Life is filled with decisions that will change your life. We know that there are good decisions and bad decisions. Unfortunately, we often don’t know which is which until it is too late.
This morning we begin a study of a book that strives to teach us how to make good decisions in life. It is the book of Proverbs. You find it in your Bible right after the book of Psalms. Though several authors contributed to the book, it is most closely associated with King Solomon, the son of David. Solomon is credited with writing three books: Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and the Song of Songs (or Song of Solomon).
When Solomon was made King God told him he could ask for anything he wanted (if you will, he was given one “wish”). Solomon thought about it. He didn’t ask for money, health or even for three more wishes! He asked that God would give him wisdom so that he might lead in the way that was best. God granted Solomon’s request (and also made him fabulously wealthy) making him the wisest man of his day.
This book sets out to pass on what Solomon learned to us. The first nine chapters are set up with some extended instruction in the former of wisdom of a Father to a son. Much of that instruction is encouragement to pursue wisdom with every ounce of strength we possess.
Beginning in chapter 10 we see a series of concise reflections or maxims on wisdom. If you have ever read Benjamin Franklin’s “Poor Richard’s Almanac” you see this same king of principle. They are generally just a verse long. Statements such as “a beautiful woman without discretion is like a gold ring in a pigs snout” Pr. 11:22) or “Work brings profit, but mere talk leads to poverty!” (Proverbs 14:23).
Proverbs is a wonderfully practical book but it is tough for a sermon series. We cannot approach Proverbs the way we normally do. Usually we would begin at the beginning of a book and follow the teaching thought by thought. You can’t do that with Proverbs. Solomon’s maxims read like he carried a notebook in his pocket and wrote down insights as they came to him. They are not organized.
What we are going to do is take many of the topics that are covered in this grand book and then assemble all the proverbs related to that subject. It should be fun and instructional.
What is Wisdom?
Wisdom is more than knowledge. A person can be very smart but function poorly in the world. Wisdom is much more like what we call “common sense”. Unfortunately if this sense truly were “common” we wouldn’t have near the problems that we do. Wisdom is knowing how to respond to the problems and situations of life.
This is different from the norm. Most of the time we do not respond, we react. Someone says something and we blurt out whatever comes to mind. Most of the time, we essentially pour gasoline on the fire. Wisdom is handling situations in a way that is productive rather than destructive.
Ray Ortlund Jr. wrote,
The book of Proverbs is a gospel book, because it is part of the Bible. That means the book of Proverbs is good news for bad people. It is about grace for sinners. It is about hope for failures. It is about wisdom for idiots. This book is Jesus himself coming to us as our counselor, as our sage, as our life coach. The Lord Jesus Christ is a competent thinker for all times and all cultures. He is genius. And he freely offers us, even us, his unique wisdom.
…Let’s not patronize Jesus Christ as a nice man who gives us warm religious fuzzies while we turn to the “experts” (whoever they are), the seriously qualified people, for the challenges of real life. Jesus is the shrewdest man who ever lived. No one ever outthought him No one ever surprised him or cornered him in debate. …Jesus Christ is the best counselor for all people in all season in life.
Think of godly wisdom as mentoring from the Lord. Imagine meeting with the Lord every day to talk about life. As you talk with Him you begin to learn how he thinks and before long you are applying those traits to your own life.
The Bible gives an example of the wisdom of Solomon. Two prostitutes came to Solomon. They had both given birth around the same time. They were living together. When they lay down at night each had their baby at their breast. During the night one baby died because the mother rolled over the baby. According to the charge in court, the woman whose baby died was placed in the arms of the other woman by the distraught mother. She then took this woman’s baby as her own.
They didn’t have genetic testing at that time so Solomon was faced with a difficult “she said, she said” situation.
Solomon command the baby be brought to him. Solomon asked for a sword. He said to divide the living baby in two so they could each have a half! The first woman said, “That seems fair”, the other one said, “No, let the other woman have the baby.” Solomon then declared that the second woman was obviously the true mother.
