Rev. Jeff Chapman ~ Faith Presbyterian Church
The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel:
For learning about wisdom and instruction,
for understanding words of insight,
for gaining instruction in wise dealing,
righteousness, justice, and equity;
to teach shrewdness to the simple,
knowledge and prudence to the young—
Let the wise also hear and gain in learning,
and the discerning acquire skill,
to understand a proverb and a figure,
the words of the wise and their riddles.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge;
fools despise wisdom and instruction. (Proverbs 1:1-7, NRSV)
Some people think that the Bible is mostly about how to get eternal life. It is about that, of course, but not mostly about that. The truth is, a great deal of the Bible is devoted to how we are to live while we are in this life. In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus taught us to pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” God has mapped out a way of life for his people on this earth. There are ways that God wants us to live here and now because they lead to the fullness of life for ourselves and others, and there are also ways that God does not want us to live because they lead away from this same fullness.
When it comes to how we honor our parents, how we prioritize money, how we handle the gift of sex, how we wield influence, how we choose our words, how we care for our bodies, how we treat the poor, in these and so many other areas of life there is a right way to live and a wrong way to live. And all along the way through life, from the time we are very young, we hear two competing voices, like the proverbial angel and a devil perched on opposite shoulders, one calling us away from God’s ways and the other calling us towards God’s ways.
So what is it that helps us to know the difference between the two ways so that we can then choose the way that leads to life? Well, according to God’s Word it’s wisdom. Wisdom is what is needed to discern the way God wants us to go in this life.
As I suspect you already know, wisdom has very little to do with education or intelligence. There are highly educated and brilliant people walking around our world today who have very little, if any, wisdom. There are also very simple people who never went far in school and who may never be admired by anybody for their intellect, but who are, nonetheless, very, very wise. In other words, sometimes wisdom shows up in the most unexpected people.
The story is told of the village idiot who was stopped every day by the townspeople and asked to pick between a nickel and a dime. Every single time the idiot chose the nickel, prompting the people to go away saying, “See, I told you he was an idiot.” It wasn’t until he was a very old man when somebody finally asked him why he’d spent his whole life choosing the nickel instead of the dime. “It’s simple,” he said, “if I kept picking the dime they would have stopped offering me the choice. This way I kept getting nickels every day.” Like I said, wisdom often shows up in surprising people.
So where can we find wisdom today? Every time I eat Chinese food they bring me a fortune cookie at the end of my meal. Truth is, I don’t really like fortune cookies all that much but I still crack it open wondering if perhaps that little piece of paper inside will offer some wisdom that will help me choose the right path in life. Unfortunately, I’m rarely impressed by what I find. The last one I cracked open contained these words inside: “Help! I’m being held prisoner in a Chinese fortune cookie factory!” Funny, just not very wise.
Last week we looked briefly at the Old Testament book of Psalms and learned that this book is a valuable gift from God, given to us to help us learn the language of prayer. Well, today we are going to look at the Old Testament book of Proverbs because it is another valuable gift from God given to us so that we might learn wisdom. For while the whole Bible is full of wisdom, nowhere is it more concentrated than in Proverbs. As we just read, the book’s opening verses make clear what is to follow. This is a book “for learning about wisdom.”
The writings in Proverbs are traditionally attributed to Solomon, the son of David who became a famously wise king in ancient Israel. In those days, people who sought to follow God’s ways in life committed these writings to memory and then summoned them up in times of need or temptation. Often older people would use them to correct and train those who were younger – think of Yoda trying to impart wisdom to young Skywalker. For those young people who heeded the wisdom of these texts, life generally turned out better.
Like all of scripture, Proverbs has lost little if any of its relevance. The wisdom these texts offer is as trustworthy today as it was 3,000 years ago. In fact, many Christians still turn to Proverbs daily, constantly opening their minds and hearts to what God might teach them or show them in these verses. A popular way to read Proverbs is to read one chapter for each day of the month. Since there are 31 chapters, this works well. In fact, today I’d like us to do exactly that. Since it’s the 27th of July, I’d like us to read together at least a portion of Proverbs 27. As we do, as I read each verse and then offer a few words of reflection, I’d like to ask that you listen carefully and prayerfully for which particular bit of wisdom God may have to give you today.
This is a really wonderful way to read Proverbs. As you’re about to see, even just one chapter contains too much for one person to take in at just one sitting. As you’ll also see, at times the verses even in the same chapter often seem random and completely disconnected from one another. Still, if you’re open to it, there’s a good chance God has at least one word of wisdom in here specifically for you. So listen closely. When we get to a verse that seems, for whatever reason, to be speaking to you today, make a note of that verse and then begin to ask God how he wants to make you wiser by leading you, starting today, in a different way.
Let’s turn now and reflect together on God’s wisdom as found in Proverbs 27:1-22. As each verse comes on the screen, read it with me aloud.
Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring.
Don’t misunderstand, it’s actually wise to make plans for tomorrow. Only the fool never looks ahead. Do not, however, be overconfident in whatever plans you’ve made. Remember, you have no ability to manage or control the future. Make your plans, but then live day-to-day. Practice being grateful for the present instead of being anxious about the future.
