I want you to turn with me to the book of Proverbs, the book of Proverbs and chapter 4, and I want to speak to you - I believe, hopefully by the guidance of God in the week that has gone by - upon the subject 'Wisdom And Where It Leads', wisdom and where it leads. You will know that the book of Proverbs, I hope you know at least, that it comes within a gamut of three books - the book of Ecclesiastes and the book of Job - they are not together in the canon of Scripture as we find them, but they are together in the thematic writings and the genre that they are of books of wisdom. We find that the book of Job, the book of Ecclesiastes, and particularly the book of Proverbs deal with the theme of what true wisdom is, and what we benefit and incur in our lives through having wisdom.
I'm going to read the whole chapter, chapter 4, Solomon is writing and he says: "Hear, ye children, the instruction of a father, and attend to know understanding. For I give you good doctrine, forsake ye not my law. For I was my father's son, tender and only beloved in the sight of my mother. He taught me also, and said unto me, Let thine heart retain my words: keep my commandments, and live. Get wisdom, get understanding: forget it not; neither decline from the words of my mouth. Forsake her not, and she shall preserve thee: love her, and she shall keep thee. Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding. Exalt her, and she shall promote thee: she shall bring thee to honour, when thou dost embrace her. She shall give to thine head an ornament of grace: a crown of glory shall she deliver to thee. Hear, O my son, and receive my sayings; and the years of thy life shall be many. I have taught thee in the way of wisdom; I have led thee in right paths. When thou goest, thy steps shall not be straitened; and when thou runnest, thou shalt not stumble. Take fast hold of instruction; let her not go: keep her; for she is thy life. Enter not into the path of the wicked, and go not in the way of evil men. Avoid it, pass not by it, turn from it, and pass away. For they sleep not, except they have done mischief; and their sleep is taken away, unless they cause some to fall. For they eat the bread of wickedness, and drink the wine of violence. But the path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day. The way of the wicked is as darkness: they know not at what they stumble. My son, attend to my words; incline thine ear unto my sayings. Let them not depart from thine eyes; keep them in the midst of thine heart. For they are life unto those that find them, and health to all their flesh. Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life. Put away from thee a froward mouth, and perverse lips put far from thee. Let thine eyes look right on, and let thine eyelids look straight before thee. Ponder the path of thy feet, and let all thy ways be established. Turn not to the right hand nor to the left: remove thy foot from evil".
During my private reading in the study and my own devotions, and also in other studying matters I have come across one verse at the beginning of the week that really shot out at me on a number of occasions, and I felt that the Lord was leading me in some way to preach on it today. I wasn't exactly sure what the message was that God was wanting to bring, but I hope that throughout this morning's message some kind of a message will come to your heart that is applicable to you. Verse 18 is that verse, and it's very well known: 'But the path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day'.
The subject I take up this morning is 'Wisdom and Where It Leads To', and when you come to the beginning of chapter 4 of Proverbs you find that the writer of Proverbs, who we believe is Solomon, takes up this type of relationship and counsel between a father and a son. Any of you here this morning who are fathers, or indeed who have been sons, may recall a time in your life when your father put his arm around you and brought you into a private room, and sat you down and began to speak to you about the matters of life. That is exactly what we have here in chapter 4, it's a heart to heart between a father and a son - and it's a heart to heart between a father and a son in the same way as that father had with his own father, as his son.
Really what you have here in chapter 4 is Solomon saying: 'Now, son this is the advice that my father gave to me, and I'm going to give that advice to you and I want you to listen to it very carefully'. We ought to listen to it carefully today also, in fact I think it was Billy Graham who said many years ago that you should take one chapter of the book of Proverbs every day and read it and inwardly digest it - there are 31 chapters to this book, and as someone else said, I don't know who it was, a chapter a day of it will keep the devil away. There's great wisdom for the walk of the child of God in this book. In the book of Job we have the saint upon his back in illness and sickness looking up to God. In the book of the Psalms we have the saint upon his knees praying to God and praising and worshipping God, and coming to God with supplication and petition in his trials in his life. Here in the book of Proverbs we have the saint upon his feet, walking, living, and guidance and instruction and godly advice for how we ought to live our lives.
