My son, do not forget my teaching,
but let your heart keep my commandments,
for length of days and years of life
and peace they will add to you. (Proverbs 3:1-2)
God’s promises are always precious to us, and meant to be words upon which we stand in our hearts, mind, and lives. The warning here is two-fold: the danger of forgetting God’s teachings and the blessings of remembering them, and not just remembering them but to stand upon them in our hearts.
Later in this book of Proverbs, the outcomes of forgetting or ignoring the promises of God are given. They are not pretty, but here in this chapter there is only the broadest description saying that God is opposed to the evil man, to the scornful, to the wicked, to the dishonest, to the fool who rejects His teaching.
But here God simply emphasizes the blessings toward those who keep the commandments of God in their hearts. “Keep” is a key word and it means to guard, to watch, to preserve, and protect these promises. And to do so in our hearts. Here is the key meaning of this scripture, not that we are merely to go through the motions of obedience and appear to be “good Christians,” but that in our hearts, in the heart of our hearts, we are to treasure these commandments.
We may have a thousand thoughts and ideas on the surface of our minds, and we may forget them quickly enough, but what lies deep in our hearts is the core of our being and here our true purposes and actions and reactions are established. There in our hearts we are to treasure these commands and promises of God.
The Promise of Length of Days
We should be careful not to read in this promise what is not there. God promised to lengthen our days, or to give us a longer life, but the only standard here is not that our lives will be longer than other people’s but that if we cherish the commands of God in our hearts that our lives will be longer than they would be if we did not.
Do not try and find another standard than this, because it is not there. This does not promise that we will outlive all of our relatives who lived ungodly lives, nor that we will live long enough to see our great grandchildren, nor that we will have fewer diseases than others, etc. – though all of these things may happen. The promise relates to each of our lives only, that if we obey God and honor Him, and cherish His commands in our heart that our lives will go much better than if we did not.
This is a position of faith, for we do not know what would have happened otherwise. For example, someone who is a faithful Christian is persecuted and eventually martyred and we may say it is a great tragedy. But did this nullify this promise? No, for we do not know what would have happened to him had he not been faithful, or had chosen to be very sinful. He may have met a violent end sooner as a wicked man than he did as a Christian. The Lord promises to make yours and my lives better from our perspective and in our experiences, and not in some worldwide standard of longevity or wealth.
The Promise of Peace
And He promises not only length of days but also greater peace. Thank God for His peace. Generally speaking it is widely observed that serious and committed Christians have great inner peace, and that all of us can have the miraculous peace of God that passes all understanding (Phil. 4:4-8). Yet, again, is there a worldwide standard here? It has often been observed that some who are not Christians seem to have more inner peace than some who are.
The starting points of possessing inner peace in our lives vary from person to person. Many people carry terrible and difficult burdens, and have gone through horrendous abuse in their lives – mental, physical, sexual, and social abuse. God is at work in each believer the moment they trust in Christ, and given time He will work into each life His perfect peace, and if we do not have it here on earth, we will have it in heaven for sure.
But the promise is not that if you trust in Christ and honor God in your heart that you will have more inner peace than other people, but more inner peace than you would have had otherwise. So be patient with yourself and with God in the process if it seems to be taking a bit longer for you to have this peace than you thought it would.
Do Not Compare Yourself to Others
Jesus warned us against judging others (Matt. 7:1-3), and if we compare ourselves to others, or them to us, we will be in danger of judging – either judging them or judging ourselves. Se will be too hard on them and too blind to our own weaknesses, or we will be too hard on ourselves and feel like failures. Each life must be lived where it is and as it is when God saves us. We do not all have the same starting points, nor do we all experience identical challenges.
Only in the most general terms does the scripture condone comparing Christians to one another. The author of Hebrews wrote: “By this time you ought to be teachers, yet you need someone to teach you” (Heb. 5:12). That is only a general observation that came by the Holy Spirit to the author, and he was speaking to the church as a whole, that they should be further along in maturity than they were. Others had done more.
And in 1 Corinthians 10:13 we read, “There is no temptation taken you but such as is common to man.” Generally speaking there are common experiences in life, common temptations and common challenges. But we never can really know all about another person’s inner struggles or of their past. We have personal events and influences in our lives, even personality quirks, that mitigate for us or militate against us.
I heard once about a man in a church business meeting, when they had been discussing a sensitive subject, got angry and said things that he should not have said.
Another man who was known to be calm in his demeanor stood up and said in a calm voice, “Brother, we understand your feelings, but you need to control your temper!”
To which the first man said, “You are right, and I apologize, but, brother, I control more temper in a single day than you have your entire life!”
This is why we ought not to compare ourselves to one another. Comparisons to others tempt us with false pride or with a false sense of failure. We are better off to simply keep our eyes on Christ and trust in Him and follow Him.
We read in the Bible: “Each one should test his own work. Then he will have reason to boast in himself alone, and not in someone else” (Gal. 6:4). Delight in the progress that the Lord is making in your life by your faith. Submit your way to the Lord and follow Him. No one can really compare you to another, nor another to you. Each of us has challenges unique to us and to our situation.
But God can enable you and I to put this scripture to use in our hearts. Today we can say, “Lord, thank You for loving me, and for promising me life and peace. I submit my heart to You. Let this scripture be rooted in my very being that I may trust You in each and every situation. Amen.”