Sermon Podcast Audio
Do you like Chinese food? I didn’t grow up eating Chinese food, but quickly found a passion for it in college. Jade China, right down the road from the college served these massive portions for about $3.50. . .a college student’s dream. What I quickly learned in college is that the food in the container was the tasty stuff, but it was the fortune cookie where the real fun was to be had.
We rarely ate Chinese alone and when we’d get done, we would all pull out our fortune cookies to see what sage advice for our lives awaited us. Of course, being college students, we didn’t just open them and read them. We would crack the cookie in half, shove one half in each side of our mouths and then read the fortune. We would also add some words to the end of the fortune, which I won’t share with you because it may or may not have been entirely appropriate and it certainly isn’t appropriate for a pastor to mention in a sermon.
We would read the fortune, mouth stuffed with cookie and all, and we would just laugh and laugh. How many of you still enjoy opening that fortune cookie just to see what it is going to tell you.
I doubt most of us look to the fortune cookie with much seriousness, but the fortune cookie points out something about us: we love mottos, slogans, and pithy sayings. And we look for those that we can live by, those that encourage us when we are struggling or disappointed, or are dealing with difficulty.
In those difficult moments, we pull out sayings like:
“In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.” —Albert Einstein
“Whether you think you can, or think you can’t, you’re probably right.” —Henry Ford
“It ain’t over till it’s over.” —Yogi Berra
We are all looking for answers. And we’d prefer them in 120 characters or less. We want words to live by. We want sayings to motivate us, to encourage us, and to help us find success in life.
Today we are kicking off a new series of messages where each week, we will look at the book of the Bible many people treat like a fortune cookie or a place to go when they just want a little advice. So, Summer School is officially in session! Each week we will be looking to find lessons in life from the book of Proverbs.
Background on Proverbs
Before we jump into today’s lesson, let’s set the stage a little bit with the background of the book we will be looking at over the next several weeks. Proverbs is a book in the Old Testament. It is classified as “wisdom literature” because in it we find instructions for successful living, or the as one commentary put it, “the perplexities of human existence are contemplated.”
There are only three books in the Old Testament that fit this classification: Job, Ecclesiastes, and Proverbs. Believe it or not, Proverbs isn’t the only book written like this in this time. In fact, there had been collections of wise sayings around for about a thousand years before Proverbs. It was common then, just as it is today, to want to prepare young people for life and this is one way they would do it.
Proverbs is divided into two major sections. The first section that includes chapters one through nine is lectures from a dad to his son. The rest of the book are what we are most familiar with, the wise sayings in one or two sentences.
Often we think of the author of Proverbs as Solomon. Part of Proverbs is attributed to him, but throughout the book we find writings of Solomon, those identified as “the Wise,” advisers to King Hezekiah, a guy named Agur, and a king named Lemuel.
This collection of wise sayings was put together not just for the son mentioned in the early chapters. It has a much broader audience. It is for everyone. It is very practical. And to truly understand the purpose of the book, we get to todays lesson: Wisdom.
The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel:
for attaining wisdom and discipline;
for understanding words of insight;
for acquiring a disciplined and prudent life,
doing what is right and just and fair;
for giving prudence to the simple,
knowledge and discretion to the young–
let the wise listen and add to their learning,
and let the discerning get guidance;
for understanding proverbs and parables,
the saying and riddles of the wise.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of
but fools despise wisdom and discipline. —Proverbs 1: 1-7
These first seven verses lay out for us the theme of the entire book…wisdom. In fact, this one word is used over and over in the proverbs. This is the foundation for everything else that we are going to be speaking about in the coming weeks. If we miss wisdom, we miss everything else.
So, what is wisdom? It is common to think that wisdom is the same as knowledge. And while there may be some overlap, wisdom goes deeper than just knowing things or about things. In fact, you can have knowledge without wisdom, but you cannot have wisdom without knowledge.
You can be incredibly book smart, be the greatest champion that Jeopardy has ever seen, but still be a fool. Have you ever known that person? They ace every test, know every thing about everything, but have absolutely no clue about how the world works?
So, wisdom is more than knowledge. As you explore the deeper meaning behind the words the writer of Proverbs used here, you find it is used to describe a skillful worker, someone with technical skills, someone who knows how to put into practice what they know. Wisdom is the right application of knowledge. It is not just knowing, but acting. And there is more to it. . .
Wisdom is insight
Verse 2 mentions understanding “words of insight.” What is insight? It is the ability to see things that others may not.
When I was going up, I loved to read Encyclopedia Brown detective books. Encyclopedia Brown was a boy detective and the books consisted of short stories about cases he would take on to solve. Each story included clues about the case and the goal as a reader was to try to solve the case before the end of the story.
Unfortunately for me, I was a little ADD; I liked to speed-read, and in doing so, I would miss the little details that would be necessary to solve the crime. I lacked insight. Insight is the detective who walks into a room and notices 20 things when everyone else just notices two or three. Wisdom involves insight, to see things beyond what they seem to be, to understand the big picture.
Wisdom is prudence
Verse 4 states, “Giving prudence to those who are simple.” Prudence is not a word we use every day. It is simply knowing how to get things done. It is the ability to be strategic, and turn dreams into reality. Prudence is moving beyond talking about things to actually doing something. Prudence can be either positive or negative. It includes the idea of shrewdness. You can plot someone’s demise or you can have discretion and resourcefulness.
Wisdom is relationship
This is probably one that creates some tension with what most people think about wisdom, but we need to pay attention to verse 7. This one verse sums up the rest of the entire book. “The fear of the Lord is beginning of knowledge.”
