Walk by Faith, Not by Sight

A sermon on Proverbs 13:1-14:32 by Coty Pinckney, Desiring God Community Church, Charlotte, NC, 11/13/05

How do you make major life decisions?

What would the Bible say about how to make such decisions?

Many of you have memorized 2 Corinthians 5:7, where Paul says, “We walk by faith, not by sight.” So we are to live by faith in God. We are to make major decisions in light of who He is.

This theme permeates the entire Bible. For example, in each of our last three sermon series on books of Bible, walking by faith has been a major theme:

In Revelation, John again and again draws a stark contrast between the seeming chaos on earth, or the seeming triumph of evil  – what looks real – and the central reality of God in His throne room, ruling and controlling all that happens (see sermon).  

In Genesis, the story of Abraham and Sarah highlights God’s faithfulness to His promise, despite His seeming to wait too long to provide Abraham with a descendant. But Abraham “believed the Lord, and He counted it to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:6) (see sermon).

In 2 Corinthians, we’ve already quoted chapter 5 verse 7 (see sermon). In context, that verse encourages us to maintain an eternal perspective on events in this world. By focusing on eternity rather than on temporal gains or losses, we become willing to step out and take risks, for our confidence is in God:

16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.  17 For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,  18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 

So walking by faith is a pervasive theme of Scripture. We need to walk by faith when we make major life decisions.

But what about the little decisions in life?

These aren’t major life decisions. These are day-by-day, hour-by-hour decisions. Life doesn’t seem to hinge on these decisions, as it does on marriage, or accepting a job. So can we walk by sight when making such decisions?

The book of Proverbs deals with seemingly inconsequential decisions. Does it teach us to walk by faith? Or is Proverbs a book that provides us with a method of walking by sight?

In the sermon that covered 2 Corinthians 5:7, I gave three examples of ways that we walk by sight

·        First: living a life of fear. We see the world around us and are paralyzed.  

Proverbs is often interpreted as promoting the third way of walking by sight. On the surface, this book can seem to advocate practical steps to achieving a better life. For example, some would interpret chapter 13 verse 11 this way:

Wealth gained hastily will dwindle, but whoever gathers little by little will increase it.

Is that walking by sight? Does Proverbs teach us to walk by sight?

No. As I pointed out in our first sermon in this series, to rightly understand this book, we need to take into account its overarching theme, the introductory thoughts of the prologue (Chapters 1 to 9), and the context of individual verses. The overarching theme or interpretive key for the book is found in chapter 1 verse 7:

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.

Thus this book is not at all about walking by sight. Rather, this book teaches us to walk by Wisdom: seeing who God is, seeing how He rules the world, and responding. Thus, walking by Wisdom is the same as walking by faith.

So all that we do, we are to do in light of who God is: Whether earning money, living with your wife or husband, going to school, disciplining children, driving a car, or managing employees. Proverbs speaks to such day to day situations as well as major life decisions and tells us, “Fear God! Live in light of who He is!” For who God is has implications for how you do everything that you do:

In all circumstances, we are to live by faith, not by sight.

Today’s section of Proverbs focuses on this point. This is a lengthy text, and we will only be able to dip into it as we consider three headings:

Walk by Faith to Satisfy your Deepest Desires

Look at verses 12-19 of chapter 13. This section is wonderful example of the intricate structure of this book, of the way the context helps us to interpret Proverbs accurately. The first and last verses of the section complement each other, and the second and second-to-last verses complement each other. So we’ll consider the verses in that order, verses 12 and 19, then verses13 and 18.

12 Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.

Is this verse saying anything more profound than when you get what you want, you find life and are not sorrowful? Yes, as verse 19 explains.

19 A desire fulfilled is sweet to the soul, but to turn away from evil is an abomination to fools.

The phrase “a desire fulfilled” clearly links the two verses. The key interpretive question to ask is: Why is hope deferred in verse 12? Who are these people whose hearts become sick? Verse 19 tells us: Hope is deferred for fools because they will not turn away from evil. The fool religiously avoids turning from evil! He not only does evil. He hates the good. The good is an abomination.