This just wasn't any ordinary father, and it was no ordinary son. Solomon, who is writing this book and giving to his son the advice of his father, had none other than great King David as his father - and we know what was said of King David, that he had a heart after God's own heart. I think we should listen today to a father who had a heart like God's heart. We should listen to a son who is now a father giving advice to his son who, it is said of Solomon, was the wisest man that ever lived - of course with the exception of our Lord Jesus Christ. So we have the wisest son, given advice by a godly father, and we are party to that advice today in the Scriptures.
Right throughout this chapter there is the sentiment coming through: 'Now, son don't forget this advice, and it will stand by you all the days of your life'. This is wisdom for life. If you get off a plane and you have a few minutes, maybe getting on the plane, to look into the bookshop you will see many businessmen lifting books about the A-Z of success in business. You will see parents going into bookshops, into newsagents, and buying magazines and periodicals to do with how to bring up children in the age in which we are living. You find managers, even football managers, bringing in psychologists to tell their team what it is to lead, to tell them what is to lead and to manage their particular sport. Everybody wants to know wisdom, wisdom for varied parts of their life, and the things that they want to do with success - they want wisdom, they want to be wise, not just intellectual, but have wisdom.
The question we as believers need to ask is: what is true wisdom? If we find out what true wisdom is, where does that wisdom lead us? Does it lead us to success? Does it bring us happiness and satisfaction, and peace and fulfilment in life? We find that Solomon in this chapter, and indeed right throughout the whole book, he personifies wisdom, he makes wisdom a person. He doesn't talk about wisdom as an 'it', he talks about wisdom in this chapter as 'her'. He makes wisdom into a woman. We find out as we go through the book that he also makes wickedness into a woman, he personifies wickedness as a woman also. As you look down the chapter, if you look at verse 6 you will see that Solomon says: 'Do not forsake her, love her, she will keep thee. Defend her, protect her, guard her'. Verse 8: 'Exalt her, and she will lift you up: embrace her, and she will honour you'. Verse 9: 'She will be wreath of gracefulness around your head: a crown of beauty upon your head and glory'. Verse 10: 'You will have long life if you obey my words'. Verse 12: 'Your path will be clear and open, you will run and you will not stumble if', verse 13, look at it, 'if you take hold of her' - wisdom - 'and guard her'.
He personifies wisdom as a wise woman. Then if you look at verses 14 to 17, we see the path of the wicked and how this son ought to avoid the path of the wicked. But if you go to chapter 5 and verse 3 particularly, he personifies wickedness as a woman of the night, as an evil woman: 'For the lips of a strange woman' - verse 3 of chapter 5 - 'drop as an honeycomb, and her mouth is smoother than oil: But her end is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a twoedged sword. Her feet go down to death; her steps take hold on hell. Lest thou shouldest ponder the path of life, her ways are moveable, that thou canst not know them. Hear me now therefore, O ye children, and depart not from the words of my mouth. Remove thy way far from her, and come not nigh the door of her house'.
In chapter 6 we also find this, Solomon shows us a foolish young man who doesn't walk by her house, but succumbs himself to all her wooing and her wickedness and he is destroyed. So Solomon personifies wisdom and wickedness - it's as if he brings his son in, and he has a pep talk, a bit like a talk about the birds and the bees, and he sits him down and says: 'Son, these are the women that you avoid, and these are the type of women that you want to attract'. Spiritually, he is saying, you want to follow wisdom children, and you want to shun and avoid wickedness. It's almost reminiscent of the words of his father in the first Psalm: 'Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night' - and he goes on about how that person will have success and satisfaction in life, he will bear fruit, but 'The ungodly are not so: but are like the chaff which the wind driveth away', and they shall not stand in the congregation of the righteous, but they shall incur the wrath and the judgement of God.
Of course David's great Psalm 119 tells us all about what true wisdom is: to follow the precepts, the principles, and the path of the word of God; to follow its teachings and implement it within our lives. I'm sure that it is said of most of us, if not all of us, that when we die and pass away we would long that it would be said of us: 'He was a wise man', 'She was a wise woman'. So we obviously ask the question: how can we be wise? What is the wisdom that Solomon is speaking of in this chapter and right throughout the book? Well, of course, one rule of biblical interpretation is to look at the context. We look in this book and we find that the answer to the question, 'What is wisdom?', is found in the book of Proverbs itself. In fact, it's found in this particular chapter and in verse 7 if you look at it: 'Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding'.
