The last few months have felt out of control, haven’t they? What can we control? We can’t control the weather, the family we’re born into, how people treat us, etc., but there is at least one thing we can control: our pursuit of biblical wisdom.
Biblical wisdom is the art of living in God’s world.
God’s rules for His people are pretty clear: Love God. Love your neighbor. Make disciples. But life includes a lot of gray areas: work, family, relationships, money, conflict, neighboring, cultural and political engagement. Biblical wisdom sheds light on these gray areas.
In our summer teaching series “Wise Up: Learning the Art of Living,” we’re studying biblical wisdom in the book of Proverbs. Wisdom can be found all over the Bible, but it is most concentrated in Proverbs. In Proverbs, wisdom begins with God. Here’s the key verse of Proverbs…
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction. (Proverbs 1:7 NIV)
What if we became a church of learners, hungrily seeking wisdom from our mighty and compassionate God? What if we were, day-by-day, wising up in thought, word, and deed and spreading it to others? Think of the ways God could glorify Himself and bless our community. And that is our prayer, right? That God would help us become a church for the community as we LEARN from Jesus. It all begins with learning!
Interesting fact about Proverbs 4 is that God is not mentioned throughout the entire chapter. The first three chapters of Proverbs put God at the center of wisdom, so He is clearly behind the scenes and between every line. But chapter 4’s focus is not on God per se–it’s on you and what you can control. In life, there are a lot of things we can’t control, but, in chapter 4, we’ll look at 4 things you control in order to get wisdom.
1 Listen, my sons, to a father’s instruction;
pay attention and gain understanding.
2 I give you sound learning,
so do not forsake my teaching.
3 For I too was a son to my father,
still tender, and cherished by my mother.
4a Then he taught me,
and he said to me…
Ultimately, wisdom comes from God, but it is passed from one generation to another–three generations in this text, from a father to his son to his grandson. Because wisdom is the art of living in God’s world, it’s best given in the context of everyday family life. You can watch mom and dad work through a conflict in a healthy way. You can watch mom and dad work hard, make a living, manage their resources. You can watch mom and dad learn wisdom and pass it on to others. Family life is the perfect place to cultivate a strong wisdom tradition.
To some, tradition comes off as boring, irrelevant, or even harmful. But tradition, if it ultimately submits to God, is a wonderful thing. Christian writer and think G.K. Chesterton wrote, “Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about.” The vision here in Proverbs 4 is that the wise receive God’s wisdom from the previous generation and pass it onto the next. This is the first thing you can control.
#1 You control the flow of wisdom into and out of your life.
You control who you listen to. If you don’t come from a line of wisdom-mentors, there is hope. Find wisdom by personally reading the Bible. Or listen to it on the Bible app. Find wisdom by being a member of a church. Faithfully attend worship gatherings–even online ones–where we teach Scripture. Join a LIFEgroup, which is a great place to share the wisdom God is teaching you. Get to know other members who can share biblical wisdom with you.
You also control who you pass wisdom to. Again, this starts in the family. You probably know the damage an absent father can do. Perhaps you’ve experienced it firsthand. Absent fathers do damage, but being a present father isn’t enough either. Being an INTENTIONAL father (or mother) by purposefully passing wisdom through what you say and what you do is essential.
In verses 5-9, the father passes to his son the same thing his father taught him.
4b “Take hold of my words with all your heart;
keep my commands, and you will live.
5 Get wisdom, get understanding;
do not forget my words or turn away from them.
6 Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you;
love her, and she will watch over you.
7 The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom.
Though it cost all you have, get understanding.
8 Cherish her, and she will exalt you;
embrace her, and she will honor you.
9 She will give you a garland to grace your head
and present you with a glorious crown.”
The grandfather is saying, “You want it? Come and get it.” These verses, like chapter 1 and as we’ll see in chapters 8-9, personify wisdom as a woman. The idea here is that the young man should marry wisdom. Wisdom should be his first love! Not money, not actual women, but wisdom. In marrying “her,” he will “marry up” big time. Wisdom is an impressive catch. She’ll protect, watch over, exalt, and honor you. Because of this, no price is too small, which brings us to the second thing we can control to get wisdom.
#2 You control what you’re willing to pay for wisdom.
Wisdom ought to be the top item on our wishlists, and we should be ready to pay any price for it. What might wisdom cost? It might cost you your money. You may need to pay pastors, teachers, authors, and professors to support their work, but there are costs that go beyond money. It might cost you your time. You’ll need to spend time reading and studying and listening and thinking and questioning. It might cost you a relationship or a whole bunch of relationships, if someone is leading you into foolishness and otherwise distracting you from the pursuit of wisdom. Some relationships, like family, you can’t give up under normal circumstances, but certain friends, even significant others, may have to go in order to get wisdom. It might cost you your pride. For example, I’ve had people ask for my advice and accountability in dating situations. Asking for wisdom from someone else is humbling. It’s an admission that I don’t know everything, which, as obvious as that should be, is a huge blow to my pride. But whatever it takes! I want wisdom!
Now valuing wisdom above anything else (money, relationships, etc.) may seem like a big sacrifice, but THINK ABOUT IT. It MAKES SENSE to prioritize wisdom! If you have a ton of money but no wisdom, you could waste it all on meaningless purchases and even rack up debt in the process! If you have a significant other but no wisdom, the relationship could explode in unhealthy conflict or codependency, and you’ll lose it or yourself in the process.
In next section of Proverbs 4, we can clearly see the spectrum between foolishness and wisdom, with the simple forced to choose which way they’ll go:
10 Listen, my son, accept what I say,
and the years of your life will be many.
