Are you even listening?

Heed Wisdom’s Call (Proverbs 1:20-33)

“I’ve had enough of you!” The preacher bellowed. Then he seemed to completely lose it!  He began to single out members of the congregation, getting them to stand up and then denouncing them in front of their friends and family. They were ignorant, foolish, lazy, refused to listen, showed no sign of growth etc. 

It was a shocking scene. One you would think had been made up.  But something similar to this scene really happened (the preacher doesn’t actually say “I’ve had enough …” but that seems to be the tone). I remember watching the You Tube clip of it and cringing.  Now on the one hand you probably are shocked and cringing with me. Maybe the shock tactics worked but I doubt it. My best guess is that the pastor is now out of work or the congregation significantly reduced. 

Maybe some of you have a little bit of sympathy for him. You know how close you get to losing it.  You sometimes want to just rant at that team member who never seems to get it. You’ve been tempted to just walk away from your child who is throwing a tantrum in the supermarket aisle.  You find yourself coming up with a sharp putdown to use only it’s too late, several hours after the confrontation. 

And maybe you read this passage as being something similar. Someone has lost it! Maybe it is the dad from earlier in the chapter going out looking for his disobedient child? Maybe it’s a city leader trying to get people’s attention and failing.  But it all seems on the one hand understandable but on the other disturbing, shocking and a little out of place.

However, it certainly grabs our attention doesn’t it? And that’s the intention.  You see, we can muddle through in life treating wise advice as optional, letting the challenges and correction of others go over our heads, tuning out during the sermon at church and thinking “It’ll still be allright, I’ll muddle through somehow.”

This passage should make us sit up and start to listen.

Listen because this may be your last opportunity to hear

A look at the Text

Listen carefully –wisdom is calling

It is wisdom herself that speaks. Solomon uses poetic devises including personification, repetition and parallelism to drive home his point.

Wisdom cries out in the busy city streets and at the city gate (v20-21). She shouts from the walls.[1] The image here is of the city elder giving advice at the gate and of the prophet who stands up to preach, warning of God’s judgement, calling for repentance (think of Jonah in Nineveh).

The problem is that no-one is listening. “I reached out to you but you paid no attention” (v24).  Does that sound familiar? It should do. This is a complaint that God makes throughout the Old Testament.  In Isaiah 65:2-3 he says:

All day long I opened my arms to a rebellious people.[a]
  But they follow their own evil paths
  and their own crooked schemes.
All day long they insult me to my face
    by worshiping idols in their sacred gardens.
    They burn incense on pagan altars.

It’s what Jesus says about Jerusalem as he weeps over the city.

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me. (Matthew 23:37).

 There’s a longing here, a desire for them to listen.  There’s sadness at their refusal to hear.

Now this is serious. It is not simply that they don’t hear her because of the chaos and busyness of daily life. Of course, sometimes we do miss what others are saying because of the noise ad chos of life. We simply have other things on our minds.  Sometimes we misunderstand.  There’s a breakdown in communication.  When I lived in Kent, I wanted to move flat. I heard about a property that was available and so I asked some friends about the area. They said “It’s okay.” Now English people like to understate things don’t they?  If a Yorkshire lad says he thinks a girl is alright, it means he really fancies her!  Now here’s the problem. I heard “okay” in that way “it’s a good area to live. My friends meant  “It is the cesspit of hell” or something to that effect!  They thought they had warned me not to got here. I thought they’d given me the green light!

But here we have a deliberate stubbornness.  They have “ignored advice” and “rejected correction.” They are stubborn in their stupidity (v22). They reject knowledge and enjoy mocking others (v22).  They are hard hearted.

Now this tells us why one Proverb will tell us to “answer a fool according to his follow” and another tells us not to. There is a time to plead and a time to stop wasting your breath.

Wisdom says “time is up.”

Not only will wisdom stop advising. It will actually mock them and laugh when their bad decisions lead to painful and distressing consequences (v26-27). When judgement comes, bringing great calamity and people cry out in distress. When they come back for help she will not answer, she will no longer be there. They will not know how to find her (v28).

A look at ourselves

Advice to Advisors

Now here, first of all is a word of advice and encouragement to those of you that are frustrated. You’ve tried your best to help others. You’ve patiently explained things to them. You’ve shown them the right way to do things. You’ve modelled godly life. But they just don’t want to listen.

