Well, The Pilgrim’s Progress is a classic allegory of the Christian life. And it was written by a 17th century Puritan preacher named John Bunyan. How many of you have read The Pilgrim’s Progress? What you may not know is that Bunyan wrote the book while he was in prison. He was in prison for holding public worship services without the permission of the established Church of England. Can you imagine that? How far we have come since then, and I hope we haven’t come full circle or we’re heading in that direction. But that’s where John Bunyan got the inspiration to write The Pilgrim’s Progress. The Pilgrim’s Progress has been translated into 200 languages, and it’s a book that has never, ever gone out of print. Now, the main character in the book is a guy named Christian. It’s an allegory of the Christian life, so that doesn’t surprise us that the main character is by that name. And Christian has a burden that he’s carrying around. He got that burden by reading a book. And, allegorically speaking, his burden is the knowledge of sin that he learned about by reading a book called the Bible, because the Bible says, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” And so The Pilgrim’s Progress is about Christian’s journey from his hometown, which he leaves, the City of Destruction, and his journey toward the Celestial City, which is an allegory for a place we call heaven. And along the way Christian meets a lot of interesting characters. He meets Obstinate and Pliable. He meets Mr. Legality and his son named Civility. He also meets a chap named Evangelist. And Evangelist tells Christian to head toward the Wicked Gate and lay his burden down there. Because at the Wicked Gate begins the long and narrow road known as the King’s Highway, and it will take him to the Celestial City. So as Christian is making his journey toward the Celestial City and toward the Wicked Gate to lay down his burden, he comes across another character whose name is—can you believe this—Mr. Worldly Wiseman. And he gets in a conversation with Mr. Worldly Wiseman, and the conversation goes something like this. “‘Wilt thou harken to me if I give thee counsel,’ asked Mr. Worldly Wiseman upon meeting Christian. ‘If it be good, I will, for I stand in need of good counsel,’ Christian replies.” And so the conversation begins between Mr. Worldly Wiseman and Christian. And one of the first bits of counsel that Mr. Worldly Wiseman gives to Christian is to distance himself from Evangelist. He says, “Avoid him for his counsel. There is not a more dangerous and troublesome way in the world than is that unto which he hath directed thee and that thou shalt find if that wilt be ruled by his counsel.” Does any of that sound familiar? There is a Mr. Worldly Wiseman in every generation and in every culture, warning people that Christians are dangerous people with dangerous beliefs. And this is where we are in our culture today. And we have a choice as followers of Jesus Christ either to listen to the secular ethics and philosophies of Mr. Worldly Wiseman who says, “Distance yourself from those evangelists and those Bible people, those Christians,” or we can choose to listen to the counsel that we receive from this book called the Bible, and specifically from the book of Proverbs.
Here is what you need to know about Proverbs. You’ll never find advice from Mr. Worldly Wiseman in the book of Proverbs. He is far, far away from this gritty, useful, everyday spirituality. Proverbs is God’s wisdom for the daily grind. That’s why we love it so much, because we’re all out there kind of grinding away, groaning away in our humanity, trying to make ends meet and raise families and balance our finances and all that. And Proverbs is just chock full of that gritty, useful, everyday spirituality. Wisdom from above, not Mr. Worldly Wiseman, but God’s wisdom. And last week we looked at Proverbs 1:1-7. And Solomon told us why he wrote the book of Proverbs and what we can gain from a study of the book of Proverbs. He told us that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction. And then beginning in verse 8 he dives immediately into a conversation with his son about choosing friends wisely, a very important conversation for parents to have with their kids and their grandkids, with the next generation. How do you navigate your way through life so that you associate with people who are gonna help you obey God and run with Him as opposed to choosing some other group?
