Today, I began a new series. H3: Spirituality for the Head, Heart, and Hands is an eight-week study of 1 Corinthians 12-14. I began the series with a message from 1 Corinthians 12:1-3, "Spirituality Begins with Jesus." Click on the hyper link to listen.
A little wisdom will save you from a world of trouble.
Proverbs 2:12-22 talks about two kinds of relationships that are particularly disastrous for your wellbeing: with “wicked men” and with “the adulteress.”
Verses 12-15 talk about the wisdom of avoiding friendship with “wicked men”:
Wisdom will save you from the ways of wicked men,
from men whose words are perverse,
who leave the straight paths
to walk in dark ways,
who delight in doing wrong
and rejoice in the perverseness of evil,
whose paths are crooked
and who are devious in their ways.
In his Confessions, St. Augustine recounts a time in his youth when he and some of his buddies raided a neighbor’s orchard and stole some pears. Now we might not think pear-stealing is all that big of a crime (unless, of course, we own the orchard), but Augustine looked back on this incident with great shame. In his mind, he committed two sins: stealing the pears and conspiring with friends to steal the pears. Sometimes, our desire to do bad things is compounded by the desire to have company doing them. The wise person avoids both bad things and the people who do them.
Verbs 16-22 talk about avoiding “the adulteress”:
It [wisdom] will save you also from the adulteress,
from the wayward wife with her seductive words,
who has left the partner of her youth
and ignored the covenant she made before God.
For her house leads down to death
and her paths to the spirits of the dead.
None who go to her return
or attain the paths of life.
Sex outside of marriage, whether before or after the ceremony, is a huge temptation in our culture. Everybody seems to do it, after all; at least that’s what you would think if all you did was watch TV or go to the movies. What our TV shows and movies don’t portray is other side of the story. Men incapable of forming last commitments to women, fatherless children, lonely women, broken homes. All too often, these are the consequences of disobeying God’s commandments regarding sex and marriage. Wise people avoid them by cultivating a healthy, lifelong covenant with the partners of their youth.
Verses 20-22 end with a general encouragement to live wisely and a general warning about living wickedly:
Thus you will walk in the ways of good men
and keep to the paths of the righteous.
For the upright will live in the land,
and the blameless will remain in it;
but the wicked will be cut off from the land,
and the unfaithful will be torn from it.
The basic contrast here is between “the upright [who] will live in the land” and “the wicked [who] will be cut off from the land.” According to Deuteronomy 28, obedience to the covenant between God and Israel resulted in peace, prosperity, and security within the national borders. Disobedience entailed war, poverty, and exile.
Given the choice, don’t you want peace, prosperity, and security? Then avoid “wicked men” and “the adulteress.”
Life is a nexus of cause and effect. Proverbs 2:1-11 is a guide to this nexus. It teaches us the relationship between living wisely and living well.
Proverbs 2:1-11 begins with a personal address:
Parents—both fathers and mothers—are responsible to God for teaching their children how to live. They show their children, through words and deeds, the nature of wisdom.
But this wisdom must be caught as well as taught. Children, especially as they grow older, have a responsibility to learn from their parents. Verses 1-4 clarify the nature of that responsibility:
…if you accept my words
and store up my commands within you,
turning your ear to wisdom
and applying your heart to understanding,
and if you call out for insight
and cry aloud for understanding,
and if you look for it as for silver
and search for it as for hidden treasure…
Notice the verbs: accept, store up, turn, apply, call out, cry aloud, look, and search. These are not passive verbs. They require children to take an active role in the learning process.
Too often, parents think that teaching their children means making their children’s decisions for them. When children are young, that’s necessary to a certain degree. But as children get older, decision-making becomes a zero-sum game. The more parents make decisions for their children, the less those children learn how to make decisions for themselves. I think that’s why church kids so often go wild in college. They’ve never been given the opportunity to make decisions for themselves, so their newfound liberty quickly turns into license. The trick of parenting, it turns out, is creating an environment where children actively seek out your advice.
When children themselves seek wisdom, they personally experience the blessings of God. According to verses 5-8:
…then you will understand the fear of the Lord
and find the knowledge of God.
For the Lord gives wisdom,
and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.
