Did you know that the average human being makes over 30,000 decisions a day? It seems an unbelievably high figure, but scientists seriously estimate that our brains make around 30,000 different choices every single day.
No doubt many of those decisions are so basic, so inconsequential that we barely realise we are making them – like perhaps the decision to put one foot in front of another when we walk, or to put the same colour socks on in the morning, or to use our thumb to type a text message on our phone.
But other daily decisions are more meaningful aren’t they? Some choices we make day-by-day are rather more significant. There are some choices we face that will have a real impact on the shape and success of our lives. Some choices that will also shape the lives of others.
For instance, we face decisions about our relationships with friends and family. Daily decisions about the way we spend our money or use our spare time. We have to choose the way we parent our children, the manner in which we care for elderly relatives, or the way we conduct ourselves at work. And we have a choice over the individual words we use when chatting over coffee. Maybe that 30,000 figure isn’t quite so unbelievable after all!
Faced with so many decisions, we want to make the right ones, don’t we? I hope we all want to be successful and ethical in the choices we make. In other words, we want to act wisely. We want to make decisions that our good for us and good for other people. Nobody wants to be thought a fool. We all want to be wise.
Wisdom is much more than mere intelligence. You may have a brain the size of a planet but no common sense. Wisdom is also different from information. You may have an encyclopedic memory or know the contents Wikipedia off by heart but still live foolishly. You can even be a law-abiding citizen, but still make foolish decisions that damage your personal life and harm other people. Someone may know the public ‘laws of the land’, but that doesn’t guarantee that they can recognise right from wrong in their private lives.
You see, to make a success of life we need more than intelligence or information. We need more than just laws to obey. We need wisdom. We need wisdom to live well and live right. Wisdom to make the correct choices and to form our characters for good, not evil.
The tragedy is that so many people look for wisdom in all the wrong places. From Adam and Eve and their infamous apple onwards, people have tried to gain wisdom from the wrong sources. Horoscopes, self-help guides, newspaper columnists and secular culture all claim to offer us a sure guide to living well. But they all fall short in the end. To live well in this world we need to listen to the one who made it. We need to learn wisdom from the one person who understands us intimately - God himself.
So over the next few weeks at St Michael’s we are going to be learning wisdom from God’s Word. From the book of Proverbs, to be precise.
Proverbs - Where God’s wisdom is found! (v.1-6)
Today we start at the opening verses of Proverbs. Verses that tell us that if we are looking for wisdom, we’ve certainly come to the right place:
- Because verse 2 tells us that if we want to gain “wisdom” we should keep on reading.
- Verse 3 adds that if we desire to live a life that is “right and just and fair”, then it would be prudent to listen to Proverbs.
- And verse 4 is clear that both “knowledge” and “discretion” can be learned from the pages of this book.
The opening verses of Proverbs also tell us about its author and its intended audience.
When it comes to their authorship, verse 1 tells us that these proverbs are by “Solomon, son of David, king of Israel”. Solomon was one of the most famous and successful rulers of God’s people. He led the nation of Israel around 1000BC, when it was at its most prosperous and united. Solomon was the king who built the first great Temple in Jerusalem, and a king whose wisdom was legendary. Elsewhere in the Old Testament (1 Kg 4:29-34) we are told that “God gave Solomon wisdom and very great insight, a breadth of understanding as measureless as the sand on the seashore. His fame spread to all the surrounding nations” Solomon apparently spoke three thousand proverbs in his lifetime, many of which are recorded for us in the book of Proverbs. So these are wise words from a king - a king guided by God.
So if Solomon is the principal author of Proverbs, who is the intended audience? Who should study Proverbs to get wise? The short answer is everyone! Proverbs has something to say to all of God’s people.
In verse 4 we are told that Proverbs is written to give “prudence to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the young.” By simple, Proverbs isn’t saying it is written for the stupid, or for people with a low IQ. It means it is written for people who lack experience in life. People we might prefer to call naïve, inexperienced or rather innocent. Proverbs says it is also written for the young. For teenagers and young adults who know they have a lot to learn about the way the world works.
But what about those of us who are neither young nor (hopefully!) naïve. Does Proverbs have anything to say to grown adults, to mature Christians? The answer is ‘yes’ – because verse 5 today says “let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance.” Even if we are already wise and discerning, there is always more to learn. More wisdom that can be gained from God’s Word. The author of Proverbs obviously does believe that you can teach an old dog new tricks!
So the book of Proverbs is from Solomon, and for all God’s people. Proverbs also has a special style. Its not like other parts of the Bible, which contain history, laws, poetry and powerful prophecy. The book of Proverbs is different. As verse 6 tells us today, this book contains “proverbs and parables, the sayings and riddles of the wise”.
In its thirty one chapters, the book of Proverbs contains lots of short sentences, enigmatic sayings, pithy proverbs and brief parables – all designed to give us wisdom and insight in the different spheres of life.
