How do we get wise? I guess most of us, both in the church and outside the church, have this sense that it would be good to be wise. If you asked someone on the street, "do you want to be wise?" I don't imagine many people would say no.
But how do we get wise? In our age, there are loads of different places we could look. The internet. Social media. I saw a link the other day with "19 inspirational quotes to make you wise in life", and it contained such classics as "If you want something you've never had, you have to do something you've never done". Boom.
So we can go to planetsuccess.com where that came from to find wisdom. We can listen to TED talks. We can read books. Or you might think, I wouldn't go looking in any of those places for wisdom. Maybe we just plain think that we know better than everybody else. Or maybe we go to mum or dad, or to good friends… I imagine that's where most of us go.
But the book of Proverbs says there is something more… This passage tells us that God's wisdom is supreme above everything else. And we should treasure it above any other wisdom.
And if you're sceptical about that, we're going to have a look at why that's the case as we go through this passage.
But let's pray before we dive in…
Later in Proverbs we read "My son, be attentive to my words; incline your ear to my sayings… For they are life to those who find them."
Father God, please would we be attentive to your words this morning. Help us not to just hear them but to really listen and take heed of them. In Jesus name, Amen.
In these first 9 chapters of Proverbs, there's a theme of fatherly instruction. We're given this picture of a Father guiding his son. Lovingly urging him not to be a fool but to follow the way of wisdom. We see it ten times throughout these chapters, and it's in our passage today - have a look at verse 21 "My son, do not lose sight of these – keep sound wisdom and discretion, and they will be life for your soul".
Back at the start of chapter 1, which we looked at a few weeks ago, we were given the headline and opener for the whole book – Proverbs 1.7: "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction."
And so as the Father lovingly imparts wisdom to his son, he's not just talking general wisdom, he's talking about God's wisdom. He wants his son to revere God in a way which recognizes that:
God's Wisdom is beyond compare! (vv13-18)
That's what we see in the first part of this passage as well. In Proverbs, we're presented with the choice between lady wisdom…and the woman of folly (we'll be hearing more about her in future weeks), but look at how lady wisdom is pictured here in verses 13-18!
The author is so full of praise as he tells us about her.
Verse 13: "Blessed is the one who finds wisdom".
Verse 14: "the gain from her is better than gain from silver
and her profit better than gold.
She is more precious than jewels,
and nothing you desire can compare with her"
Verse 17: "Her ways are ways of pleasantness"
Verse 18: "She is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her"
Do you get the excitement?
We're in wedding season here at St Joseph's. Yesterday we had Kal and Fanny's wedding. Next Saturday Jack and Caris are getting married. And grooms speeches are usually full of praise for their wonderful wives aren't they? Possibly with the odd tear too… And our author here is a bit like a groom. You couldn't be more overflowing in praise about lady wisdom could you?
She's worth more than any treasure you could find. Nothing you desire can compare with her – nothing in this world! When we follow her we'll be blessed. She'll give you a vibrant, fulfilling life.
The point is clear - God's wisdom is amazing. It's beyond compare. We need it more than anything.
And yet maybe we're sitting there thinking, 'oh come on. Why is it so good? Why are you so enthusiastic Mr Proverbs writer?! Why? I mean, is it really that good? What about all this that I could compare it to?'
Well here's the why. It's what the author comes to next. And let me highlight four reasons we're given as to why God's wisdom is beyond compare.
1. It's the wisdom which made the world…and so it's the best wisdom for our every day (vv19-20)
Take a look at verses 19 and 20:
"The Lord by wisdom founded the earth;
by understanding he established the heavens;
by his knowledge the deeps broke open,
and the clouds drop down the dew."
A friend of mine at university studied mechanical engineering and he now works for the Renault Formula 1 team. And if I wanted to know how to make a formula 1 car work well, I wouldn't ask a neighbour who likes tinkering with cars, I'd go and talk to my friend Chris.
And if we want wisdom to make life work, both on a big long-term life scale, and also in the nitty-gritty of everyday life, we go to the one who created the world. The Lord by his wisdom created human beings - you and me, he created the earth and the heavens. And he knows how things work best.
