The Christian Walk Lesson 8: Walk in the Old Paths/the Way of Good Men

The Christian Walk Lesson 8: Walk in the Old Paths/the Way of Good Men 

  1. Texts:  Ps 119:63; Prov 2:20, 13:20, 22:28; 1 Kings 8:36; Jer. 6:16, 18:15; 1 Cor 11:1; Phil 3:17, 4:9; 2 Thes 2:15, 3:6; Heb 6:12
  2. Principles
    1. Walk in the “old paths” and respect valuable historical traditions.
      1. Our culture values what is new, “improved,” and modern, while at the same time paying little attention to the “old paths” of the previous generations. So-called “progress” demands that we constantly question the former, conventional ways and pursue new ways of doing things. God’s advice to us through the writers of the Bible is that we “ask for the old paths” and the “good way” that previous generations have discovered. The fact that something is old does not necessarily mean that it is obsolete. We must avoid any custom or pattern that departs from the good and right path no matter whether it’s new or old.
      2. We must admit that in the history of Israel, good people walking the right path were rare. More often than not, flawed, inconsistent, and downright wicked people followed a bad “path” and set a poor example. Nevertheless, at various stages in the history of the nation, godly people followed the right path and left a good example (e.g., Joseph, Moses, Joshua, Gideon, Ruth, Samuel). They walked in the “good way” and established the “ancient paths” of faithfulness and obedience to God’s commands. Yet the succeeding generations stubbornly refused to “walk therein” (cf. Judges 2:7-13). They stumbled along a path “not built up” (Jer 18:15), i.e., without direction or destination. The result of God’s people forsaking the old, good ways was always discipline—God delivered them into the hands of their enemies (cf. Jud 2:14; Jer 6:21-23). We should expect the same results whenever we depart from the good ways established by former generations.
      3. Proverbs admonishes us not to remove the “ancient landmark” set up by the “fathers” (Prov 22:28).

a)                  In the literal sense, the ancient landmark was a stone marker establishing the border of one’s land. Removing landmarks would be a way of encroaching upon someone else’s property, a form of theft that God prohibited (Deut 19:14).

b)                  In the figurative sense, a landmark is a tradition or custom held by a person or group. Although the Bible does not use the word figuratively, we might still affirm the idea that the “ancient landmarks” have value and should be respected (within reason). Although some traditions/customs deserve to be put to rest, others warrant continuing recognition.

  1. The word “tradition” as used in the NT means, “that which is handed over or delivered.”

a)                  “Tradition” often carries negative overtones in the NT (e.g., Mk 7:8-9, 13; Col 2:8). Human traditions often run contrary to God’s commands. Holding human traditions may make the word of God “of none effect” (Mk 7:13). Jesus criticized the scribes and Pharisees for neglecting divine commands and substituting their own man-made traditions. Human traditions and philosophies are dangerous in that they may “capture” (KJV “spoil”) unwary believers. Thus, the wise believer remains skeptical regarding man-made religious traditions.

A common criticism of churches is that they tend to retain long-standing tradition well past the time of their effectiveness. The oft-heard expressions, “We haven’t done it that way before,” or “We always do it this way” may reflect the fact that a church has not evaluated the merits of its traditions. Churches should value and continue those traditions that serve their purposes, but be willing to discard traditions or modify them when necessary. Being tradition-bound is not a good thing (unless the tradition is biblical).

Note: The Roman Catholic Church (RCC) has historically held that church tradition is as authoritative as the Bible. They have been guilty of adding various traditions to their form of Christianity to the extent that the RCC is no longer a legitimate expression of the faith. We must beware of exalting unbiblical tradition to a point where it becomes authoritative.

b)                  However, “tradition” is used in a positive sense in the NT as well (cf. 2 Thes 2:15, 3:6). Paul exhorts us to “hold the traditions” which the apostles taught and to withdraw from professing believers who “walk disorderly,” i.e., disregarding those traditions. “Tradition” in this sense amounts to “the faith,” i.e., authoritative apostolic teaching (cf. Acts 2:42). Any tradition that squares with biblical teaching is legitimate and should be respected. Any failure to walk consistently with apostolic teaching amounts to disorderly living.

c)                  A few other thoughts regarding traditions

(1)               Young people often fail to appreciate family or cultural traditions, but as we get older, we tend to attach sentimental value to the “old ways.” We fondly recall how the previous generation did things and look with skepticism on some of the newer ways. Of course, the “new” ways eventually become well-established traditions that succeeding generations in turn look upon skeptically.

