging of Reid S. Monaghan​

Walking with the Little Ones - Parenting in the Toddler Years Part 3 - Presence

Part 3 - Presence

Photo by Photodisc/Photodisc / Getty Images

In Part 1 and Part 2 of this series we’ve taken a look at why both “discipline” and “instruction” are essential to leading little ones. At a young age discipline needs to be established so that children understand boundaries, basic household rules and the order of good authority that God has placed in the home. We don’t discipline to punish, we discipline to shape, guide and create an environment for discipleship. When our homes have order, not fear or a punitive culture, the possibility to teach and instruct becomes a wonderful opportunity.

At the start of this series we used an acronym to make it memorable DTPL (G) – which pretty much means nothing other than Discipline, Teaching, Presence and Love (Grace). In Part 3 I want us to look at the third letter, P, which stands for “presence.”

In the Bible we find God revealed to us as “Father” and us his daughters and sons by faith in Jesus. The Holy Spirit forms the fellowship of the church which is one big family of families with God himself being our head and leader. One of the things we find in both the Old and New Testaments, and throughout church history, is that God is present with his people. Consider this short smattering of verses to simply serve as a small illustration of the massive biblical theme of the presence of God:

Old Testament

  • God with our first parents in the garden (Genesis 1-2)
  • Sin as separation from God (Genesis 3)
  • Pillar of Fire, Cloud – God with and leading his people (Exodus 13, 14)
  • The ancient tabernacle – the presence of God among the people in the camp (Exodus 26)
  • Moses’ confidence was only if the presence of God went with the people (Exodus 33:12-16)
  • Promise of presence – I will be their God, they shall be my people (Ezekiel 37:15-28)
  • The Temple – where God’s presence dwelled (2 Chronicles 5)

New Testament

  • Jesus was called Emmanuel – God with us (Matthew 1)
  • The Word became Flesh – The Son of God dwelling/tabernacling with humanity as one of us (John 1:1-3, 14)
  • Jesus the New Temple (Mark 11)
  • The Church as a place of presence (Ephesians 2:11-22, 1 Corinthians 3:16-17)
  • The Communion Table as a place of presence and fellowship (1 Corinthians 10:14-22, Revelation 3:20)
  • He is with us in his mission (Matthew 28:18-20)
  • He will never leave or forsake us (Hebrews 13:4, 5)
  • The Kingdom of Heaven – The dwelling place of God in man (Revelation 21:3)

The promises of God are that he will be with us!!! His presence leads us, His presence assures us, His presence shows us love and grace, His presence guides us, His presence disciplines us, His presence convicts us and His presence allows us to trust his heart when we don’t understand our present circumstances.

I say all this to make one central point about parenting. The Fatherhood of God is an up close and personal reality for the believer. Parenting should be an up close, personal reality for families with kids.

Our kids need to know their Mom and Dad as they are discipled and taught. Parents should desire to win the hearts of their children when they are young, not lose them because we are always scurrying around for anything and everything. What I want to say next I want to say clearly but gently. Our culture has also bought into a stupid idea that if we can get “quality time” together then our families will be close, connected and fruitful. The problem is in our definition. The truth is that quality time IS quantity time. To know their Mommy and Daddy, children need to be with you and not simply for half an hour a week. If your kids don’t know your hearts, you will not have quality “forced quick time” with them. In fact, without time given to your kids, they will not want to be with you. As they get older, they will find better things to do than “quality time” with ole Mom and Dad. Fathers, be with your kids often and intentionally from the time they are young. I have two kids who are now in middle school and we are very close. Why? Because we have been since day one. I’ve made sure that I’m around for them.

We live in a world where we must work and work hard in the hustle and bustle of the east coast. Moms and Dads both are running hard and fast to juggle work, kids activities, schooling options and serving others in ministry and mission. Finding time to listen to kids, be into what they are into, to give focus to their faces and not to our phones is a huge challenge. DO IT! Without presence our voices grow small, our kids’ opinions of us weaken and our opportunity to be guides who give wisdom are diminished over time. A few quick ideas to close.

Finding a Place with Your Kids

Expose them to your Loves – when your kids are young do things that you love with them. Expose them to your heart, your hobbies and the quirkiness of what is uniquely you. It’s no coincidence that our kids like sports, reading books, audiobooks, country music (wife did that), marvel comic universe (not DC haters but it is superior), asking questions, sci-fi and fantasy movies.

Follow their Loves Fully – Your kids will take up interests of their own that you never cared for or wouldn’t choose yourself. Follow those interests any way. Play with LEGOS, ponies, trains named Thomas and cuties from the littlest pet shop. Read about dinosaurs and clone wars and talk about whether Yoda can really beat Vader. Listen to the musical instruments, listen to stories about fish caught with Grandpa and hear about the books you wouldn’t read and delight in their delight in these things. You might even learn to love something you previously hated…like soccer. ;-)

Listen, Listen, Listen – My daughters have more words than I could ever imagine. I’m there to listen to anything and everything. Yes, it takes patience and focus and sometimes it’s just hard for the old man to keep up, but I want to hear what’s going on with the kiddos. My son wants to talk about what dinosaur is the toughest and who would win in T-Rex vs Raptor fights. I’m in – I’m in to listen. This does mean putting down the phone and unplugging from work and social media to hear the hearts of your kids. If you are present, you can listen.

Do Stuff with them – We go to practices, school plays, movies, meals out together and all sorts of activities. Just this summer I’ve ridden roller coasters until I’m green with one and laid around and chilled with another just to spend some time together.

Apologize and Repent – Kids need to know you are sorry when you mess up and see your own repentance and faith in life. If you are distracted, working too much, ignoring your kids and simply there but not there with them…apologize, repent, do different. I’ve found that husbands and wives can help one another in seeing that one or the other needs time with the kids or a particular kid. You are not perfect, you’ll have your face in the phone too much. Just own it and move forward together. 

Debrief Life in the Moments God Supplies – There are moments in life where God gives time with the little ones to debrief, teach and exhort and encourage. After an emotional disappointment, after a disagreement with a sibling or another kid, after they’ve been told no about something, before a game or heading home from first day in school. There are precious moments that are teachable.

Being present with your kids early and often in life means that you have been through the ups and downs of the world of KIDdom so that you are a trusted and wise voice. Later on your little ones will hit many life transitions. They will go to school, hit puberty, transitions to middle, high school and college, deal with the drama of “dating”, choosing a spouse and maybe having their own kids. If you’ve been present in the game from the start you’ll have the potential of a relationship with them through it.

When my oldest hit her teen years we had a very clear re-definition of our relationship. I told her my role is shifting to being a guide as she makes more and more of her own choices. We have watched a lot of Bear Grylls’ Man vs Wild over the years so I gave her this metaphor. Life is like Bear hanging on a tree limb going down a white water rapid filled river. Because he is wise he knows the water flow that shows a boulder is under the surface or where deep swirling undertow currents reside. Life is like heading down that river. I’m just going to point things out to you as you are making your way. There’s a big rock coming up, watch out for that swirling eddy! You will make choices, I’m here to help as a guide who loves you. Trust my voice, I will trust yours. Let’s do this.

Be present my friends. God is here for us. He has placed us here for the little ones. Love them well.

Part four will focus on the L(G) or the Love/Grace function. The most important parenting principles of all. Until next time…stay in the game with your kids.

Jupiter Hammon - A First Among Poets

JUPITER HAMMON (1711-1806)


To say someone was one of the first to do something is a pretty big deal. To say someone was the first American of African descent to do something in our country is a really big deal. Many times those who are the first in this way are said to break a color barrier as African Americans were required to play by different rules, subject to different laws and under extreme prejudice and injustice for centuries on this continent. In preparing this brief biographical sketch on a man from the earliest days of America I was saddened that I knew more about Jackie Robinson than Jupiter Hammon. If you know not either Jackie or Jupiter, I’m happy you are taking the time to hear of Mr. Hammon first. 


Jupiter Hammon lived his life as the owned property of other human beings. He lived through the era of imperial rule in the Americas, through the revolutionary days into the earliest dawn of the United States.  He lived not far from us here in New Jersey growing up and living most of his life on Long Island, NY. He lived his entire life as a slave in the service of the Lloyd family. The Lloyds were a wealthy household and Hammon served as a tutor to children as well as a business clerk and bookkeeper. 1 Hammon was educated by Harvard graduate Nehemiah Bull and a missionary named Daniel Denton. 2 Though a slave in the temporal and natural sense of the word he was, however, possessed by another master as he saw his life ultimately belonging to Jesus Christ. His dedication to the Lord was demonstrated by his taking on extra work simply to earn money to purchase his own Bible. It was this book that occupied so much of his thought, heart and devotion and it is reflected throughout his work.The Lord he loved inspired him to write poetry. His work was so compelling that he became one of the first published African American authors in North America in 1769.4  


Hammon’s best known works are An Evening Thought: Salvation by Christ, with Penitential Cries 5 and his Address to the Negroes in the State of New York. The former was the poem which was his first published work in 1769. The latter as it was his most enduring and wide read address. An Evening Thought is a clear and resounding work of gospel clarity and devotion. Hammon was a convert to Jesus through the spiritual awakenings in the colonies in the 1730s and 1740s. 7 In a day when black people were seen by many as inferior to their European masters, Hammon’s thoughts drew his readers up to our common creator, judge and savior Jesus Christ. Hammon wrote in such a way that people were apparently doubtful that his work was the product of a slave. Even his printers included a disclaimer which was published as a header to his most famous work “An address to the Negroes in the State of New York.” The disclaimer read as follows in the original. 

As this address is wrote in a better style than could be expected from a slave, so maybe ready to doubt the genuineness of the production. The author, as he informs in the title page, is a servant of Mr. Lloyd, and has been remarkable for his Fidelity and abstinence from those vices, which he warns his brother in against. The manuscript wrote in his own hand, is in our possession. We have made no material alterations in it, except in the spelling, which we found needed considerable correction. 8 


Hammon’s views of slavery may sound strange for some of us to understand. In his address to his fellow African Americans in New York, he shared that his desire was to remain as a servant to his masters. He expressed he had no desire to be free though he encouraged others towards freedom if they could gain it honestly.9 This however must be coupled with a few observations. First, Hammon apparently had a good relationship and situation with the Lloyd family of Long Island. It seemed they both viewed and treated him as a trusted part of their household and family. Furthermore, he seemed to have held two truths in tension. First, how slaves should relate to their earthly masters and second, whether or not people were morally right in taking others as slaves. He viewed the latter as morally evil while encouraging those who were slaves to show honor and obedience to their masters. For example, in his “Address to the Negroes” we read the following doubt of the institution’s morality, while affirming the honoring of masters.  He wrote:

 “Now whether it is right, and lawful in the sight of God, for them to make slaves of us or not, I am certain that while we are slaves it is our duty to obey our masters, in all their lawful commands, and mind them unless we are bid to do what we know to be sin, or forbidden in God’s word.” 10  

Finally, a more recently discovered manuscript makes it resoundingly clear that Hammon viewed slavery as “a manmade evil.” 11 Many of his works were also published by the Quakers a group firmly on the side of the full abolition of the institute of slavery in America. 


