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The Beginning of Wisdom | A Sermon on Proverbs 1:1-7

Text: Proverbs 1:1-7 and Luke 6:47-49

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Words of wisdom.
Our culture is obsessed with them. Look at the bookstore and noticed how large the self-help section is. There is a book about how to succeed in just about everything. Five steps to losing weight, to a better love life, to getting a promotion, to inner peace. Look at how popular Dr. Phil and Dr. Oz are.

Most of this wisdom literature comes in the form of a Proverb: a short saying that gives you a fast tip on living the good life. Some of them are direct nuggets of wisdom, some of them are in the form of riddles.

I found a few great proverbs online this week that I’d like to share with you. They might just change your life, so prepare yourself.

  1. Don’t sweat the petty things, and don’t pet the sweaty things.
  2. Men are from earth. Women are from earth. Deal with it.
  3. Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach him how to fish, and he will sit in a boat and drink beer all day.

Here are some examples of riddles that make you ponder the deeper things in life:

  1. If all the world is a stage, where is the audience sitting?
  2. If you ate pasta and antipasta, would you still be hungry?
  3. If you try to fail, and succeed, which have you done?

I know. Deep thoughts with Pastor Steve. You are a better person for having been here today.

Today we begin our second series of the summer.

If you’ll remember we have been following the Narrative Lectionary this year which walks us chronologically through the story of the entire Bible. During the summer we look at sections of the Bible that aren’t part of the story line. We spent the first five weeks looking at the Lord’s Prayer. Today we begin a five-week series looking at what is often called Wisdom Literature from the Hebrew Scriptures.

Pull out your Bible, if you don’t have your Bible here I invite you to take out the pew Bible and turn to the index. There are five books in the Bible that we call the Wisdom Books.

Can you shout out what they are?

Let’s name them in order. Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon (Song of Songs).

These five books fall into three categories of Wisdom literature.

The first category I’m calling General Optimistic Truisms, or GOT.

This is what the book of Proverbs is all about. This book is a collection of little sayings that are full of principles that, when followed, work about 90% of the time. They are generalized wisdom, much of which you would find mixed in with the self-help books we mentioned in the bookstore, or hear on Dr. Phil.

The book of Proverbs was written by Solomon, who was the king of Israel and the son of King David. These are the collection of wise sayings that David gave to Solomon when he was a young man, and Solomon preserved them to pass on to the people of his kingdom. It is good stuff and important to learn. It’s like a treasure chest of precious gems of wisdom on almost every topic you can think of in life.

We are going to spend three weeks looking at proverbs. But then we are going to end by looking at the second category of wisdom literature.

I call this category “World-Weary Realism from the Wise Old Sage.”

Two books fall into this category. The first is Job, the other is Ecclesiastes. Job deals with the question of human suffering. Ecclesiastes deals with the other 10% of Proverbs.

This book dwells on the realism that, sometimes, bad people get away with it. Sometimes good people get sick and die young. Sometimes natural disasters wipe out a town.

Ecclesiastes is raw and bold and asks out loud, “where is God in all this?” It is good stuff. We’ll spend the last two weeks of the series in Ecclesiastes.

There’s one more category. I call this the Almost wisdom, but definitely poetry section.

Psalms is essentially Israel’s hymn book. It’s all poetry, and some of them are in the form of widom literature. Then there’s Song of Solomon. It’s an erotic love poem about a young bride and groom on their wedding night. Oh yeah. I’m thinking if we preached on that the attendance would go way up!

Right now I want to look quickly at the first seven verses of Proverbs and ask two questions:
First, what is wisdom?
Second, how do we get it?

Verses 1-6 answer the first question.

These verses tell us the purpose for the book of Proverbs. It is to help people gain wisdom.

Let’s walk through these verses for a minute. verse two says,
“For learning about wisdom and instruction, for understanding words of insight,”

An important thing to know about Hebrew poetry is that they like to repeat things.

It’s called parallelism. They’ll make a statement, and then they’ll repeat it with either the same idea said differently or the opposite idea. Both of these are a way to emphasize the point.

Here we see the same idea repeated differently. The purpose of Proverbs is learning about wisdom and instruction.

This word learning is interesting.

