Get Wisdom (Proverbs 4)

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.

  1. 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?
  2. 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?
  3. Read Proverbs 4:10-19. Contrast the two “ways” to live. Why choose the way of wisdom over the way of wickedness?
  4. Read Proverbs 4:20-27. What aspects under personal responsibility are being bought under examination in this spiritual “physical”?

The Wise Do Good to Others (Proverbs 3:21-35)

Why do good to others? Is this a question you’ve ever asked yourself? Everywhere we are told to “be nice,” but have you ever asked yourself why? Here’s some of the reasons you might find out there:

 

#1 Because you’ll get back what you dish out. We could call this this karma view–the idea that the universe will somehow pay you back what you deserve. While it sometimes appears to work out this way, this view is a problem for Christians because it leaves God out of the picture. Here’s another option:

 

 

#2 Because it’s in humanity’s best interest. While it certainly is in humanity’s best interest to do good, this view leaves broken human beings at the center of figuring out what is good and what is bad. This is a problem for Christians because we believe that we are broken and sinful and need God’s help in figuring out the good and the bad, which is the next view:

 

 

#3 Because it’s the wisdom of God. Ultimately, the best reason to do good to others is not simply to be nice for the sake of being nice, it’s because doing good to others is what God loves and what God enforces. This is the teaching of Proverbs 3. But first let’s review:

 

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. Read this key verse with me…

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!

The major lesson from Proverbs 3:21-35, which we’ll study today, is:

Wising up includes doing good to others.

Let’s learn:

21 My son, do not let wisdom and understanding out of your sight,

preserve sound judgment and discretion;

22 they will be life for you,

an ornament to grace your neck.

The benefits of wisdom are made concrete so that the teaching appeals to this young and simple son. Life! Who doesn’t want life? And “an ornament to grace your neck.” This is the third time so far in Proverbs that Solomon has compared wisdom to a necklace (see Proverbs 1:9; 3:3). It’s probably not just about wearing pretty jewelry or a sweet piece of bling. It probably has to do with the “magical” necklaces ancient near eastern peoples would wear out of superstition to protect themselves from harm (these examples are just from Pinterest, by the way).

magic necklaces.jpg

The symbol on the necklace could be a hand, an eye, a serpent, any number of objects, but, according to the myths of Babylon and Egypt, they were thought to provide the wearer with protection.

It’s a good thing we don’t do anything like that today…or do we?

cross necklace

We have all sorts of symbols and identities that we might find false hope in. Our nationality, our tradition, our job, our marriage and family, our wealth, our health, even our claims to spirituality and religion. Here’s what Solomon is saying, “You want protection? Forget those necklaces, forget what others are saying, forget your cultural myths and ‘wisdom’ based on anything other than the one true Creator-God. You want protection around your neck. Never let the wisdom of God out of your sight. Then you’ll be safe…” There is no safety in any of our worldly identities. Being an American, being employed, being educated, being healthy, being married…whatever that thing might be for you…will not keep anyone safe forever. There is only safety in the wisdom God gives.

23 Then you will go on your way in safety,

and your foot will not stumble.

24 When you lie down, you will not be afraid;

when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.

25 Have no fear of sudden disaster

or of the ruin that overtakes the wicked,

26 for the LORD will be at your side

and will keep your foot from being snared.

Solomon gives three promises of divine protection: safety in life, peace in sleep, and freedom from fear. Why? “For the LORD will be at your side.” These promises are contingent on wising up. It is because the LORD watches over the wise that they can rest fully in the promises of God. The Old Irish hymn “Be Thou My Vision,” a favorite here at Calvary, captures this:

“Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart

Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art

Thou my best Thought, by day or by night

Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.” (translated by Eleanor Hull, 1912)

Is God always protecting everyone? No! God is everywhere, to be sure, but He is only protecting those who are following His ways. Fortunately, Solomon describes how to walk in God’s ways…

27 Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due,

when it is in your power to act.

28 Do not say to your neighbor, “Come back tomorrow and I’ll give it to you”—

when you already have it with you.

These two verses condemn sins of inaction. “Those to whom it is due” translates a Hebrew phrase that literally just means “its owners.” “Do not withhold good from its owners.” In other words, there are blessings in our possession that, in God’s eyes, belong to others, and it is our job to deliver those things to them without delay. We’re not owners; we’re managers. Our God-given time, talent, treasure, and testimony is ultimately something to be shared with others.

Recently, a Calvary member requested help in setting up for a graduation open house. It was so neat to see Pastor Jason, the Morrows, and the Albrights show up to help, even on a hot day. It was in their power to help, so they did. What awesome illustrations of this proverb.

29 Do not plot harm against your neighbor,

who lives trustfully near you.

30 Do not accuse anyone for no reason—

when they have done you no harm.

These two verses condemn sins of action toward those who are trustworthy and harmless. Trust and respect are the lifeblood of flourishing community, but unjust plotting and accusing will destroy it in a heartbeat. If a church member proves untrustworthy or harmful, there would be reason to confront and even discipline them as a church. If a neighbor proves untrustworthy or harmful, there would be reason to confront and perhaps even pursue legal charges as a society. But these proverbs are not about confronting and disciplining others; they are warnings against becoming the kind of person who deserves such treatment.

In this week’s church-wide Bible reading plan, we read about the “glory days” of Old Testament Israel under the rule of wise King Solomon, and it was said that…

During Solomon’s lifetime Judah and Israel…lived in safety, everyone under their own vine and under their own fig tree. (1 Kings 4:25)

Solomon’s reign was filled with such wisdom, righteousness, and justice that Israel experienced a little taste of “shalom”–peace and prosperity. Each person was kept safe and able to make a living for themselves and their family. Trust and respect–not pride and selfishness–defined the lives of Solomon’s kingdom subjects. President George Washington liked to use this phrase–”everyone under their own vine and under their own fig tree”– to describe the kind of nation he hoped we would become. But whereas, our country must endlessly strive for that ideal because it is founded on manmade documents, the people of God will ultimately experience this because God has begun changing hearts, which is the bottom line Solomon gets to next:

31 Do not envy the violent

or choose any of their ways.

Wisdom leaves no place for even envying the violent, which is a sin of the mind. The violent here are not just murderers, they are those who withhold good and plot harm toward their neighbors. Violence takes many forms, but the wise should not have even a whiff of desire in their heart for any of it. Praise God that He has given new hearts to His people because, as we’ll see next, there is so much on the line. Solomon gives four vivid contrasts of how the Lord upholds consequences for those who do good to others and those who do not.

32 For the LORD detests the perverse

but takes the upright into his confidence.

33 The LORD’s curse is on the house of the wicked,

but he blesses the home of the righteous.

34 He mocks proud mockers

but shows favor to the humble and oppressed.

35 The wise inherit honor,

but fools get only shame.

First, the wise are brought into God’s “inner circle,” but the foolish disgust Him. Second, God blesses the entire house of the wise but curses the fool’s home. Third, God’s kindness comes to those who have stayed faithful even to the point of being oppressed. Fourth, He showers honor on the wise and shame on the fool.

What’s the point? God does bad to those who do bad to others but He does good to those who do good to others. It’s very clear that this is not karma–cosmic payback–but actual justice overseen by a personal Creator-God. It’s very clear that these are not just human-centered niceties but righteous relationships as defined by the One who created all things.

Wising up includes doing good to others.

I have a confession to make: earlier this morning, on my way to church, the car ahead of me stalled out on Sternberg by the mall. I almost stopped and went back to help them push it up and into the nearest parking lot, but I thought, “Nah, I’ve got to get to church to put the finishing touches on the sermon.” How foolish am I! Helping with that car would have been the finishing touch on my sermon.

Don’t be like me; be like Jesus. In Acts 10, one of Jesus’ closest disciples explained the story of Jesus to some unbelievers for the first time, and he describes Jesus’ life in a very interesting way. I’m going to read the whole thing because it’s fantastic, but I want you to keep your eyes open for the part where Peter talks about Jesus’ life:

34 Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism 35 but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right. 36 You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. 37 You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached— 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.”

39 “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross, 40 but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. 41 He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

First of all, notice that Jesus offers forgiveness to all who have failed to do good to others because we all have failed in some way. By repenting of that sin and trusting Him, we can each be forgiven.

Secondly, if we are to follow Jesus, we are to “go around doing good” too. This can seem like an overwhelming task. There are a lot of needs in the world. The command to “love your neighbor as yourself” brings up a question. A Jewish person once asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” in an attempt to get out of loving certain people…you know “those” people (Luke 10:29). Jesus went on to tell one of His most famous parables, the story of the Good Samaritan, in which one of the man’s worst enemies–a Samaritan–became a hero by “doing good” to a Jew because it was in his power to do so. Here is a way to bring focus to loving your neighbors:

Who is my neighbor?

  • Family: Our greatest obligations to do good involve family…husbands and wives, parents and children, grandparents, grandkids, etc. These relationships are a wonderful place to practice “doing good!” Begin here, if it’s in our power!
  • Church: God has given followers of Jesus another “family” in which to practice “doing good”–the church. Just like spouses, parents, and children have obligations to each other, so do church members, if it’s in our power to do so. Church members should get to know one another, encourage one another, help one another grow, pray for one another, etc.
  • Community: We have an obligation to “do good” to people in our community: next-door neighbors, co-workers, classmates, other members of our community.
  • World: We have an obligation to “do good” to members of the global community. If it’s in our power, we should do it.

Biblical wisdom is not just religious and spiritual but also moral and ethical. If you recall from the first half of Proverbs 3, the wise were called to “trust the Lord” and “fear the Lord” and “honor the Lord” and accept the Lord’s rebuke, but now, in the second half of chapter 3, those who are wising up are told to do good to others, when it’s in your power. In a family, kids are to respect their parents AND be kind to their siblings. In a society, citizens are to submit to the authorities AND treat their fellow citizens well. In the kingdom of heaven, the wise fear the Lord AND do good to others. Frankly, it’s impossible to love God without loving people. The apostle John, one of Jesus’ closest friends and disciples makes this point over and over again in his letter to the church:

Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister. (1 John 4:21)

The kind of life that God loves is the kind of life that loves neighbors. This is why, at Calvary, we are asking God to help us be a part of both the spiritual AND cultural renewal of the Muskegon area. While serving the community and the world is beyond your power, it is not really beyond our power, the power of the church, God’s people. Together we can do much good! As an individual, you can do good to your wife or your aging parents or your neighbors. As a church, we can partner with Pastor Kiatisak who reports that 11 hill tribe people were recently baptized into the church and 65 hill tribe children are being cared for at the youth hostel. As a church, we can help parents reach out to and disciple their kids and teens. As a church, we can learn about childhood trauma and even provide some mentors to begin the long, difficult healing process for these children. As a church, we can help provide meals during the pandemic through food trucks and Supper House. Wising up, fearing the Lord, doing good to others…this is where true safety is found because it is what the Creator-God approves of. Who can you do good to today? That’s an essential part of wising up.

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

Based on the 07.19.2020 message “The Wise Do Good to Others (Proverbs 3:21-35).” If you missed it, you can watch, listen, or read it at calvarymuskegon.com/learn-from-jesus.

Big Idea: Wising up includes doing good to others.

  1. Read Proverbs 3:21-26. List the promises of these verses. Which appeals most to you and why? What are the conditions of these promises?
  2. Compare Proverbs 3:5-12 with 3:27-31. What are the spiritual action steps of wisdom in 3:5-12? What are the social/cultural action steps of wisdom in 3:27-31? Which action steps do you most clearly see in your own life? What are some things you can do to make progress in other areas of your life?
  3. Read Proverbs 3:32-35. How does God relate to the one who withholds good and plots harm toward their neighbor? How does God relate to the one who does not withhold good nor plots harm against neighbor?
  4. Based on these proverbs, what’s your next move?

Wising Up Works (Proverbs 3:1-12)

We’ve been watching these online services at home as a family, and Charlie, our 8-year-old, observed, “Proverbs are ‘pro-verbs.’ They are positive (‘pro’) actions (‘verbs’).” While that’s not exactly where the English word “proverb” comes from, it is a great way to remember what a proverb is. It’s a positive action you can take in God’s world. Does it always yield positive results? Not always immediately, but it always will. If you’re desperate for positive actions you can take in this crazy world, you’ve found them in the first part of Proverbs 3. But first let’s review:

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. Read this key verse with me…

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!

