Sermon: Proverbs 1:1-7, Kingly Wisdom

People of God, we are going to spend a few weeks on selected portions of the book of Proverbs. I do this for two reasons:

First, because we live in a very foolish culture. We live in a culture that exalts immaturity. We live in a society that scoffs at wisdom. And the Christian Church has by and large adopted the model of our culture. It is much easier to feed a congregation with milk than to nurture them with a meaty and robust dose of gospel proclamation. As Proverbs imply, to be a Christian means to be wise. And this wisdom is not for the privileged class of the Church. This was the sin of Corinth. Some thought they were wiser than others, and that their status meant that they could exercise their freedom in whatever way they wanted. But wisdom, according to Proverbs, is for everyone. It is for the little ones in our congregation and the older saints. But wisdom is not something that can be exhausted. You cannot say I am done pursuing wisdom, because wisdom is something to always be pursued. As Solomon says: “…and those who seek me (wisdom) diligently find me (Proverbs 8).” Even in the New Heavens and Earth we will continue to grow and mature in our wisdom of who we are and who God is. So, children listen carefully to the instructions of the Proverbs. Those who are seasoned, listen to the instruction of the Proverbs.

The second reason I want to spend a few weeks in Proverbs is because we are in the Season of Pentecost. We have journeyed through all the main seasons of the Church, and we are now in the season where we see the Church being sent out into the world. The Church is a Pentecostal Church. She is fiery, because the Spirit has descended upon her. Fire consumes everything. As a Church, we consume the world by and through wisdom. This is another reason Proverbs is necessary for us.

These are the reasons why studying Proverbs is important, and I encourage you to read through it in the weeks ahead with your family at the dinner table, or simply in your private Bible reading.

What can we expect from Proverbs? You may know someone who has a difficult time staying focused in one conversation. They move from topic to topic. One author said that Proverbs “jump from one topic to another like scatterbrains in a living-room conversation.” [1] Though you may feel this way as you read it, Proverbs actually has an agenda. It wants to inculcate in you, to demonstrate that pursuing wisdom is a worthwhile endeavor. Proverbs wants you to be wise, but being wise demands the ability to discern between right and wrong. This is why you see so many contrasts in Proverbs. The contrasts exist because it teaches how God wants you to live and how not to live in this world.

But Proverbs aims also at success. However, biblical success is rather different than modern definitions of success. Biblical success establishes the good life in the way God intends it to be. Naturally, it is going to take on a different shape than our modern culture feeds us.

Proverbs then, is wisdom by learning discernment and gaining biblical success. These are the aims and telos of the book of Proverbs. Indeed this is God’s plan for His world through His people. It is a pity that the idea that the Bible applies to all areas of life is so neglected today. In fact, it is neglected even by Christians. The fundamental reason for claiming the Bible does not speak to all areas of life is that for some life is just about hanging on, and pursuing wisdom is just too hard and demanding. The world is ending anyway. The physical stuff is irrelevant. They only exist to distract us from the life to come. After all, if the ship is sinking, why polish the brass?[2] The book of Proverbs corrects this mindset. In fact, in the Hebrew Scriptures it is very difficult to find a distinction between the spiritual and physical. The soul is not a ghost-like figure wandering around divorced from your body when you die. When the Bible addresses the soul/spirit, it is also addressing your bodies, and when the Bible addresses the body it is also addressing your spirit. The implications of this thinking is revolutionary for how we think about the Scriptures, and for our purposes it teaches us that the Bible is also interested in teaching us about life, stuff, wealth, poverty, food, wine, water, trees, and everything else under the sun. When God said that creation was very good, He meant it, and we should not be shocked when he speaks to us about a variety of issues, and when He demands that we conform into His image. Wisdom is conforming to the image of Jesus Christ. The Christian is involved in serious business, but it is also the only business worth investing.

With that introduction in mind, let us delve briefly into Proverbs 1.

If we were to summarize the entire book of Proverbs, we could say: “Yahweh is the source of wisdom.”[3] Proverbs calls us to pursue God often, consistently, and faithfully.

Solomon begins by expounding on the value of wisdom.[4] These proverbs establish for us right from the start how we are to think about life. When someone eulogizes us at our funerals, our prayer is that these first seven verses would come to mind when they think of us.[5] Let me draw your attention to a few key areas of these first seven verses.

The author, Solomon, calls us to know  “wisdom and instruction, to understand words of insight.” One of the common features in Proverbs is “parallelism.” This means that the author will state something in the first part, and that same idea will be stressed again with different words in the second part. This is what we see in verse two: “Wisdom and instruction” in line one, and “words of insight” in line two. The same idea re-iterated. This is a very intentional way of communicating to the people of God.

But what does it mean to be wise? We speak of the virtues of wisdom. Instinctively we want more of it. The word “wisdom” is used in various contexts where it means “artistic skill.”[6] In Exodus, it indicates that there is an artistic dimension to wisdom.

Wisdom involves skill in doing what is fitting and in producing results that are beautiful. A furniture maker displays wisdom in his craftsmanship; a musician displays wisdom in making music; a father displays wisdom in training and guiding his children. There is a craft or art to each of these endeavors. Overall, the Proverbs teach us how to live skillfully, and how to construct a life that is attractive, fitting, and beautiful.[7]

Proverbs is an apologetic. That is, when Christians live in this way, they provide a case for the Christians faith to the world. Proverbs is a way of life. This wisdom Christians express is noticeable. It is not hidden. It is a wisdom that permeates life.