It is the word Yada, and it is also translated to know. In our culture, to know something has this sense of acquiring facts about something and memorizing them. In the Hebrew culture, to know something was to be intimate with it. The bible says that a husband would know his wife and they would bear chlidren. So, to know wisdom and instruction is far more than learning rules, it is about making something a part of who you are. It is intimate knowledge.

verse three says,
for gaining instruction in wise dealing, righteousness, justice, and equity;

It is about learning how things ought to be in life and trying to do them the right way.

The literal meaning of the word wisdom is skill.

When I was growing up there were many things that I learned from my Dad, but one thing that I did not learn from him was how to build things. My Dad is an amazing carpenter and he has built houses and I’ve watched him do it, but I don’t know if I was too young, or if it was a subtle form of teen age rebellion, or what, but I did not glean that part of my Dad when I was a teenager.

Then I went off to college and married the daughter of a general contractor, who did learn construction skills from her father. I’ll never forget my first “building project.” I wanted some shelves for my office, so I thought, “Hey, I’m a good artist, I create things. How hard could it be.” I took some wood, kind of eyeballed the cutting, screwed some pieces together. It kind of looked like a shelfish thing. I set it up in my office and Lona walked out. I wish you could have seen the look on her face. And, I’m pretty sure that just as she walked out, it fell right over.

Let’s just say I was not “wise” when it came to building shelves.

Later my company hired Lona’s Dad to come and build some of our caricature booths for the Excalibur, and I helped him. By working alongside him and watching this wise man build things that were actually square and stood on their own, I too, grew in wisdom and instruction.

You see, the wisdom of Proverbs is extremely practical. Wisdom is skill in successful living.

Now the second, and deeper question is this: How do we get it?

Verse seven answers this question:
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.

This verse is like the thesis statement for the book of Proverbs. It poses two kinds of people against each other.

There is the wise person who fears The Lord, and then there is the fool, who doesn’t.

this verse also raises two really uncomfortable questions.

First, are we supposed to be afraid of God? and, I thought Jesus said we shouldn’t call someone a “fool,” so why does the Bible?

Let’s look at the fool first.

The Hebrew word is ev-il. Ever heard that before? The Fool in Proverbs is any person who rejects God’s ways and refuses to listen. That’s what evil is. The fool is the person who knows what is right, and chooses not to do it, thinking that his or her way is better than God’s. The bottom line of Proverbs is, “don’t be a fool.”

Now, let’s talk about the fear of The Lord.

The best way to understand this is to think about our relationship with God like a healthy relationship between a child and parent.

What is the ultimate goal of a parent for the child? The parent hopes that the child will one day grow to be a mature adult with whom the parent can be a friend and have conversations as equals. When the child is a toddler, is that the case? Absolutely not. The role of the parent is to be this very large creature who is equal parts loving comfort, and disciplinarian.

When that precious little child looks up at you and willfully puts her hand in the cookie jar when you said no, does the parent say, Oh, look how cute she is as she defies me and thinks she is smarter and wiser than me. Go ahead honey? No, there should be a certain amount of fear involved in the parent’s instruction?

Why?

Because, when the child is running toward the street, unaware that a car is coming, and the child does not know to stop when the parent says stop, and the child is used to getting her own way, then when the parent says stop and the child defies the instruction and goes into the street, the consequences could be deadly.

Notice how the verse says,
“The fear of The Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”

If we want to become truly wise people, skilled in the ways of God, that lead to life, then we must begin with a simple truth.

God is God, and we are not. I am not the source of truth and wisdom. God is. I am not the author and sustainer of my life. God is.

God’s ultimate goal for us is friendship.

Jesus taught us that. But friendship with God, like any child with a parent, must first begin with healthy awe and respect, knowing our place of total reliance on God. Only then will we avoid foolishness, thinking that our ways are better than God’s ways, and grow in wisdom.

Jesus gave us a clear picture of this in the Gospel lesson.

He said that anyone who hears his words and ACTS on the them, is like one who has built his house on the rock. It will withstand the storms of life. It won’t get hit by the car in the street. But, the fool is the one who hears, but does not ACT. That house is built on sand and gets washed away.

Here is my Wisdom challenge for the month of July.

I’ll pose it in the form of a Proverb. A Proverb a day keeps foolishness a way. There are 31 chapters in Proverbs. If you read one chapter a day you will read the whole book in one month. It would be neat if we posted our thoughts about this on the Facebook page. Even if you’re up at the cabin, you can read Proverbs and post your thoughts. What do you say. Let’s be wise.

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