Bill McFarland

April 3, 2005


Imagine for a moment your favorite style of house, well-constructed by excellent craftsmen, in just the right location.  This house is beautiful on the outside, and on the inside every room is furnished with the very best that money can buy and tastefully decorated.  What I have just described to you has been referred to by many people as “the American dream.” 

But there is another dream which is far more important than that one.  It is the dream of a loving and loyal family to live in that house.  We might call this “the godly dream.”  And unless this godly dream is fulfilled, then the other one means very little. 

That is what makes the text that we are about to study today especially attractive to me.  It is Proverbs 24:3, 4, and it is one of my very favorite passages from the great book of the Proverbs.  Some of you know that we have been reading Proverbs once each month in our daily Bible reading program this year.  I have been asked by several people, “Why are we doing that?  Are we trying to memorize Proverbs?”  And my answer is the same to each one, “When we learn to do what it says, we can quit reading it!”  This wonderful passage says, “By wisdom a house is built, and by understanding it is established.  By knowledge the rooms are filled with all precious and pleasant riches.”  By noticing what it takes to build a house, this beautiful passage suggests what goes into building a family.  Three truths stand out.

Family Fills Life With Riches

The first is that a good family fills our lives with “all precious and pleasant riches,” as verse 4 says.  It is like a house with every room full of great treasures.  The idea is that despite all the troubles that can come along in a family’s life, most people can still realize that the treasures in life come from our families.  If you were to be able to investigate all the little notes and pictures that various people in this room this morning have kept over life, most of them would have to do with something about family.  If you were to ask for all the things that everyone in this room holds to be most dear in their lives and their experience, most of them would have something to do with family life.  When we come to the end of our journeys and when we have something said about the use we have made of our lives, most of us will want something said about how we related to our families. 

The great book of Proverbs deals mostly with families.  If you were to count the verses in this book that relate to family living, you would be surprised with how many of them deal with family life.  My guess is that up to two-thirds of the verses here relate in one way or another to behavior in the home. 

Proverbs gives us several glimpses of the joys and the rewards that strong families hold.  A husband, for example, is told to rejoice in the wife of his youth in 5:18.  And a worthy woman is said to be “the crown of her husband” in 12:4.  In fact, she is said to be “from the Lord,” in 19:14.  On the other hand, a gracious woman, according to Proverbs 11:16, should “obtain honor,” as “her children rise up and call her blessed, her husband also and he praises her.  Many women have done excellently, but you surpassed them all,” Proverbs 31:28, 29 says.  In a family, a woman like that should be highly respected and honored. 

Proverbs says that “children make a glad father,” chapter 10:1, and “are tender and only beloved in the sight of a mother,” 4:3.  In Proverbs 23:24, 25 we read, “The father of the righteous will greatly rejoice and he who fathers a wise son will be glad in him.  Let your father and mother be glad.  Let her who bore you rejoice.”  That is a way of saying that the joys of life come from that parent-child relationship.  In Proverbs 17:6, the Bible observes, “Grandchildren are the crown of the aged, and the glory of children is their father.”  And then there is the observation in chapter 17:17 that “a brother is born for adversity.” 

All of those passages are describing the kind of blessings that can be a part of our lives because of those mysterious and treasured relationships that God has instilled within what he calls “family.”  No wonder our text speaks of a house filled with rare and beautiful treasures if families can bless in those ways.

Several years ago a preacher told about being somewhere visiting a congregation where he had been asked to present a series of lessons.  During those few days, he was a guest in different people’s houses for meals.  He told about visiting in one household where the house was large and brand new and elaborately furnished.  All of the things that were in that house were the latest and were the best.  The meal was the very best that could be set on the table.  Everyone was dressed so nicely.  They had good transportation.  But he said when he sat down for the meal there was an air of tension.  People treated each other coldly.  There was ill-mannered behavior and disrespect between the family members. 

He said the next night he was a guest in a home where the house was modest.  It was not new.  The furniture was worn, but everything was clean and neatly kept and in order.  The family members were not wearing new or name brand clothing.  The food was “soul food,” the kind of food that common folks set on the table.  It was well prepared and delicious.  He said when he sat down for the meal the children were respectful and showed good manners.  There was a warmth and good humor between all of the family members.  The atmosphere was one of love and joy.  People were glad to be together and seemed glad he was there.  And he said when he left that community, he had a pretty good idea which of those two families was the richer of the two.  And he was certain in his mind which atmosphere he enjoyed the best. 

