An Introduction to Wisdom (Proverbs Sermon 1)
July 04, 2021 | Andrew Davis
This Sunday evening sermon was originally delivered on March 4, 2001, and released on Two Journeys on July 4, 2021.
Open your Bibles and turn to 1 Corinthians 1. We're beginning a series tonight in the Book of Proverbs, and we're starting therefore in 1 Corinthians 1. Does that make sense? Now, you may wonder, "What in the world does 1 Corinthians 1 have to do with Proverbs?" But it has everything to do with Proverbs. The common theme is wisdom. We're gonna be talking tonight about wisdom, and I wanna start at the center of our wisdom, and that is Jesus Christ, Himself.
The Apostle Paul made a statement in 1 Corinthians 1:22, and he said there, "Jews demand miraculous signs, and Greeks look for wisdom." Wisdom. I think we're very Greek people. I really think that we are in love with what the human mind can achieve and accomplish. We're in love with our own technology, with our achievements, with our ability to reason things out and think things through. We have think tanks and experts, and for any problem, any time that there's a dispute or a difficulty, there's never a shortage of experts to come in and give us some insight from all their study and some wisdom. And so, we are, I think, in this sense, very much like the Greeks of old, when Paul said that Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom.
The Greeks were full of famous philosophers. Can you think of some Greek philosophers that were... Socrates, Aristotle. That's right. Plato, perhaps the most famous. Many others, Pythagoras. I bet you didn't realize that he was a philosopher, but he really was, in addition to the Pythagorean theorem. I'm sure you all remember what the Pythagorean theorem was. That's right. A squared plus B squared equals C squared. Yes, and that's exciting, but Mr. Pythagoras did other things besides that, and he was a Greek philosopher. Democritus, Parmenides and others. There are famous Greek philosophers, and there were schools of Greek philosophy throughout the history of Athens and Greece. Atomism, for example, the idea that all of matter is made up of little particles called atoms. That sound familiar? Now, the Greeks were the first ones that thought that up. And Epicureanism, Platonism, realism, stoicism, hedonism. That's a big favor today. Life is about pleasure. Let's eat and drink and be merry for tomorrow we die. That's Greek philosophy.
But it's interesting, a statement that Paul makes here in 1 Corinthians, and look at it in verse 21. 1 Corinthians 1:21. Let's begin at verse 20. It says, "Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God, the world through its wisdom did not know Him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe." Now, that's an amazing statement he makes there. The Greeks were looking for wisdom, they were looking for God as well. Plato had statements about God and they were trying to find him through their intellectual achievements, but the amazing thing about the statement is that it was the wisdom of God that they could never find him that way. You can't find God that way. By thinking deeply and meditating about the world and about yourself, and working through axioms of truth. You're never gonna find God that way. And it's wisdom from God that you can't find God that way.
In the wisdom of God, the world through its wisdom did not know him. But a simple slave, or a common man or woman who hears and believes the gospel of Jesus Christ, they have the wisdom of God. Isn't that amazing? He says later, "We have the mind of Christ." We have the mind of Christ. We have the true wisdom. Paul says in Romans 11, one of my favorite passages, he says, "Oh, the depth of the riches, the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments and his paths beyond tracing out. Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?" Think about that. Who's gonna be chief counsel or giver to God? His right hand man, to give him some advice when he needs it. He calls him in, 'I'm having a little trouble with creation, I'm trying to work through this DNA thing, and I've kind of lost my way a little bit. Help me out here.' Who's gonna be God's counselor? Who's gonna give him some advice and some wisdom? Does he need one? No, his wisdom is infinite, it's unsearchable. It's unsearchable.
I always think about the unsearchable wisdom of God in terms of plumbing the depths of the ocean, and thinking about the amount of string you have in your pocket and tying it up to a rock and just keep going and going and keep adding other pieces of string and it goes deeper and deeper, and you ask your buddies or some other people for some string and it just keeps going. You'll never plumb the depths. That's the wisdom of God, it's unsearchable, it's deep, the wisdom of God. And the Greeks weren't gonna find it simply by thinking a lot and by talking to one another.
