This sermon was preached at Peace Hill Christian Fellowship on January11th, 2004. There is no audio available for this sermon.
Prov.1:1-7 — THE BEGINNING OF WISDOM
Proverbs begins with a list of the benefits that the one trained by these proverbs and sayings can gain. It is not an exhaustive catalog of all the benefits of wisdom, but rather it intends to grab our attention, to draw us in and to create within us a desire, a hunger, for wisdom. The author lists the benefits of wisdom like items in a shop for sale.
The Offer of Discipline: “for attaining wisdom and discipline…”. This may not sound like an attractive offer at first. But understand, there is a contrast between the foolish person who goes through the hard experiences of life and learns nothing, and the one who goes through the hard experiences of life as a training ground for wisdom. This is the offer of discipline – that we would go through the difficulties of life exercising wisdom like a muscle to be trained. That we would grow in the discipline and experience of wisdom.
The Offer of Understanding: “for understanding words of insight” The idea here is that these proverbs will teach us the ability to look at the heart of an issue – rather than merely looking at the circumstances surrounding the issue – and make wise, right choices. In other words, the proverbs offer to teach us how to think and gain insight into the situations of life.
The Offer of Character: “for acquiring a disciplined and prudent life, doing what is right and just and fair” The proverbs also offer skill in pure living. How to be careful in doing what is right. How to be just. To the Jewish audience for whom this was written, this is more than a question of learning how to be honorable. God is very concerned about justice and fairness. To an early Jewish audience this would have been an offer to be trained in keeping the heart of the Jewish Law – loving God by doing what was right, and loving one’s neighbor through the practice of justice and fairness.
For us this issue is no less important. The followers of Jesus are called to this practice of justice and righteousness.
APPROACH WISDOM WITH HUMILITY.
Generally we only think of ourselves as needing wisdom when a difficult situation arises. It is likely that the reader, at this point, may be saying, “I have not situation right now – no pressing need for wisdom. My life is going pretty well.” Consequently, the author of Proverbs focuses in on the need that we all have for wisdom. He answers the question – “Who needs wisdom?”
Wisdom is for the Simple: Wisdom is for those who take no thought for the future – who don’t seem to understand cause and effect or the consequences of their actions. Those who go through life like new-borns, always surprised at what is happening to them because they never seem to recognize the consequences of their actions.
For the simple, Proverbs offers prudence – or shrewdness the ability to foresee the consequences of actions and behaviors and attitudes. Proverbs offers the ability to live practically, carefully and purposefully, so that life can begin to fall into place and make sense. The Proverbs offer to act as a counselor to the simple.
Wisdom is for the Young: Wisdom is for the inexperienced. To those who are young, wisdom offers training in knowledge and discretion. In this context, “knowledge” has to do with “knowing and doing what God requires as fervently and consistently as possible”.
In other words, the Proverbs offer to train the young in what it means to please God – to live a life that is pure, fervent and righteous. But also, proverbs offers to train the young in discretion – how to live carefully and appropriately in every situation. For the young Proverbs offers itself as a tutor.
Wisdom is for the Wise: Why do the wise need wisdom? The wise are those who live carefully , intelligently, who look ahead and see the consequences of their actions, who are fervent towards God and upright in behavior.
To the wise, the Proverbs offer training in instruction so that they are not only able to understand, but to teach. It is one thing to be able to be wise – it is something else to be able to pass that wisdom on to others – to be able to train others in wisdom. To the wise, the Proverbs are like a professor – giving direction in the understanding and expression of wisdom.
Wisdom is for the Discerning: To those who are perceptive and insightful, who are already thoughtful about wisdom and able to instruct others in being wise, the Proverbs are a source of guidance in working out difficult puzzles and impossible situations – situations which have no real answer. The Proverbs can guide us through situations that have no answer but must simply be survived. To the discerning, the Proverbs are a guide through difficulty.
FEAR THE LORD.
