Purchase the CD of this sermon.
Proverbs are principles, they are not promises. In this book, Solomon is going to introduce to us the bread-and-butter issues of life. He's going to encourage us to put wisdom into our shopping cart. We can do without many things, but not without wisdom. It is the principal thing. Wisdom is not without knowledge, but wisdom is more than knowledge. It is the ability to act rightly and righteously in each situation with appropriate timeliness and tact, and is a pursuit of supreme value. What breath is to the body, wisdom is to life.
More From This Series
Ralph Mongans told me a little story this week about the preacher who was rather disturbed that his meeting had been disturbed by one of the members of the church who had got up in a rather noisily manner, had made his way out during the sermon, the pastor being a little upset over this, decided to wait for a moment before he could corner the man at a later date,, and he did that and he said, “Look,” he said, “Brother, I don’t want you doing that again.” He said, “It disturbs people, it distracts people.” He says, “You really shouldn’t be getting up in my sermon.” And he said, “Actually, just tell me why did you get up anyway?” “Well,” he said, “I get up to go and get myself a haircut.” He said, “What?” he says, “I mean, that’s ridiculous.” And he says, “And by the way, if you need a haircut, get it before you come to the service.” The guy says, “Well, he says, I would do that except when I came to the service, I didn’t need one.”
Well, I’ve got one of those sermons this morning. I’ve got one of those sermons that are going to lengthen your hair, but I trust will deepen your life because I want to begin a new series of messages on the Book of Proverbs and with every beginning and a new series, I want to take to just kind of lay a foundation and set us on the right track. And so this morning and Sunday morning I’m going to introduce to you the Book of Proverbs, and we’re going to spend some time thinking about the content of the book and the concept of wisdom and how you and I can find wisdom and why you and I need to find wisdom. That’s what we’re going to be all about.
I’ve called a series, That Makes Good Sense, and we certainly need God’s good sense if we’re going to make sense of life itself. And I’ve called this morning’s message, You’ve Got to Get It, and I want to turn you to our Proverbs, chapter 4 on verse 5, 6 and 7 and you’ll see where I get my message title from. So let’s begin a series of studies here in the Book of Proverbs that I know will be practical and life changing for you and me. Solomon writes in Proverbs chapter 4 in verse 5, “Get wisdom, get understanding. Do not forget nor turn away from the words of my mouth. Do not forsake her and she will preserve you. Love her and she will keep you. Wisdom is the principle thing, therefore get wisdom. In all you’re getting, get understanding. You’ve got to get it. Pastor, what if we to get? You’ve got get wisdom.”
When I was a boy, my mom used to send me on these errands down to the local grocery store for things that she had either forgot to get, or we’d actually run of as a family. And she’d often send me out the front door with these words, “Whatever you do, Philip, don’t forget the milk, the bread, and the butter.” It seems that there were some things on the shopping list evidently more important than others. In fact, bread and butter has become a symbol of the essential, hasn’t it? We talk about bread and butter issues. As we turn to the Book of Proverbs, Solomon is going to introduce to us a bread and butter issue of life. He’s going to encourage us to put wisdom into our shopping cart. He’s going to remind us that as you and I shop in the market place of ideas in all our accumulating and in all our acquiring, wisdom is the one indispensable thing we’ve got to lay our hands on. We can do without many things, but not without wisdom. It is the principle thing.
Proverbs 4:7. “In all our getting, we’ve got to get it. It is indeed the beginning of everything true and worthwhile in life. Wisdom must come first in our lives in terms of value and in terms of time.” Now let me say at the beginning that wisdom from a biblical point of view is the ability to live skillfully. It’s not just a stuff in your head with facts and figures. It’s not just being able to do algebra or advanced mathematics. No wisdom is much more practical than that. Wisdom is not without knowledge, but wisdom is more than knowledge. Wisdom is the ability to act rightly and righteously in a given situation with appropriate timeliness and tact.
J.I. Packer puts it a good way in its book, Concise Theology, “Wisdom in the scripture means choosing the best and nobles and at which to aim, along with the most appropriate and effective means to do it.” You can understand then that wisdom is a very important thing, knowing how to act appropriately in a given situation to live skillfully, that your life might become significant and successful from God’s perspective. Nothing should rival our pursuit of the commodity of wisdom because nothing should be compared to her. Wisdom is a treasure worth seeking, wisdom is a purchase worth making and wisdom is a gain worth keeping.