Proverbs 3:1-12 contains six separate yet related proverbs. Each proverb gives one way to wise up and one reason to wise up, which is a lot to remember, here’s the main takeaway:

Wising up works not how we want but how God wants, and that’s what the wise want.

The point of these proverbs is to show that learning wisdom does indeed pay off. The first five proverbs offer promises, even though proverbs are not promises; they are guidance, not guarantees. The proverbs are generalizations that may or may not pan out how we want but always as God wants. And that’s the point: Learning wisdom works in God’s way and God’s time. Here’s the first one:

Ways to Wise Up

Reasons to Wise Up

#1 Do not forget

#1 Shalom

1 My son, do not forget my teaching,

but keep my commands in your heart,

2 for they will prolong your life many years

and bring you peace and prosperity.

Proverbs 2 opened with “accept” and “store up” wisdom at the beginning of the learning process. Having started learning wisdom, we can’t go back! Proverbs 3 calls us to “not forget” and “keep” wisdom. God’s wisdom has been entrusted to those learning it, so they must guard it.

The promise of “peace and prosperity” translates one Hebrew word: shalom. Shalom is a much-longed-for state in the Old Testament Scriptures, a sort of return to the garden of Eden, where people gladly submit to God, care for one another, and live in harmony with creation. It’s not peace and prosperity like Americans think of it. Big houses, cars, boats, etc. It’s flourishing in right relationship with God, other people, and the world.

But, if you have any life experience at all, you know that it doesn’t always seem to turn out this way. Good people suffer all the time. It’s true in the Bible too. Job was one of the most blameless people in the world yet his life was marked with tragedy, poverty, and pain. And of course, there’s Jesus. He was the wisest and most righteous person to ever live and yet lived a simple life and suffered a brutal death. That’s because…

Wising up works not how we want but how God wants, and that’s what the wise want.

We’ll see this in the next few proverbs. Learning wisdom pays off but in God’s way and time. It did eventually work out for Job and Jesus, but not before the pain.

Ways to Wise Up

Reasons to Wise Up

#2 Live it out

#2 Reputation

3 Let love and faithfulness never leave you;

bind them around your neck,

write them on the tablet of your heart.

4 Then you will win favor and a good name

in the sight of God and man.

Love and faithfulness are central aspects of God’s own character. After the Exodus from Egypt, God promised to show Moses who He was, but He doesn’t show Him anything. Instead, He TELLS Him who He is. “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness…” (Exodus 34:6) “Abounding in love and faithfulness.” God showed His love and faithfulness over and over again when He…

  • kept His covenant promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to bless the nation
  • crushed Egypt with 10 plagues of judgment and freed the Israelite slaves
  • split the Red Sea so Israel could escape and closed it so the Egyptian army would drown
  • gave Israel His holy law to form a new nation for His glory
  • led Israel through the wilderness and established them in the Promised Land
  • judged Israel when they worshipped false gods and oppressed the weak
  • brought a faithful remnant of Israel back into the land

Ultimately, God shows His abounding love and faithfulness by giving His beloved Son Jesus in an amazing act of self-sacrifice so those who repent might be forgiven and restored! And because God abounds in “love and faithfulness,” He has won our favor, hasn’t He, and the favor of billions throughout history.

The wise carry love and faithfulness around them; they wear these virtues on their sleeve, if you will. Like some who wear their favorite team gear or brand names, Christians “wear” God-like love and faithfulness. What does this look like to live these virtues out? It looks like our Creator, Savior, and King. It looks like a dad being patient and persistent with a rebellious child. Someone overlooking the ways her friends have unintentionally hurt her. A teenager reaching out to a peer who has no friends. White and black friends pursuing unity and serving one another.

Generally speaking, if you show yourself to be a loving and faithful person like God, you will win favor not only with God but also with people, especially the people of God! Now we can think of exceptions of course. Those who reject God may also reject those who act like Him. But the general principle still stands: God and His people approve of the one who wears the love and faithfulness of God on their sleeve.

Ways to Wise Up

Reasons to Wise Up

#3 Trust the LORD

#3 Righteousness

5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart

and lean not on your own understanding;

6 in all your ways submit to him,

and he will make your paths straight.

This command and the next four explicitly invoke the LORD because learning the art of living is more about cultivating a healthy relationship with God than memorizing a list of rules. The theologian Bruce Waltke comments the commitment this proverb calls for is “entire, exclusive, and exhaustive commitment to God.” Trusting God is an entire commitment; it goes all the way to your heart, the center of who you are. Trusting God is exclusive; ultimately you cannot trust your own understanding. To trust God is to let Him override every other opinion, feeling, belief, goal, and agenda, even your own. Trusting God is exhaustive, requiring allegiance in every area of one’s life: Every thought, every minute, every word, every action is to be governed by God.

The promise here is righteousness. When we trust God entirely, exclusively, exhaustively, the direction and course of our life will be straight. “Straight paths” in Proverbs are a metaphor for the wise life. It’s someone who has learned the art of living. The straight paths are the safe paths because God in all His holy power created them and watches over them.

Ways to Wise Up

Reasons to Wise Up

#4 Fear the LORD

#4 Health

7 Do not be wise in your own eyes;

fear the LORD and shun evil.

8 This will bring health to your body

and nourishment to your bones.

One of the tricky things about being wise is that the wise don’t consider themselves wise. They are keenly aware that they don’t know everything, so they submit to God to learn the art of living in His world. This is so humbling, especially for people in our culture. Not only do we have that sinful, prideful impulse to think we’re smarter than everyone else, but most of us are also taught, from a pretty early age, to trust ourselves. One popular mantra right now is “you do you,” but this proverb implies that “you doing you” will destroy you. Instead, the proverb calls us to get lost in God and be overwhelmed by who He is!

The promise here is health, not just physical, it’s psychological as well. The reference to bones refers to our inside, our mental state. Fearing the Lord and shunning evil leads to physical and mental health.

Ways to Wise Up

Reasons to Wise Up

#5 Honor the LORD

#5 Wealth

9 Honor the LORD with your wealth,

with the firstfruits of all your crops;

10 then your barns will be filled to overflowing,

and your vats will brim over with new wine.

Proverbs has quite a bit to say about wealth and honoring God with it:

 

  • Choose integrity over wealth (28:6)
  • Acquire wealth justly (22:16)
  • Acknowledge that God gives wealth (10:22)
  • Avoid hoarding (28:22) and overconsumption (21:17)
  • Be generous to those in need (14:31)

Proverb 3:9 specifically calls the wise to use wealth to honor God by giving Him your firstfruits. The firstfruits were the first and best of an ancient Israelite’s harvest or herd. The Israelites would sacrifice the firstfruits to thank God and to show that they value Him above all. When I asked Emily to marry me, I made a big sacrifice to buy that engagement ring, but I was happy to do it. That ring costs more than all the jewelry I’ve ever bought period. I could probably buy a pretty nice car with the proceeds if we sold it. You know, a car that starts when you first turn the key, has AC, and doesn’t sound so angry. But I was and am happy to honor Emily, my marriage covenant partner, with that ring. Our firstfruits to God do this. By sacrificing our time, talent, treasure, and testimony for Him, we show Him and others how much He means to us.

The promise here is wealth, but not wealth for its own sake. God entrusts wealth to the one who has proven they will continue to use it well. Think about Jesus, for example. Jesus would not turn stones into bread for Himself, but God multiplied the fish and loaves so Jesus could feed the 5,000. Overflowing barns and vats! Jesus had no place to lay his head during His ministry, yet He builds a heavenly mansion for all His followers–”in My Father’s house are many rooms.” God entrusts wealth to those who have honored Him so that they’ll continue to honor Him.

For the most part, the first five proverbs of Proverbs 3 seem to promise worldly blessings to the wise: shalom, reputation, health, and wealth. Because of this, these proverbs have been abused by some who falsely teach a “prosperity gospel”–that God will bless you with health and wealth if you give God money or something, usually through their ministry! There are several huge problems with this prosperity gospel, but here’s a couple: First, giving to God in order to get from God is NOT honoring him–it’s bribing Him. Bribing someone is manipulation, and manipulation is not honor. Second, experience teaches the righteous can totally suffer in this world. Job and Jesus are the two greatest examples.

These proverbs then are promises in the broadest sense, but they are not meant to guarantee the time, place, and nature of the Lord’s blessing. They make general points about how things often work in God’s world, but we know that the world is broken, and we know that suffering is inevitable, even for the righteous. In fact, the sixth and final proverb saves us from falsely seeing the prosperity gospel in the previous proverbs.

Ways to Wise Up

Benefits to Wising Up

#6 Learn when corrected

#6 Growth of character

11 My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline,

and do not resent his rebuke,

12 because the LORD disciplines those he loves,

as a father the son he delights in.

This proverb clarifies the promises of the previous five by teaching that life will hurt because God is teaching us something. The one who trusts, fears, and honors the Lord will want God’s blessings in God’s way and God’s time, even when it’s hard, even when it doesn’t seem to make sense. In Christ, this proverb has been fulfilled and commended for each of us. The author of Hebrews uses Proverbs 3:11-12 to make this point in Hebrews 12:

1 …let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. 4 In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 5 And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says,

“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline,

and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,

6 because the Lord disciplines the one he loves,

and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”

7 Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? 8 If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. 9 Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! 10 They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. 11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:1-11)

What has God taught you in life through painful experiences? What has He been teaching you lately? C. S. Lewis said, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pain.” The past 3 months have had plenty of pain points for everyone. Are you complaining about it or learning from it? What is God teaching you, the Good Father that He is? How is He challenging you to grow in your relationships at home, in the neighborhood, at work, at church? You don’t need to enjoy the pain but do enjoy His lessons.

Wising up works how God wants, and that’s what the wise want.

 

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

Based on the 07.12.2020 message “Wising Up Works (Proverbs 3:1-12).” If you missed it, you can watch, listen, or read it at calvarymuskegon.com/learn-from-jesus.

Big Idea: Wising up works not how we want but how God wants, and that’s what the wise want.

  1. Read Proverbs 3:1-10.
    1. What kind of lifestyle do these proverbs command? What kinds of benefits do they promise?
    2. Can you think of examples in Scripture or your own life where these promises came true because the commands were obeyed?
    3. Obviously, the promises do not always pan out like one might hope. Can you think of examples? What is the point then of commands and promises such as these?
  2. Read Proverbs 3:11-12. How does this proverb transform how we think about the previous 5 proverbs? Does this proverb make sense to you?
  3. What is one thing you need to change in response to these proverbs?

Wisdom Matters Because Wisdom Saves (Proverbs 2)

I confessed a couple weeks ago that, as a young Jesus-follower, I did not see the value in studying the book of Proverbs. In fact, I hated the book. I thought it was boring, hard to understand, not really practical, too many rules, etc. I didn’t see the value of learning wisdom until I needed it.

Are you motivated to learn wisdom? If we see the value of wisdom, we’ll learn it. What if I told you that God’s wisdom in Proverbs can save your life? That is indeed the bold claim of Proverbs 2. We’ll get to that in a moment, but’s briefly review:

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. The gray areas of work, family, relationships, money, conflict, neighboring, cultural and political engagement. Biblical wisdom sheds light on these gray areas and helps them become a little more black and white.

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 more concentrated in Proverbs than anywhere else in Scripture. Proverbs is literally a handbook of biblical wisdom. The wisdom of Proverbs begins with God. Read this key verse with me…

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 begins with learning the art of living from Jesus Himself.

Let’s get into Proverbs 2 on why wisdom matters.

Wisdom matters enough to be learned.

1 My son, if you accept my words

   and store up my commands within you,

2 turning your ear to wisdom

   and applying your heart to understanding—

3 indeed, if you call out for insight

   and cry aloud for understanding,

4 and if you look for it as for silver

   and search for it as for hidden treasure,

5 then you will understand the fear of the LORD

   and find the knowledge of God.

6 For the LORD gives wisdom;

   from his mouth come knowledge and understanding. (Proverbs 2)

Proverbs 2 opens with a plea to go through the process of learning wisdom. It’s not just something you can read or memorize. It’s a process, and Solomon describes it like a crescendo, a build up.

It begins with accepting and storing up. Those of us who want to learn wisdom admit that we don’t have any to begin with. Nobody’s born wise, so we receive whatever God teaches. We do this by turning our ear–paying attention to God’s wisdom–and then applying our heart–thinking on and meditating on all that it means. But we’ve only just tasted wisdom, so we’re hungry for more! We call out and cry aloud for God to speak wisdom to us. Babies cry out for milk, children for mommy and daddy, a parent for their lost child. What do you cry out for? Proverbs says we should cry out for wisdom! Then we search and look for wisdom like it’s hidden treasure!! What if I told you that I hid a thousand dollar bill in the pages of your Bible? How frantically would you flip through it? Now, what I told you can learn the priceless wisdom of God in the story of Scripture. Would you go after it with the same passion?