There does come a time when you have to say “I can’t keep repeating myself.” There comes a time when you simply trust God to be sovereign. And it is important that you don’t carry the burden of guilt when you have done your best. You cannot control the outcome. You can’t force someone to change their heart.

A warning to the spiritually deaf

I hope this passage has got your attention. There is a real risk that we can become spiritually deaf. There are three levels of danger here.

First of all watch out when others are starting to give up on you. Now it might be annoying, irritating even when someone else is always challenging you.  It might be uncomfortable when sermons aren’t just positive and encouraging but include a challenge and even a rebuke. Sometimes the easiest thing is to zone out, stick in our headphones, play on our phones, find that little happy space in our heads.  But one day there will be silence. It will be the lull before the storm. It will be too late.  Listen now. Pay attention. Accept that the other person has your interests at heart, that they challenge you because they care about you.

Secondly, watch out when wisdom itself stops speaking to you. Don’t miss the point that wisdom is personified. It’s not just about the advice of well-intentioned people.  What happens when wisdom gives up? Well first of all, your conscience is silenced. You no longer feel guilt or shame when you do wrong.  You are just used to it.  Secondly,  you no longer find hope in God’s Word.  All you hear/read is condemnation. Why is that? Well wisdom is found in God’s Law. It tells us how to live godly lives. The problem is that the Law cannot save us. Paul in Romans tells us that the Law, weakened by the sinful nature cannot save and so it condemns. That’s what we see wisdom doing here.  The image of wisdom mocking and laughing is terrible. It’s not permission for pastors, parents and counsellors to laugh at the problems that others bring on themselves. It’s simply saying that the beauty and goodness of God’s truth will starkly show up the stupidity of your sinful decisions.

Thirdly, watch out, one day it will be too late with God. Remember that it is God who is wise. Wisdom starts when we fear and trust in God. True wisdom is His revelation.  So as was hinted at earlier, those who reject wisdom are really rejecting God himself.

A day is coming when there will be judgement. A day is coming when we will be held to account for the wrong we have done. A day is coming when we will face the full consequences of sinful rebellion.  If you have rejected God in this life then you face eternity separated from His loving presence.

Listen Carefully –there is good news

“All who listen to me will live in peace, untroubled by fear of harm.” (Proverbs 1:33)

Yes the Bible talks about bad things, challenges us about sin, warns about judgement. But it does so to point us to the better way. The Gospel offers peace, salvations, freedom from fear, the lifting of guilt.

Wisdom speaks and offers hope, comfort and security.

In the end it is Jesus who speaks.  Listen to him because

  1. He is the one in whom all the riches of wisdom are hidden. He is God’s revelation to us (cf. Ephesians 1 & Colossians 1). He is also the obedient Son who listened to His father and followed his advice. Jesus’s obedience is seen in
    1. His willingness to come to earth and live among us
    1. His perfect life, without sin, doing good, healing the sick, bringing good news, forgiving his enemies
    1. His willing death on the Cross fulfilling the Father’s plan
  2. He is the one who has taken the punishment we deserve on himself. Jesus is the one who faced the terror of torture, darkness and death. Jesus is the one who cried out to His Father and was met with silence “My God, why have you forsaken me?” He died so that we could live. He faced abandonment so that we can be reconciled to God.

Proverbs will keep on pointing us to Christ and the Gospel.


Practical Steps

If there’s something that you’ve been ignoring and today you’ve started listening, then we want to help you get back on track. Do you need to take steps to put your marriage right? Is there an addiction that people have been warning you about. One day it’s going to kill you?  Have you let those wise and true voices telling you that you are loved, cared for and valued be drowned out by others saying “You don’t amount to much, you’re a failure, your ugly, your fat….”

Here are some starting points.

Come and talk to one of the church leaders or your youth leader.  We would be happy to listen, talk and pray with you.

Have a look at the literature available on the Welcome desk. It’s free.  We try to provide booklets covering a range of issues.

Join a small group where you can pray, talk and learn together.

Take a look at the Faithroots YouTube channel for additional teaching on how what we believe affects how we live.

The heart of the matter

But we can pick off issues one by one and miss the root cause.  Don’t just read Proverbs as a sort of self-help manual. Remember, wisdom starts with knowing God. Wisdom starts with the Gospel. Are you right with God? Are you listening to him? Or are you living with God pushed to the distance?

If that’s you, then we particularly want to give you time to respond to God’s call today.  Come and speak  to us and we would love to pray with you. 

[1] Alternative reading of verse 21.

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