In reading Hammon’s work I learned a few things and was impacted in several ways.  First, Hammon was a realist about the fallenness of this word astutely observing that “I have had more experience in the world than most of you, and I have seen a great deal of the vanity, and wickedness of it.” 12 Second, even though he existed under a system of utter injustice and slavery he did not see that as a reason to sin and disobey God. It seems he understood the Lord Jesus who taught us to love our neighbors and even our enemies. He even gave fellow slaves counsel on how following the Lord, doing right and honoring others, and not stealing would be of more benefit to them than sinning against a harsh master. He condemned theft and being unfaithful to others in the strongest of terms.13 Third, he put the honor of God and God’s name above all.  His exhortation against swearing or taking God’s name in vain was unambiguous. He even dissuaded those who would use the example of swearing white masters as an excuse for their language. He reminded them that there is a higher authority always with each of us: “God is greater than all other beings, and him we are bound to obey. To him we will give an account for every idle word we speak.”14  Finally, though he desired freedom for the coming generation of black people in America, he continued to point to the great reality of spiritual and eternal freedom as the greatest concern.  I think he just dropped the mic after this one: “We cannot be happy if we are ever to so free, or ever so rich, while we are servants of sin and slaves to Satan.”15

It is clear from reading Hammon’s poetry and addresses that he was first and foremost concerned with the Kingdom of God and people coming to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. He even encouraged freed blacks in his day to use their new freedom for the study of the Bible and to promote of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. To the freedmen he said plainly “You have more time to read God’s holy word, and to take care of the salvation of your souls. Let me beg of you to spend your time in this way, or it will be better for you, if you had always been slaves.” Whether this was said as hyperbole or simply from a strong set of eternal values, Hammon saw the preeminence of Christ and his Kingdom.  This comes through pointedly in his first published poem which begins with these words:

SALVATION comes by Jesus Christ alone, 
The only Son of God; 
Redemption now to every one, 
That love his holy Word. 
Dear Jesus we would fly to Thee, 
And leave off every Sin, 
Thy tender Mercy well agree; 
Salvation from our King. 
Salvation comes now from the Lord, 
Our victorious King; 
His holy Name be well ador'd, 
Salvation surely bring. 
Dear Jesus give thy Spirit now, 
Thy Grace to every Nation, 
That han't the Lord to whom we bow, 
The Author of Salvation.
Dear Jesus unto Thee we cry, 
Give us thy Preparation; 
Turn not away thy tender Eye; 
We seek thy true Salvation.

We do seek the same King today that he so strongly pointed his world to in America’s early days. 

Lord, do Give us thy preparation,
Reid S. Monaghan


  1. Nancy I. Sanders, America’s Black Founders, Revolutionary Heroes and Early Leaders, 26. 
  2. Henry Louis Gates Jr, African American Lives, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), Kindle edition, location 18342.
  3. Sanders, 26.
  4. Gates, kindle edition, location 18396.
  5. Jupiter Hammon, An Evening Thought: Salvation by Christ, with Penitential Cries, Available online at
  6. Jupiter Hammon, Address to the Negroes in the State of New York. 1787. Sabin Americana, Print Editions 1500-1926.
  7. Gates, kindle edition, 18360.
  8. Preface to Hammon, Address to the Negroes in the State of New York. 1787.
  9. Hammon, 13.
  10. Hammon, 7.
  12. Hammon, 7.
  13. Hammon, 8, 9.
  14. Hammon, 12.
  15. Hammon, 19. 
  16. An Evening Thought

Guardians of the Galaxy and a Mirror to our World

This review and commentary first appeared in the November 2014 issue of Well Thought. The thought journal of Jacob's Well in North Brunswick, NJ. It was a collaborative writing project between myself and the inimitable Simon P. Clark

This summer, Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy became a box office smash, grossing more than $650 million worldwide as of September 2014 – and all this despite the relatively obscure fictional universe that Guardian of the Galaxy is based on. While DC Comics’ Batman and Superman are household names and Marvel’s string of Avengers movies brings together a string of already beloved heroes, Guardians of the Galaxy is, for all intents and purposes, an enigma. How did a movie with no widely established international fan base, whose heroes include a genetically modified talking raccoon and a tree get so big so quickly? The answer may lie in what it says about our own culture, rather than those of other worlds.

First, let’s make one thing clear – we are both huge fans of this movie (and Reid can boast that he was a fan of the comics long before the leap to screen). It’s a space epic that relies just as much on witty and engaging characters as it does on a complex, high-stakes plot. It’s also a movie that, despite being based on comic books  (or perhaps because of it) deals with some decidedly PG-13 stuff. Guardians of the Galaxy has it all: explosions, danger, snappy dialogue and relatable characters. More than anything, it’s a movie that speaks about one thing: being human.

Guardians of Humanity

Who doesn’t want to be a hero? We all dream, as kids and as adults, of being special, being placed in a situation that demands something extra and stepping up to save the day. This isn’t anything new. What do Star Wars, Star Trek, Spider-Man, Iron Man – in fact most action movies – have in common? Family and friends are in danger, there is fracture and loss, a mission to overcome a threat, and the promise of a newer, safer community as a reward. Guardians gives us all of this while managing never to lose the characters’ individual human touches – something with which many great movies struggle. Groot, a sentient tree, has time to give a single flower to a child as a simple act of kindness in a world that’s falling into chaos. Gamora, adopted daughter of Thanos (which is, let’s not forget, Greek for ‘death’), turns her back on a life of cruelty and subjugation in search of freedom and heroism. They may be aliens, but they’re aliens that audiences can relate to and root for. It’s this relation – between audiences and the characters of Guardians – that’s the true secret to the movie’s phenomenal success. Guardians’ heroes, you see, are far from perfect. Instead, they’re just what people want most in the 21st Century: murderers, assassins, thieves, and bandits ... with good, even noble, hearts.

Guardians of the West

‘Be good ... but not too good’ is, arguably, one of the most prevalent messages in our culture today. The rebel with a cause – the gentleman thief – seems to speak to something in modern Western civilization that’s never quite been here before. When did it become a bad thing to be too good? At Guardian’s heart is its protagonist, Star-Lord – a thief with a conscience, who has no problem breaking rules. That’s why Guardians works: it’s managed to present its main character in the perfect sweet spot between do gooders and baddies. We’re told increasingly by society that the best place to be, morally, legally, and even spiritually, is in the middle: rebels who act nicely, but are happy to break the law. We’re told to be our own persons, as long as we temper our bad sides with a little charity every now and then. Guardians exemplifies and glorifies this world view (and does a fantastic job of it). The movie ends with perhaps the most succinct summation of this philosophy: Star-Lord defending himself in the face of his obvious flaws, explains that while he “may be” difficult, he’s “not 100%” selfish. Well, he uses some language that is a bit more salty than this. Is that a good thing? Is it better to openly be a bit of both, good and bad, than to strive to follow a path that is good, right and true? In the Guardians universe, the answer’s a resounding yes. In our universe, things aren’t so clear.


Towards the end of the film, after clear acts of heroism and virtue, some of Guardians main characters engage in some witty and fun dialogue. Speaking to a police officer-type, Rocket Raccoon asks about a new moral dilemma he faces: "If I see something someone else has, and I want it really bad, can I just take it?" The cop, of course, answers that no, that would be stealing. Rocket, stuck on this line of thought alone, goes further: "But what if I want it really bad and much more than them?"

Similarly, Drax – one of the more muscled fighters of the Guardians – asks: "If someone says something irksome, can I rip out his spine?" The answer? "No, that would be … murder." It's all goes to show us that now that the characters are good, they really don't want to be that good.

Years ago, the French philosopher Simone Weil made an astute observation. In her book Gravity and Grace she wrote the following:

Imaginary evil is romantic and varied; real evil is gloomy, monotonous, barren, boring. Imaginary good is boring; real good is always new, marvelous, intoxicating.”

                                                                                                         ― Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace, 120.

What she wants us to see is that while evil in the fictional world can be exciting and fun, in the real world it is terrible and inhumane. Too much goodness in our books and movies gets boring, while our world is greatly starved of bold, courageous virtue.

Guardians of the Galaxy is just a movie, of course, so we don’t have to worry about the victims of the thieves and the assassins we’re told to love. There’s nothing wrong with that, either. You can love Indiana Jones without worrying that he doesn’t follow international treaties for the removal of antiquities. You can love this movie without worrying that it glorifies violence and law breaking. It’s worth thinking about, though, how different things in the real world might be if, in place of self-justifying rebellion, sacrificial love were the basis for community. This is what we strive for in the church: clear and compelling love and an embrace of truth and goodness. In fact, this sort of sacrificial love and goodness is what forms our rebellious guardians into an actual family on a mission.

We see Drax thanking his friends for forgiving him his many blunders. We see Groot have his only line in the film, "I am Groot," turn into "we are Groot” precisely at the moment where he is giving up his life for his friends. In Guardians of the Galaxy we see a group of misfits and losers formed into a new family -  one that lives out a bold mission. How does this happen? It is not through selfish, rebellious and evil-doing behavior. It is sacrificial love that forms their community.

One of the rallying scenes towards the end of the film shows the Guardians coming together to undertake an impossible task: deciding why they should give their lives to save the universe. Star-Lord, going beyond his earlier reasoning that they should save the galaxy because they are part of it, says this: “I look around and see losers. Life has given us a chance to give a #^&*...” His friends know that his call to action may very well mean a call to die. Drax’s reply is simple: "You are asking us to die? I would gladly die among my friends.”

Such sacrificial love, and real communities of friends built upon it, aren’t hard to find in this world. Jesus himself said there was no greater love than to lay life down for his friends. In Jesus we see exciting goodness, clear truth and compelling beauty. In his leadership and sacrificial love, we see a new community emerge with a glorious mission and hope.  Jesus’ call to us is to die to ourselves as we live out his mission among friends. In fact, he already died for his friends and showed himself to be the greatest leader this world has known.