The Value of Proverbs
The first seven verses of the book of Proverbs shows us the value of the Proverbs or of wisdom and then tells us about the foundation of wisdom.
These are the proverbs of Solomon, David’s son, king of Israel.
2 Their purpose is to teach people wisdom and discipline,
to help them understand the insights of the wise.
3 Their purpose is to teach people to live disciplined and successful lives,
to help them do what is right, just, and fair.
4 These proverbs will give insight to the simple,
knowledge and discernment to the young.
5 Let the wise listen to these proverbs and become even wiser.
Let those with understanding receive guidance
6 by exploring the meaning in these proverbs and parables,
the words of the wise and their riddles.
7 Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true knowledge,
If you look at some of the other passages in Proverbs that talk about the value of wisdom you find,
- It will fill us with joy (2:10)
- It will save us from being taken in by evil people (2:12)
- It will save us from the immoral woman (or man) (2:16)
- It is more valuable than rubies (8:11)
- It leads to good judgment (8:12)
- It is superior to trusting our instincts (28:20)
There are a few key words in the opening section. The word discipline is repeated a couple of times. The idea is that we can learn to live wisely. Discipline teaches us to stop to think before we act. Wisdom does not come naturally. It must be developed. The best way to learn wisdom is to deliberately spend much time in the presence of the wise (like Solomon, Jesus, Paul etc.)
Another key word is “Listen”. We must listen to what the wise can teach us. Listening and hearing are not the same thing. When we listen we take what we have heard and learn from it. We take it into the way we live. Proverbs will only help us if we listen and apply what we hear. Memorizing proverbs can be helpful for recall in difficult situations but . . . we must do more than know the proverbs; we must take them to heart.
Solomon tells us that those who listen to his advice will live disciplined and successful lives. Notice however that success is not defined as we generally define it in the world. In our culture success seems to be defined by money, power, and popularity. Solomon however, defines success as doing: “what is right, just, and fair.” Wisdom will help us become the kind of people we all really want to be.
In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said the wise person was the one who built their house on the rock rather than the sand. In other words, the wise person is the one who builds their life on the Word of God and on a solid relationship with the Father.
In chapters Proverbs 2 and 3 we learn that wisdom is crying out to us. It is not hidden. It is available to all but not all will heed it. To be wise we have to be open and looking for wisdom.
The Foundation of Wisdom
In verse 7 we see one of the key verses in Proverbs: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge (or wisdom).” We read this same idea two other times in the book of Proverbs,
10 Fear of the Lord is the foundation of wisdom.
Knowledge of the Holy One results in good judgment.
11 Wisdom will multiply your days and add years to your life.
12 If you become wise, you will be the one to benefit.
If you scorn wisdom, you will be the one to suffer. (9:10-12)
33 Fear of the Lord teaches wisdom;
humility precedes honor. (15:33)
Solomon contends that you can’t really have wisdom until you know the source of wisdom. You cannot truly be wise apart from the Lord.
If the beginning of wisdom is “fear the Lord” then it seems it would be wise to ask: what does it mean to fear the Lord? There are a few different dimensions.
First, fearing the Lord is about reverence and respect. We should fear or respect the Lord as one who has authority over us. We should fear His power and recognize that we are accountable to Him.
This idea bothers some people but it really shouldn’t. We fear a police officer when we see them on the road . . . even if we are not speeding. We fear (or respect) our employer because we know they have the power to fire us or withhold our paycheck. We fear terrorists, we fear armies, we even fear dangerous weather. These are not bad things. We should fear these things because of their potentially destructive power over us. God is much more powerful than any of these things. However His power is anchored to His love (which in some ways makes Him more powerful yet.)
Second, fearing the Lord involves humility. Humility and fear are linked together in many of the passages in Proverbs. Humility is adopting the proper posture before the greatness of God. In other words, before we can begin on the road of humility we have to see not only God’s greatness . . . we must see our smallness by comparison.