In verse 25 of 1 Corinthians 1, he says, "There's no true wisdom apart from God." It says, "The foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength." Isn't that wonderful? God's foolish moments is wiser than our best moment. Does God have any foolish moments? No. What is Paul doing here? He's really speaking tongue-in-cheek, and you know why? Because he went and preached the gospel to the philosophers, and they said it was foolishness. Utter foolishness. The idea of a Jewish carpenter, dead on the cross, put into a tomb and risen from the dead on the third day, what is that? That's utter foolishness. And so he says, "Okay, foolishness. But the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom." Wiser than man's wisdom. Christ is our wisdom, isn't He?
Look at verse 30, 1 Corinthians 1:30. "It is because of him... " Actually, I can't do this unless I read the whole section. Verse 26, "Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you are wise by human standards, not many were influential, not many were of noble birth, but God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise. God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world, and the despised things, and the things that are not, to nullify the things that are so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus." You could meditate on that for years. Just that one sentence. "It is because of Him that you are in Christ Jesus." Think about that. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us, what? Wisdom from God. Our wisdom is Jesus Christ. He is our wisdom. He has become for us wisdom from God, that is our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written, Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.
And so God is our wisdom. Jesus Christ is our wisdom, and we're going to be skating across perhaps the surface of Proverbs, there's no way we're gonna go verse by verse through 31 chapters of Proverbs. But Proverbs lends itself very well to a topical study, doesn't it? You really don't know why Proverbs 22:17 follows Proverbs 22:16. And so what we can do is go topically or thematically through and draw them out, and try to understand some wisdom from God. But I wanted to start here so that you would know the ultimate wisdom of God is Jesus Christ and Him crucified. It's the cross of Jesus Christ and the empty tomb. That is the wisdom of God, and we have the pleasure of having that wisdom if we've simply believed the gospel of Jesus Christ. You're as wise as you need to be. Isn't that wonderful?
So stop studying! What else is there to learn? You know everything! Is that true? Well, no, there's some practical wisdom that we need, isn't it? And that is because sin has deep roots in our lives, it affects everything we do, and we need some expulsive wisdom, don't we? To get in there and start adjusting the way we think about some things. Yes, we've been saved. We acknowledge that we're sinners, we acknowledge that we needed a savior, we acknowledge that we needed Jesus Christ, but we still have some problems, don't we? Are you all done being saved? Well, you're done being justified. The moment you trusted in Jesus Christ, you were justified, right? If you're a believer, that's finished once for all, but are you done being saved? No, according to Paul, he says, "Our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed." So our salvation is still being worked out, and it's yet to come, on judgment day we'll be saved.
There's a whole salvation package, and part of that is a daily practical wisdom from God, isn't it? And I don't think you're gonna find it any better than in the Book of Proverbs. Proverbs deals with some issues, doesn't it? How do we deal with our money? Or, how do we raise our children? Or, how can we have a good marriage? How can we be a good employee? How can we look at life rightly? That's the wisdom of Proverbs, and I think we need it. But I think before we go on, I wanna remind you of a verse I spoke about this morning. Where does wisdom come from? If you lack wisdom, what should you do? You should ask God. How is it that we keep coming again and again to a simple theme that we need to be spiritual beggars? Again and again and again, "Blessed are the poor in spirit," spiritual beggars, "for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." If you want anything, simply ask God.
James 1:5, "If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God. And He gives generously to all without finding fault and it will be given." And do you know what he might do? He might direct you to the Scripture. "Read it," He might say. "Read the instruction book, and there's some wisdom in there for you." Now, who wrote the Book of Proverbs? Other than God, of course, we know that it's inspired by God, but humanly speaking, who wrote Proverbs? That's right, Solomon. Turn to Proverbs 1:1, and He tells us right off who wrote it. Proverbs 1:1, and it says there, "The Proverbs of Solomon, son of David, king of Israel." So that solves it. Now, we know that in the Book of Proverbs, there are some sayings from other wise men, and we'll get to that later on. But in general, most of the Proverbs in the 31 chapters were written by Solomon, are inspired by Solomon.