He holds victory in store for the upright,
he is a shield to those whose walk is blameless,
for he guards the course of the just
and protects the way of his faithful ones.
In these verses, the best advice a parent can give a child is to begin a relationship with God. That relationship is the key to living well, for God himself watches over his children. He is their victory, shield, and guard. Notice, however, that this protection is premised on deepening levels of intellectual maturity in his children. It is based on him giving them wisdom, knowledge, and understanding.
Finally, according to verses 9-11, a relationship with God results in increased moral character in his children:
Then you will understand what is right and just
and fair — every good path.
For wisdom will enter your heart,
and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul.
Discretion will protect you,
and understanding will guard you.
Intelligence and virtue, which must be taught by parents and learned by children, is the path of God to the good life.
The advice the father gives his son in Proverbs 1:8-9:18 is basically this: Get a good wife, and the best wife is wisdom!
Because the relationship between men and women is so basic to human existence, the Bible often draws on marital imagery to make a spiritual point. In the New Testament, for example, the marriage of a man and a woman is symbolic of the relationship between Christ and the church (Eph. 5:22-33). Here in Proverbs 1:20-33, the wisdom of God is portrayed as a woman in search of an intimate relationship.
And according to verses 20-21, she’s not particularly subtle about it:
Wisdom calls aloud in the street,
she raises her voice in the public squares;
at the head of the noisy streets she cries out,
in the gateways of the city she makes her speech:
What’s also interesting is that she’s not particularly choosy. Or rather, that she seems interested in the “wrong” kind of men. In verse 22 she asks:
How long will you simple ones love your simple ways?
How long will mockers delight in mockery
and fools hate knowledge?
Just as marriage is an intimate relationship, so is the possession of wisdom. According to verse 23:
If you had responded to my rebuke,
I would have poured out my heart to you
and made my thoughts known to you.
But simpletons, mockers, and fools are so dumb that they reject wisdom’ offer of love. And as we all know, hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. According to verses 24-31:
But since you rejected me when I called
and no one gave heed when I stretched out my hand,
since you ignored all my advice
and would not accept my rebuke,
I in turn will laugh at your disaster;
I will mock when calamity overtakes you —
when calamity overtakes you like a storm,
when disaster sweeps over you like a whirlwind,
when distress and trouble overwhelm you.
Then they will call to me but I will not answer;
they will look for me but will not find me.
Since they hated knowledge
and did not choose to fear the Lord,
since they would not accept my advice
and spurned my rebuke,
they will eat the fruit of their ways
and be filled with the fruit of their schemes.
This is not a gentle portrait of wisdom. But then again, wisdom is the skill for living well. And that skill requires the knowledge of cause and effect. If you do good, you will do well. But if you do bad, you will come to a bad end. According to verses 32-33:
For the waywardness of the simple will kill them,
and the complacency of fools will destroy them;
but whoever listens to me will live in safety
and be at ease, without fear of harm.
In the end, this picture of wisdom as a woman is really a picture of God in search of sinners to save. He offers a marriage of the good life, now and throughout eternity. Do we say yes?
The following outline makes a case for Jesus’ divinity based on both the implicit and explicit claims of the New Testament. It is taken from Ajith Fernando, The Supremacy of Christ (Wheaton, IL: Crossway: 1995), 70-72.
