The Sovereignty of God
SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD
Good morning River City!
Welcome back! I hope you were able to make great use of your Sabbath Sunday last weekend. Our family was gone the last 2 Sundays, and we missed being with you all.
We’ve been walking through Proverbs this summer, and spent the last 3 weeks before Sabbath Break looking at wisdom in sex, wisdom in finances, wisdom in making the most of every opportunity from chapters 5, 6, 7. In all three of those discussions, we saw God’s design for sex, finances, and opportunity are for our good and his glory.
Yet in all three cases, we saw that we have often made a mess of our relationships, our sexuality, and how we steward the resources God has given us. So today, we set out to answer the question: Where is God in all this?
On our way home from family vacation we traveled Interstate 90 through South Dakota, and if you’ve ever driven I-90, you have seen billboards for Wall Drug. It’s a genius marketing plan, whoever came up with it, that they would put a billboard about every ¼ mile for 100 miles, all with a different service or product that you will find at Wall Drug. And by the time you actually get to Wall SD, you almost feel bad driving past without stopping.
But the owner of Wall Drug really has no ultimate influence over whether you stop in or not.
- When it comes to our daily lives, is God like that business owner? Are sermons, books, conversations, Bible Studies, whatever, merely advertisements of his grace, forgiveness for sin, inviting you to be free from the clutches of sin and shame, etc? Is the gospel just a billboard – inviting but powerless?
- Is he distantly watching, appalled at the mess we’re making of his good world, disappointed that more and more people are driving past the gospel every day? Is he furiously working to undo what we are doing by putting up more and more billboards, hoping we choose wisdom in sex, finances, and opportunities, hoping we reach out for salvation found in Christ, but ultimately is stuck with whatever choice we end up making?
- Is God perhaps more involved than that – more like a silent partner, where he graciously gives us the resources of life, breath, wisdom, free will to make whatever choices we want, but every now and then steps in with some advice or a miracle – showing he cares by helping you find your lost keys, takes away that nasty cough, or helps you get the job you wanted? Is he a silent partner that more or less lets you do what you want unless you really need him?
I hope that as you’re listening to those two options, the business owner and the silent partner, you are shaking your head, that no, God is neither of those. But I think if we’re honest, that’s actually how we live our lives. We live as if the gospel is a billboard on the highway – an invitation, but take it or leave it – the choice is ultimately yours. We live as if God is a lifeguard who only intervenes if we really need something badly enough.
But the Bible presents a very different God than that. The Bible presents a God to us that makes us uncomfortable; a God that is not like us; a God that we can never fully understand, like looking in the mirror after you take a hot shower. So, that’s where we are headed today.
PRAY FOR MERCY
Turn in your Bibles to Proverbs 16 if you are not already there. The scripture was already read for us this morning, thank you Lucy, so we’re going to dive straight in and explore these verses one at a time, making FIVE key observations as we go along, so today's message is a note-taker’s dream.
 The reflections of the heart belong to mankind, but the answer of the tongue is from the LORD.
That word translated “reflections” refers to an orderly, purposed, arrangement of ideas with regard to future actions. Maybe your translation just says “plans” instead of reflections. But the idea here is putting plans in place for a future action. A jury in a courtroom hears a case and spends hours deliberating the evidence, the testimony of witnesses, they order the facts by the timeline, they arrange their thoughts, all with a purpose, with a final decision in mind.
A government makes plans for laws, foreign interactions, wars; a family plans a vacation; a teacher plans her lessons; a business man or woman plans for marketing, hiring, sales, etc; a pastor plans a sermon series.
10 out of 10 people making those kinds of plans would say “I’m planning MY day, OUR vacation, MY business plan.” But, Proverbs says, you’re looking through the fog in your mirror and you don’t see the whole picture.
- Prov 16:1 – The reflections of the heart belong to mankind, but the answer of the tongue (what really happens) is from the Lord.
- Proverbs 16:33 – The lot is cast into the lap (we would say the dice are rolled on the board) but it’s every decision (even what we think is random) is from the Lord
- Prov 20:24 – A courageous person’s steps are determined by the Lord…
- Prov 21:31 – A horse is prepared for the day of battle, but victory (what really happens or doesn’t happen) comes from the Lord.
We may make our plans and get our horses ready, but as governments make laws and make war, as juries give verdicts, families plan vacations, businesspeople plan growth strategies, and teachers teach lessons – even down to the very words you say – the plans we make and the carry out aren’t simply our own. In fact, when we act on our plans, we are advancing the plans and purposes of the Lord!1
Truth #1: God governs 100% of what really happens in the world.
 All a person's ways seem right to him, but the LORD weighs motives.