A Happy Family Is Built

Happy families, though, our text says, do not just happen.  If you noticed in 24:3, 4, it said, “a house is built, and by understanding it is established; by knowledge the rooms are filled with these treasures.”  To be built and established and filled are terms which suggest careful effort, and they all say that godly homes are built through the efforts of dedicated and hard-working men and women who follow the wisdom of God in their choices and in their conduct in life.  The work of building a family like this is not easy.  There are problems that have to be faced, but the beauty and the wonder which naturally result from the kind of family God wants us to have is more than worth the effort that is involved. 

When you read Proverbs, you can’t help but notice that it is such a practical and realistic book in what it has to say about the work of family living.  Think of some of the things that have to be done if the house or the family is to be built into the kind of a blessing that we have been describing.  You have to start with people within whom good solid character has been developed.  Just as the house has to be constructed out of good material if it is to be strong, so must the family that lives in that house.  Proverbs says that integrity and uprightness and faithfulness are necessary.  For example, “in the house of the righteous there will be much treasure, but trouble befalls the income of the wicked,” 15:6 says.  “The righteous who walks in his integrity, blessed are his children after him” (20:7).  “A faithful man will abound in blessings” (28:20).  “Whoever pursues righteousness and kindness will find life, righteousness, and honor” (21:21).  And this great statement from chapter 13:22, “A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children.”  To try to build a family without being willing to invest the honor and the decency it takes to build upright character is a project that will sometimes seem so overwhelming as to be impossible.  Whatever you invest in being the person you ought to be is the best investment you can make in your family.

Secondly, this is a task which involves a covenant of God which must be made and not forgotten, according to 2:17.  I believe it is speaking there about the covenant made between God and a man and a woman in marriage.  It is a covenant in which faith is not to be broken, and Proverbs says that any departure from it into immorality will be like taking fire into one’s clothing or walking upon hot coals (6:27, 28).  Proverbs sees the one who is pursuing immorality (it is talking about sexual conduct here) not as headed for joy and a fulfilling family life, but instead as being like an ox who is on his way to the slaughter (7:22).  Faithfulness and honor must be shown in our behavior and our conduct within ourselves because we want this kind of family later on.

Third, the daily responsibilities of making a living and keeping a home have to be met.  In Proverbs, industriousness and effort and zeal and responsibility are always praised because of this.  One must work not with a slack hand nor sleep through the harvest, but instead be diligent and plan prudently (10:4-5).   Proverbs says, “Whoever works his land (to be responsible in your job), will have plenty of bread and he who follows worthless pursuits lacks sense” (12:11).  It says to prepare yourself vocationally, first, and then pursue the things that you want in life.  Don’t think you start with everything.  He says, “Prepare your work outside; get everything ready for yourself in the field and after that build your house” (24:27).  Get yourself ready to make a living and then start a family, in other words.  The worthy woman is said to be one who “looks well to the ways of her household” (31:27).  All of them are talking about making a living and keeping a home.

Fourth, in building this family, conflicts will have to be faced and worked through.  Proverbs is so frank about this that sometimes it is even humorous.  It says that unless we are willing to face these disagreements and quarrels, we’ll fail.  We’ll become contentious and fretful, and family members will long for a desert land in which to dwell (21:19).  Quarrels can be like the bars of a castle and are hard to resolve (18:19), but it can be done and it must be done if our families are to be a blessing.  Are you mature enough to face the quarrel and to resolve it?  That is a question that has to be answered in the affirmative if a family is to be built.

Fifth, guidance has to be provided and heeded, and discipline has to be learned in a family.  A child has to hear the instruction of his father and he is not to forsake the law of  his mother (1:8).  Parents are told, “Discipline your son and he will give you rest; he will give delight to your heart” (29:17).  In other words, the family is a laboratory where we learn how to live.  That is where teaching takes place, where guidance is provided, advice is given, and correction is administered, if necessary, for the good of the individuals there.

Sixth, all of this is to be done in an atmosphere where a spirit of appreciation and honor is maintained at all times.  Proverbs 23:15-16, 22 says, “My son, if your heart is wise, my heart too will be glad.  My inmost being will exult when your lips speak what is right.  Listen to your father who gave you life, and do not despise your mother when she is old.”  That is the spirit that is supposed to exists where a family is thriving.  The Bible says that if one curses his father or mother, his lamp will be put out in utter darkness (20:20).  It advises us to praise and to honor the one who has earned that through living such as the worthy woman in chapter 31.  You can see the kind of effort that goes into family life. 

