One Principle From Proverbs to Help You Serve God for a Lifetime

by Josh Parsons
| Time: 13 Minutes

“One who is full loathes honey, but to one who is hungry everything bitter is sweet.”
(Proverbs 27:7 ESV)

I have been in full-time pastoral ministry for almost ten years, but over the past three or four years I’ve been sharply reminded of the danger that comes with this calling.

Over the past handful of years, I have observed other Christians—both who are prominent and popular, and who are ordinary and virtually unknown—who have ruined their lives and their faith. Even some of my friends have destroyed their Christian influence as a result of being mastered by their sin.

I have watched from a distance the devastation of their actions, how sin has wreaked havoc in their churches, ministries, families, and in some cases, shipwrecked their own faith.

As I have watched these real-life stories play out, the question that’s been on my own mind is this: How do those stories not become our stories? Many of you are Christians. You love Jesus and want to honor him! And many of you are Christian leaders, too. Maybe you wouldn’t think of yourself in that way, but it’s true. You have been given sway and influence in your church, at home, at work, or in any other number of spheres in your life. And none of us wants to end up like those stories. None of us wants to see the name of God scorned or to destroy our Christian witness. None of us wants to find ourselves in the midst of a shattered life, and a ruptured relationship with Jesus.

But I don’t think most of those who do find themselves in those situations wanted to be there either. The stories of those who have ruined their lives and shipwrecked their faith are stories not of a sudden 180-degree turn, but of gradual compromise, occasional concessions, and subtle slides deeper into sin.

So, an important question for us to ask is: How do their stories not become our stories? In other words, what is it that’s going to help us resist the pull of sin, strive after holiness, and avoid the devastation that comes to those who fail to do so?

One Principle from Proverbs to Help You Serve God for a Lifetime

How can we as Christians, as people who follow Jesus, faithfully serve God for a lifetime? That is the question. And in turning that question over in my mind, I have been drawn to the book of Proverbs in the Bible. Proverbs is a collection of wisdom offered to those who want to live a life that’s pleasing to God.

Now whenever we read something in the book of Proverbs, we have to remember first, that the proverbs in Proverbs are proverbs; they’re not promises. In other words, they describe the normal pattern of life that prevails in the world. But we have to also remember that these proverbs ultimately point us to Jesus, the One who is himself, as 1 Corinthians 1:24 tells us, “The wisdom of God” (ESV).

There is real help for Christians in the book of Proverbs, for those whose aim it is to faithfully serve God for a lifetime.

Look with me at this one verse from Proverbs.

“One who is full loathes honey, but to one who is hungry everything bitter is sweet.” (Proverbs 27:7 ESV)

This verse is describing two different kinds of people: the person who, on the one hand, rejects what is enticing to his appetite because he is already full. It also describes a person who, on the other hand, gobbles up whatever is put in front of him because he is super hungry.

So what do we make of that?

The Bible is using a biological truism to illustrate a spiritual principle. Proverbs 27:7 is telling us that what is true about your body is also true about your soul. Here is what this verse is saying, “You will eat if you are hungry, but you won’t if you are full.” That’s the principle. The same principle applies to our spiritual consumption. When it comes to the allure of evil, the appeal of the flesh, the pull of temptation, and the sweetness of sin, you’ll eat if you’re hungry, but you won’t if you’re full.

Let’s unpack those two phrases to see what they mean for us today.

1. You’ll Eat If You’re Hungry

You will eat if you are hungry—that’s what the writer is saying at the end of verse 7:

“…but to one who is hungry everything bitter is sweet.” (Proverbs 27:7 ESV)

Imagine this scenario. You’ve had an extra busy day at home or at work. For every task you’ve completed, two others have taken their place. It’s been so crazy that you were only able to have coffee for breakfast, you skipped eating lunch, and now it’s past dinner time. You take a quick peek in your cupboards, fridge, and freezer and as your stomach growls, you think, “What is the fastest thing to make?”

Whenever I’m in that situation, I don’t care about what’s going to nourish my body. When I’m running on an empty stomach, I tend to grab the food that’s closest, easiest, sweetest, and, let’s be honest, the least nutritional.

What I know isn’t good for me becomes most appealing to me. Why? Because I’m hungry, and my hunger overrides my wisdom. My appetite trumps what’s good. And friends, what Proverbs 27 is telling us is that what is true for the body is also true for the soul. Deprive yourself of the life-giving nutrients of God’s Word, God’s people, God’s work, and God’s company, and you’ll find it very easy to swallow down whole whatever is put in front of you.

If you starve yourself of what your soul needs, you will find even the stuff that is worst for it more and more appealing. The bitterness of sin will begin to look more and more delicious and sweet to you. You know it’s wrong, but it’s something. You know it won’t satisfy, but it’s something. You know it will ultimately bring consequences, but it’s something.

Just like the famished man who will devour whatever is put in front of him without thinking, the empty soul will wolf down whatever it can get. What is bitter will look sweet. Hunger will override wisdom and you will be more apt to bite into whatever is offered to you.

“To the one who is hungry,” Proverbs 27:7 says, “everything bitter is sweet” (ESV). That’s the first part of the principle we find here in Proverbs. What you ought to know about yourself if you’re going to remain faithful to Jesus for a lifetime is, you’ll eat if you’re hungry.

Let’s take a look at the second part of the Proverb.

2. You Won’t Eat If You’re Full

“One who is full loathes honey…” (Proverbs 27:7 ESV)

The second phrase of this proverb says you won’t eat if you’re full.

I’ll share with you an illustration to help you understand what I think the writer is saying.[1] Imagine with me a scenario. You’ve just finished a meal at your favorite sit-down restaurant. You’ve had some buttered rolls, an appetizer or two, and you’ve eaten your entire entrée. You’re leaning back in your chair, talking with whomever you’re with, full and satisfied, when your waiter comes and plops a smaller menu on your table. What does he ask you? “Do you have room for dessert?”