This goes against the grain of everything we are taught in our culture. We are taught to be SELF-sufficient, to “make our own way” to “fix our problems” and even as Christians we sometimes sound like we are saying “just work a little harder”. We look for formulas that will allow us to earn God’s favor and be what He wants us to be. Humility can’t exist until we realize we can never earn God’s favor. The Bible says there is nothing we can do to make ourselves right with God.
Pastor and author Tullian Tchivadjian has observed that as human beings we hate when someone tells us what we have to do. This is why we recoil at the preaching of God’s Law because it is telling us we have to measure up to a certain standard. However, there is one thing we hate more: we hate being told there is nothing we can do. We hate the idea of being dependent on someone else (in this case, the Lord).
The gospel tells us that God has a holy standard that we have missed and there is nothing we can do to fix that fact. We must humbly submit ourselves to the Lord. We come in weakness seeking the strength that only He can give us, and only as a gift. So humility is a posture of trust.
Third, fearing the Lord involves trust and obedience. In the book of Ecclesiastes (also written by Solomon and containing many Proverbial statements of wisdom) the teacher concludes his discussion this way,
Here now is my final conclusion: Fear God and obey his commands, for this is everyone’s duty.
This progression makes perfect sense
- We see God’s greatness, power, and His superiority
- We recognize our sin, weakness and utter dependency upon Him
- We put our trust in Him and in trust we follow His lead and His directions in the strength that He provides.
The person who truly fears the Lord recognizes God’s right to direct our lives. He also recognizes that we cannot claim to respect the Lord, we cannot claim to love Him, we cannot claim to trust Him, if we do not do what He says.
It is important that we not view this book as telling us what we need to do to be loved by God. Let me state up front that this book will convict you of all the changes you need to make in life. But the book cannot and will not save you! Only God can do that and only through the work of Christ on our behalf.
As you read through the book of Proverbs don’t forget this fact. God loves us. He sees the mess our lives are in and has done what is necessary to make us right before Him. God does this! It is ALL of grace. Proverbs is not a bunch of laws to get us to God. Proverbs contains guidance and wisdom on how to live with wisdom in a messed up world. It is a way to successfully navigate the confusion and the maze we call life.
How to Get the Most out of this Series
I think you will find Proverbs to be wonderfully helpful in your daily lives. Let me give you some suggestions on how to get the most from this study.
First, read through the book several times. Billy Graham used to suggest that we read five Psalms and 1 Chapter of Proverbs every day. This discipline allows us to read through both books every month. I encourage you to read through Proverbs several times in the next few months.
Second, underline those Proverbs that seem to step up and grab you by the collar. Those are likely the places God wants to work in you right now. Take those highlighted verses and reflect on them throughout the day. To get a fuller picture right down every verse you read on that subject throughout the book.
Third, make various proverbs a matter of prayer in your life. When a particular Proverb really convicts you, bring it to the Lord in prayer. (I find I am frequently praying about Proverbs related to speech.) Ask God to help you to live the way the Proverb suggests. Confess your failures and then ask for help.
Fourth, discuss what you are learning with others. This will not only help you remember the practical advice that Proverbs gives you, you will be mentoring others in the way of wisdom.
Discuss what the various Proverbs mean. Wrestle with the implications. Test out the wisdom of these words. You can even share these thoughts even with unbelieving friends. Proverbs is so practical that people of all kinds appreciate the wisdom contained here. Sharing the wisdom of Solomon may open a door so you can share about the wisest man who ever lived: Jesus.
My prayer is that the weeks ahead will be an adventure for us. Hopefully it will be an adventure that will change the way we live so that more of our decisions will be wise decisions.
 Ray Ortlund Jr. PROVERBS:WISDOM THAT WORKS (Preaching the Word) (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012) p. 16-17