The Humble Do Not Fear Falling
“The righteous falls seven times and rises again…” (Proverbs 24:16a)
“The steps of a man are established by the LORD, when he delights in his way; though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong, for the LORD upholds his hand…The LORD upholds all who are falling and raises up all who are bowed down.” (Psalms 37:23-24; 145:14)
It is logical that the lower we are when we fall, the less the physical damage and embarrassment. Babies who are learning to walk also learn that falling on a gentle surface is not something to be feared, but part of the process of learning to walk. Christians learn that falling to temptations and sins is part of the process of sanctification. But the lower or more humble we are when we fall, the lighter the damage to ourselves, others, and our relationships with God. We do sin and will continue because we are all sinners in this life. “Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins.” (Ecclesiastes 7:20) We take comfort in God’s promise to hold onto us, in Christ, as a child is relieved when her father reaches out to help her stand up, or picks her up in his arms.
True Christians are those who have been chosen by God to receive faith in Jesus Christ—the Holy Spirit regenerates their hearts and souls. Once our triune God completes this transaction, it can never be reversed or lost. “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one can snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” (John 10:27-30) When we have this assurance of our eternal salvation, our temporary falls into sin don’t threaten our relationship eternally with Christ. We are humble when we realize that we might give in to temptation at any time, so we are often in a kneeling position (in our hearts), ready to confess and accept our natural consequences. Our loving, forgiving Father receives our confession, strengthens us for repentance and our punishment is there is any. However, sometimes instead of being punished, our heavenly Father reaches way down to lift us up in exaltation, beyond anything we deserve. The picture is from Luke 15, when the compassionate Father runs to meet his prodigal son, embraces the boy who took his inheritance prematurely but has confessed his sin of dishonoring his father. He brings his son a rob, a ring, and shoes before arranging a celebration for his return. The son experienced the covenant assurance of true faith in Christ and had nothing to fear in returning home. God has preserved his faith and his life, as he does for all believers.
The writer of Proverbs 24 knew God’s covenant love that would come to his aid at least seven times. David wrote Psalm 145 as a praise song, and in the middles speaks of God’s kingdom and faithfulness (vs. 11-13). Then David makes a remarkable statement in the present perfect tense in verse 14: he “upholds all who are falling and raises up all who are bowed down.” God is actively watching for who is in the midst of falling to hold them before they hit bottom, is the picture I get from these verses, like a fireman catching someone falling out of a burning building. He is lifting up those who are bowed down, perhaps like the report of the prostitute who was threatened with stoning by the Jews in John 8. I wonder if her head was down in shame as she cringed on the ground, waiting for the first rock, which she deserved under Jewish law. But Jesus lifted her up when he reminded the Jews that they were not without sin themselves. God does this for us—he knows we will sin but is ready to lift us up if we are low in our estimation of ourselves, being realistic about our sin. This is humility.
To what sin or temptation do you fear falling? Do these verses strengthen you, to confess and seek God’s help with humility? How about Isaiah 41:10? “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”