Before I get ahead of myself though, let’s just start in verse 8. “Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mother’s teaching, for they are a graceful garland for your head and pendants for your neck.” I love the way Solomon kind of arranges the conversation here to be a conversation between a father and a mother, between two parents and their son. And so oftentimes throughout the book of Proverbs you hear “My son, my son, my son,” because in the context 3000 years ago, Solomon is training the next king of Israel, we might say. But this is also the reason I say that the book of Proverbs is the best parenting guide on the planet. I mean, this is gonna teach fathers and parents how to have important conversations with their kids and grandparents with their grandkids. “My son, hear your father’s instructions; don’t forsake your mother’s teachings.” And let me just point out the obvious here- the presence of the father and the mother. Let me say what I’m gonna say here with as much tenderness and as much grace and as much understanding as I can, knowing that there are no perfect families, not even the Jones family. That there are no perfect children. There are no perfect parents. But in Proverbs here we see the presence of the father and the mother in the home engaged in wise conversations with their children. I wouldn’t have had to say this a generation ago, but let me just say it today. It takes a father and a mother to raise a child in God’s wisdom. Let me say it again. It takes a father and a mother to raise children in godly wisdom. And what we have here is a hierarchy, as it were, that’s assumed in the book of Proverbs where a mother and a father are placing themselves under the authority of God’s wisdom. And then children place themselves under the authority of parents as their parents instruct them in the art of skillful living, as we said last time. But it takes a father. It takes a mother. Dare I say not two mommies, not two daddies? I am very concerned about our culture starting another social experiment by people who are not informed by the wisdom from above. Remember, God’s plan for marriage and the family is one man plus one woman for one lifetime. And a generation ago we abandoned the one lifetime part. No fault divorce became the law of the land. And we engaged in this social experiment. And a generation later you have the breakdown of the family unit and the family home. And you have moral chaos in our society. Now, we’re abandoning the one man plus one woman part. And there is no telling the ripple effect in our culture and in our society in the next generation. It’s a social experiment we cannot afford. To thumb our nose at wisdom from above that says, “Son, hear your father’s instructions. Don’t abandon your mothers teaching.” There’s a father and there’s mother both in the home engaged in the instruction of their children for the next generation, pouring God’s wisdom into their heart.
Now, I say that, again, with grace and with as much tenderness as I can, understanding there are no perfect families. Some children grow up in broken homes, and you’re looking at one that did. My parents divorced when I was in high school. And God is a father to the fatherless, and He can make good in a situation like that. And there are a lot of single moms and, yes, even single dads that are doing the best they can. But can I just say a word to single moms and single dads. Don’t let your bitterness towards your ex-spouse rob your children of the wisdom they need from both a father and a mother. If it didn’t work out for you, you still need to be saying to your kids, “Listen to your father’s instruction,” or, “Listen, don’t forsake your mother’s teaching.” Your kids need that.
So with that in mind, you have this hierarchy of structure. You have the husband and the wife in the context here who have placed themselves under the teaching and the authority if God’s word. And they in turn pass that wisdom onto their kids, who life in authority under their parents’ supervision for the time that they are in their home. It also presupposed, as you read further in the scripture, that the husband, the father, is taking his leadership responsibilities in the home. And the wife gives him the space to do so. Okay? Read about that in Ephesians 5. Because as we read on in verse 10, it goes from “hear your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mother’s teachings,” to Solomon taking the lead role in instructing his sons.
But before I get to that I want you to notice Solomon says of this wisdom that is passed down from mother and father, “For they are a graceful garland for your head and pendants for your neck.” I love this picture here. When children obey their parents, who instruct them in God’s wisdom, they are crowned like victors and heroes. And in ancient times, if a child obeyed their parents and embraced the heritage that was passed down to them by their parents of godly wisdom and a godly worldview, it was a reward to wear the family necklace. That’s the imagery and view here when he says, “For they are a graceful garland for your head and pendants for your neck.” They were rewarded with the opportunity to wear the family crest, as it were. To wear the family jewels. To wear the family necklace because they chose to obey and embrace the godly worldview and heritage passed down by their parents. So different from the crowd today that says everybody gets a trophy. “Every child gets a trophy. We’re gonna reward a child for just participation.” No, in Proverbs children are rewarded if they obeyed their parents who instruct them in wise and skillful living, this wisdom that comes from above. That’s the picture here.