Now that seems a bit nonsensical, he's saying wisdom is to get wisdom, wisdom is to get understanding. If I can read it to you in the Amplified Version of the Scriptures which I commend to you for your reading and for your study, in chapter 4 and verse 7 it translates it: 'The beginning of wisdom is: get wisdom', and it defines wisdom - taking the Hebrew word and trying to really filter through the meaning that God is trying to get to us - 'wisdom is skilful and godly wisdom, for skilful and godly wisdom is the principal thing; and with all that you have gotten, get understanding', and it defines understanding as 'discernment', knowing what is right and what is wrong; 'comprehension', comprehending eternal things; and 'interpretation', being able to interpret the word of God and the ways of God in your life - that is godly wisdom. Again, if you look at verse 11: 'I have taught you in the way of skilful and godly wisdom, which is comprehensive insight into the ways and purposes of God'. Comprehensive insight into the ways and purposes of God.
Now, if you're familiar with the book of Proverbs, you will know from chapters 10 through to 29 we are given Solomon's wisdom in the secular realm in our lives, especially in interpersonal relationships. Solomon tells us that wisdom is what characterises people who are, essentially wise, but more so defining it as people who are righteous, people who are prudent, people who are good stewards - those in life who have understanding. He goes on: those who love discipline, those who love instruction, those who when you rightly reprimand them won't straighten their neck and harden and rebel against you, but those who will listen to your ways, and those who will correct their ways - they are the wise ones, those who when instructed and punished will receive more and more wisdom. In relation to the tongue he says that the wise person is the one who is restrained in speech, the one who is cool in spirit and does not lose his temper. But chapters 10 to 29 really deal with secular relationships of men and women, but in the chapter we're reading - especially chapters 1 through to 9 - we have wisdom in relation to God, and our relationship with God.
Look at chapter 3 for a moment, just turn over the page to chapter 3 - we read these words in verses 19 to 20: 'The LORD by wisdom hath founded the earth; by understanding hath he established the heavens. By his knowledge the depths are broken up, and the clouds drop down the dew'. Solomon is telling us that this whole universe, this world, was established in the beginning through the wisdom of God, by His wisdom He made the worlds around us. If we are to come to wisdom and come to understanding, we must come to the One who created all things in wisdom, and who is the Author and Finisher of wisdom, the Alpha and Omega, the Almighty Eternal God. He created the worlds in wisdom, and so if we want wisdom and want to live wisely and fulfil our lives in wisdom, we must come to God for that wisdom.
If you look to chapter 2 and verse 6 you read these words: 'For the LORD giveth wisdom: out of his mouth cometh knowledge and understanding'. So the first principle that we're laying down here is: if you want wisdom you'll not get it in a man's book. If you want wisdom you'll not get it at the feet of a man. You will only get wisdom if you come to God, who alone can give that wisdom. You might say: 'Well that's not a very accurate and fine definition of what wisdom is. I need to know more about what it is so that I can follow in this way'. Well, framing this book there is a definition of wisdom, right at the beginning of it and right at the end of it, that tells us what Solomon and primarily the Holy Spirit through Solomon is trying to get across to us in this particular book. Look at chapter 1 and verse 7: 'The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction'. Verse 9: 'For they shall be an ornament of grace unto thy head, and chains about thy neck'. And if you go to the last chapter that deals with a wise and prudent woman, and a good thing it is to have one of these women as your wife! Proverbs 31 and verse 30, he ends the book with the same theme and definition of wisdom, verse 30: 'Favour is deceitful, and beauty is vain: but a woman that feareth the LORD, she shall be praised'.
What is wisdom? Solomon says, here's the definition: the beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord. Now we're getting nearer: the beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord. Now, that poses the question: what is the fear of the Lord? The beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord, well then what is fearing the Lord, and that will tell us what wisdom is. Most people think that godly fear and the fear of the Lord is some kind of terror, to be shaking in your boots - and there's a measure of strength in that interpretation, in the sense that when we go into the Scriptures, particularly the Old Testament and also the New, and we see what is called a theophany, when God appears to men in some kind of shape or form we find that fear takes hold upon them. We read of Moses that when he saw an image of God he hid his face and he was afraid to look upon it. We read of Israel that he was afraid of the fire and he didn't go up the mountain. We read of Elijah that he pulled his cloak over his face and he hid for fear of the terrible wrath and power of God. We read of Isaiah in Isaiah chapter 6 that he fell down and he said: 'Woe is me for I am undone, I am a man of unclean lips!', and he feared. Ezekiel, in his vision in chapter 1, he fell down by the River Chebar as a dead man, and he feared because he saw some revelation of God. We go into the New Testament and we see the apostle Peter, and after he is ashamed at doubting the Lord's wisdom in catching the fish, and casting the net on the other side, he says to the Lord: 'Depart from me, for I am a sinful man', he fears the Lord! John, in the book of Revelation, when he sees the great things that are still to come and he sees a great vision of the Lord Jesus Christ in all His glory, he says that he fell at His feet as dead and he feared.