As a slightly random but also amusing example of that, which I just heard this week - at Dartmouth College, an Ivy League university in the States, one of their economists, did a serious academic study on the "happiness maximizing number of sexual partners in the last year". Guess how many it is? One. The happiness maximizing number of sexual partners in the last year is one. So maybe there's a hint that God's design for Christian marriage between one man and one woman isn't such a crazy idea.
We also see here that it's by his knowledge that the clouds drop down the dew. God created, he set up, all the natural processes and systems by which the world works. And it's because God created things in an ordered way that we can study them in science. We can come up with theories about how things work.
Science and God or Christianity aren't opposed. For instance, one of the top philosophers of science in the world, Professor Hans Halvorson at Princeton University writes that it's a historical fact that Christians invented the modern scientific method. Why? Because they believed in a creator God who has made an ordered universe. Are there complex questions to wrestle with in this area – yes. But let's not look to 'science' for our ultimate wisdom.
So God's wisdom is beyond compare… because It's the wisdom which made the world…and so it's the best wisdom for our every day.
And the second reason is there in verses 21-26.
2. God's Wisdom Brings Peace and Contentment (vv21-26)
OK so God made the world, but it all seems quite distant. What about in our everyday worries or when serious trials come along? When the storms of life begin to blow? Or even as we face up to the end of life?
Take a look with me at verse 24. The Father is talking to his son about getting God's wisdom, and he's still exuberant about it. He says:
"If you lie down, you will not be afraid;
when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.
Do not be afraid of sudden terror
or of the ruin of the wicked, when it comes,
for the Lord will be your confidence
and will keep your foot from being caught."
I don't know how much of a worrier you are? Or how you sleep at night? But imagine living like this! When his head hits the pillow he has no worries. He's not afraid of the present. He's not worrying about unknowns or things that might happen in the future. He lies down, and drifts off to sleep, and his sleep is sweet.
And it's not because he's living on a Caribbean island, with no trials or challenges in life, or because he's deluded enough to think he can handle anything life throws at him. It's because his confidence is in God.
He trusts God completely. He has learnt to trust God with time, work, money, health, children. All the things that might keep us up at night. You can imagine that maybe he prays before bed and commits all these things to God.
I think he knows what the apostle Paul knew, when, in his letter to the Philippians he said:
"Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."
I wonder if you've ever known that peace which passes understanding? A peace where we've got to know God so well, that we trust him even in the darkest places. Sometimes it is when everything is taken away and all we have left is Jesus. Maybe you've never known that peace, and the author here would say 'find God's wisdom'. Make every effort to get to know God because his wisdom is beyond compare!
Or maybe you've experienced this peace and contentment but you don't feel it like the author in this passage. You don't go to sleep at night with no worries. And it's worth saying, if we're a follower of Jesus, and we've already chosen the path of God's wisdom, we've been made "wise for salvation", as Paul says to Timothy. We've grasped the gospel. But that doesn't make us wise in itself. It's a continued path and we're being changed day by day. It's not necessarily going to happen instantly, instead, it comes from a lifetime of going after God's wisdom.
And I wonder whether you know people like that? They so clearly have been going after God's wisdom for a lifetime, they deeply trust God, and it's so attractive. Doesn't it make you want to be like them?
It reminds me of Peter Howbrook from our church family who sadly died back in December. Despite battling cancer for a long time, he was always so content, peaceful, others focused when you talked to him. And his favourite phrase was "God's in control". It's such a marked contrast to many who face the end of their lives with discontent, bitterness or selfishness.
Wouldn't you love to be like that, not just at the end of life but through all of life's ups and downs, every day, every bedtime? Well pursue a lifetime of going after God's wisdom. It's more precious than silver and gold. And God will refine you so that you reflect his glory more and more.
We'll reflect it as we model trust in God and a sense of peace to those around us, and we'll reflect it as we bring good to our neighbours. That's the third reason why God's wisdom is beyond compare!
3. God's Wisdom Brings Good to Your Neighbour (vv27-32)
In verses 27-32, we're given five pieces of wisdom about what we're not to do. They're marks and means of God's wisdom. And you could sum them up as do good to your neighbour. In Matt's talk last week we saw that our neighbour is anyone we come across, even our enemy. You see, God's wisdom is beyond compare because it's good for the world.