This attentiveness and passion for learning God’s wisdom reminds me of twelve-year old Jesus in the temple. He could have been running around with friends or chasing the ladies. Instead, He was in the temple, “listening” to the wisest teachers in the land and “asking” them questions. Jesus wised up (Luke 2:46), and, during His ministry, He taught us how…

“Ask and it will be given; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” (Matthew 7:7)

God is not trying to keep wisdom from us but He does make us work for it.

As we wise up though, we are not merely learning the everyday advice a parent or mentor might give; we are learning the God’s very own wisdom. Remember the key verse of Proverbs: wisdom begins with “the fear of the LORD,” understanding how truly great and good God is and responding with full submission. The wisdom we find is none other than the Lord’s. And God’s…

Wisdom matters because wisdom saves.

7 He holds success in store for the upright,

   he is a shield to those whose walk is blameless,

8 for he guards the course of the just

   and protects the way of his faithful ones.

9 Then you will understand what is right and just

   and fair—every good path.

10 For wisdom will enter your heart,

   and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul.

11 Discretion will protect you,

   and understanding will guard you.

Verse 8 says that God will guard and protect the just and the faithful. Verse 11 says that our learned wisdom will guard and protect us. How can both be true? One theologian described it like this: “There is no tension between the LORD protecting saints (v 7-8) and the saints’ character guarding them against evil (v 11)…God’s protection [comes to life] through the son’s formed character.” (Bruce Waltke) This means that God has already given us everything we need to be saved from foolishness. Sometimes, when we are faced with a tough choice or find ourselves in a bad spot, we pray and ask God to miraculously save us. But He already has! He’s given us wisdom, if we would only internalize and seek it! Stop praying for a minute and put the work into learning God’s wisdom. It may seem weird to hear me say “stop praying” but sometimes I think that God’s answer to our prayer is already in front of our faces. Learn wisdom and do it! Victory often comes into our lives as we heed wisdom–not via some miraculous intervention. In fact, internalized wisdom IS the miraculous intervention.

So how DOES wisdom save? Wising up conditions our hearts to love what God loves and hate what God hates. When I was kid, I struggled with doing a left-handed layup. I practiced and practiced and practiced to build muscle memory because apparently my body did not want me using my left. Eventually, I totally learned it, and now it’s a pretty natural move for me. Learning God’s wisdom doesn’t build muscle muscle memory; it builds moral memory. The wisdom we internalize makes “what is right and just and fair” an instinct. We are drawn to wisdom, but foolishness makes us want to vomit. It makes us love what God loves so that we are safe in Him. And it makes us hate what God hates so that we won’t get caught up in the things He will destroy. This is how wisdom saves those who learn it.

One of Solomon’s favorite metaphors is “the path” or “the way.” Proverbs 2 uses these words 14 times. Both in Solomon’s day and in ours, roads are really important. Stay on the road and you’re good. Go off track and you’ll have problems. Think of it like two-tracking through the woods. Do you or someone you know enjoy two-tracking? Then you know how important it is to stay on track. In Proverbs, God’s wisdom is like a well-worn two-track. God built it, and, if you stay on it, you will arrive safely at your final destination. However, if you go off-track, it may be fun for a moment, but you’ll regret it in the end. Solomon gives two examples of this…

#1 Wisdom saves by guarding our heart from foolish friends.

12 Wisdom will save you from the ways of wicked men,

   from men whose words are perverse,

13 who have left the straight paths

   to walk in dark ways,

14 who delight in doing wrong

   and rejoice in the perverseness of evil,

15 whose paths are crooked

   and who are devious in their ways.

We first met these characters in chapter 1. They tempt the simple and the young, the gullible and the impressionable to use and abuse other people. Chapter 1 describes highway robbery and murder, but their ways take many forms: gossip and slander, cheating, backstabbing, ripping someone off, abuse, neglect, telling lies and half-truths, etc.

Though they come in many shapes and sizes, here’s how you can spot them. Look at verse 13. The wicked “have left the straight paths to walk in dark ways.” If you wise up, you’ll be able to tell if someone has gotten off track, and this is how wisdom saves you from them. Wise young men who might otherwise be tempted to join a gang for the profit, adrenaline, and belonging will instead get a job, get married, and have children. Someone who learns wisdom may get a little distance from extended family members who try to stir up conflict in a family. Employers who learn wisdom will be generous and fair, instead of justifying cutthroat business practices because competitors are doing it. Employees who learn wisdom give it their all every minute of the world day rather than stealing time on the clock like others. American citizens who are learning wisdom won’t be led astray by the clickbait articles, half-truths, and rhetoric found on all sides of the political system. Wising up saves from foolish friends.

Next, we meet a new figure, who will be explored in more depth in a few chapters…

#2 Wisdom saves by guarding our heart from foolish romance.

16 Wisdom will save you also from the adulterous woman,

   from the wayward woman with her seductive words,

17 who has left the partner of her youth

   and ignored the covenant she made before God.

18 Surely her house leads down to death

   and her paths to the spirits of the dead.

19 None who go to her return

   or attain the paths of life.

The specific situation here is adultery–married people breaking their marriage vows with other married people. Other kinds of sexual sin are not specifically in view here, but the wise will not have a hard time applying these teachings to pornography, premarital sex, same-sex behavior, codependent relationships, domestic violence, etc. And wisdom’s benefit here applies just as much to women as it does to men here. The audience in context is the son of the author, but the wisdom applies to all regardless of their sex.

Notice first that the warning against the adulterous woman is not simply dealing with mere physical attraction. The thing we need wisdom to save us from, like the wicked men before, are her words, her seductive, flattering, deceptive words. It’s an emotional affair before it becomes a physical one. When someone shows romantic interest in you, it makes you feel good, important. Someone else is paying attention to you, making you the center of their universe.

But what is her track record? Verse 17 says she had left her husband and ignored her God. Whoa! And now she seduces another with empty words: “You’re so beautiful. You’re so handsome. I love you. I’ll always love you. I’ll take care of you. You’re my BAE (before anyone else).” But the one who wises up knows that these words mean nothing coming from someone with a track record of betrayal. She is destined for death along with anyone who joins her. Wising up saves from foolish romance.

Solomon concludes with a summary of the chapter:

20 Thus you will walk in the ways of the good

   and keep to the paths of the righteous.

21 For the upright will live in the land,

   and the blameless will remain in it;

22 but the wicked will be cut off from the land,

   and the unfaithful will be torn from it.

We have every reason to wise up. Wisdom saves our lives. The wicked men and the adulterous woman will be cut off, along with anyone who followed their ways. But those who followed the ways of the Lord God will remain.

Wisdom matters because wisdom saves.

How much heartache exists in the world today because we listen to foolish “friends”? How much heartache exists in the world today because we are seduced into foolish romances? Remember that two-track through the woods. If you go off-track, it may be fun for a moment, but you’ll regret it in the end. Following foolish friends will take you far off the trustworthy two-track and send you crashing into the trees, but wisdom keeps you on the right path. Following foolish romance will get you stuck so deep down in the mud that you’re never getting out, but wisdom keeps you on the right path.

Here’s some practical advice. Look at their track record. Look at his track record. Look at her track record. If the track record is one of leaving the way of God behind, don’t say close with them. Be good to them as you can, but they can’t be in your inner circle of relationships.

What do you see when you look at your own track record? Have you left the ways of God? I have good news, friend. There’s still time and there’s still grace to get you back on track.

18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God… 21 …baptism now saves you—not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience—through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 3:18, 21)

Jesus saves us and our faith in Him and repentance from sin symbolized by baptism gets us on the right track, calling out for God to fix our conscience, and begin the process of wising up. It’s worth it!

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

Based on the 07.05.2020 message “Wisdom Matters Because Wisdom Saves (Proverbs 2).” If you missed it, you can watch, listen, or read it at calvarymuskegon.com/learn-from-jesus.

Big Idea: Wisdom matters because wisdom saves.

  1. On a scale of 1 to 10, how motivated are you to learn God’s wisdom in Proverbs? Why did you pick that number?
  2. Read Proverbs 2:1-6. List the steps of learning wisdom. What makes each step important?
  3. Read Proverbs 2:7-11. Why is wisdom so valuable? Both God and your learned wisdom “guard” and “protect” (compare verse 8 with verse 11)? How can both be true?
  4. Read Proverbs 2:12-19. Who are the two figures from which learned wisdom saves? What is similar about character track record (compare verses 13 and 17)? What is similar about their final destinations (compare verses 15 and 18-19)? Think of a real-life scenario where wisdom can save you from each of these figures.
  5. Read Proverbs 2:20-22. How do these verses summarize the main point of Proverbs 2?
  6. Having studied Proverbs 2, on a scale of 1 to 10, how motivated are you to learn God’s wisdom in Proverbs? Did the number change? If so, why?
  7. What is one way you need to respond to Proverbs 2?

Wisdom Leaves No Regrets (Proverbs 1:8-33)

A young man goes after every cute girl he sees, and, after several painful relationships, he learns the hard way that character–both his and hers–counts the most. He says, “I wish I’d known that sooner.”

A young married couple racks up a ton of credit card debt, only to learn the hard way about living within your means. They said, “We wish we’d known that sooner.”

A grown daughter wanders from the faith and cuts ties with her parents, who learn the hard way that you can’t spoil and buy the affection of a child. They said, “We wish we’d known that sooner.”

A dishonest salesman succumbs to cancer and comes face-to-face with God, who condemns him for his wrongs. He says, “I wish I’d known that sooner…”

How many times have you ever thought, “I wish I’d known that sooner!”? Did you know that you don’t have to learn the hard way? You’ll never regret listening to God’s wisdom. Let wisdom be your teacher so that painful experiences don’t have to be.

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. The gray areas of work, family, relationships, money, conflict, neighboring, cultural and political engagement. Biblical wisdom sheds light on these gray areas and helps them become a little more black and white.

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 nowhere is it more concentrated than in Proverbs. Proverbs is literally a handbook of biblical wisdom. In Proverbs, biblical wisdom begins and ends with God. Read this key verse with me…

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 God, becoming more godly in thought, word, and deed and spreading it to others, for the glory of God and the good of all people? What if every member of the Calvary family became like these bright lights of wisdom scattered all across the Muskegon area? 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 begins with learning the art of living from Jesus Himself.

So let’s learn…

8 Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction

   and do not forsake your mother’s teaching.

9 They are a garland to grace your head

   and a chain to adorn your neck. (1:8-9)

Verse 8 addresses “my son.” Does this exclude girls and women? Of course not. If we interpret Proverbs overly literally like that, then the book won’t apply to any boys or men either, other than the son of the author of this book. Proverbs 1:4-5  tells us that Proverbs was written to two groups of people: (1) the simple and the young who need to begin learning wisdom and (2) the wise and discerning who need to add to their wisdom. Therefore, Proverbs is for everyone who needs or wants to learn God’s wisdom, regardless of your sex.

Proverbs addresses a hypothetical son because the book teaches the art of living through very specific situations and instructions. Proverbs 1-9 depicts a mom and dad teaching their growing son about learning wisdom, making friends, working hard, maintaining integrity, and being married. The situations are specific to what young men typically though not exclusively experience. The idea of Proverbs is that those on the hunt for wisdom will learn the art of living and adapt it for their own situation.

In this passage, the father and mother offer this  warning to their son…

10 My son, if sinful men entice you,

   do not give in to them.

11 If they say, “Come along with us;

   let’s lie in wait for innocent blood,

   let’s ambush some harmless soul;

12 let’s swallow them alive, like the grave,

   and whole, like those who go down to the pit;

13 we will get all sorts of valuable things

   and fill our houses with plunder;

14 cast lots with us;

   we will all share the loot” —

Here, the sinful men tempt the son with a plan: “let’s ambush an innocent person.” They tempt with the thrill of an attack: “let’s swallow them whole.” They tempt with a lucrative payoff: “all sorts of valuable things.” And they tempt with a sense of belonging: “we will all share.”