We have been called to be guardians of the galaxy, in a sense, because we have indeed received good news. No misfit is too far away or too far gone to receive forgiveness and grace from God. The good news is that Jesus takes a bunch of screw ups, puts them together as a new family, calls them to give their lives for others so that many will be saved and join the team of redemption throughout the world.

In our world today following after God in true righteousness might just be the greatest rebellion there can be. Is it possible that we can be bold and bad by truly joining a revolution for good? The late British journalist and literary critic GK Chesterton says this so well:

In the upper world hell once rebelled against heaven. But in this world heaven is rebelling against hell. For the Orthodox there can always be a revolution; for a revolution is a restoration.

The Guardians of the Galaxy, a rabble band of misfits from various backgrounds, stories, skin colors, sizes and shapes sought to restore peace to a war-troubled universe. We bring a higher call to the table as we seek to see people restored to peace with God and one another. This is the precise reason that Jesus has a people.

Walking with the Little Ones - Parenting in the Toddler Years Part 2 - Teaching

I earlier began a discussion of walking with little ones in the years between toddling and beginning more formal schooling in the flow and setting of your choosing. I gave our discussion a little structure by giving it a cool acronym to make it memorable DTPL(G) – which pretty much means nothing other than Discipline, Teaching, Presence and Love (Grace).

Photo by Andreas Rodriguez/iStock / Getty Images

The first focus was given to setting up a structure of discipline in the lives of our families so that kids learn to listen to right authority and respond well to their parents. That essay can be found here on the blog as well.

The reasons we discipline are many but the one of the main reasons isn’t so little people do the random commands of what big people say. Discipline allows proper respect and honor for God and one another so that we might follow his purposes as a family. Disciplined kids are actually teachable kids and one of the clear mandates parents have is to be good teachers of their children.

Much can be said on the role of teaching and the wheres and whys our instruction. Some of what I’m sharing here I’ve taught and shared in other contexts. For my purposes here I want to focus on the biblical call to teach our kids and then learning to do that in a rhythm that connects to our culture and the age of our kids.

The Biblical Call

It is a great shame today that teaching and education is unhinged from ultimate reality and the fountain of true knowledge. Truth can be taught about all manner of subjects without it being connected to God. We do not want our kids to think that knowledge and learning are disconnected from God and faith in Christ. With our kids I’ve prayed and worked towards the following goals in teaching them things.

  1. I want them to be humble in all their learning
  2. I want them to love truth and the process of learning
  3. I want them to understand that they have been given minds to honor and glorify Father, Son and Holy Spirit and serve for the good of other human beings.

So with my kids we have used a phrase, derived from Biblical truth, to posture ourselves in a life for learning. The phrase is simple and a bit over the top but I’ve done this with my kids very early in the toddler years once basic language abilities have formed. The phrase is: The Bifurcation of Knowledge. It’s a goofy big word sort of phrase but I hope you will see why this is a foundational starting point for us teaching our kids. It flows forth from a passage in the Old Testament law:

Deuteronomy 29:29 - The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.

Knowing this passage of Scripture gives us great humility. It shows us that we are finite, we do not know and cannot know all that God knows. Yet it also gives great hope that knowledge is possible and attainable and that extreme skepticism about learning is unwarranted. We must believe that all learning is not a wasted spinning of the brain. Humility and awe for God and a love for learning; this is the goal. It is my prayer that my kids have the idea of learning very much connected to God who created them to do just that.

For parents, the Scriptures teach us our responsibility to be teachers in Deuteronomy 6 and Ephesians 6. These passages give clarity to this calling upon our lives. We will look at these in turn.

Deuteronomy 6:4-9

As God was giving his law through Moses, he was calling his people to a certain way of life as a unique covenant community. This text begins with what is known as the Shema, which is Hebrew for “Hear!” It means, listen up, pay attention, what I’m about to command you is of big time importance. What follows the call to hear is a central truth about God and what Jesus would call the greatest commandment (See Matthew 22:34-40; Mark 12:28-34). Truth about God: the Lord is one. The greatest command: love God with all that you are. It is in this context that the community is challenged in the way it should impart the commands of God to their children.

[4] “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. [5] You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. [6] And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. [7] You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. [8] You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. [9] You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. Deuteronomy 6:4-9 ESV

Parents have the unique, God-given charge to teach the truth diligently to their children. In the course of daily life, the Word of God should be taught by parents to their kids. To do something diligently means to be steady at it, giving focused energy towards the task. God’s people are to be teachers in family as the family engages gospel life and mission together. The locus of this teaching is quite literally, “everywhere.” This text tells us to talk of the Word of God while sitting in the house, walk by the way, when you lie down and when rise in the morning. The Word of God should dwell in us constantly and be a part of the environment in which we live. To rewrite this for a contemporary setting we might say we should talk of the Word when we chill at the house, walk to the park, work out, drive to practices, at bed time and at the breakfast table.

At this point some of you will think this means to set up a classroom setting for you to lecture the kiddos on the things of God at certain points every day. I think what we need to stress is that the teaching of the gospel should happen regularly, in the day to day flow of your life. God gives opportunities to teach as we live with him, have our steps ordered by him and pass through this life with him. We’ll talk more practical at the end of this post but I want you to “HEAR” the call of God – love him first, then teach his truth and his ways to your kids.

Ephesians 6:1-4

The New Testament re-articulates this ancient command and has particular instruction for the relationships in a Christian household. The children and parents are both instructed and a specific, and very important, command is given to the Father. Ephesians chapter six begins as follows:

[6:1] Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. [2] “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), [3] “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” [4] Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

Ephesians 6:1-4 ESV

This passage is actually the second expansion on an earlier command given in Ephesians 5:18-21. We are to be filled with the Spirit by addressing one another in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, by giving thanks and by submitting to one another in reverence for Jesus. This aspect of submitting to one another is unpacked in the realm of three household relationships: husbands/wives, parents/children and masters/servants. The harmony and duty of various members of the household are in view. Children are to obey their parents. This is only fitting and it is part of the Ten Commandments. Mom and Dad should be honored as the children follow God. In this context Fathers are also called to a specific role – to raise their kids in the discipline and instruction of God. Even servants and masters had their roles changed and shaped by the gospel.

The word here for discipline is paideia. It refers to the holistic training and education of children in a systematic way, correcting and teaching them in the fear of the Lord. It involves verbal teaching, modeling and correction. Combined with the word instruction, it is clear that Fathers are to exhort their kids to learn the ways of God and to be responsible for their holistic education. Whether this means home school, Christian school, private school or utilizing public school will be left to conscience of the reader but it does mean that Dad is responsible before God. You cannot outsource this responsibility though church, schools and other families can be instrumental in the process. You must take the lead here men and you will answer to God for it. It’s also a great privilege to shape these little lives.

Practical Challenges

One of the central things we must embrace about being parents is the constant responsibility for others. Paul teaches us in 1 Corinthians 7 that a married man has concerns of a worldly nature as he must provide for his wife and her concerns. This includes the needs of the family. We must embrace and rejoice in this responsibility and not punk out on it. We have other concerns than job and your entertainments. Embrace family life and responsibility. Additionally, the needs of the office and the church will always be calling out to you. People will want to own your schedule and ask you to meet with them at all hours and at their convenience. Our culture has also bought into a stupid idea that if we can get “quality time” together then our families will be close, connected and fruitful. The problem is in our definition. The truth is that quality time IS quantity time. To know their Mom and Dad, children need to be with you and not simply for half an hour a week. If your kids don’t know your heart, you will not have quality “forced quick time” with them. In fact, without time given to your kids, they may not want to be with you. As they get older, they will find better things to do than “quality time” with Mom and Dad. Parents give time to be with your kids often and intentionally from the time they are young.

My oldest is a teenager now and we are still close. Why? Because we have been since day one. I’ve made sure that I’m around for them. What follows are few things we’ve put into practice to make sure of this and to follow God’s command to bring them up in the gospel.

Home Team Practices

What I want to give you here are a few things we have done as a family that have helped us disciple and train our kids in the gospel. Additionally, they have helped my kids know me well in the midst of the bustle of work, church and other activities.

Win 2 out of 3

In our contemporary life and culture there are three great times when you have an opportunity to invest in your family spiritually and relationally: morning, dinner hour, and bed time. I encourage you to try to “win 2 of 3” each day. For some, morning breakfast is a great time to connect to pray, read and discuss Scripture. For others the dinner hour works much better. Additionally, bed time is a sacred moment for young children in connecting with them. For my family, dinner and bed time work well for us while the morning can be a chaotic rush to school. Nevertheless we have found praying in the mornings a helpful way to start our day if we wrangle in the chaos.

We work hard to connect at dinner and we put our kids to bed almost every night. You can see the doc I’ve put together on family worship if you want more but the following are descriptions of things we have done to connect with our kids.

  • Morning Prayer – before leaving the house, we hold hands and sing a short song based on Lamentations 3:23, 24 and I pray for the family as we head into the day.
  • Family Prayer – we usually do this at dinner time...not every night but often. Each person in our family will share something positive they are thankful for as well as something hard/difficult/negative/suffering oriented. Then in response to 1 Thessalonians 5 and the command to give thanks in all things, we thank God for all of the stuff we wrote down. The good, the bad and the ugly.
  • Dinner discussions – we have used books by Starr Meade, topics from science, theology, etc. just to talk about things of substance at the dinner table. I love our kids to ask questions so we go with it.
  • Bed time creativity – I tell stories at night and try to engage the kid’s imagination and moral development. My two oldest (my daughters) also like to ask questions at bed time as they milk trying to stay up late. I go along for a bit because the discussions are usually quite rich.

Form a flow (a culture)

I’m a firm believe that the daily rhythms of the home form a flow or a culture. This perhaps shapes our kids more than anything. They will see how Mom and Dad relate, how you respond to your sins and the sins of others and what you do with your time when you are home. Here are a few things that shape the flow of our family.

To shape our culture I have a rotation of Daddy Dates and Buddy Days (for my son) with my kids. I regularly take them to do things. Whether it’s going to a park, out to eat, to a movie, to walk around the mall, or special birthday trips just do things with them. My kids know “who is up next in the rotation.” I forget so they tell me who is up next. They are also thinking creatively about what they want to do with Dad. They know they are important to us as we give them time.