Look at Proverbs 3 in verse 13. Again, Solomon writes, “Happy as the man who finds wisdom. The man who gains understanding for her proceeds are better than the prophets of silver, and her gain than fine gold. She is more precious than rubies and rubies and all the things you may desire cannot compare with her length of days is in her right hand, in her left hand riches and honor, her ways or ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace. She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her, and happy are all who retain her.”
Building analogy upon analogy, building argument upon argument, Solomon wants us to get to grips with this thought that the pursuit and the possession of wisdom is the principle thing when it comes to our lives. It is a pursuit of supreme value. You’ve got to get it because you see without wisdom our happiness is handicapped, we open the door to disaster and we cripple our ability to function successfully. What breath is to the body, wisdom is to life. What sun is to plants, wisdom is to life. The pursuit of wisdom is the holy grill of living. It’s that important. It will guard us against evil.
Proverbs 2:5-7, “Then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom, from his mouth comes knowledge and understanding. He stores up sound wisdom from the upright. He is a shield to those who walk uprightly.” God’s wisdom will act as a shield to guard us against evil. It is a way to live a full and fulfilled life in all happiness. Chapter 3 in verse 4, “So find favor and high esteem through wisdom in the sight of God and man.” And folks, this is a message we need to heed because our culture has swapped knowledge for wisdom, it has mistaken information for truth, our culture can’t tell the difference between a wise guy and a wise man, and therefore I would argue from the context of the Book of Proverbs that we need re-grade our education system giving greater marks to wisdom than knowledge, and greater marks to truth than information. We need to stop making man the end of all knowledge and start making the fear of God the beginning of all wisdom.
Listen to these words from Hodden Robinson in his introduction to A Book on Wisdom by Robert Alden. “Since 1955, knowledge has doubled every five years, library’s groan with the weight of new books. High school graduates today have been exposed to more information on the world than Plato, Aristotle, or Benjamin Franklin. In terms of facts alone, neither Moses nor Paul could pass a college entrance exam today. Yet by everyone’s measurement, even with all our knowledge, the world is a mess. With all our knowledge, society today is peopled with a bumper crop of brilliant failures. We probably do not have more fools than other nations, but as Gian Adams once said, ‘In America fools are better organized.’ Men and women are educated to earn a living often don’t know anything about handling life itself. Alumni from some of our most prestigious schools have mastered information about a narrow slice of life but couldn’t make it out of the first grade when it comes to living successfully with friends or family.” “Knowledge,” he says, “is not enough to meet life’s problems.” And he’s dead right.
A good education may prepare us to get out there and make a living, but only wisdom from God will get us ready for life. The late British poet TS Elliot said this, “Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?” Folks, is it not true? Technologically we are living in the information age, but morally and maritally, we are living back in the stone age. We have better houses but worse homes. We travel as fast, faster than any generation before us, but with less sense of direction. We enjoy more freedom and exercise less restraint. We have more luxuries, but experience more misery than any generation preceding us. Modern man is a wizard on a computer, but he cannot compute the facts of life. Modern man has traveled to the Moon but he cannot find the path to life. Modern man has split the atom unleashing untold power, but he cannot hold together the forces of marriage and community because we have mistaken information for truth, and knowledge for wisdom.
That’s what makes the Book of Proverbs so pressing and so poignant. If you and I want to make a life as much as a living, then the Book of Proverbs is for us. This is a book that’s full of practical truth. This is a book that will take us from the bedroom, to the boardroom, and along the sidewalks of life, and will bring heavens down to worth wisdom to bear upon the issues of life with authority and clarity. This book has been given to us and has been given a place in the cannon of scripture to improve our overall performance in life. See, in some sense, the Book of Proverbs balances out the book of Ecclesiastes. They’re written by the seam author Solomon, but Proverbs is a book written primarily by Solomon declaring the truth of God’s wisdom, Ecclesiastes is a testimony to what happens when you abandon that wisdom and live according to your own foolish thinking.
Proverbs tells us how to live. Ecclesiastes warns us how not to live, and so for the next few months I want us to spend some time in this book that has been called The Dear Abby of the Old Testament. It’s an A to Z directory how to conduct yourself in a given situation for your good, the benefit of others, and for God’s glory. This is a book that will guide you to spiritual opportunism, and what I mean by that is this is a book that’s going to help you capitalize on a given situation. This is a book that will inform you how to act and what to say and how to react so that you might gain the most from that given moment in your life, that you might not forfeit God’s blessing through disobedience or dumbness.
You know what’s interesting by the Book of Proverbs? It’s so practical that nothing is hardly said in this book about the temple, the priests, or the service of God and the Israelite worship of him. But there’s a lot that’s said about street corners, and houses, and jewels, and animals. There’s hardly anything said about religious ceremonies, but there’s a lot said about love, and justice, and a concern for the poor. As one writer says Derek Kidner, “It is a book which seldom takes you to church.” But you see truth is for living. Truth is not a capsule, a bubble, truth is working clothes that helps us to make something of our lives.