And so once Solomon sets that tone—“My son, don’t abandon your father’s teachings. Hear your mother’s instruction here,”—he dives into one of the most important conversations that parents, and especially fathers, need to have with their children. And it’s about choosing friends wisely. Listen to what Solomon says. He gets right at it. He says, “My son, if sinners entice you, do not consent.” In other words, you know, Solomon doesn’t stutter. He doesn’t hesitate. He’s not passive or in a dream world about the realities that his son will step into in this world. He warns his son that there are some people in this world that will entice you to do things that dishonor God. And when those people come around, do not consent. Don’t even give them a second thought. I love the way Solomon is not passive. He is engaged in a conversation with his children here. And it’s fair warning to us parents and even parents. You can’t afford to sit back on the sidelines and not know who your kids are running with. To not ask the questions. To not be a little bit nosy about where they’re going, who they're hanging out with, who else is gonna be there at the party, “When are you coming home,” better yet, “You’re coming home at this time.” Okay? “My son, if sinners entice you, do not consent.” And then Solomon is very masterful in the way he gives voice to this crowd, this gang of enticing sinners and how they lure young people into their evil ways. Listen to this in verse 11. “If they say, ‘Come with us, let us lie in wait for blood; let us ambush the innocent without reason; like Sheol let us swallow them alive, and whole, like those who go down to the pit; we shall find all precious goods, we shall fill our houses with plunder; throw in your lot among us; we will all have one purse,’” he says. It’s just masterful the way he gives voice to how this gang of sinners will come along perhaps and entice your children to join in with their evil ways. And I want to break this down kind of line by line and just explore how all this happens.
It begins with an invitation. Do you see that in verse 11? “Come with us. Come with us.” Everybody likes to get an invitation. Every young person loves to get that phone call on a Friday afternoon or that text message from some group of kids that, “Wow, if I could only be a part of them,” to “Come with us.” It’s an invitation. And when that invitation is to do something that sounds kind of exciting, the enticement builds. And that’s what happens. It goes from invitation to excitement. “Come with us.” Now, listen to this. “Let us lie in wait for blood; let us ambush the innocent without reason.” There is almost an admission in these words that “we’re doing something wrong. We’re doing something we’re not supposed to because of the innocent. We’re gonna ambush them.” That sounds exciting. There is something exciting about doing something dangerous, even violent. Some people are just adrenaline junkies. So much so that they just live on the edge, and they want to do something violent and to take advantage and to dominate unsuspecting people.
So it goes from an invitation to something exciting. And then there’s a promise. He says, “Like Sheol let us swallow them alive and whole, like those who go down to the pit.” Verse 13, “We shall find all precious goods, we shall fill our houses with plunder.” It goes from an invitation to something exciting to the promise of easy prey and easy money. Wow, how exciting is that. “Come with us. We’re gonna do something dangerous. We’re gonna do something we’re not supposed to do, and it’s gonna be easy prey. We’re gonna dominate those people over there, and we’re gonna fill our house with plunder. Easy money.” And then it finishes with an association. Verse 14, “Throw in your lot among us; we will all have one purse.” I circled in my Bible the word “us.” It appears four times in these verses. And I just wrote a little notation- the power of us. The power of association. The power of being a part of a group, especially when you’re kind of a loner over here and you’re not feeling like you’re connected anywhere. And some group, some person comes along and says, “Come with us. We’re gonna do something exciting, something dangerous, something we’re not supposed to do. Shh, don’t tell your parents.” And there is that power of association of being a part of a group.
I remember when I was a new pastor. I had come out of seminary and my first church was in Houston, Texas. And I got a call from a guy who introduced himself as the executive director of the Baptist association. Only to him it was the Baptist ‘sociation. “I’m from the ‘sociation.” In fact, the word “association” to him had one syllable. I can’t say it as fast as my friend said “‘sociation.” But he was after me to be a part of the ‘sociation, to come to the ‘sociation meetings, you know what I mean. Because we need to ‘sociate as pastors. And I came to love and appreciate this guy. He was one of my earlier encouragers in the ministry, and I loved his passion for Jesus and his passion for the Church and his love for pastors. But he wanted me to ‘sociate, because he understood the power of us. There are all kinds of associations that we can make in our world today, aren’t here? You can join this association or that association. And many of them are very good associations with good causes. But did you know that evil associates as well? There are evil ‘sociations, like ISIS and Al Qaeda, who say, “Come with us. Come with us as we ambush the innocent.” Or better yet, the neighborhood bully who says “Come with us. Associate with us.”
