Read: Proverbs 1:1–7
A world of fools
The reason that our world is filled with such moral pollution and such frightening evil is that we have turned our backs on God. The wisest man who ever lived (apart from our Lord) said that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Paul tells us about the wicked: “There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Rom. 3:18). If we do not fear God, we become fools. Our world is a fool-filled world, a culture of folly, because we have abandoned our God.
The fear of the Lord
What is the fear of the Lord? It is respect and reverence and even awe at God. It includes even terrifying reverence. It’s remarkable how clear the Bible is about this, but how infrequently Christians talk about it today. I was stimulated this week by a new article in Christianity Today titled, “How We Forgot the Holiness of God.” Here’s some of it:
When God shows up in Scripture, people cower and tremble. They go mute. The ones who manage speech fall into despair. Fainters abound. Take the prophet Daniel. He could stare down lions, but when the heavens opened, he swooned. Ezekiel, too, was overwhelmed by his vision of God. After witnessing Yahweh’s throne chariot lift into the air with the sound of a jet engine, he fell face-first to the ground. When Solomon dedicated the temple, the glory of the Lord was so overpowering, “the priests could not perform their service” (1 Kings 8:11).
New Testament types fared no better. John’s revelations left him lying on the ground “as though dead” (Rev. 1:17). The disciples dropped when they saw Jesus transfigured. Even the intrepid Saul marching to Damascus collapsed before the blazing brilliance of the resurrected Christ.
I understand why such accounts are jarring for us. They stand in stark contrast from popular depictions. In movies, angels are like teddy bears with wings. God is Morgan Freeman or some other avuncular figure. In Scripture, however, divine encounters are terrifying, leaving even the most stout and spiritual vibrating with fear — or lying face-down, unconscious.
This is what it means to fear the Lord: to recognize his greatness and his holiness and his differentness from us. God isn’t a superman. I like the expression: “One cannot speak of God simply by speaking of man in a loud voice” (Barth). God isn’t a super-sized human. God is God. The fear of this Lord is the beginning of wisdom.
The book of Proverbs was written to teach wisdom to young men, and, by extension, to young women also. If you are young (or not so young) and want to escape the evil and corruption and depravity and drunkenness and drug addiction and sexual diseases and a seemingly meaningless, worthless life, listen to Solomon. God taught Solomon the truth, Solomon teaches us.
Here are seven of those truths (and in only the first three chapters!):
Learn by Advice, Not Experience
First, wise people learn by advice, and fools learn by experience (Prov. 1:5). In the book of Proverbs, Solomon is constantly telling young people to obey godly counsel. In fact, that’s what the entire book is about. This entire book is godly counsel.
That idea is not popular today. The popular idea is: how can you know if something is right or wrong, how could you know if something is good for you, until you try it (hard drugs, binge drinking, premarital sex, “alternative” sex)? “Don’t listen to anybody else. Try it out on your own.”
Now I admit that this is a perfect example of wisdom — worldly wisdom. It has nothing to do with God’s wisdom.
We know this when it comes to very small children. We tell them not to touch the hot stove so that they won’t be burned. We’d never encourage them to touch a burning oven. But somehow, some way, somewhere along the way, we lose that wisdom. “Try out dope for yourself, and then decide.” “Everybody knows you should try sex before marriage to see if everything works out.” “Abandon Christ’s church, get away from God’s house, get unbelieving friends; try it out and see what happens, and then you can always change later if it doesn’t work out.”
My friends: human history is littered with the moral remains of people who refused to listen to godly counsel and had to find out “the facts” on their own.
Would you like to know where worldly wisdom started? It started in the Garden of Eden. The serpent was the first Mr. Worldly Wiseman. God gave wise counsel, but that wise counsel wasn’t sufficient for Adam and Eve. The serpent convinced Eve to find out on her own: “Don’t trust God’s word. Find out for yourself.” Our entire human race was immersed in sin because one man and one woman wouldn’t take wise counsel but wanted to experiment for themselves.
Stay Away from Wicked People
Second, stay away from wicked people. “My son, if sinners entice you, do not consent” (Prov. 1:10). David had already reminded us in Psalm 1 — you’ll be blessed if you don’t walk in the counsel of the ungodly. Paul later declared that “[b]ad company ruins good morals” (1 Cor. 15:33).
Some Christians have the idea that if they spend a lot of time with wicked people, they’ll influence the wicked for righteousness. The Bible teaches just the opposite. It teaches that the wicked will poison the righteous. I’m not talking about preaching the gospel to unbelievers. Of course, we must do that. This verse is talking about making the wicked your companions. If you have wicked companions, you’ll soon become wicked. If you hang out with fornicators or drug addicts or drunkards or secularists or the proud or thieves or those who mock God and his word, that’s soon what you’ll become.