And so I want us to study the Book of Proverbs. Now before we look at wisdom itself, I want you to bear with me, this is probably the driest part of the message, but it has to be covered because before you and I should study a book, we should know how to study it. We should understand certain facts about it. Who wrote it? When was it written? Why was it written? Is there a particular style that you need to be aware of? Is there certain keys that will help you to interpret it best? And there are. And I want to answer some questions about the Book of Proverbs that I want you to listen to. You will be able to harvest the most from this book if you’ll listen to some of these thoughts.
Number one, who wrote the book and when was it written? Well, it seems that the author of most of these proverbs was Solomon, the son of David. Look at chapter 1 in verse 1, the proverbs of Solomon, the son of David, King of Israel. We find again that his authorship is mentioned over in chapter 10 in verse 1, Proverbs 10 in verse 1, we read of the Proverbs of Solomon and so we can see that a great preponderance of these proverbs were written by Solomon himself and that shouldn’t surprise us because he was the wisest man of his time, perhaps one of the wisest men that ever lived, only to be surpassed by the incarnate son of God because we read in Matthew’s gospel that, “a greater than Solomon is here among us.”
But he was truly great. He was very insightful, he was very wise. In fact, he wrote in many of these wise sayings, according to First Kings chapter 4, in verse 32, he probably wrote about 3000, and we have under a thousand of them here in the Book of Proverbs, which leads me to believe considering the superintendents of the Holy Spirit upon the revelation of God’s word, that we have the best of the best when it comes to Solomon’s Proverbs here. So Solomon is the author of most of them, but he’s not the sole author because in Proverbs 22 verse 17 following, we have anonymous wise men under Proverbs. In the chapter 30 in verse 1 following, we have a man by the name of Agar and we have in chapter 31 in verse 1 following the proverbs of a man by the of Lamuel. So there were multiple authors to Book of Proverbs, but the most of them were written by Solomon.
Here’s an interesting fact, turn over to Proverbs 25 in verse 1 and we’ll see that although these proverbs were written by Solomon and some others, they were ultimately collected and categorized by King Hezekiah. Look at chapter 25 in verse 1, these also are Proverbs of Solomon, which the man of Hezekiah, King of Judah copied. So Solomon wrote the most of it, but it was actually arranged and put together by King Hezekiah, and that helps us to date the book. If we think about the fact that Solomon wrote it, and King Hezekiah commissioned it, we can conclude that these proverbs were written probably around about the 10th century, which was the time of Solomon’s reign and they were probably compiled around the eighth century, which was around the reign of Hezekiah. So that answers the question who wrote it? And, when was it written?
The second question is this, to whom was this book written? Was there an audience? Was there a target audience in the mind of the author? Now while this book is universal in its appeal, and indiscriminate in its help to all, I do think there was a primary target in mind. I don’t have time to take you through these, but believe me, I’ve researched it. The phrase my son, or my sons, is to be fined 27 times in this book, which tells me first of all that the primary audience of this book is young people, the son of Solomon and the Sons of Israel. But that, I don’t think that’s enough, I think it’s even more direct than targeted than that, and I agree with a number of commentators who believe that actually this book was probably written for the young and up and coming leaders within Israel because unlike years preceding them under David and Solomon, the government of Israel had been centralized.
Now it had international reach, it had diplomatic relationships with the surrounding nations, it was involved in trade agreements. And so it’s believed that King Solomon in all his wisdom during those years of prosperity and prominence, when Israel politically and internationally was out at Zenith, he sat down and he passed on this kind of wisdom to these up and coming young executives and leaders within Israel, particularly probably to some of his own sons, but generally to the Sons of Israel, equipping them for diplomatic duty and international travel. But we can take from that that it is a book particularly directed to the young and will have much to say to them.
Now there’s a third question. Hang in with me. What is the purpose of the book? See, before you launch in to reading this book, ask yourself why was it written? Who was it written by and to whom was it written for? Well, the purpose of the book is quite clear, it’s stated right at the front, the porch, Solomon wrote these proverbs according to Proverbs 1 in verse 2, so that these young men might know wisdom and instruction, that they may perceive words of understanding. Verse 3, that they may receive instruction in wisdom, that they may act justly with judgment and equity. Verse 4, that they might have prudence and perspective that they may have, according to verse 4, an ability to discern right from wrong and to choose wisely that they might according to verse 5, increase their learning that they may be man of understanding who attain wise council. And the avenue by which they can learn this wisdom is proverbs, and enigmas, and riddles.
