The Path of the Just
The Book of Proverbs is a collection of wise statements which are examples of the practicality of God’s Word. In this book, and indeed, throughout the Bible, two contrasting life paths are depicted: the path of the just and the way of the wicked. In Proverbs 4:18-19 we read, “But the path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day. The way of the wicked is as darkness: they know not at what they stumble.”
Proverbs describes the path of the just as one of wisdom, discretion, and righteousness. In contrast, the path of the wicked is one of folly, recklessness, and immorality. The foundation of individuals on the path of the just is the fear of the Lord; those who choose the way of the wicked do not take God into account at all, or merely give Him glancing notice. The path of the just is prescribed by God himself, while the way of the wicked is subject to the whim of the enemy of the soul, whether or not the ungodly realize it.
In Proverbs 1:7 we read, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” To fear God is to stand in awe of Him—to revere and honor Him. That attitude toward God is uncommon in contemporary society, where it is popular not only to ignore God but even to position oneself against Him. It is not fashionable to serve the Lord and choose the path of the just.
Jesus pointed out that not many would choose the path of the just. In Matthew 7:13-14 we read, “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” The fact that few find it is not because the path is unmarked or hard to access. It is because few choose it.
There is a discernable difference between those who are on the path of the just versus those who are traveling the way of the wicked.
It is not hard to distinguish the path of the just from the way of the wicked. As you go through life, you see people on each path. As a sinner, one here and there who lived differently than the crowd I ran with during my school years caught my attention. Though I did not pay much attention to them at the time, I was aware of them. There is a discernable difference between those who are on the path of the just versus those who are traveling the way of the wicked.
The path of the just frequently is viewed as being restrictive. On the other way, anything goes—it is a way of living which typically is viewed as being more tolerant and open-minded. However, the reality is that real liberty exists on the path of the just. I found deliverance on this path! I have no interest in going back to the way where “anything goes.” Nor would I be comfortable with the outcome of that way. Remember, Jesus said, “Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life.” We want our journey on this earth to end at eternal life in Heaven. The chaotic path where “anything goes” leads to destruction.
In the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus spoke of the two ways, He warned, “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves” (Matthew 7:15). Continuing in verses 21-23, He stated, “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” Those who “work iniquity” will be condemned to an eternity without God. If we are not comfortable in the straight and narrow way, we will not be comfortable in Heaven. However, nobody will be comfortable with the alternative! While it takes a choice to get off the broad way that leads to destruction, thank God, we can make that choice!
Even after we have made a choice to take the path of the just, the enemy of our souls attempts to entice us back onto the broad way. In Proverbs 1:10-11 we read, “My son, if sinners entice thee, consent thou not.” Further on in verse 14, we read that the enticers will say, “Cast in thy lot among us; let us all have one purse,” or in essence, “Let us combine our resources and have a good time.” It is a mistake to listen! The Prodigal Son had friends about him when he engaged in “riotous living,” but when he was destitute, he found himself alone in the pig pen. Too often, when someone says, “Let us join together,” you have something they want. They are not looking out for your welfare.
We make it much easier for ourselves if we take a stand right from the start by declaring, “I am not interested.”
In verse 15 we read, “My son, walk not thou in the way with them; refrain thy foot from their path.” Refrain from taking even one step into the way of the wicked! We can be sure that some along the way will entice us to join them. They are operating under the assumption that everyone wants to go that way. We make it much easier for ourselves if we take a stand right from the start by declaring, “I am not interested.”
You do not have to give a long speech or a flowery testimony or preach a sermon when someone encourages you to participate in questionable activities. You simply need to say, “No, I do not want to do that.” If you do not take a stand the first time, it will be much harder the next time. Declare yourself! If you want to be bold, say, “I gave my heart to God; I am going to serve Him,” and then do so. If offering an explanation is a bit daunting, that is okay. Your refusal to join them on that path will speak loudly. If you worry about what questions they might ask you, read the admonition of Jesus in Matthew 10:19: “Take no thought how or what ye shall speak: for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak.” Simply take your stand, and God will help you.
Temptation is personified in the Book of Proverbs in a very graphic manner. When temptation comes our way as it is described in the Proverbs, we can identify it quickly and say, “I am not going there.” However, when it occurs in real life, it can be much more subtle. The insinuating, insistent spirit that would pull us away from God is temptation. Obey Jesus’ instruction to “refrain thy foot from their path.” We must head quickly in the other direction!
