"The Beginning of Wisdom"

 

 

Proverbs 1:1-7; 3:1-8  
 

Having just finished a study of the Book of Psalms I have decided to continue and look at three books that dont get that much attention in our preaching and teaching, but shouldProverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Solomon. Along with Psalms and Job, these books are considered the Poetic Books of the Old Testament. We wont be doing a verse-by-verse, exhaustive study. Instead, we will be hitting some of the highlights and picking out some of the major themes. Well spend two weeks in Proverbs and one week each in Ecclesiastes and the Song of Solomon.

Today we will begin with the book of Proverbs. Proverbs belongs to a genre of biblical writing known as wisdom literature. Wisdom literature is concerned with how a person lives wisely, makes wise decisions, thinks wisely and responds wisely in the world.   It is not a list of rules for how to have a successful life. It is guide for becoming a wise person. Wise people are not free from trouble and sorrow and pain. We know this because of the examples we have in the Bible. Job was a wise man who lived according to Gods instruction and he spent a good deal of his life in a pile of ashes bemoaning his existence and cursing the day he was born. Joseph lived wisely and uprightly in Pharaohs house and he still ended up in jail. And of course, Jesus Himself who was the personification of wisdom, Wisdom in flesh, was whipped and cursed and spit on and nailed to a cross. Being wise doesnt guarantee that you will have an easy life. Being wise is the path to a life of joy and if you know anything about joy, you know that joy grows best in the soil of suffering. Dont ask me why.

It is really important that we approach the book of Proverbs through the lens of grace. None of us are batting 100% when it comes to being wise and none of us have made perfect decisions throughout our life. And thats okay. This book is for imperfect, unwise people to become wiser and a little more like Jesus. If we strike off on our own to get wise apart from Jesus, the Embodiment of wisdom, we are going to become arrogant and foolish. So, this is not antithetical to the gospel. This book is not a formula for earning salvation or becoming a holy person. Instead, this a guideline for people who have already been saved by grace through faith. So dont think of this as separate from the gospel of Jesus Christ. Think of this as a significant part of it. Because God loves us, He gave us the book of Proverbs so that we would grow in wisdom. He saves us so that He can make us like His Son and this book will help us to be a little bit more like Jesus.

It may go without saying that we all need wisdom. Every day, we have about a billion little decisions to make and sometimes we dont even have time to think about it. That is certainly how it is in our home. Each day presents new challenges. Moods fluctuate. Health comes and goes. Sometimes the sun is shining. Some days the sun is hiding. The book of Proverbs doesnt give us the answer key for every situation. It will not tell you what to eat for dinner tonight or what job to take or what car to buy or to open a Roth IRA or a traditional IRA. But Proverbs will help you to train your brain to respond rightly in the face of all of the options that life throws up. It is not a playbook for life. It is more like a personal trainer. And if you and I are trained well by this book, we will learn to make wise decisions.

I wish I could say that wisdom came naturally for me but it doesnt. I am naturally impulsive and feelings driven and so as I teach the book of Proverbs I am actually just a student disguised as a teacher. I need wisdom as much or even more as the next guy (or girl.)

So lets get into some of the facts here about this book. First of all, when was the book written? This book was written about 900 BC or nearly 3,000 years ago. Now at this point, it may be a temptation to check out. Every generation has the tendency to see the past as archaic and obsolete and irrelevant and boring. But I want to challenge that thought for a minute. Every generation that has ever lived up this point has believed that they are the essence of smart and enlightened. They are the essence of cool and hip and trendy. And every other generation in the past was underdeveloped and uncool. The problem with that thinking is that in 200 years, we will be that past generation that is seen by many as un-cool and clueless and underdeveloped. So its a vicious cycle. The book of Proverbs is timeless truth. It reaches into every generation with the same powerful message. It is in fact the trendiest and most hip and most modern thing on the planet because it transcends time. It was given to us from the eternal God who exists outside of time completely. And in His wisdom, He gave us His timeless Word to speak to each generation.

So, who wrote the book of Proverbs? The primary author of the Book of Proverbs is Solomon. I say primary author because the book itself names others as authors as well, Lemuel and Agur to name two. But its main author is King Solomon, the son of King David.   We know this from verse 1 which says, The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel. This fact alone teaches us something about wisdom. Wisdom is not simply knowing the right or wise thing in your head. Wisdom is knowing the right thing to do and then doing it. It doesnt just stop in the cerebrum. It moves into the tongue and the fingers and the toes and the eyes. Being wise is a full body experience.