So far the author has only told us that we need wisdom – we need its’ discipline, its way of understanding, its’ skill in acquiring character – but he has not said anything to get us started in the acquisition of wisdom. So let’s begin with this one thought that is going to be the main theme of the book – the controlling thought about the nature of wisdom. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline”.
The Fear of the Lord: Wisdom is not primarily about intelligence – it is no the intelligent who are wise, but the reverent. Reverent awe for God leads to a life lived carefully to honor God. And beginning here means not merely that reverence is the starting point (although it does in part mean that), but also that reverence is the foundation on which wisdom is built.
This is the Gospel! – that God has called us out of our darkness into the light of a new life of reverence in response to his grace. Just as sunlight causes everything to look different – so reverence for God who has poured out his grace on us, changes Proverbs from a list of warnings, demands and moral advice, into wisdom which is desirable – a way of living in the light.
Fools Despise Wisdom: On the other hand, foolishness is not primarily stupidity – but rather it is despising the grace of God. Foolishness is the unwillingness to recognize our Creator – to stand apart from God and his grace – willfully rejecting his loving direction in our lives.
This sermon was preached at Peace Hill Christian Fellowship on January 25th, 2004. There is no audio available for this sermon.
Prov.1:8-19 BREAKING THE SPELL OF ENTICEMENTS
INTRODUCTION: BE GUIDED BY INSTRUCTION.
Listen to the Instruction of Experience: The teaching of the proverbs opens with a call to attention – calling the young to pay attention to the teachings of their parents. The tone is one of pleading, a longing for the young and inexperienced to pay attention and take to heart the experienced wisdom of those who have been through and experienced, and gained understanding from, the temptations of youth.
In our culture it is popular to think of parents as being ignorant – or not understanding what it means to be young, as though parents themselves had not passed through youth. There is an arrogant assumption by the young, that those who are older cannot understand them, by which the young justify their behavior. There is a perception that the old are trying to control the young.
But the concern of the wise parents here is honor. The images of, “a garland to grace your head”, and “a chain to adorn your neck”, refer to marks of honor and authority. One wore these ornaments at social gatherings, and they reflected position and wealth. The parents here are not trying to control us, but to call us away from foolish and dangerous and dishonorable behavior.
Be Teachable: The point is that those who are wise will listen to experience – they will be teachable. In the end, wisdom is the humility to listen, to pay attention to experience. Wisdom is the humility to recognize that those with experience in life can actually help us to make better decisions than we would make on our own.
Enticements Lure the Heart: The violent, greedy young men in this passage also call for our attention. They invite us to become part of their community – to throw in our lot with them. Notice their message – “Let’s lie in wait for someone’s blood, Let’s waylay some harmless soul, Let’s swallow them alive” – to do harm and evil. How could anyone believe their promises – “Throw in your lot with us and we will share a common purse”.
They trade on the idea of excitement, inviting us into what seems to be a close knit community of friends. But only a fool would believe that those who are willing to take advantage of others will be faithful friends.
In our modern culture there are gangs like this, but perhaps more subtly, and certainly more prevalent, are the lures of advertisers, who seek to entice us with the same kinds of promises. Using images to lure us – to get the blood pumping, the heart pounding – advertisers spend millions of dollar in order to find out how to lure us to buy – to know how to put the right slant on their products or to sell a way of thinking.
Advertisers Sell False Images: In the same way, teens get sold on violence. It’s not likely someone will walk up to you and say – “Hey, Let’s go lie in wait for someone’s blood”. Rather, teens are sold images that look attractive to them. Teens are offered styles that look tough – or violent. They are offered music that is either sexual or violent – they are offered entertainment that is either sexual or violent, or that glorifies drug use/ or partying.
Advertisers do not come out and say – Let’s go practice violence on innocent people – but advertisers know that violence is an enticement – in their words, “it sells”. Advertisers do not say to teenage girls, “Why don’t you throw away your purity and virginity on some guy who won’t remember you in a year” – but they know how to sell girls on the notion that if they don’t look sexually attractive, no one will care about them – it’s a lie, but young girls will believe it. Advertisers do not say, “Throw away your life by becoming addicted to drugs so that you have a life-long addiction that keeps you from ever being able to live a normal life” – but they know the idea of partying can be packaged to look like great fun.