If you want to become a godly person, a wise man or woman, go out of your way to become the companion of godly, wise people. Gravitate toward godly people.
God made humans to have a remarkable capacity to influence one another. This capacity can be a great blessing or a great curse. It’s a great blessing if you spend lots of time with God-fearing people. It becomes a curse if you spend time with God-defying people.
Treasure the Word of God
Third, you get wisdom by treasuring the word of God. In the first few verses of chapter 2, God makes a great promise. He promises that if you seek for wisdom as hidden treasure, if you cry out for it, if you want it all costs, you’ll get it. Where do you find it? Verse 5 says: in his word. Knowledge and understanding and wisdom come out of his mouth. That wisdom from God’s mouth has been inscribed in the Bible. This means that if you want wisdom, you have to pant for it. This means that if you want wisdom, you have to want it more than anything. You must seek for it like a hidden treasure.
Listen carefully: you can’t be wise apart from reading and knowing and cherishing and treasuring the Bible. This book is where God lays out his wisdom. I said a little while ago that the fear the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. It’s just the beginning. You can’t get wisdom for your life anywhere but in the Bible. Not just by having Christian friends. Not just by praying. Not just by attending church. Not just by singing great Christian hymns. All of these are important.
But you cannot get wisdom apart from reading the word of God.
But Solomon doesn’t just say that you get wisdom by reading the Bible. He says you have to treasure it.
No time for God’s word
We have an entire generation of churchgoers today who never read their Bible. The only time they even see Bible verses is in the church bulletin on Sunday. And the irony is the Bible has never been more available than today. I don’t mean just in hardcopies and bookstores. I mean on the web. You don’t even have to buy a Bible today. You can read the Bible for free anytime you want. You can download the entire Bible for $1-$6. That’s simply amazing.
While the Bible was never more accessible, there was never more ignorance of the Bible. The world is filled with fools. Sadly, the church is filled with fools. Why? Because people don’t treasure the Bible.
People say they don’t have time. That is false. You could read most chapters of Bible in anywhere from 4 to 8 minutes. That’s simply reading one chapter of the Bible a day, which is a lot more than most Christians read. If you don’t have 4 to 8 minutes a day for God’s word, cut something out of your life.
But if you read the word of God, if you treasure the Bible, it soon starts to change the way you think. It changes the way you make decisions. Little by little, you get wisdom. You start looking at the world the way God does. You quick making stupid decisions and doing stupid things.
This only happens if you read — and treasure — the word of God.
Avoid Sexual Sin
Fourth, avoid fornication at all costs (Prov. 2:16-19). Solomon writes that if you treasure God’s word, it will keep you from sexual sin (including lust and porn). We live in a hyper-sexualized age. Soft-core pornography is everywhere you look. All sex is permitted and encouraged today. About the only remaining taboos are pedophilia and incest. But trust me, if things don’t change, in 20 or 30 years, incest and pedophilia will be as common as premarital and extramarital sex today. Don’t say it could never happen here. That’s what people said 30 years ago about same-sex marriage.
The Bible is not a book advocating sexual oppression. The Bible teaches that sexual intercourse is a wonderful gift of God (Heb. 13:4). It should be reserved for marriage. Why? Because God created us, and he knows what is best for us and make us happy. Sex outside of marriage gives immediate pleasure but brings long-term pain and destruction.
I sympathize deeply with young single Christians today. They’re pressured into sex wherever they turn. Our culture has turned its back on God at his word and his healthy sexual standards. I want young people to know that this church and I will do anything to help you. We’ll help anybody that wants to do right. However you are tempted, however you have fallen in the sin, please talk to me about it. I won’t beat you over the head with a hammer. We will help anyone that wants to do right.
But if you think that you can throw God sexual standards out the window without paying a price, you’re dead wrong. If you throw away God’s sexual standards, you’ll live a poisoned, enslaved life.
Give Your Heart to God Alone
Fifth, trust God’s truth, not your own ideas. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not to your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will direct your paths” (Prov. 3:5-6). Don’t lean on your own understanding. We might think we are so wise apart from God, but we are nothing more than a Mr. Worldly Wiseman.
Two kinds of wisdom
In James 3:13-18, we read about two kinds of wisdom. There’s wisdom from above and wisdom from below. Wisdom from above comes from God and his word. Wisdom from below is sensual and demonic. That’s what the Bible says. Not just bad, but demonic. James talks about bitter jealousy and selfish ambition — that’s wisdom from below. Wisdom from below is rooted in self-centeredness. If you want your way all the time, and you don’t care about anybody else, you’re very wise indeed. The problem is that your wisdom is demonic wisdom.