Now, where did Solomon get his wisdom? Well, he got it from God. And you remember the story, Solomon was young and inexperienced, and he was having a dream, and in that dream, God came to him and said, "Ask for anything you want and it'll be given to you." What would you ask for? I've talked to others before about that. If you had that carte blanche, that blank check with God's signature at the bottom, what would you ask for? Seriously, what would you ask for? Godly heart, that's a good one. Other thoughts? What would you ask for? If you were in Solomon's place, what would you ask for? To know God. Now, this is eternal life that they may know you, the only true God. So you want eternal life, Bob, it sounds like. Alright, something else? What would you ask for?
Okay, all your loved ones that they might be saved. Paul says, "My heart's desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved." Yearning and a hunger for that, alright.
That you might be active and available to God the rest of your life in spreading the gospel, that would be a wonderful thing to ask for. How about, I'd like to be in heaven now? [chuckle] Okay, yeah.
I remember when I was a child and reading those Aladdin lamp stories, and it's like, if you get three wishes, what would you wish for? Wish for infinite wishes, that kind of thing. Well, you can't trick him with that. I think that might be wonderful to say, "God, I like the wisdom to answer the question. I don't know what I should ask for. Doesn't the Scripture say that? We don't know what to pray for." That's right. Be careful what you wish for, you may get it. Frankly, all of these answers that I'm getting have been instructed by the Scriptures, haven't they? We've been told to ask or yearn for a godly heart or eternal life, or that your friends may be saved, etcetera. These are coming right up out of the wisdom of God, the Scriptures themselves. I'm glad to hear that none of you said, "Lord, won't you buy me a Mercedes Benz?"
Ah, that's encouraging. And there are these moments that have gladdened the heart of a pastor, and that was big, and I appreciate that. But Solomon asked for wisdom, and I think he felt it acutely, didn't he? Why would Solomon be yearning for wisdom at that particular moment in his life? Yeah, it's a big job to be king. And he's a young man, he's inexperienced, he's got the humility to be a beggar there, doesn't he? To say, "I don't know what to do, I don't know how to be a king." And I'll tell you something, I have thought about it many times as a pastor in the last couple of years, as a matter of fact. I don't know how to be a pastor, I don't know how to be your pastor. There's no shame in that. I'll tell you, I'm young and inexperienced, I've come to God numerous times on my knees and say, "What do you want me to do? I don't know how to go. Give me wisdom." Why would God forsake that kind of prayer? That's James 1:5, He said, he'll give it generously to anyone who asks, and there's a certain confidence in knowing you can go to God any time with an open heart, as long as you're willing to do anything He says, to hear anything he might say, He's gonna give you that wisdom.
But that's what King Solomon did, and God gave him incredible wisdom. You see, this is the way God is. He doesn't give a little, okay? He's gonna lavish wisdom on Solomon more than anyone that had ever lived before or has ever lived since, save one, Jesus Christ, we'll get to that. But Solomon was lavished with the gift of wisdom. Incredible wisdom. Now, what is wisdom? A little while ago, we bought an 1828 Webster Dictionary. Now, why is the 1828 version important? Well, Noah Webster was a Christian, and almost all of his definitions of words have some Bible quote in them, it's an incredible thing. So you're reading through, and that's a great book to look up the definition of wisdom, and he did a great job. Noah Webster in 1828, wisdom in terms of an act, or effect, or practice, listen to this, is the right use and exercise of knowledge, the choice of laudable ends, that means good ends or praisable ends, and the best means to accomplish them.