In the same way, advertisers do not say to adults – “live a life of fear” – but they know that they can produce fear through images of homes being broken into. Advertisers do not say to adults that unless they invest their money wisely they will be poor and unable to care for basic needs – but they do promise that money is security. They sell images of the ideal home and marriage while at the same time selling the idea to women that husbands are immature and irresponsible, and to husbands that wives are controlling and repressive.
Advertisers Sell Images for Us to Build Our Lives Around: What does this have to do with the passage? Like the violent young men in the passage – advertisers call us to a lifestyle of selfish indulgence. They call us to be good to ourselves without reference to others. They offer us what they do not have to give, pretending that it is for our own good rather than their own profit. Like the young men in the passage, they offer us what seems desirable for their own gain.
CONCLUSION: RECOGNIZE THE CONSEQUENCES OF ENTICEMENTS.
Choose to Be Wise Rather than Enticed: The contrast of the passage comes down to the choice to act wisely or to live by following enticements. The wise parents know that if we follow enticements we will come to ruin.
Following Enticements Will Quickly Lead to Sin – Those who are led by enticement, are at the mercy of advertisers and their own appetites. This is the message of the wise parents. Enticement has a spiritual quality to it – it is itself an appetite. “..their feet rush into sin, they are swift to shed blood”. Those led by enticement give away their self-control and find themselves rushing into sin beyond what they intended.
Following Enticements Will Blind us to their Destructive Effect – “How useless to spread a net in full view of all the birds! These men lie in wait for their own blood. They waylay only themselves!” Those who are led by enticement cease to pay attention to the direction and consequences of their actions. Enticements blind us to consequences – this is intentional. Those led by enticements wander into many destructive appetites and attitudes and behaviors.
Following Enticements Will Temporarily Satisfy our Appetites, but Will Take Away Life – Those who are led by enticements are always desiring but never satisfied. That’s because it is the desire for things that we feed on and not the things themselves. It is the desire for an image, but the image is empty and without substance. Following enticements only increases appetite, and pulls us away from the real and substantial things of life.
Choose to Be Teachable: How do we know enticements won’t satisfy. We don’t. Only experience can show us the truth of this. Listen to the experience of wisdom.
This sermon was preached at Peace Hill Christian Fellowship on February 8th, 2004. There is no audio available for this sermon.
PROVERBS 1:20-33 — WISDOM CALLS THE WILLFUL 2-8-04
WISDOM IS CALLING.
Wisdom is Demanding to Be Heard: The Hebrew word for Wisdom is feminine. And here, the writer pictures wisdom as a woman, calling to those who should love her and honor her and listen to her. She is calling loudly from all of the most public places: calling aloud in the street, raising her voice in public squares, crying out at the top of noisy streets and making speeches in the gateways.
There is a common conception that wisdom is difficult to find, that it is hidden. But the writer of Proverbs breaks that illusion. Wisdom is not some hidden, unattainable understanding – it is an available clear choice to reverence God and do right or to go one’s own way. In fact, ignoring wisdom takes effort. As we look at this picture it is very clear that those who are not listening to wisdom are shutting her out. They consider her loud calls and speeches annoying. We are talking not about those who are ignorant, but those who are willfully disregarding the call of wisdom.
The voices of wisdom, (the conscience, instruction that we have received or are receiving, the counsel of godly people), are around us all the time. Depending on our response to these voices on a daily basis, we determine whether we will listen to wisdom (ultimately in the big decisions), or whether we will follow our own willfulness.
Wisdom is Confronting the Willful: The writer of Proverbs identifies three types of willfulness – (thoughtlessness, mockery and rebellion). We would not necessarily think of all of these attitudes as willful, certainly not thoughtfulness, but the writer is seeking to shape our thinking, to enlighten us to the true nature of these attitudes. The question, “How long will you simple ones love your simple ways?”, is intended to expose the thoughtlessness of the simple as a choice and form of willfulness.
