Did you know that the average human being makes over 30,000 decisions a day? It seems an unbelievably high figure, but scientists seriously estimate that our brains make around 30,000 different choices every single day.
No doubt many of those decisions are so basic, so inconsequential that we barely realise we are making them – like perhaps the decision to put one foot in front of another when we walk, or to put the same colour socks on in the morning, or to use our thumb to type a text message on our phone.
But other daily decisions are more meaningful aren’t they? Some choices we make day-by-day are rather more significant. There are some choices we face that will have a real impact on the course of our lives. Choices that will also shape the lives of those around us.
Faced with so many decisions, we all want to make the right ones, don’t we? In other words, we all want to act wisely. Nobody wants to be thought a fool!
Wisdom is much more than mere intelligence. You may have a brain the size of a planet but no common sense. You can have an encyclopaedic memory but still live foolishly. To make a success of life we need more than intelligence or information. We need wisdom. We need wisdom to make good choices and to learn useful life skills.
The tragedy is that so many people look for wisdom in all the wrong places. Horoscopes, self-help guides, newspaper columnists and secular culture all claim to offer us a sure guide to living well. But they all fall short in the end. To live well in this world we need to listen to the one who made it. We need to learn wisdom from the one person who understands us intimately – God himself.
So over the next few weeks at St John’s we are going to be learning wisdom from God’s Word – from the book of Proverbs, to be precise. Today we start at the opening verses of Proverbs. Verses that tell us that if we are looking for wisdom, we’ve certainly come to the right place:
• Because verse 2 tells us that if we want to gain “wisdom” we should keep on reading.
• Verse 3 adds that if we desire to live a life that is “right and just and fair”, then it would be prudent to listen to Proverbs.
• And verse 4 is clear that both “knowledge” and “discretion” can be learned from the pages of this book.
The opening verses of Proverbs also tell us about its author and its intended audience.
When it comes to their authorship, verse 1 tells us that these proverbs are by “Solomon, son of David, king of Israel”. Solomon was one of the most famous and successful rulers of God’s people. He led the nation of Israel around 1000BC, when it was at its most prosperous and united. Solomon was the king who built the first great Temple in Jerusalem, a king whose wisdom was legendary.
So if Solomon is the principal author of Proverbs, who is his intended audience? The short answer is everyone! Proverbs has something to say to all of God’s people. In verse 4 we are told that Proverbs is written to give “prudence to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the young.” By simple, Proverbs isn’t saying it is written for the stupid, but for people who lack experience in life. Proverbs is therefore written especially – but not exclusively – for the young.
But Proverbs also has much to say to those who are more mature in year! As verse 5 today says “let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance.” Even if we are already wise and discerning, there is always more to learn. The author of Proverbs obviously does believe that you can teach an old dog new tricks!
In its thirty-one chapters, the book of Proverbs contains lots of short sentences, enigmatic sayings, pithy proverbs and brief parables – all designed to give us wisdom and insight in the different spheres of life.
Proverbial sayings are found in all cultures aren’t they? Even in English we have sayings like “Too many cooks spoil the broth”, “A stitch in time saves nine” and “Look before you leap”. But the proverbs of the Bible are much more authoritative than those from other cultures. Its pithy parables and wise sayings are truly inspired. They are God-given wisdom for life.
As we will see over the coming weeks, Proverbs has much wisdom to share with us on our wealth, our family life, our friendships, our words and our work. But before all that, Proverbs says wisdom begins by having a right attitude towards God. As it says in verse 7 today: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline”.
By my reckoning, that expression “The fear of the LORD” appears a dozen times in the book of Proverbs. It is presented as the starting point, the foundation of wise living. It is the one attitude that most clearly distinguishes the wise person from the fool.
So what does it mean to ‘fear the LORD’? Well, it doesn’t mean that we should be terrified of him. Fearing God doesn’t mean that we should live in dread of him, constantly ‘quaking in our boots’.
To fear God is treat him with the reverence and respect he deserves. To fear God is to recognise his authority, power and perfect goodness. A wise approach to life should begin with a recognition that we are God’s creatures – creatures who owe him our obedience, loyalty and love.
The great thing about the fear of God is that it removes the fear of everything else:
• We won’t fear the opinions of other people if God’s opinion of us matters more to us.
• We won’t fear hardship or even death if we love and trust the God who can raise the dead.
• And we won’t fear the future if we’re in a relationship with the sovereign Lord who holds history in his hands.
As Christians, we should always read the Old Testament with an eye to the New. Above all, as we read the Old Testament we should be trying to spot how it points us to Jesus.
And there’s no doubt that the book of Proverbs is fulfilled in Jesus, because as we look at the life of Jesus in the Gospels we see him as the ultimate wise man. Jesus taught in parables and proverbs, he always spoke wisely to his friends and his foes, he was someone who amazed crowds by his teaching. Jesus actually claimed to be greater than wise King Solomon. And the apostle Paul confirms in 1 Corinthians that Jesus Christ was literally God’s wisdom in human form. Jesus Christ was – and is – wisdom personified!
As well as offering us wisdom, Jesus also offers us forgiveness for our past foolishness – for those times when we have disobeyed God and done harm to other people. Wonderfully, on the cross Jesus took the punishment for our foolishness. He came to save us from sin and give us God’s grace.
So you see, if we are Christians, we are people who trust Jesus for forgiveness for all those times we’ve been foolish. Christians are people who follow the ultimate wise man and seek live his way in life. Christians are people who truly fear the Lord – and so do not fear anything or anyone else!
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