Not many of you will know this, but some years ago I had a job as a domestic in my local hospital. As well as cleaning, part of my role was to prepare breakfast for the patients on the wards. One morning, the bread was in the toaster, I was busy sorting the drinks out and loading my trolley with cereal when all of a sudden, I could smell burning. I looked up. Smoke was rising from out of this industrial toaster. I tried to eject the toast. Most of it came out but some were stuck. I didn't want the alarm sounding and the ward evacuated (elderly) so I did the only reasonable thing I could do – I panicked! In haste I looked around for the nearest suitable implement to remove the toast, my eyes saw something that would work a treat. I grabbed the metal knife and shoved it in the toaster. In an instant I found myself on the other side of the kitchen, I remember power surging through my arm and into my chest! I'm here! I lived to tell the tale. But what an unwise thing to do. What a foolish thing to do.
Some people are wise. Some, like me, are foolish. And the difference isn't a matter of intellect. I'd been to school. I'd studied sciences at GCSE. I'd passed science. I knew about conductivity. Nor is the difference a matter of experience, actually. Yes, experience helps. And I've thought twice about using a knife in a toaster since, but all the knowledge and experience in the world doesn't seem to stop us repeating the same foolish and disastrous mistakes time and again.
Who needs some wisdom in life right now? We all need wisdom in some way, shape or form. We all hunger for it, pray for it – for ourselves, for others – and yet so often we feel like we don't have it. Or we believe we do, but then the decisions we make and the words we speak and the way we speak them are shown to be so foolish. Each of us has come to church this morning from a host of different situations. New parents exhausted by the endless feeding, sleepless nights, constant care – unsure if (let alone how!) you'll get through this stage; parents of older children who are pushing the boundaries – unsure how best to lovingly guide and discipline them; students – caught up in this dizzying array of exciting, but also morally questionable, behaviour swirling around you in Fresher's week unsure how you're ever going to establish wise routines and good discipline; or those who are older, perhaps approaching the end of the earthly journey and (with more time to think and reflect)…all manner of doubts and regrets are creeping in and we need wisdom to control our thoughts; perhaps you're unsure of your next move in a relational breakdown: how am I going to speak to my parents about this, how am I going to tell my friend, what do I say to my wife, what's my next move with my work colleague; and I haven't even mentioned those of us who are lonely or despairing or overwhelmed or fearful. I could go on, couldn't I? All of us longing for wisdom on how to move forward. This is why all of us raised our hands isn't it?
Well JPC, this morning I have gospel for you! There is much good news in Proverbs chapter 8 and 9 – so please turn there with me and let's look at this together. There is a sermon outline on the back of your service sheets – that'll give you some idea of where we're going. And the first thing I want you to note are my two main headings. Wisdom's Call in chapter 8 and Wisdom's Call in chapter 9. Do you see that? Wisdom, personified as she is here, is calling out. She is searching for you. Whatever your situation she wants to be found by you.
"Does not wisdom call? Does not understanding raise her voice? On the heights beside the way, at the crossroads she takes her stand; beside the gates in front of the town,"
Whatever your situation, whatever your stage, whatever your location on the way, whatever crossroads in life you're standing at, wisdom wants to be heard, she wants to be found. We actually don't need to go looking for wisdom, we just need to listen! Verse 4: "my cry is to the children of man". In other words, it's for everyone! Verse 6: "Hear, (Listen) for I will speak noble things, and from my lips will come what is right."
1. Wisdom's Call in chapter 8: Listen!
Wisdom wants to be found. She wants us to listen, but what does she want us to know? Chapter 8 is an incredible chapter to have in our Bibles. The glorious personification of wisdom here reveals she's got so much to say for our benefit and our reward! I've picked out eight things – you may think that's ambitious, you're probably right, but I wanted them to be at least presented in front of you and briefly introduced. And let's be honest here: Proverbs 8 demands way more of your time than 20-25 minutes on a Sunday morning. My aim, therefore, is to whet your appetite, so that you're committed to plumbing its depths some more when you leave! Eight things from Chapter 8 that Wisdom needs us to hear.
First, wisdom cries out…
1) …I'm valuable! (v.10-11)
"Take my instruction instead of silver, and knowledge rather than choice gold, for wisdom is better than jewels, and all that you may desire cannot compare with her."
In other words, whatever we may regard as valuable (here represented by the silver, gold and rubies) in life, is nothing compared with wisdom's instruction and knowledge. In fact, wisdom calls for action. She says, "take my instruction" – each one of us has to choose what we are going to 'take hold of' and not let go. She says, "take my instruction instead of silver". As one commentator starkly puts it, "It is an either/or choice, because whatever we take takes us. We will love either wisdom or money or material things." And wisdom is calling out 'I'm so much more valuable!'
Second, wisdom calls:
2) …I'm practical! (v.14-16)
She says I will equip you for every area of life! Take a look at verse 14:
"I have counsel and sound wisdom; I have insight; I have strength. By me kings reign, and rulers decree what is just; by me princes rule, and nobles, all who govern justly."