That’s the purpose of the book. It’s a primer on right conduct and essential attitudes towards a successful life. It aims at producing lives in conformity to the divine will and the wisdom of God’s word. Fundamentally, the book Proverbs is a book that teaches us how we should live and reminds us that God’s way is always best. That’s the purpose of the book.
Now fourth question, what is a proverb? I mean, if we’re going to study a book of compiled proverbs, we’ve got to understand what is a proverb? Well, fundamentally a proverb is a pithy statement that conveys obvious truth. It is a concise comment that bears the test of time and imparts wisdom to those that listen. I like this definition of a proverb. It is a short sentence based on long experience. It’s a good definition of a proverb. Professor Estes at Cedarville University says this, “A proverb is a brief pungent maxim crystallizing experience. It is not intended to be a precise statement that can be taken as a promise, or an absolute, but instead a general principle crafted in a memorable fashion.” Proverbs are guidelines. They are moral maxims. They are truisms that bear the test of observation and history. They are short, memorable statements that pack a wallop in terms of God’s word and godly wisdom.
In fact, the word itself in the Hebrew means, to be likened to, it means to compare something with something. And you’ll often find that in the case of these short statements that pack a punch in terms of practical insight and moral instruction, that they’re often set in the context of what’s good and what’s best, and what’s bad and what’s good, what’s right and what’s wrong. I don’t have time to take you on that study, but as you read the Book of Proverbs, you’ll see about the way of the upright and the way of the wicked, and you read about, as we just read a few moments ago, how the ways of wisdom are paths of peace and pleasantness.
the Book of Proverbs sets before us again and again, two ways to live. There’s a right way and there’s a wrong way. There’s a way to live that invites a godly perspective and there’s a way to live that shuts out that perspective and lives within the confines of human thought. One way is profitable, the other way is destructive. One way Pays dividends the other way reaps a whirlwind of hurt. That’s what a proverb is, it’s a short statement that packs a wall up morally and theologically and is often said in the context of contrasts.
One final question, this is a very important one. Don’t believe me just yet. What are some of the interpretive keys to the book? I want to encourage you, as you and I read the Book of Proverbs and study here on succeeding Sundays, there is a certain way to read this book. There are certain things you need to be careful with because if you’re not careful, you can actually twist the Book of Proverbs to your own destruction on your own despair, and you will not harvest it’s benefit. Now let me give you some tips here. I’ve borrowed some of these, find some of them myself, but I’ve borrowed some of them and I’ve adopted them from one of my professors at Master Seminary, Dr. Richard May who’s got a wonderful little book called Practicing Proverbs.
Here’s tip number one. If you’re not writing these down, make sure you get the CD and listen to this again. “Bear in mind that no proverb, or section in Proverbs, intends to be exhaustive.” They are not unabridged, they are not the last word in any subject. So if the Book of Proverbs addresses the issue of drinking, or addresses the issue of raising your children, or it addresses the issue of wise financial practices, understand that these are pungent pithy little statements that get to the kernel of something that’s important, but they don’t say everything that needs to be said. There are qualifications, there are circumstances in which that proverb is not necessarily as profitable. You understand what I’m saying? These are brief, catchy statements of wisdom.
Let me try and help you grasp what I’m saying. Let’s take a proverb we’re all familiar with, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” Is that true? I mean, just as a bold technical statement, if you just eat an apple a day, you’ll never have to see the doctor. No, it’s not true. You can spend a every day with Granny Smith and you’ll still have to meet Dr. Jones. No, it’s a truism but it’s not saying… It’s trying to say this, eat healthily and it’ll be good for you. That’s the truth behind it, it’s not saying everything that can be said about that subject and you shouldn’t read it that way or think about it that way. Just read it for what it is, it’s a good little maxim, a good little truism, eat your fruit and vegetables and you’ll be healthy and stronger for it. It doesn’t mean that you won’t catch the cold, it doesn’t mean that you’ll be immune from the flu. It doesn’t mean you’ll stem the March of old age. That’s not the point of a proverb.
You see, if you read the proverbs too technically, too literally, you’ll miss the point. I mean, if you’re going to pick that little statement apart, you’d have to expand it to this kind of statement. “An apple a day as well as other fresh fruit will not always keep the doctor away, but will in general give you improved health so long as you do not eat green apples, or eat them unwashed. And keep in mind that during the winter you may not be able to find apples, but there will be residual health benefits from eating fresh fruit and moderation whenever you can.” You know, who’s going to remember that statement? No, a proverb is short and pithy, it gets you to the kernel of the matter and you just got to understand that’s its purpose, don’t be trying to pick it apart.