Let another praise you, and not your own mouth—a stranger, and not your own lips.
Do you ever find yourself saying things that you hope will make you look better in the eyes of others? You just happen to slip into conversation who you know, where you’ve been, what you’ve accomplished. Is it working? Does your self-praise get others to think better of you? Does it work when others praise themselves in front of you? Do you end up thinking better of them in the end? Probably not. Let the stranger be the one to praise you. His praise, unlike your own self-praise, will have a ring of truth.
A stone is heavy, and sand is weighty, but a fool’s provocation is heavier than both.
You likely have a fool or two in your life, people who always think they know best. Chances are these people wear on you in a very burdensome way, like a stone around your neck. Well, here’s what you should do, stop feeling so guilty about it. It’s natural that you find the aggravation of such people so incredibly hard to bear.
Wrath is cruel, anger is overwhelming, but who is able to stand before jealousy?
Have you ever been so angry with somebody it’s all you can think about? It’s overwhelming isn’t it? Well, as hard as that is to get through, it’s nothing like jealousy. Jealousy is a raging emotion that can defy reason and at times even take the form of destructive violence. Who can stand before jealousy? Nobody. So steer clear of it. It will destroy you.
Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Well meant are the wounds a friend inflicts, but profuse are the kisses of an enemy.
Imagine you had to choose between two friends. The first friend thinks highly of you but never tells you so. The second friend sees your faults and, at the right time, lets you know. If given the choice between the two friends, always choose the latter, the one who speaks the truth.
Listen, some people pride themselves in being so non-judgmental; they are proud of the fact that they tolerate all the beliefs and behaviors of everybody around them. At first glance this appears to be very selfless. In truth, however, it’s a very selfish way to live. The friend who never confronts you about your poor choices or false convictions is the person who doesn’t want the hassle of doing so.
It’s been said that a love that never rebukes is morally useless. Your truest friends are the people who love you enough to risk the friendship itself by speaking a hard word of rebuke to you that you really need to hear. If you have even one friend like this, consider yourself fortunate.
The sated appetite spurns honey, but to a ravenous appetite even the bitter is sweet.
When you have stuffed yourself with junk, there’s no room left for anything healthy. When you’ve starved yourself from that which is good, when then given the chance you’ll consume even things which are harmful. This is true of what you eat, of course. It’s just as true of what you read, or what you watch, or what you own, or who you spend time with. Be diligent to makes sure that your body and your soul are satisfied with the things which truly satisfy.
Like a bird that strays from its nest is one who strays from home.
Home is not a house. Home is a community of people in which you feel deep belonging. Could be a family, or a neighborhood, or a group of friends, or a church. Whatever it is, you need a home. The sad thing is there is a person sitting in this room today who is always moving so fast in life that he never sits still long enough to belong. Another person here never stops running because she doesn’t want to miss anything. In the end she misses everything. She knows a thousand people but is truly known by not a single one of them.
Perfume and incense make the heart glad, but the sweetness of a friend is better than one’s own counsel.
If you have a friend in your life who shows you true kindness, you must realize that this is a blessing which many, many people do not have. Thank God for this friend, for such a person is constant refreshment to your soul.
Do not forsake your friend or the friend of your parent; do not go to the house of your kindred in the day of your calamity. Better is a neighbor who is nearby than kindred who are far away.
Again, we are reminded of the tremendous value of friendship. We say that blood is thicker than water but this isn’t always true. When you are in trouble, a friend who is close at hand is actually more valuable even than a relative who is distant. Be grateful for the community you have around you, even if they do not share your last name.
Be wise, my child, and make my heart glad, so that I may answer whoever reproaches me.
Think about it, is there anything which brings more joy to parents later in life than watching their children choose the right path? Perhaps we should all consider this and do whatever we can so that our parents, who have sacrificed so much for our benefit, might experience this joy. Sometimes you should make the right decision simply because in doing so it will make your parents glad. Do they not deserve at least this? Once you become a parent yourself you will agree that they do.
The clever see danger and hide; but the simple go on, and suffer for it.
When you are young you tend to rush forward into decisions and experiences without considering the pitfalls and, too often, this leads later to regret. A reckless decision made without thinking in youth can take years in life to undo. Sometimes it takes a lifetime. Some of us in this room know this all too well.
Take the garment of one who has given surety for a stranger; seize the pledge given as surety for foreigners.
Here is some really simple wisdom. Don’t be naïve by giving too much trust to people you don’t know. Just because God wants you to be kind and generous does not mean God expects you to be a fool of whom others often take advantage.
Whoever blesses a neighbor with a loud voice, rising early in the morning, will be counted as cursing.
Is there somebody in your life who goes overboard with flattery? When they are around you, it seems they can’t wait to heap praises on you even if the time isn’t quite right for doing so. Be careful, there’s a good chance that their praise towards you is given for their benefit and not for yours. You would be right to question the motives of the person who gushes over you and does so in a way that insures everybody else will hear.
A continual dripping on a rainy day and a contentious wife are alike; to restrain her is to restrain the wind or to grasp oil in the right hand.
