Wisdom – A Choice (Proverbs 10)

We are bombarded with pithy little sayings put together by advertising agencies that want to make us better consumers. Isn’t it better to listen to pithy little sayings written to make us better people? That’s where Proverbs comes in…

A version of the sermon recorded on the same day at St. Luke’s

What do you desire? Why do you desire it?

An Old Testament scholar went to speak about the book of Proverbs at a church in Beverly Hills, California. She wasn’t expecting there to be many people there or much enthusiasm for the topic. Yet she was pleasantly surprised to discover a large enthusiastic audience.

Talking to one of the participants, she asked why there was such enthusiasm. The response was:

“Oh, most of us work in Hollywood. We write commercial and advertising copy. And when we were in training, they told us to read Proverbs… But now I see that most of what we write is aimed at the people Proverbs calls, ‘fools’.”

The book of Proverbs is full of short pithy and memorable sayings that want to make a point and persuade us to live a certain way. The world of advertising is pretty similar. Except rather than teaching us wisdom they generally work to persuade us that true happiness comes from buying their stuff!

Expedia advert:

One recent advert, for Expedia seeks to question this messaging from the advertising industry. It features Ewan McGregor walking through studios creating adverts. As he does so he gives a short speech which is remarkably similar in style to the sayings in the book of Proverbs:

“I doubt any of us would look back on our lives and think,

I wish I’d got a slightly sportier SUV

Or bought an even thinner TV

Or found a trendier scent

I wish I’d discovered a crunchier crisp

Found a lighter light beer,

Or had an even smarter smart phone.

“Do you think any of us will look back on our lives and regret

the things we didn’t buy

or the places we didn’t go?”

The last part in particular is similar to the Proverbs and works in a very similar way. It is all about promoting:

A Desire: ‘To Go on holiday’ – something that will bring you happiness and joy.

A Choice: between ‘buying stuff’ and ‘going on holiday,’ with the implication that ‘going on holiday’ is the better choice.

And also a Perspective: He wants you to imagine that you are looking back on your life and deciding what was the thing you had most wish to have done. The underlying philosophy is life is all about enjoying what you can while you can. It is the ‘bucket list’ perspective, what are the things you want to do before you die.

Of course although the advert is set up to mock advertising that tries to make you buy stuff, it is really trying to achieve a very similar aim, it wants you to buy holidays!

We are constantly bombarded by these advertising proverbs, but what we so easily forget is that they are not designed to make us better people, but better consumers. They don’t want to help us live good lives, but to spend our money.

The Proverbs in the Bible may not be performed by great actors like Ewan McGregor, accompanied by great cinematography and amazing music, but they will do you much more good – if you’ll take the time to read and reflect on them.

In fact in contrast to adverts, Biblical Proverbs come from a very different perspective, offer an alternative and more fundamental choice and want to create a very different desire and delight within us.

The Perspective of Proverbs:

The Expedia advert implies that what really matters in life is having great experiences through visiting lovely places. The best holiday I have been on was to visit my sister in Vietnam. The beaches were truly stunning and it was wonderful to experience something of a very different culture. Yet, I remember reflecting at one point on the holiday, that as wonderful a place as this was, that what made the holiday really good was being part of a happy family.

It’s not stuff or holidays that really matter, but relationships and especially our family relationships. This is where wisdom really begins to matter. The first of Proverbs proper starts:

“A wise son brings joy to his father,

but a foolish son grief to his mother.” (10:1)

When we learn wisdom, we bring joy and happiness to the family and community around us. This is one part of an important perspective of Proverbs. Life is not about amassing great experiences, but helping to enable great families and communities.

In fact the whole book is rooted in the perspective of ordinary family life. Back in chapter 1, it is couched as  instructions from a father to a son:

“Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction

and do not forsake your mother’s teaching” (1:8)

Yet, that is not the only important and distinctive perspective in Proverbs. The verse before says:

“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge;

fools despise wisdom and instruction.” (1:7)

Behind the family setting, is a relationship with God, that acknowledges him as our Creator who wants the best for us. True wisdom comes from living in fear of him.