Which leads me to a second point, very important if you’re going to study the Book of Proverbs. Proverbs are principles, they are not promises. Proverbs are generalizations, they are not technical statements of truth. One writer says this, “A promise is a contract full of words that clarify details. Plug loopholes an attempt to eliminate all possibility of misunderstanding. This is not what we have in a proverb. It is more like a bumper sticker. Words are kept to a minimum on our chosen for their impact. The proverb is written to be remembered, not to say all there is to say on a given subject.” Folks, please remember this, you will see of yourself some hurt if you’ll understand that Proverbs is not to be taken as absolutely and unconditionally as in terms of a promise, it is a good and general statement that’s helpful to you if you live it right.
Let me give you an example of what I’m talking about because I’ve had to deal with it and maybe you’ve wrestled with this, those of you have gone through the pen of a disobedient child, or a prodigal son, and you did all you could, you sought to live like Jesus Christ before them. You brought them up in the fear and admonition of the Lord. You sat them in Sunday school every Sunday, they sat with you through worship throughout the Lord’s day, and then at some point they departed and you said yourself, “The proverb said in Proverbs 22:6, that if I’ll bring up a child in the way he should go when he is old, he’ll not part from the way.” But it’s not a promise, it’s a general statement, it’s a principle, that’s generally true. But you see little Johnny has to submit to other principles of wisdom for that principle of wisdom to work out itself in his life to be true. So be careful with the Book of Proverbs. They are principles, guidelines, general statements. They are not promises.
Number three, “You need to spend some time, or spend some time with someone who has spent the time interpreting this book in terms of its literature, its culture and its historical setting.” You and I are going to read this book and there’s going to be some words in some phrases. You’re going to say, “What in the world is that all about?” Well, we need to get back into the history of Solomon’s time. We need to look at the other wisdom literature like Job and Ecclesiastes to see if that sheds some light on that phrase, or that use of a particular word. You and I need to understand this book within its own context, within the wisdom literature of the Old Testament, and then we need to compare scripture with scripture. So we need to bear that in mind. We need to watch these figures of speech and make sure we’ve done our homework. Lest, again, we misunderstand the point of the proverb.
Tip number four, and this is a very practical one. “If a proverb is unclear, read it in another version, or a good Bible translation.” Here’s my advice to you, start to read the Book of Proverbs in something like the King James, The New King James, or the NASB. They are the more literal translations. But once you’ve done that and maybe a text is not clear, read an NIV, or read a New Living translation or read perhaps Eugene Peterson’s The Message. These translations try and catch some of the pictures behind the words in the biblical text. And so it’s good to have a couple of versions and translations of scripture before you as you read the Book of Proverbs, they’ll help you in and of itself.
Also, you need to probably buy yourself a good commentary. It’s an old commentary, but it’s still helpful as Charles Bridge’s old commentary on Proverbs, an old Puritan, but it’s still worth buying. But I’d recommend you one little volume by a man by the name of Robert Alden. It’s called Just the Proverbs. It’s done by Baker House, and it’s a very short little commentary, but it will give you something on every single proverb in the Book of Proverbs.
Tip number five, be careful not to use Proverbs with personal motive for selfish gain, but rather for achieving spiritual maturity and wisdom in order to glorify God.” And what I mean by that, this book is very practical. It speaks to raising children, it speaks to relationships, it speaks to financial wellbeing, it speaks to business practices. But what’s my motive in reading it? It better be so that I can order my life in a particular way that God is most greatly glorified in me as I find myself most deeply satisfied in him.
I hope you’re not coming to the Book of Proverbs to say, “You know what? I want to earn that best mother in the world cup.” Or, “I want to be a millionaire before I’m 40, and the Book of Proverbs is going to help me do that.” But some Christians have viewed the Book of Proverbs like that, they have kind of seen it as a sanctified version of How to Win Friends and Influence People, but that’s not the focus of the book. In fact, the most reoccurring theme in this book is the fear of God, the fear of God, the fear of God, that is the beginning of wisdom. Which reminds us that this book is all about righteous conduct, not worldly ambition. Why do I want to study the Book of Proverbs? Because I want to live a life that’s skillful and reflects the beauty and order of my Father in Heaven.
