Walking in the Wisdom of God
Topic: Topical Scripture: Proverbs 1:1–1:7
Wisdom, as related to human beings, may simply be defined as the life quality that enables one to make good choices in the complicated circumstances of life in order to walk a good path. For the follower of Jesus, wisdom is the art of godly living.
Every culture knows that there is a way to live that is rightly called foolishness. There really is a way to waste your life and fizzle your days away filled with folly. We are always seeking wisdom from others yet many times we go all over the place looking to figure out how life works.
Bookstores are jammed full with self-help books offering wisdom to the seeker. Movies and literature are filled with wise characters (Yoda and Gandalf the gray being some of my favorites). There is never a shortage of gurus being paraded out on the Oprah Winfrey show. Usually they are western dudes dabbling in eastern philosophy who write books and get paid.
Ironically, we are people who are surrounded by impressive knowledge but seem to be profoundly lacking in wisdom. Our culture seems to have a deficit of wisdom as we tend to float like empty ballasts upon a sea of nothingness. I offer MTV’s Jersey Shore as humble proof. Seriously, how many times can a chic fall in love and give everything she has to some idiot during the course of a summer?
We may know how to split the atom, make machines talk, decode the genome and scan the electrical activities of our brains but we remain unsure about how to make life work. In our search for meaning and happiness we simply lack the wisdom we truly need.
The Path Towards Wisdom
Proverbs 1:1–7 (ESV)
1 The proverbs of Solomon, son of David, king of Israel: 2 To know wisdom and instruction,to understand words of insight,3 to receive instruction in wise dealing,in righteousness, justice, and equity;4 to give prudence to the simple,knowledge and discretion to the youth— 5 Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance, 6 to understand a proverb and a saying,the words of the wise and their riddles.7 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge;fools despise wisdom and instruction.
Paradox of Wisdom
There is a bit of a paradox with wisdom. It is the thing we need most when we are young, but being young we do not have it. This confronts people, particularly younger folk, with some difficult choices. Will I learn from the wisdom God has given to others? Or will I remain an idiot? In our pride we can choose the latter, but if we are willing to humble ourselves, there are several ways that we can grow in wisdom.
Study and listening to God’s Word
God has revealed himself through his Word that we can study, read, listen, meditate upon and obey. Over time we gain the ability to discern good from evil (Hebrews 5:11-14) by the constant practice of the teaching of God. Learning and following over time results in becoming wise. Will we come to the Word for wisdom?
Heeding the words of the Wise
- Proverbs 11:14 Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.
- Proverbs 24:6 teaches us that in an abundance of counselors there is victory.
Of course, the counselors must actually be wise, but the point is that we can learn from others if we listen.
Proverbs begins by with these words: Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance, to understand a proverb and a saying, the words of the wise and their riddles.
Our parents, pastors and our community of faith have wise counsel for us...but we don’t always listen. My favorite is to combine the first two – to hear the words of the wise, in the Scriptures. This essay will roll into that discussion in a minute.
Learning the Hard Way
The final way we learn is the hard way. This is where we do foolish stuff and we reap the reality. We all have been here have we not? God is kind and will discipline us to help us walk in wisdom.
The Wisdom Literature of the Bible
On Genres in the Bible
There are many genres of literature (or kinds of writing) in the Holy Scriptures. There are histories, narratives, poems, law codes, songs, letters, writings about the end of history, parables, covenants and prophesies about events declaring God’s judgments and actions throughout history. There is also a unique body of writings properly called wisdom literature.
The Wisdom Writings
The canonical books of Job, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Proverbs, some of the Psalms, the writings of James and portions of the teachings of Jesus are rightly seen as writings offering wisdom for God’s people.
Outside of the book of Proverbs, many of these treasures can be greatly unknown to many in the church, yet they offer great counsel to the human race living in a world cursed due to sin and death. Job teaches us about life as suffering in relationship with God. Ecclesiastes offers a philosophical reflection on meaning, happiness and the transient nature of life. Song of Songs teaches us about life as covenantal love. These themes are profoundly important and speak loudly with alacrity millennia after these works were inspired and written down.
On Non Biblical Wisdom
In coming to the words of the wise and the writing of the sages, we must remember that there are various flavors of wisdom floating around. There is a worldly wisdom that exists in the people, philosophies and religions which flow around us. Many of these have much to say to us, but much of it stands in contradiction to the wisdom of God. On two occasions the book of Proverbs reminds us:
“There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death” (Proverbs 14:12 and 16:25).
Additionally, the New Testament writing of James is very clear for us here:
13Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. 14But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. 15This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. 17But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. 18And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. James 3:13-18 (ESV)
As wisdom is offered to us as we sojourn on the earth, we must be concerned to discern it through the teaching of the Scriptures. In the Bible we have a sure word that can keep us from crashing like a runaway train being led astray by all manner of human opinions.
The Book of Proverbs
A grouping of wise sayings, compiled over long periods of time, most by King Solomon (971–931 B.C.)
1 Kings 4:29-34 that Solomon was a person whom God gave wisdom and understanding and that he indeed collected a quite a few proverbial sayings during his life.