Wisdom is intensely practical – she longs to be applied in every part of life. Here the application is for leaders – the best leaders listen to wisdom (how we wish that were the case in our country right now). But it's not just for leaders. In fact, the rest of the book of Proverbs (Chapter 10 through 31) is jammed full of 'down-to-earth', practical wisdom that can be applied in any and every situation. All of those examples I shared at the start, each one of us, wisdom knows and she is offering counsel and insight and strength for every situation.
I love what church leader Vaughan Roberts observes on this. He speculates, that from his experience, 95% decisions that we make are not straight forward right-wrong issues that require obedience – no 95% of the decisions we make are a matter of judgement or discernment. And he tells the story of how he had recently met with a group of middle-aged men who, over breakfast, had very honestly shared the battles and struggles of life. Some were wrestling with straight forward issues of morality, the right-wrong issues, but most were issues of judgement. They told of feeling overwhelmed, being busy at work, huge demands on their time, teenage kids getting older, parents becoming infirm – all rightly demanding more of their time, they told of not giving enough attention to their wives and on top of all that they were hearing at church about how they should evangelise and make non-Christian friends and they were saying to Vaughan 'we haven't time to make enough Christian friends, let alone non-Christian ones! How do you make decisions about how you are going to live your life in mid-life?! You see – yes, we do need the moral principles from the bible – we need right and wrong (we'll get to that in a bit). But we also need discernment and wisdom cries out 'I have it, I'm practical, I can equip in the real world as you try and make all sorts of decisions in 1,001 different situations.'
Thirdly, wisdom is calling out…
3) …I'm enriching! (v.18-21)
Not only is wisdom valuable, but she is rewarding. Now you may be tempted as we read these verses to ask 'is this personification of wisdom preaching a prosperity gospel here? Is this enrichment physical or spiritual?'
And whilst there's enough ambiguity to say both, the predominant view here is spiritual enrichment. Listen carefully to what she says. Verse 18 "Riches and honour are with me, enduring wealth and righteousness." Do you see this? She doesn't have riches and honour; she doesn't own them – they are with her and they are the kind of riches and honour that endures!
"My fruit is better than gold, even fine gold, and my yield than choice silver. I walk in the way of righteousness, in the paths of justice, granting an inheritance to those who love me, and filling their treasuries."
Wisdom provides a deep, meaningful, lasting enrichment that may spill over into the physical too.
Next, hear wisdom cry out…
4) …I'm foundational! (v.22-29)
"The Lord possessed me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of old. Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth. When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no springs abounding with water. Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forth."
In other words, I'm part of the very fabric of creation! I'm not a human construction. Hear this: wisdom is not an attempt by man to make sense of this world. Wisdom was here first! And she's not random or haphazard! Everything has its place. There are clear echoes of Genesis 1 in these verses. Look at verse 27. Wisdom says:
"When he (the Lord) established the heavens, I was there; when he drew a circle on the face of the deep, when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep, when he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command, when he marked out the foundations of the earth."
Creation was made and established in a specific, perfect way.
There was a surgeon, architect and a politician in a bar. And they were all arguing about who's was the oldest profession. The surgeon went first: 'There's no doubt about it, mine is the oldest profession. When God created Eve, he opened up Adam's side and removed one of his ribs, before closing it over with flesh again. That was clearly the work of a surgeon!' Then the architect said: 'Well that's fine, but you know before that, before Adam and Eve, God brought an ordered world into existence from chaos. That was clearly the work of an Architect!' To which the politician replied: 'Ah! But who made the chaos?!'
There was chaos! From which God brought perfect order. Which means, if we want to be wise, we can't live life without reference and obedience to the maker's instructions – if we do, there's a cost! It's just like if we put the wrong fuel in our cars! Have you ever done that? Ford designed my S-Max to run on diesel but if I were to put unleaded in it, as some of my friends have unfortunately done with their cars, things soon go wrong and the car breaks down. And just as we can't choose what fuel we want to put in our cars, we can't choose (without a cost) how we're going to live our lives. We've got to follow the maker's instructions. For example, God created us male and female. There are only two genders folks. We're ignoring this at our peril. God ordained that a man and women were needed to reproduce and that a child's best chance in life is to be brought up with a Mum and a Dad. Most of our societal problems in the last 60 years can be traced back to a breakdown in this ideal of a committed family unit…and yet you'll never hear a politician go anywhere near that truth. If they do, they're hounded down. We seem intent on re-creating chaos in all sorts of ways, don't we?
Friends, there's only one way to live and that is according to the Maker's instructions. And wisdom cries out 'I can tell you all about that. I was there! I'm foundational – don't live life against the grain of the Creator!' It'll only bring you trouble.
Next wisdom is crying out….
5) …I'm joyful! (v.30-31)
Her part in creation isn't just some functional, emotionless role. No, she says, verse 30:
"… I was beside him, like a master workman, and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the children of man."