As kids grow they find various interests and things they are into. As this happens, we work to get into their world and help out with their projects. We have coached soccer and go to countless soccer games (I was not a soccer person growing fact...hated it). We have built and played with Legos and tried to “transform” robots into trucks many times failing badly. My wife and I have done school projects volcanoes, worms, computers, the Civil War and even helped one kid start on online business to make money for charity. We help with homework and watch kids do cartwheels and try to do handstands. The constant call of “Mom, Dad watch me, Daddy, Mommy watch” can become overwhelming, but we always try to pause and give attention to a little princess or a budding ninja. We want them to have our attention so that we trust one another. After all, those little girls will seek attention elsewhere if their Dad and Mom never has their eye on them. The young idiot teenage boys are coming! As a Dad, I’m going to be there first.

Finally, we try to repent of sin and confess it with our kids. When I get impatient or harsh with them I apologize. When I am negative or unnecessarily critical of something I repent. I want the kids to know we need Jesus and the gospel and that we are Christian believers. Living a life of repentance and faith before watching little eyes is one of the best sermons you will ever give.


Teaching kids is constant and believe or not there are times they don’t listen or seem interested ;-). Yet stay in the game of teaching about life and faith in God with your kids. Don’t trade your life as a parent for a bowl of busy porridge. Be present, sacrifice selfishness and receive the blessings of God that come with being a Mom or a Dad. It’s worth it in the end.

An Introduction to the Gospel of Matthew and the Sermon on the Mount


Words. Words are some of the most powerful things in the universe. Human beings use them every day to do both good and evil. Many of us: educators, ministers, business leaders, politicians and certainly parents even make speeches with them. Even as a person who gives many sermons and instruction in words, I am no fool to think that any one speech I give changes the course of history. Yet there are such times when even a very brief compilation of words profoundly impacts the destiny of the world.

In our own culture one can think of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg address or Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech or Ronald Reagan’s “Mr. Gorbachev tear down this wall” in front of Brandenburg Gate towards the end of the Cold War. My mind also goes to King George VI of England in 1939 and the speech he gave to rally a nation in the defense of their island and civilization against the Nazi aggressor. Many of us are aware of this speech due to the 2010 Academy award-winning film “The Kings Speech.” This powerful film brought that impactful speech, from a stuttering and unassuming King, to the masses of a new generation.

Yet there is another, still greater king, who gave a still greater speech long ago. A humble Jewish teacher took his place on a hillside and took his followers and many a listening ear to school. This speech, the words of the King of Kings, was written down and transferred to millions in the inspired Word of God in the Scriptures. This speech has changed the world perhaps more than any words in all of history. And by that I do not mean to exaggerate. The teaching of Jesus Christ unleashed a revolution in the world and showed us a different path to walk amidst the greedy, violent and self-exalting human race.

This year at Jacobs Well we will study the King’s speech and go to school with Jesus. As God permits, from September until Easter we will walk in the words of the Sermon of the Mount found in the Gospel of Matthew. We will by no means be able to exhaust its riches together, but I do pray that its gold would shine forth for all who are hungry and thirsty for a renewed life and mission together.

In this introduction I have but a few simple goals. I want to introduce all of us to the Gospel of Matthew, albeit at a very cursory level. Matthew’s gospel is the soil in which the Sermon on the Mount finds its biblical roots. We will then look at the nature of the sermon within the itinerant ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. We will also look at various hermeneutic positions related to the Sermon on the Mount. My hope is that we will see this teaching as life shaping for the church that reflects the eternal realities of the Kingdom. Finally, we will make note of why this teaching is essential for a gospel community living out the mission of Jesus in our own age and culture. So let us begin our journey by taking a quick peak at the Gospel of Matthew.

The Gospel of Matthew

The Sermon on the Mount is comprised of some of the most central and core teachings that Jesus imparted to his followers. In our study together we will look at the record of this teaching in the Gospel of Matthew. The Gospel of Matthew is a rich amalgam of the story of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection and a recounting of his teachings. We do not want to labor too many details on the history and background academic studies in the gospels for our purposes today1 but we do want to highlight a few things about Matthew in particular.

Authorship of the Gospel of Matthew

The gospel of Matthew was well known in the ancient church and was very much in use by the early churches. In discussing the authorship of something like one of the gospels, we are not merely talking about “who wrote the book.” Rather, we are looking at the person who carefully catalogued and communicated important information about his teacher’s life and words. Furthermore, as noted by New Testament scholars Andreas Kostenberger, L. Scott Kellum and Charles Quarles, the author of the gospel of Matthew should be seen as fulfilling the role of a scribe and theologian who carefully arranged and wrote down his account of Jesus’ life and teaching for his particular audience and their needs.2 He is not writing a book as one would write a novel, but writing down the inspired story in order to teach, instruct and convey the good news of Jesus. As to the book itself, it is technically anonymous3 in a formal sense. It is anonymous in that it makes no direct claim to its authorship in its own words. However, the church’s leaders from the earliest days held this gospel to be the work of Matthew the apostle.4 The title as the gospel as kata Matthaion, or according to Matthew, was well in place by the first half of the second century.5 While some find reason to reject this attribution, others, myself included, find no good reason to do so.6 Matthew is mentioned five times in the New Testament and was called out of his life as a despised tax-collector into life as a follower and disciple7 of Jesus. Most would agree that the heavy use of the Old Testament quotations and allusions demonstrate that the gospel was aimed at early Jewish Christians likely in transition into a new way of covenant life as followers of Jesus the Messiah.8 There is an ancient tradition dating back to a church father named Papias that held that Matthew originally composed his work in Hebrew and what survives today is a Greek translation. This view is vigorously disputed9 but the connection to the Hebrew mind and Old Testament becomes clear when reading this work. Though it cannot be demonstrated with absolute certainly that Matthew was the author, there is no compelling evidence to reject this early tradition that was universally acknowledged by the churches.

Dating Matthew

If Matthew is indeed the work of one of the disciples, dating his work would have to fall within his lifespan and place the composition in the second half of the first century. Many scholars today hold that Mark was the first gospel and that Matthew used Mark as well as other oral traditions as source materials for his account.10 Using that system would put Matthew sometime after Mark which many hold to be written in a window anywhere from the late 50s to as late as AD 64. Conservative scholars who hold to Markan Priority typically advise a date just prior to AD 70 due to many facts in the text related to the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem that year.11 Others who have made recent arguments to maintain that Matthew was the “the first gospel,” place its writing even earlier than 70, perhaps as early as the 50s.12 Either way, the Gospel of Matthew is unanimously believed to have taken form within mere decades of the life of Jesus and certainly within the lifespan of its apostolic author.

Hebraisms and Old Testament Quotations and Allusions

As briefly mentioned above, when one reads Matthew’s gospel you quickly find a plethora of Old Testament quotations, allusions and a world that breathes and finds its life in the story of ancient Israel. In fact, David L. Turner categorized some fifty direct Old Testament quotations in Matthew alone.13 The Sermon on the Mount in particular has deep connections with the story of Israel in the Old Testament with two particular parallels of note. First, Jesus is presented as a fulfillment of the Law of Moses and certainly because Jesus gives his teaching on a mountain we quickly draw parallels with Moses on Mt. Sinai.14 The connections are clearly present as we will see later in this essay but we only take them as far as Matthew does. As the late pastor and theologian Dr. John Stott recounted:

“…Matthew does not explicitly liken Jesus to Moses, and we cannot legitimately claim more than that in the sermon ‘the substance of the New Law, the New Sinai, the New Moses are present.’”15

In addition to its connection to Moses and the Pentateuch16, the Gospel of Matthew sets Jesus in proper view in light of the Davidic covenant of 2 Samuel 7. This promise of a coming and eternal king, descended from David is fully on display in Matthew. This is reflected with Matthews’s laser like focus on the nature of the Kingdom of Heaven and its citizens.17 Much more will be noted about the Old Testament backdrop for the identity and teaching of Jesus in a moment when we discuss the structure of the Matthew and his introduction of Jesus. For now let it suffice to say that the Gospel of Matthew is a very Jewish book, laying out the fulfillment of the Old Testament law and a commencement of the Kingdom of God by its Divine Messiah and King.

Many King’s Speeches?

The sermon in Matthew is also similar, but slightly different than some of Jesus’ teaching recorded in Luke chapter 6. In Luke, Jesus is coming down from the hill and takes his teaching position on a level place making this rendition sometimes known as “the Sermon on the Plain.”18 The similarity and difference between these two “King’s Speeches” has led many to wonder if they were the same message given on different occasions, or compilations of Jesus’ teaching conveyed by each gospel writer to address his unique audience and theological purposes. The French-Swiss pastor and theologian John Calvin seemed to view the Sermon on the Mount as a summary or compilation of Jesus’ various teachings given as an itinerant preacher.19 John Stott observes that the sermon in Matthew’s gospel would have lasted about 10 minutes given aloud. So it is appropriate to assume that both Matthew and Luke provide what Stott called “their own condensed summaries.”20 What we need to see is that in Matthew and Luke we have the very teachings of Jesus, inspired by the Holy Spirit, faithfully recorded to instruct us in the good news.21 With that said, it does seem with the geographical and temporal introduction to the Sermon on the Mount that Matthew is recounting an actual occasion where Jesus taught his people even if what he recounts is not a word for word transcription of everything he said that day. It is certain that in the inspired text of Matthew, God gives us everything we needed to hear and know from this central teaching of Jesus.

Now, Not Yet and Other Hermeneutical Considerations

Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount contains such challenging content that there have been many theories of who and what purpose the sermon serves. Is it for the church on the earth? Does it describe the perfection of the Kingdom of Heaven? Is it such a high teaching that it is to humble us and lead us to seek forgiveness? Should this teaching be for now or the age to come? Many ideas have been put forth in church history on these matters. Acts 29 Pastor and Theologian Sam Storms offers a brief but excellent summary of these various views held by Christians throughout history.22 I will briefly summarize his work here and then tell you what perspective we will take in our teaching of the King’s Speech.