29 And God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding beyond measure, and breadth of mind like the sand on the seashore, 30 so that Solomon’s wisdom surpassed the wisdom of all the people of the east and all the wisdom of Egypt. 31 For he was wiser than all other men, wiser than Ethan the Ezrahite, and Heman, Calcol, and Darda, the sons of Mahol, and his fame was in all the surrounding nations. 32 He also spoke 3,000 proverbs, and his songs were 1,005. 33 He spoke of trees, from the cedar that is in Lebanon to the hyssop that grows out of the wall. He spoke also of beasts, and of birds, and of reptiles, and of fish. 34 And people of all nations came to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and from all the kings of the earth, who had heard of his wisdom.
This passage states that his wisdom library included some 3000 proverbs and over a thousand songs. 1000 songs in his pocket, Solomon he did manage to collect a plethora of wisdom in his life.
- Longer Preamble (1-9) – Encouraging, Exhorting, Begging us to Get Wisdom
- Proverbs of Solomon (10-25) - Test
- Proverbs attributed to Solomon in Hezekiah’s time - 715–686 B.C (25-29)
- Agur, Lemuel and One Hot Momma (30, 31, Noble Woman)
The book discusses and contrasts:
- Wise with the Foolish and Simple
- Righteous and the Wicked (which are broken down sometimes to talk about Scoffers, Wise in their own Eyes, Sluggard)
Why this, Why Now?
In the early days of Jacob’s Well we have a few reasons to jump into the Proverbs for a few weeks together:
- Young Church - we are a young church made of up young singles, young marrieds and families. I want us to learn to listen and head wisdom from the wise. One of the strengths of youth is zeal, optimism, hope and passion to make a difference in the world. One of the silly things about youth is that they young tend to be foolish and think they know it all when they don’t.
- Important Life Issues, there are particular issues we walk with in our culture which we need to hear and heed the wisdom of God. Sexuality, the use of language and alcohol are important in every age but certainly in our time and culture. Followers of Jesus area all over the place on these things.
Solid Foundations – must be maintained – or our lives can go tragically in a wrong direction.
Solomon’s Life à Wisdom/Blessing à FOOLISH à Fragmented...1 Kings 11:1–8 (ESV)
Tragically titled in our Bibles as “Solomon Turns from the Lord”
11 Now King Solomon loved many foreign women, along with the daughter of Pharaoh: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women, 2 from the nations concerning which the Lord had said to the people of Israel, “You shall not enter into marriage with them, neither shall they with you, for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods.” Solomon clung to these in love. 3 He had 700 wives, princesses, and 300 concubines. And his wives turned away his heart. 4 For when Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the Lord his God, as was the heart of David his father. 5 For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. 6 So Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and did not wholly follow the Lord, as David his father had done. 7 Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Molech the abomination of the Ammonites, on the mountain east of Jerusalem. 8 And so he did for all his foreign wives, who made offerings and sacrificed to their gods.
As a new church we need to have three things on these important issues: clarity, unity and charity (gracious love).
- Clarity: need to know what is and is not wonderful, truthful and good regarding these matters. The Word of God is our guide here not our preferences or manmade traditions. What is wicked?
- Unity: we need to agree that some of us will have various degrees of conscience regarding these matters. We will agree with the biblical clarity and unify there. We will not let preference or religious culture dictate to us our lives or separate us into fighting about stupid things.
- Charity: we need to give grace to one another as we grow regarding these issues. None of us is “made perfect” overnight and we do think that God loves sinners and is willing to change us over time. We will help one another forward in obedience to God in these issues, rebuke and correct sin and with patience allow one another time to grow.
So we are concerned for how God would have his people live in relationship to Lust, Language and Liquortown:
- Lust - some act as though the only places the omnipresent God never visits are where people have sex.
- Language – We all dishonor God greatly with what comes out of our mouths and some are very concerned if someone uses a word considered to be on some hidden forbidden list in heaven
- Liquortown – Furthermore, God is not ignorant of the fact that he created all things that bring about the process of fermentation.
There is a divine shout out going on in the world today where wisdom is crying out for us to hear. God in his kindness has given us literature like Proverbs to shake our deaf ears. Proverbs 1:20-23 reads so clearly:
20 Wisdom cries aloud in the street, in the markets she raises her voice; 21at the head of the noisy streets she cries out; at the entrance of the city gates she speaks: 22“How long, O a simple ones, will you love being simple? How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge? 23 If you turn at my reproof, behold, I will pour out my spirit to you; I will make my words known to you.
How much more longing we have for wisdom as God’s people who see and savor Jesus Christ as “the wisdom and power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18-25) What a tremendous privilege we have to follow Jesus within who are all the hidden treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Colossians 2:3)
In proverbs wisdom is personified as shouting aloud in the streets to us? Will we listen? Wisdom was incarnate in Jesus Christ and crucified by the wisdom of the world. We will do the same day after day? Derek Kidner, the late Old Testament scholar, commented simply on the urgency to gain wisdom: What it takes is not brains or opportunity, but a decision. Do you want it? Come and get it? Jesus was even simpler in his call to us all in relationship to wise living.
Come, follow me! Even concerning Lust, Language and Liquortown.
Quoted in Waltke and Yu, 908. Emphasis mine.