The Fear of the Lord and the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 1)
In the classic TV series Cold Feet, James Nesbitt’s character Adam would sometimes respond to statements he found incredulous with the retort “Are you wise?“ In other words, “Do you really know what you are saying or doing?” “You seem to lack common sense”
Do you want to be wise? It seems a great thing to wish for doesn’t it? How can you be wise? Is it wise to be a Christian? We may think not for a couple of reasons.
Being a Christian seems to ask us to do things that we might not think are wise. Doesn’t it require us to take big risks, to invest time, money and energy into things which we get nothing back from? Can that be wise
Being a Christian seems to go against the common wisdom of our age. It’s seen as foolish to be religious. You don’t believe in God, creation, miracles do you? Religion is equated with intolerance and fanaticism
And yet so many of the good things that we take for granted in our culture come from a time when people at least tried to enact laws and order society in accordance with Bible teaching. It was Christian principles which led to the abolition of the slave trade and laws against children working in factories and going up chimneys. The very ideals of respect for human dignity leading to tolerance of others come from a Christian view of humanity.
Proverbs is book of the Bible which claims to be all about wisdom. This will be a good opportunity to put our concerns to the test. Let’s find out what the Bible says about wisdom. Does it provide something reliable and trustworthy?
Solomon was the King of Israel. His father David had been a great and powerful King. When Solomon became King, God appeared to him in a dream and offered him whatever he asked. Solomon could have asked for untold riches (in fact he was given these as well). Instead he asked for wisdom so he could rule God’s people in the right way. God gave him amazing knowledge and wisdom.
During his life, he began to collect these wise sayings. Others added into the book which eventually became the book of Proverbs. That’s the human side of the story. Remember that all of this happened under God’s inspiration. This is God’s wisdom
So let’s find out a bit about what wisdom is and how we get to be wise.
Wisdom is something to…..
- know (literal) and understand (v2)
- teach and learn (v 3, 5)
- receive (v3 literal) and give (v4)
In other words, wisdom is something that we need to work hard at. It takes time to grow into wisdom. Think of how football players have to train hard week in, week out. You couldn’t just turn up at Leicester City or Arsenal on Saturday afternoon and expect to play. You need to work hard to get your body into condition. Similarly, minds need exercise to think clearly and hearts need exercise to love, desire and will what is right. Young people and those who don’t know much yet can acquire wisdom by learning (v 4). Even those who are already wise keep on learning (v5)
Throughout the Bible (and throughout Proverbs) we pick up the sense that the Bible is where we will find God’s wisdom. In the Old Testament, the Law or Torah is portrayed as wisdom. It’s a light to a path and a lamp for our feet. God’s Word leads to a happy life (Psalm 1). Obeying God’s Law was the way that the people of Israel would prosper. That’s why we set aside so much of our time to looking at the Bible together. We want to know God and his ways. It’s why we encourage people to come along each week so that we can follow through a book of the Bible sequentially, building up a full picture of what it has to say. It’s why we encourage each other to join home groups and to read the Bible daily at home. Does it feel like hard work sometimes as we try to understand the Bible. Does it feel like a sacrifice when we set time aside for this? Well it’s worth it. We want to be wise and so we need to come to the source of wisdom
But wisdom is also a matter of grace. It’s something we receive. We are completely dependent upon God to speak to us, to reveal truth. God guides us.
Wisdom is about
- Wise (disciplined) living (v3)
- Righteousness, justice, fairness (v3).
- Having insight and discernment (v4)
Wise people take time to step back and look at the big picture. They puzzle things out rather than jumping to simplistic conclusions (cf riddles v6). Wisdom is something to explore and enjoy (v6)
So it is about individual life. Instruction or discipline here would include the idea of parents disciplining their children so they correct them when they get things wrong. A disciplined life includes making sensible decisions, knowing how to balance work and rest, not being taken for a fool by others etc.
Wisdom has a moral quality. It’s about doing what is right and just. So wisdom isn’t about working out how I can succeed and get what I want. It means being willing to put others needs first, it’s about sharing the good things in life. It’s about making sure that the vulnerable are protected. It’s about making sure that good is rewarded and wrong punished. If you live your life like that, it may actually look foolish at times. Sure you could keep quiet when someone else is being bullied Sticking up for them may mean that you get bullied too but would that be just? Giving to charity may not seem wise when things aren’t looking good economically. Shouldn’t I look after number one first? But what is fair and equitable?
Oh … you will realise that being just and fair are not things you do on your own. You need a community to be wise!
If wisdom is moral, if it’s about righteousness then wisdom is a Gospel thing too. We are reminded again and again in the Bible that no-one is righteous. We need “ a righteousness that is not my own.”
This takes us to our last application.
True wisdom is all about knowing God
Solomon contrasts the foolish person who despises wisdom with the godly. “Wisdom starts when we fear God.”
Fear means to show true reverence and respect. It means to worship God. It means that we recognise how great and wonderful God is. When we fear God, we know that he is real and we live as though he is real and present. It means we don’t try to manipulate or control God. We realise that he is the one who has all power. This fear is not about terror though. God is great and he is also good. Fearing God means that we trust him. It means that when we fear him and put our lives into his hands that we do not need to be afraid of anything outside of God. We do not need to fear sickness, death, redundancy, homelessness, old age, aloneness, exams, bullies etc. Our lives are God’s hands.
God is wisdom. Everything he does is righteous, just and good. True wisdom comes from God. We know God and his wisdom in Christ Jesus. This is the beginning of wisdom.
Our starting point needs to be in Christ. If we do not know him then it does not matter how clever we are. We will never be wise. It’s not just about knowing what is good and right against what is bad and evil, it’s about being able to live by those standards. We cannot do it. We need God to take charge of our lives. This is possible through and only through Jesus.
This is true wisdom, knowing that we cannot sort out the mess in our lives by ourselves. We cannot put right the damage done by sin. One day last year we discovered a leak from our bathroom. Water was running down and through a light fitting into our downstairs cupboard. There was a flood and sparks and smoke. Foolishness would have been for me to wade in and try to fix it myself. Wisdom meant that I called in a plumber and electrician. True wisdom means knowing that I need Christ to rescue me from sin, to clean up the mess in my life, to forgive me and give me his righteousness.
As believers we should be seeking to grow in wisdom. This is about seeking to be Christ-like. Are you growing in faith and godliness?
“I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection becoming like him in his sufferings.” (Philippians 3:10)