  • Theological Liberalism – the sermon is the ethical blue print for bringing about a sort of utopian society. If we as individuals and nations “just do it” we’ll be able to make heaven a place on earth.
  • Roman Catholic View – the sermon is a blueprint for individual salvation. If we do it we will merit God’s grace and justification.
  • Lutheranism – the sermon sets such a high bar that its demands seem impossible to live. It then drives us to the gospel. It functions as a sort of New Testament law.
  • Interim Ethic – the sermon was given to the disciples as a way to live in light of the soon coming apocalypse. Yet Jesus was mistaken about the end of all things so this ethic is no longer needed. The sermon presents an extreme ethic for an extreme situation that no longer applies. Storms credits this proposal to the late Albert Schweitzer.23
  • Dispensationalism – Storms can give you lots of threads to pull but to summarize I will quote him directly after he looks at various moves in this theological camp:

All of these views are based on the dispensationalist theory of the postponed kingdom: i.e., Jesus offered to Israel the consummate fulfillment of all OT theocratic promises, which she rejected. The coming of the kingdom of God, therefore, has been postponed until after the second coming of Christ. Its fullness will be seen only in the millennial age (Christ’s earthly 1,000 year reign). However, be it noted that the Sermon presupposes a world in which insults, persecution, anger, personal litigation, adultery, lying, vengeful attitudes, malice, worry (by God’s children, no less), judgmental spirit, and false prophets, among other things, flourish! As Carl Henry has said, “An era requiring special principles to govern face-slapping and turning the other cheek (5:39) is hardly one to which the term ‘millennium’ is aptly applied.” The good news is that more recently those who call themselves Progressive Dispensational.24

  • Kingdom Living Here and Now – The sermon is teaching to instruct God’s people to live as Kingdom citizens now in Christ while awaiting its full arrival at the end of this age. In this light the sermon issues a high calling to Kingdom living but not an impossible way of life. Storm’s quotes Stott on the sermon on the mount in an appropriate conclusion:

For the standards of the Sermon are neither readily attainable by every man, nor totally unattainable by any man. To put them beyond anybody’s reach is to ignore the purpose of Christ’s Sermon; to put them within everybody’s is to ignore the reality of man’s sin. They are attainable all right, but only by those who have experienced the new birth which Jesus told Nicodemus was the indispensable condition of seeing and entering God’s kingdom.25

In other words, the sermon is for us to follow now and build our lives upon. Yet we do not build in our own strength or in the power of the flesh. It is our new nature, born by the Spirit, empowered by the Spirit that loves and follows Jesus. To quote an old hymn “Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing.”26 Yet when our striving is full of the power of God and we can follow him and build life together on the solid rock of Jesus and his teaching.

As citizens of the earth and as citizens of the Kingdom of heaven we have a glorious experience in this life. We live now as Kingdom people and missionaries among the peoples of the earth. Jesus opens the doors to all who will enter to his Kingdom today and then calls us to live in its light until it comes in fullness and power. This “now, not yet” reality of the Kingdom infuses our every day with eternal significance and draws us forward towards the day when all things will be made new. Dr. D.A. Carson describes this dual reality of the Kingdom in our present age:

Taken together, the books of the New Testament insist that the kingdom of God is already arrived; a person may enter the kingdom and receive life now, life “to the full” (John 10:10). Jesus himself argues that if he drives out demons by the Spirit of God – and he does – then the kingdom of God has come (Matthew 12:28). Nevertheless, the books of the New Testament insist that the kingdom will be inherited only in the future, when Christ comes again. Eternal life, though experienced now, is consummated then, in conjunction with such a renovation of the universe that the only adequate description is “a new heaven and new earth.”27

Until we stand in the new heavens and earth we press forward for the glory of God, the good of others and extend gospel hope in our world. What a privilege friends.

As we come to our approach of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew a note about the literary structure of the gospel will be helpful as it will so beautifully set the context for us to hear the King’s speech.

The Structure of Matthew

Matthew’s gospel flows back and forth from narrative portions and discourses of instruction. A story will be told and then a teaching given that elucidates the narrative further. New Testament scholars W.D. Davies and Dale Allison outline the Matthew’s material by chapter according to this structure labeling the various material (N) for narrative and (D) for discourse/teaching. This short outline will help us in seeing the King’s Speech with the proper narrative background.

1-4 N the main character introduced
5-7 D Jesus’ demands upon Israel
8-9 N Jesus’ deeds within and for Israel
10 D extension of ministry through words and deeds of others
11-12 N negative response
13 D explanation of negative response
14-17 N founding of a new community
18 D instructions to the new community
19-23 N commencement of the passion
24-25 D the future: Judgment and Salvation
26-28 N conclusion: the passion and resurrection28

From this outline we see the chief focus and concern of Matthew right from the start is to introduce Jesus, the main character. He does this through several major scenes with the Sermon on the Mount following. The scenes can be seen as follows and they cast a spotlight on the true identity of Jesus of Nazareth.29

Scene 1—The King’s Roots

Matthew begins with a genealogy so that we see Jesus’ connection to both Abraham and David. He is clearly connected to Abraham who is the fountainhead of the people of Israel to show us that he is fulfilling that calling in the world. Jesus is the true and faithful Israel. He is connected to David so that we might quickly see that Jesus is the true heir of the promises of the Davidic Covenant in 2 Samuel 7. Jesus is the true King that will rule the people of God eternally occupying the Davidic throne. It is Jesus’s Kingdom, the Kingdom of Heaven, which shall be forever established before God the father forever.

Scene 2—The King’s Birth

The second scene involves the royal birth of Jesus in a startling manner. He is conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary fulfilling the promises of Isaiah 7:14. Even his name, Jesus, was to convey to us that YHWH saves. His father is also a man named Joseph, having the same name of the one whom God used in the Old Testament to protect and deliver his people in Egypt. Another King, Herod, is mentioned on the scene of Matthew’s birth narrative, deeply troubled that his power and rule was threatened. The fulfillment of the prophecy of the birth of Messiah was before them. The wise mean of the East rejoice, while some of the current Jerusalem power structure were threated.

Scene 3—Opposing Kings

God then calls Jesus and his parents to Egypt to flee the murderous intentions of Herod. Again, as a fulfillment of prophecy, Herod slays all the male children in the town of Bethlehem where Jesus was born in order to wipe out a contender for his throne. God protects Jesus in Egypt as he had protected his people through Joseph before in the book of Genesis. And when the danger had cleared, God initiates a new Exodus from Egypt and Matthew cites the prophet Hosea with the simple quotation, “Out of Egypt I called my Son.” (Matthew 2:15)

Scene 4—God’s King

The very next scene takes place in “the wilderness” the place where God had worked in the past to bring his people out of the bondage of slavery and give them his law in the Book of Exodus. Whereas in the first Exodus it was the nation which came out from captivity into the wilderness, here we see the faithful Son of God being announced as the one who brings forth the Kingdom of Heaven. And then something wonderful transacts. Jesus is baptized in the Jordan River by John the Baptizer. In the Old Testament God saved his people through the waters of the red sea bringing judgment upon his Egyptian enemies. Here we see Jesus going through the water as a foreshadowing of his role and mission. He would die and be raised to bring his people through in the second Exodus, the greatest saving act of God. At this time we see the Sprit come upon Jesus and we hear God the Father speak “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.” This is God’s anointed King! Whereas Israel fails to keep God’s covenant in the Exodus generation, Jesus is fully pleasing to God as our faithful leader and King.

Scene 5—The King’s Temptation

From the scene of his baptism, Jesus is led into the wilderness for forty days and forty nights for a time of testing. Whereas Israel had failed in their faithfulness to YHWH, Jesus will be shown as the faithful Son of God who resists the tempter (Satan) and trusts fully in God’s purposes for him. It is clear that Matthew presents the narrative of Jesus as re-enacting the redemptive history of his people. The parallels are striking. Whereas Moses and his generation failed, the greater law giver and Prophet Jesus will fulfill all of God’s purposes. God’s anointed son (which is what Christ or Messiah means) will be faithful in all things. Daily needs, power, nor presumption will tempt him away from his divine purpose.

Scene 6—The King’s Summons

What we see Jesus do next in Matthew’s narrative is begin to call people onto a new team. As God’s purposes have always been, he begins to form a covenant community, one based upon his summons of people and their following of him as their God and King. Jesus calls disciples from the people of Israel, those with whom he will live his life and entrust his mission. And thus he sits upon the side of a hill and opens his mouth to teach them…and the gathering crowds. And so begins The King’s Speech.

Scene 7—The King’s Speech

The context is clear. The Sermon on the Mount is given to God’s people so that they might understand the way of the Kingdom as directly taught by Jesus. What are his new people like? How will Jesus teach and interpret the law of God to us? How should we now live in light of his being our King? How should our lives be established and how does the Kingdom flow in and through us as a community? These questions are so important that Jesus takes his followers to school. He instructs us on the way of the eternal Kingdom breaking forth into our world now.

The Kings Speech for Kingdom Servants

In conclusion, I want us to take a look at how desperately we need to have our lives shaped by this sermon in our current day. The late English minister John Stott began his commentary on the Sermon on the Mount with the following striking words that issued a summons to his own generation:

The Sermon on the Mount is probably the best known part of the teaching of Jesus, though arguably it is the least understood, and certainly it is the least obeyed. It is the nearest thing to a manifesto that he ever uttered, for it is his own description of what he wanted his followers to be and to do. To my mind no two words sum up its intention better, or indicate more clearly it’s challenged to the modern world, than the expression ‘Christian counterculture’.”30

Stott was writing in the throes of the counterculture movement in the 1960s and 70s. He noticed a disaffected youth culture frustrated with the status quo of the day where Western civilization and the church might have been seen as two versions of the same oppressive reality.31 His reflection on the church’s conformity to and congruence with culture should be echoed in every generation. We are called to be a countercultural society shaped by the gospel, for the sake of the nations, by extending hope of the gospel of the crucified and risen king. Certainly in our age as well, the church in America risks a conformity to the prevailing cultural moods of our day. Whether it is a capitulation to right wing visions of economic and individualistic living or left-wing visions which mute the need for individual responsibility and morality, the church must not tip into worldly ideology and cultural captivity. Our age also runs a great risk of being into fads and novelty chasing the transient in neglect of the eternal. We must challenge ourselves to see life as more than consumerism, money, sensuality and self-absorption of this age. We have a much higher calling in Christ.

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus does indeed provide us a calling to a higher reality both now and eternally. In his teaching and example he invades this present darkness with the light of love, truth and passionate beauty. In our world that is in constant fracture and division, Jesus is always forming a counter-cultural community. The world constantly sets up divisions based upon race, class, appearances, nationality or ideology; Jesus knew this to be the status quo of the human condition. Yet it is from this world that he calls a people to become the new community of his church. That church is marked by the forgiving grace of God in the gospel and a new reality defined by his ways and teaching.

The good news of Jesus Christ creates one new man out of divided peoples. It is also different then the status quo of any of the myriad of human created cultures. Though we find echoes of the glory of the image of God in all places on the earth, it is in the unique society of the church that the Spirit and teaching of Jesus takes root. The Old Testament call to Israel to not be as the other nations continues in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus’ call is “do not be like them” (Matthew 6:8) for we are to resemble our Lord in true righteousness and holiness (See Ephesians 4:17-24).