Proverbial sayings are found in all cultures aren’t they? Even in England we have sayings like “Too many cooks spoil the broth”, “A stitch in time saves nine” and “Look before you leap”. I actually heard this week about a Chinese proverb that says: “Never burn down your own house to inconvenience your mother-in-law”. And there is a Turkish proverb that says: “If you meet a bear on a bridge, call her Aunty.” (I’ll let you work out what both those mean over lunch!)
But the proverbs of Israel are much more inspirational than those we find in other cultures. The short parables and pithy sayings in this book give wise advice for the most vital areas of life.
For example, to children it says “Listen to your father’s instruction, and do not forsake your mother’s teaching”. It reminds the wealthy that “riches do not last forever”. It warns the lazy of the dangers of being a “sluggard”. And it tells us that a true friend is someone who “sticks closer than a brother”, even in “adversity”.
As we will see over the coming weeks, Proverbs has much wisdom to share with us on our wealth, our family life, our friendships, our words and our work. But before all that, Proverbs says wisdom begins by having a right attitude towards God. Look with me at verse 7 today: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline”.
The fear of the LORD - The beginning of Wisdom (v.7)
By my reckoning, that expression “The fear of the LORD” appears a dozen times in the book of Proverbs. It is presented as the starting point, the foundation of wise living. It is the one attitude that most clearly distinguishes the wise person from the fool.
So what does it mean to ‘fear the LORD’? The first thing to note is that it is the LORD whom we are to fear. We are to fear the one true God, the LORD who revealed himself to Israel, the true Lord who later became a man in the person of Jesus Christ. We are to fear the living God, not any other false god or gods worshipped in our world today.
Secondly, we need to realise what it means to ‘fear’ God. It doesn’t mean that we should be terrified of him. Fearing God doesn’t mean that we should live in dread of him, constantly ‘quaking in our boots’ in case he sends a lightening bolt to strike us down.
To fear God is not to be terrified of him, but treat him with the respect he deserves. Our attitude towards God should recognise his authority, power and perfect goodness. A wise approach to life should begin with a recognition that we are God’s creatures - creatures who owe him our obedience, trust and love. We should be humble enough to realise that God is perfect and we are not. We need to ‘fear’ the Lord enough to ask for his forgiveness and for his help. None of us will ever live wisely without God’s help.
Someone who truly fears the LORD will want to read the rest of Proverbs - and the rest of the Bible for that matter. A wise man or woman who respects the Lord and wants to please him will want to pay close attention to God’s words. He or she will want to listen carefully to God’s commands. They will pay close attention to his advice for life. They will hold firmly to all of God’s wonderful promises for the future.
The other great thing about the fear of God is that it removes the fear of everything else:
- We won’t fear the opinions of other people if God’s opinion of us matters more to us.
- We won’t fear hardship or even death if we love and trust the God who can raise the dead.
- And we won’t fear the future if we’re in a relationship with the God who holds history in his hands.
- The Lord Jesus - Wisdom personified!
As Christians, we should always read the Old Testament with an eye to the New. Whenever we hear the Old Testament read in church, or read it for ourselves at home, we should be asking ourselves “How is this passage fulfilled, fleshed out, or built upon in the New Testament?”
Above all, as we read the Old Testament we should be trying to spot how it points us to Jesus. We should be asking ourselves how any Old Testament passage help us to understand who Jesus is, and what he has done for us.
There is no doubt that the book Proverbs points us to Jesus, and helps us appreciate him even more. Because as we look at the life of Jesus in the Gospels we see him as the ultimate wise man. You see, Jesus was a man who taught in parables and proverbs, a man who always spoke wisely to his friends and his foes, a man who amazed crowds by his teaching. Jesus actually claimed to be greater than wise King Solomon. Jesus even said that every sensible person should build our lives on his words - like a wise man builds his house on a rock.
This should come as no surprise, when we realise who Jesus was. The prophet Isaiah helps us recognise Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah, the promised king who would be filled with the Spirit of wisdom. And the apostle Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians that Jesus Christ was God’s wisdom in human form. He was, and is, God’s wisdom personified!
But, as I finish, the best thing about Jesus is that he offers us forgiveness for our past foolishness. We have all acted like fools in the past. We have all said and done things that were wrong, not right. We have all ignored the LORD from time to time. Wonderfully, on the cross Jesus took the punishment for our foolishness. He took the blame for our failure to have a healthy fear of the LORD.
And by his example, his words and his Holy Spirit, Jesus has made it possible for us to live wisely in the future. He has given us all we need to be God’s wise men and women in 2015.
So if we are Christians here this morning, we are people who have come to Christ for forgiveness for being fools in the past. We are people who follow the ultimate wise man and want live his way in the future. We are people who fear the Lord Jesus, and so need fear nothing else.