October 18, 2020

Becoming Wise


Proverbs 1:1-6; 9:10 James 1:5; 1 Cor. 1:24


For the next few weeks, we will be seeking wisdom from an ancient source- known as “The Book of Wisdom,” also as Proverbs, we will be spending the next 6 weeks going through portions of the book, seeking God’s wisdom for our lives.


What is wisdom? According to the dictionary, it is “The understanding of what is true, right, or lasting. Common sense. Good judgment.” (American Heritage Dictionary).  Proverbs 4:7 tells us that acquiring wisdom is one of the most important things we can do. “Above all and before all, do this: Get wisdom! Write this at the top of your list: Get understanding! Throw your arms around her- believe me, you won’t regret it;”


I don’t know that I have always had wisdom at the top of my list, but I have sought wisdom throughout my life, and from various sources.  My first real source for wisdom was from Sunday school teachers and my pastor, Rev. Chuck Link at Rancho Cordova Presbyterian Church. I began interacting with the Bible to learn God’s wisdom and learned about Jesus. I learned about God’s call to help others and love others.


It was also around this time that I began watching Mr. Rogers on public television. Those themes from scripture were gently reinforced in the land of make-believe. As a family, we also used to watch Star Trek, where I learned the wisdom of hoping for a future where humanity evolves beyond fighting factions and works together as an inclusive community, bringing help and peace to the galaxy through the federation…unless of course, you happen to be Klingon. It was Spock himself who said, “Logic is the beginning of wisdom, not the end. So, I gained wisdom from that old show back in the day.


At this time, I also learned wisdom from my parents and grandparents.  My mother and Grandmother taught me about the importance of faith-what is true, right, and lasting. My Dad taught me to try new things, even if you fail at something. He also taught me common sense and good judgement. My Grandfather and mom taught me to love music. As I grew into my teenage years, I started looking for sources of wisdom elsewhere of course- among my friends and in the lyrics of music (“Once I rose above this land of confusion, just to get a glimpse beyond this illusion, I was soaring ever higher, but I flew too high.” “Dust in the wind. All we are is dust in the wind” - THANK you, KansasJ) I also started interacting with the Bible more to learn some of God’s wisdom, by attending youth groups and summer camps.  I sought wisdom through my own experiences in college and tested some of those wise things I learned as a child to see if they were true. Yet, I was continually brought back to God’s wisdom, as I was working weekends as a youth director and had the responsibility of teaching from scripture every Sunday afternoon to a bunch of teens. I certainly had other sources of wisdom in my life but was never very far from the wisdom of God in scripture. That remains true today. I continue to seek after God’s wisdom and plan on having it near the top of my list until I no longer have my feet upon the earth.


Now despite that search for wisdom, I have never preached upon Proverbs before- with good reason. There is no cohesive story or main character here. Proverbs is generally a bunch of 1-3 lines sayings on being wise versus being foolish. Preachers tend to stay away from scripture that doesn’t have a story or is connected to a point in the history of God’s people. Theologian Tom Long says, “Some view the book of Proverbs as a deserted stretch of highway between Psalms and Ecclesiastes.” I would say it is a deserted stretch of highway with signs along the side of the road with words that make you pause and think as you continue to drive, but just as you ponder the meaning of the last sign, another one shows up.


Before we get too far, we need to spend time looking at this book’s background and history. Actually, the term, “Book” really is not an appropriate term for Proverbs. It is more of a collection of wisdom sayings. It is a compilation of serval authors and collections dating back to at least the 10th century B.C. up to the 3rd century B.C. Some of these sayings are also directed at the son of King Solomon, particularly chapters 1-9, and therefore may have been written by Solomon himself. But the rest are not Solomon’s wisdom, and in some cases, not even Hebrew in their origin.  Some of the wisdom sayings in this book date back to pre the emergence of early Israel. There is one section that seems to come from an ancient Egyptian source, Amen - Em-Opet, in Proverbs 22-24.


Our focus will be upon seeking wisdom, on becoming wise through studying the wisdom of Proverbs. It is interesting to note that the word for wisdom, hokma, is feminine, and wisdom is personified as female in this book. This divine wisdom comes directly from God, and therefore is a female imagery of God. There is significant Biblical text which supports the fact that women in ancient Israelite culture served as wise sages (See for example 2 Samuel 14;20:14-22;) Next Sunday, we will look more carefully at this female portion of the Divine.


