Sermon (Cromer, 6/7/17)
Wisdom in the Bible means skilfulness in dealing with the matter in hand in order to get the best results. It is a very practical word. A sailor, a wood-worker, a farmer, can all be described as wise if they are good at their job. But here in Proverbs the matter in hand is life itself – wisdom is skilfulness in making the most of one’s life. A wise person makes good decisions, does the best thing in the circumstances, and gives the best advice. Isn’t that what we all want?
It doesn’t come naturally. We’re not born with it. Vs 1-6 tell us how we can become wise and make the most of life.
- Listen and learn from wise teachers. Solomon, or whoever gathered these proverbs together, looked upon his pupils as his sons – he genuinely wanted his pupil to live well, and to benefit from the wisdom he himself had learnt. Jesus is the ultimate teacher of true wisdom, and he came so that we might have fulness of life – he is the good shepherd who cares deeply for each one of us. Any wisdom that does not agree with what Jesus has to say is not wisdom at all – he is the way, the truth and the life, and no-one comes to the Father apart from him.
The first requirement for the learner is teachability, v.1 – if we want to be wise we need to accept the truth in these words, and let them become part of our lives – store them up in our hearts. That does not mean accepting everything we’re told without question; we’re not sponges. It does require proactive listening – ‘turning our ear to wisdom’, v.2 – making an effort to look for wise teaching; and trying to understand not just what is being said but why it is important and how it should make a difference. And then we need to be doers of the word, not hearers only. Listen and learn. Are we really teachable?
- Be passionate about acquiring wisdom. ‘Call out’, ‘Cry aloud’, the teacher says – there is heartfelt desire here. ‘Look for it as for silver, search for it as for hidden treasure.’ Job 28 has a vivid description of mining for precious metals in days when health and safety hadn’t been invented. It was dirty, sweaty, dangerous work. It took time to yield results. If we want fulness of life we mustn’t expect it to happen without any effort or pains on our part. Jesus told us to take up our cross and follow him. Paul told the first churches he planted that it was through many trials that we will enter the kingdom of heaven. But the results of that effort will be infinitely worth while: ‘Then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find knowledge of God.’ (v5)
We’ve seen in chapter 1 that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. If we want to make the most of life, then the most important thing is to have a right relationship with the Author of life, the one who holds in his hand our life and all our ways (as Danlel 5:23 puts it). Our relationship with God is meant to be intimate – but it should never allow us to take him for granted, or to treat him as any less than Almighty God, creator of heaven and earth. Jesus taught us to pray, ‘Our Father in heaven’ to express our intimacy; then immediately followed that with ‘Hallowed be your name’ to express our awe and wonder, and our desire for his holiness to be taken seriously. That is the fear of the Lord. Jesus also reminds us about the importance of the knowledge of God in his prayer in John 17: ‘Now this is eternal life, that they may know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.’ Knowledge in the Bible is not just knowing facts; it involves intimacy, as when the Authorised Version says, ‘Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived…’ Knowing God is the highest privilege any being can have, and the greatest pleasure; it is the ultimate fulfilment for any human life. That’s what Jesus came to give us.
- Recognise that wisdom is a gift from God – a gift he longs to give us. We may learn from our teachers, and seek it with all our heart – but ultimately it is a gift of God. He is the one who is at work in us to will and to do his good pleasure, as Paul reminded the Philippians. That doesn’t mean that we can sit back and wait for God to give it – he gives to those who seek. The full quote from Paul’s letter to the Philippians is, ’Work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfil his good purpose.’ Jesus has promised that those who seek will find, and James tells us that if we lack wisdom, if we are not sure of the right way to behave or the right thing to do, then ask God and trust him to give it to us.
Note v6, ‘from his mouth come knowledge and understanding’. We’ve just heard the teacher say, ‘My son, if you accept my words…’ Often the words our spiritual teachers say to us come from the mouth of God, so when we are listening to preachers and teachers we need to be listening first of all to what the Lord may be saying to us, through them.
Always look for Jesus. The gift of wisdom is part and parcel of what God has given us in his Son Jesus Christ. As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 1:30, ‘It is because of him, God, that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God – that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption’. Wisdom from God includes righteousness, holiness and redemption. Righteousness makes us acceptable to God, holiness describes the way we live godly lives, and redemption is when God paid for everything in our lives that has gone wrong, and set us free to be transformed into his image and glory. This is fulness of life, this is what wisdom is all about, and all this is included in God’s gift of his Son, Jesus. When listening to any Christian teaching, see how it relates to Jesus’ life and teaching; and see yourself united to him.
The rest of the passage tells us more of the benefits of acquiring wisdom from God. It is not merely the case that the choices we make will guarantee success – life in this world is not like that, we’ve all experienced times when we’ve done the right thing and still failed to get the results we hoped for. But the main benefit that is spelt out in these verses – in verses 7, 8 and 11 – is that God will protect those who walk in his ways, and that ultimately victory will be assured. Wisdom enables us to be upright, to be blameless in God’s eyes, to be just and faithful, to grow in discretion and understanding as we follow the Lord. He is our shield, our guard and protector even when he leads us through pain and suffering, and through the valley of the shadow of death. This protection is the result of belonging to Almighty God who loves us so much that he wants us to have fulness of life, whatever the cost to himself.
Note v9. Wisdom includes understanding of what is right and just and fair – every good path. God wants us not only to know him; he also wants us to know his ways. He wants us to know how he acts and reacts in different situations, whether they seem to us to be huge international events or tiny inconsequential ones. As we read through the book of proverbs we find all sorts of matters spoken about, great and small. God is the God of the whole of life – he created it and keeps it going, and is involved and cares about everything that goes on. He gives us wisdom to decide when to harvest, how to listen, what actions to avoid, whom to steer clear of, all sorts of every day matters. Nothing is too small to be of no interest to the God who knows the number of hairs on our head, or too big for him to deal with. In our relationship with him he wants us to recognise his involvement in every detail of our lives, and to try to do everything in the name of Jesus and for his glory. Everything. There’s nothing he doesn’t want to be bothered with.
The last couple of verses remind us that wisdom changes us. As we seek to please God in all we do, we find that we are changed more and more into his image – we are becoming more and more like Jesus who is the exact representation of God, humanly speaking. Wisdom enters our heart, we get to know God better, our relationship with him grows closer, and we love it.
Is this what you want? To make the most of your life, however much more of it you have? Let’s seek from God the gift of wisdom to live each day in his presence and care, with ever-increasing fulness and fruitfulness.