Some people think religion poisons everything, but Christianity is a force for good. Yes there are things that are done in the name of Jesus that we need to mourn and which weren't godly or right. And we need to apologise and own those things. But, for example, Pullitzer prize winning journalist and human rights activist Nicholas Kristof, writing in the New York Times says this:
"Go to the frontlines, at home or abroad, in the battles against hunger, malaria, prison rape, human trafficking or genocide, and some of the bravest people you meet are evangelical Christians who truly live their faith."
And in my experience that's true. A study that was done also found that weekly church attenders in the US give away 3.5 times more money than people who don't go to church.
Now we're not to think of ourselves as better than non-Christians. We need to run from self-righteousness. We're all sinners saved by grace. But that grace we've been shown is a resource we can draw on that enables us to love others even when it's hard, because that's the love we've been shown.
And here in Proverbs, we're given five practical ways to love our neighbour. Have a look at verse 27:
"Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due,
when it is in your power to do it.
Do not say to your neighbour, "Go, and come again,
tomorrow I will give it"—when you have it with you.
Do not plan evil against your neighbour,
who dwells trustingly beside you."
The thrust of these verses seems to be that we should be generous and take action as soon as possible. We're not to withhold good when it's in our power to help people. In verse 27, where it says "do not withhold good from those to whom it is due", I guess you could read that as meaning 'to those who deserve it'. But the most likely reading of that in the original language seems to be 'to those who clearly need it'. I.e. if someone has fallen over next to us, they're due some help – they have a claim on us.
But it also tells us here that we're to do good when it's in our power to do so. We're not called to give what we don't have. And elsewhere in Proverbs we're cautioned not to put ourselves up as security for a stranger. We're not to promise to pay someone else's debt if they default without knowing them and their situation. So we're to be wise, but generous and in a way which is quick - it's not begrudging it or putting it off.
So this summer, have there been times, looking back, where we could have done someone some good, it was within our power, but we were too slow, too lazy, too selfish? Let's pray that we'll learn to be swifter in our generosity.
Or verse 30 says:
"Do not contend with a man for no reason,
when he has done you no harm."
This summer, have you caused an argument just for the sake of it? It's easy to do isn't it, especially if we've had kids keeping us up at night! But let's pray that we would become more self-controlled and loving.
Or maybe verse 31, we're tempted to envy those who bully their way to the top or who always seem to get their way. Maybe it's at work – with someone getting that project you wanted or getting Christmas off, or in a sports team. Well don't envy them. Don't wish you could be like them. God values humility and uprightness, godliness. Let's strive to be like him, even if it means not getting our way sometimes.
Maybe that sounds hard, it means sacrifice, and that is part of following in Jesus' footsteps in this life, but our final 4th reason why God's wisdom is beyond compare, is that it doesn't bring loss, but reward!
4. It Brings Reward (v33-35)
We saw that back at the start of the passage didn't we? "Blessed is the one who finds wisdom". It's "profit is better than gold".
And we finish with that in verses 33-35. God:
"blesses the dwelling of the righteous.
Toward the scorners he is scornful,
but to the humble he gives favour.
The wise will inherit honour,
but fools get disgrace."
God's wisdom brings reward. It's the best, most satisfying way to live. It brings peace and contentment. It brings good to the world. And ultimately it leads to greater rewards than we can imagine – the great hope that we have of eternal life.
And in these verses, scornful, proud mockers are contrasted with the humble, who seek God's wisdom. There are those whose insults and questions look intellectual and sophisticated, but Proverbs say that they have an inflated confidence in their own opinion.
And in the end, verse 34, the Lord will scorn the scornful. He'll mock proud mockers. Because he opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. And so the question for us to finish with is this:
Do you think you can find better wisdom than that?
Do you really think you can find better wisdom than that? Are you going to be proud and scorning of God's wisdom? Or are you going fear God? And commit to a lifetime of going after his wisdom.
God, through the human author here, says "love God's wisdom! Love her like you would love a great wife or husband". Wisdom is about a relationship, and there's no better life partner than God's wisdom. So let's choose to go after it each and every day. Let's aim to finish the race as one of those people who can stare death in the face and say "God is in control". God is in control.