This perspective is not obvious in every Proverb, but it is always there and sometimes obviously so.

In the Proverbs we had read it says:

“The fear of the LORD adds length to life,

but the years of the wicked are cut short.”

(10:27)

“The way of the LORD is a refuge for the righteous,

but it is the ruin of those who do evil.” (10:29)

Biblical Proverbs give a very different perspective to the Proverbs of adverts. They promote the importance of interpersonal relationships and even more fundamentally, they take God seriously rather than ignoring him completely.

Spiritual Perspective for Everyday Life:

Yet, in bringing this new perspective like adverts, they remain rooted in the everyday life.

Just look at the topics covered in Proverbs 10:

  • Happy families (10:1)
  • Wealth and poverty (10:4)
  • Attitudes to work (10:5)
  • Education (10:14)
  • Communication (10:11)

Proverbs reminds us that our everyday decisions are fundamentally effected by our relationship with God. If our faith is just about doing spiritual things for the sake of our souls, then it is not a truly Biblical or Christian faith. No the fear of God should impact every aspect of our lives. Proverbs is a great aid in helping us see how!

The Choice of Proverbs:

So, like adverts, Proverbs sets things in a perspective. They also offer us a choice.

Most of the Proverbs we read offer contrast. Notice, the word, ‘but’ appears in the middle of nearly all of them. In fact this is very common in the early chapters of Proverbs. In chapters 10-15, 163 out of 183 sayings are contrasts!

In chapter 10 they contrast a number of different things:

Riches and Poverty

Laziness and Diligence

Hatred and Love

The main contrasts, however, are between the wise and the foolish and the righteous and the wicked.

How are we to understand this. Do we see the world in this black and white way, everyone is either wise or foolish or righteous or wicked? The truth is that most of us are wise some of the time and foolish some of the time. It’s not that straightforward.

But the Proverbs are not set up to help us label people, but to see the choices we face day by day. The wise and the foolish are not two distinct groups of people, but rather two distinct choices that each of us may make at any moment.

The same can be said for the righteous and the wicked. In fact the point of many of the Proverbs in chapter 10 is to highlight the choice we often face between righteousness and wickedness. They want to persuade us that choosing righteousness is the wise choice.

Righteousness is of course closely associated with the fear of the LORD and so wisdom. It means as those who are saved by faith in Christ, we desire to live the way God shows us. As disciples of Christ we want to be obedient to all he and God commands.

To choose righteousness, to obey God is wise, because it leads to better outcomes. That is the thrust of many of these Proverbs.

First of all look at what righteousness brings:

Life – 10:2

Blessed by others 10:6, 7

Safety, Security 10:9

Success – 10:24

Joy – 10:28

In contrast look at what wickedness brings:

Wealth, but with no lasting value – 10:2

Cursed by others – 10:6, 7

Punishment – 10:9

Overtaken by what you dread – 10:24

Failed dreams – 10:28

When you put the choice like this clearly, righteousness is the right way to go!  To misquote Ewan McGregor from Trainspotting, choose ‘Righteousness, choose life!’

But, people don’t really believe the Proverbs, because they do not ultimately have the same perspective or faith as the writer of Proverbs. They don’t believe in or take seriously the God who created them and made them. They think they can go their own way, that life is about making the most of the now before you die. Such an attitude is fed by modern adverts, but is nothing new. It is the ‘bucket list’ perspective.

Yet, they will also often point to what seems to be the experience of life around them. Aren’t there many examples of the wicked who are wealthy, healthy and strong?

Objection: Is this always true?

In fact the rest of the Bible contains a number of places that seem to question what at first glance seems to be the simplistic attitude of the Proverbs.

Yet, even Proverbs is not quite that simplistic. It accepts that people will become rich through wickedness and that the wicked will be around for a while:

“Ill-gotten treasures are of no value,

but righteousness delivers from death.” (10:2)

“When the storm has swept by, the wicked are gone,

but the righteous stand firm for ever.” (10:25)

It envisages that the wicked may be successful for a time, but that their ultimate fate is to lose everything. This is the perspective that belief in God as the ultimate true judge brings.