A. Implicit Christology
1. Divine functions performed by Jesus
a. In relation to the universe
b. In relation to human beings
2. Divine status claimed by or accorded to Jesus
a. In relation to his Father
(2) Eternally existent (John 1:1, 8:58, 12:41, 17:5; 1 Cor. 10:4; Phil. 2:6; Heb. 11:26, 13:8; Jude 5)
(6) Joint possessor of the kingdom (Eph. 5:5; Rev. 11:15), churches (Rom. 16:16), Spirit (Rom. 8:9; Phil. 1:19), temple (Rev. 21:22), divine name (Matthew 28:19, cf. Rev. 14:1), and throne (Rev. 22:1, 3)
b. In relation to human beings
(2) Recipient of prayer (Acts 1:24; 7:59-60; 9:10-17, 21; 22:16, 19; 1 Cor. 1:2, 16:22; 2 Cor. 12:8)
(4) Object of worship (Matt. 14:33; 28:9, 17; John 5:23, 20:28; Phil. 2:10-11; Heb. 1:6; Rev. 5:8-12)
B. Explicit Christology
1. Old Testament passages referring to Yahweh [“the Lord”] applied to Jesus
a. Character of Yahweh (Exod. 3:14 and Isa. 43:11 alluded to in John 8:58; Ps. 102:28-29 quoted in Heb. 1:11-12; Isa. 44:6 alluded to in Rev. 1:17)
d. Worship of Yahweh (Isa. 45:23 alluded to in Phil. 2:10-11; Deut. 32:43 [in the Septuagint, or Greek translation of the OT] and Ps. 97:7 quoted in Heb. 1:6)
f. Salvation of Yahweh (Joel 2:32 quoted in Rom. 10:13; cf. Acts 2:21; Isa. 40:3 quoted in Matt. 3:3)
h. Judgment of Yahweh (Isa. 6:10 alluded to in John 12:41; Isa. 8:14 quoted in Rom. 9:33 and 1 Pet. 2:6)
2. Divine titles claimed by or applied to Jesus
d. Lord (Mark 12:35-37; John 20:28; Rom. 10:9; 1 Cor. 8:5-6, 12:3, 16:22; Phil. 2:11; 1 Pet. 2:3, 3:15)
On March 14, 2007, Angel Linares was stabbed to death (allegedly) by Ricardo Juarez during a gang brawl in downtown Santa Barbara. Linares was 15 years old; Juarez is 14. The prosecutor has filed to try Juarez as an adult. As of today, Juarez’s fate is still undecided.
Events such as this murder have an uncanny ability to demonstrate the soundness of biblical teaching. In Proverbs 1:8-19, a concerned father offers his son a warning against joining a gang.
Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction
and do not forsake your mother’s teaching.
They will be a garland to grace your head
and a chain to adorn your neck.
The Book of Proverbs knows something about parents that children often forget. Parents have seen more of life than their children have. If they’ve listened carefully and looked closely, they’ve learned how the world works. They’ve gained wisdom, the skill of living well. That’s why children (especially young children) should listen to their parents. Doing so will give them a head start on life’s joys, and a detour around life’s heartaches.
One of the things parents know is that children are susceptible to peer pressure. Consequently, children need to be instructed to steer clear of people who are up to no good.
My son, if sinners entice you,
do not give in to them.
If they say, “Come along with us;
let’s lie in wait for someone’s blood,
let’s waylay some harmless soul;
let’s swallow them alive, like the grave,
and whole, like those who go down to the pit;
we will get all sorts of valuable things
and fill our houses with plunder;
throw in your lot with us,
and we will share a common purse” —
There are two kinds of temptations at work here. The first is the obvious kind: the temptation to kill and steal. The second is less obvious, but no less insidious: the temptation to go along with the crowd. “Come along with us” and “throw in your lot with us” are music to a teenager’s ears. Few can resist the seduction of that siren song, let’s. One wonders how many sins children commit not because they want to do wrong, but because they don’t want to be left out.
Parents have learned what children have not. Bad things happen to those who associate with bad people:
my son, do not go along with them,
do not set foot on their paths;
for their feet rush into sin,
they are swift to shed blood.
How useless to spread a net
in full view of all the birds!
These men lie in wait for their own blood;
they waylay only themselves!
Such is the end of all who go after ill-gotten gain;
it takes away the lives of those who get it.
“They waylay only themselves.” If Ricardo Juarez is convicted of murdering Angel Linares, he will spend a good junk of his life in jail. I doubt he thought of that when he acted. Make sure your children do. And do so yourself.
The house next to mine is being remodeled. With the exception of a few walls, it’s been stripped down to the foundation. In fact, the owners want to enlarge the house, so they’re pouring an additional foundation. When completed, it will be a beautiful ranch-style home.
Living well is a lot like building a house. You need skill to do it. The Book of Proverbs teaches you wisdom, which is the skill of living. But no amount of skill can build a beautiful house if the foundation is bad. And no amount of wisdom can build a good life if the foundation is godless. Instead, as Proverbs 1:7 says:
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge,
but fools despise wisdom and discipline.