In other words, to know where is a good place to go and then to know what's the best way to get there, that's wisdom. To know where it is you wanna drive to, and then what's the shortest route to get there are the best route. Well, that's the definition, that's an act, effect, or practice. Also is a faculty of the mind, Noah Webster tells us, wisdom is the faculty of discerning or judging what is most just, proper, and useful. There's a real moral side to these definitions. Have you noticed? What is righteous, what is just, and what is best and useful, that's the ability of the mind to discern those things. Also as an acquirement, something you can gain, wisdom is the knowledge and use of what is best, most just, most proper, most conducive to prosperity and happiness. You can become a wise man or a wise woman by immersing yourself in Scripture under the leadership of the Holy Spirit. You can discern what is best, discern what is just and right, and not only that, but how to bring it about, what's the best way to perceive. That is God's gift. Practical wisdom is discretion.
Now, prudence, for example, is a form of wisdom according to Noah Webster. Prudence is the exercise of sound judgment in avoiding evils. I like that. The exercise of sound judgment and avoiding pitfalls and trouble, avoiding evils. He says it's a subset of wisdom. Wisdom is the exercise of sound judgement in either avoiding evils or attempting good. Both. So that's wisdom. Thank you, Noah Webster. But I think in best, we see wisdom lived out in daily life, don't we? If you know a wise man or woman, you just watch how they live. How do they organize their affairs? What do they do with their checkbook? How do they organize their time? How do they administer their office? Let's say. How do they train their children? How do they organize their affairs? It's best seen in everyday life, and thus I believe in the Christian church, mentoring is crucial, don't you think?
To have a wise man, if you're a man or a woman, if you're a woman, who can just show you how to live in everyday life. Practical wisdom comes from experience, walking with Jesus through things. That's why Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11:1, "Follow my example as I follow the example of Christ." As we go through the Book of Proverbs, we're gonna have two very helpful tutors or mentors. One of them is the wise man, and what's his counterpart? He's very much instructive as well. The fool. That's right, we're gonna learn a lot from both, aren't we? The wise man is gonna teach us some things and the fool is gonna teach us some things, and we're gonna learn from both. Sometimes they appear, both of them, in one proverb. Wise man does this, the fool does that. And so, we're gonna learn by contrast and by comparison. What is a wise life in practical situations. We're gonna see the wise and the fool in various settings. For example, Proverbs 12:15, "The way of the fool seems right to him, but a wise man listens to advice." Alright, what is that teaching about a fool? "I don't need to hear anything from anybody, I've got this thing scoped, got it figured out. I don't need anything from anybody."
What does a wise man say? "Do you have any words of wisdom for me? I could use some advice here." You see what I'm saying? So we learn right away from our tutors: The wise man and the fool on the issue of taking advice. Proverbs 12:16, the very next one, "A fool shows his annoyance at once, but a prudent man overlooks an insult." Well, what does the wise man teaching a prudent man? Overlooking insult. Don't take it to heart. Alright, but what does the fool teaches? As soon as somebody irritates you, say something about it, show in a flash of anger, demonstration of power. We live in a foolish age, don't we? We live in a very angry age. As soon as somebody insults or crosses you, we're gonna show it. Well, Book of Proverbs has dealt with that thousands of years ago. 'A wise man overlooks an insult, but a fool shows annoyance at once." Or Proverbs 12:23, "A prudent man keeps his knowledge to himself, but the heart of fools blurts out folly." So a wise person tends to be kinda quiet, they don't say as much, kinda keep their wisdom to themselves until it's needed. But a fool blurts out his folly as soon as he thinks of something to say.
Or this one? Proverbs 15:19, "The way of the sluggard," we're gonna be meeting the sluggard. What's another word for sluggard? Yeah, a lazy person. That's right. A lazy person. "The way of the sluggard is blocked with thorns, but the path of the upright is a highway." In other words, a lazy person who doesn't do his business and get his things done has a difficult life, a hard life, there's always trouble, there's always difficulties. But a wise man is like a paved road, when you get your things done on time, etcetera. So it's a case study of everyday life. What is wisdom like? And what is it not like?