It's a wonderful insight into the joy going in on creation, it's a wonderful insight into wisdom's delight in us, the children of man. We need to keep going though. Next, wisdom cries…
6) …I'm life-giving! (v.32-36)
Verse 34: "Blessed is the one who listens to me…" Verse 35: "For whoever finds me finds life and obtains favour from the Lord, but he who fails to find me injures himself (lit: 'does violence to himself'); all who hate me love death."
The choice, which will be drilled home in Chapter.9, is simple.
• Choose wisdom, choose life.
• Choose folly, choose death.
Seventh, wisdom calls...
7) …I'm moral! (v.6-9, 13 & 20)
Because we still need her to show us those right/wrong obedience issues. We see this repeated time and again throughout the chapter.
Verse 6: "Hear, for I will speak noble things..from my lips will come what is right."
Verse 7: "for my mouth will utter truth."
Verse 8: "All the words of my mouth are righteous; there is nothing twisted or crooked in them."
Verse 9: "They are all straight to him who understands, and right to those who find knowledge."
We see it in verse 13: "The fear of the Lord is hatred of evil, of pride, of arrogance and perverted speech."
And verse 20: "I walk in the way of righteousness, in the paths of justice."
To a people confused, without any moral compass and unsure of direction, wisdom says 'I'll teach you – I'm moral – I'll show you what is wrong and what is right.'
So, can you hear wisdom's call in Chapter 8? 'Listen,' she says 'I'm valuable, I'm practical, I'm enriching, I'm foundational, I'm joyful, I'm life-giving, I'm moral.' But we're not done yet. There's one more cry we need to hear, because lastly, and perhaps most significantly, wisdom cries out…
8) …I'm relational! (v.17 & 34)
Did you notice how personally wisdom speaks? This isn't just a personification. It's an invitation into relationship. Listen to verse 17: "I love those who love me, and those who seek me diligently find me." And verse 34: "Blessed is the one who listens to me, watching daily at my gates, waiting beside my doors. For whoever finds me finds life." Wisdom's cry, her plea, is for us to come into relationship with her. And so, we're bound to ask – could this personification be real? Just imagine the first Christians, having encountered the Lord Jesus himself, imagine them re-reading what we know as Proverbs 8…What else could they think but Jesus, Jesus, Jesus – across every section of this chapter!
Verse 17: "those who seek me diligently find me." What was it Jesus said? "Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find"? 'Behold someone greater than the author of Proverbs is here!' Jesus declared, referring to himself! Paul, writing to the Colossians (we heard it in our New Testament reading), says that all the treasures of wisdom are hidden in Jesus (Col 2:2-3). Joining the dots those New Testament authors saw that there is an incredible connection between wisdom and God's grace, Jesus, that causes him to draw near to us! Isn't that good news? This eternal wisdom entered this world, searches us out and invites us to listen to him through his word.
And Jesus says…
- I'm eternally valuable – "Don't work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life. I am that food! I am the bread of life!" "Whoever hears my word and believes has eternal life!" (John 5:24)
- I'm practical – "apart from me you can't do anything!" (John 15:5)
- I'm enriching – "if you remain in me you will bear much fruit" (John 15:5)
- I'm foundational – "before Abraham was, I am" (John 8:58) and John himself explains "in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning!"
- I'm joyful - "These things I have spoken to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made complete." (John 15:11)
- I'm life-giving: "I have come that you may have life and have it abundantly." (John 10:10)
- I'm moral – "I am the way, the truth and the life" (John 14:6)
- I'm relational – 'Come to me all who…what?...all who are weary…all who thirst…all who want to know the Father….all who want life.' "Come to me and I will never cast you out!" (John 6:37)
Friends, wisdom is not a concept to be understood – but a person to be known and in relationship with! A person who is seeking you out. A person who wants you to listen to him every day through all of his word. A person who wants to give you life to the full – in all its abundance – now and into eternity. Well we've run out of time. And if I had time, I'd take you to wisdom's call in Ch.9 and this is important.
2. Wisdom's Call in chater 9: Act!
You see the call of Jesus; the call of Wisdom is the same. It's not just to listen, but to act in response to what we hear! But there are two calls in chapter 9 (as there are in life). Will we
- turn to wisdom and life (v.1-6), or
- turn to folly and death (v.13-18)
Do go and have a look at this later and note how the call to life is one of active commitment:
- you've got to turn and leave (v.4 & 6) – in other words you've got to repent and change direction
- you've got to eat, drink and walk (v.5-6) – in other words our practical, daily walk must include time to feed on God's word and drink in his wisdom!
And finally, if we'd had time we'd have looked at the reality check there. Verses 7 to 12. Do you want to know if you're following the way of wisdom or folly? Then honestly review how you respond to instruction/correction.
But in a sermon, such as this, the last word has to be wisdom's. Do you remember wisdom himself told a parable about two men? One characterised by wisdom, one characterised by folly. One builds his house on the rock, he takes time to dig deep secure foundations. The other builds his house on the sand, no doubt going up in half the time, but when the storm comes the house is flattened. The difference? Jesus says "Everyone who hears my words and puts them into practice is like the man who builds on rock!"
May you and I be wise and do the same.