The Book of Proverbs highlights the fear of the Lord in a number of places.[*] The basic point of is that fearing the Lord has positive results, not fearing him negative ones. For example:
The fear of the Lord adds length to life,
but the years of the wicked are cut short. (10:27)
The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life,
turning a man from the snares of death. (14:27)
The fear of the Lord leads to life:
Then one rests content, untouched by trouble. (19:23)
Blessed is the man who always fears the Lord,
but he who hardens his heart falls into trouble. (28:14)
Why fear? Why not love? Doesn’t 1 John 4:18 teach us that fear and love are contradictory? “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” Is Proverbs 1:7 an Old Testament idea that’s been refuted by a New Testament revelation?
Not obviously! In the passages quoted above, fearing the Lord is connected to life, contentment, and blessing, not judgment. In Proverbs 16:6, it is connected to love and faithfulness:
Through love and faithfulness sin is atoned for;
through the fear of the Lord a man avoids evil.
The fear of the Lord teaches a man wisdom,
and humility comes before honor.
Humility and the fear of the Lord
bring wealth and honor and life.
The fear of the Lord, then, is a love of God based on humility before him that results in blessings from him. John’s use of the word fear is 180 degrees opposite to Proverbs’ use of that word.
Why is this loving fear the beginning of wisdom? (The word beginning here means not merely “start” but also “foundation.”) Because God is the all-wise Creator of the universe. When you go with the grain of his wisdom, life is smooth. When you go against it, life gives you splinters. Fools are people who prefer the splinters.
So, if you want the good life, get wisdom. And if you want wisdom, get God. He is the only foundation upon which life can be built, and when necessary, rebuilt.
For the past few months, my church’s building has been under renovation. Every morning, workmen arrive; take out their tools; and demolish, fix, paint, or install whatever they’ve been contracted to do. And with the possible exception of demolition, each of these activities takes skill.
The thing about skill is that you can’t learn it in a classroom. A lecture on how to fix a broken audio channel, or paint a stucco surface, or install a brand new furnace would have little effect. The only way to acquire the skill to fix, paint, and install is just to do it. That’s why craftsmen typically work in master-apprentice relationships on the job. The one who knows shows the one who doesn’t know how to get the job done.
The Book of Proverbs can be interpreted as a master craftsman teaching an apprentice the skill of living. According to Proverbs 1:2-3, Solomon spoke proverbs
for attaining wisdom and discipline;
for understanding words of insight;
for acquiring a disciplined and prudent life,
doing what is right and just and fair.
Like fixing, painting, and installing, living well can only be learned by, well, living. Learning to live wisely is on-the-job, just-in-time instruction. That’s why, throughout the Book of Proverbs, Solomon and the other wise men tell us to listen carefully and look closely.
Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction
and do not forsake your mother’s teaching. (Prov. 1:8)
Go to the ant, you sluggard;
consider its ways and be wise! (Prov. 6:6)
We listen carefully to our parents and elders because they know how life works. We look closely at the actions of others because they teach us what works and what doesn’t. Whether through tradition, which is really just accumulated wisdom, or personal experience, we acquire skill for living.
Proverbs 1:4-6 speaks of two groups who can benefit from wisdom: “the simple” and “the wise.”
for giving prudence to the simple,
knowledge and discretion to the young —
let the wise listen and add to their learning,
and let the discerning get guidance —
for understanding proverbs and parables,
the sayings and riddles of the wise.
Verse 4 speaks about the simple and the young. The simple are not stupid people. Like the young, they are naïve because they lack experience. They are apprentices in need of the guidance of a skillful master. When they listen carefully and look closely, they begin to acquire wisdom.
But verses 5-6 speak about “the wise” and “the discerning.” No one, it turns out, is ever above learning more. Just as wiring a house is much simpler than wiring a nuclear power plant, so there are levels of skill for living. Wise and discerning people know much, but they can always “add” to their skill level by learning more proverbs, parables, sayings, and riddles.
Living well is a skill. It’s never too early to begin learning it…and never too late!
The Book of Proverbs begins by naming its author: “The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel” (1:1; cf. 10:1, 25:1). Other men edited Solomon’s proverbs (25:1) or added theirs to his (22:17, 24:23, 30:1, 31:1), but Solomon’s voice is the dominant one. And that fact entails this irony: Solomon is the man who didn’t follow his own advice.