It is also the perspective that comes from following Jesus. After all Jesus more than anyone else was the ‘Righteous-one.’ When he was baptised, God the Father declares: “This is my Son with whom I am well pleased” which can perhaps be seen as a Trinitarian form of 10:1: ‘A wise son brings joy to his father.’ It certainly shows that he was the ‘Righteous -one.’

Yet, despite this he faced the terrible death of crucifixion. If you stopped the story on Good Friday it would contradict all that Proverbs is teaching here. But the story  did not end there. Jesus faced the storm of the cross and his death and burial and yet still, God brought him through to life in the resurrection, so that he will indeed stand firm for ever.

The basic gospel narrative shows us that in the short term, these Proverbs can seem to be wrong, but in the eternal perspective, God will ultimately bring life to those who choose righteousness, to those who trust in and live for him.

In fact the gospel also reminds us that even if you’ve been choosing wickedness your whole life, God still offers you the chance to change track and choose righteousness and so to choose life.

The Desire Promoted by Proverbs

So what about desire and joy?

The choice to follow righteousness rather than wickedness is often presented as a choice to abandon pleasure and joy for something serious and boring. Yet, this is the attitude of the fool:

“A fool finds pleasure in evil conduct…” (10:23a)

Yet, to challenge that belief the Proverb goes on:

“but a man of understanding delights in wisdom.” (10:23b)

In fact, seeking righteousness is just as much about desiring to have joy and happiness in life as those who seek that in drugs, sex, wealth, stuff or going on holiday. The difference is that such a choice in life will be ultimately more successful.

As 10:28 says:

“The prospect of the righteous is joy,

but the hopes of the wicked come to nothing.” (10:28)

Like any advertising campaign, Proverbs through its carefully crafted slogans wants to create in us a desire, but not a desire to spend our money on things that offer temporary pleasure, but a desire for righteous living and wisdom.  It’s not a choice to give up on happiness for righteousness, but to discover that righteousness is the only true root to happiness, the only way that will truly succeed.

As Jesus says,

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” (Matthew 5:6)

So what will you choose?

So will you choose wisdom and righteousness? Will you take on the perspective that is framed by the fear of the LORD? If so then that should begin to show itself in our day to day lives.

As we study the Proverbs, they can help us desire such wisdom and righteousness more and more. Why not decide to take one Proverb a day and perhaps learn it off by heart or meditate on it through the day. See if bit by bit your outlook, desires and choices change.

And perhaps as you grow in wisdom, you may bring greater joy to both your earthly fathers and your father in heaven.

Claire’s Ordination – Saturday 2nd July

Claire our curate is being ordained as ‘Priest’ at 5:30pm on Saturday 2nd July at Canterbury Cathedral. This is an important moment in her journey of ministry and it would be great if a good number from both churches could come to support her at the Cathedral. If you would like a lift to the event or can offer others lifts to Canterbury for that evening, then please let Paul or one of the Wardens know.

Claire will take her first Eucharist / Holy Communion at the 9:30am service at St. George’s on Sunday 3rd July. We will also have a bring and share (picnic) lunch in St. Luke’s Vicarage garden from 12:30-2:00pm later on that day. Please sign the list at the back of church to indicate what you will bring to the lunch.

Overview of the Book of Proverbs

As a church, in our sermons and small groups, we are studying over the next six weeks the book of Proverbs. Here is a really good overview of the book and has been recommended to watch for those particularly beginning the small group studies this week – Proverbs: Wisdom for the whole of life. It’s a great overview, so, enjoy!

Wisdom Calling (Proverbs 8)

Wisdom Calling (Proverbs 8)

In Proverbs 8, wisdom is described as a person calling us to follow her. But where does she call from and who is she and why does it matter so much that we follow her?

Sermon recorded on same day at St. Luke’s, Ramsgate.