I am not asking for a show of hands, but anybody here have a spouse who is always arguing with you? I’m sorry if you do. Your home is supposed to be the one place where you can escape the storms of life and it is truly misfortunate if even there you get rained on. Be wise, however. It is no use trying to argue with somebody who loves to argue. Your only hope is that God will one day show them the damage they are doing.
And by the way, for those of you who are young and not yet married, pay attention to this wisdom. Do not even consider marrying somebody who always wants to argue with you. The incessant dripping will eventually drive you nuts.
Iron sharpens iron, and one person sharpens the wits of another.
Who is the person in your life who is committed, out of love, to making you better? Allow that person to come close.
I remember once somebody telling me that my main job as a husband was to help my wife become more fully the woman God made her to be and that her main job as a wife was to help me, her husband, become the man God made me to be. Consider yourself blessed if you know even one person who is committed to seeing this happen in your life.
Anyone who tends a fig tree will eat its fruit, and anyone who takes care of a master will be honored.
The fig tree was one of the most highly valued trees in all of ancient Israel. Because of what it provided for its owner, it was a treasure to be guarded. In the same way, so is the person who provides you a living, whoever that might be. Honor that person and be faithful in your responsibilities towards them. Life will generally go better for you if you do.
Just as water reflects the face, so one human heart reflects another.
A person looks at a photograph of himself and says, “I hate that photo. It’s not a very good picture of me.” I am unsympathetic. The camera, as they say, never lies. You may not look good in that picture but, like it or not, that’s exactly how you looked at that particular moment in time. But don’t feel bad, none of us look good all the time. When another person points that out, regardless of their motives, do you have enough humility to consider what it is they noticed? If somebody praises you, receive the praise with gratitude and be encouraged. If somebody criticizes you, listen to what they have to say before you dismiss it. You may just learn something valuable about yourself that you did not know before.
Sheol and Abaddon are never satisfied, and human eyes are never satisfied.
Hell has a voracious appetite. If you lust after things in life which God says will never satisfy, you will eventually find that God was right. As somebody once said, lust is the craving of salt in a man dying of thrist. Do you ever wonder why some of the things you pursue in life only leave you, even if you come to possess them, with a deeper and more insatiable craving than you had before?
The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold, so a person is tested by being praised.
Just about the last thing I would ever want for my kids is for one of them to become a child celebrity. How many child celebrities do you know who have been able to survive the public worship heaped on them to grow up healthy? Almost none. Only the wisest of people can remain humble in the face of such praise and such wisdom is almost never present in youth.
Pride is the downfall of us all and human praise is the fuel of pride, and so be as discerning of praise as you are of criticism. An older pastor once told me that there will be people in the church who will always criticize me and other people who will always praise me and that I should be equally wary of both.
Crush a fool in a mortar with a pestle along with crushed grain, but the folly will not be driven out.
Fools do not change. Or at least we do not have the power to change the fool. So let a fool be. It’s not your job to make him wise, even if he happens to be your own child. You will only frustrate yourself and him. Divine grace is the only hope a fool has of changing her ways. Pray for divine grace, even for yourself if, by chance, you are the fool in question.
Let me stop there and ask you, as we went along was there one word of wisdom which this morning seemed personally directed your way. Maybe it was a word of encouragement or relief. Maybe it was a word of challenge or correction. Either way, remember that God is not only interested in giving you eternal life someday but he also wants to give you abundant life today. The path he is leading you down may not be the easiest path before you but it is the best path. If you take it, it was wisdom that led you to do so.
In a moment Nicole is going to come up and play again. As she does, I want to encourage you to take a few moments to consider the verse God lifted up from here for you this morning. Pray. Ask God what he’s trying to teach you. Ask for God to make it clear. Ask God for one step you can take this week, one decision you need to make, one thing you need to release, one change of heart or mind you need to embrace. Then ask for his help in doing so because God doesn’t expect you to move forward on your own. He knows, in fact, that you cannot.
Then, before the day is over, I would encourage you to tell somebody you trust what you heard God say to you this morning. Who knows, they may have some added insight. Or maybe they will encourage you. At least they can pray for you.
Lastly, why don’t you try this all again tomorrow? On July 28th, let God walk you through Proverbs 28 to see what wisdom he has in store for you there. If not tomorrow, at least from time to time choose the Proverb that matches the date and listen with an open and prayerful heart as you read. Expect for God to speak to you in some way. When he does speak, ask for his help to honor what he says. As the Proverb says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; it is only the fool who despises the wisdom and the instruction of the Lord.”
The Next Step
A resource for Life Groups and/or personal application
Read Proverbs 1:1-7 again. From the introduction to this book, what do you learn about the purpose of this book?
Verse 7 says that “fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge (wisdom).” What does fearing God have to do with wisdom?
In your own words, define wisdom.
Who is the wisest person you know? How did they get to be so wise?
Are you somebody who is wise? Why or why not?
Read Proverbs 27:1-22 again. Which verse stuck out to you? What do you imagine God may be trying to teach you here about wisdom?
What is one wise step you can take this week towards going down a pathway that God wants you to travel?
Do you plan on regularly seeking wisdom from the book of Proverbs in your life? Why or why not?