I want to bring glory to him through the good works that I do, through the good wisdom I receive. Here’s the final tip. You’ve been very patient. Proverbs is to be sipped rather than gulped. Proverbs is not designed for large doses of reading. Don’t sit down and read the 31 chapters of Proverbs today. Now, while all scripture is profitable, I would encourage you to read Proverbs in bite sizes. You’ll find that chapter 1 through 9 are… I’ve got larger chunks. Once you get into chapter 10, following there, almost every verse stands by itself, so take your time. If I could put it like this, the Book of Proverbs is a dictionary to be consulted rather than a novel to be read. It’s not like the The Epistles of Paul where we can sit down and go from beginning to end, it’s like a letter, it has a start and has a finish.
Remember this is compiled, this is hundreds and hundreds of proverbs written by a number of authors and they’re just kind of compiled for us, like a dictionary A to Z and you can turn to that page and that page there’s no necessary order to it. So just bear that in mind.
Okay, for the last 15 minutes here, let’s let’s begin to look at wisdom itself. I want to say three things about wisdom. Just one of them this morning, I want us to look at the supremacy of wisdom, want us to look at the skill of wisdom, and then we want to look at the sources. We’ll leave the skill of wisdom and the sources of wisdom until next Sunday morning. But let’s just go back over this whole idea of wisdom supremacy.
Let me reinforce again to you that what we’re talking about and what we’re going to learn in this book is essential and critical to you and I. There are many things that you and I can do without, but Solomon argues here in Proverbs 4:5-7 that, “Wisdom is one of those things that you dare not act without and dare not live apart from. Wisdom is the principle thing. Therefore get it,” he says, “in all you’re seeking find it. In all you’re getting possess it. In all your desiring worship.” Because it’s that important, it’s that supreme in terms of its value. In fact, that’s why wisdom is likened to treasure throughout this book, this concept of living skillfully. I mean, who can put a price on that? It might cost us $65,000 to put our children through a decent school today. You can’t put a price on wisdom, and they won’t necessarily, by the way, receive wisdom in that $65,000 school. That’s the challenge, this thing is supreme in terms of its value.
Look at what the writer says in Proverbs 3, in verse 13. We read it earlier. “Happy is the man who finds wisdom. The man who gains understanding for her proceeds are better than the profits of silver and her gain than fine gold. She is more precious than rubies. All things you may desire cannot compare with her.” Look at proverbs 8 in verse 11. Similar thought, “For wisdom is better than rubies and all the things one may desire cannot be compared with her.” You just need to draw a curtain around every Sunday morning for the next three months and say, “I’m going nowhere but the church because I’m going to hear about wisdom. And wisdom is of more value than silver and gold and not to be compared with rubies.” And when the foreman comes and says, “Hey, next Sunday I’ll give you a double time if you’ll come in and do some overtime.” You say, “Take a hike, Jack. I’m going to church because I’m learning about something that cannot be found in a paycheck. It’s more valuable to me than that. I’m going to hear about how to live skillfully and successfully for God’s glory according to God’s word.”
That’s how supreme in value wisdom is. It’s to be pursued like buried treasure. Go back to chapter 2:1, “My son, if you receive my words and treasure my commands within you so that you incline your ear to wisdom and apply your heart to understanding, if you cry out for the sermon and lift up your voice for understanding, if you seek her as silver, and search for her as hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.” Wisdom here has been liken to hidden buried treasure.
I want you to imagine, because this is the point of Solomon here, you go home and tomorrow you’re cleaning out your closet and you find an unopened envelope that you didn’t put there, that doesn’t belong to you, and becomes clear to you that it was actually left there by the person that owned the house before you, and you open the envelope and you read inside these words, “Because of my concern that some of my greedy, ungrateful children would squander my money once I am gone, I decided to bury $500,000 in the backyard beside the big green oak tree. The money is located in a metal box approximately three feet to the left of the tree and nine inches deep beneath the surface. If you find it’s yours now.” Now watch you don’t fall down the stairs on your way out to the garage to get yourself a spade and a pick and you’ll go out there and by the time you are done, you’ll think an army of moles had been in your backyard because you’re going to look for that metal box, $500,000.
Solomon says, “Wisdom’s proceeds is aa better than silver and more valuable golden gold and not to be compared to rubies.” It is hidden treasure folks, so go get your spade and spend some time digging in the soil of Proverbs this week and then come and I’ll join you and we’ll dig together next week, and we’ll look, and look, and look for the hidden treasures of God’s wisdom. That’ll be good for us, good for our children, good for our church.