Solomon

Solomon had a very promising start. Here is a description of Solomon from I Kings 4:29-34:

29 God gave Solomon wisdom and very great insight, and a breadth of understanding as measureless as the sand on the seashore. 30 Solomons wisdom was greater than the wisdom of all the people of the East, and greater than all the wisdom of Egypt. 31 He was wiser than anyone else. . . . And his fame spread to all the surrounding nations. 32 He spoke three thousand proverbs and his songs numbered a thousand and five. 33 He spoke about plant life, from the cedar of Lebanon to the hyssop that grows out of walls. He also spoke about animals and birds, reptiles and fish. 34 From all nations people came to listen to Solomons wisdom, sent by all the kings of the world, who had heard of his wisdom.  

So this was Solomons identity. He was literally a wise guy in a good way. People sought him out from all over the world just to hear him talk about everything from the smallest and biggest things in universe.

But for all Solomons wisdom, he abandoned one very small but important piece: humility. 1 Kings 11:1-4 gives a description of Solomons downfall:

King Solomon, however, loved many foreign women besides Pharaohs daughterMoabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians and Hittites. They were from nations about which the Lord had told the Israelites, You must not intermarry with them, because they will surely turn your hearts after their gods. Nevertheless, Solomon held fast to them in love. He had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines, and his wives led him astray. As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father had been.

So Solomons wisdom led him to self-confidence that led to self-destruction. He failed to listen to his own sermons. He didnt do what Proverbs 3:7 says, Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and shun evil. And 3:5, Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.   So humility is the engine that drives the pursuit of wisdom. Humility states that there is some higher authority than me. There is a greater mind than mine. There is a higher being than me.   You will never find a wise person who is not also a humble person because wisdom is impossible to attain without first being humble. And Solomon was not humble. Solomon leaned on his own understanding.

This is a good check for us as we move down path toward wisdom. The destination of wisdom is simple. Here it is. The goal of wisdom is that we trust in the Lord and lean not on our own understanding. That is when we know that we are wise. That is the definition of a wise person: Someone who wakes up in the morning trusting in Jesus. Wisdom is ultimately a Person we trust not a rulebook we live by. As one bible scholar says, Understanding Proverbs is not just a matter of memorization or simple academic exercise; they must flow from a character formed by wisdom.

Let me point out a few features of Proverbs. The book is not neatly laid out like some books of the Bible. It is not a story or an argument or one long poem. It is a series of thoughts that occasionally fit well together and at other times dont seem to fit that well together. Some Bible scholars have tried really hard to put the book together into a neat clear outline but I think this misses the point. I think the Proverbs are laid out in a seeming random way to make a point. Life is not a neat system in which we live. Life is not cleanly laid out for us. Life is messy. Life is unpredictable. Life is more like walking through a jungle than a prairie. And Proverbs speaks into the messiness of our lives with the wisdom we need in every situation.

During the course of just one day, I need wisdom for a lot different things. As I am writing a sermon, I need wisdom on what to say and how to say it. When I am driving in my car I need wisdom as to how to remain calm when somebody cuts me off. When Im in the store I need wisdom on how to control my spending. We need a kind of wisdom that is dynamic and flexible instead of rigid and stiff. So dont think of wisdom as concrete. Think of it as liquid. Think of wisdom as veins that run through our bodies from head to toe and keep us limber and alert and ready for anything.

Another feature of Proverbs is its generality. If you treat Proverbs like a math equation, you will get very frustrated. Proverbs is concerned with observing that which is generally true but not always true. For example: 10:4 says, Lazy hands make for poverty, but diligent hands bring wealth. This is usually true in most cases. If you dont get out of bed, you wont make any money. And if you work hard, there is a good chance you will make some money. But this isnt true in the case of the son of a billionaire whose dad dumps in huge amounts of money into his checking account every month. That boy is rich even though he has never worked a day in his life. On the other end of that, some people work hard all their lives and have very little to show for it. This includes many people in the third-world. They work very hard just to survive, and few of them ever get rich.

If you treat life like a formula youre going to be bent out of shape every other minute. Budgets arent bad. Health insurance isnt bad. Eating right isnt bad. But dont put confidence in your little formula for a good life because its a pipe dream.