This passage sounds like a murder by a gang of robbers, but it is also just as at home in the highest circles of society. One interesting detail is that these sinful men have “houses.” Houses implies these are not desert raiders or street gangs; these are established members of society. In other words, the murderous language could be metaphorical! Adapting this to our situation, it reminds us of a wide variety of schemes where people gain an advantage at the expense of others. Examples could be “big” and societal like racism and abortion or personal like cheating at work or school or gossiping to prey on someone’s reputation.

This never pays off in the end, as godly mom and dad point out…

15 my son, do not go along with them,

   do not set foot on their paths;

16 for their feet rush into evil,

   they are swift to shed blood.

17 How useless to spread a net

   where every bird can see it!

18 These men lie in wait for their own blood;

   they ambush only themselves!

19 Such are the paths of all who go after ill-gotten gain;

   it takes away the life of those who get it.

The Hebrew word for “ill-gotten gain” here sometimes means “gain” or “profit” (Psa 30:9) with no evil intent. But here it is clearly “ill-gotten” gain and elsewhere it’s translated as a “bribe” to an official (Pro 15:27) and a cruel oppressor (Pro 28:16). These examples remind us that the “wicked men” in this passage include not only street criminals but also authorities who abuse God-given authority and privileges to exploit others. As one Old Testament theologian puts it, “Sinners love wealth and use people; saints love people and use wealth to help others.” (Bruce Waltke)

Here’s the point: Taking advantage of others is always ultimately self-destructive, if not in this life, certainly in the next. God will get justice, and no sinner or crimi. It’s foolish to believe otherwise. The godly parents contrast the wicked men with birds that fly away from any trap they see. Ancient bird-hunters would sneak up on birds to catch them with their nets. But if the bird saw the hunter throw the net, “he gone!” The wicked men think they are setting a genius trap for the innocent person, but, in God’s reality, they are also setting a trap for themselves. They may steal nice things for a little while, but God will ultimately right those wrongs on judgment day. So just as birds are wise enough to fly aways from traps, these godly parents plead with their son to fly away from wicked people and listen to wisdom…

20 Out in the open wisdom calls aloud,

   she raises her voice in the public square;

21 on top of the wall she cries out,

   at the city gate she makes her speech:

22 “How long will you who are simple love your simple ways?

   How long will mockers delight in mockery

   and fools hate knowledge?

23 Repent at my rebuke!

   Then I will pour out my thoughts to you,

   I will make known to you my teachings.”

Wisdom is personified as a woman. This could be because the Hebrew word for wisdom (hokmah) is feminine, similar to how the Spanish word for water “la agua” is feminine. But some commentators suggest it could also be a nod to the fact that children–both young and grown–learn much wisdom from their godly mothers.

Wisdom speaks in the public square and the city gate, the streets–not in the temple, like the Psalms. If the Psalms show how to worship God in the temple, in our focused moments with Him. the Proverbs show how to worship God on the streets, in everyday situations representing Him.

Wisdom’s speech is an impassioned plea for all who are simple to hear and repent. She doesn’t want the simple to continue in their ways and become fools and learn the hard way. She calls them to repent and listen to what she has to say. Repentance here looks like being eager to study what wisdom says and teaches. There will be consequences if they don’t…

24 “But since you refuse to listen when I call

   and no one pays attention when I stretch out my hand,

25 since you disregard all my advice

   and do not accept my rebuke,

26 I in turn will laugh when disaster strikes you;

   I will mock when calamity overtakes you—

27 when calamity overtakes you like a storm,

   when disaster sweeps over you like a whirlwind,

   when distress and trouble overwhelm you.”

It seems cruel for wisdom to “mock” those who ignored her; indeed, Proverbs 24:17-18 warns against enjoying the pain of others. But it’s really just a vivid metaphor for REGRET. We look back on foolish decisions and feel mocked by our own stupidity as we made the wrong choice. “I wish I’d known that sooner!” When we ignore wisdom and listen to foolishness, we look back on with huge regret…almost as if wisdom is mocking us. “I should have spoken up” or “I should have kept my mouth shut” or “I should have done this” or “I should have done that.” Bad decisions can haunt us, mock us years later.

The fool’s greatest regret will be after their death, the greatest possible calamity anyone can experience. Make decisions you won’t regret. Ever! Even after we die! Make decisions that will stand the test of time, the test of eternity! Make decisions that God will endorse on the day He judges each of us after we die. Because fools get no second chances in death…

28 “Then they will call to me but I will not answer;

   they will look for me but will not find me,

29 since they hated knowledge

   and did not choose to fear the Lord.

30 Since they would not accept my advice

   and spurned my rebuke,

31 they will eat the fruit of their ways

   and be filled with the fruit of their schemes.”

At the beginning of her speech, wisdom called out to the simple, but they did not listen to her. On the day of judgment, the simple will call out to wisdom, but she will not listen to them. They may not like it, but it’s totally fair, is it not?

Not only is it fair, but it’s totally final. We can’t go back in time and undo what’s been done, and this is especially true when we die. God graciously gives people second chances (many chances!), but He will not give second chances forever. Those who do not listen to wisdom are like the wicked men who stupidly set a trap for themselves. They chose to remove the fear of the LORD from the equation.

32 “For the waywardness of the simple will kill them,

   and the complacency of fools will destroy them;

33 but whoever listens to me will live in safety

   and be at ease, without fear of harm.”

This is blunt, but it’s the truth. He will get justice, so live accordingly. The wicked men may enjoy their ill-gotten gain for a little while but will be destroyed forever. Those who listen to wisdom will live in peace forever in God’s world.

You’ll never regret listening to God’s wisdom.

Jesus is the embodied wisdom we need. He not only learned and grew in wisdom as a human, but, as God, He contains all wisdom. You can trust Him on this. Jesus said…

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14)

Specifically, about the narrow way:

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” (Matthew 16:24-26)

According to Jesus, the way of life is unpopular and hard to travel. In fact, it’s going to feel like getting crucified. It involves losing our life, our pride, our stuff, our sin. But what we gain in the end is priceless.

Jesus’ teachings concur with the vision of Proverbs. The simple exist on a spectrum between the fool and the wise, but it is not easy to become wise. It is easy to slide down into foolishness. It is hard to admit we have lots of learning to do. It is hard to study God’s wisdom in His Word. It is hard to surround ourselves with godly and wise people. It is hard to learn the art of living in God’s world. It’s hard. But it’s worth it.

And let me say this: it’s not too late for anyone listening. You may have learned some lessons about work or family or relationships or citizenship the hard way, but, if you’re still breathing, you can repent of your sin and foolishness and embrace Jesus’ blood-bought forgiveness and begin the pursuit of wisdom today. Pray with sincerity, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner,” and reach out to a church for help. You can contact us at calvarymuskegon.com and we would love to help you as we learn from Jesus together. No regrets. Jesus promised.

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

Based on the 06.28.2020 message “Wisdom Leaves No Regrets (Proverbs 1:8-33).” If you missed it, you can watch, listen, or read it at calvarymuskegon.com/learn-from-jesus.

Big Idea: You’ll never regret listening to God’s wisdom.

  1. What regrets do people often have? What lessons do people tend to learn the hard way? What regrets and lessons learned the hard way?
  2. Read Proverbs 1:8-33.
  3. What do you notice about the invitation of the sinful men and the invitation of wisdom?
  4. Why should we accept wisdom’s invitation over the invitation of sinful men?
  5. Describe the consequences for those who listen to wisdom as opposed to those who reject her teaching.
  6. What steps will be required of those who choose wisdom?
  7. Is there someone that you could share God’s wisdom with and help them learn important lessons now?

Wise Up (Proverbs 1:1-7)

God’s rules for His people are pretty clear: Love God. Love your neighbor. Make disciples.  But, as you know, life includes a lot of gray area in between these good commands.

  • The gray areas of work: What college? What career? What job? How to make money? How to spend it?
  • The gray areas of family: Who to marry? When to marry? How to become marry-able? How to stay married? How to parent children? How to parent adult children? How to care for aging parents?
  • Other gray areas: How to handle conflict? How to use words for good? How to help the needy? How to vote? How to figure out how to do these things?

What’s needed for these gray areas is WISDOM. Biblical wisdom sheds light on these gray areas and helps them become increasingly black and white.

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 throughout the Bible, but nowhere is wisdom more concentrated into an actual training manual like Proverbs. One theologian describes the role of Proverbs in this way: “‘[T]here are details of character small enough to escape the mesh of the law and the broadsides of the prophets, and yet decisive in personal dealings. Proverbs moves in this realm.” (Derek Kidner) In short, biblical wisdom is the art of living in God’s world, and so biblical wisdom begins with God, which we see in the key verse of Proverbs. Memorize this:

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction. (Proverbs 1:7 NIV)

As we’ll see by the end of this message, this verse is the truth that unlocks the pursuit of wisdom in Proverbs. So let’s get into what we’ll be studying today in the opening section of Proverb.

The book of Proverbs reveals the WHAT, WHY, WHO, HOW of wisdom.

First…

WHAT IS PROVERBS? DIVINE GUIDANCE FOR DAILY LIFE.

1 The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel… (Proverbs 1:1)

The book of Proverbs is made up of, you guessed it, a whole bunch of proverbs. Around 500 or so! Now, proverbs are not promises. They are guidance–not guarantees. Practical guidance for everyday situations. Proverbs tell us how things generally work in God’s world but they do not promise certain outcomes. Take, for example, Proverbs 22:6: “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.” Really? Has God broken His promise if your child who was modeled and taught Christ does not follow Him in adulthood? No, of course not. Generally speaking, children who are taught right grow up right, so a wise parent will acknowledge the impact of their parenting and make the most of it from the earliest ages possible. This is general guidance, biblical wisdom, but not a guarantee.

These proverbs come from King Solomon, who according to 1 Kings 3-4, was one of the wisest people to ever live because God gave it to him. Solomon’s wisdom is eventually surpassed by Jesus, which we’ll get to in a bit.

WHY STUDY PROVERBS? TO LEARN AND DO WHAT IS GODLY.

2 …for gaining wisdom and instruction;

   for understanding words of insight;

3 for receiving instruction in prudent behavior,

   doing what is right and just and fair…  (Proverbs 1:2-3)

First, here’s a study tip for Proverbs. Ancient Hebrew poets loved to use a technique we call parallelism. Today’s poetry typically uses rhyme, rhythm, and alliteration. “Roses are red, violets are blue, sugar is sweet, and so are you.” But in ancient Hebrew, the poets’ favorite technique was to write two, sometimes three, lines in parallel.

Sometimes the two lines mirror each other, communicating similar ideas with different words: “for gaining wisdom and instruction / for understanding words of insight.” Sometimes the two lines build on each other: “for receiving instruction in prudent behavior / doing what is right and just and fair.” And sometimes the two lines contrast with each other: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge / but fools despise wisdom and instruction.”

The beauty of parallelism is that the text explains itself. Not sure what one line means? Read the parallel line or lines and see if it helps. It may sound repetitive but at least the meaning is clear! We’ll see parallelism in every line of Proverbs, so keep this in mind as we study Proverbs together. Back to Proverbs 1: Why study Proverbs?

Biblical wisdom must be taught and learned. No one is born wise! Proverbs will be our teacher and we’ll become its students. And biblical wisdom is not just knowledge–it’s knowledge-in-action. That’s why we call it the art of living! Why learn the art of living if we fail to live it out?

Sadly, wisdom itself can be abused though. Scam artists are wise–wise in the ways of ripping people off! That’s why Solomon has to clarify that the divine wisdom he is passing on is for “doing what is right and just and fair.” These three words clarify the moral quality of biblical wisdom. Each word deals with being right as opposed to wrong, but they each have slightly different flavors. Here’s what they mean and I’ll apply them to, say, a bullying situation.

 

  • Right = Being right with God and others

 

      • Ex. Being the kind of person who encouraging others, not bullying them

 

  • Just = Restoring rightness with God and others

 

      • Ex. Encouraging those who have been bullied and even confronting–or getting an adult to confront–the bully

 

  • Fair = Keeping rightness with God and others

 

    • Ex. Being vigilant in encouraging others even if others are bullying

So biblical wisdom is for learning and doing what is godly, but WHO is it for?

WHO IS PROVERBS FOR? FOR THE SIMPLE AND THE WISE.

4 …for giving prudence to those who are simple,

   knowledge and discretion to the young—

5 let the wise listen and add to their learning,

   and let the discerning get guidance…   (Proverbs 1:4-5)

The simple are gullible, impressionable, and, usually, young. This is not a slam on young people. It’s a general truth. The younger you are the less time you’ve had to be taught by Scripture and by experience. But this is filled with hope. The simple and young CAN grow!

