************ Sermon on Proverbs 1:1-7 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on May 29, 2016
"The Beginning of Wisdom"
"You are what you eat." I am sure you have all heard this saying.
I was paging through one of my magazines and came across the title of a new book: "You are what you love."
I did a search of Amazon and came up with the following titles: "You are what you believe." "You are what you think." "You are what you don't say." "You are what you wear."
Do you know what Proverbs would say? Proverbs would say, "You are becoming the end of your journey." "You are becoming the end of your journey." Life is a journey and every moment of every day takes us closer to our destination.
God cares about our journey and our destination. After all, isn't this why He sent us His Son: "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life" (Jn 3:16). God wants us, His children, to live forever with Him.
I The Title
A God cares about our journey and our destination. So He also speaks to us. The priests taught His law and the prophets declared His word. But we need more. We live day by day in a world where the law and the prophets do not tell us everything we need to know. So God gave us more than the law and the prophets. He also gave us wise counsel or wisdom (cf Jer 18:18). We need wisdom to fill in the blanks left by the law and prophets.
Let me illustrate this with a couple of proverbs from chapter 27:
(Prov 27:2) Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; someone else, and not your own lips.We don't find any of this in the Ten Commandments or in Isaiah or Jeremiah. But God wants us to realize that boasting and too early of a greeting can backfire.
(Prov 27:14) If a man loudly blesses his neighbor early in the morning, it will be taken as a curse.
We can seek the holiness of the law and we can be inspired by the words of the prophets; yet, if we are unwise, we can make a mess of our lives, our families, our churches, our workplaces, and our communities. If we have love but not wisdom, we will harm people with the best of intentions. If we have courage but not wisdom, we will blunder boldly. If we have truth but not wisdom, we will make the gospel ugly to other people. If we have technology but not wisdom, we will use the best communications ever invented to broadcast foolishness. If we have revival but not wisdom, we'll use the power of God to throw the church into reverse gear.
I hope you see we need wisdom from above moment by moment and day by day. It is wisdom that helps us to answer questions like:
-What kind of woman or man should I marry?
-Which college should I attend?
-Should I accept the job offer?
-What kind of car should I buy?
-Should I take out a loan?
Through the book of Proverbs, God coaches us in the wisdom we need throughout the long and complicated path of our everyday lives.
B We must understand that there are two kinds of wisdom, and they are competing for our trust. The Bible calls them "wisdom that comes from heaven" and "wisdom ... [that] is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil" (James 3:15,17). The purpose of Proverbs is to teach us the wisdom of God. Or, a better way to put it, the wisdom of God in Christ.
The wisdom of God in Christ touches upon all of life. Take a look at King Solomon. He studied plants, from the cedars of Lebanon to the hyssop that grows out of a crack in a wall (1 Ki 4:29-34). He studied animals. He composed music. He understood that everything is connected with our Creator and Redeemer. He didn't divide life between the secular and the sacred like the two kingdom people do.
C Now, notice how the book starts: "The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel" (Prov 1:1).
This tells us how God communicates wisdom: God communicates wisdom to us through proverbs. What is a proverb? According to my English dictionary, a proverb is a short pithy saying in general use, stating a general truth or piece of advice. We have all sorts of proverbs in the English language, many of them coined by Ben Franklin. You've heard them before: "A penny saved is a penny earned." "Look before you leap." "The honey is sweet, but the bee has a sting." "Too many cooks spoil the broth." These kinds of proverbs make good sound-bites.
Proverbs in the Bible make good sound-bites too. But they offer a lot more than common sense. They tell us how to live wisely before God. They tell us how to live wisely as God's people so we are radiantly attractive. Colossians 4:5 tells us, "Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders." Why? Because more people are won for Christ by beauty than by rules.
By the way, you should realize we find proverbs scattered throughout the Bible:
(1 Cor 15:33) "Bad company corrupts good character."
(Gal 5:9) "A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough."
(Gal 6:7) A man reaps what he sows.
(1 Pet 4:8) love covers over a multitude of sins.
D The opening verse of our Bible reading tells us where the book of Proverbs comes from: "The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel" (Prob 1:1). This gives us a bit of a problem because we are told that the proverbs of chapters 30 and 31 come from Agur son of Jakeh and from the mother of King Lemuel. Why does verse 1 identify the author as "Solomon son of David, king of Israel" when the book also identifies other authors?
Right up front, the book tells us it stands in the flow of Biblical history, which leads us to Jesus. Here is the point: proverbs point us to life with Jesus, the Son of David.
As part of the Bible, the book of Proverbs is a gospel book That means the book of Proverbs is good news for bad people. It is about grace for sinners. It is about hope for failures. It is about wisdom for fools. This book is Jesus Himself coming to us as our counselor, as our wise man, as our life coach. The Lord Jesus Christ is a competent thinker for all times and all cultures. He is a genius. And He freely offers us His unique wisdom. Do you remember how He concluded His Sermon on the Mount? He defined the gospel as a call to wisdom:
(Mt 7:24,26) "Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock ... (26) But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.Jesus is our priest and our prophet, but in the book of Proverbs we encounter Jesus as our mentor. Do you see Him that way?
II The Purpose
A Verses 2-6 tells us the goals of Proverbs. It is summed up in verse 2: "for attaining wisdom and discipline; for understanding words of insight."
Before saying anything else, we need to take note of the word "wisdom." The word is found 51 times in the book of Proverbs. So what is wisdom? Biblical wisdom is more than what we find in a fortune cookie. Wisdom is more than morals. Wisdom is more than knowledge; we can memorize the whole Bible and still not have wisdom.
