You want to love the Word by knowing the Word—one feeds the other. This is in contrast to the person who leans on his own understanding. He doesn’t need the Bible to direct him, because he thinks he has life figured out. That person is a fool. In contrast, the person who fears the Lord actually studies God’s word—and he does so not to learn head knowledge, but to really and legitimately learn how to live.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.
So reads Proverbs 3:5. But what exactly does it mean to lean not on your own understanding?
Like many verses in Proverbs, Proverbs 3:5 pits two opposite concepts against each other. A person can either trust in the Lord with their whole heart, or lean on their own understanding. It is an either/or, not a both/and.
But despite the simplicity of this structure, there is an ocean of truth behind it. In actuality there is a massive war in the world. There is a war between angels and demons, truth and lies, Satan and the church. There is a war involving “the rulers, authorities, cosmic powers over this present darkness, and the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). Those dark forces are hostile against the truth, and specifically against anyone who tries to live a life submissive to the the Lord.
In contrast to those forces, there is the Spirit-filled person—the person who fears the Lord. If he is a husband, he is a leader who loves his wife and brings his children up in the fear and discipline of the Lord. If she is a wife, she is submissive to her husband and loving toward her children. If he is a child, he is obedient to his parents. These roles describe the Spirit-filled life in Ephesians 5:21-6:9.
In all of those roles, there is a war being waged in the mind of the person. Should they act according to their own desires, or according to God’s pattern for the world? Should they do what they want to do, or do what the Lord calls them to do?
While the battle may sway back and forth, at some point the combatant needs to take sides. This is Solomon’s appeal in Proverbs 3. He is pleading with his readers to choose a side—are they going to fall prey to the devil’s schemes and live like they want to live, or are they going to crush their own desires, and live in submission to the God’s word?
The context of Proverbs 3 bears this out. There is a contrast between the one who “forgets” biblical wisdom and the one who “keeps the commandments” (Proverbs 3:1). There is a difference between the person who “is wise in his own eyes” and the one who “turns away from evil” (Proverbs 3:7).
Solomon’s overarching point is that you can’t be both people.