Kids, teens, if you are already a follower of Jesus, you’re believing in Him and repenting of sin, you’ve been baptized, etc., love Proverbs. Don’t be like me. Growing up, I hated Proverbs. I thought it was just a boring list of do’s and don’ts. I liked all the Bible stories and the stuff about how much God loved me. Those are important to be sure, but biblical wisdom is too. Learning these lessons now can save you a world of needless pain later and bring you into a healthier relationship with God and others. Or don’t. Learn wisdom the hard way! But I’m telling you. God will be honored in your life NOW and people will be blessed in Christ’s name NOW if you wise up NOW.

But Proverbs is not only for the simple–it’s for the wise. You’re never too simple or young to start learning wisdom and you’re never too wise or old to stop learning wisdom. If you’re part of the Calvary family, this should remind you of the process of making disciples. There is always room to grow. We go from being lost to becoming a believer in Christ. New believers learn from Jesus and become workers and servants of God and others. After more growth in Christ, workers become disciple-makers.

The implication throughout Proverbs and all of Scripture is that the wise need to teach. It almost seems unfair that some of the biggest decisions we make in life must be made when we are still on the simple-and-young side of life. College, work, marriage, kids, etc. That’s why the young need the wise. Those growing in wisdom are also charged with passing on Christ-centered, truth-oriented living from generation to generation to generation and to unleash and empower those generations to creatively apply the unchanging Gospel of Jesus to the ever-changing circumstances of life. If you’ve got a solid job or are retired, share your life and wisdom with young adults who are still searching out a career. If you’ve been married for a while, share your life and wisdom with singles or newlyweds. If you have adult children, share your life and wisdom with those with little babies. And let God’s wisdom save those who need it most.

So we’ve talked about WHAT Proverbs is made of, WHY we should study Proverbs, and WHO Proverbs is for. Now we’ll see HOW Proverbs works.

HOW TO STUDY PROVERBS? THROUGH A THOUGHTFUL RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD.

6 …for understanding proverbs and parables,

   the sayings and riddles of the wise.

7 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge,

   but fools despise wisdom and instruction.   (Proverbs 1:6-7)

Solomon places a heavy emphasis here on the mode of learning. He’s warning his readers, “Be ready for proverbs and parables and saying and riddles.” “Put your thinking caps on” as my elementary teachers used to say. It’s not enough to hear wisdom and then respond. Learning the art of living requires the middle step of thoughtful reflection. That’s why many of the proverbs require a couple readings. You may not “get” them on your first pass.

That thoughtfulness is directed first and foremost at the Lord…

How to cultivate a thoughtful relationship with God…

#1 Recognize God’s infinite greatness and goodness.

Specifically, Solomon calls for the fear of the Lord. The fear of the Lord describes a gloriously complex relationship with God. Fear here carries the meaning of not just being afraid but this reverence and awe that captivates you to the core of who you are. It’s being overwhelmed with God’s greatness and goodness and compelled to obey Him in all things. Two things that I meditate on to help me fear the Lord: creation and the cross. When I think about the size and complexity of creation from all humanity to the furthest galaxies, I cannot help but be overwhelmed with God’s power and wisdom. When I think of the cross of Jesus Christ, I cannot help but be overwhelmed by God’s love and justice at providing a way for all who believe to be made right with Him. In order to fear God, we’ll need to let our imaginations be filled with the truth about how great and good God is.

#2 Don’t trust yourself; trust God.

I joke with the guys in one of the LIFEgroups about that. Several of them are great mechanics, but my car repairs tend to involve duct tape and zip ties and missing parts and tools. I don’t trust myself to fix my car right. None of us should trust ourselves to run our lives. God is the expert here.

This is the first choice the simple need to make. Will I trust God’s wisdom or rely on my own? The book of Proverbs portrays THE FOOL ←→ THE SIMPLE ←→ THE WISE as existing on a continuum. The simple could go either way. They can drift into foolishness or they can learn wisdom. Everyone exists somewhere on this line. Where are you and in what direction are you moving?

#3 Invest time, money, and energy in learning from Jesus.

The fool’s problem is not that they can’t learn; it’s that they won’t learn. Fools despite God’s wisdom; they don’t think it’s worth the effort. But the wise will pay any price to have it. So, the real vision of Proverbs is that continuum of THE FOOL ←→ THE SIMPLE ←→ THE WISE  EXISTS ON A HILL. In order to join the wise, the simple will need to put forth effort and climb or else they will slide down and down to join the fools.

Jesus is the embodiment of divine wisdom.

Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man. (Luke 2:52)

As a human being, Jesus had to put the work in to grow in the fear of the Lord, in wisdom, in relationships with people. Jesus learned the art of living in God’s world! Because Jesus grew in wisdom, we can find all wisdom in Him…

In [Christ] are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments. (Colossians 2:3-4)

To know Jesus is to know the one who not only obeyed all of God’s laws but lived and lives every moment of His life with godly wisdom. Remember all those questions of life, work, family, relationships, politics that we struggle to answer? Jesus had and has them all handled. Jesus not only learned the art of living–He’s the Master Artist.

I’ve been reading the Old Testament book of Daniel with my boys this week. We noticed how Daniel’s great wisdom lifted him out of obscurity, even while exiled in Babylon, so that kings sought him out for advice. One of those kings, Nebuchadnezzar, specifically noted how Daniel appeared to be filled with “the spirit of the holy gods.” How did Daniel become famous for his wisdom? Well, Daniel 1 recounts how Daniel feared God and studied hard. He didn’t let the pleasures of life distract him from the pursuit of God’s wisdom.

As we study Proverbs, my hope is that God would make us a church of learners, seeking wisdom from God and from one another, becoming more godly in thought and action and word and spreading it to others, for the glory of God and the good of all people. What if every member of the Calvary family became like these little bright lights of wisdom scattered all across the Muskegon area? 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, act like family, and serve our neighbors. It begins with learning the art of living from Jesus Himself.

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

Based on the 06.21.2020 message “Wise Up (Proverbs 1:1-7).” If you missed it, you can watch, listen, or read it at calvarymuskegon.com/learn-from-jesus.

Big Idea: The book of Proverbs reveals the WHAT, WHY, WHO, HOW of wisdom, which is the art of living in God’s world.

  1. What’s the difference between a smart person and a wise person?
  2. Read Proverbs 1:2-3. What are the two purposes of studying the book of Proverbs? Why are they both essential to wisdom?
  3. Read Proverbs 1:4-5. Who is the book of Proverbs written for? Why is it important for each of these types of people to study the book of Proverbs?
  4. Read Proverbs 1:6-7. What is “the fear of the LORD?” Why does wisdom start there? What is the difference between the fool, the simple, and the wise?
  5. How would you evaluate your own progress on the spectrum from the fool to the simple/young to the wise/discerning? What has it or should it look like in your life to pursue wisdom?

Main Thing #7: The Future

I have talked to many Christians who are anxious and even scared about the future. Ironically, Christians have the least to fear! The fact of that matter is that what Christians believe about the future should give Christians nothing but hope and confidence and even eagerness for God’s future to come into being. Bottom line: Those who fear God need not fear the future.

This is the seventh and final message in our series called “The Main Things: Big Truths about God and Life.” Here at Calvary, we try to keep the main thing the main thing, so, in a world with lots of opinions and lots of beliefs, we’re highlighting the seven main areas of Christian belief: the Bible, God, humanity, Christ, salvation, the Church, and the future.

 

For new Christians, I hope this series deepens your understanding of what we believe as Christians. For long-time Christians, I hope this series also helps you pass these beliefs on to others. For those of you who don’t believe or aren’t’ sure what you believe, I hope this opens a can of worms, so to speak, on some big topics that perhaps you’ve never thought about before.

Calvary’s statement of faith on the future goes into great detail, but here’s the basic outline…

We believe that the Bible, literally interpreted, predicts the following sequence of future end-time events:

 

  • THE RAPTURE

  • THE JUDGEMENT SEAT OF CHRIST

  • THE TRIBULATION

  • THE SECOND COMING AND MILLENNIUM

  • THE GREAT WHITE THRONE JUDGMENT

  • THE ETERNAL STATE

 

We don’t have time in one sermon to unpack the details of Calvary’s view and the variety of other Christian views surrounding the future. Besides, our goal in this series has been to highlight what most Christians for most of history have believed. The Main Things. And Calvary’s view is but one of several views held by Christians. Therefore, I plan to focus on two aspects that pretty much all Christians from all time have believed: Christ’s second coming and the eternal state.

What do Christians believe about the future?

#1 At any moment, Christ will return to judge everyone who has ever lived.

In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus describes this moment in a parable…

31 When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. (Matthew 25:31-33 NIV)

The Son of Man is Jesus’ favorite title for Himself in the Gospels. It probably comes from Old Testament book of Daniel. In Daniel 7, God gave Daniel a dream about four terrifying beasts that each represent an evil human empire: a lion with wings, a deformed bear with a carcass in its mouth, a leopard with four wings and four heads, and a nightmarish beast with large iron teeth and ten horns. After these four beasts appear, “one like a son of man” (which simply means a normal looking human being in contrast to the beasts) comes from heaven and receives from God the right to judge beastly empires. The beasts represent humanity twisted by sin, but the Son of Man is humanity as it was meant to be. A couple weeks ago, we learned about the incarnation of Jesus: although He was God, He also became human to show us what it means to truly be human. That’s why Jesus calls Himself the Son of Man.

Like Daniel 7, the Son of Man in Matthew 25 judges the nations. Notice how no one is excluded from this moment. All nations are there! Think of who will be there! Adolf Hitler, Mother Teresa, Walt Disney, our families, our friends, our neighbors, you, me, and billions of strangers. But, going further than Daniel 7, Jesus separates individuals from all the nations into two groups: sheep and goats. Here’s what happens next:

34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ 40 The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ (Matthew 25:34-40)

Did you catch that? Jesus so identifies Himself with His people, especially with the most needy, that He counts our acts of service to the needy as acts of service to Him! If this was the only Scripture we had, we might conclude that our good deeds merit or earn salvation from God. But we learned from the message a few weeks ago on “Salvation” that those who believe are saved only by the gracious gift of Christ’s righteousness. Good deeds do not earn an inheritance from God, but God will inevitably produce good deeds in the believer’s life. And these good deeds are the evidence of faith Jesus uses to judge the sheep. You can know you belong to Jesus if you are becoming more like Him.

Then King Jesus turns to the goats, and the opposite happens…

41 Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ 44 They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ 45 He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ 46 Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life. (Matthew 25:41-46)

Unlike the sheep who served King Jesus by serving their needy brothers and sisters, the goats failed to do so. The goats neglected to serve Christ by serving His people in need. Because there is no evidence of salvation, the King condemns them. And King Jesus judges them accordingly. And their punishment will be eternal just as the sheep’s inheritance will be eternal, which brings us to the second point about what Christians believe about the future…

#2 For all eternity, God will justly punish His enemies in hell and graciously bless believers in the new heavens and new earth.

The apostle John gives us a glimpse of these eternal realities in the final chapters of the New Testament book of Revelation. First, John gives us a horrifying look at hell..

10 And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever. 11 Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. The earth and the heavens fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. 13 The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. 14 Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. 15 Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:10-15)

I realize hell–or “the lake of fire” as John calls it in this passage–is a profoundly difficult topic, but it’s still important to talk about. First of all, realize that hell is for the devil and his servants. This is a really important point. There is evil in the world–rebellion against God and violence toward people–and God must and will deal justly with those who provoked it.

Secondly, don’t we all cry out for justice in this world generally? Just look at efforts to end racial discrimination in our communities or to protect the lives of the unborn from abortion. While Christians should make every effort to do what is right in this broken world, we also recognize that only at Christ’s second coming will true justice finally be had. Hell is where God will ultimately answer righteous prayers for justice.

Maybe you think yes, I want justice, but hell is overkill. Consider this illustration. If you walked by someone in a park stomping on a spider, you might think that’s really odd, but it probably wouldn’t bother you much. If they were stomping on a frog, you would be a little grossed out and might think about saying something. If they were stomping on a puppy, you’d probably be deeply disturbed, call the authorities, and consider intervening to save the poor thing. Now bear with me here: if they were stomping on a human baby, you would jump to the rescue and risk your life to save the child. I know that’s a horrible scenario, but here’s the point: The sin in each situation is the same (stomping on an innocent creature), but the severity of your response changes depending on who is being sinned against. Stomping on an innocent baby rightly elicits much more wrath than stomping on a spider. The seriousness of sin is measured not only by the sin itself but by the worth of the one sinned against. Sin is an offense against the holy Creator-God and against those made in His image. If we don’t think God and His image-bearers are worth much, we won’t think sin is a big deal, and hell will seem like overkill. If we think God and His image-bearers are worth a lot, we will take sin very seriously, and hell will seem much more appropriate.