I think it is important to observe, on the other hand, that Proverbs frankly says that without right living, family can be the source of heartache and grief.  It has been observed, very wisely, that there is no trouble like family trouble.  Nothing brings the difficulty trouble at home brings.  Just notice some of the results of ignoring God’s way in the family.  In 11:29 it says, “Whoever troubles his own household will inherit the wind.”  Things will seem like they are coming apart for him, in other words.  In 12:4 it says, “An excellent wife is the crown of her husband, but she who brings shame is like rottenness to his bones.”  In 19:13, the pain is also obvious in parent-child relationships that fail: “A foolish son is ruin to his father, and a wife’s quarreling is a continual dripping of rain.”  In 29:15, there is this observation, “The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother.”  And then in 17:25, the idea is also apparent when it says, “A foolish son is a grief to his father and bitterness to her who bore him.”  All those passages are saying that a family can fill your life with treasures, but it is hard work which, if not done, will bring agony.

A Work That Requires Wisdom

That brings us to the third observation in the text we started with: the great work of building a strong family requires wisdom.  Did you notice it said “by wisdom a house is built”?  It calls for understanding and knowledge. What is this “wisdom”?  First, this wisdom really is reverence for God applied to everyday life.  It is not being smart; it is not knowing all the latest fads and ideas that various teachers or speakers have brought up.  Wisdom begins with applying reverence at home.  In Proverbs 9:10, it says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.”  In Proverbs 15:33 it says, “The fear of the Lord is instruction in wisdom, and humility comes before honor.”  In 14:26 it says, “In the fear of the Lord one has strong confidence, and his children will have a refuge.”  The fear of the Lord is simply a loving reverence for God that includes submission to his Lordship over all of life, and then an obedience to the commandments of his word, as Ecclesiastes 12:13 described “the whole duty of man.”  When we live in an environment where we respect the fact that God sees us and knows us and that we are in his presence, when every gift and blessing a household enjoys is seen as a gift from God, when his word is seen as the compass that guides us and is the foundation point in all of our lives, there is the beginning of the wisdom that it takes to build a family.  Moms and dads, are you beginning your family’s lives with that kind of respect for God?  Is that the thing that is always the measurement and the standard for your home and for your life at home?  Is what God thinks what makes the difference and settles all questions in your household?

A second observation about wisdom in this great book is that wisdom in building a family is the application of experience long past to our experience now.  Someone described Proverbs and the teaching of Proverbs as “short sayings from long experience.”  In Proverbs 4:3 and following, a man is able to start with what his father and mother taught him, and then he can hand that on to his son or his daughter in teaching them.  And what grandpa said is not taken as something that is old and out of fashion, but it is taken as something from one who learned how life is supposed to be lived.  In our families, it is not the latest fads of what some popular writer or what some pediatrician or what someone who is our same age also in the process of raising kids has said.  It is instead the tried and tested and true principles that have come from human experience.  When we read Proverbs, we are reading statements from 1000 years B.C., and we are finding out that they still offer the wisdom and the guidance that is needed now.  It is because each new generation doesn’t relearn all over again brand new how life is supposed to be lived.  Instead, each new generation is anchored in the experience of people who have lived and who know what living is about.  “Do not move the ancient landmark that your fathers have set” (22:28).

Third, building a home, according to Proverbs, requires the application of some general rules to life.  That is what the Proverbs are.  They are general rules about how life works.  The idea is that, in the long run, this is how things are going to turn out in life.  You can expect life to work like this.  That is what Proverbs is saying.  And it is by the practice of these general rules over time that you build a life that can be turned into a family.  To think that a house can be built by doing the things which are destructive to that house is folly.  And for us to think that we can build a family while ignoring all that has been learned about how a family can flourish is also folly.  To find someone who is ignoring all principles of godly living, who is engaging in dishonorable behavior, perhaps immoral behavior, and then to have that person, when you ask him what he wants for his life, to say that he wants to have a happy family, is amazing.  How is that going to happen behaving like this?  That is what Proverbs challenges us to answer.

Back to our text: “By wisdom a house is built and by understanding it is established, and by knowledge the rooms are filled with all precious and pleasant riches.”  In this great book, wisdom is pictured as a great lady calling out to passersby, “Come in here; come home; live your life this way and you will be blessed.”  (See 2:1-5).  We can’t help but be reminded of a Lord who came to demonstrate life lived this way and who said, “Come to me all ye who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.”  He was saying, “Come home.”

Perhaps you are here today and you are ready to come home.  May we encourage you to respond in faith and obedience to the great invitation of Jesus Christ?  If you need to obey the gospel, do so.  If you are a Christian who wandered away and needs to come home, do so.  If we can help you, we would love to while we stand and sing together.