Greater Than The World’s Wisdom
Tommy Bolt was a professional golfer who was playing in a tournament in Los Angeles. Mr. Bolt had a reputation of having a bit of a temper and when he first met his caddy he told him, Don't say a word to me beyond yes or no. We don’t need to talk, we are not going to be friends, I don’t want you advice, just yes and no. During the round, Bolt hit his ball into the rough and walking through the weeds he found it next to a tree. He got down on his knees and looked through the trees and sized up the shot. Then he turned to the caddy and demanded his Five-iron.
The caddy looked at the ball and then at Bolt and said, no.
Bolt grabbed the 5 iron out of his bag and snapped at the caddie, What do you mean no. I can make this shot with a five iron! Watch this!
The caddy repeated No, No, No, No, No!
But Bolt hit it and the ball stopped about two feet from the hole. He turned to his caddy, handed him the five-iron and said, "So what do you think about that?"
The caddy said, It was a nice shot, but it wasn't your ball.
We have all been there, maybe you haven’t hit someone else golf ball, you might not even play golf, but every one of us have done something ignorant while someone next to you was saying you don’t want to do that. Maybe you have done that in the last few hours. It seems that ignorance is a part of the human condition.
One of the things that we prayed for our students last week was that they would not only grow in their knowledge, but in their wisdom as well. Actually, I hope that everyone of us will be able to grow in our wisdom, that’s why I wanted to spend some time this fall looking at a book of the Bible devoted to getting smarter. Or at least wiser.
If we are willing to take the time to read the book of Proverbs, we will find that God is actually giving us insight into what life looks like when we submit our lives to Him. Every verse is calling out to us, inviting us to center our entire lives around Him. God gifted Solomon with deep wisdom and understanding. He writes the book of Proverbs as a way to share some of that wisdom with us, because we are not inherently wise.
I have mentioned before that television shows, especially sitcom’s, like to reuse the same story line over and over. One of these story lines have shown up in everything from the Brady Bunch, to the Golden Girls, to Seinfeld, The Middle, and the Big Bang Theory among others. The premise is that one of the characters life is a shambles. In the middle of their despair, they realize that they always make the wrong decisions, they always do the wrong things. So they decide that from that moment on they will do exactly the opposite of what they would normally do. By the end of the show their life has made a 180 degree turn. They have a better job, better friendships, better car, better house, better everything because they stopped following their natural instincts.
One of the reasons that this story line keeps showing up in television shows, is well it’s true. Proverbs 14:12 says, "There is a way that seems right to a person, but in the end it leads to death." Solomon knows that our natural tendency isn't toward wisdom. It's toward foolishness. If you follow your natural instincts through life you'll find that many of the decisions you make might seem right at the time, but they just end up making your life miserable. In order to succeed in life you've got to have wisdom.
As we get started, let’s try to get a good definition of what we're talking about. Herbert Hoover said wisdom is knowing what to do next. William James said wisdom is knowing what to overlook. The Mishna asks, "Who is wise? He who learns from everybody." I think all of those are good definitions, but I want to offer you one more, and it is the one we'll use in this series. Wisdom is the ability to make good decisions. That sounds easy to remember but don’t let how easy it sounds deceive you. Because some of the most difficult things in life, often sound the easiest at first.
Maybe you are already disagreeing with me. You are thinking, That's not a thorough definition. Not only do you have to make good decisions, you have to act on them. If that's what you are thinking you might want to unpack our definition a little more.
Whether or not you take action is, in itself, a decision. A wise person will not put off the decision to take action. If you know the right thing you are intelligent. If you know the right thing and choose to do it, you are wise. So wisdom is the ability to make good decisions. So that’s our definition. But let’s lay a little more ground work this morning so we can discover how do we go about getting wisdom.
Here's the first step; Proverbs 9:10 says, The fear of the Lord is the beginning of understanding
Don't get hung up on the word fear. This passage is like many others in Hebrew poetry. The first line is explained and commented on by the second. Technically, it's called Hebrew parallelism. Jesus often spoke this way. You can see an example of this in the Sermon on the Mount when Jesus prayed, "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." The kingdom of God comes when God's will is done.
So in essence Solomon is saying that fear of the Lord equals knowledge of God. Fear doesn't mean being scared of God, huddled in the fetal position in a corner weeping. This passage is demonstrating the sharp contrast between the wise and the foolish. A wise person fears, reverences, and obeys the Lord while a fool despises God’s instruction. The wise understands that God is directing them to a life of peace and joy, while the fool can’t be told what to do. The wise person realizes who God is, knows His nature, His character, His attributes. Getting to know God is the first step toward gaining wisdom. While the fool has made the decision that they know what is best for their lives and while they might allow God to add some color to their life, they are going to do what is best for themselves.
Fearing God means that we cannot recreate God in our own image. Too many people and churches want to tame God into a non-threatening marshmallow. We are content giving God a little bit of our time and attention, but we are not about to give Him total control. I mean Jesus wasn’t really serious when He said that answering the call to come and follow Him meant that we were to take up our cross and die. That was simply a metaphor that reminds us that we are to be nice people. Right??
Instead of fearing God we have created Him in our image. We have made Yahweh into a god that makes us feel comfortable, who exists simply to bless us and give us what we want. If God has become merely some kind of cosmic Santa Clause, then we cannot fear Him in the way He deserves to be feared. We won’t revere Him the way He deserves to be revered. The Lord God Almighty is far greater than that, and the fear of the Lord begins when we see Him in His majesty and power.