In Revelation 20, the books opened before God’s throne contain everything He needs to make a judgment about every person. Every motive, every attitude, every action, every non-action, every word. Now of course these books symbolize the reality that God knows everything about every person. He doesn’t need records in books or computers or cloud storage. As we learned a few weeks ago from Psalm 139 when Bob Davies taught us about God’s omniscience, God knows us completely, better than we know ourselves, and there is nothing we can hide from Him. Every bad word, ever racial injustice, every aborted baby, every evil thought, every wrong desire. God knows, and He’ll justly punish all of us…except those who are in Christ.

You see, there is another book. The book of life (Rev 3:5; 13:8; 17:8) contains the names of God’s people, everyone who persevere, who stay faithful in following Jesus. The gracious God saves these people from hell for what comes next…

1 Then I saw ‘a new heaven and a new earth,’ for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’ 5 He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’ (Revelation 21:1-5a)

Are you looking forward to this? I don’t know that very many are. I remember in my younger years wanting Jesus to hold off on his return. I wanted to get married, have kids, experience a bit more of life, and then he could come back. That of course exposed the fact that I still loved this world more than the one Christ would renew. The Christian writer C.S. Lewis compared our lack of fascination with God’s coming new creation to a child who prefers chocolate over marriage or playing in a mud puddle over a vacation by the sea. Sadly, many of us are quite content with this lesser and broken world because we have yet to really grasp God’s marvellous plan.

Two things really move me as John describes this scene in Revelation 21: First, I am overwhelmed with joy for all the believers who have suffered unimaginably in this world. Those who are in Christ will experience such a rush of relief and peace and freedom and life. Wow. Second, I am overwhelmed with gratitude to Jesus who through His death on the cross made a place for those who believe in the new heavens and new earth. Jesus is what is so good about heaven. It’s not just the absence of grief and pain. Christians follow Jesus not simply because hell is so bad but because He is so good. Jesus is so good that He is worth suffering for, which brings us to our final question…

Why does believing in Christ’s second coming and eternity matter?

#1 We need to get ready for Christ’s return.

The day will come when we will be with Christ in glory and we will look back on the suffering of this life and say, “I can’t believe I thought that was bad.” Paul writes…

17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. 18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. (Romans 8:17-18)

Paul goes on to compare this to the birth of a baby. I have never personally experienced that moment, but I heard it’s amazing. Months of difficult pregnancy and hours of painful contractions all seem insignificant when the baby arrives. Our sufferings now are like the labor pains, but the glory coming later is like that moment where the doctor lays the newborn baby on the mother’s chest. We get ready for the glory coming later by suffering with Christ now. Sometimes Christians suffer because it is thrust upon them, so they persevere with joy through trials. Sometimes Christians suffer because they choose to offer themselves as living sacrifices for the glory of God and the good of others. Are you sharing in Christ’s sufferings?

#2 We need to help others get ready for Christ.

  1. H. Spurgeon does a wonderful job describing the seriousness and urgency of the mission we have as a Church to make disciples of Jesus (which we talked about in last week’s message):

Oh, my brothers and sisters in Christ, if sinners will be damned, at least let them leap to hell over our bodies; and if they will perish, let them perish with our arms about their knees, imploring them to stay, and not madly to destroy themselves. If hell must be filled, at least let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go there unwarned and unprayed for. (Charles Haddon Spurgeon)

I confess that I do not live and pray with this kind of urgency. I think many of us must repent of this. Pastor Bill, one of Calvary’s long-time pastors now retired, always gave this illustration to help us think about the almost unimaginable concept of eternity. Our life now represents one point on the end of a very long string, and eternity is the rest of the string that never ends. That’s a long time! And here’s the thing: the life we live here impacts the rest of your eternity. If we resist Christ now, we suffer forever. If we suffer with Christ now, we live in glory forever. Get ready by submitting your life to King Jesus today and helping others to do the same.

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

Based on the 06.14.2020 message “Main Thing #7: The Future.” If you missed it, you can watch, listen, or read it at calvarymuskegon.com/learn-from-jesus.

Big Idea: At any moment, Christ will return to judge everyone who has ever lived. For all eternity, God will justly punish His enemies in hell and graciously bless believers in the new heavens and new earth.

  1. What do you think will happen in the future and what is your reaction to that?
  2. Read Matthew 25:31-46. What is your reaction to the return of Jesus described here? How does Jesus make His judicial decisions in this parable? What evidence does Jesus use at the final judgment? What are the consequences?
  3. Read Revelation 20:10-21:5. How different are the two eternal realities described in this passage?
  4. How does your life need to change as a result of what Christians believe about the future?

Main Thing #6: The Church

What is the church? A building? Leadership or staff? Program or event? Biblically speaking, the word church is simply an “assembly or gathering of God’s people.”

The English word church translates the New Testament Greek word ecclesia, which means “assembly” or “congregation.” Ecclesia was used to translate the Old Testament Hebrew word qahal which referred to the Israelite community God had rescued from slavery in Egypt and commissioned to be His chosen people through whom He would bless the whole world.

This is the sixth message in our series called “The Main Things: Big Truths about God and Life.” Here at Calvary, we try to keep the main thing the main thing, so, in a world with lots of opinions and lots of beliefs, we wanted to take time to highlight the seven main areas of Christian belief: the Bible, God, humanity, Christ, salvation, the Church and the future.

 

For new Christians, I hope this series deepens your understanding of what we believe as Christians. For long-time Christians, I hope this series also helps you pass these beliefs on to others. For those of you who don’t believe or aren’t’ sure what you believe, I hope this opens a can of worms, so to speak, on some big topics that perhaps you’ve never thought about before. Here’s part of Calvary’s statement of faith on the church:

We believe that the Universal Church is made up of all true believers in Jesus Christ from the beginning of the church on the day of Pentecost until the completion of the church at the Rapture.

We believe that local churches are to be made up of baptized believers with Biblical offices (pastors and deacons). The purpose of the local church is: (1) to meet together for worship, fellowship, teaching, and edification; (2) to spread the Gospel throughout the world through local evangelism and global missionary outreach; and (3) to practice the Biblical ordinances (baptism and the Lord’s Supper).

Today, I plan to focus on three aspects of the church: its founding, its purity, and its mission.

#1 The Church is founded and authorized by Christ.

Jesus mentions the word “church” only two times in the Gospels, but when He does say is really important.

15 Jesus asked. “Who do you say I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” 17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 16:15-17)

Keep this in mind for when we need the next few sentences. Peter has finally come to the God-given conclusion that Jesus is Lord…the long-promised Messiah, through whom God will rescue the world and restore His kingdom…in fact, the very Son of God in the flesh!

“And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” (Matthew 16:18)

The name Peter means “rock,” so Jesus is using a little play on words. He’s saying something like, “Peter, you are Rocky and on this rock I will build my church.” Some Christians have misunderstood this to mean that Jesus is putting Peter in charge of the church or making him the earthly head of the church, but we shouldn’t read it this way. Jesus is the Head of the church. Peter does play a pivotal role in the book of Acts when he is led by the Holy Spirit to preach the first ever sermon about Christ and 3,000 people believe and are baptized into Christ and join the church that day. But Jesus is not giving Peter some eternal role. Peter’s own character faith is quite unstable–not rocky–even later in life (denied Jesus three times, compromised to the legalists in Galatians 2). Peter totally drops out of the picture halfway through the book of Acts and was himself accountable to other church leaders. In the New Testament book of 1 Peter, he calls Jesus the “cornerstone” and the rest of us “living stones”. No, Jesus doesn’t build His church on Peter, He builds it on Peter in his role as the first of billions to acknowledge that Jesus is Lord.

Jesus’ church is made up of those who confess Jesus as Lord. If you’re a Christian, you belong to the church. And in order to belong to a church, you must be a Christian. Theologian D.A. Carson says, “The church itself is not made up of natural friends. It is made up of natural enemies. What binds us together is not common education, common race, common income levels, common politics, common nationality, common accents, common jobs…but because we have all been saved by Jesus Christ and owe him a common allegiance.” A church is a church when the thing that binds its members together is their shared allegiance to the crucified and risen King Jesus.

“I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:19)

Jesus not only founded the church–He authorized it to represent God on earth. Jesus gives Peter the keys of the kingdom of heaven. The keys of the kingdom is the preaching that Jesus is Lord. What do keys do? They unlock doors. By spreading the story of the crucified and risen King Jesus, the church gives others the opportunity to enter God’s kingdom. That is obviously a huge responsibility. What follows is also a huge responsibility: “whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Binding and loosing had to do with applying Jewish religious law to everyday life. Jesus gives Peter, and later we’ll see all of his churches, the responsibility to do this. What the church says and does is supposed to reflect what God says and does. The church speaks and works for God. Churches are, in a sense, then little points of heaven on earth.

Think of the church like an embassy. An embassy is an authorized extension of one country in another country’s territory. For example, last month, Calvary missional partners John and Wendy Patton needed to return to the United States from Peru because the pandemic had put them in a very dangerous situation. In order to do it, they had to call the United States embassy in Peru. They didn’t have to set up a meeting with the President or Secretary of State to have the process expedited. Nor could they have spoken with Peruvian officials to get back into the United States. The U.S embassy in Peru was authorized to apply U.S. policy to their situation and speed up their return to the United States.

Similarly, the church is like an embassy of the kingdom of God. Jesus authorizes his churches to speak for and work for Him in this world. To help people enter the kingdom of God by telling them the story of the crucified and risen King Jesus, to help people obey God’s laws to love Him with all our heart and mind and soul and strength and to love our neighbors as ourselves, to build these cross-shaped communities full of cross-shaped members who live for the glory of God and the good of others. This is really astounding. Churches, not individuals, not families, not governments, not schools, not sports teams, are specifically tasked and designed to carry out Christ’s work in the world.

Let me stop for a moment and encourage you to go explore membership at Calvary, if you haven’t done so already.  I was talking to a church attender recently about this and they said, “I didn’t really understand why there was a need to go to church, I was just always told it was the thing to do.” Every Christian should consider church membership as an essential part of their Christian walk. Jesus works in and through His gathered people–His church–not through individual free agents scattered throughout the world.

Now I know what some of you are thinking. Churches?!?! I’ve known churches and they stink. They’re judgemental or jerks or lukewarm or hypocritical or insensitive or wishy-washy or even abusive or neglectful. How could Jesus give them such authority?!?! I get it. Every church I’ve ever been imperfect in some way…and, in fact, I didn’t help! I was and am part of the problem! But just because churches are imperfect doesn’t mean they don’t carry the authority of Jesus. It’s because we have this responsibility that we have some serious work to do in making sure we represent Jesus rightly.

#2 The Church must keep itself pure to represent Christ well.

Jesus gives us this teaching on His church in Matthew 18…

15 “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. 16 But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ 17 If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector. 18 Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. 19 Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:15-20)

Jesus commands church members to confront one another about sin and, ultimately, tells the church to remove unrepentant members from membership. This is harsh and painful, but it is so important! It is precisely because churches are filled with recovering sin addicts that we need to hold each other accountable. Accountability is important because what happens in the church is a reflection of heaven to the world. When churches as a whole or individual members fail to show love or grace or purity or honesty, they are making a false statement about God. But when churches or the members show love and grace and purity and honesty, they are putting the glory of God on display for all to see!

The third step of the process–“tell it to the church”–shows the importance of the LOCAL CHURCH. People need to know each other well in order to provide each other with this level of accountability. This is why being a member of a local church is so important. When we gather week after week with the same group of people we get to see each other’s gifts and we get to see each other’s sins. We can benefit from one another’s gifts, and we can help one another get rid of sin.

At Calvary, it’s quite rare for us to get to the stage where we tell the whole church about an unrepentant member, and there’s a few reasons for that. On a few occasions, and I’m ashamed to admit this, it’s because we’ve lacked the courage to confront the sin. That’s something we are really trying to grow in. Another reason why this happens so rarely is because, sometimes, unrepentant members choose to leave the church altogether rather than work through the process of restoration. The third reason why we rarely get to the point of telling the church is because people are repenting very early in the process. This is wonderful and this is what we aim for!