Now, Solomon's greatest exports in his kingdom was wisdom. Do you know that? That's what they exported. People came from around the world to listen to Solomon. The Queen of the South, for example, came and she brought her whole retinue and they brought all kinds of stuff, gold and silver and rare woods and spices and all that, and they traded it all for what? Some words of wisdom. Just some advice, just to be able to sit and listen to Solomon. And Solomon was amazing, it said in 1 Kings 4, "God gave Solomon wisdom and very great insight, and a breadth of understanding as measureless as the sand on the seashore. Solomon's wisdom was greater than all the wisdom of the East, the men of the East, and greater than all the wisdom of Egypt. He was wiser than any other man, and his fame spread to the surrounding nations. He spoke... " Get this, "3000 proverbs." We have just a sampling of his wisdom here, 3000 proverbs and songs numbered a thousand and five. So he was a composer.
He described plant life from the cedar that grows in Lebanon to the hyssop that grows out of the walls. He also taught about animals, birds, reptiles, and fish. Men of all nations came to listen to Solomon's wisdom, sent by all the kings of the world who had heard of his wisdom. So people from all around came to listen to Solomon, and we get to sit at his feet and listen to him too, don't we? We get to listen to his wisdom, as written in the Book of Proverbs. The Queen of the South, Queen of Sheba, came to listen to Solomon's wisdom. This is what she said, "The report I heard in my own country about your achievements and your wisdom is true, but I did not believe these things until I came and saw with my own eyes. Indeed, not even half was told to me. In wisdom and wealth, you have far exceeded the report I heard. How happy your men must be, how happy your officials who continually stand before you to hear your wisdom." So that's amazing. God, as I said, gave lavishly to Solomon.
But later on, another one would come, a descendant of Solomon, through his father, Joseph. And it was Jesus Christ. And you remember what Jesus said about Solomon? He said, "The Queen of the South," this is Matthew 12:42, "came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon's wisdom, and now One greater than Solomon is here." One greater than Solomon is here. Jesus Christ's wisdom far exceeds that of Solomon. Solomon described plant life, cedars and hyssop, Jesus designed them. Think about that. Solomon observed the mating rituals of certain kinds of fish perhaps, or animals, categorized them into categories, Jesus created them and sustained them. That is the wisdom of Jesus Christ. And by the way, you have Jesus Christ living within you. You have the mind of Christ. Isn't that amazing? Stop and think that someday your wisdom and your knowledge of God will far exceed the head of Solomon, when you've seen Jesus face to face, and you know as fully as you are fully known.
Now, let's look for the first seven verses of Proverbs, and we're gonna just work our way through these, and that'll set us up for our future study. Proverbs 1:1, we've already read. "The proverbs of Solomon son of David, King of Israel: For attaining wisdom and discipline; for understanding words of insight; for acquiring a disciplined and prudent life, for doing what is right and just and fair; 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, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge. But fools despise wisdom and discipline." Now, as you look through these seven verses, he tells you at the beginning why he's written these down, what are the Proverbs for. And listen to what he says, "Therefore, attaining wisdom and discipline." What is discipline? In a moment, he's gonna talk about attaining or acquiring a wise and disciplined life.
What does that mean? Discipline. Okay, using your time well, resources well. Go. Self-control. Okay, other thoughts on discipline? Teaching, okay. I think it's really related to the word disciple. There's a close relationship between discipleship and discipline. Self-control is a big theme. How many of you feel that... Say again. Okay, obedience and submission to God's leading in your life, okay. That would be good. I think what Max said in terms of stewardship, there's a sense in which God has given us these resources and we're supposed to be wise and disciplined stewards of them. We're supposed to know what they are and how to use them best. And so, how many of you feel that you would like to grow in self-discipline? Okay, one or two of you. And for the rest, it speaks of you because it says, Let the wise hear and increase in their learning. So all of those of you who have reached that level of self-discipline that you would like, you can continue and increase your learning.