We cannot claim to fear the Lord until we are willing to admit that we are the creation and not the creator. We have to put away our desire to be God, to be the center of the universe, and admit that God is greater, wiser, and truly in control. Fearing the Lord means that we not only admit that God is in control when we are sitting in a building singing How Great Thou Art, on a Sunday morning. Fearing the Lord means that we are trying to live out that revelation every day. It means that we willingly lay down our lives and follow Him, living by His rules, and striving to accomplish His purpose in this community.
Fearing the Lord happens when we realize that doing things God’s way results in life, both now and in eternity. Maybe we came to that realization because we have experienced trying to live by our own standards and made a huge mess or maybe we came to that realization because we witnessed the suffering of others. How we came to this realization does not matter. A wise person looks at these two contrasting options, and chooses to experience real life. The fear of the Lord, in other words, is the beginning not merely of wisdom, but also of life.
Second, wisdom comes when we believe in consequence
Proverbs 5 - 7 is one of the most straightforward places in the Bible that teaches about consequences of our choices. Every choice will have consequences, financial choices, relationship choices, the way we choose to speak will all have consequences. Even the decision to not make a choice at all will bring consequences.
In 6:27 Solomon paints an intriguing picture when he asks, "Can a man scoop fire into his lap without his clothes being burned?" Being burned is the inevitable consequence of playing with fire. Solomon is trying to get us to think about the law of consequences. Jerrie Barber used to tell me, people don’t sin because they think about sinning. People sin because they don’t think about it enough. A person doesn’t gossip because they think about gossiping, they sin because they don’t think about the hurt that they are causing the person they are gossiping about, how their reputation will suffer when they become known as a gossip, how many friendships they will loose when people get tired of not being able to trust them with what they share.
And even though the law of consequences has been proven over and over in our lives, there are a lot of people who believe that this is the time that they are going to beat it. They convince themselves that this is the time they will get to do what they want with out consequences, they thought they could get away with bad decisions. But bad decisions have a way of catching up with us. The law of consequences is true 100% of the time.
We think we can scream at our kids and still be a positive influence in their lives. But that’s wrong. We think we can smoke two packs a day and not lose a lung. But that’s wrong. We think we can eat whatever we want and still be healthy. But that’s wrong. We think we can ignore our husband or wife and have a strong marriage. But that’s wrong. We think we can skip reading our bibles, or spending time in prayer and grow into a spiral giant. But that’s wrong. It’s the rule of sowing and reaping. You will always reap what you sow. You can’t sow corn and expect to get an apple tree. You will reap what you sow.
You also reap more than you sow, go out and plant a single butter bean and you will get 100’s of beans in it’s place. And you will always reap later than you sowed. You plant in the spring but harvest in the fall. Time passes, but the law of sowing and reaping, the law of consequences remains unchanged.
But this is not just a caution, it can also serve as an encouragement, because the law works both ways. All sowing produces reaping. Even good behavior. Proverbs 13:11 says, "He who gathers money little by little makes it grow." Proverbs 14:23 says, "All hard work brings a profit." If you do the right things, good things will happen. Not always on your calendar. Not always immediately. But if we keep on doing right things eventually, assuredly, good results will follow. Wisdom is gained by believing in consequences.
Third, Wisdom can be gained by learning from other people’s example.
Has anyone ever taken the milk out of the refrigerator, smelled it, taken a sip, and gotten this awful look on their face. And even though they might have heaved a little when they took that sip, they still looked at you and asked, “Does this milk taste funny to you?” and handed you a cup. What do you do? Do you do take the cup and get a big sip? My response is always, If it tastes funny to you that's good enough for me. I don't need to swallow a slimy glob of curdled milk. I will fully believe and learn from your experience.
Proverbs 21:11 says, When a mocker is punished, the simple gain wisdom; when a wise man is instructed, he gets knowledge. We all have the ability to lean from the mistakes of others. If you have witnessed someone make a huge mistake, why would you want to ruin your life by making the same mistakes. Do you really believe that it will turn out different for you? Remember the law of consequences?
Wise people look at the decisions someone else made and the consequences that resulted from those decisions and make better choices. The wise are not making a claim to be smarter or better that anyone else. It’s just that the wise have the ability of watching others, and if their decision brought them pain and grief, then the wise won’t repeat the same bad decision.
My grandmother told me once that if you run with the goats you eventually smell like them. There is something about old country wisdom. I believe that my grandmother had spent enough time in her Bible and with other people to know that if you’re going to be wise, you’ve got to get some wise people in your life. Solomon said it this way in Proverbs 13:20, “Spend time with the wise and you will become wise, but the friends of fools will suffer”.
This morning you don’t need a lot of friends in you life, not that there is anything wrong with having friends. You don’t need to be popular, not that there is anything wrong with being popular. But what you need is to surround yourself with people who are interested in helping you discover what God created you to accomplish. You need to surround yourself with people who are wise, not fools. If you hang around with fools, that’s what you become.
This morning we need to consider if we are truly wise. We need to consider if we are not only seeking for true wisdom, but are we living our lives in such a way that we are influencing others to seek out Godly wisdom as well.
Are you living your life in such a way that your wife is growing in her fear of the Lord. Are you living your life in such a way that your Husband is living his life in light of the consequences. And you encouraging your parents, your children, your coworkers to walk in wisdom? We must be called back to the fact that until we live lives of fear and reverence for God His will cannot be done in this place.