Every single one of us has flawless logic, right? We can easily justify anything we do. Our plans are never wrong. When someone presses on you about something you did, or how you eat your cereal or how you drive or how you hang the toilet paper on the roll, or how we spoke to them in a conversation, we bristle at that. We get our feathers ruffled a bit. WHY? Because all of our ways seem flawless to us, even when we’re sinning.
But the Lord doesn’t just watch this from a distance, hoping we choose what’s right. He is able to weigh our motives in the actions we take. He knows our reasons. He understands the “why” behind what we do. Author John Piper says it like this: “We are free in the sense that we can do whatever we choose, but ultimately God governs what we choose. We are not God, and no purpose of God is overruled by the plans or actions or even the motives of you and I.2
- Prov 21:1 – A king’s heart is like channeled water in the Lord’s hand; he directs it wherever he chooses.
Truth #2: Nothing can overrule God’s purposes
 Commit your activities to the LORD, and your plans will be established.
To “commit” here is to entrust earnestly and eagerly. This action of committing literally means to roll something onto something else. It’s the same concept as 1 Peter 5:7 – [cast, throw, roll] all your cares on him, because he cares about you.
That’s the action that we take, but the main point of the verse is in the second part: God is the one who establishes your plans – or not. It’s wise to plan. It’s wise to be organized. It’s wise to think about the future – but the success of those plans is ultimately in God’s hands. Sometimes, even the best of plans don’t work out. The best organization can fail. We are encouraged to roll our plans and activities on the Lord, to take the weight off our own shoulders and give it to him – why? Because, and here is Truth #3: The success or failure of your plans rests in God’s commitment to his own glory. The establishment of our plans are ultimately rooted, not in our careful planning or strategy, but in God’s commitment to his own glory.
- Deut 8:16 – He fed you in the wilderness with manna… in order to humble and test you, so that in the end he might cause you to prosper.
- Deut 28:63 – Just as the Lord was glad to cause you to prosper and to multiply you, (if you refuse to repent of your rebellion) so he will also be glad to cause you to perish and to destroy you.
- Isaiah 45:6,7 – I am the Lord, and there is no other. I form light and create darkness, I make success and create disaster; I am the Lord, who does all these things.
Why would God allow suffering in your life? Why would he cause your plans to fail? Because he is committed 1000% to his glory being seen and valued and delighted in, which is the highest possible good you can ever experience! And sometimes the only way we open our eyes to his glory and see clearly is through pain, through trials, through difficulty.
And the three truths we have so far are wrapped up in verse four:
 The LORD has prepared everything for his purpose – even the wicked for the day of disaster.
Truth #4: The Lord has prepared everything for his purpose.
What does that mean “everything”?
In the book of Psalms alone – you cause grass to grow, make springs gush forth in valleys, when you take away a creature’s breath they die and return to dust, he causes earthquakes, puts each star in place and gives it a name, scatters snow and frost and ice.
In 2 Chronicles: I shut up the heavens so there is no rain, I command the clouds so they don’t rain; and in Job 37, He loads the clouds with moisture and scatters lightning
Daniel 2, He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and presidents, and raises up kings and presidents.
We could keep going and going with scriptures, but the point is, the Lord has prepared, has created, has fashioned, EVERYTHING: Every birth and every death, not just of humans, but of all creatures. Every dewdrop on every flower. Every technological advancement. Every caring nurse, every brutal dictator. Every church planted. Every church closed. Every marriage. Every divorce. Every car accident, every bird finding a worm. Every terrorist, every bully, every act of kindness, generosity, every act of justice or mercy; every conversion of a sinner being born again, every experience of suffering and pain and trial; even hell itself3 and the destruction of the those who refuse to repent are not outside of God’s purposes – The Lord has prepared everything for his purpose, right down to the ants on your sidewalk, which he invites you to learn from, and as Jesus said in Matthew 10:29, not even a sparrow that is worth ½ a penny falls to the ground and dies apart from your Father.
Author Derek Kidner gives us point #5: There are no loose ends in God’s world.1
So, back to our original question – how involved is God in our world? – after just 3 ½ verses, the answer would be VERY! He is very involved!
This raises two important questions.
- If God determines our words, our motives, and our actions, what is left of our free will?
- Why does it matter?
What is left of our free will?
If God is in control of everything, are we just robots now who don’t have any free choices anymore? After the first three verses of Proverbs 16 saying God is sovereign over every aspect of human living, the next four verses show that humans are very much responsible for their choices.
Verse 5: Live with humility. Verse 6 - Turn away from evil (that’s a choice) and choose faithfulness and loyalty instead. Verse 7 - There is a way of living that pleases God, and there is blessing in choosing that way. Verse 8 - It’s better to choose righteous living, even if it means suffering or barely getting by than to have a lot going for you but no righteousness. Verse 10 - People in power should be fair with those under their care Verse 11 - We should be honest in our business dealings with each other Verse 12 - Our behavior should represent the position we’ve been given Verse 13 - Stop lying – tell the truth!