What I’m saying is, parents and grandparents, you can’t afford to not know who your kids are associating with. You can’t afford to disengage from that conversation and be a passive father. Cathryn and I are not perfect parents. We didn’t raise (0:19:00.0) perfect kids. But you’ll often hear these questions in our household. “Where are you going? Who are going with? Who else is going to be there, and when are you coming home?” Better yet, “You’re coming home at this time.” “Oh, but everybody else gets to…they don’t have a curfew. They get to stay out until 1:30 tonight.” I don’t care. You don’t live in their house. You’re home by midnight. Text me when you’re on the way,” okay. We got our children smartphones for no other reason- text messaging. We’re in touch with them, okay. We are having the conversations. We know where they are, who they are with, who else is there. Cathryn and I have kept our ear to the ground all throughout their high school years. We know the kids in their high school who have bad reputations. When it comes prom time or, you know, homecoming time and there are after parties and all of that, we have (0:20:00.0) very intentional conversations about those parties. We know the ones where the parents are not supervising at all. We know the ones where the police officers who up consistently. We’re not going to those parties. And, fortunately, our kids have made their own wise decisions. We haven’t had to be real heavy-handed with that, and I give them credit. But you have to be engaged. You have to be engaged. Because if they take one step toward evil, just one step, that’s all it takes. And not long after that, they’re in a full gallop with a group that says, “Come along. ‘Sociate with us. ‘Sociate with us.”
Look in verse 15. “My son, do not walk in the way with them; hold back your foot from their paths, for their feet run to evil and they make haste to shed blood.” Circle the word “walk,” and in the very next verse the word “run.” There it is. One step. You just start walking toward evil, and before long you are running with a crowd you shouldn’t be running with. This is a great description of peer pressure, isn’t it? Which every young person deals with. You know, peer pressure shows up in the adolescent years. It gains momentum in the teenage years. It kind of lingers around even in the young adult years. And if you don’t grow up in godly wisdom, you might be a 30- or 40- or 50-year-old person who is a slave to peer pressure. The opinions of others drive every decision you make. The house you buy, the car you buy, the places and the vacations you go on. Because this group over here, “I want to be accepted by this group. I want them to approve of me. I want them to invite me to come along to their parties.” Peer pressure. It’s not just a teenage thing. That’s why the book of Proverbs teaches us to grow up and develop those street smarts, those streets-of-gold smarts so we’re not a slave to the pressures and opinions of others, let alone Mr. Worldly Wiseman who will try to sway us with his ethics and his philosophies.
A little bit later in Proverbs 6:16 and following—you can read it on your own—Solomon says there are “six things the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him.” Anytime you see that formula there, you better pay attention to the next list. What are on the seven things that the Lord says are an abomination? Well, two of them are “hands that shed innocent blood” and “feet that are swift to run to evil.” What a warning Proverbs gives us here. These are things that God hates, things that He says are an abomination. Why? Because He loves us so much He knows we’ve got to leave the City of Destruction and be on a path toward the Celestial City. And He wants us to stay on the good path. It’s a narrow path. The crowd won’t be there. The crowd you may want to run with wont’ be there. You may feel all alone, but Jesus said, “Narrow is the gate and narrow is the road that leads to life.” And anything that does not lead to life, the Lord hates. And that’s an abomination to Him.
Well, let’s turn in a practical direction here and talk about some ways that Proverbs teaches us to choose friends wisely. The first thing I want to say is aimed at young people- middle schoolers, high schoolers, even young college adults. Number one, trust your parents’ insight about your peers. Trust your parents’ insights about your peers. Remember, “Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mother’s teaching.” I know there is a time in a young person’s life, I don’t know, somewhere around the teenage years where mom and dad got hit with the stupid stick. You ever been there? You know, we’ve had these conversations in our home. And it usually happens when periodically one of our kids will roll their eyes. And that’s when I usually turn to my wife and say, “Why, honey, I just think we got hit with the stupid stick.” Just as a reminder to our kids, we have lived longer than you. Yes, we were once teenagers, and, yes, we’ve made our own mistakes. We’re not perfect parents. And just because we made mistakes, it doesn’t give you permission to make those same mistakes. In fact, a fool makes the same mistake that somebody else makes and never learns from it.