Now as I said, this is an ancient source of wisdom, dating back at least to the 10th century B.C. What did wisdom consist of all those centuries ago? Theologian Leo G. Perdue writes, “…wisdom in ancient Israel and early Judaism includes at least six important elements: knowledge, instruction, imagination, discipline, piety, order, and moral instruction.” As we work our way through portions of this collection, you will hear elements of all six elements.


That being said, there are parts of this collection that seem sexist (Proverbs 21:9) “It is better to live in the corner of a housetop, than in a house shared with a contentious wife.” Yikes.  In addition, for the most part, these moral instructions do not advocate for social change, but rather seek to legitimate the existing social reality and the worldview that sustains it. Much of the sayings come from a largely male upper-class stratum which values wealth, possessions, and male dominance. Yet overall, there is much we can ponder and learn from in these ancient wisdom sayings, which can still apply to us all these centuries later.


So how does one use this book, a compilation of ancient wisdom in today’s ridiculously fast-paced digital age? These sayings were addressed to an ancient society long gone, and we have so much access to all sorts of wisdom, a tempest of cultures, worldviews, and ideologies all competing for our attention.


How then do we seek and find the wisdom of God in such a world?


Proverbs 9:10 is where we begin. “The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” This is also found in part in the other section of scripture for today, Proverbs 1:7.  Let us unpack that word, “fear” a bit. The word translated as fear in Hebrew, Yahweh, also means reverence.  So then, the reverence, the awe, and respect of God is the beginning of wisdom. I have experienced that awe in moments of new life and in death. I have experienced that awe and reverence for God in understanding the vastness, the amazing variety, and creativity of the universe, galaxy, and solar system. We think we understand it all and then find a vast ocean on the moon of Europa, ice volcanoes on the moon Titan, water under the surface of Mars, etc. As the psalmist wrote, “when I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, what are human beings that You are mindful of them, mortals that You care for them?”  (Psalm 8:3) Life in all its vastness and our tiny place in it is amazing, and I find myself at times in awe. English Baptist minister Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-92) wrote, “The doorstep to the temple of wisdom is a knowledge of our own ignorance.”


Let us unpack Proverbs 1:1-9 a bit as well. These words of introduction layout the overall purpose of life to grasp wisdom and to acquire the means to attain it. We do this through the study of these proverbs to understand their meanings, and when proper, apply those meanings to our own lives.


For this morning, I invite you to ponder just a few of the wisdom sayings in Proverbs. They are meant to be read and pondered just as they are without further explanation. I will however say these certainly apply to our presidential election as it unfolds.


Proverbs 11:13 A gossip goes around spreading rumors, while a trustworthy person tries to quiet them.


Proverbs 15:1 A gentle answer turns away wrath, but harsh words cause quarrels.


Proverbs 18:17 Any story sounds true until someone tells the other side and sets the record straight.


These sayings also apply to our own personal lives and how we are to live them. Is the book of Proverbs the only place where we can find God’s wisdom? No. We can find wisdom by asking the source directly. James 1:5 says, “If any of you is lacking wisdom, ask God, who gives top all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given to you.”  I have asked God for help in understanding my own struggles and sufferings; for help in understanding the enmity between peoples; and for understanding my own role and place in the world. I may have to repeatedly ask for wisdom and understanding, but in time that wisdom does come. So, are you lacking wisdom in understanding something? Ask God for clarity. Make a list of those things you need wisdom and understanding upon, and the Creator of all things will in time give you that wisdom, generously and ungrudgingly.


Finally, I want to encourage you to another great source for God’s wisdom. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 1:24, “but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ, is the power and wisdom of God.” We can find profound wisdom for living today through the teachings and example of Christ. Right now, I am leading a Bible study on Jesus’ first sermon, the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7. These teachings of Christ, just three chapters from scripture offer a lifetime of Godly wisdom and are a challenge to the way of life on display in today’s world. I encourage you to read through this section of scripture over and over again so that you might experience the power and wisdom of God.


So, I hope you will join me on this journey of discovery as we focus on the next few weeks of getting wisdom and seeking understanding. May we learn more about ourselves and how to approach this often unwise world with the power and wisdom of our Creator, through the book of Proverbs, through asking God for wisdom, and through reading and learning the teachings of Christ. Throw your arms around such wisdom. Believe me! You won’t regret it! Alleluia. Amen.

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