And again, like the Matthew 16 passage, Jesus says that what the church binds or looses on earth will be bound or loosed in heaven. This means that, when Christians have come together in agreement under Jesus, they have His authority to make these kinds of judgments, difficult yet important judgements about removing unrepentant members and keeping the purity of the church. The purity of the church is important because Jesus gave us an essential mission.

The church is commissioned by Christ to make disciples of all peoples.

18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

We see some similar themes from the earlier passages but Jesus spells it out even more clearly. Jesus has authority, and it’s in His authority that we as churches carry out His mission. At the heart of the mission is making disciples, that is, people who are learning to imitate Christ. And we make disciples in these three steps. First, we go. We keep our eyes open for opportunities to show and tell Jesus to our family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, classmates, etc. Second, when God brings them to faith, we baptize new believers, thus marking them as belonging to Christ and part of the church. Third, we teach believers the what, why, and how of obeying Jesus. Churches ought not be content with mere converts or attenders but desire to see people radically transformed to become like the crucified Christ. And Jesus reassures His church of His presence, not just for their own comfort and peace of mind, but the sake of His mission!

One of our core beliefs at Calvary is that everyone in the world needs to hear God’s story. Well, the Church is how everyone in the world hears God’s story. This is the great privilege and responsibility we have as a church. It’s what it means to be “a church for the community,” a people being purified as we learn from Jesus and embody Jesus as we act like family toward one another and serve our neighbors. How we live and how we talk absolutely let’s the world know how deeply God loves the world so that whoever believes in Jesus might be saved. Everyone’s got a different role to play at different times, whether it’s praying, giving, encouraging, teaching, serving, leading, but we have one mission: to make disciples of Jesus.

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

Based on the 06.07.2020 message “Main Thing #6: The Church.” If you missed it, you can watch, listen, or read it at calvarymuskegon.com/learn-from-jesus.

Big Idea: The church is founded and authorized by Christ, must keep itself pure for Christ, and is commissioned by Christ to make disciples of all nations.

  1. Briefly describe your experience with church. How essential is participation in a local church to your Christianity?
  2. Read Matthew 16:15-19. What does this passage teach about the founding and authority of the church?
  3. Read Matthew 18:15-20. Why must churches keep themselves pure? How does Jesus want churches to carry out this responsibility?
  4. Read Matthew 28:18-20. Though Jesus doesn’t use the word “church” here, the themes of authority and presence (which occur earlier in Matthew 16 and 18) connect the church to the Great Commission. What is the three-step outline of disciple-making given here? What step are you in currently? How does your participation at Calvary contribute to our mission of making disciples?
  5. How essential should participation in a local church be to your Christianity? What do you need to do to participate more completely?

Main Thing #5: Salvation

How can we be saved? Some of course, believe we don’t need salvation. They don’t believe in God in the first place or maybe they don’t believe in sin. Either way, some believe we don’t need to be saved from anything.

Next, some rely on parents and upbringing. Whether they consciously think this or not, assume that because they “grew up” in a Christian home or church that they must be saved. Though it’ great that God puts people in Christian homes or churches, you are not necessarily saved just because you run in Christian circles.

Some are trusting their good deeds. In the back of their minds, they are trying to erase or override their sin with good works so as to somehow tip the scales in the favor of their salvation. The problem is that the infinitely great and good God is not impressed, even with our best intentions and actions.

There’s another option, the Christian option: God’s Grace. This is always what Christians have believed. Salvation is not automatic; it cannot be inherited; it is not deserved; it cannot be earned. It only comes about if God in His grace gives it.

This is the fifth message in our series called “The Main Things: Big Truths about God and Life.” Here at Calvary, we try to keep the main thing the main thing, so, in a world with lots of opinions and lots of beliefs, we wanted to take time to highlight the seven main areas of Christian belief: the Bible, God, humanity, Christ, salvation, the Church, the future. For new Christians, I hope this series deepens your understanding of what we believe as Christians. For long-time Christians, I hope this series also helps you pass these beliefs on to others. For those of you who don’t believe or aren’t’ sure what you believe, I hope this opens a can of worms, so to speak, on some big topics that perhaps you’ve never thought about before. Here’s Calvary’s statement of faith on salvation:

 

We believe that God the Son shed His blood to pay for man’s sin and was raised from the dead to provide perfect righteousness for those who believe. Salvation is a free gift of God’s love, mercy, and grace, which cannot be earned by any virtue or work of man, but may only be received by personal faith in Jesus Christ. All those who repent of their sin and believe in and receive Christ as Savior are completely forgiven, born into the family of God, and receive eternal life. All those who are genuinely saved are kept eternally secure by God, and should demonstrate their salvation by living in obedience to God. We believe that God has made every believer a priest with direct access by prayer into His presence through Jesus Christ alone. With the help of the Holy Spirit, every believer has the privilege and responsibility to personally study, understand, and obey the Scriptures.

There’s a lot of good stuff here, and I hope to cover much of it in this message. My plan, just so you know ahead of time, to sketch out the basics of how God graciously saves all who believe in Jesus…

 

  • At Conversion (When you first become a Christian)
  • Throughout the Christian Life (from conversion until death)
  • At Christ’s Second Coming (when, at some unknown time in the future, King Jesus comes back to create a new heavens and earth, where we’ll live for all eternity)

 

At conversion…

 

  • God regenerates the sinner

 

The theological term “regeneration” refers to something Jesus called “being born again.” In John 3, Nicodemus, a religious leader, pays Jesus a compliment, saying,

“Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.” Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” (John 3:2-3 NIV)

Jesus went on to explain that this new birth is the work of the Holy Spirit and that no one can force it to happen. Regeneration, the new birth, elsewhere compared to a spiritual resurrection, must happen because the Scriptures teach that our souls are dead to God by default because of our sin. The biblical picture is not God gently shaking us awake because we are asleep in our sin. “Wake up, sweeties…” It’s Jesus going to a dead man’s tomb and saying, “Lazarus, come out!” We need God to graciously begin a work in us to bring us back to Himself, to open our spiritual eyes to His worth, to soften our spiritual hearts to His Word.

At conversion…

 

  • God regenerates the sinner

  • The sinner begins believing in Jesus and repenting

 

Biblical faith is allegiance to Jesus and repentance is turning away from everything else. Faith and repentance come hand-in-hand in Scripture. Here’s a summary of Jesus’ central message at the start of His ministry:

14 Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:14-15)

This same thing–belief and repentance–in the first sermon preached by Christian in the New Testament book of Acts. But this time instead of focusing on general faith in God generally, it’s focus is faith in Christ Himself.

36 “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.” 37 When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. (Acts 2:36-38)

Now faith isn’t mentioned explicitly, but it’s implied. Peter’s audience has been “cut to the heart” and desire to respond to Jesus in some way. That’s faith, and Peter tells them to repent.

The great English preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon compares faith to the different senses of our body that enable us to interact with and internalize the world around us. Like an eye that takes what is far away and puts the image in our minds, faith sees Christ for who He is and imprints Him in our souls. Like a hand that grasps something, faith takes hold of Christ, connecting us to His saving grace. Like a mouth that eats to nourish, faith feasts on all Jesus is and does. These illustrations show that our faith doesn’t save us; Jesus does. That’s why it doesn’t matter if the faith is weak or strong or somewhere in-between. As long as your faith is in Jesus, He will save.

Like a coin has two sides, repentance is the flip side of faith. If I set the eyes of faith on Jesus, I’m taking it off myself or my good works or the things of this world. If I grasp Jesus with the hands of faith, I must let go of all else. If I feast on the truth of Jesus, I find no nourishment or satisfaction anywhere else.

Young and old, churched and unchurched, Calvary family and guest, whoever’s watching, have you put your faith in Jesus? If you have not begun the lifelong commitment to trust Jesus and repent, do it right now. I have been praying like crazy that God would make dead hearts come alive in just this moment that anyone who hasn’t before will begin believing in Jesus and repenting of sin.

At conversion…

 

  • God regenerates the sinner

  • The sinner begins believing in Jesus and repenting

  • God justifies the believer

 

The word “justify” means in this context “to make someone right or righteous, especially in relationship to God.” Paul explains in his letter to the church in Rome…

23 …for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. (Romans 3:23-25 NIV)

Forgiveness is one thing. Pardon, justification goes even further. Forgiveness paves the way to reconciliation, but justification removes condemnation entirely! The family of a murder victim may forgive the murderer, but he’s still going to jail. But God has not only forgiven us–He has justified us, removed condemnation from us, because He put it on Jesus on the cross! Charles Wesley, one of the greatest English hymn writers, wrote in the fourth verse of “And Can It Be?”

No condemnation now I dread:

Jesus, and all in Him, is mine!

Alive in Him, my living Head,

And clothed in righteousness divine,

Bold I approach the eternal throne,

And claim the crown, thru Christ my own.

Amazing love! How can it be

that thou, my God, shouldst die for me!

The word picture here is that God has clothed us with someone else’s righteousness, and this image is found throughout Scripture. The idea is that Christ wore the believer’s dirty laundry on the cross and gave them His perfect righteousness as a hand-me-down! All from the grace of God!

At conversion…

 

  • God regenerates the sinner

  • The sinner begins believing in Jesus and repenting

  • God justifies the believer

  • *The believer is baptized to signal conversion

 

This is just a quick side note that baptism fits right here. As soon as you can, after you’ve become a Christian, baptism signals that a conversion happened! It signals that new believers have been regenerated and justified and are believing in Jesus and repenting. Remember the previous example from Acts 2? After Peter’s first sermon about Jesus, 3,000 people believed in Jesus, repented of sin, and were baptized! We’ll talk about baptism and the church a little more next week, but I wanted to show you where baptism is placed in the story of how God graciously saves us.

Throughout the Christian life…

 

  • God sanctifies believers

 

Sanctification is the process by which God the Holy Spirit makes the believer more like Jesus. To the church in Corinth, Paul describes the time when only Moses was able to go through the veil in the tabernacle to know and be transformed by God. Whenever Moses came out of a tabernacle meeting with God, his face would be “glowing.” If his face was literally glowing, imagine the kind of person he was becoming too. Communing with God He would be transformed. But because of Jesus and the Holy Spirit…

And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:18)

The “veil” that only Moses was able to take off is being torn away by the Spirit so that we can see Jesus. And this is happening so that we can see and understand and reflect the Lord Jesus more and more. Here’s the bottom line: Those who God regenerates and justifies, He will also sanctity. More humble, more loving, more honest, more patient, more steadfast. Sometimes this happens quickly, like overnight transformation, where someone is radically and quickly changed in some area of their life. But usually God grows us slowly over time as we come to understand more of Jesus, be confronted by our sin, and gain the resources to grow.

And here’s how believers respond:

Throughout the Christian life…

 

  • God sanctifies believers

  • Believers practice spiritual disciplines

 

What’s a spiritual discipline? The root word in discipline is “disciple,” and a disciple is a learner, a student, and ultimately an imitator…someone who learns from Jesus in order to become just like Him. Think of spiritual disciplines as going to “Jesus school.” They are the biblical practices that help us increasingly understand Jesus more so that we might be increasingly transformed by Spirit.  The two most basic ones are reading the Bible and praying, but there are more, like being an engaged member of a local church, serving others sacrificially and secretly, fasting from certain wants or needs, witnessing to others.

This is what it means to be a Christian and practice Christianity. The Spirit doesn’t sanctify us like robots. It’s not like we convert and then we’re done. That’s not Christianity. Christianity is lifelong learning from Jesus. The Spirit uses the effort we put into spiritual disciplines to make us more like Jesus until the day we die. That brings me to the final stage of salvation.

At Christ’s second coming…

 

  • God will glorify believers

  • Believers will enjoy God and His new creation forever

 

In a couple weeks, we’ll talk more about this, but I want to give you a taste of it now. Paul, in his first letter to the church in Corinth, teaches about Christ’’s resurrection and its impact on the hope believers have for the future…

49 And just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we bear the image of the heavenly man. 50 I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— 52 in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. (1 Corinthians 15:49-52)

We’re all sinners and destined to death, just like Adam, but because of God’s grace in Jesus, we can be like Jesus, which includes receiving a totally renewed human body and soul! In fact, we will need this new immortal body and sinless soul in order to live in the coming kingdom of God, so that we can enjoy Him forever.