If you want to gratify your own sexual desires; if you want to control everybody else’s lives; if you don’t care how your actions hurt everyone else; if you slander or gossip to destroy the character of people you don’t like, your wisdom is demonic wisdom.
Solomon says, don’t lean on your own understanding. Some of us have decisions confronting us today. Some are family decisions. Some are business decisions. Some are financial decisions. Some are church decisions. Our approach should never be, “What’s the smart move?” but, “What does God want?”
An immediate temptation when we’re faced with a difficulty or crisis is: “What’s the smart thing to do?” Let’s work to retrain our thinking so that our first response is: “What does God want us to do?” God gets to define what’s smart.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart. This means that we can put full confidence in him to do what’s best for us in every situation. Note this comforting thought. God is constantly looking out for his people. God is never trying to harm his people. Even when he allows hardships to come into our lives, he’s not trying to harm us. This is why we can trust in him at every point. God always has our best interests at heart. This is why we should acknowledge him in all of our ways. We should trust our life to the one who would never do anything to harm us.
Honor God with Your Money
Sixth, if you put God first with your money, he’ll provide for you in ways you cannot imagine. Honor the Lord with your substance and with the “first fruits” of all your increase; if you do this, your barns will overflow (Prov. 3:9-10).
Our money is God’s gift. He has first claim on our money, just as he has first claim on everything else. That’s why Solomon uses the word “first fruits.” The first fruits are the very beginning of the harvest in an agricultural society. The first fruits are the best. They represent the entire harvest. When we give God our first fruits, we are acknowledging that he has claim on everything.
If you learn to tithe to God when you’re young, you’ll never have a problem tithing when you’re older. My first job was snipping the weeds around the church. I was probably 9 or 10 years old. I think my pay was $5 a week. The first time I got paid, my dad turned the $5 into coins, and he took out $.50 and said, “The first tenth of anything that you get always goes back to God. Put it into the offering plate.”
From that day to this, I have tithed on every single dollar I’ve ever made.
If you learn to tithe on $5, and tithe faithfully, you’ll never have a problem tithing on $50 or $500 or $5000 or $5 million. Know this: if you won’t tithe on $5, you won’t tithe on $5000.
But if you do: God promises remarkable blessings. God doesn’t promise that all tithers will be millionaires. He doesn’t promise that we will never endure hard times financially. But he does promise that he will bless us abundantly. He will provide for our needs and our wants in ways that we cannot envision or predict.
It’s interesting that in Proverbs 3:10 he says that our vats will burst with wine. In the Bible, wine is identified with joy and rejoicing (Dt. 14:26; Ps. 104:15; Prov. 31:6). I’m sure that’s why Solomon chose this metaphor. He’s not teaching that if you tithe, you’ll own a vineyard and a winery. He’s teaching that God will fill your life with joy and happiness and satisfaction. God made us as his creatures. Therefore, he alone knows what satisfies us. And when we give back to him the first, the best, that satisfies and delights our hearts.
Don’t Get Tired of God’s Discipline
Seventh, and finally, don’t become weary with God’s discipline (Prov. 3:11-12). God doesn’t bring hardships and trials of your lives because he doesn’t care about us. He doesn’t bring them because he’s punishing us. He brings them because he’s transforming us into better disciples. Those two words have the same root: discipline and disciple. You can’t be a disciple of Jesus without discipline.
Sharon was telling our children the other day about an experience from her own childhood. She was playing with a neighborhood girlfriend whose parents let her do anything she wanted. Sharon and her other friend were complaining that their parents laid down rules for life — where they could go, when they ate, when they went to bed. This other girl said, “I wish my parents did that. Your parents love you enough to care about what you’re doing.”
God loves us enough to care about what we’re doing. He’s not an absentee parent. He’s not so busy doing other things that he doesn’t care for every one of us in a profoundly personal way.
Men and women who are most used by God are those whom he has brought through great hardships to make them effective for him. There are ways that you can know God, and lessons that you can learn, only in hard times. It is in betrayal and weakness and fatigue and illness and loneliness that God makes us stronger disciples. This means that if you’re committed above all else to a life of ease, you cannot be a good Christian. Hard times make good Christians.
Don’t be angry or weary at hardships.
Let’s review: (1) Learn by Advice, Not Experience; (2) Stay Away from Wicked People; (3) Treasure the Word of God; (4) Avoid Sexual Sin; (5) Give Your Heart to God Alone; (6) Honor God with Your Money; (7) Don’t Get Tired of God’s Discipline
If you want to be wise; if you want to avoid great shipwreck that will destroy your life; if you want to be 85 years old and look back on your life with great joy and delight and satisfaction, these are the ways to do it.
These are the wise ways because these are God’s ways.