Theologians have called this 'mysterium tremendum' (sp?), which means 'terrible mystery' - a terrifying mysterious fear. But that is not specifically what we are talking about today, but it has a relation because these men feared God and fell at His feet as dead not primarily because of the power of God, don't get that into your head, not because of the strength of God, the light of God, or even the very appearance of God because no man has seen God at any time - but get this: they fell and they feared God because of His awesome holiness! That is why men fear God, because when we get a glimpse of His holiness it automatically judges us so that no-one can behold His face and live - and the only way that we can react to the holiness of God, which is I think the primary declaration and revelation of His true nature and character, is to fall at His feet in terror and in fear that we would be destroyed.
So we're coming nearer to what the fear of the Lord is, it is this terror but it comes out in some kind of reverential awe. That, perhaps, is a better definition of the fear of the Lord: a reverential awe that expresses itself in the way that we live, in the uprightness of our life, in the devotion that we bring to God. We find this in the Old Testament, that the fear of God is seen exclusively in a radical trust and worship of God, and a basic holiness in the child of God's life. Legally speaking in the land and with the law of God, the fear of God is defined as being obedient to the law of God. In the wisdom literature, in Proverbs specifically, and in Job and in Ecclesiastes, it's defined even finer and more specifically as the fear of God being our fundamental attitude toward God, and that attitude that leads us to wise behaviour, holy behaviour, and the avoidance of every form of evil.
So there we've narrowed it down: you're afraid of God's holiness, but what does that lead you to? Not running away from God, we run to God in Christ, but it leads us to a reverential awe that outflows in an attitude of devotion toward God, that leads us to worship Him by doing what He says and avoiding what He prohibits. Now the pre-requisite to that fear is humility. Humility is right throughout the whole book of Proverbs, because the fear of God and selfishness cannot come together - but the fear of God and selflessness are necessary companions. You hear a lot of talk today, and you'll read in these books about how to have wisdom and how to succeed in life: 'you need to find yourself, you need to find out who you really are'. You hear of these film stars going away into a retreat, and even philosophers, and they spend time alone just with themselves to 'find themselves'. But the book of Proverbs and the word of God is teaching us that true selfhood is to be found in the fear of the Lord.
Let me show you this, Proverbs 16, if you turn to it, and verse 18. Humility is a pre-requisite of the fear of the Lord, for Solomon says: 'Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall. Better it is to be of an humble spirit with the lowly, than to divide the spoil with the proud'. Humility and the fear of God must come together, and some of the most famous verses in the Scriptures teach us that. Proverbs 3 verses 5 and 6: 'Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths'. What the book of Proverbs, the book of Job, and the book of Ecclesiastes - the wisdom literature as a whole - are trying to do is to make us lack faith in our own decisions, in our own paths, and to place limits on human wisdom and what human wisdom is capable of accomplishing, and come to God for His guidance, come to God for His help and His wisdom.
This is a fundamental lesson for all of us as children of God to learn, and it is simply this: the door of wisdom is always shut in the face of a proud man or proud woman. Humility is a pre-requisite of the fear of the Lord, and the fear of the Lord is what wisdom truly is - and I think that is why our Lord Jesus Christ, after He had spoken and reprimanded His own people, He turns to God and He said: 'I thank Thee, my Father, that Thou hast kept these things from the wise and revealed them unto babes'. Remember His words: 'Except ye become as a little child and be converted, you shall in no wise enter the kingdom of heaven'.