Solomon was the son of David and Bathsheba. David was the king who united the fractious tribes of Israel into a united kingdom (2 Sam. 5:1-5). Bathsheba was David’s paramour (11:1-5) who later became his wife and the mother of his two boys. The first boy died in infancy, but Solomon survived, and “the Lord loved him” (12:24-25). In David’s last years, another of his sons by another of his wives tried to usurp his throne (1 Kgs. 1:5-8), but David appointed Solomon as his rightful heir (1:29-30). And so, after his parents’ adultery and brother’s treachery, Solomon became Israel’s king.
Given Solomon’s family background, it’s not surprising that he asked God for wisdom. According 1 Kings 3:9, he prayed: “give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong.” According to 3:12-13, God answered Solomon’s prayer, and then some: “I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be. Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for—both riches and honor—so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings.” And according to 4:29-34 and 10:14-29, God kept his promise and blessed Solomon with a superabundance of wisdom and wealth.
With Solomon’s background and blessings in mind, four themes in Proverbs begin to make sense. First, the priority of God: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline” (Prov. 1:7). Second, the necessity of wisdom: “Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding” (4:7). Third, the sanctity of marriage: “May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth…. Why be captivated, my son, by an adulteress? Why embrace the bosom of another man’s wife?” (5:15-20). And fourth, the consequence of success: “With [wisdom] are riches and honor, enduring wealth and prosperity” (8:18).
Unfortunately, although Solomon began well, he ended poorly. Instead of worshiping God alone, he worshiped the gods of his 700 wives and 300 concubines (1 Kings 11:1-8). In doing this, he prioritized the gods instead of God, followed his glands instead of his brain, and committed adultery at least 999 times. As a result of this foolishness, God undid Solomon’s success in a generation (11:9-13).
Solomon’s story is thus a tragedy, but his proverbs are true. In fact, his tragic life proves their truth. So, if you want to be wise, don’t act like Solomon! But by all means, follow his advice!
How should you interpret a proverb?
Consider Proverbs 26:4-5:
Do not answer a fool according to his folly,
or you will be like him yourself.
Answer a fool according to his folly,
or he will be wise in his own eyes.
Taken at face value, this proverb tells us not to answer a fool according to his folly; then it turns right around and tells us to do exactly that. It utters a contradiction.
Then again, you can find all sorts of contradictions in proverbs—whether biblical or not. Consider these non-biblical proverbs:
Absence makes the heart grow fonder.
Out of sight, out of mind.
Look before you leap.
He who hesitates is lost.
Too many cooks spoil the broth.
Many hands make light work.
Each of these three sets of proverbs also offers contradictory advice. Either absence makes you fonder for your loved ones or more forgetful of them, not both. Either you proceed with caution when making a big decision or you don’t, not both. Either more laborers make work more efficient or they don’t, not both. Given these contradictions, you might conclude that proverbs (biblical or otherwise) make no sense at all.
If you do, however, you’ve missed the nature of a proverb. The philosopher Aristotle once stated the law of non-contradiction this way: “one cannot say of something that it is and that it is not in the same respect and at the same time.” Even though two proverbs may say “that it is” and “that it is not,” they do not do so “in the same respect” and “at the same time.” They are not an absolute contradiction; rather, they are a relative truth. Or, as Tremper Longman puts it, “Proverbs are not universally valid. Their validity depends on the right time and the right circumstance.”[*]
Let’s go back to Proverbs 26:4. It says,
Do not answer a fool according to his folly,
or you will be like him yourself.
Answer a fool according to his folly,
or he will be wise in his own eyes.
According to Longman, what this proverb teaches is that “the wise person must, to put it baldly, know what kind of fool he or she is dealing with. If this a fool who will not learn and will simply sap time and energy from the wise person? If so, then don’t bother answering. However, if this is a fool who can learn, and our not answering will lead to worse problems, then by all means, answer.”[†]
Just as a good doctor knows when to prescribe medicine and in what dose, so the wise person knows when and how to apply a proverb. For, as Proverbs 15:23 puts it:
A man finds joy in giving an apt reply —
and how good is a timely word!
Copyright © 2007 by George P. Wood