As a twenty-one year old new convert, I did not have a lot of profound words for my peers, partly because I did not understand fully what had happened to me the night I prayed. When they came over the next Friday night and wanted to go out and party as we typically did on a weekend, I simply told them, “I am not going to do that anymore.” They were so stunned their jaws dropped.
I shared an apartment near the campus with another young man. On the following Sunday when I came out of my room dressed better than he had ever seen me dressed—my best Converse tennis shoes and a decent shirt—he asked, “Where are you going?” He was speechless upon hearing, “I am going to church.” I did not explain myself; I just left. So declare yourself by your actions!
The Gospel way is a secure way! We may not have all the answers, but we are assured that we are on the right path.
Proverbs 1:33 alludes to the security which exists for those on the path of the just. We read, “But whoso hearkeneth unto me shall dwell safely, and shall be quiet from fear of evil.” On the path of the just there is safety and quietness. The Gospel way is a secure way! We may not have all the answers, but we are assured that we are on the right path. That will be reflected in the answers we give, no matter how inadequate we think they may be. It is a way of peace; a good way.
Hunting for treasure
The Bible is full of instruction and help about traveling on this way. In Proverbs 2:1-5 we read, “My son, if thou wilt receive my words, and hide my commandments with thee: so that thou incline thine ear unto wisdom, and apply thine heart to understanding; yea if thou criest after knowledge, and liftest up thy voice for understanding; if thou seekest her as silver, and searchest for her as for hid treasures: then shalt thou understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God.” God will help you as you seek Him.
Recently I read of two treasure hunters who claimed to have found a train rumored to have existed during the last days of World War II. Loaded with Nazi gold and treasures, it was said to have been hidden with the hope that after the war, the treasure it contained could be retrieved. Another recent article told about treasure hunters finding a ship that sank in 1715 off the Florida coast, full of gold artifacts.
Treasure hunters invest a tremendous amount of money and spend a great deal of time trying to locate these lost valuables. It is no casual search. They spend years researching and trying to determine where the treasures might be. How much more earnestly we ought to seek for the knowledge and the understanding of God! How much more effort we ought to invest in making sure we are open to instruction as to how to obtain what the Lord offers! If we search to understand the truths of God’s Word as the treasure hunters do for silver or gold, we will obtain, for we read, “Then shalt thou understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God.”
Serving God is no casual endeavor. It is easy to go in the way of the wicked; that is like drifting downstream. To serve God is to go upstream. The home where I grew up was on the banks of the North Umpqua River. In the summer, my siblings and I would go swimming, sometimes three times a day. So I know how challenging it is to swim upstream against the current and how easy it is to float downstream.
If the next step on the path is unclear, we wait. We hold on to the Lord and trust. God will surely direct in His time!
In Proverbs 3:5-6 we learn about the guidance that is offered to those walking in the way of the just. It says, “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” These verses are a favorite of many because they offer reassurance. To trust God means to rely upon Him even when what comes our way makes absolutely no sense to us. The Lord does not promise that life will make sense, He just tells us to trust Him and acknowledge Him. If the next step on the path is unclear, we wait. We hold on to the Lord and trust. God will surely direct in His time!
A critical choice
In verse 13 we read, “Happy is the man that findeth wisdom, and the man that getteth understanding.” That person is not just happy at the moment he or she finds wisdom. The path of the just is a life of happiness and blessing. It is a path we want to be on. People who are on the broad and wicked way really want a better one. They long for satisfaction, deliverance, and peace. The path of the just offers all of these blessings!
Let us choose the path which “shineth more and more unto the perfect day.” It grows brighter and more hopeful as the days go by. The more chaotic the world becomes, the brighter our goal becomes. We look forward to the day when the trumpet will sound and the just will suddenly vanish from this earth. Those who remain will lament the fact that they did not take action and put into practice what they had been instructed to do.
Of the two contrasting paths, the one embraced by the wicked is oppressive, dark, and dangerous, and ends in a lost eternity. The one chosen by the just is free, bright, and safe, and ends with eternal life. If you are serving God today, stick with the path you have chosen. If you are not serving Him, you have the opportunity to make a decision that will not only change the course of your life, but will change your eternal destiny.