In about 10 minutes here, let me just reinforce this. I’m getting a little bit outside the text but not too far just to reinforce why it is it so imperative that you and I pursue our search for wisdom. Why is this a supreme issue? And, why is wisdom the supreme thing? Number one, because of the complexity of life. Folks, I don’t know about you, but I need wisdom. In fact, James whose book has been called the Proverbs of the New Testament, says at the very beginning of his book, “If any man lacks wisdom, let him ask of God.” That’s a rhetorical question in the Greek text that actually already has an answer embedded within it. If a man lacks wisdom, and he will, let him ask God. Folks, you and I are going to get over our heads in life, there’s just no doubt about it. Wisdom teaches us the very fact that we need to learn skills to make something of our lives tells us that life itself is a complex business. It has many learning curves.
Just ask some newly married couple, what are the learning curves of a marriage relationship? Visit the maternity ward at hospital and ask that young mother about the learning curves of motherhood, and ask that doting father about the learning curves of fatherhood. It’s very easy to get an over our head and feel that we just can’t put it all together. Life doesn’t just stack up in some neat order and people don’t always cooperate the way we would wish and therefore, if we’re going to make sense of life and we’re going to make something of our lives, we need to master the skill of good choices, good actions, and good reactions. That’s what the Book of Proverbs is all about, it’s going to help you to negotiate and navigate the narrow streets of life. It’s going to wait for you at the crossroads and junction of decision making.
“What do I do in this situation, pastor?” Well, this is the book that speaks to all those issues. This is a compendium of moral and spiritual instruction from the observations of the most godly of men. This is truth that is being time tested. This is truth that will help us live better. You see, life does not come, does it? It takes time and thought. Man does not come pre-programmed, he has to learn.
I think we can all identify with Malcolm Muggeridge, in his autobiography he tells of a scene that he has imagined both when he has been sleeping and when he is been awake. He said, “I am standing in the wings of a theater waiting for my cue to go on stage. As I stand there, I can hear the play proceeding and suddenly it dawns in me that the lines I have learned are not in this play at all but belong to quite a different one. Panic seizes me. I wonder frantically and frenetically what I should do. Then I get my cue stumbling, falling over the unfamiliar scenery. I make my way onto the stage and there I look for guidance to the prompter whose head I can just see rising out of the floorboards. Alas, he only signals helplessly to me that I realize that of course his script is different from mine. I begin to speak my lines, but they are incomprehensible to the other actors and abhorrent to the audience who begin to hiss and shout, ‘Get off the stage, let the play go on. You’re interrupting.’ I am paralyzed and I can think of nothing to do but to go on standing there and speaking my lines that don’t fit. The only lines I know.”
Whether you’ve had that particular dream, I think you’ve had that particular thought. It seems that what you know doesn’t fit with the script of life. Life’s too complex and compressed. What are you to do as a young father? What are you to do as you seek out yourself a wife? What are you to do in that business context when everybody else is doing what is wrong but you know need to do what is right? What do you do? The complexity of life urges us to seek pearls of wisdom from the necklace of the Book of Proverbs. And secondly, the urgency of time. If I could carry the last metaphor forward life is a play, and we’re thrust onto the stage of life and there’s no time to rehearse, isn’t that true? We make our debut on the stage of life at birth, we play our respective roles at the prompting of providence and then before we know it, we leave the stage through death to either cheers or boos, because we’ll either have done something with our lives that counted, or will have made a right royal mess of our lives and others.
Will it be a cheer? Will it be a boo? We don’t have a lot of time to learn a new script, and we’ve had no time to rehearse our lines. We’re in great need of wisdom, we’re in great need of insight. You only get one shot at life. That’s why over in Ephesians 5, Paul says this, Ephesians 5 in verse 15, “See then that you walk circumspectly not as fools, but as wise redeeming the time because the days are evil. Do not be unwise, understand what the will of God is.” We’ve got to buy up our opportunities and wisdom gives us spiritual opportunism. It helps us to act with the maximum impact upon our lives. You and I need wisdom. We’re not sure of our lines. We don’t have a lot of time to relearn them, and we need the wisdom of others, and we need the insights of God, and we need the compass of his word, and we need the guidance of his spirit because of the complexity of life and the urgency of time.
I watched a movie some time ago called Groundhog Day. It’s a movie in which the actor Bill Murray plays this character who’s forced to live February the 2nd, Groundhog Day, over and over again. And every morning he awakes in his the guest house, to the tune of I’ve Got You Babe blaring over the radio, and it seems he’s trapped in this little town and life repeats itself in this endless cycle. And initially he gets this idea that life is absolutely meaningless and he’s trapped, and so he acts with abandon and recklessness and then he realizes, you know what? Every day that he gets gives him a new opportunity to change the course of his life, and the whole point of the movie is by the end of it, he has chosen wiser actions than he did in those first days as February the 2nd kept repeating itself. It’s a great little movie, but life’s nothing like that. We don’t get to live our days over again. You only get one shot at it. You can make a right royal mass of it, can’t you? We’re in desperate, desperate need of wisdom.