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer. Amen

It’s always encouraging when preparing for a sermon when you read: ‘chapter 8 is the most difficult and profound chapter in the book of proverbs’ no pressure.

But let’s not be put off by its complexity and difficulty at face value, because it is worth exploring the riches that are inside this book and this chapter helps us as we begin a series on wise living to think carefully about wisdom. Wisdom herself is speaking.

In starting a series on wise living, it helps us to ask questions about Where we seek our advice from, where is our compass set, what directs the choices we make. What voices do we listen to? The Sunday school answer is Jesus. But are other voices louder, do other voices capture our attention more?

The world around us is full of advice, self-help books, different religions. But here in proverbs we have a wisdom from God to listen to. A wisdom for the whole of life, a wisdom for everyone. It might have been written in the ancient world, but it is as relevant for us now.

Chapter 1 sets the scene for the entire book of proverbs – The NIV gives these verses I’m about to read the title – purpose and theme – these are the words: from chapter 1 verses 1-7.

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 a 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.

The verse that comes just after our proverbs reading today, (our opening verse), echoes that sentiment found in the opening chapter – listen to my instruction and be wise do not disregard it.

In ch. 7 the author urges its readers to shun the strange woman whose words are folly and then here we are in ch. 8, being told to listen to wisdom. This wisdom is far beyond anything else or anyone else.

In v1-3 it is announced that wisdom is calling. She has a message. We’re told that wisdom is all around them – on the heights (the highest point on the way), at the crossroads (where the paths meet), beside the gates leading into the town. She is there. Wisdom is calling, let’s not be foolish let’s listen to what she says.

The writer wants us to pay attention to the location of wisdom in these opening verses. the use of path has been used earlier in the book and is used as a metaphor for our life journey. It is telling the readers that wisdom can be met and encountered in their daily lives. The entrance to the cities marks the border between city and countryside and encompasses all those in those regions. This tells us that Her message is for everyone. The gate also in the ancient world was a place of important decision making. This is from where wisdom speaks. The scene is being set about the importance of encountering wisdom.

So wisdom is calling to those in her hearing. It’s not a whisper, she cries out. And In verses 5-11 which we haven’t read this morning wisdom talks about her desire for humans to acquire for themselves prudence (cautiousness – being cautious), intelligence, instruction and wisdom. Throughout the book of proverbs there are comparisons between wisdom and folly (lack of good sense – foolishness).

In v12-21 she introduces herself and shows her character – in v14 she says she owns good advice, resourcefulness, understanding and strength. They are part of her. These are characteristics of God. Wisdom and God are connected by their very nature.

In v17 we are informed that wisdom is not hard to find, not hard to attain but must be pursued.

Do we pursue wisdom.? This to my mind Rings a bell with Jesus own words ‘Matthew 7:7-8’ Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Jesus words are in relation to prayer. But Wisdom also here is something we’re told to pursue – to ask God for. King Solomon asked God for wisdom so that he would rule his people well. (1 kings 3:1-15) Wisdom wants her hearers to pursue her to ask for her.

Who is wisdom? Wisdom is aligning herself with God and creation In v22-31. The words are beautifully poetic. Describing creation and wisdoms presence within it.

In V 23 Wisdom says she was around before the creation of the world. This reminds me of the beginning of Genesis ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.’

In verses 24-29 she talks about her presence when God created – when there were no deeps, when the mountains were settled.

And in verse 30 to 31 she goes further and says she was the architect of creation – ‘then I was beside him like a master worker and I was daily his delight rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the human race.’

What are the reasons given as to why we should listen? Who is she? Wisdom has been personified in this chapter and there is much belief and evidence that wisdom is used to depict God the Holy Spirit. At work in the world in and around us.

Wisdom shares God’s characteristics and was with him in the beginning. There is also a connection between wisdom and Jesus. In the NT Jesus is seen as personification of Old Testament wisdom – Jesus was God’s word/wisdom made flesh (John 1:1-3), he too was involved in creation and sustaining the world (Col. 1:15-20; Hebrews 1:2-3) just as wisdom is depicted as doing here.

