This sermon was preached at Peace Hill Christian Fellowship on June 26, 2011. To listen to the audio just click on this link – Prov 27B.
If you have conversations with other people about your or their personal lives, you counsel.
We all counsel. Even the most reticent of us have opinions about the lives of those we interact with. Although we do not call it counsel, we counsel within our families, in our friendships and even in the workplace. This morning Proverbs gives us wisdom regarding our counseling conversations and relationships. We want to learn how to be wise.
First, Understand What is at the Heart of Wisdom.
At the Heart of Wisdom is a Desire to Please the Father: 11 Be wise, my son, and bring joy to my heart; then I can answer anyone who treats me with contempt.
The truth is that, while children are separate from us and have their own opinions and lives, to some extent children reflect on their parents. As parents we see our opinions and sentiments and understandings of the world and our character, reflected in our children. We influence our children. When children are foolish their parents feel sorrow and pain. When children are wise parents swell with pride.
The same case can be made for our relationship to God the Father. When we are wise we bring joy to God’s heart. The Father rejoices in us and wants to rejoice in us. In fact, the beginning of wisdom is this internal heart desire to please and honor the Father with our lives.
Wisdom that we should look for in others and want for ourselves, begins with the desire to please God and with the recognition that our wisdom and/ or foolishness reflect on the Father. We either reflect accurately or poorly – both to those who honor our Father and to those who hold him in contempt. We have all winced when we have seen a believer acting foolishly in public, because we recognize that others are going to draw conclusions about the Father by looking at his children.
At the Heart of Wisdom is the Willingness to See Danger and Take Refuge: 12 The prudent see danger and take refuge but the simple keep going and pay the penalty. Probably the most obvious understanding of wisdom is the willingness to hear counsel, see danger and take refuge in God. The practice of wisdom is the willingness to see situations which are harmful – to our family – to our lives – to our souls – and to turn to God and his word for wise counsel. This, again is an issue of the heart. I am unwilling to see danger and consequences and sin when I have my hearts set on having my own way. My willfulness makes me a fool! Our willfulness blinds us. We have all known people in situations where everyone around them was saying – “That’s a bad idea – stop! Don’t do that! Think about what you are doing!” – who continued on in a clearly destructive way. Wisdom is the willingness to contend with our own will and say “No” to our willfulness and to listen to God’s word.
At the Heart of Wisdom is Conviction that Produces a Long-Term Practice: 18 The one who guards a fig tree will eat its fruit, and whoever protects their master will be honored. Long term wisdom comes – again – from the heart. We persevere in those things which we see the value of. When you are driving and you get sleepy, you don’t say, “Oh well, I guess I’ll just doze for a minute” – in fact, if you do doze and wake up and realize it, your heart pounds and you are afraid. Why? Because you see the value of not falling asleep at the wheel. The man who perseveres in wisdom sees/ believes in his heart that wisdom is important. He is a convert! He has bought into the need for wise action and he holds onto it over time.
Second, Be Wise in Your Evaluation of People.
We all make quick evaluations people all the time. We decide what someone is like based on what they are wearing, how they look, what they are doing. Evaluation is natural. However, when we are trying to give people wise counsel, evaluation steps up to a new level that requires a more slow and careful evaluation. Being wise in our evaluation means taking time and asking questions and not rushing to judgment. Like doctors, we need to be careful to do no harm!
Wisdom Looks at the Fruit a Person’s Life is Producing: 19 As water reflects the face, so one’s life reflects the heart. This is such an obvious truth and yet we tend to miss it. People live out what is in their heart. We say this all the time – sin, our actions towards one another – our willingness to listen – to honor God or to live selfishly – all these things are determined by the desires of our hearts. Sometimes we can hide our actions – sometimes we act out of character – but the whole direction and orientation of the life shows what is inside us.
This is so important because the heart is what matters. We live out what is in our hearts because that is what we love – what we serve – what we ultimately want. And if we are going to be wise counselors we need to evaluate and deal with the heart. To be caught up in and focused on just the outward behavior – to treat someone merely according to the outside symptoms – is to miss the heart and the point. The real question about anyone we counsel is: What do they love? What drives them?
Wisdom Looks at the Way A Person Responds to Praise: 21 The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold, but people are tested by their praise. What does a person’s response to praise reveal about them? People respond to praise, or lack of praise, in one of three ways…
~ Arrogance – either by making arrogant statements about themselves or by being sullen and angry when they do not receive praise. An arrogant person is rarely open to receiving counsel – they feel that they are self-sufficient.
~ False Humility – False humility is a longing for praise along with a fear that receiving praise will expose arrogance. In some ways this is even more prideful than arrogance. The response of false humility is either to refuse praise and belittle one’s achievements or to ignore praise. A falsely humble person is prone to dishonesty, and therefore, difficult to counsel.
~ Humility – True humility is willing to receive appropriate praise without trying either to build it up or refuse it. Having humility means being able to have a proper recognition of who we are before God. We are the image of God and have gifts and abilities – sometimes praise is appropriate.
Third, Be Willing to Act Wisely Towards People.
Allow the Foolish to Face the Consequences of Their Actions: 13 Take the garment of one who puts up security for a stranger; hold it in pledge if it is done for an outsider. We have relationships where we are always running in to rescue the one who is making foolish decisions. But we learn wisdom by connecting our actions with consequences – both good and bad. Sometimes acting wisely means that we need to get out of the way and allow family members or others to face the consequences of foolish decisions rather than running to their rescue.
Recognize When People Aren’t Going to Listen: 14 If anyone loudly blesses their neighbor early in the morning, it will be taken as a curse. 15 A quarrelsome wife is like the dripping of a leaky roof in a rainstorm; 16 restraining her is like restraining the wind or grasping oil with the hand. 17 As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.
These several images go together – the cluelessness of the person who shouts blessings early in the morning – the unchanging constancy of the quarrelsome wife, and the impossibility of sharpening iron with iron. The clueless man is unable to receive or understand wisdom. The quarrelsome wife is so bent on her anger and unfulfilled desires that she is uninterested in change. The foolish man who is caught up in and receiving foolish counsel remains too dull to hear wisdom.
Part of wisdom is the recognition of those who aren’t listening and who aren’t going to listen. If we think of ourselves as their saviors we will only beat ourselves against the wall of their indifference.
Recognize that Your Words and Actions Won’t Change a Person’s Heart: 20 Death and Destruction are never satisfied, and neither are human eyes. 22 Though you grind a fool in a mortar, grinding them like grain with a pestle, you will not remove their folly from them.
If wisdom is a heart issue then so is foolishness. The fool acts out of the unsatisfied desires of the heart. Your words and your actions will never grind down the heart. If we are wise counselors we will recognize that we are incapable of changing the heart – of separating the fool from the appetite with our words and our understanding. This can only be the work of God.
So what can be done for the foolish? What a fool needs is a new voice of instruction in his heart. He needs what the wise man has – the desire to please the Father. He needs a new willingness to receive and act on instruction – to persevere in wisdom.
The NT offers this kind of transforming grace for the fool. Jesus became the perfect Son whom the Father could delight in – on our behalf – while we were still foolish. The Holy Spirit is the new voice of the heart offered to those who are foolish. The Spirit creates a new desire in us to please the Father.
As counselors, we cannot be saviors, but we can be people who know what is available in Christ – the gift of the wisdom of God – of a new desire – and of forgiveness for our foolishness. This is what we have to offer to those whose foolishness controls them.