In the Sermon on the Mount we really see who is blessed in the sight of God. It is according to his principles and not simply those by which we judge one another. In it we receive a high ethical calling to live with one another in supernatural ways. We find that our lives should reflect a contrast as light is to darkness, a savory flavor to the bland and the boring of this life. In the King’s speech we find a fulfillment of the promises and laws given to the prophets of old, realized and brought to completion in the life of Jesus the King. We see that our God’s plans are never thwarted, but always fulfilled in the fullness of his time.

In Jesus’ teaching we find a different foundation for life. One that is eternally established and steadfast in the purposes for which God created us. We represent the rule and reign of King Jesus and extend the hope of his sacrificial love, and life renewing resurrection in the world. We are a signpost of the age to come and a testimony to the world of its accountability to the Almighty God. We call others to new life, the forgiveness of sins and for the requirements of God’s holy law to be fulfilled in us by his Spirit. (Romans 8)

One of Jesus’ followers long ago described the Christian community as being sojourners and strangers (1 Peter 2:11) in this world. And this is what we are. We belong to another realm with our citizenship being from the embassy in Heaven. We love this world so much that at times we stand against it in truth and warning. We love this world so much that we must stand within it for the good of others and holding forth good news of our sacrificial, loving and forgiving God. To quote that early 20th century prophet GK Chesterton, we must hate this world enough to change it, and yet love it enough to think it worth changing.32

In our day there are new calls for the church to put aside the truth and deny what God has given to her in the Holy Scriptures. There are new calls for compromise and calls of ungodly perspectives of Christians towards a lost world. We must be a resistance force against both these urges. We must not abandon Scriptural teaching for the current and contemporary fads of our society. Whether this be related to sex, religion or political correctness. Neither should we forfeit the loving ethic given to us by the Lord Jesus in the name of “being right.” Our calling is to hold forth the biblical gospel of Jesus the King and of his coming kingdom in our day. Neither removing the offense of the cross nor denying the sufficiency of Christ for the salvation of all who will believe. Yet as we hold forth the gospel to a dying world we do not wish to fumble it in our day. Each generation has a responsibility to our creator to be faithful to the end.

For the church not to know the orders of its commanding officer or the way and manner of his kingdom is indeed a tragedy in every generation. Long-ago the King of Kings stood on the side of a hill to teach us so we would not forget his rule or his ways. We have the King’s Speech and we have the school of Jesus in which to learn. Let’s go to school together.

As we head into the sermon I want to give us proper warning that Jesus’ teaching is challenging. It both draws us in and convicts us of our lax attitude towards God and his Kingdom. New Testament scholar DA Carson said it this way:

The more I read these three chapters—Matthew 5, 6 and 7—the more I am both drawn by them and then shamed by them. Their brilliant light draws me like a moth to a spotlight; but the light is so bright that it sears and burns. No room left for forms of piety which are nothing more than veneer and sham.

In other words, we cannot fake a devotion to God as described in the Sermon on the Mount. It must be a work of God’s Spirit in us as we joyfully submit to his rule in our lives.

Join the community of Jacobs Well as we humble ourselves and bow the knee to the King this fall. Join us in the glorious adventure of being taken to school by the crucified and risen one who reigns forever and ever and ever… Amen.

In the year of our Lord 2014,

Reid S. Monaghan



  1. For those who want to look at some of this, see the discussion of the Synoptic Problem and the gospels in my short “An Introduction to the New Testament” available at
  2. Andreas J. Köstenberger, L. Scott Kellum, and Charles L. Quarles, The Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown : An Introduction to the New Testament (Nashville, Tenn.: B & H Academic, 2009), 180.
  3. David L. Turner, Matthew, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008), 11.
  4. R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Pub., 2007), 15.
  5. W. D. Davies and Dale C. Allison, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to Saint Matthew, 3 vols., The International Critical Commentary on the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments (London ; New York: T&T Clark International, 2004), xi.
  6. France, 15.
  7. It is of interest that the word for disciple in Greek is mathetes
  8. France, 17-18.
  9. See Sidebar 4.1 in Köstenberger et al., 182, 183.
  10. For a brief but helpful treatment of the Synoptic gospels and Markan priority seeD. A. Carson, Douglas J. Moo, and Leon Morris, An Introduction to the New Testament, New Testament Studies (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1992), 19-56.
  11. Köstenberger et al., 188.
  12. For more on exploring alternative thesis to the Synoptic Problem see David Alan Black and David R. Beck, Rethinking the Synoptic Problem (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2001).
  13. Turner, 18, 19.
  14. This is in reference to the narrative in Exodus of Moses bringing God’s teaching to his people from a mountain.
  15. John R. W. Stott, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) : Christian Counter-Culture, The Bible Speaks Today (Downers Grove, Ill., U.S.A.: Inter-varsity Press, 1978), 21. Emphasis added.
  16. Pentateuch simply refers to the first five books of the Bible, or the books of Moses, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.
  17. DA Carson provides a clear and helpful explanation about the Bible's use of Kingdom language and imagery in D. A. Carson, The Sermon on the Mount : An Evangelical Exposition of Matthew 5-7 (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1978), 11-16.
  18. I must confess that I caught that I had originally typed “Sermon on the Plane” which would have been an anachronism. Not that Jesus would be opposed to preaching on airplanes.
  19. John Calvin viewed the sermon as “a brief summary…collected out of his many and various discourses” See Stott, 22.
  20. Ibid., 24.
  21. New Testament scholar David L. Turner prefers a view that in Matthew 5-7 we have a record that “accurately records the gist (ipsissima vox, “the very voice,” of Jesus) of a historical sermon that Jesus uttered.
  22. Sam Storms, "Introduction to the Sermon on the Mount," Sam Storms, Enjoying God 2014, no. September 19 (2006).
  23. Brief outline of his life and view is found in the wiki here - "Albert Schweitzer," Wikipedia. (accessed September 19, 2014).
  24. Storms.
  25. Stott, 29.
  26. Martin Luther, "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God," (1529).
  27. Carson, 14.
  28. Davies and Allison, xxiv-xxv.
  29. The following is informed by the brief outline in Iain M. Duguid, Is Jesus in the Old Testament?, First Edition ed., Basics of the Faith (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Pub., 2013), 32-36.
  30. Stott, 15.
  31. Ibid., 17.
  32. G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (New York, London,: John Lane company; John Lane, 1909), 130.
    Carson, 11.



"Albert Schweitzer." Wikipedia. [accessed September 19, 2014].

Black, David Alan and David R. Beck. Rethinking the Synoptic Problem. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2001.

Carson, D. A. The Sermon on the Mount : An Evangelical Exposition of Matthew 5-7. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1978.

Carson, D. A., Douglas J. Moo and Leon Morris. An Introduction to the New Testament New Testament Studies. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1992.

Chesterton, G. K. Orthodoxy. New York, London,: John Lane company; John Lane, 1909.

Davies, W. D. and Dale C. Allison. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to Saint Matthew. 3 vols. The International Critical Commentary on the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. London ; New York: T&T Clark International, 2004.

Duguid, Iain M. Is Jesus in the Old Testament? First Edition ed. Basics of the Faith. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Pub., 2013.

France, R. T. The Gospel of Matthew The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Pub., 2007.

Köstenberger, Andreas J., L. Scott Kellum and Charles L. Quarles. The Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown : An Introduction to the New Testament. Nashville, Tenn.: B & H Academic, 2009.

Luther, Martin. "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God." (1529).

Storms, Sam. "Introduction to the Sermon on the Mount." Sam Storms, Enjoying God 2014, no. September 19 (2006).

Stott, John R. W. The Message of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) : Christian Counter-Culture The Bible Speaks Today. Downers Grove, Ill., U.S.A.: Inter-varsity Press, 1978.

Turner, David L. Matthew Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008.


© 2014 Jacob’s Well, Reid S. Monaghan

Introduction to the Proverbs

Introduction [1]

Wisdom, as related to human beings, may simply be defined as the life quality that enables one to make good choices in the complicated circumstances of life in order to walk a good path. For the follower of Jesus, wisdom is the art of godly living.

Every culture knows that there is a way to live that is rightly called foolishness. There really is a way to waste your life and fizzle your days away filled with folly. We are always seeking wisdom from others yet many times we go all over the place looking to figure out how life works.

Bookstores are jammed full with self-help books offering wisdom to the seeker. Movies and literature are filled with wise characters (Yoda and Gandalf the gray being some of my favorites). There is never a shortage of gurus being paraded out on the Oprah Winfrey show. Usually they are western dudes dabbling in eastern philosophy who write books and get paid.

Ironically, we are people who are surrounded by impressive knowledge but seem to be profoundly lacking in wisdom. Our culture seems to have a deficit of wisdom as we tend to float like empty ballasts upon a sea of nothingness. I offer MTV’s Jersey Shore as humble proof. Seriously, how many times can a chic fall in love and give everything she has to some idiot during the course of a summer?

We may know how to split the atom, make machines talk, decode the genome and scan the electrical activities of our brains but we remain unsure about how to make life work. In our search for meaning and happiness we simply lack the wisdom we truly need.

On Gaining Wisdom

Wisdom is something that grows in us progressively as we walk with God in his world. It is no coincidence that the ancients saw the elderly as a source of wisdom; they have lived more life with God and have learned from him through teaching and experience. Proverbs 20:29 teaches us that the glory of young men is their strength, but the splendor of old men is their gray hair. It is not always the case that old age = wisdom, but there is a general principle here that we can learn and deepen in wisdom over time. The tragic story of King Rehoboam ignoring the wisdom of the elderly for the counsel of some punk young men is a classic example of this principle. You can read this in 1 Kings 12 in the Old Testament.

There is a bit of a paradox with wisdom.  It is the thing we need most when we are young, but being young we do not have it. This confronts people, particularly younger folk, with some difficult choices.  Will I learn from the wisdom God has given to others? Or will I remain an idiot? In our pride we can choose the latter, but if we are willing to humble ourselves, there are several ways that we can grow in wisdom.

Study and listening to God’s Word

God has revealed himself through his Word that we can study, read, listen, meditate upon and obey. Over time we gain the ability to discern good from evil (Hebrews 5:11-14) by the constant practice of the teaching of God. Learning and following over time results in becoming wise.  Will we come to the Word for wisdom?