Final thought and we’re done. The complexity of life and the urgency of time and the depravity of man reminds us that we need wisdom. You know what the Book of Proverbs says in Proverbs 22 in verse 15? We’ll probably look at this someday when we look at disciplining our children, “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of correction will drive it from him.” What that verse is saying, it is saying that man is born with a kind of madness in his heart, he’s got a heart that’s like one of those wheels at Walmart, it’s stuck and it drives you where you don’t want to go. It’s perverse, it’s crooked, such is the heart of man. Foolishness is bond up in the heart of the child. Your may have an angelic face, but it’s a little devil on the inside, and you better start applying the rod and driving the foolishness from its heart. We’ll get to that.
But the point is this, that sin so corrupts the mind of man from birth that it makes him think that wrong is right. Proverbs 14:2, what do we read? We read this, “There is a way which seems right unto a man, but the end thereof is the ways of death.” Left to himself without the wisdom and insight of God, and God’s people, and God’s word man will choose foolish things. They will think they’re right, they will become proud, and arrogant, and unteachable.
Listen to Proverbs 21 in verse 2, Proverbs 21 in verse 2. Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the hearts. See, that’s why the Bible tells us in Proverbs 2, verse 5 and 6, “Lean not on your own understanding.” Now that verse isn’t advocating that Christians should be mindless or thoughtless, but it does remind us that we should not lean on our natural understanding because our natural understanding has been corrupted by sin, and clouded, and corrupted. And our mind must be informed by the revelation of God, we need the illumination and the light of divine revelation if we are to see straight and if we are to walk uprightly. So we’re not to lean on our own understanding because according to Ephesians 4 verse 17 and 18, man’s understanding has been darkened, and he’s not to lean on his own understanding, he’s to acknowledge God in all his ways and God will direct his path. God’s word will be a lamp onto his feet, a light onto his path.
You know the verse, Proverbs 29:18, we grew up with it from the King James, “Without a vision, the people perish.” That’s a bad translation, the new King GMCs has got it right, “Without a revelation the people throw off restraint.” That Hebrew word is not vision in terms of planning and plotting out your life, that word is actually prophetic insight, it is the word of God brought to bear upon the heart of man, and without it, men perish. Without it men threw off restraint and act like brute beasts and fool. And why do you and I need to come and learn from the Book of Proverbs? Because life is complex, time is running out. We only get one shot at it. And you know what? Apart from the grace and guidance of God, we would make a right royal dog’s dinner of our lives.
In fact, it reminds us that wisdom, biblically speaking, is often the opposite of your natural inclination. Do not teach your child to trust himself, little Johnny is a devil on the inside, his mind and understanding is darkened. It must be regenerated and illuminated by the spirit and the word, without it he will perish. Without it he will be a heartbreak to his mother and a shame to his father. Without it he will be on the broad road that leads to destruction, not the narrow road that leads to life. We desperately need God’s wisdom and insight.
Let me finish with this story as the team come forward and we sing, it’s a story regarding Socrates, the famous philosopher of a bygone generation. He was a rather large and strong gentleman, and one particular day, a young buck came to him and asked him, “Oh, great Socrates, I come to you for knowledge.” Socrates recognized the insincerity and the immaturity of this young man’s request. He understood that he was a pompous numbskull, and so he grabbed the young man and they began walking through the streets, down to the seashore. And the young man surprised, Socrates waded into the water with the young man up to his chest. “What do you want?” Said Socrates. “Knowledge, oh wise one.” And at that, Socrates grabbed him and pushed him under the water. 10 seconds, 20 seconds, 30 seconds, and he pulled them up. Dripping and drenched Socrates asked him again, “What do you want?” The young mans spluttered, “Oh, great one, I need wisdom.” Again, Socrates bent him over and pushed them under the water. 20 seconds, 30 seconds, 40 seconds. Pulls him up. The young man’s breathless. He said, “What do you want?” The young man’s screeched, “Air. I need air.” And Socrates said to him, in other words, “Here, endeth the lesson.”
He needed to bring this young man to a state of understanding that he needed to pursue knowledge and wisdom, like a drowning man, grasping for air. This morning we sang about the fact that God is the air we breathe and we need to be desperate for him. We need to be as desperate for those things that God gives, wisdom being one of them. What breath is to the body? Wisdom is to the soul, and we desperately need it. Buy it, pursue it, find it, guard it, woo it, cherish it, for it is the principle thing.