Thus these verses together say that the fool’s hopes will be deferred. His heart will be sick eventually. In contrast, the righteous has all his desires fulfilled ultimately. This is sweet to his soul, this is his tree of life. He has all he ever really needed.

Verses 13 and 18 clarify this still more:

13 Whoever despises the word brings destruction on himself, but he who reveres the commandment will be rewarded.

18 Poverty and disgrace come to him who ignores instruction, but whoever heeds reproof is honored.

Those who despise the word and ignore instruction have none of their desires fulfilled. Instead, they are destroyed. But the one who listens to the word, to the commandment, the one who heeds instruction and reproof, is honored and rewarded. His desires are ultimately fulfilled. His hopes are fulfilled, not deferred.

Verse 14 then summarizes the main point:

14 The teaching of the wise is a fountain of life, that one may turn away from the snares of death.

The teaching of the wise is a fountain of life – listen to it and your hopes will be fulfilled, becoming a tree of life for you. But if turning from evil is an abomination to you, you won’t listen to the teaching of the wise. The snares of death are all that’s left for you. You have lost all hope.

Once again, Proverbs here appeals to our deepest desires, arguing that the deepest joy is found in the way of wisdom. We are to pursue joy, to pursue genuine fulfillment, real life, by faith in God. 

An Example: Money

What does walking by faith look like in particular cases? Within our lengthy passages, there are a number of verses dealing with money, showing how to walk by faith in this practical area. We’ll consider four of these verses.

Proverbs 13:11 immediately precedes the section we just studied. We looked at it briefly in the introduction:

Wealth gained hastily will dwindle, but whoever gathers little by little will increase it.

Does this verse teach us to walk by faith or by sight? By faith! We’ve already seen in earlier verses again and again that true wealth is promised to the righteous (for example, see 11:4 and 11:28). Earthly riches are temporary; they do not last and are ultimately unsatisfying. So the implicit question behind Proverbs 13:11 is: What is your goal? How will your desires be satisfied? If you look to money to satisfy your desires, you will aim to get it the easiest way possible: via the lottery or other get-rich-quick schemes, perhaps even by crime or embezzlement. But if your desires are for eternal riches, you will instead be a faithful, diligent worker. Your earthly riches may well increase little by little until you have much. But in any event, your desires will be satisfied. You will have eternal riches. It may look as if winning the lottery would be a good way to have many of your desires satisfied. But “wealth gained hastily will dwindle.” That approach to seeking wealth shows your underlying motives. We are to walk by faith, not by sight.

Proverbs 14:20 and 21 are an interesting pair of verses on money and desires:

20 The poor is disliked even by his neighbor, but the rich has many friends. 21 Whoever despises his neighbor is a sinner, but blessed is he who is generous to the poor.

Once again, we can’t pull verse 20 out of its context without missing its point. These two verses must be seen as a pair. When we see them together, we realize that verse 20 is a general rule; it is not advice.

Together these verses tell us that if you walk by sight, you will dislike your poor neighbor, and will ingratiate yourself with the rich. But if you walk by faith, you will be generous to the poor. You will be blessed. Your desires will be fulfilled.

Why? Verse 31 of the same chapter tells us:

Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors him.

That is, when you walk by sight and dislike the poor, you are likely to oppress Him. This insults God. On the other hand, when you walk by faith, you will be generous. Not thinking that earthly riches are the way to happiness, you will part with them to aid the poor, thus honoring their Maker.

Thus, little decisions like how you treat your poor neighbor, whether or not to buy a lottery ticket, are key. We walk by faith when the many little decisions we make lead to a life of faith.