We were not perfect parents, nor were we perfect young people, Cathryn and I. Cathryn reminds me sometimes that we wouldn’t have dated in college, let’s just put it that way. Not only because we lived in different parts of the country and went to different schools, but we just made different choices in college. She made better choices than I made. She went to Baylor University, and she pledge the Zeta Tau Alpha sorority. And in time, she became the president of her sorority. And from Greek life, which some of you may have, you know, been engaged in Greek life on college campuses—she gleaned all the positive benefits from that. Leadership lessons that helped her get her first job and all of that. Well, I went to Purdue University. And I too learned some leadership lessons. I pledged the Alpha Sigma Phi fraternity. And I served in leadership as the social chairman and the rush chairman, okay. Completely different experiences. And you fill in the blank here. And I’ve done whatever I can as a father to make sure that my kids don’t go down that same path. So, young people, trust your parents’ insights about your peers, especially when they’re doing the best they can to live under the authority of God’s wisdom and pour God’s wisdom into your heart.
Number two, run with people who make it easy for you to obey God. Boy, that’s a principle for young people and for all of us throughout our life. Run with people who make it easy for you to obey God. I had a choice to make when I became a brother in the house of the Alpha Sigma Phi fraternity, Alpha Pi chapter of Purdue University. There were 80 of us in the house, 80 guys from age 18 to 22 living in the same house together. Can you imagine? I think there was a movie about this somewhere, right? Oh my. It wasn’t that bad. So my sophomore year I moved into the house. And I’m living on the second floor. And across from me were two guys named Keith and Jim. They were a little bit older. They had been in the house a couple of years, and they were affectionately known as the God Squad because these guys got up on Sunday morning and they went to church. A lot of other guys were nursing hangovers from the night before, okay. And I remember them asking me. I was, you know, their hall mate and right across the hall. “Hey, Ron, you want to go to church with us?” Now, I’d grown up in church. I came to know Jesus Christ as my savior in junior high school. But I went away to college, and I kind of left God behind. Big mistake on my part. But there I was at the fork in the road. I could either run with the God Squad and these guys that, later I came to understand, were part of a number of, you know, faith communities on campus, even at a secular university like Purdue. And they were running hard after Jesus Christ during their college years. I could choose to run with that group, or I could choose to run with this group. And I made the wrong decision. I didn’t choose to run with those guys who made it easier for me to walk with God.
Here is what Proverbs says about that. Chapter 1 and verse 15, “My son, do not walk with them, for them feet run to evil.” Proverbs 13:20, “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.” Yeah, I ran around with some fools in college. Fortunately, I’ve come to learn later that many of these guys came to faith in Christ later in life. But every once in a while I’ll get a call that says, “You’re a what? A pastor?” Yeah, by the grace of God, okay. How about this. 1 Corinthians 15:33, “Bad company corrupts good morals.” That just pretty much says it all, doesn’t it? You ‘sociate with the wrong people, and before long you’ll become like them. You’ll run with them. Your morals, your values, your decision-making will be more about what Mr. Worldly Wiseman says than about what the scripture says.
Number three, become smarter than a birdbrain. Let’s pick it up in verse 17. Listen to this, “For in vain is a net spread in the sight of any bird, but these men,” this gang of enticing sinners, “these man lie in wait for their own blood; they set an ambush for their own lives.” What is Solomon doing with the bird illustration here? What he is saying is a bird is smart enough to see a trap that’s set for him and to fly away. Now, are you smarter than 5th gra-…I’m sorry, are you smarter than a birdbrain? You may be smarter than a 5th grader, but you don’t have to be that smart. Just be smarter than a birdbrain, because these guys, this gang of evil enticing sinners, Solomon says they are setting a trap for themselves. And they don’t see the danger and destruction that they’re walking into. And like birdbrains, they just fly right into it. You know, criminals are really some dumb people sometimes. You ever notice that? You ever looked up some of those, you know, dumb things that criminals do? Well, do you remember Marv and Harvey in the movie Home Alone? I mean, the world’s dumbest burglars, right? You remember that classic Christmas movie? Be smarter than a birdbrain. Don’t do birdbrain things. And the best way to do that is to saturate your heart and mind with God’s wisdom from above.