Heeding the words of the Wise

Proverbs 11:14 reads, where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety. Further Proverbs 24:6 teaches us that in an abundance of counselors there is victory. Of course, the counselors must actually be wise, but the point is that we can learn from others if we listen. In fact the book of Proverbs begins by with these words: Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance, to understand a proverb and a saying, the words of the wise and their riddles. Our parents, pastors and our community of faith have wise counsel for us...but we don’t always listen.  My favorite is to combine the first two – to hear the words of the wise, in the Scriptures. This essay will roll into that discussion in a minute.

Learning the Hard Way

The final way we learn is the hard way. This is where we do foolish stuff and we reap the reality. We all have been here have we not? God is kind and will discipline us to help us walk in wisdom. Yet as I tell my kids, you can learn just by listening to me—but like Bill Cosby once said, some children simply cannot get by without a good beating. [2]

In this paper we aim to do the following.  First, we hope to provide a very short introduction to the wisdom literature of the Bible in general and the book of Proverbs in particular. In doing so we’ll encourage one another to become wise by heading and hearing the wisdom of the wise in Scripture. 

The Wisdom Literature of the Bible

There are many genres of literature (or kinds of writing) in the Holy Scriptures. There are histories, narratives, poems, law codes, songs, letters, writings about the end of history, parables, covenants and prophesies about events declaring God’s judgments and actions throughout history. There is also a unique body of writings properly called wisdom literature. The canonical books of Job, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Proverbs, some of the Psalms, the writings of James and portions of the teachings of Jesus are rightly seen as writings offering wisdom for God’s people.

Outside of the book of Proverbs, many of these treasures can be greatly unknown to many in the church, yet they offer great counsel to the human race living in a world cursed due to sin and death. Job teaches us about life as suffering in relationship with God. Ecclesiastes offers a philosophical reflection on meaning, happiness and the transient nature of life. Song of Songs teaches us about life as covenantal love.  These themes are profoundly important and speak loudly with alacrity millennia after these works were inspired and written down. [3]

The biblical wisdom literature is a body of unique writings in that they instruct God’s covenant people (those who have entered relationship with him through his gracious promises and work in Jesus the Messiah) in how they are to walk with him on the earth.  Living in wisdom is living in godliness reflecting the nature of the kingdom of God in the course of everyday living. Many peoples, both ancient [4] and modern, posses a body of wisdom literature but what makes the biblical writings distinct are their relationship to YHWH, the creator God. In the wisdom literature of the Bible we have writing that is not just enormously practical for all people on the earth, but also a description for how to live in the fear of the LORD. [5]

Old Testament scholar Bruce Waltke rightly observes that the wisdom in Scripture exhorts us away from autonomy from God (Proverbs 3:7 being wise in your own eyes) and to live in trusting relationship with God following his paths (Proverbs 3:5-6). Though we find wise teaching of great value outside of Scripture, the wisdom of the Bible is unique in that its aims are far beyond just happily getting by on the earth. It is given to us to teach us to live within a trusting relationship with God as his people.  

A note on non biblical wisdom

In coming to the words of the wise and the writing of the sages, we must remember that there are various flavors of wisdom floating around.  There is a worldly wisdom that exists in the people, philosophies and religions which flow around us.  Many of these have much to say to us, but much of it stands in contradiction to the wisdom of God.  On two occasions the book of Proverbs reminds us “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death. [6] Additionally, the New Testament writing of James is very clear for us here:

13Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. 14But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. 15This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. 17But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. 18And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. James 3:13-18 (ESV)

As wisdom is offered to us as we sojourn on the earth, we must be concerned to discern it through the teaching of the Scriptures.  In the Bible we have a sure word that can keep us from crashing like a runaway train being led astray by all manner of human opinions. Human wisdom is helpful at times as it has been forged in the furnaces of experience, but it must sit under the throne of a higher word that speaks from a higher place.  Duane A. Garrett makes a good observation that we would do well do remember as we seek to learn and grow in wisdom.

Finally, biblical wisdom stresses the limitations of human knowledge. The gulf between human perception and divine reality is never really closed. The sage is commanded to go about his task with humility and reverence for God. The learned must never forget their limitations (Proverbs 30:2–4) and that they are prone to error and conceit. Above all, they must subordinate their quest to the Word of God. For “every word of God is flawless” (Proverbs 30:5).[7]

The Book of Proverbs

One of the most read and cherished portions of the Bible’s wisdom literature are the Hebrew Proverbs.  It is a collection of sayings from various people in the ancient world mostly compiled by the ancient Israelite King Solomon who reigned from 971–931 B.C.  We read in 1 Kings 4:29-34 that Solomon was a person whom God gave wisdom and understanding and that he indeed collected a quite a few proverbial sayings during his life. This passage states that his wisdom library included some 3000 proverbs and over a thousand songs. Now he couldn’t fit 1000 songs in his pocket, but he did manage to collect a plethora of wisdom in his life. Most biblical scholars segment the book into several sections based on the author of the sayings or when they were compiled.  The following is commonly used:

The Value of Seeking Wisdom (Chapters 1-9)

This section focuses on persuading people of the important nature of wisdom in the life of God’s people.  We also note the specific emphasis on parents teaching wisdom to the yutes [8] by way of proverbs.  Young people are also exhorted not to be hard headed and listen to their parents. Old School. There is some debate as to whether Solomon wrote these longer exhortatory poems with most conservative scholars agreeing with the attribution in Proverbs 1:1. [9]

The Proverbs of Solomon (Chapters 10-22:16)

After the early work of the book persuading us with the value of wisdom, the meat of the book are the proverbs of Solomon. These are shorter sayings than the sections in chapters 1-9 and cover all manner of topics. Proverbs 22:17–24:22 contains thirty sayings that are not attributed to Solomon but rather simply coming from “the wise”

The Collected Sayings of Solomon (Chapters 25–29:27)

Proverbs 25 begins with the following phrase: These also are proverbs of Solomon which the men of Hezekiah king of Judah copied. Hezekiah was a king who ruled much after Solomon in 715–686 B.C. and led a renewal of Judah’s spiritual practices and faith after a wayward time. During this time of spiritual renewal additional proverbs attributed to Solomon were written down.

The Sayings of Agur, Lemuel and one Hot Momma (Chapters 30 and 31)

The final two chapters contain the words of rather obscure people.  Chapter 30 is attributed to Agur son of Jakeh who is mentioned nowhere else in the Bible. Whether his name is a metaphor, a pen name, or a real person is not clear or certain. [10]

Finally, another quite unknown sage named Lemuel, possibly an Ancient Near Eastern King is given props for chapter 31.  Interestingly the words are said to have been taught to him by his Mother further reinforcing the importance of parents teaching wisdom to their kids. Some would couple the poem about the virtuous wife with the words of Lemuel, but one thing is for certain, the paradigm of feminine virtue extolled in the final words of Proverbs is a beautiful ideal.  Here we find a wife, mother and business woman who generous, wise and praised by her husband and her kids.

Some Help Reading Proverbs

In some ways Proverbs is a very easy book to read.  In fact, believers have found it easy to read one per day due to the breaking of the book into 31 chapters. On the other hand the Proverbs require a little help to understand and appropriate, well, wisely. What follow are two sections designed to help you read proverbs.  The first deals with the types of literary characters we find in the book and how understanding these help us grasp its message clearly. Second, we will wrestle with how to take the clarity of some of the Proverbs while living in a broken and fallen world. Proverbs seems to promise health, prosperity and the righteous finishing on top.  Yet in other parts of Scripture we realize that we suffer, die and sometimes give up all wealth for the sake of following God. I’ll try to give a few points of help with this tension. 

Some Peeps in the Proverbs

When reading Proverbs we run across several characters who personify certain human trends and actions.  They do not refer to a specific person but serve as types which stand for many people.  We will look at the fool, the simple, the wise, the wicked (including scoffers, and those wise in their own eyes) and the righteous. Many times these characters are contrasted with one another, for instance the wise and the fool, in order for us to see clearly the path we ought to take. The introductory article in the ESV Study Bible by Garrett and Harris describes this well:

Also, these characters usually serve as idealized portraits: that is, they denote people exemplary for their virtue and wisdom or especially despicable for their evil. The literary name for this is “caricature”: portraits of people with features exaggerated for easy identification. The positive figures serve as ideals for the faithful, to guide their conduct and character formation. The negative figures are exaggerated portraits of those who do not embrace the covenant, so the faithful can recognize these traits in themselves and flee them. [11]

What follows is but a brief look at how Proverbs uses these caricatures in order to help us see more clearly the path of walking with God.

Fools and Folly

The fool is someone who shows himself to be not only lacking wisdom and discretion but also morally deficient.  We would call him an idiot or a moron but not simply in referring to intellectual capacity.  The fool in Proverbs is an idiot in the sense of the way he chooses to live his life. Americans like to watch the fool on various reality TV shows usually to feel self-righteous and better about their own lives. The fool talks to much, does not listen, lies regularly, thinks sin is funny, hates knowledge and wisdom and pretty much will have a ruinous end. Pull up the Bible online ( and search for the word “fool” and you will find not a few Proverbs to read. Simply put, you don’t want to be an idiot so pay attention to the fool’s way of life as you read the Proverbs.

The Simple

The person who is called “simple” is one who is in a situation needing some learning about the ways of godly living. She is not as far gone as the fool and her life could change or stay simple (Proverbs 1:22, 32). The simple are called to take head and listen and choose a path of wisdom rather than the moronic idiocy of the fool. The simple are easily deceived (Proverbs 14:15) and need to stop and think about her decisions. 

The Wise and Wisdom

The wise are those whom are taking the path which God sets out for us and are to be emulated. The lives of the wise are typified by hearing and learning from the ways of God (Proverbs 1:5; 8:33; 10:8; 12:15).  The mouth of the wise is used for teaching, healing and preserving rather than tearing down (Proverbs 12:18; 14:3; 15:2,7).  The wise avoids sexual misdeeds and adultery (Proverbs 5 and 6; 23:26-28) and stays away from drunkenness which is common deep downtown in Liquortown (Proverbs 20:1; 23:29-35).

