Devotional Text and Meditation for the Day
“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 was once asked if there was only one desire you could see fulfilled in your children what would it be? My answer was simple and clear, that they would listen and live according to the instruction of their parents. Learning to hear and heed sound instruction is the most valuable lesson and the most critical calling for all of us, and the Bible is not silent on this topic (Mk 4:9; Jn 10:16; 18:37; Rom 10:17; Js 1:19-22; 1 Jn 4:6). Just consider how in Proverbs, the book of wisdom, the reference or command to hear or listen is used at least twenty times (4:1; 7:24; 8:6; 13:1; 19:27; 23:22; 28:9). Thus, what Solomon says here at the beginning of this major discourse section in the book (1:8-9:18) is no simple introduction, but the foremost desire he has for his sons! Interestingly, the Hebrew word used here for “instruction” carries the idea of “discipline” or to say it another way, “correction through instruction.” This is so helpful because we far too often only think of “instruction” in the positive, always comfortable, non-authoritative, or simple academic distillation of information. If that is all that listening to sound instruction involves, then listening would be easy and natural to everyone. However, hearing truth rightfully often demands that you listen to that which you normally do not want to hear; therefore, it is difficult and demands humility. As John Kitchen puts it, “Proverbs will step on your toes, but, in doing so, will discipline you and keep your feet in the right path when you walk in their light. Reading this book is profitable but not comfortable.”
The desperate need to personally embrace the inseparable link between real instruction and discipline is seen in how Solomon commands his sons to not “forsake,” meaning “throw away,” your mother’s instruction. Solomon is highlighting what is intimately known by all of us, the innate tendency to almost immediately turn away from truthful instruction when given through strong and negative exhortations. Giving true instruction always involves both positive and negative aspects, but how prone we are to only hear the positive while never listening to the negative. This symbiotic relationship between the positive and negative aspect, saying yes and saying no, is seen throughout Scripture (Titus 2:11-14) and is paramount to a parent’s calling (Eph 6:4 cf. Dt 6:1-25). You have often heard me say that giving true instruction often involves both “stopping and steering” as you negatively (through discipline) stop someone from going in the wrong direction, and positively (through instruction) steer them in the right direction. Yet, this is not only the foundation to faithful parenting but core to a faithful ministry—as a pastor, elder, and yes even as a church member, as we seek to both admonish and encourage one another in and with the Truth (2 Tim 4:1-2; 2 Tim 2:24-26; Titus 1:9-16; 1 Thess 5:14). But do not miss how Solomon also gives the motivation for heeding the difficult exhortations by describing the blessing that a teachable spirit brings. The wreath and pendent described here speaks of honor and esteem in the eyes of others. Thus, Solomon is saying that honoring your father and mother will in the end bring honor, grace, and esteem to your life (Eph 6:2 cf Ex 20:12).
Of course, that which is true regarding sound parental instruction is exponentially true regarding biblical instruction (Ps 119:71-72; Titus 2:11-14; 2 Tim 3:14-17; Heb 4:11-13; Js 1:19-25). How are you hearing and heeding the Word of God? Do you listen humbly to the Word by admitting your desperate need for both encouragement and exhortation? Do you listen actively to the Word by seeking to do what it says? Do you prayerfully hear the Word by honestly allowing the Spirit of God to shape your life by the Word, or do you seek to shape the Word according to your desires? So, what would be my response to someone if I was asked what is my ultimate desire for the precious people that I shepherd? My reply: that they would listen and live according to divine instruction, God’s Word (3 Jn 4)!