Our God is father, son and Holy Spirit and proverbs 8 gives insight into the work of the Holy Spirit. Wisdom in the world. God’s wisdom through his Holy Spirit is in you, it’s in me, it’s in all of us who have asked Jesus to be king of our lives, to have his spirit in us. The bible shows us who He is and the wisdom he imparts.

Another aspect of Wisdom being Gods spirit in the world and one that excites me is the phrase used in v24 for wisdom being bought forth – it is translated as whirling, dancing. I like the idea of Wisdom, Gods spirit dancing throughout creation, throughout our lives. Guiding us and being God with us.

These words of wisdom that we’ll discover in proverbs and elsewhere in the bible for that matter don’t come from a stuffy kill joy God but a God who through the Spirit is actively at work, dancing with us weaving her wisdom through the tapestry of our lives. Gods spirit is within us. And because of that we have access to this wisdom and we are to use it to encourage each other, build each other up, help each other in this journey of life. Making wise choices in every aspect of life we live.

From digging into this passage in proverbs I’m reminded of these words from the letter to the Ephesians.

Ephesians 4:11-16 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

That is why we need wisdom – Gods voice is to be the loudest guiding and directing – so let’s listen and let’s act on it – that we would be transformed in the priorities of our lives and how we live them, with Gods spirit weaving through life with us. Let’s spend time studying reflecting praying.

Wise Up!

In June and July the main focus of our Sunday sermons will be on the book of Proverbs. It is a book that is dominated by short pithy sayings, which its introduction tells us will help both the young and the already wise gain increasing wisdom to make good choices in our day to day lives.

There are of course similar sayings in our English culture: “Many hands, make light work.” or “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.” However, the Old Testament Proverbs are distinctive in that they follow the Hebrew poetic style of having two separate lines, that usually either contrast or compliment each other.

Many of the Proverbs contain a contrast:

                “The way of fools seems right to them,

but the wise listen to advice.” (Proverbs 12:15)

In doing so they present us with a choice between two ways of living or two ways of being. Do we want to be fools or wise; righteous or wicked; humble or proud?

In fact, rather than diving straight into the pithy sayings, the opening chapters of Proverbs are couched as a parent presenting their son, who is approaching adulthood, with the choice of two ways to live and urging him to choose the way of wisdom. In chapters 8 and 9 this choice is personalised as two women: Wisdom and Folly. Both invite the young man to come and dine with them, but whereas Wisdom’s meal will bring life, Folly’s will lead the young man to his grave.

Wisdom is also very closely associated with God himself. Indeed, Wisdom’s claim is that ‘The LORD brought me forth as the first of his works…” (8:22). To accept Wisdom’s call is to choose to fear the LORD. After all, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” (Proverbs 9:10).

Some Proverbs do not contain a contrast, but the lines compliment each other. For example:

                “The one who gets wisdom loves life;

the one who cherishes understanding will soon prosper.” (Proverbs 19:8)

When we have two lines that say similar things, we are invited to think more carefully as to how each line interprets the other one. As we do so, we are led into even deeper wisdom.

Indeed, we need to not just compare one line with each other, but the Proverbs with each other. Sometimes it seems the Proverbs contradict each other. The clearest example is:

                “Do not answer fools according to their folly, or you will be a fool yourself.” (Proverbs 26:4)

                “Answer fools according to their folly, or they will be wise in their own eyes.” (Proverbs 26:5)

Despite, the apparent contradiction, we can see that both of these Proverbs can be true sometimes. Deeper wisdom comes from knowing when to follow one Proverb and when the other. This also helps us to see that the Proverbs do not claim to state what is always true, but rather what is normally true. For example, they often state that the lazy will be poor, which is normally the case. Yet, in exceptional circumstances a lazy person may inherit a fortune or win the lottery! These exceptions do not undermine the teaching of Proverbs, they just show us that we should read them with care.

Have you chosen the way of wisdom? Come and join us for this series from 12th June.

Paul Worledge

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