Wisdom itself is personified in the book of Proverbs and is said to speak to us and cries out for us to listen. Many have rightly linked the personification of wisdom with the person of Jesus, the son of God. The New Testament teaches us that Christ is the wisdom of God and that in him are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. The way of wisdom is found in following a way that is set out by God.  The way of wisdom is following in the way of Jesus as his disciple

The Wicked

Joining the fool in Proverbs as a negative character is the way of the wicked. While we observe the fool’s jacked up choices in everyday life, we see that the way of the wicked is utter rejection of the covenant making God. The wicked is seen as setting his way in opposition to God and seeking to take others with him.  He is sometimes called a “sinner” (Proverbs 1) but not in the sense that everyone sins and falls short of the glory of God.  He is a sinner whose joy and goal in life is sinning it up and commending this as a good way to live.  The wicked are said to be under God’s curse (Proverbs 3:33), living in darkness (Proverbs 4:19), live in a way that is an abomination to God (Proverbs 15:9) and will come to sudden, disastrous ruin.  The message in Proverbs: you want to go to Hell? Walk in the way of the wicked and only the wrath of God remains.

The Righteous

There is a character in Proverbs known as righteous which shows the rich blessing of walking in covenant relationship with God.  The righteous is also called upright, diligent and prudent to describe this way of life to us. [12] The righteous is similar to the wise person whereas here the relationship with God is central rather than every day decisions and living. It should be obvious to any reader of the Scripture that our relationship with God (righteousness) and holy, wise living in the world are always conjoined.  As followers of Jesus we understand that we are made righteous by God and we live righteously in our lives by his empowering Spirit.  Proverbs does not present a self-righteous person living in his own strength, but rather one dependent upon God who makes straight his paths. The path of the righteous is light, his way is understanding and knowledge, his mouth and lips bring blessing to others and he is ultimately delivered by God.

A few Miscellaneous Peeps

Finally, there are also a few special folks listed in Proverbs: The sluggard, scoffers and those who are wise in their own eyes.  The scoffer loves to mock and deride God’s people and those who are wise in their own eyes are utterly deceived.  The former suffers from a deep arrogance and pride (Proverbs 21:24) while the latter’s condition is almost seen as without hope (Proverbs 26:12). The sluggard is the lazy guy who loves to sleep, never finishes anything he starts pretty much fails to utilize opportunities before him. [13] Derek Kidner, in commenting on the sluggard, made the following observation: [the sluggard] does not commit himself to a refusal, but deceives himself by the smallness of his surrenders.  So, by inches and minutes, his opportunity slips away.[14]

Promises and Truths of Proverbs

As the Proverbs are so practical and easy to read we must be careful not to misunderstand their message.  There are several principle which can help us to ascertain and properly understand the proverbs.  Let me give a few examples of the problems which can arise.

  • Proverbs 22:6 teaches parents to train up a child in the way he should go and even when he is old he will not depart from it.  Does this mean that if you are perfect parents your kids will turn out to love and walk with God? Of course not, yet some parents claim this as a promise or guarantee. Now parents I am not taking this verse away from us; I just want us to come to it with humility.  We’ll talk more about proverb vs. promise in a moment.
  • Proverbs also teaches much about the nature of health and wealth and many a preacher on television will grab a proverb or two and promise all his hearers they are to be rich and never get sick! There are also verses like this one: Do not toil to acquire wealth; be discerning enough to desist (Proverbs 23:4)

So how do we understand the Proverbs as we read so as to not be led astray by our excitement nor minimize the wonderful teaching of these verses?  I pray the following might be of some help. I will use the example of wealth to illustrate each of these principles in order to help us read the proverbs with wisdom.

A few Principles for reading Proverbs

  1. Proverbs are dealing with observed probabilities, not absolute promises and guarantees. Dillard and Longman make a great observation for us here, “they are not divine promises [for every occasion] for the here and now, but true observations that time will bear out.” [15]
  2. Proverbs are to be read in the whole, not simply in their parts. There are many times other proverbs which balance the teaching of the first one you read. They do not nullify one another, but they give a bigger picture. Additionally, other parts of the wisdom literature and other parts of the Bible may shape how we understand a Proverb.
  3. Proverbs obtain in certain circumstances and life contexts. Wisdom is always exercised in real life, not simply in abstraction.  So Proverbs is not playing a pithy game when it tells us “Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself.” and then in the very next verse “Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes.” (Proverbs 26:4,5) The point here is that fools are complicated to deal with and wisdom would require balance.
  4. Proverbs are to be read with a long horizon of eternity – Even though some of the wise sayings dictate what usually happens with a certain course of action and behavior, they do not always obtain in the here and now. However, in light of eternity, they will prove true. In a fallen world where sin, death and injustice still have a hand in life we long for a day when the life, health, peace and prosperity talked of in Proverbs will be final and absolute. These have us long for the day when the righteous will inherit the earth in the Kingdom of Heaven.
  5. Proverbs are about life Coram Deo – The proverbs should not be read in a vacuum where God is not considered. I know this may seem like a ridiculous thing to say but we are a people who can love formulas and sayings more than we love God. God is sovereign and his will sometimes is mysterious.  Job’s wife and friends were quoting proverbial type wisdom to him when the truth of what God was doing was quite different. We trust a Sovereign God who have made sure promises with our lives.  We trust and stand on his actual promises to us in Jesus and hear and heed the wisdom in Proverbs.  There is a difference between a promise of God and a wise Proverb inspired by God.  One is sure and we rest in it, the other must be skillfully heard and applied.

OK, let us apply these to an example that many a prosperity preacher might use to talk of all the money Christians should have. Proverbs 13:22 says “A good man leaves an inheritance to his children's children, but the sinner's wealth is laid up for the righteous”

  1. If one absolutizes the latter part of this verse into a promise or a guarantee we must be required to think that whenever a wicked person dies some Christian is going to get all his money.  Some actually teach this sort of schmack. In the short term, this is not true
  2.  The book of Proverbs teaches much about wealth not simply this one verse; it might help us to know the bigger picture. Wealth is good is gained justly and in walking with God. Good stewardship will lead to the sort of blessing in the first half of this verse.  Proverbs 11:7 teaches us that “when the wicked dies, his hope will perish, and the expectation of wealth perishes too.”  There is nothing for the wicked after the grave, and his wealth goes to someone else.
  3. This entire proverb can be completely true now in certain circumstances. I know one personally.
  4. Ultimately all who belong to Jesus will quite literally “inherit the earth” and the wealth and riches of God will not remain with the wicked.  The long term horizon validates the Proverb completely.
  5. The promise of God is that we have a secure, unfading, eternal inheritance in Him (1 Peter 1:3-9) that includes every spiritual blessing in Christ (Ephesians 1). When the wicked continue to prosper in this age we know the final judgment of God will stand firm and clear.

I hope this simple example is helpful in thinking through the reading and living of the wisdom literature.  For those desiring a bit more discussion of this matter I refer you to Mark Dever’s excellent treatment in his sermon on Proverbs in The Message of the Old Testamant: Promises Made. [16]


There is a divine shout out going on in the world today where wisdom is crying out for us to hear.  God in his kindness has given us literature like Proverbs to shake our deaf ears. Proverbs 1:20-23 reads so clearly:

20 Wisdom cries aloud in the street, in the markets she raises her voice; 21at the head of the noisy streets she cries out; at the entrance of the city gates she speaks: 22“How long, O a simple ones, will you love being simple? How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge? 23 If you turn at my reproof, behold, I will pour out my spirit to you; I will make my words known to you.

How much more longing we have for wisdom as God’s people who see and savor Jesus Christ as “the wisdom and power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18-25) What a tremendous privilege we have to follow Jesus within who are all the hidden treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Colossians 2:3).

In proverbs wisdom is personified as shouting aloud in the streets to us? Will we listen? Wisdom was incarnate in Jesus Christ and crucified by the wisdom of the world. We will do the same day after day?  Derek Kidner, the late Old Testament scholar, commented simply on the urgency to gain wisdom: What it takes is not brains or opportunity, but a decision. Do you want it? Come and get it? [17]  Jesus was even simpler in his call to us all in relationship to wise living.  Come, follow me! Even concerning Lust, Language and Liquortown.

May each of us choose his paths, as he gives grace.

Reid S. Monaghan

Lead Pastor



Bromiley, G. W. , The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. Wm. B. Eerdmans., 1988; 2002.

Crossway Bibles. The Holy Bible : English Standard Version : The Esv Study Bible. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Bibles, 2008.

Dever, Mark. The Message of the Old Testament: Promises Made. Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2006.

Dillard, Raymond B., and Tremper Longman. An Introduction to the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1994.

Garrett, Duane A. Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs. Nashville, Tenn.: Broadman Press, 1993.

Kreeft, Peter. Three Philosophies of Life : Ecclesiastes-- Life as Vanity, Job-- Life as Suffering, Song of Songs-- Life as Love. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1989.

"The Urban Dictionary."

Waltke, Bruce K., and Charles Yu. An Old Testament Theology : An Exegetical, Canonical and Thematic Approach. 1st ed. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2007.





1.  This introduction is adapted from an essay I wrote during our study of Ephesians in the summer of 2009.  The original essay, Wise Guys, can be read at

2. See Bill Cosby, “The Same Thing Happens Every Night” Available online at — worth a few minutes to laugh.

3. A good little reflection on these themes is found in Peter Kreeft, Three Philosophies of Life : Ecclesiastes-- Life as Vanity, Job-- Life as Suffering, Song of Songs-- Life as Love (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1989). Kreeft is a philosopher and not a theologian but still offers some helpful insights surrounding these wisdom oriented books of the Old Testament.

4.Bruce K. Waltke and Charles Yu, An Old Testament Theology : An Exegetical, Canonical and Thematic Approach, 1st ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2007), 898-901.

5. Proverbs 1:7 is clear that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” The term LORD here is God’s unique covenant name YHWH, or I AM as expressed in Exodus 3.

6. Proverbs 14:12 and 16:25

7.Duane A. Garrett, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (Nashville, Tenn.: Broadman Press, 1993), 58.

8. Yutes, plural for young adults. "The two yutes in question." - My Cousin Vinny"The Urban Dictionary."

9.Waltke and Yu, 905. See also the brief authorship discussion in Raymond B. Dillard and Tremper Longman, An Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1994), 236-237.

10. For more discussion on the identity of Agur see Proverbs, Book Of, in The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia Revised ed.: Wm. B. Eerdmans., 1988; 2002), s.v.

11.  Introduction to Proverbs, Crossway Bibles., The Holy Bible : English Standard Version : The Esv Study Bible (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Bibles, 2008).

12 Ibid.

13. Mark Dever, The Message of the Old Testament: Promises Made (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2006), 512-514.

14. Quoted by Mark Dever, Ibid., 513.

15. Dillard and Longman, 244.

16. Dever, 509-511.

17. Waltke and Yu, 908. Emphasis mine.