The thing is that the Book of Proverbs is written, no matter what your level of discipleship. Look what it says, it says, "For acquiring a disciplined and prudent life, doing what is right and just and fair. Giving prudence to the simple." What does that mean? Simple. He is simple. What is a simple person? Right, not proud. Calmer, say again. Naive, right? Or could we say a beginner in the journey of wisdom? Naive, just starting. Okay, you're just a beginner when it comes to wisdom. Well, this book's for you. It's for giving prudence to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the young. So there's a parallel there, between simple and young, but then also in verse 5, "Let the wise listen and add to their learning." We're never finished, are we? Some of you have been alive for many, many more years than I have, and your gray hair testifies to the years you've been alive, and you've experienced things that younger people have not experienced, but are you done learning? Are you finished? Not at all. And so there's a practical wisdom still waiting for you in this book. "Let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance." That's a beautiful word, isn't it?
I like to think in my life of the way of wisdom. There's a way, a path in front of us, isn't there? And sometimes it's hard to see, it's hard to know what direction to go. We need wisdom, we need guidance, and we must learn to turn to Scripture, and the Book of Proverbs, gives us some very practical wisdom and guidance for that journey, the way of wisdom. And then he says, "for understanding proverbs and parables, the sayings and riddles of the wise," so you're gonna understand some things that you wouldn't have understood without studying. And then comes the motto for the entire book, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge." The fear of the Lord. What do you think of when you think of the fear of the Lord? What does that mean? The fear of the Lord. Respect, okay. A common word would be awe. People think of awe.
Is there any terror involved? Well, in one translation, 2 Corinthians 5, it says, "Since then we know the terror of the Lord, we persuade men." So there's some terror of the Lord. Every time you look in the Book of Judges or some of the other places where the Spirit of the Lord comes, or there's an appearance of the Lord, terror comes over those who come close to God. And yet there's an attraction, isn't there? There's a yearning to be in the presence of God, a sense of His presence and the awe and the power of God, and yet a sense of fear as well.
Now, Romans chapter 8 says that we're not made a slave again to fear. It's not a slaverish-type fear, it's just who he is and who we are. That's all. And so, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. You wanna start on the journey, you start by fearing the Lord. And the contrast is just as clear, the fool despises the whole thing, they despise the journey, they're not going to listen, even if you tell them a thousand times, they're not going to listen, because they don't fear the Lord. So this book will profit you and benefit you as you fear the Lord, but if you don't fear the Lord, you're not even on the journey, not even walking along the way. So the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Come into this book, fearing the Lord, and he's got wisdom for you.
Now, what we're going to do in our study beginning next week, is we're gonna begin looking at some topics. We're gonna go through and find some things out, very practical things on what Proverbs has to say about daily life, talk about character traits. We're gonna talk about good business practices. Perhaps, we're gonna talk about eating and drinking habits. Book of Proverbs speaks to these things. Sexual purity, how to watch out for the adulterous or the sexual tempter that will come in your life. The Book of Proverbs has a great deal to say about this. Work ethic, being a disciplined, hard-working person. Speech patterns, what to say and what not to say, when to speak and when to be silent. Handling money and wealth, controlling your emotions, raising your children, avoiding trouble spots, common trouble spots in people's lives, secrets to a blessed marriage.
So all of that next week and then the following, we're gonna look at... No, no. We'll take one top. Alright, we're gonna zero in and we're gonna go through and find the Proverbs that speak to those. We're gonna try to plumb the depths of the wisdom of God so that we can acquire a disciplined and prudent life. So please come next week, come with an open heart, come with the fear of the Lord and let's be instructed by God. Let's close in prayer. Is there anything else, Bill? Alright. I'm gonna close in prayer.
Heavenly Father, we do thank you for the time we've had to look at your word tonight. Thank you for the Book of Proverbs and the things we're gonna learn. But Father, tonight, we just wanted to remind ourselves who wisdom is, not so much what wisdom is but who wisdom is, and the wisdom is Jesus Christ. And we thank you that by faith in Christ, we have received wisdom from God, our righteousness, Jesus. And we have been given the fear of the Lord, which is the beginning of wisdom, the beginning of knowledge. Father, I pray for my brothers and sisters here and for myself, that we might hear what you have to say, not be like the fool that despises knowledge, but rather one who is teachable, one who can learn and grow in wisdom. Father, we pray these things in Jesus' name. Amen.