Wisdom is the grace of Christ beautifying our daily lives. Paul said that God has "lavished" His grace upon us "with all wisdom and understanding" (Eph 1:7-8). The Bible says that in Christ "are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (Col 2:3). The wise way to live is not always obvious or intuitive or popular. It is hidden. Here’s where it is hidden: "we preach Christ crucified ... the wisdom of God (1 Cor 1:23-24).
B God's first goal for us is straight living. What God is going after through this book is change deep inside our hearts. If we pay close attention, God will graciously make us into profound people, into wise people, who rightly discern how to live before God in obedience and love.
If wisdom is so desirable, how come so few people have it? Why is wisdom so rare? Because wisdom requires "discipline." Another translation uses the word "instruction." Dear friends, none of us are born wise. We get wisdom the hard way -- through the Lord's instruction and discipline, through being corrected and reprimanded. We do not like this. It is humiliating. It is hard to admit we are wrong. It is hard to admit we are ignorant.
Verses 3 and 4 say more about straight living. Verse 3 is written from the point of view of the new Christian, the one just starting to learn: "for acquiring a disciplined and prudent life, doing what is right and just and fair." Verse 4 shifts to the teacher's point of view: "for giving prudence to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the young."
Look at the results of wisdom: discipline, prudence, knowledge, discretion, right and just and fair. In light of this, let's talk about a few things going on in America right now. Bernie Sanders promises a free lunch, free tuition, free everything; the wise know someone has to pay and it usually isn't the rich with their tax-shelters, write-offs, and off-shore accounts. Donald Trump is quick to call his opponents all sort of nasty nicknames: Crooked Hillary, Lyin Ted, Little Marco, Crazy Bernie, Low Energy Jeb, and so on; wisdom tells us to be prudent and discrete. Our culture tells us there is no link between deed and consequence so it is okay to have sex before marriage, to be in a homosexual relationship, to allow transgenders in a girl's bathroom; wisdom tells us God's order cannot be ignored.
C God's second goal for us is straight thinking. Verses 5 and 6 tells us more about straight thinking:
(Prov 1:5-6) let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance-- (6) for understanding proverbs and parables, the sayings and riddles of the wise.
These two verses are written from the point of view of the advanced Christian learner, the seasoned veteran. Let's be realistic about ourselves -- it is hard to stay fresh and expectant and excited and moving forward in the faith. It is too easy to stall, to coast. We can get lazy. Dear friends, there should be no hump and no downhill slope to the Christian life. Fight to grow. Strive to learn. Become wiser and better. Keep changing more and more into the man or woman God wants you to be.
What is the result when you keep learning and growing in the faith? When you first become a Christian, everything seems so strange and different. You come across people like Solomon and Isaiah and Paul and Augustine and Luther and Calvin and Kuiper and you don't have a clue what they are talking about; it is like they are using a foreign language. But you stick with it. You get used to it. You leave your shallow past with its pat answers behind. You listen and learn and grow and become more mature.
III The Theme
A I hope you see wisdom is desirable. Wisdom is needed. Now, if wisdom is not something we are born with, how do we get it? Here we to turn to verse 7 (which is the theme of Proverbs):
(Prov 1:7) The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.
What is the fear of the Lord? To answer this I have to say something about Hebrew poetry. Hebrew poetry was written in parallel lines -- the second line helps us to understand the first line.
The key word of the second line is "despise." Despise is an emotional word, a word of contempt. A word of arrogant pride. That's what fools do. They despise. They think they are above instruction, too smart for it, too good for it, too busy for it. Such a fool might be very intelligent, very gifted, but he or she is also dumber than a rock. As long as you are proud, you cannot know God. A proud man is always looking down on things and people; nothing and no one is ever good enough. And, of course, as along as you are looking down, you are not looking up to God and Him Who is seated on the right hand of God.
What, then, is the fear of the Lord? It is not a cringing dread before the Lord like a child before an abusive alcoholic father. It is an openness to God in Christ, an eagerness to please Him, an openness to being instructed by Him (Prov 15:33). The fear of the Lord is a willingness to turn from evil and change (Job 28:28). The fear of the Lord is surrender to His will (Gen 22:12). The fear of the Lord is one way we love Him (Deut 6:2,5). The fear of the Lord is when we realize "Christ is perfect but I am not."
B This wonderful fear of the Lord is where we begin our journey into wisdom. It opens our eyes and keeps them open. It opens our mind and keeps it open. Think of it this way. In order to spell you need to know your ABC's. In order to play the piano you need to know your scales. In order to do calculus you need to know 2+2=4. In the same way, in order to have wisdom you need to fear the Lord. "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge." We start there and never leave it behind. We never leave God out of the equation.
C It can be extremely painful to learn the fear of the Lord. It is death to our egos, our self-assured opinions, our superior attitude. It means we turn away from self and to God. We turn upward and outward to the Lord. We see His beauty, His grandeur. We realize, like Solomon, that the wisdom of God in Christ touches upon all of life. We realize, if we are ever going to learn anything, that we must pay the closest attention to the risen and ascended Lord Jesus Christ. We realize, if we are ever going to learn anything, that we must stop paying attention to ourselves and our feelings and our opinions and our desires and our wants. We realize, if we are ever going to learn anything, that we must forsake the fool within ourselves.
My brothers and sisters, we have the law and we have the prophets -- all anyone has to do is open the Bible. But do we also have wisdom? Wisdom for living. Wisdom for a disciplined and prudent life. Wisdom for doing what is right and just and fair. Wisdom for understanding the deeper things of life. Wisdom for living rightly before Christ.
"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" (Ps 111:10).
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