Almost every time I’m asked this, I put my hand on my stomach and say, “I don’t think I can fit anything else in here!” There at the table, I’m able to resist the allure of dessert, of what looks and sounds good. Why? Because I’ve already filled up on something else.

And again, what Proverbs 27:7 tells us is that what’s true for the body is also true for the soul. Load yourself up with Christ—feast on his Word, dine on his worship, devour his work, chew on his character, prioritize church, and you’ll find in increasing measure your ability to say “No” to that which you know will ruin you. There just isn’t any room left!

Friends, you and I cannot hope to withstand the allure of sin if we have deprived our souls of the filling and substantive food of Jesus. Just as the famished man will eat whatever is put before him, so the full man will have greater strength to reject that which is enticing to him.

Remember what is true for your body is true for your soul. You will eat if you are hungry, but you won’t if you are full. This is the principle of Proverbs 27:7.

Three Practical Ways to Faithfully Serve God for a Lifetime

So let me loop back to the question we asked earlier. How can we as Christians, as people who follow Jesus, faithfully serve God for a lifetime? How can we grow in our ability to resist the pull of sin, strive after holiness, and avoid the devastation of a ruined life and shipwrecked faith?

If we believe what Proverbs 27:7 is saying, then our application is clear. We have to fill up on what’s good to help resist what’s not so that we can honor God in our work, be a faithful friend, be effective in ministry, live a life that honors and pleases God, and to continue following after Jesus and fighting against our sin.

What is the “good” on which we’re supposed to fill up? Our charge, friends, is to fill up on Jesus. To take in the One who calls himself the bread of life and the fountain of living water.

“Whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” (John 6:35 ESV)

“If anyone thirsts let him come to me and drink.” (John 7:37 ESV)

Filling your soul with Jesus is how you’re going to faithfully follow him for the whole of your life.

Let me offer to you three practical ways to do this.

1. Fill Your Mind with Scripture

“I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” (Psalm 119:11 ESV)

Of course, what this verse isn’t saying is that if you read your Bible, you’ll never give in to temptation. But what it is saying is that there is a strong correlation between your reading and meditating and memorizing and applying and filling your heart, soul, and mind with Scripture and your ability to say “no” to sin.

The psalmist “store[s] up” God’s Word (or to use the language of Proverbs 27:7, fills himself with it) in order to help him resist temptation and live with integrity; to help him keep from sinning against God.

Friends: you can’t walk with God without the Word of God.

“Man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” (Deuteronomy 8:3 ESV)

If you want to faithfully serve him for a lifetime, you need to fill your mind and heart with the Scriptures. Pour the truth of the Bible into your mind fresh every morning. Run it through your headphones during your commute. Engage with it while you’re at church on Sunday. Memorize verses while you exercise. Talk about the Bible with family and friends. Read about it in good books.

For as you make that your habit, it will be harder for sin to find a foothold (Ephesians 4:27). The more you are filled with God’s Word, the less hungry you will be for sin. Fill up on Jesus by feasting on his Word. That’s the first practical application.

2. Fill Your Speech with Prayer

Prayer does a lot of things to us, but one thing I’ve noticed it does to me is remind me that God is real. Because I can’t physically sit down for lunch with him, if I go too long without talking to God, I begin to forget about him. When I forget about him, I find it easier to sin against him. Without pulling close in regular communion to him in prayer, God himself starts to feel to be more distant from me, his commands become less clear and feel more optional. But prayer helps snap me back to reality. As I talk to him, I’m reminded about him—that he is real! He is the God who has spoken in his Word, who has given me work to do, who has furnished me with strength, entrusted me with the gospel, and who sent his Son to die for me. He is my God whom I can grieve or please, with whom I have a real relationship and a real future (Ephesians 4:30; Ephesians 5:10).

Praying to my real God in heaven—asking him for help, forgiveness, strength, and joy—helps me fight against the real pushes and pulls of my sin. And it will for you, too. Fill up on Jesus by communing with God in prayer.

3. Fill Your Heart with Worship

There are all kinds of ways to worship God, but the one he has specifically ordained in this age of human history is through the regular gathering of the church. Friends, for the sake of your Christian life, don’t skip church. Don’t miss singing truths about Jesus, reading truths about Jesus, hearing truths about Jesus, and praying true things about Jesus.

God will use your time and engagement in worship to convict you of your sin, strengthen you for your fight against temptation, encourage you in the war already won, and hearten you for the certain future that’s coming. He’ll use church—and all of the blessings that regular fellowship with his people brings—to help you push back against sin and persevere in the Christian life.

Let Jesus Fill Your Soul

How is it that we, Christian, can faithfully serve and follow Jesus for a lifetime? Proverbs 27:7 tells you: The fuller you are, the less hungry you’ll be. So, fill up on what’s good to turn down what’s not. Fill up on Jesus to resist your sin.

Isn’t it the best when you find a food that you love and that’s good for you? A food that’s pleasant to the taste and strengthening to your body? It’s the best because you can eat lots of it totally guilt-free! That’s what Jesus is like for our souls. Indulge in him. Abandon every thought of portion control with him. You cannot take in too much of his gospel, too much of his Word, too much of his character, too much of his work, or too much of his glory.

You and I have endlessly hungry souls. You’ll eat if you’re hungry, but you won’t if you’re full. So, fill up on what’s good to help you resist what’s not. To faithfully serve Christ for a lifetime, satisfy your hungry soul on him.

. . .


[1] Where I’m taking this positively, some commentators take this negatively, too. They see “full” as bad and “honey” as good and enlivening.

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