The author of these Proverbs clearly doesn’t expect that you will throw up your hands and walk away with the mindset that says, “well, God’s going to do what he’s going to do – I guess nothing I do really matters.”
Quite the opposite! He expects that understanding God’s sovereignty over all of human living will cause you to bow in humility; to reject evil and pursue a way of living that pleases and honors God with full and bold commitment – no matter what the cost.
Why does it matter?
Back in Matthew 10, after Jesus says that not even a random sparrow that only God knows about dies without God’s control, he looks at his disciples and says – not even the most random thing you can think of, like how many hairs on your head, are unnoticed by God:
THEREFORE: (here’s why that matters) So - don’t be afraid! You are worth WAY more than a random sparrow!
God’s sovereign control – our good, loving Father who works everything together for his glorious purposes and our good – his sovereign control over 100% of his creation without anything being able to overrule his purposes; his commitment to his glory; his preparing everything for his purposes leaving no loose ends in the world isn’t meant to make you throw your hands up in despair – it’s meant to make you fearless! It’s meant to give you the boldness of a lion! It’s meant to give us the courage to storm the gates of hell in Riverside and the surrounding communities, to bring the good news of the gospel, with full confidence that because of and through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, his purposes to call someone from death to life in this city, in your family will not be stopped; his purposes to rid you of sin and make you righteous will not be stopped; that his purpose to bring many sons and daughters to glory cannot be stopped.
What he has started, he will finish. Not because he hopes we make the right choices. But because not a single sparrow falls to the ground apart from his will.
So make your plans. Pray about choices you make. Work the opportunities God has given you with all of your strength. And fearlessly charge into the day knowing that even in the most awful suffering, God will work out his purposes for you and they cannot fail.
Here’s an example from our vacation this summer, and I’ll close with this – Jodi and I have been talking about a West Coast trip with our family for about three years now, talking about where we would go, what we would like to do and see, and all that, and decided this year was the year to do it. I wanted to take the kids to the Oregon coast, which is gorgeous, and we wanted to go south from there. But someone told us about a ranch near Spokane WA where pastors and missionaries stay for free. I like free, so we changed our plans to go North at the coast instead of south.
My parents were just out West on a motorcycle trip a month ago, and said hotels are a bit of a mess right now in some of those states – restaurants didn’t always have help, and it sort of put us in a bind on our trip because we were planning to just get hotels and do restaurants.
So, we adjusted a bit not knowing what we would find, and threw in the tent and some camping stuff, and took a giant cooler of food along, figuring we’d make some of our meals.
Long story short, we did end up finding some hotels that worked out, and by the time we got to those cabins in WA on day 12 and 13, we still had a lot of food left. So, one evening Jodi was making a delicious supper of ham and potatoes, and we had tons of it. So she decided to make some for the family who owned the cabins, so that night we took them ham and potatoes – but oddly, the wife didn’t come to the door to get dinner. We handed it off to the husband, and didn’t think about it.
The next morning, the host lady (who is a Believer) came up and apologized that she didn’t come to the door, and told us that her parents, the day before, had told the family that after 40 years of marriage, that they were getting a divorce. So when we brought supper, this host was on the phone with her siblings trying to sort through all of this, and she came up the next day to say how tremendous a blessing that food was. In her grief, she didn’t feel like making supper, and you know how it goes.
I believe what Proverbs 16 and Jesus in Matthew 10 are telling us is that everything about that story, back to what year we took the trip, changing our plans to go North, my parents being in Yellowstone two weeks before us and having trouble with restaurants which made us pack food, then not eating it all, was all part of God working out a meal for a woman who was grieving. You might say, oh, well that was anticlimactic. Not for her it wasn’t. To her it was a sign that God sees her, and knows what she’s going through, and is with her in her sorrow. There are no loose ends in the kingdom of God.
And God is working in the world through millions and millions of the tiniest choices and motives and actions every single second of every day, not just for one grieving woman, but for every single human and every creature and every blade of grass, every snowflake and dew drop, every bumble bee and beluga whale, every ant and every earthquake, every gentle breeze and every derecho – even the betrayal and murder of his own Son: God is working together everything so that what he has purposed, Isaiah 46:10-11 says, he will accomplish.
Oh the depth of the riches and the wisdom and the knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments and untraceable his ways! Who has known the mind of the Lord? Who has been his counselor? Who has ever given anything of substance to God, that he should pay him back? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever. Amen.
 A person's heart plans his way, but the LORD determines his steps
- Derek Kidner, Proverbs (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1964), 111
- John Piper, May 3, 2019 ( https://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/does-god-direct-all-the-details-of-my-life) accessed August 13, 2021
- Audio lecture by Bruce Waltke on Proverbs, http:///www.biblicaltraining.org