What a lesson we have here today. To have wisdom means to fear God, to fear God you must be humble because God is the author of all wisdom and knowledge, and it will be the knowledge of God that will give you wisdom. The fear of God and the knowledge of God are two sides of the same reality. Now listen today, I'm not going to have time to even get to the verse that I've been led to this week, and we're going to have to deal with it next week, but let us finish on this note: do we know real wisdom? We'll deal next week with where that wisdom leads us, but do we know real wisdom? The best definition, in my studies this week, that I came across of wisdom and what the fear of the Lord truly is is given by Gerald H. Wilson, and he says this: 'The fear of the Lord is no abject terror, and nor is it simply reverential awe, but it is a deep-seated humility, grounded in an abiding awareness of one's absolute dependence for existence on the undeserved mercy of the Lord. Only through such humility and dependence is the human heart prepared to perceive and receive the wisdom that God gives'. Let me give you that again, for it's tremendous and it's important that you get it, what is it? It is a deep-seated humility, humble, poor of spirit, grounded upon an abiding awareness - totally in your mind and in your heart at all times is an awareness of absolute dependence for your very existence on, not just God, but the undeserved mercy of God. And only a heart like that, full of humility and dependence, is prepared to perceive and receive the wisdom that God gives!
That, in a nutshell, is the teaching of the book of Proverbs, and it is it not unique to the word of God. For if we turn in closing to James chapter 1, we see the Holy Spirit reciprocates these spiritual truths in the book of James and chapter 1, reading from verse 5: 'If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God', there it is, you're not going to ask of God unless you know that you lack wisdom, if you think that you're wise you'll not even come to God - but the man who prays is the man who knows his utter dependence on God. We need to ask ourselves today: what is our prayer life like? Does it show and communicate to others and to God our absolute dependence upon Him? 'Let him ask of God that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him', for God is the One who gives that wisdom, 'But let him ask in faith'.
I think, perhaps, the best definition of the fear of God in the Old Testament is the Greek word 'pistis' (sp?) in the New Testament, which is the word 'faith'. Isn't that what it is?
'Nothing in my hands I bring,
Simply to Thy cross I cling,
Naked come to Thee for dress,
Helpless come to Thee for rest.
Foul I to the Fountain fly,
Oh, receive me or I die!'
Dependency, a desperate dependency on God that throws itself on God. 'Let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed' - if you want wisdom you need faith, 'For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord', if he doesn't ask in that total dependence upon God, for 'a double minded man is unstable in all his ways'. Do you want wisdom? Do you want wisdom in your workplace? Do you want wisdom in your family as a father or a mother, as a husband, as a wife, as a son, as a daughter? Do you want wisdom in your studies? Do you want wisdom for direction in your life? Do you want wisdom for the partner that God would have you be with for the rest of your days? Do you want wisdom, elders, for the leadership and the direction that God would want us to go in the future in this place? Go to God, for God alone gives wisdom, and it will be that utter dependency upon Him that will impart from Him wisdom that upbraideth not and is liberal! We'll look next week at where that wisdom leads us.
Let us bow our heads, maybe there's someone here today and you don't know salvation as your own and personal gift, received of God by faith. You're depending on yourself to get into heaven, or you're depending on a church, or maybe you're depending on Jesus but you've never really accepted Him into your life and His claims, and you've never had that conversion experience. Do you know all that the conversion experience is? Finding in yourself nothing, and in Christ everything, and casting yourself on the mercy of God in Christ and His cross for salvation - that's all it is. If you rely on anything in yourself you'll be damned, but if you're relying wholly, and depending and trusting in Jesus and His precious sacrifice, you will be saved.
You know, believers, what saved us is the thing whereby we're meant to live: by faith, isn't it? A total and utter dependency on God that reveals itself in our attitude to others and the way we live. Father, we thank Thee that in our need that we could not meet ourselves, You found us and You sent the Lord Jesus Christ to save us. We thank Thee that true wisdom can only be found in Him who is the personification of wisdom, the Lord Jesus Christ. Father, we pray that we will follow Him, that we will obey Him, that we will trust in Him, and that we will fear Him; that we will be humble people, and that we will look to heaven continually for all that we need, that we will declare our total and utter dependence on the mercy of God that is undeserved. Lord, that we will live with poor spirits in the richness of what it is to fear the Lord, which is the beginning of wisdom. Amen.
Don't miss 'Wisdom And Where It Leads - Part 2'...
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly, Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the tape, titled "Wisdom And Where It Leads - Part 1" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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