“There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end, it leads to destruction” Proverbs 14:12.
What is the “right” way to live? Is it possible to live too far to the right or the left? Does God want us to have middle-class balance in our lives or does He want us to be fearless zealots, living off the grid like John the Baptist? In these times, does God want us to be fanatics for Christianity or abide by the status quo?
Mainline Christian churches may be accused of encouraging a comfortable kind of living. I have heard more than one “feel-good” sermon. On the other end of the spectrum, I have heard judgment and authority preached from the pulpit. Neither type of message spoke to my soul.
In a letter to a church in Revelation, a prophet writes, I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth (Revelation 3:15-16). This passage suggests God wants us to have a personal, emotional response to worship and community service.
On the other hand, with a few notable exceptions—such as Jesus turning over tables of trade in the temple—Jesus was quiet in his ministry. He was also secretive, telling the healed not to report their victory over illness to anyone else and He criticized the Pharisees’ displays of piety. Jesus told stories, parables, to adults in an effort to get them to understand God’s truth. He welcomed women and children to his side. He forgave sinners and told them to go in peace and sin no more. Jesus was very active, but I wouldn’t label Him a radical or a firebrand. His message was revolutionary, but his delivery of it was peaceful. He cried for the world and His responsibility to save it.
How does a 21st-century view of “right” living compare?
What Does 'There Is a Way That Seems Right to Man' Mean?
What do we think is right or righteous living? Not breaking the 10 Commandments might be a start for living by a Christian moral code. The Pharisees memorized and quoted volumes of laws for faithful Jewish men and women to follow. These learned men, similar to lawyers today, thought they were right in fulfilling specific rules in the Torah about cleanliness and eating.
We may look at the example of Jesus living in a different “right” way. He didn’t practice a strict Mosaic code of law. He healed on the Sabbath. He laid his hands on lepers. He spoke to people on the fringe of good, Jewish society—people who were Roman tax collectors, promiscuous women, and demon-possessed vagabonds. Jesus’ everyday practices of peace and healing shocked the Pharisees and baffled the disciples.
From Pharisees to street people, Jesus talked to everyone when He was spreading his message of hope and salvation. He did not judge people on the way they were living. What He did encourage was living in peace with one another, being humble, and giving out of an abundance to the needy.
In an article about the Acts of the Apostles in Crosswalk.com, it says that after Jesus’ resurrection, the number of His followers grew and called themselves “the Way.” The people of the early church, the Way, lived as a community sharing all of its resources. All was not peaceful, however. Jewish leaders—opposed to the apostles’ teachings about Jesus as the Messiah—persecuted and arrested the people of the Way.
What Is the Context of Proverbs 14 and 'There Is a Way That Seems Right to Man'?
In the preface to the book of Proverbs in the New International Version of the Bible (Zondervan 1984), Proverbs is attributed to King Solomon, who was revered for his wisdom and riches. If Solomon wrote or sponsored the book of Proverbs, it would originate in the 10th century B.C.E., during a time of peace and prosperity. There was time for reflection and writing eloquent sayings.
One of the themes of the Proverbs, according to the scholarly notes in the NIV of the Bible, is having a fear of the Lord, living the way God would see fit. The preface to Proverbs in the NIV states that “Many proverbs describe the consequences of a particular action or character trait.” Proverbs 14:12 is one such proverb: There is a way that seems right to a man but in the end, it leads to death. The second part of the sentence is clear—death. The beginning of the sentence, the “way that seems right,” has a wide variety of applications to our lives.
Why Does Man's Path Always Lead to Destruction?
Since the time of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, peoples’ own agendas frequently get in the way of God’s plan. Pride, fear, and hatred spur actions that lead to trouble for the rest of the community and even bigger trouble for the straying, lost soul. Modern and ancient history are one, a continuous story of people going off-course and suffering in this life as a result.
Our values lead to forming priorities in life. Every day there are tough choices to make. Small decisions can blow up in importance. For example, do I buy a new car, or do I tithe at church? The book of Proverbs addresses this issue in Ecclesiastes 1:1-5: The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem [King Solomon]. Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity. What profit hath a man of all his labour which he taketh under the sun? One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth forever. The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose.
The Lord used the same reasoning with Job in calming his ego issues after Job loses his worldly possessions. The Lord says to Job, Where were you when I laid the Earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand (Job 38:4). Job’s possessions and people, the products of his labor, are not as important to God or to Job as Job thinks.
How Can We Get Off the Path that Seems Right to Man?
Psalm 139:23-24 suggests we surrender our lives to God. Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me and lead me in the way everlasting. These are directions for God to lead and us to follow.
The Good Shepherd leads Christians through life. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake (Psalm 23:3b). And He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way. All the ways of the Lord are loving and faithful for those who keep the demands of his covenant (Psalm 25:9-10). It is appealing to be led when we are lost. When we are full of ourselves, have our own agenda, it is not so pleasant to be led in a direction we don’t want to go. Maybe this is what is needed when They rod and thy staff, they comfort me (Psalm 23:4b)!
We may listen for the shepherd’s voice. The sheep know his voice and follow him, according to John 10:27. Jesus tells the confused disciples, I tell you the truth. I am the gate for the sheep. All who ever came before me were thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate; whoever enter through me will be saved. He will come in and go out and find pasture (John 10:7-9).
My cousin, who grew up on a farm with sheep in Nova Scotia, says sheep are unruly creatures and difficult to keep in a pen. As one Christian fellowship of people, we can walk to the “pen” by following a straight and narrow path. We can follow Jesus’ example of righteous living and make wise choices. Living this way is not easy. In fact, Matthew 7:13-14says, Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.
Jesus came to gather God’s sheep, particularly the lost sheep (Luke 19:10). On the day of his death on the cross, Jesus repeatedly said to Peter “Feed my lambs.” That is, Peter, take care of the flock. Paul strives to keep the flock together when he writes in Galatians 3:28, for we are all one in Christ Jesus.
It is a humbling experience to go God’s way. It is not always that way that garners high regard in society. As Scripture says, “Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God--that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption” (I Corinthians 1:26-30). At times we need to be watched over and herded up like sheep by the Good Shepherd.
As Jesus said simply to his disciples, I am the way, the truth, and the light (John 14:6).
Photo credit: ©GettyImages/ZbynekPospisil
Betty Dunn hopes her articles in Crosswalk.com help you hold hands with God, a theme in her self-published novel Medusa. A former high school English teacher and editor, she is working on new writing projects from her home in West Michigan, where she enjoys woods, water, pets, and family. Check out her blog at Betty Dunn and her website, www.elizabethdunning-wix.com
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