11 I instruct you in the way of wisdom
and lead you along straight paths.
12 When you walk, your steps will not be hampered;
when you run, you will not stumble.
13 Hold on to instruction, do not let it go;
guard it well, for it is your life.
14 Do not set foot on the path of the wicked
or walk in the way of evildoers.
15 Avoid it, do not travel on it;
turn from it and go on your way.
16 For they cannot rest until they do evil;
they are robbed of sleep till they make someone stumble.
17 They eat the bread of wickedness
and drink the wine of violence.
18 The path of the righteous is like the morning sun,
shining ever brighter till the full light of day.
19 But the way of the wicked is like deep darkness;
they do not know what makes them stumble.
The way of wisdom is smooth and increasingly makes sense, but the way of the wicked is full of danger with no way out. The way of wisdom requires intentional pursuit, and of the wicked requires intentional avoidance. You won’t drift or float into wisdom! Wisdom is like a prized 12-point buck that you have to chase through the woods while being chased by a hungry bear called foolishness. In Proverbs 4, it’s on you to get wisdom and avoid foolishness. This is the third thing we control:
#3 You control the choice between wisdom and wickedness.
Interestingly, the longer one lives in wickedness, the less control they seem to have…they eat, sleep and drink wickedness and don’t even realize it! Wickedness is addicting and numbing. The more we fall into it, the more we become enslaved by it and lose the control we had when we started. Because so much is at stake, the next section tells us how to to approach wisdom:
20 My son, pay attention to what I say;
turn your ear to my words.
21 Do not let them out of your sight,
keep them within your heart;
22 for they are life to those who find them
and health to one’s whole body.
23 Above all else, guard your heart,
for everything you do flows from it.
24 Keep your mouth free of perversity;
keep corrupt talk far from your lips.
25 Let your eyes look straight ahead;
fix your gaze directly before you.
26 Give careful thought to the paths for your feet
and be steadfast in all your ways.
27 Do not turn to the right or the left;
keep your foot from evil.
Solomon depicts a head-to-toe spiritual check up at the doctor’s, a spiritual “physical.” Ears, heart, mouth, eyes, feet. And each part symbolizes something in our pursuit of wisdom. The ear–who we listen to. The heart–our inner self, which we’ll come back to in a second. The mouth–our words. The eyes–our attention. The feet–our choices.
The heart is the most important part to pay attention to. “Above all else, guard your heart.” Guard it like you guard your kids or your phone or your 401k. In fact, guard it even more! What are we to guard against? Foolishness and wickedness. We are to only let God’s wisdom enter and only let wisdom leave.
Why is the heart so important? According to verse 23, the heart is important because “everything we do flows from it.” The heart, our inner self, is the starting point for our words and actions and choices. This is the fourth thing we can control in our pursuit of wisdom:
#4 You control how you internalize and apply wisdom.
Jesus taught about this. In Matthew 12, Jesus heals a man who was demon-possessed, blind, and mute. What would a good person or even just a normal person say in response to this wonderful miracle? “Wow, Jesus! I’m so happy you healed him!” But not the Pharisees, who were totally opposed to Jesus no matter how much good He did.
33 “Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit. 34 You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. 35 A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. 36 But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken.” (Matthew 12:33-3)
I can’t know your heart and you can’t know mine, but we can certainly see what comes out. Our words and actions reveal what’s in the heart. Many people have, at some point in their life, prayed a prayer to “ask Jesus into their heart.” But I wonder how many understood what that actually means–to fully devote all of our attention, affection, and choices to Him and His good ways. If you’ve ever asked Jesus into your heart, this is a great moment to stop and think about whether He actually moved in.
It can be a difficult and even scary thing to get to know your heart, your inner self. In the book The Emotionally Healthy Church, the authors write, “Dag Hammarskjöld, once the secretary general of the United Nations, suggested that we have become adept at exploring outer space, but we have not developed similar skills in exploring our own personal inner spaces. He wrote, ‘The longest journey of any person is the journey inward.’ Most of us feel much more equipped to manipulate objects, control situations, and ‘do’ things than to take that very long journey inward.” (Peter Scazzero & Warren Bird, The Emotionally Healthy Church) Maybe we struggle with the heart because we don’t like what we’ll find there: Foolishness? Sin? Take a moment to personally ask God to search your heart and enable you to guard your heart. Have you left your heart open to foolishness or wickedness? Do you need God’s wisdom to shed light on a difficult choice you’re facing? Ask for His help now. Ask for the new heart He has promised to those who believe in Jesus. Ask for His help as you do what you can to get wisdom and wise up.
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
Based on the 07.26.2020 message “Get Wisdom (Proverbs 4).” If you missed it, you can watch, listen, or read it at calvarymuskegon.com/learn-from-jesus.
Big Idea: We can’t control many things in life, but we can control our pursuit of God’s wisdom.
- Read Proverbs 4:1-4. What are the advantages of learning from those that came before you? What qualities does some need to pass on God’s wisdom? What qualities does someone need to receive God’s wisdom? How can you grow in these areas?
- Read Proverbs 4:5-9. According to verse 7, what is worth more than wisdom? Have you seen wisdom to be this valuable in your own life? How should we respond to this?
- Read Proverbs 4:10-19. Contrast the two “ways” to live. Why choose the way of wisdom over the way of wickedness?
- Read Proverbs 4:20-27. What aspects under personal responsibility are being bought under examination in this spiritual “physical”?