Walking by Faith through the Pain

The verses on money point out that there can be a cost to walking by faith: Being generous means you have less, at least initially, to spend on yourself. This passage openly details several other types of pain that accompany walking by faith. Proverbs is not saying, “Walk by faith and your life will be easy.” Instead, it tells us, “Walk by faith, walk by Wisdom, and eternally you will have your desires met.”

Consider first Proverbs 13:21-24. Verses 21 and 23 deal with injustice, while 22 and 24 deal with discipline.

21 Disaster pursues sinners, but the righteous are rewarded with good.

23 The fallow ground of the poor would yield much food, but it is swept away through injustice.

Verse 21 is a general statement which is sometimes true in this life, but is always true in eternity. Verse 23 makes clear that verse 21 is not always true in this life. In Israel, the poor had the right to collect food from fallow fields. But verse 23 tells us that the righteous poor are kept from doing that through injustice. God’s provision for helping the poor is ignored, thus harming the poor.

Thus, taking these two verses together, we see the exhortation to be righteous, to walk by faith. The righteous will indeed be rewarded. But there is injustice. Even the righteous poor may well experience this injustice, and suffer because of it. Yet God is in control; injustice will not last forever. Hope will not be deferred forever. The desires of the righteous will be fulfilled, and thus will be a tree of life. But don’t be surprised at the pain you may suffer along the way because of temporary injustice.

Injustice is one possible cause of pain for the righteous. Discipline is another. Look at 13:22 and 24:

22 A good man leaves an inheritance to his children's children, but the sinner's wealth is laid up for the righteous.

24 Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.

Remember, Proverbs is addressed first and foremost to sons. We see that throughout the prologue, chapters 1 to 9, and see that again in 13:1: “A wise son hears his father’s instruction.” So imagine that a son is reading these verses. Verse 22 by itself seems to indicate that the sons (and grandsons) of the righteous have unmixed joy. They have the inheritance! But verse 24 makes clear that the children of the righteous will suffer pain because of their parents’ discipline. Kids: When you are being spanked, does it seem like all your desires are being satisfied? No, of course not. Discipline is painful, as Hebrews 12 tells us. But when we walk by faith we realize that the pain of discipline is temporary, and the pain of discipline is necessary for our good.  

In addition to pain from injustice and pain from discipline, one more type of pain is discussed in Proverbs 14:4:

4 Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox.

Oxen were key inputs in biblical Palestine for getting much produce from the land. Everyone wanted a yoke of oxen. But suppose you were in a poor family that didn’t have any oxen, but through someone’s generosity you obtained them. How does your life change? Yes, you can plow your fields. But you also have to take care of the oxen every day. Your responsibilities increase.

Not many of us deal with animal traction, but we have similar issues. I’ve been know to say, “If you don’t want to clean the litter box, we don’t have to keep the cat.” There are similar responsibilities with inanimate objects:          Houses require painting, cars require changing the oil. We can’t very well laud the benefits of animals, houses, and cars, and then bellyache about the costs. The costs come with the territory.

But there’s a more profound point here. What do the oxen produce? Food! The means to life! The means to life are costly. There will be some pain involved in producing the means to life. But we need these means in order to satisfy our desires, in order to provide us with delight.

Think of this now in terms of the means to spiritual life. All such means are costly. But all ultimately lead to the greatest delight of all: Knowing God through Jesus Christ. These costs include:

The life spent walking by faith will be a life of some pain. Pain from injustice. Pain from discipline. Pain from gaining or using the means to life.

But we walk by faith, not by sight. We believe that the path to life is one of having all our desires fulfilled ultimately.

Verse 25 of chapter 13 serves as a capstone to this set of ideas:

25 The righteous has enough to satisfy his appetite, but the belly of the wicked suffers want.

Key point: To walk by faith is to say, “Lord, You are all I need. I enjoy You above all. I delight in You. I delight to do Your will, to follow Your commandments. In them is life. You, Lord Jesus, took pain on yourself to do the will of the Father for the joy set before You. May I do the same: May I take up my cross, follow You, and thus find true life – now, and for all eternity.”