A preacher was once asked by his church to preach a sermon on the most difficult topic he had ever encountered in Scripture. Sunday came and the church was eager to hear what he had to say. The preacher came out to introduce the topic. He had chosen not to speak on the Trinity or the Incarnation nor the inspiration or inerrancy of the Scriptures nor on Revelation or the end times. He had chosen to speak on God’s grace. That God would graciously save sinners like you and me is perhaps the greatest of mysteries. Why has God shown me grace? I’ll never know. That’s just who He is. And I am forever grateful to Him, and I truly hope you are too.

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

Based on the 05.31.2020 message “Main Thing #5: Salvation.” If you missed it, you can watch, listen, or read it at calvarymuskegon.com/learn-from-jesus.

Big Idea: God graciously saves all who believe at their conversion, throughout their life, and at Christ’s second coming.

  1. Salvation is not automatic, nor is it able to be earned. It only comes to those who believe in Jesus because of God’s GRACE. What is your reaction/response to this truth?
  2. CONVERSION: Read John 3:2-3 and Romans 3:21-26. In order to become a Christian, what does God need to do? What is our necessary response? If you believe in Jesus, do you remember when you began? If so, describe it.
  3. THE CHRISTIAN LIFE: Read 2 Corinthians 3:18. This verse captures the Christian doctrine of “progressive sanctification”–the process by which we become more like Jesus throughout life. What is God’s role in the process described here? What is the Christian’s role and, practically speaking, how do we do that? What has this process looked like in your own life? What can you do to be more intentional about it?
  4. AT CHRIST’S SECOND COMING: Read 1 Corinthians 15:49-52. What reaction do you have as you think about the coming salvation described in this passage?
  5. Where have you seen God’s grace at work in the process of salvation in your own life? What do you need to do now?

Main Thing #3: Humanity

What are you? What is a human? You’ll find three prominent answers today:

First, many say that humans are animals, the result of an unguided evolutionary process. This view holds that there is no God and that humans evolved over long periods of time from lesser animals.

Second, some believe that humans are the products of alien experiments. No, I’m not joking. This view exists. There are people who believe that some unknown alien civilization designed humans and put us on this planet. Some believe this because they find the intricate and intelligent design of life, especially human beings, so extraordinary that it can’t be some random process. However because they are unwilling to believe in a Creator God who exists outside of time and space, they have decided to believe in aliens.

The third view is the Christian view:

All humans are made in God’s image yet are corrupted by sin.

All Christians from all time believe this. Now, some Christians do believe that God directed an evolutionary process to create human beings, but they still believe that humans are made in God’s image of God and have been corrupted by sin.

This is the third message in our series called “The Main Things: Big Truths about God and Life.” Here at Calvary, we try to keep the main thing the main thing, so, in a world with lots of opinions and lots of beliefs, we wanted to take time to highlight the seven main areas of Christian belief: the Bible, God, Humanity, Christ, Salvation, the Church, and the Future.

For new Christians, I hope this series deepens your understanding of what we believe as Christians. For long-time Christians, I hope this series also helps you pass these beliefs on to others. For those of you who don’t believe or aren’t’ sure what you believe, I hope this opens a can of worms, so to speak, on some big topics that perhaps you’ve never thought about before.

Here’s Calvary’s broader statement on what we believe about human beings…

We believe that man, the culmination of the six day creation of all things, was made directly by God in His own image. As a result of the sin of Adam, all men are sinners by nature and by choice, and are therefore separated from the favor and fellowship of God, spiritually lost and justly condemned to eternal punishment in hell.

Much could be said here, but I want to focus in on just those two aspects I mentioned earlier:

All humans are made in God’s image yet are corrupted by sin.

Those are the two sides of humanity…gloriously made in God’s image yet horribly corrupted by sin. C.S. Lewis talked about this double reality in every human being:

“The dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which…you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption…it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit–immortal horrors or everlasting splendors…” (C.S. Lewis)

Every human being is really something special and has the potential to become something great because they are made in God’s image. But they also have the potential to become something horrible because they are corrupted by sin.

Let’s first talk about the image of God, and then human sin. God makes human beings in His image in the first story of the Bible, the creation story:

26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” 27 So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. 28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” (Genesis 1:26-28 NIV)

When Moses wrote about “the image of God,” Israelites knew about images of gods. Some images of gods were idols, statues that were worshiped and fed through sacrifices and housed in temples. Other images of gods were the rulers of the ancient world, who were also honored and obeyed and paid tribute. But Genesis 1 teaches that it’s not idols that are God’s images. And it’s not just the powerful either. It’s every man, woman, and child! Whoa! This is a groundbreaking, revolutionary view of humanity! Prior to this teaching, most people were seen as cannon fodder or slaves or sex objects, but those who believe the Bible believe every human being matters.

What does it mean to be made in the image of God? The animals aren’t made in God’s image, so what sets Adam and Eve apart from the animals? It was not only that Adam and Eve were more creative and intelligent and relational and spiritual than the animals, though that is certainly all true. What set humans apart is that they were put in charge. You know the big difference between you and a chimpanzee? You’re free to leave the zoo at any time. Joking aside, it is self-evident that human beings occupy a special leadership role in the creation. Do we depend on creation to live? Absolutely. But we also have this unique task to cultivate God’s world for the flourishing of human life and all creation…

Being made in God’s image means representing God to others and creation.

In the ancient world, the images of the gods–idols and kings–were the places from which the gods they represented would rule. The “gods” weren’t physically present in the world, or so the ancient peoples believed, so they ruled through their representative images.

That’s what Genesis 1 is teaching about the one true Creator-God. God doesn’t just make humans far greater than any other animal; He puts them in charge. God created a world full of order and life out of a world that was chaotic and empty, and He created humans to carry on that ordering, life-giving work as He would.

One of the most important ways we can represent God is by representing Him to other people. Genesis tells the story of how, after humans sinned, people became incredibly violent toward each other. So God put an end to it with the great flood, only saving Noah and his family. After the flood, God teaches Noah His new plan to protect humans. No more floods. Instead…

5 For your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each human being, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of another human being.

6 “Whoever sheds human blood,

   by humans shall their blood be shed;

for in the image of God

   has God made mankind.” (Genesis 9:5-6)

After the flood, God entrusts people made in His image with protecting people made in His image.

Why does believing that all humans are made in God’s image matter? Every person matters and everything we do matters.

A human has value because that person is made in God’s image. Every human being is valuable to God, like how a photo of a loved one is valuable to you–not because it’s a piece of paper but because of who it represents. I could never throw away a picture of my kids. Have you ever run out of storage space on your phone or computer because you have too many pictures of the people you love stored on it? Happens to Em and I all the time, and we just can’t bring ourselves to delete a photo of our beloved, adorable children. How much more does God love His images? How much more do they matter to Him?

This is why Christians ought to care deeply about every human being, no matter their sex, age, nationality, disability, education, income, social status, whether born or unborn, family or enemy, Christian or non-Christian. This is why Christians ought to care deeply about their next door neighbor or a random stranger in the store or on the other side of the world.

Everyone matters AND everything you do matters. Going to work matters. Being a mom or dad matters. Being a husband or wife matters. Being a neighbor matters. Being a citizen matters. Kids and teens, doing school work, even at home, matters. Because when you carry out these roles, you are continuing God’s ordering, life-giving work!

Now let’s talk about sin. God has entrusted His image-bearers to represent Him that sin is such a problem. When we fail to reflect what God is really like, when we fail to represent His wishes, we sin, and there are serious consequences for that. If I gave you $100 and said,  “I want you to go and order 15 pizzas so we can have a pizza party at the church when the quarantine is over, and you showed up at our post-quarantine pizza party–not with pizzas but with brand new sneakers. I’d be mad. We’d all be mad!” You selfishly misrepresented what I wanted, what we all wanted.

18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles. (Romans 1:18-23)

Though God is plain to all of us, we suppress the truth and neither glorify God nor even give thanks to Him. We could at least say thanks, right? But how often do we receive good gifts without giving the Giver a “thank you”? In fact, we reject God, as glorious as He is, and worship created things instead of worshiping Him.

Sin is not just a mistake. We excuse our sin with sayings like “nobody’s perfect,” “everybody makes mistakes,” but “I’m only human.” While we definitely make mistakes that aren’t necessarily sin, these are not excuses for sin. If I speak harshly with my spouse, I can’t excuse it by saying “nobody’s perfect.” It was a sin, and not just against her–against God. Let’s call sin what it is…

Sin is rebellion against God’s right and good rule.

God has a wonderful vision for His world, for His people, a vision full of peace, integrity, love, justice, compassion, truth, and joy. When we sin, we rebel against that good vision.  Paul gives a long list of sins in Romans 1:24-32:

  • Sexual sin
  • Greed
  • Depravity
  • Envy
  • Murder
  • Strife
  • Deceit
  • Malice
  • Gossip
  • Slander
  • God-haters
  • Insolence
  • Arrogance
  • Boastfulness
  • Invent ways of doing evil
  • Disobeying parents
  • No understanding
  • No fidelity
  • No love
  • No mercy
  • Approving those who sin

First of all, did you notice how destructive these sins are? God’s rules are not trying kill human fun; they allow humanity to flourish.

Secondly, do you see yourself in any one of these? If so, you’re a sinner. Welcome to the club. We sin doing things God forbids, often called “sins of commission,” like lying or gossip. We sin by failing to do things God commands, often called “sins of omission,” like giving God your best or ignoring a neighbor in need. We commit intentional sins, where we know something is wrong and consciously choose to rebel against God. We commit unintentional sins, where we may not realize something is wrong and subconsciously choose to do it. Though intentional sins are obviously worse than unintentional sins, they are still both sin and make us sinners.

But maybe we’re still not convinced. We think, “I’m not that bad…” This next passage is for us…

1 You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. 2 Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. 3 So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? (Romans 2:1-3)

A lot of people think that there are two groups of people in the world: good guys and bad guys. (Most think they’re a good guy.) But those people would be wrong. Even the “good guys” are sinners Here, Paul is probably talking to the Jewish people, who thought they were the good guys because they had the Law, the Word of God. But passing judgement–calling out the bad guys–doesn’t make you good. Paul’s point here is that even “good guys” commit the same kinds of sins the bad guys commit. It might look a little different. Instead of robbing a bank, a “good guy” might be greedy with his money. Instead of murdering someone, a “good guy” might hurt someone with words. Maybe it’s not as in your face or obvious to us, but it’s still sin and calling out all the obvious sins doesn’t wash away all of our other sins. The very same impulse that leads to whatever you might consider “the really bad sins” exists in all of us. Given the right circumstances, pressures, opportunities, and temptations, we’d act on those impulses and, in certain ways, already do. “God, have mercy on us sinners!”

Why does the belief that all humans are corrupted by sin matter? Only God can provide a cure.

If we are each corrupted by our own sin, then we need to be rescued by Someone else. We need Someone to show us the truth. We need Someone to show us great grace. I want to end with a word about Jesus because, like us, He became human, but, unlike us, was uncorrupted by sin. “Jesus is the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15). Perhaps you’ve heard it said, “If you want to learn what God is really like, learn from Jesus.” That’s very true, but you should also know that, if you want to learn what humans should be like, learn from Jesus! He is what it means to be truly human, fully God’s image and yet uncorrupted by sin! BUT “God made him who knew no sin to be sin for us, so that we might be the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). We each need Jesus to save us, loved as God’s image, yet desperately in need of reconciliation with God because of sin. He’s the only way of salvation, and that’s actually what we begin next week in our series on “The Main Things.”

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

Based on the 05.17.2020 message “Main Thing #3: Humanity.” If you missed it, you can watch, listen, or read it at calvarymuskegon.com/learn-from-jesus.

Big Idea: All humans are made in God’s image yet are corrupted by sin.

  1. Are people basically good or bad or something in between?
  2. Read Genesis 1:26-28. Survey all six days of creation and determine what makes human beings different from every other aspect of creation.
    1. What is unique about humanity’s creation? What does this mean practically for how you view yourself and others?
    2. What is unique about humanity’s calling? What does this mean practically for how you view your engagement with and work in the world?
  3. Read Romans 1:18-2:3.
    1. What appears to be at the root of all of these sins in this passage?
    2. Why might we be tempted to call sins “mistakes” and why is this misleading?
    3. According to Romans 2:1-3, even those who pass judgment on others are still guilty of sin. Why is this?
    4. What are your earliest memories of understanding that you are a sinner?
  4. Why is it important to hold both the image of God and the impact of sin in our minds? What does this change about our relationships with God and/or other people?