The Simple Choose to be Thoughtless: The simple are those who live for the moment. They do not like to think about life and consequences, they just want to live for the excitement of the moment. They are surprised by the consequences of their actions and consider themselves to be innocent victims of circumstance. But wisdom holds them guilty of loving simpleness – the thrill of living for the moment without considering the consequences of their actions. They are culpable because wisdom clearly has called them to live thoughtfully, and they will not.
The Mocker Chooses to be Arrogant: “How long will mockers delight in mockery…?” Mockers are those who make fun of others and belittle what is holy and good and pure. Mockers choose to see themselves as superior – they consider themselves above anything they can degrade or make fun of, and so exchange intelligence and nobility for the ability to slander wisdom.
Consequently, mockers slander purity as prudishness, devotion as delusion and discipline as enslavement. They consider themselves to be free of these things, when in fact they degrade themselves by rejecting them. They consider themselves free from the restraints of others, free to choose their own way – but in fact they are enslaved.
The Rebel Chooses to be Unteachable: “…and fools hate knowledge?” The fool hates knowledge because he is a rebel – refusing to be taught by others. Fools hate others telling them how to live and what to do. Fools want to come up with their own truth – their own way of understanding – one that suits their desires and preferences. The heart of a fool is controlled by rebellion.
EITHER HEARING OR REJECTING WISDOM’S CALL HAS CONSEQUENCES.
Those Who Turn from Willfulness Will Gain Wisdom: “If you had responded to my rebuke, I would have poured out my heart to you, and made my thoughts known to you.” Note that it is to the willful that Wisdom is speaking. The language is very much like the language of Joel 2:??, in which God promises to pour out His Spirit”, and the idea is similar. Wisdom is personified as a living being, like God’s Spirit, who promises to come and abundantly help those who turn from willfulness. If we are willing, with reverence, to submit ourselves to God and fear him, God offers us living Wisdom.
Those Who Reject Wisdom Eat the Consequences of Their Willfulness: “…they will eat the fruit of their ways…”. The author uses this image of fruit to express the consequences of continuing in willful disregard of Wisdom – in simpleness, mockery or rebellion. To continue to refuse to show reverence for God and to listen to instruction is like eating poison fruit. The poison fruit works its way through our system, doing damage, causing pain and harm. Once the process of digestion is begun, there is no way to stop it. The poison will work its way through the body, leaving damage and scarring which is permanent.
This is descriptive of the effects of willful sin, justified by the simple and by mockers and by the rebellious. They will suffer the consequences of willful sin by bringing trouble on their own heads: destroying their own lives, ruining their own reputations, hurting others and experiencing heartache.
And note that the consequences will not go away, though they cry out for wisdom: “Then they will call to me but I will not answer, they will look for me but will not find me, since they hated knowledge and did not choose to fear the Lord.”
Those Who Reject Wisdom Suffer Wisdom’s Scorn: Also notice that Wisdom mocks and scoffs at the trouble of the willful – “I in turn will laugh at your disaster. I will mock when calamity overtakes you…”
Those who reject Wisdom are left alone with the knowledge that their own foolish willfulness destroyed them – and it is bitter knowledge. Willfulness and its’ consequences lead to bitter regret and heartache that has no remedy.
BE WARNED – LISTEN TO WISDOM’S CALL.
Turn From Waywardness: “For the waywardness of the simple will kill them…” Wisdom’s call is a warning to those who are living willfully. Don’t justify waywardness – wandering away from what is right. Don’t live thoughtlessly for the moment, or consider yourself above the correction of others who are seeking to please the Lord, or rebel against instruction. Understand that willfulness leads not to life, but to evil consequences and vain regret, and death.
Turn From Complacency: “…and the complacency of fools will destroy them.” Do not refuse to turn, to change your ways. Complacency is the unwillingness to act or to turn. Wisdom is warning us that willfulness is malignant poison. All the willful have to do in order to be destroyed is to continue in their willfulness without changing – to go along in their present willfulness, allowing the poison to run its’ course.