Walk by Sight and Lose All You Hoped for

Proverbs 14:8-15 is a wonderful example of a common literary structure in Hebrew literature: A chiasm (named after the Greek letter chi that looks like an X), or concentric circles. These verses highlight the foolishness of walking by sight. Once again, let’s look at the outer verses first, then work our way towards the middle. So we start with verses 8 and 15:

8 The wisdom of the prudent is to discern his way, but the folly of fools is deceiving.

15 The simple believes everything, but the prudent gives thought to his steps.

Who is deceived by the folly of fools? Verse 15 makes clear that the victim is the foolish person himself! He believes everything! He’s always deceived! As Paul says in 2 Timothy 3:12-13:

All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, 13 while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.

Fools walk by sight. They claim to be looking ahead, calculating what is best for themselves. But these verses show that their sight is myopic! They are nearsighted! Claiming to be looking out for their own best interests, they neglect what’s most important for their interests.

It’s as if you are choosing between two houses to buy. The asking price is the same, but you try to watch out for your interests. So you investigate all the details of the relative cost of utilities and taxes on the two houses, and the relative cost of lawn care. One will save you about $400 a year in such costs, so you buy that one. But you ignore the fact that this house will fall apart in five years, and the other house will last a hundred!

Just so, the person walking by sight is self-deceived. Oh, Satan will work to deceive him also, as will false teachers. But ultimately he deceives himself. He believes everything.

Verses 9 and 14 discuss guilt and deserts:

9 Fools mock at the guilt offering, but the upright enjoy acceptance.

14 The backslider in heart will be filled with the fruit of his ways, and a good man will be filled with the fruit of his ways.

What will the upright receive? Verse 14 tells us that he will receive the fruit of his ways, while verse 9 tells us he will receive acceptance. But what will the backsliding fool receive? The fruit of his ways, which we know from other Proverbs, is death. Punishment. Why will fools be punished? Because they mock at the guilt offering (or the phrase might just mean they mock at guilt). You know what this is like:

“Hey, I haven’t done anything wrong. At least not very wrong, not when compared to others. I know dozens of guys who do much worse things than I do. Don’t get hung up on guilt. There’s no such thing as right and wrong. Just set an objective, and go after it.”

When we ignore guilt, we ignore sin. But God never ignores sin. Guilt is real, and must be paid for. When we walk by sight and ignore guilt, we get what we deserve: We lose all hope.

Verses 10 and 13: have to do with the heart and appearances.

10 The heart knows its own bitterness, and no stranger shares its joy.

13 Even in laughter the heart may ache, and the end of joy may be grief.

Remember the overall theme: Walk by faith, not by sight. In that light, these verses are saying: Sight can be deceiving. Someone may appear happy - he may even be laughing - yet his heart is aching. We don’t know what’s going on inside another person. We can be misled by appearances. So the rap artist 50 Cent may seem to have achieved his goal: “Get Rich or Die Trying.” He seems to have gotten the pretty girls, the money, the fame. But these proverbs tell us: Don’t be misled by appearances. Don’t trust your sight. Walk by faith. The hope of all fools ultimately is deferred. The end of joy for the wicked is always grief.

We’ve come now to the innermost circle, the middle of the chiastic structure. These verses state the main point clearly:

11 The house of the wicked will be destroyed, but the tent of the upright will flourish.
12 There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.

Would you rather live in a tent or a house? The wicked appear in verse 11 appears to have a better home than the upright. A house is more permanent, more secure, more comfortable. But despite appearances today, it is the tent of the upright, not the house of the wicked, that will flourish. That seemingly secure house of the wicked will be destroyed. The way of the wicked seems right. It seems to be the way to satisfy his desires. It seems to lead to security and happiness and respect. But that way results in death, not life.