A very popular verse that I think is often misapplied is Proverbs 22:6. We all know it best in the King James Version: Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it. That is generally true, but it is not always true.

The problem arises when this verse is treated as a fool-proof way to raise good kids, as if good parenting will save our kids instead of Jesus: our works instead of grace. The truth is kids can be trained in the right way and still not follow what they were taught. And kids can grow up in a home devoid of God and later on become believers. So this is not a formula for salvation. It is a statement that is generally true. Kids usually grow up to be a lot like their parents. But parents are not responsible for saving their children. Only Jesus can do that.

Proverbs also has a lot to say about the matter of timing.   We have all been assaulted by some well-intentioned person who quotes a Bible verse at exactly the wrong time. You stub your toe and someone says, Consider it joy brother. Or youre expressing some personal struggle with sin and someone says, Well you just have be holy as God is Holy, brother.   Weve all been the victim of clumsy Christians who use the Bible like a 24.   And weve all been those clumsy Christians who dont know how to handle something as big and powerful as the Sword of the Spirit. Thankfully, the Proverbs really help us out here. They teach us not only what to say but when to say it. Probably one of the most popular ones is Proverbs 26:4-5 Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you yourself will be just like him. Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes. This isnt a contradiction. Instead this Proverb makes the point that there is a time to let someone rant and rave and there is a time to tell that person to stop talking before he makes a bigger fool of Himself.

Here are a few more examples of timing. Chapter 15:23 says, A person finds joy in giving an apt replyand how good is a timely word! And 27:14 says, If anyone loudly blesses their neighbor early in the morning, it will be taken as a curse. In other words, dont show up at my door at 4 in the morning wishing me a bright and happy day. That would be a good word said at a bad time. And chapter 25:11-12 Like apples of gold in settings of silver is a ruling rightly given. Like an earring of gold or an ornament of fine gold is the rebuke of a wise judge to a listening ear. So timing is everythingeven a rebuke, given at the right time can be a blessing. You can memorize this entire book and do great damage with it and annoy your audience to no end. Or you can learn to use your words to benefit those who listen. Wisdom uses words to benefit other people, not to prop yourself up.

So we all need wisdom here. Sometimes the last thing people need is to hear any words at all. This was the case for Job. He lost his family. He lost his property. He lost his reputation. He lost his status and influence. And shortly after that, he was visited by 3 friends who were self-appointed prophets sent from God to tell Job what He had done wrong. And with each word they said, Job felt worse and worse. There are some things that words and medicine cannot fix. There is a time to say, All things work together for good. And there is a time to say, This is really, really hard and I am grieving with you.

This is what we see with the life of Jesus. Jesus did not simply speak into our suffering with a positive message of hope. He embraced suffering and mourned with us. He sat in the ash heap with us. Even further, he stopped us on the way to our own death and said, You wait here. I will experience this torment for you. And silently, He went to the cross. So wisdom teaches us to bless people with our words and with our silence. The point is not to impress people with our wisdom. The point is to love people. Wisdom without love is self-exalting and meaningless.

This leads us to the beginning of wisdom: the fear of the Lord. Chapter 1 verse 7 says, The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge. This is not the shaking in your boots type fear. This is the conscious awareness that God is in control and a willingness to trust in Him. That is biblical fear. The truth is we all fear something. We all believe that something or someone is in control and we put our trust in that thing. This can be a billion different things. We fear the future so we trust in our financial shrewdness. We fear our kids not turning out right so we stress out about every little decision we make from what to eat to what color shoes to wear.   We fear loneliness so we pack our lives with social media and cable news channels and sports on demand.   We fear what people think of us so we monitor what we say and do based on how people will respond. We fear missing out on the deals at Walmart so we rush there to find something we dont need. We all have little current or rivers of fear that we follow every day starting in our minds.

We all fear something and what we fear determines how we live. So this verse sets the arrow of our life toward the fear of God. It grounds us in God. If you trust in God, if you believe in Him and worship Him and follow Him, you will live wisely. If you trust in, believe in and follow something else, you will live foolishly.

Every day brings a billion things to fear and a billion more reasons to trust God. Every day is an opportunity for all of us to set our dials to God, to put our trust in Him. Resolve to fear, honor and trust in God, to trust in the Lord and lean not on your own understanding, to acknowledge Him in all your ways. And He will direct our paths. Lets pray.