(2)               Families should maintain historical connections with the previous generations. Respect for one’s elders ought to be strongly engrained in the new generations as they arise. Long-standing family and cultural traditions give a sense of stability and of belonging, and are thus valuable.

(3)               Families should establish their own set of traditions, especially those associated with worship and the Christian life. E.g., family devotions.

(4)               A church must evaluate its traditions to see if they are helping or hindering the work of the ministry. Traditional ways of doing things may in fact be the most effective, productive, and sensible; but not necessarily. A church need not continue a practice simply because it’s “traditional.” On the other hand, a church need not retire a practice merely because it’s “traditional.” Traditions are valuable to the degree that they aid a church in accomplishing its goals.

  1. Walk in the way of good men, i.e., follow their example; emulate their pattern of life.
    1. One of the values of OT stories is that they provide examples for us to learn from (Rom 15:4; 1 Cor 10:11). We can follow the examples of those who obediently followed the Lord (e.g., Joseph, Daniel, Ruth), and we can avoid the pitfalls and problems resulting from disobedience (e.g., Samson, David). Children in particular learn valuable lessons from the lives of OT saints and sinners.
    2. The Bible presents very few individuals who are not beset with common human weaknesses, failures, and faults. Almost all of the main characters in the Bible disappoint us in various ways, yet God chose to use them, warts and all. “Good” people are not necessarily perfect people.
    3. How do we walk in the way of good men? We walk with those who are wise (Prov 13:20) and with those who fear God (Ps 119:63). We keep to the paths of the righteous (Prov 2:20). This entails observing how people are living, evaluating whether their walk is good and righteous, and following the example of those whose walk is upright.

Note: Even the most scrupulous Christian occasionally fails to be a consistently good example. This is why our ultimate allegiance is to Christ, not to human leaders or examples (cf. Heb 12:2).

  1. Biblical models to follow

a)                  Spiritual leaders

Paul repeatedly urges his readers to follow his example and that of others that “walk” in the same manner (1 Cor 11:1; Phil 3:17, 4:9). Paul urged Timothy to set a good example in every aspect of life—”in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity” (1 Tim 4:12). The author of Hebrews exhorts believers to imitate “those who through faith and patience inherit the promises” (Heb 6:12) and to follow the faith of their teachers (Heb 13:7). Every pastor and teacher should recognize his responsibility to set a good example for others. Example often communicates more effectively than speech. Every believer ought to be looking for good examples to follow. Set a good example and follow good examples.

b)                  The virtuous woman of Proverbs 31 is an ideal that the writer holds up as a model to which every godly woman should aspire.

c)                  Wisdom personified (Prov 1:20, 8:14, 9:1)

d)                 Animals

(1)               “Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise” (Prov 6:6). Characteristic to emulate: wise foresight in planning for the future.

(2)               Conies (Syrian hyrax, “cliff badger,” a rabbit-sized animal) (Prov 30:26). Characteristic to emulate: living successfully in inhospitable places; making a living on little (?)

(3)               Locust (Prov 30:27). Characteristic to emulate: cooperation, initiative

(4)               Lizard/Gecko (Prov 30:28 “spider” KJV). Characteristic to emulate: skill, initiative/industry (?)

  1. Models to avoid (“he that doth keep his soul shall be far from them” Prov 22:5)

a)                  The simple: the Heb. word literally means “open.” In a positive sense, one might be “open-minded.” But more often, the sense is that of open to influence, i.e., easily influenced, morally weak. Cf. Prov 14:15, 18, 22:3.

b)                  The fool: the Bible describes many varieties of fools. Foolishness implies wickedness, immorality, corruption, and/or stupidity. Cf. Prov 17:21, 18:7, 23:9.

c)                  The “froward” (KJV): the word means “evil, perverse, crooked.” Cf. Prov 2:15, 3:32

d)                 The strange woman: the word means “foreign, alien” and often describes a prostitute or loose woman. Cf. Prov 2:6, 5:20.


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