What ways seem right today? The ways we are tempted to walk by sight vary by culture and personality, but all lead to death:

We walk by sight and not by faith if we focus on any of those. We also walk by sight when the little decisions in our life lead us to respond in anger, in pride, with lust. All these ways seem right to us, they all seem to lead to satisfaction, but in the end all result in frustration, in death.

When we walk by faith, we will satisfy our deepest desires. When we walk by sight, we lose all we hoped for.

To Walk by Faith is to Fear the Lord

Chapter 14 verses 26, 27, and 2 refer to the theme of the entire book: The fear of the Lord:

26 In the fear of the LORD one has strong confidence, and his children will have a refuge.
27 The fear of the LORD is a fountain of life, that one may turn away from the snares of death.

2 Whoever walks in uprightness fears the LORD, but he who is devious in his ways despises him.

God is the ultimate source of satisfaction. Indeed, ultimately God is the only source of satisfaction. As James tells us, every good and perfect gift comes from Him (James 1:17). As verse 27 says, He is a fountain of life. As verse 26 says, He is the source of security for yourself and your children. Thus walking by faith, fearing Him, is the most satisfying, most secure path to take.

Walking by sight, on the other hand, effectively is despising the Lord, rejecting His plan, His way, His message. He stands at the crossroads, saying, “This is the way to life! This is the way to myself!” Yet when we walk by sight, we turn the other way. We ignore Him. We despise Him.

He calls us to walk by faith. Not to walk by generic faith, faith in faith, but to walk by faith in the God of Abraham, to walk by faith in the God of Paul, to walk by faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who Himself walked by faith to the cross to die for the sins of all those who would repent of their sins and call on His Name. To walk by faith is to fear the Lord, to throw yourself at the mercy of Jesus, and to depend on His mercy alone.


Every decision you make – every big decision, every small decision – is a step of faith or a step based on sight. All the decisions you make – from the decision about what job to take to how you respond to irritation, from the answer you give to a marriage proposal to how you respond to an email – all the decisions you make work together to determine who you are. All your decisions reflect your view of life, your view of God, your view of yourself.

Will you live a life of faith, walking by that faith, trusting God through Jesus Christ? Or will you live a life dependent on your own resources, figuring out how to work all things to your own advantage?

To our eyes, a life of faith seems a lot riskier. To walk by sight seems to make more sense. We see risks, and want to avoid them. We see pleasures, and want to pursue them.

But this chapter – and all of God’s Word – tells us the opposite. When we walk by faith, ultimately we will fulfill all our desires. When we walk by sight, ultimately we lose all we hoped to gain, all we worked for.

There are indeed dangers in the life of faith. There will be pain. But Proverbs 14:32 sums up the ultimate position:

32 The wicked is overthrown through his evildoing, but the righteous finds refuge in his death.

Do you see what this verse says? The wicked may appear powerful; they may appear successful. But in the end they are overthrown. The righteous may suffer – they may even die. But the righteous has refuge even in death. As Jesus said:

If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it. 36 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? Mark  8:34-36

God offers you true life – in Jesus Christ. He will satisfy all your deepest desires – for He will give you true joy, true satisfaction, true security, true accomplishment, and true honor.

So see who God is – the source of all good gifts, all true joy. See how He rules the world – with perfect justice, magnifying His glory. And respond:

Look to Him for your joy. And walk by faith, not by sight.

This sermon was preached at Desiring God Community Church in Charlotte, NC on 11/13/05. Bruce Waltke’s The Book of Proverbs: Chapters 1-15 (Eerdmans, 2004) was exceptionally helpful throughout. Apart from this commentary, I would have taken a completely different approach to preaching this series.

Copyright © 2005, Thomas C. Pinckney. This data file is the sole property of Thomas C. Pinckney. Please feel free to copy it in written form, but only in its entirety for circulation freely without charge. All copies of this data file must contain the above copyright notice.

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