And then, finally, avoid greedy people. Verse 19, “Such are the ways of everyone who is greedy for unjust gain; it takes away the life of its possessors.” You run with the wrong crowd, and it will suck the life out of you. It’ll put years on your face. And friends will come back later and say, “Wow, life’s really been hard for you.” Don’t run with greedy people, greedy for unjust gain. If anything, be greedy for God and for more of His wisdom. Throughout the book of Proverbs you’re gonna run into the phrase “get wisdom.” Get wisdom. Get as much of it as you can. Be greedy for God’s wisdom and to run with those who share that positive kind of greediness. But avoid greedy people who just want unjust gain.
We’re talking about choosing friends wisely. Parents, grandparents, you have a responsibility to be engaged in that discussion with your kids. But it’s really, you know, a decision and something that we have to practice throughout our lives. Because whether you’re in your 20s or 30s or 40s or 50s or 60s, choosing godly ‘sociations is important, is it not? Not that you don’t have acquaintances, you know, with unbelievers. I hope you do, for the sake of wining them to Christ. But the people that are in your closest running group and your closest association need to be people who help you obey God and follow hard after Him. Choose those friends wisely. And here is another piece of advice I’ll leave with you this morning. This best friend you can choose is Jesus. He really is. He’ll never lead you in a direction toward the City of Destruction, always toward the Celestial City, the path of life. And the Bible says that that Jesus was a friend of sinners. He’s the only one that can ‘sociate with sinners and not let it corrupt His good morals. You and I have to be careful of that, even as sinners saved by the grace of God. Because the world, the flesh, and the devil can get the best of us. But you ‘sociate with Jesus and with people who love Him, you choose that kind of intimate friend circle, and you are a companion of the wise, the Bible says. Let’s pray together.
Father, thank You so much for Your Word. Thank You for the book of Proverbs. Thank You for this kind of truth and this wisdom we can put into practice right now, today, as we make decisions. Some, Father, are at a fork in the road right now, or months from now they're gonna be at that fork where they have to decide between running with this person or that person, this group or that group, marrying this person or that person, going into business partnership with this person or that person, attending this church or that church. Father, there are all kinds of decision that we have to make in life. Help us to make wise ones. We thank You for the Lord Jesus Christ who chose to associate with us. Who left the splendors of heaven and came to this earth to die on the cross for our sins. We thank You so much for that, this friend of sinners. There is no greater friend than Jesus. And I pray that today you would bring some that are maybe outside His friend group. That they would hear an invitation that says, “Come unto me. Come unto me, all you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” Cast aside that religious treadmill that you’re on. Stop running toward evil and destruction. Leave the City of Destruction and run toward the Celestial City, where you can leave your burden behind and walk on the King’s Highway. Father, I pray that today, right now in this place, it would be a day and a moment of salvation where somebody in this place says, “Yes, Jesus. I’m tired of running with the wrong crowd. I’m tired of running toward evil. I’m tired of the enticement of the world, the flesh, and the devil. And I choose a different path today.” Whoever you are, whatever path you have been on, there’s an off-ramp. There’s an off-ramp. And Jesus will build it for you if you’re willing to go. If you’re willing to get off the path you’re on, He’ll build the off-ramp, and He’ll take that off-ramp to the King’s Highway and to the Celestial City. Oh, you’ll go to the Wicked Gate, the cross of Christ. You can’t get on the King’s Highway but by going through the cross, through that narrow gate. And that’s where you leave your burden, the knowledge of sin that weighs you down, that knowledge that you just don’t know whether you’ve been good enough. That if you were die today and stand before your Creator, you are heavy-laden with choices you’ve made in life that, boy, if we could display them on a big screen you’d be embarrassed. But God’s grace is bigger than all that. He lifts the burden. He lifts the burden of sin and gives us eternal life. Don’t you want that today? Just say, “Yes, Jesus, come into my heart. Come into my life right now. Forgive me of my sins. Cleanse me. Build that off-ramp. Show me how to get on the King’s Highway and on the road to the Celestial City, a home that You’ve built for me through the blood of your own Son.” And, Father, we pray to that end, that choices and decisions would be made today because You’re saying, “Come unto me. Come unto Me. Come this way.” In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.