Here, knowledge is a synonym for wisdom. We see this repeated in Job,
Where does wisdom come from. . . God understands the way to it and he alone knows where it dwells…—Job 28:20 and 23
The fear of the Lord—that is wisdom, and to shun evil is understanding. —Job 28:28
It is also repeated in the Psalms
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding. —Psalm 111:10
Too often we misunderstand what this means because of the word “fear.” We think it means we should cower or hide, but what the writer here has in mind with the word fear is simply a recognition that the universe has a ruler and we revere and respect Him enough to have an appropriate response.
We remember that because there is one who is the ruler of the universe, we are not the one in control. To fear the Lord means to remove ourselves as the center and authority of our self-made world. It simply means knowing what and who to respect and that we should position ourselves as learners.
Of course, there is the negative fear that runs and hides and assumes that we must obey God because he will hit us if we don’t, but the fear of the Lord is a positive fear, a fear that says, “I don’t want to disappoint God, I don’t want my life to dishonor him.” It is a fear that means, “I want to please him because I love and adore him so completely.” That is the beginning of wisdom.
So, wisdom can be broken down to these two things:
- Wisdom isn’t about what you do. It is about who you are.
- Wisdom isn’t about what you know. It is about who you know.
The Problem With Wisdom
Wisdom can be a tough concept for us though. There is a problem we have with it. We think we’ve got it when we don’t. We assume the position of king or queen of everything and make the proclamation, “if I say it, it is so.” But Proverbs 14:12 speaks to this very situation:
There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death. —Proverbs 14:12
The first chapter of proverbs addresses these types of people. We see them presented as “simple” or “fools.” When talking about the simple, Proverbs is talking about the young ones, those who are naive about life and how the world works, the uninformed and gullible. The good news about the simple is that they can be taught.
But then we move to the fool. There’s a huge problem here, because a fool is a person who is wise in their own eyes. They think they need no instruction. They are self-righteous and stubborn. Fools are self-absorbed and cannot see the big picture.
A fool says, “Don’t tell me what to do. I am my own boss.” We joke around about being a fool, but in Proverbs we see this is a serious accusation and not something to be taken lightly. In fact, in Genesis 3 when Adam and Eve took of the fruit in the Garden and ate and willfully disobeyed God, that entire episode was about two people who thought they knew best. They were fools.
The second problem with wisdom is false humility: we think we don’t have wisdom when we do. This prevents us from passing it on.
One of the greatest distinctives and best assets we have is that we are a multigenerational church. Not only young people attend here. Not only older people attend here either. We have people from birth through age 91. Some of you have wisdom that the younger generation desperately needs. And can I let you in on a little secret? They want it. They want to hear what you’ve learned. They need to hear the stories: about your life, the mistakes you’ve made, the life-changing decisions you’ve made, and how your faith has sustained you and even been strengthened through it all. Are we availing ourselves of one of the greatest blessings we have as a church? Or are we allowing our pride or our feelings of insufficiency to prevent us from passing on the wisdom as the writers of Proverbs have done for us?
So, what can we do to make sure we aren’t fools and we get wisdom?
How to Get It
First, we must understand that wisdom is not something we are born with. No one comes out wise. In fact, foolishness is what is natural for us. Wisdom is acquired. A word of caution here: often we think we need to “experience life” in order to find wisdom. We think, “let me make my own mistakes. If I just live it up, I will become wise.” Unfortunately, we don’t find wisdom in sin.
We must return to the starting point, to a right relationship with God. Wisdom doesn’t come naturally or happen by default. We must pursue it and the pursuit begins with Jesus.
In the New Testament, we are told where wisdom can be found. Paul writes,
Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. —1 Corinthians 1:22-25
As NT Wright wrote, “All the lines of wisdom from the rich treasure-house of the Old Testament come forward and meet in the One of whom all Scripture speaks.” And who is Wright referring to? Where does all wisdom come together? …in Jesus Christ.
The world often tries to inform us about what real wisdom is and where we should look for it. But God has revealed where true wisdom can be found…only in Jesus Christ.
Wisdom is something that many in or culture scoff at. We brag about our foolishness as if it is a badge of honor. We think ignorance is to be celebrated.
Proverbs tell us differently.
Are you pursuing wisdom? Are you searching for it? Have you begun at the right spot with the fear of God in order to develop it?
Proverbs is not just a book of fortunes or rules or manners. It is a guide to wisdom. It is a guide to know how life really works.
As you think about your life, do you see areas of foolishness? It doesn’t have to be an all or nothing proposition. You aren’t a total fool or totally wise. We can be blind to areas in our lives where we are still controlling and making decisions about what is best. We can be wise in some areas and fools in others.
Is there an area in your life where you need some Godly wisdom? This book and our study of it isn’t to make you a more moral person, but it is about helping you develop the character to help you become a person who fears the Lord and lives wisely. Studying Proverbs reminds you that wisdom isn’t about what you do, but about who you are.
And second, wisdom isn’t about what you know but about who you know.To be wise isn’t to have someone telling you exactly every step you are to take and the right thing to do in every situation. Instead, it builds within you the character and relationship with God needed to guide you in the decisions you will face in life.
So, as we go through the next several weeks, it may get a little personal. Some proverbs feel a little like unsolicited advice. It sounds like the person in your life that starts most sentences, “If I were you, I would…”
There will be weeks it feels like we are meddling in your life a bit. That’s okay. Just remember that we aren’t studying this book as a self-help manual. It is to help us be wise individuals, with insight and prudence, living in ways that exalt Jesus Christ and help others find the wisdom they desperately need in their lives as well.