We see this in verse three: “…to receive instruction in wise dealing,

in righteousness, justice, and equity…

If the Christian desires to implement wisdom in his life, to make whatever area of labor beautiful with his skill and gifts, then to achieve this objective he needs to “accept,” to “receive” the instruction of Proverbs. Literally, to “take, grasp, or seize instruction.”[8] If you receive the instruction of the wise father and king it will lead to prudent behavior.

What behavior follows from wisdom? Solomon says: “righteousness, justice, and equity.” Is the book of Proverbs saying that wisdom has public repercussions? Is the book of Proverbs saying that privatized Christianity is not biblical? Precisely. But not only is Christianity public, it is also political. These are political virtues. “Righteousness” has to do with a pattern of life; with a rule. How should our leaders rule? Righteously. Where is righteousness demonstrated? Proverbs. Conclusion: Every politician should read Proverbs.

Judgment has to do with the activity of kings. How can someone judge and discern correctly without wisdom? Proverbs says you cannot. This country is in disarray because our leaders lack wisdom. The Proverbs are a guide not only for skillful living but also for skillful ruling.[9] If you are a businessman or a leader, Proverbs is for you. If you are a servant, a laborer, a layman, or a whatever capacity you may have, you need Proverbs. Finally, “Equity” refers to uprightness, fairness. Do we discipline one child one way, and allow the other to act as he pleases? Do we treat one person with respect and disrespect our neighbor? Wisdom teaches us to put things into proper perspective.

The Proverbs train us as kings in the basic sense that they teach us how to take mastery of life, rather than merely bumble and stumble through life from one crisis to another.[10] When you see a Christian walking aimlessly, lacking enthusiasm, depressed, cast down continually, easily offended, filled with anxiety, encourage them to read Proverbs. Dissatisfaction with life in one way or another stems from a lack of wisdom.

Solomon continues: “ …to give prudence to the simple,

knowledge and discretion to the youth—“

Verse four shifts from the student’s perspective to the teacher’s perspective. “The Proverbs are given to help the young learn wisdom, and so the young should study the Proverbs diligently. But the Proverbs are also given to help the old teach wisdom, and so older men should study the Proverbs diligently as well. Wisdom comes through teaching; we are not supposed to be seeking wisdom on our own, in some monastic cell or ivory tower. We gain wisdom by listening to the wise.”[11] What if the youth of this country reads through Proverbs? Gluttony, laziness, irresponsibility, foolish talk, immaturity, all these things would be challenged.

At the same time, there is a generation of older Christians in the church today that have little to offer to the young, because they have squandered their early years, and have not sought wisdom as they should. Gray hair is praised in the Bible because it assumes wisdom. Age does not guarantee wisdom.

The Proverbs conclude:

Let the wise hear and increase in learning,

and the one who understands obtain guidance,

to understand a proverb and a saying,

the words of the wise and their riddles.

Solomon is saying that we are to “feast on wisdom.”[12] Find wisdom’s table and sit there as often as possible. But where is this table to be found? Where do we go for it? Solomon stresses that this wisdom is gained through listening. In order to understand and grasp wisdom, you need to be able to listen. We mentioned this a few weeks ago, that marriage means that the husband and wife are disciples of one another. If only the husband believes he has wisdom to share, he is making a fool of himself. Wisdom entails the ability to listen and learn from one another.

But the proverb also implies that learning increases. And what does this mean? It means that we should never stop learning. We should never stop increasing in wisdom. When an individual stops learning, he ceases to add thoughtful insights into his life, and to the life of others.

Solomon says this exactly in verse 7:

The fear of Yahweh is the beginning of knowledge;

fools despise wisdom and instruction.

There is no neutrality. The foundation of all wisdom is God himself. Philosophers call this “epistemology:” How we know what we know. How do we begin our thinking? We begin our thinking as Christians, servants of God. We do not apply wisdom as the world applies it, but as God applies it.

How Now Shall We Then Live?

Pursue wisdom. Love wisdom. Cherish wisdom. And this implies that we are to live in wisdom, in a community of wisdom. Wisdom is humbling, because it implies that you do not have the answer to everything. Some people believe they have the answer to everything, and these people are fools, according to Proverbs.

Bruce Waltke summarizes this way:

“These conceited fools, in contrast to the teachable wise, are fixed in the correctness of their own opinions…and they are not teachable.”[13] This is the harsh reality of unbelief. Those who are outside of Christ, outside of His Bride, the Church, cannot grasp wisdom. They may think they have wisdom, but they are deceiving themselves.

Wisdom, true wisdom is embodied in Jesus Christ. Apart from him we cannot think, we cannot grasp, or express wisdom. Jesus is Wisdom made flesh. He is the wisdom of God to the world. Without him, we are doomed. Without his grace we are tormented with foolishness. After all, hell is a place where no wisdom is found. When a man thinks himself wise without God he is drinking of the cheapest wine the fool can afford. People of God, trust in Christ. Listen to Christ. Become like Christ. Speak like Christ. Challenge sin, and be always ready day and night to sit at wisdom’s table. And when you find that table, whether in a conversation with older saints, or whether from a book, or from God’s revelation, sit down, open your ears, and drink deeply.

In The Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 


[1] Bruce Waltke, Author’s Preface, The Book of Proverbs, NICOT

[2] This quote is perhaps first attributed to J. Vernon McGee.

[3] The Literary Structure of the Old Testament by David Dorsey, pg. 187.

[4] Ibid. 187.

[5] This is the biblical epistemology.

[7] Leithart. See also Waltke.

[8] Waltke, 177.

[9] Leithart.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Leithart.

[12] Waltke, 178.

[13] Waltke, 181.

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About Uri Brito

I am the Pastor of Providence Church (CREC) in Pensacola, Fl.
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One Response to Sermon: Proverbs 1:1-7, Kingly Wisdom

  1. Pingback: The Bible « bummyla

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